Windows ’84

13 Nov
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This is a version of the poster and/or ad art that MGM used to try to sell Garbo Talks to moviegoers in 1984. I actually like this the simplicity or whimsy of this poster quite a bit and even though its style is consistent with the film’s animated title sequence, it’s a failure as a movie marketing tool. It looks more like a children’s picture book cover than a poster for a seriocomic tale of a dying woman’s last wish.  (Michael says it reminds him of A Charlie Brown Christmas.) Almost nothing significant of the plot is revealed, right? Of course, studio execs are loathe to let on that any movie features someone suffering a terminal illness. Too much  of a downer. Then, of course, there’s the little matter of the illustration and how the female looks rather generic.  She certainly does not look like the mother of the male figure. Here again, the studio opted out of promoting the star power of Anne Bancroft, a proven Oscar winner in her early 50s at the time, but playing a character  likely a decade older. Again, a dodge designed to “fool” younger audiences, lest they be turned off by a movie about a mature woman. When the movie’s early box office returns proved anemic, the studio regrouped and issued a new ad featuring an image, lifted from the film, of Anne Bancroft in a funny pose, surrounded by quotes from reviewers lauding her performance, alas, not to be found on the Internet. The male figure, btw, scarcely resembles Silver, an actor I first noticed on the old Rhoda sitcom, but I digress. “Sometimes,” the poster’s tag reads, “you can catch a star.” Sometimes, as well, people whose job is is to sell movies are timid or have no idea how sell a movie that does not present instant appeal to 14 year old boys. (IMAGE: IMDB)

Have you heard? Director and sometime writer Sidney Lumet, a five time Oscar nominee who passed away in 2011, is the subject of a new documentary, By Sidney Lumet (directed by Nancy Buirski). I hope to see it because I am a huge Lumet fan. He had one of the most distinguished careers of any filmmaker of his era even though his only Oscar was of the honorary distinction. I missed the fairly recent documentary about Brian De Palma, so maybe I’ll be more diligent about this new offering.

So, here is what has happened. A couple of years ago, David Itzkoff wrote a book entitled The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies–that “Angriest Man” might appear to be a reference to the stark raving anchor man played to Oscar’s hilt by the late Peter Finch, or even Lumet himself, but it’s actually directed to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, also an Oscar winner, Network‘s true guiding force. I don’t necessarily love the 1976 feature that inspired Itzkoff’s tome–but then, I’m not sure that “love” is what anybody had in mind when the greenlight was given to make a movie that takes (took) aim at the corrupt world of television and its crippling effect on society as a whole. That noted, the things I like about the film, I like a whole heck of a lot; after all, Academy nominations for 5 performances, among a host of nods, with three winners is pretty impressive. Anyway, Michael gave me a copy for my birthday, and between that and my Network DVD and all its extras, I was in Lumet heaven for about a week or so.

I got so caught up in my Network mania, that I pulled out my copy of Lumet’s own book, Making Movies. Of all the many, many books I have on the business of making movies and “behind the scenes” accounts of many classic films, Lumet’s book ranks incredibly high on my list. He takes the reader through the step by step process of how he makes movies, including a run-down of an average day on one of his sets, but Lumet also devotes each chapter to a particular facet of moviemaking: developing a script, scouting locations, casting actors, rehearsing, shooting, editing, etc. Into this account, he weaves recollections of specific situations over the course of his illustrious career, devoting a lot of ink to 12 Angry Men, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Pawnbroker, Network, Prince of the City, and The Book of Daniel; I don’t think he completely skips over Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, or The Verdict–I know he doesn’t–but he doesn’t write about them as vigorously, it does not seem, as the others. Interesting that he invests as much as he does in Prince of the City and, especially, The Book of Daniel since they are not necessarily among his more esteemed entries. The latter, based on E.L. Doctorow’s fictionalized account of the aftermath of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executions (starring Timothy Hutton) was pretty much a dud–on the heels of the highly successful The Verdict, no less. Lumet even details some of the obstacles he faced while trying to film his ill-fated big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway show The Wiz on location in New York City.

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Sidney Lumet is one of my faves among faves. In his storied career, he earned 5 Oscar nominations: 4 as Best Director (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict) and another as co-adapter, with Jay Presson Allen, of the screenplay for 1981’s Prince of the City. Alas, he never won a competitive Oscar in spite of being one of the most prestigious, and most consistent, directors of the 1970s and 1980s. The Academy finally saw fit to bestow an honorary award to him in 2005. Better than nothing, but consider the following: the quartet of movies for which he earned directing nods were also Best Picture nominees; moreover, his films garnered a total of 18 performance nominations with a total of four wins: Ingrid Bergman (Best Supporting Actress, Murder on the Orient Express, 1975), Faye Dunaway (Best Actress, Network, 1976), Peter Finch (Best Actor, Network, 1976), and Beatrice Straight (Best Supporting Actress, Network, 1976). Network, by the way, is one of only 15 films to boast acting nominations in all four performance categories (with William Holden, also Best Actor, and Ned Beatty, Best Supporting Actor, rounding out the bill). Furthermore, only Network and A Streetcar Named Desire can boast acting wins in 3 of the 4 acting categories, with no film claiming 4 for 4 so far. Per AMC Filmsite, Lumet is tied for 6th place among directors with the most acting nominations and also 6th place among directors with the most acting winners. (IMAGE: IMDb)

One movie that Lumet scarcely mentions in his book is 1984’s Garbo Talks. There are probably at least two understandable reasons why this film in particular is not among Lumet’s priorities. First, Garbo Talks is not a typical Lumet film, meaning his speciality, the massive undertaking known as The Wiz or glamorous Murder on the Orient Express notwithstanding, is gritty drama: the dirt and grime of the big city, betrayal, corruption, the seamy underside of what should be our bedrock institutions. In other words, Lumet’s approach is hard hitting in a way that does not signal comedy, and Garbo Talks is quite a peculiar comedy since one character’s impending demise is announced fairly early. In spite of that, the movie proceeds on an oddball, mostly light-hearted, course. To clarify, Lumet often brings out the humour in bizarre situations, as evidenced in both Dog Day Afternoon and Network, but the emphasis is never on jokes, punch lines. The humour in those movies stems from discomfort, human foibles, and the absurdities of life’s hard-knocks. Garbo‘s laughs are more obvious though, again, juxtaposed with the scenario of a dying woman.  The second reason that Lumet might not want to go on and on about Garbo Talks is the simple fact, owing no doubt to the first reason, is that it sank at the box office. Most moviegoers probably couldn’t get their heads around the idea of Sidney Lumet making a comedy, about a dying woman, no less. It didn’t help, of course, that despite some encouraging reviews, especially for star Anne Bancroft, MGM didn’t really know how to market the thing.

Moving on, here is what interests me about Garbo Talks. In his book, Lumet makes a point of differentiating what a movie is about as opposed to its plot. For example, the  plot of Garbo Talks, scripted by Larry Grusin, concerns a devoted, if exasperated, thirtysomethingish son, Gilbert Rolfe (Ron Silver) trying to fulfill his dying mother’s lifelong wish of meeting Greta Garbo by tracking down the reclusive cinema icon in [then] modern day New York City, encountering a cast of colorful characters along the way.  That’s the plot. But what is function of the plot, what purpose does it serve? What, again, is this movie about? I’ll tell you what I think it’s about. And I hate ending sentences with prepositions, by the way. I think what Garbo Talks is really about is a man and his relationship with windows.

Let me back-up just a bit. I saw Garbo Talks TWICE in theatres back in its minuscule run back in the fall of 1984, and one of the things that made a lasting impression on me was how Lumet framed two characters, two actors, against windows with almost magical views of New York City. Even though Lumet famously shot many movies on location, as opposed to Hollywood sound stages, I feel pretty certain that many of this film’s interior scenes were filmed on sets of some kind, okay, sure, in NYC, and not Hollywood. The point is the views from the handsome town home of Gilbert’s dad, played by Steven Hill, and the strikingly spacious yet “homey” loft of a chirpy young actress (Catherine Hicks) are likely fakes, backdrops that are too good to be true. Stunning, yes, but not the real deal. No matter. Of course, earlier in the movie, before Gilbert’s mother discovers how seriously ill she is, Gilbert’s boss reassigns the young man, an accountant, from the office in which he has comfortably settled into less accommodating quarters. Gilbert is horrified, and he explains that the new office doesn’t have a window like his old office. Gilbert says that. I heard him, but I didn’t pay much attention to it the first time, not even the second time; however, I began to see the bigger picture, so to speak, eventually.

So, this is a movie that I once owned on VHS, and now I own it on DVD, per MGM’s print-on-demande boutique. Anyway, I have seen it several, several, times since 1984, and at some point I began noticing how many times actors are framed against windows, not just the two I noticed during those early viewings, and I made the connection between Gilbert’s dreary windowless office, seen more than once but only specifically commented on twice or so, and all those shots emphasizing oh so many windows. Lumet’s uncharacteristically flat framing, practically proscenium style (like a play) accentuates window placement in almost every set, most often splayed across back walls. Visually, it’s barely more than a filmed play, with only a small handful of scenes requiring more than two actors–almost always a giveaway that the material was originally conceived for the stage though that is not necessarily the case.

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This publicity still features Ron Silver (l) and Anne Bancroft (r), neither of them quite in character (but not NOT in character), with Garbo herself depicted in the background. Estelle Rolfe is one of Bancroft’s most vivid, yet tricky, characterizations. She’s first seen misty-eyed watching an old Garbo movie in bed late at night, and the audience is primed to think of her as a harmless old lady. The next time we see her she’s in jail, more or less for an act of not-so-civil disobedience, followed by another sequence in which she lashes out at a construction crew yelling lewd remarks at females passing their site. Rolfe isn’t having any of it. Harmless old lady, indeed. Bancroft earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, but the movie was not a significant enough achievement, in spite of many favorable notices, to warrant Academy recognition though as I recall, no less than Today Show movie critic Gene Shalt harrumped that that year’s batch of Best Actress hopefuls, including stars of three movies depicting women trying to save their farms (Sally Field, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek) would have benefitted from the comedic spark provided by Bancroft, Kathleen Turner (Romancing the Stone), Mia Farrow (Broadway Danny Rose), and, possibly even Shelley Long (Irreconcilable Differences); meanwhile, one of my good friends, while no less enthusiastic about Bancroft’s performances than I was, figured a Best Actress nomination might have been a stretch since Bancroft’s screen time is noticeably limited compared to Silver’s in spite of the incredible monologue. My friend opined that Bancroft’s monologue wasn’t enough to elevate what is essentially a supporting performance to leading status. I’m not sure I agree,  but it’s an interesting take. (IMAGE: MGM via MovPins)

I thought I understood. Those windows remind Gilbert of what he’s missing–at least per his office. No windows. Then, I made a point of paying closer attention to Gilbert’s apartment. Any windows there? Hmmmm….Lumet has one more trick up his sleeve.

Gilbert and his dutiful, if whiny, wife (played by Carrie Fisher) keep quite a tidy little   apartment, not at all lavish. Slightly cramped as, in an effect seen multiple times throughout the film, the living area doubles as the sleeping area. For most of the movie, consistent with the aforementioned static staginess, Gilbert seems in need of a window both at the office and at home.  Maybe occasionally Lumet hints at the possibility of an apartment window just outside the camera lens, and, okay, the pass-through between the kitchen and the dining area is window-like, but the director withholds the moment of truth for as long as possible before revealing that, yes, indeed, Gilbert’s apartment does have a window…but wait…Lumet, you rascal, you. What unfolds in Gilbert’s life, what shifts, just before Lumet literally turns the camera to show the view from Gilbert’s window?

If you have the access and inclination, I think there are two ways to watch Garbo Talks. First, watch it for the sweet, strangely satisfying tale that it is, the story of a nice Jewish boy trying against almost impossible odds to take care of and please his highly opinionated whirlwind of a mother, a woman who lives to speak out against social injustice, big or small, and to take respite, to revel in, the singular beauty of old-time Hollywood’s most elusive movie star. Notice, how, for instance, Gilbert’s wife and his stepmom seem so strikingly in-sync as though Gilbert had followed his dad’s lead when finding a [new] mate, someone as different from Estelle as possible in the service of self-preservation. Luxuriate in Anne Bancroft’s especially skilled performance, most notably a rapturously single-take monologue in which Estelle recalls her first ever Garbo experience and the many times since when she’s found comfort, refuge, and excitement in the films of her cinematic idol. Notice how Silver, as Gilbert, looks at his mother with such a sweet mix of love, admiration, and exasperation. Relish Silver’s expert timing, his control, as Gilbert navigates a final, pointed confrontation with his prig of a boss (played by ever reliable Richard B. Shull). Take delight in well-etched supporting performances by the likes of Hicks, Hill, Howard Da Silva as a worn-out paparazzo, Dorothy Loudon as a true show-biz eccentric, and Hermione Gingold as a doddering actress who has seen better days–but not by much.

After watching Garbo Talks for the plot and the performances, take it in again–this time focusing on the windows: when and where they appear, how many in a given locale, their various sizes, and their relationship to the actors in a given shot. Maybe turn the sound down, if not off entirely. It’s like a different movie, one seemingly oblivious to Bancroft’s Estelle and her plight, and oblivious even to Garbo. It’s all about windows. The mystery then remains as to why Lumet uses windows the way he does in the film. What point does he want to make? Gilbert makes compromises, as we all do, even if that means denying something that holds value for him: his tiny office window. His mother, of course, is not so mundane as all that. She won’t be swayed until she has given her all to righting a wrong, again, no matter how big or small. Even when she loses, she’ll stick around long enough to spit out the last word. That’s who she is. “We are who we are,” she says. Does she make others around her uncomfortable? Yes, very much so, and that is why Gilbert lets go of petty office politics as often as he does, as easily as he does. Thus, Gilbert does not fight for what he believes. Instead, he gets pigeon-holed into a windowless box.  Estelle Rolfe says repeatedly that she has always accepted the given fact, meaning that in her mind she picks her battles carefully and only commences to blitz when the evidence favors her position. Yet, as a wise man once told me, facts are the enemy of truth. Yes, Estelle Rolfe says what she says, but what she does is quite different. When it suits her, she skews the facts to suit her purpose.

This is the lesson that Gilbert must learn as he embarks upon his quest to find Garbo. He looks through other people’s windows and forgets the fact that if he’s feeling boxed-in, he can rewrite the given fact…because, after all, he has a window, a different window, away from his office, that offers a different set of facts if only he takes the time to consider all possibilities.

Well played, Mr. Lumet, well played.

Thanks for your consideration…

AMC Filmsite: http://www.filmsite.org/bestdirs1.html

Garbo Talks at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087313/

Sidney Lumet at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001486/

Silver and Bancroft: http://www.movpins.com/dHQwMDg3MzEz/garbo-talks-(1984)/still-1059554560

Love at Large: Noir is All Around

12 Nov

Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen passed away earlier this week at the age of 82. Besides being influential among his peers, many of whom covered his material with great reverence, Cohen’s songs cast their spells on many filmmakers who used his music to startling effect. Some examples include Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Atom Egoyan’s Exotica, and Alan Rudolph’s Love at Large. I wrote about the latter a few years ago, and I repost today in honor of the late Mr. Cohen. Thanks for your consideration…

Confessions of a Movie Queen

Loveatlarge The three Love at Large leads (l-r): Elizabeth Perkins, Tom Berenger, and Anne Archer. At the time of Love at Large’s release, Berenger was still basking in the goodwill generated by his Best Supporting Actor nod for 1986’s Platoon. Interestingly, a year after Platoon, Berenger appeared with beautiful Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco in Ridley Scott’s exquisitely packaged romantic thriller Someone to Watch Over Me. Berenger played a married detective who becomes intimate with an eyewitness (Rogers) in a murder investigation. Unfortunately, the movie was released too close on the heels of  the only slightly similar Fatal Attraction (featuring Oscar nominee Anne Archer) and could not match that film’s powerful hold on audiences. I think Someone to Watch Over Me and Love at Large would make an excellent double feature.

I’ve recently become reacquainted with two of my favorite Alan Rudolph movies. The other night, I turned on my TV…

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Sighs and Horrors*

27 Oct

*With apologies to the late Ingmar Bergman and his 1973 Best Picture nominee, Cries and Whispers…

Truth? I’m not so much into Halloween, not so much anymore. Oh, believe me, there was a time when I loved playing witchy-poo woman, traipsing all over the place in the middle of the night, but things change. These days, my idea of a great Halloween is to grab takeout and camp out in front of the TV with a favorite creepy classic. And I know I’m not alone. Scary, suspenseful movies enthrall us again and again. We get the chills and thrills, revelling in the chance to be expertly manipulated, our deepest darkest fears toyed with, only to snap out of it safe and sound after two hours or so. We feel safe again after experiencing a jolt, a rush of emotion, a wave of dread. Then, we get to laugh at ourselves for letting our fears get the best of us.

What is your favorite Halloween movie? Of course, as I have written previously, John Carpenter’s Halloween represents a special kind of genius, given its minuscule budget and other production constraints. That noted, 1979’s When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane, scared me oh so much more. I know many people who swear by lighter Halloween fare, such as Hocus Pocus (starring Bette Midler, along with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy), but I prefer to mix my laffs and chills with the inimitable Don Knotts and the lunacy of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I also think the 1979 original Alien pales in comparison to the propulsive action and growing terror of Aliens, featuring Sigourney Weaver’s ferocious Oscar nominated performance. While I also admire the proficiency of the old Universal horror flicks, especially Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy, I actually fall harder for Gaslight (1944), an Oscar winner for Ingrid Bergman who stars along with Joseph Cotten and Charles Boyer. Gaslight is not a true horror story, a monster movie, but it deals heavily in psychological terror, suspense, and, oh yes,  MGM’s deluxe, Oscar winning, production details–in this case, a sumptuous recreation of Victorian era London, exquisitely rendered in velvety black and white

My go-to is often Hitchcock, of course, but not necessarily stab-tastic Psycho (1960). Frenzy (1972) is a bit of a spine tingler as are The Birds (1963), Strangers on a Train (1951), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Rope  (1948). Again, not necessarily monster movies, but full of monstrous people and deeds. Plus, I’m always down for Rear Window (1954), one of my all-time faves. Oh, and I actually get a huge kick out of the Master’s loopy final film, Family Plot (1976).  All that noted, I think this year I’ll snuggle up with something other than Hitchcock, specifically Dario Argento’s magnificent Suspiria.

Scripted, or co-scripted, by Daria Nicolodi, Suspiria has long been hailed by  enthusiasts all over the place as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I remember reading all about it when it was released in ’77 but didn’t catch up with it until years and years later when Michael and I rented a VHS from our then favorite video store…since closed. Anyway, we loved it and snatched up the three disc 25th anniversary edition when it became available. 

Obviously, the story of an American ingenue who finds herself away from home among dastardly occultists is hardly original. Indeed, some of Suspiria‘s plot points and/or characterizations echo the 70s made-for-TV flick, Satan’s School for Girls (1973), starring Pamela Franklin, and pre-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, along with Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet (perhaps better known at the time for her wicked performance as Lesley Anne Warren’s stepmother in the perennial Rogers and Hammerstein musical adaptation of Cinderella than for East of Eden…but I really digress).  Roman Polanski’s landmark Rosemary’s Baby (1968) starring Mia Farrow and another Oscar winner, Ruth Gordon, also comes to mind.

Of course, what those others do not have is director Argento’s audacious vision. Here are some highlights:

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The perfect set-up as Jessica Harper’s Suspiria character takes a taxi ride during a magnificently torrential storm from the Munich airport to her new home at a dance school in a village outside of town. Plenty of thrills and chills await… (IMAGE: Screenmusings)

I hope it is not too much of a cliche to write that with her big brown eyes, Jessica Harper is the living equivalent of a Keane painting though her voice is anything but child-or waif-like. No, her instrument might not be as commandingly resonant as, say, the pipes on Lauren Bacall, Beatrice Arthur, or Kathleen Turner, but it’s certainly sultry as all get-out, even more so considering how petite she is at only 5’4,” per the IMDb. When Harper made Suspiria, she was relatively fresh off Brian De Palma’s cultish rock musical Phantom of the Paradise, filmed at least partially in Dallas’s old Majestic theatre (well after its cinematic heyday and before its reinvention as a live venue); Phantom of the Paradise (1974), by the way, is one of Michael’s faves. Anyway, between Suspiria,1980’s  Stardust Memories (in which she was never more lovingly photographed), Pennies from Heaven (1981), My Favorite Year (1982) and, most spectacularly, Shock Treatment (1981), the so-called “non-sequel equal” to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Harper was no doubt one of the most exciting actresses of the late ’70s and early 1980s. Though she works most often on TV these days, she made a big screen comeback of sorts with a cameo in 2002’s Minority Report. Reportedly, she’s on board to play a key role in the dreaded Suspiria remake.

Saturn nominee for Best Supporting Actress and enduring Hollywood vet Joan Bennett (center) made her final screen appearance in Suspiria.

Saturn nominee for Best Supporting Actress and enduring Hollywood vet Joan Bennett (center, in black) made her final screen appearance in Suspiria. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

In the grand tradition of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both of whom reinvented themselves as mistresses, okay, madames, of the macabre with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and other similarly frightening flicks, old school Hollywood thesp Joan Bennett stepped up to the plate to portray Suspiria‘s headmistress.  Of course, by that time, Bennett had already established her horror cred, thanks to her role as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on TV’s game-changing Gothic daytime serial, Dark Shadows. In her late 60s at the time of Suspiria, Bennett, blue eyes brilliantly ablaze, still maintained the regal glamour of a studio-polished movie star.  It might seem demeaning to describe someone with Bennett’s impeccable credentials–over 90 credits at the time of this effort–as durable, but she reinvented herself time and time again. Originally a blonde, she dyed her hair dark (reportedly, perhaps, to  milk comparisons to international beauty Hedy Lamarr) and appeared in films as varied as noirish Scarlet Street and 1950’s wholesome Father of the Bride (ideally cast as Elizabeth Taylor’s mom opposite Spencer Tracy) and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend. She had a few lean years after a murderous scandal involving her husband, producer Walter Wanger, but bounced back. Despite her versatility and admirable work ethic, Bennett never caught the attention of the Academy. That’s right: 0 Oscar nominations though she earned an Emmy nod for Dark Shadows in ’68. Interestingly, author Danny Peary boldly takes away Joan Crawford’s hard-earned Oscar for film noir supreme Mildred Pierce (1945) and instead awards Bennett his so called “Alternate Oscar” for the aforementioned Scarlet Street, opposite Edward G. Robinson. Peary describes Bennett as the “sleeper of the year,” adding that the “much-taken-for-granted-actress” turned in “a terrific, overlooked performance as an atypical femme fatale in Scarlet Street,” one of four collaborations with director Fritz Lang in the 1940s (82-83). Peary further rhapsodizes that Bennett “never had another part quite like Kitty March. She really let loose playing this ‘working girl’ who is too lazy to work” (83).

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On the 25th anniversary DVD, actress Stefania Casini squeals with delight at the mere mention of Joan Bennett, praising the actress, as Jessica Harper also does, for being a true star, the whole package, from her walk to her perfect hair and makeup. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

Furthemore, Bennett managed to impress Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick during the legendary search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara back in the day. Per a story circulated on both a DVD documentary and Ronald Haver’s coffee table book on the biggest movie blockbuster of its era, Selznick wrote a letter to his wife, explaining that Bennett was one of four finalists for the demanding role, the others being Jean Arthur (though Selznick soon soured on her), Paulette Goddard (the only actress besides Vivien Leigh to test in color), and, legendarily, of course, Vivien Leigh–the winner. Footage of Bennett’s screen test is available on the DVD; one still photograph from the session (in which she looks exactly right for the part) has made its way to page 27 of the book.

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German born Udo Kier’s filmography includes 230 credits, in both German and English. Alas, he has only one scene in Suspiria. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

Speaking of blue eyes, whose eyes are more piercing than Udo Kier’s? Like Jessica Harper, the extremely photogenic actor had already notched an impressive credit or two by the time he appeared in Suspiria, meaning back-to-back leading roles in Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974)–released, somewhat misleadingly, in the U.S. as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and, likewise, Andy Warhol’s Dracula. I actually saw the former at our neighborhood drive-in, more than once, maybe, even though it was rated X?  Coincidentally, Suspiria reunites Kier and one of his Dracula co-stars, Stefania Casini. Furthermore, before Suspiria, Kier had appeared in the scandalous The Story of O (1975).  Since the 1990s, he has acted in a variety of American made films, including My Own Private Idaho (1991), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Armageddon (1998), Blade (1998), and Shadow of the Vampire (2000). As well, he has established a kinship with Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier, resulting in appearances in the likes of Europa (1991, released as Zentropa in this country), Dogville (2003), and Melancholia (2011). He even registered strongly in Madonna’s “Deeper and Deeper” video from the early 1990s even though he has no lines whatsoever, just his magnetic presence.

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Yes, internationally celebrated Udo Kier appears in only one scene in Suspiria, but what a backdrop: the towering headquarters for the Bavarian Motor Works, aka, the BMW building. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Kier (l) and Jessica Harper (r) discuss her suspicions in front of the landmark BMW headquarters.(IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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This photo offers a bird’s eye view of the plaza in front of the BMW building. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Suspiria‘s 25th anniversary edition DVD includes a most detailed documentary, including interviews with director Dario Argento, actresses Jessica Harper and Stefania Casini, along with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who explains the film’s bold use of color. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Incredibly, as Tovoli describes on the DVD, although true three-strip Technicolor had long disappeared from Hollywood filmmaking, one lab with all the right equipment still existed in Rome at the time Suspiria was made. Thus, a cinematic classic was born. (IMAGE:Screenmusings.com)

 

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Though expensive to produce, Suspiria is one of the last films shot in true Technicolor. On the DVD, cinematographer Tovoli adds that the camera used during the shoot was later disassembled and sold to China. Tovoli also explains that many of the most fantastic shots were achieved in-camera rather than added during post-production, thereby invoking yet another cinematic reference: legendary experimental filmmaker, Georges Méliès. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

 

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Both Suspiria director Dario Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli affirm that their film enjoyed success in America though in spite of that purported goodwill and the film’s undeniable visual splendor, the Academy failed to take the bait, snubbing Suspiria in all categories. At the time, the Academy was certainly a squeamish bunch, nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (both from Brian de Palma’s nightmarish Carrie the previous year) aside. Even so, the film’s cinematography and art direction are hard to beat. Even more puzzling is how the film slipped by voters for the David di Donatello awards, Italy’s premier film accolade. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Director Argento explains in his DVD interview the various sources of inspiration for Suspiria including Walt Disney’s version of Snow White, and German Expressionistic cinema (though he might not directly refer to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). This shot shows off an Art Deco sensibility. Oh, and M.C. Escher’s influence is clearly on display in one key sequence. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Suspiria‘s rainswept exteriors as first seen by Jessica Harper. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

 

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The differences between this very real historical marvel and its studio lookalike, or near lookalike, (above) are subtle but noticeable with much scrutiny. Give it a try. (IMAGE: Wikipedia)

To clarify, though Suspiria takes place in and around Munich, Germany, most of the movie, aside from a few specific exteriors, such as the aforementioned BMW building, was filmed in Italy on studio sound stages. That noted, notice the similarity between the facade of the dance school (above) and its real-life inspiration, the Whale House in Freiburg (r).

I looked up the definition of “suspiria,” fearing that it would turn out to be a made-up word, but, lo, I discovered that it means “sighs,” and, even more compelling, the title was at least partially inspired by “Suspiria de Profundis,” that is, “sighs from the depths,” a literary work by Thomas De Quincey, circa 1845.  The reason I mention this is because the movie’s soundtrack sounds exactly as it should. Composed and produced by Italian band Goblin, and heavy with synth effects, bells, and strings, the score features layers of whispery voices, achieving that “sighs from the depths” quality the title suggests; moreover, film score enthusiasts treasure the finished product. Even Halloween director John Carpenter is on record with his enthusiasm, reportedly remarking that  his score for Halloween, which I wrote about two years ago, was inspired by Suspiria. I also sense a similarity between Suspiria‘s main theme and the X Files theme. That noted, I think Suspiria is not too far removed from Mike Oldfield’s familiar “Tubular Bells” from The Exorcist (1973).

Of course, no film is perfect, and Suspiria‘s weakest link is in the quality of its dubbing. As Jessica Harper explains on the DVD, in 70s era Italian cinema, performers understood that their dialogue would be corrected, or dubbed, during post production–meaning, for example, that while shooting a given scene, Harper would be speaking her lines in English, as that is her native language, while, say, Stefania Casini, would speak in Italian. It apparently did not matter that the two actresses could not necessarily understand one another because they were responding to what they read and learned from the script. Sounds ghastly, doesn’t it?  Anyway, once the film was shot, Casini could be dubbed for English speaking audiences, and, likewise, Harper could be dubbed for Italian audiences.  Anyway, the finished effect sounds amateurish and more than a little jarring.  The dubbed voices appear to be piped in from somewhere far away.

Make no mistake, as noted earlier when I compared Aregnto’s film to TV’s Satan School for Girls, Suspiria‘s story is well-worn. That noted, this movie revels in its willingness to push audiences to terrifying highs by cutting right to our primal fears, our worst nightmares,  serving up such effects as phantoms lurking outside upper-storey windows, strangulation, hangings, little white worms dripping from ceilings and proliferating faster than our imaginations can process, and, oh yes, rooms booby-trapped with barbed wire.  All exquisitely rendered, like deluxe Halloween eye candy, but disturbing. Horrifying. But also horrifyingly brilliant.

Since I began writing this piece, I have learned that the fabled Texas theatre on Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff will be showing Suspiria on Halloween night. If you’re in the neighborhood, or even if you want to trek across town, this good be great albeit twisted fun.

Thanks (sigh), for your consideration…and Happy Halloween…

Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind. Bonanza Books, 1986.

Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars. Delta, 1993.

Suspiria (Three Disc Limited Edition, per Amazon):

https://www.amazon.com/Suspiria-Three-Limited-Jessica-Harper/dp/B00005LQ04

Most images, per Screenmusings.com:

http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Suspiria/

More about the soundtrack and a quality trailer: http://www.factmag.com/2014/10/31/suspiria-is-the-masterpiece-of-goblin-claudio-simonetti-reflects-on-the-best-horror-soundtrack-of-all-time/

Bedroom Eyes. Literally.

9 Oct

 

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This is the original 1-sheet for 1987’s The Bedroom Window, directed by the recently passed Curtis Hanson, and starring Steve Guttenberg, Isabelle Huppert (l-r, in foreground) and Elizabeth McGovern (in background). The movie was one of a relative few, that also included Blue Velvet, Crimes of the Heart, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, produced and released through Dino De Laurentis’ short-lived American mini studio, De Laurentis Entertainment Group. (IMAGE:  Wikipedia.)

A hotshot young architect woos the glamorous wife of his  well connected boss one night at a party. The attraction is mutual, and the two slip away for a tryst at the young man’s comfortable, spacious apartment overlooking a historic park in Baltimore. As their encounter concludes, the man excuses himself to an adjoining room, and his married lover peers out the bedroom window, jolted by the sight–and sounds–of a woman struggling to get away from her attacker, a scary looking brute with piercing eyes and a shock of red hair. A duck tail no less. [Is his red hair meant as some sort of signifier, OR is it a form of convenience for the writer to make the character register visually? Not clear.]   From the bedroom window, the woman panics, creating enough of a distraction for the victim to break free from her assailant. Alas, all is still not well as the lovers soon discover that shortly after thwarting one attack, a similar incident, one with a deadly outcome, was perpetrated not to far from the previous occurrence. Our lovers feel the pang of guilt, knowing that the married woman saw enough to identify the perpetrator but is not willing to divulge the circumstances, lest she jeopardize her cushy domestic situation. In what seems like a good idea for only 5 minutes or so, the young architect decides to contact the police and relay’s his lover’s version of events as his own. After all, he really only intends to provide a description of the attacker, not much more. How does it all go so wrong? Well, of course, the attacker knows that the man is lying.  During the first tussle, he got a good look at the woman in the window. Of course, he can’t tell the police that without incriminating himself, so he has to take other measures; meanwhile, the detectives on the case have their doubts as well. Also, what about the woman who actually got away? She never saw her attacker’s face–he grabbed her from behind–but she might know more about the architect and his story than even she’s likely to admit to the police.

Writer-director-producer Curtis Hanson (l), an Oscar winner for co-scripting 1997’s L.A. Confidential, which he also directed, passed away on September 20, 2016, yet another casualty of dementia which also claimed the life of Charmian Carr, forever known as lovely Liesl from 1965’s blockbuster, The Sound of Music, the same week. Hanson was 71 at the time; Carr only 73.  Hanson had worked steadily in Hollywood for years before L.A. Confidential bolstered his profile. Adapted from James Ellroy’s noirish tome about police corruption and Hollywood’s seamy underside, circa 1950, and with a cast that includes Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential dazzled critics and earned 9 Oscar nominations (second only to Titanic during the 97/98 Oscar race), ultimately netting Best Supporting Actress honors for Kim Basinger (r), as a tempting Veronica Lake lookalike, in addition to the aforementioned honors accorded to Hanson and co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland. The director worked with Basinger again on 2002’s 8 Mile, starring rapper Eminem, which also captured the 2002 Best Song Oscar: “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem, Jeff Bass, and Luis Resto. Those acclaimed efforts aside, they are not my Hanson faves. Obviously, I have a strong affection for The Bedroom Window, but I also got a kick out of 1992’s The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, which gave Rebecca DeMornay a showy lead role, one with tremendous range, in a big hit film–not necessarily a great film, but a stunning vehicle for its star:  “Peyton,” a troubled young widow posing as a soft spoken nanny for the purpose of extracting deadly revenge. Hard to justify as more than a souped up genre piece, the film re-energized De Mornay’s stagnant career, albeit briefly;  nonetheless, she scooped up a Saturn nomination as did Julianne Moore, only beginning to make a name for herself in movies at the time, in a supporting role as one of Peyton’s snoopy targets. Hanson also provided a change of pace role for Meryl Streep in 1994’s action-packed The River Wild, gave Cameron Diaz one of her strongest roles as a self-destructive mess, per In Her Own Shoes (2005), and, for my money, directed Michael Douglas in one of his  most inspired performances with 2000’s Wonder Boys, for which he was surprisingly overlooked by the Academy though the film secured an Oscar for Bob Dylan and his song, “Things Have Changed.” (Maybe Douglas was not so surprisingly overlooked given the way the otherwise well-received film was ineffectively marketed.) Before Hanson turned to directing, he honed his skills as a screenwriter, most notably with the darkly comic Canadian-made crime thriller, The Silent Partner (1978), starring Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer. Must be seen to be believed. One of his first directorial efforts, Losin’ It (1983)starred a pre-Risky Business Tom Cruise alongside Shelly Long, back when her classic TV show Cheers was still in its infancy. He also scripted the same year’s Never Cry Wolf directed by Caroll Ballard.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Hanson. (IMAGE: The Guardian)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the deliciously juicy plot of 1987’s The Bedroom Window,  scripted and directed by Curtis Hanson, “a romantic thriller” promoted at the time by the De Laurentis Entertainment Group as being “in the tradition of the master of suspense.” Funny, that. The announcer in the trailer stops short of actually naming just whom that master of suspense might be, but the movie’s title, based on Anne Holden’s novel The Witnesses, is an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  And that’s not the worst thing to ever happen. Of  course, to clarify, The Bedroom Window is hardly in the same league as its obvious namesake, but it’s a lot of fun for what it is, tantalizing tomfoolery for old school suspense movie buffs; moreover, this is actually my favorite from the late director who only passed away a short time ago.

Let me be clear. I have no illusions about the movie being an unsung masterpiece, but I enjoy the story’s twists and turns (admitting that it sputters toward the end), as well as Hanson’s swanky visuals (with expert assistance from cinematographer Gilbert Taylor), and the performances of the three leads along with two key supporting players.

First up is the male lead, the architect with questionable judgment played by Steve Guttenberg. It seems odd now, given that he hasn’t appeared in a splashy hit movie in some time and that he was never a critics’ darling (more likely, the brunt of jokes), but Guttenberg was once upon a time a pretty reliable–that is, bankable–Hollywood leading man thanks to such offerings as Cocoon (1985), Short Circuit (1986), Three Men and a Baby (1987), and the lucrative Police Academy franchise.  More boyishly good looking than ruggedly handsome, Guttenberg, despite a decent eye for selecting properties, was most often considered a lightweight actor in the press, and that actually works in his favor in this particular role.  Why? Because his character is supposed to be a pretty lousy liar, so it makes sense that his performance is marked by obvious phoniness. If he were any more convincing, he wouldn’t find himself in such jeopardy in the film’s second half. I like watching him buckle under the weight of his own duplicity. Done! In the Hitchcock pantheon, Guttenberg would be more akin to generally likeable Bob Cummings (in Saboteur or Dial M for Murder) who rates merely adequate–or, worse, wooden–compared to the more complex, dynamic characters played by Jimmy Stewart (specifically Rope, Rear Window, or Vertigo) or charismatic Cary Grant (Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief, or North by Northwest).

Next on board is silkily beautiful French actress Isabelle Huppert. Already famous in her own country for the likes of Violet (César nominee), Every Man for Himself, Loulou (César nominee), Godard’s Passion, Coup de Torchon (César nominee), and Entre Nous (among many others), The Bedroom Window was not Huppert’s first American film though she doesn’t seem to speak English comfortably–even with a dialogue coach [1]. The issue isn’t pronunciation, per se, as she’s easily enough understood, but she lacks ease speaking lines and lines of dialogue convincingly, persuasively. Luckily, she is gorgeous, which is really the point. The audience is not asked to identify with her so much, but to see her through Guttenberg’s eyes, so beautiful that all judgment flies out the window; after all, Guttenberg’c character flirts with disaster from the get-go when he invites his boss’s wife for a rendezvous in his apartment, for cryin’ out loud. In the late 1980s, when most of us were wearing too much makeup, battling over-processed hair, and trying to look swell in glitzily preposterous fashions, Huppert strolls into this movie looking like a sleek femme fatale from Hollywood’s Golden era, say someone on the order of Veronica Lake, so prominently referenced in Hanson’s L.A. Confidential–that or the effortlessly chic star of a French art film [2]. Of course, her performance would be nothing without retro-glam flourishes courtesy of costume designer Clifford Capone, hair stylist Milton Buras, and makeup artist Stefano Fava–and, again, exquisitely lit by Gilbert Taylor. Huppert’s Sylvia Wentworth doesn’t necessarily have the inner-vibrancy that characterizes some of the master’s beat known “cool blondes, ” such as Grace Kelly (mostly Rear Window and To Catch a Thief), Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) or even Kim Novak in Vertigo. Instead, she’s just cool, that is, icy. Cold.  But of course, her cool reserve contrasts quite nicely with Elizabeth McGovern’s liveliness as the final major player.

The third of the major leads is played by Elizabeth McGovern. With the blush of such early successes as Ordinary People (1980’s Best Picture winner in which she played Timothy Hutton’s freshly-scrubbed, apple-cheeked crush) and 1981’s Ragtime, portraying scandalous beauty Evelyn Nesbit to Oscar nominated glory, fading fast but long before capturing the viewing public’s imagination with the phenomenally popular Downton Abbey, McGovern was in need of a career jolt when she signed on for Bedroom Window. She found exactly that, going for broke in a role that requires absolutely no subtlety.  She plays a straight-talkin’ cocktail waitress who survives an attack and then aligns herself with Guttenberg when she realizes what a schlemiel he is, way over his head and sinking fast. Her character needs to clear him from suspicion in order to bring the real villain to justice. and she’s pretty brazen in her efforts. In some of the early scenes, McGovern’s Denise serves a hearty helping of butch-ilicious swagger, but, over time, her defenses soften, and her playful side emerges.  She even dons a long honey-colored wig and sexy girlie costume to help snare the killer, a 180 degree turn from her first encounter with Guttenberg at the police station. It’s almost as though McGovern is playing two characters, like, oh, the aforementioned Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Two actors make vivid contributions in key roles. Most notable of the pair is Brad Greenquist as the slippery killer, slippery in that even with his red hair, he is so otherwise non-descript that he disappears in a crowd of people, thereby making it difficult for detectives to backtrack his movements or to corroborate Guttenberg’s accounts of following him. At the same time, he looks awfully spooky when he gets riled up or is  about to attack. This actor performs confidently, cannily, in a role that actually requires a lot of skill.  Yes, as indicated, he does not necessarily register strongly among patrons at a rowdy bar, but, of course, the audience knows who he is, and he keeps our interest in a largely wordless role. How wordless is up to some debate, and that is part of the fun. The killer’s lawyer, meanwhile, is played by the ever-reliable Wallace Shawn, showing much more force in this rare dramatic role than we have come to expect in some of his more comedic high profile role, such as the same year’s The Princess Bride. When cross-examining Guttenberg, Shawn is unrelenting, but his seemingly non-threatening demeanor practically blind-sides the chump–and, so, the tables are turned.

Besides the obvious Hitchcockian allusion in the title, The Bedroom Window has filmic fingerprints all over it–and not just Hitchcock’s For example, anyone who has ever seen, say, 12 Angry Men (which came out 20 years previous) or My Cousin Vinny (released five years afterward) will recognize the trap that Shawn’s attorney sets for Guttenberg’s schemer. Still, it adds up to a few tense moments for everyone in the courtroom and all of us in the audience who, somehow, want to root for the architect even when we know, almost from the start, he’s in deep doo-do0.  As produced by Oscar winner Robert Towne, the genius who scripted Chinatown (1974), one of the most intriguing movies of the 1970s or any other decade, I have to wonder if he made any creative contributions to Hanson’s offering. By the by, Chinatown was the movie that critics most often favorably compared Hanson’s L.A. Confidential to upon its 1997 release, but I digress. I also have to wonder, back to Bedroom Window, if the architect’s last name, Lambert, is an allusion to Lampert, the last name of Audrey Hepburn’s character in Charade. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Also, what about that sequence set in a theatre during a ballet performance? The echoes of  both Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (the ’56 version with the climactic Albert Hall scene) and North by Northwest (the shocking turn at the United Nations building) are hard to ignore, but, again, that’s almost part of the fun, given that the whole movie in many ways functions as put-on, a lark.

Speaking of filmic fingerprints, one of Guttenberg’s early breaks came with Diner, writer-director Barry Levinson’s first homage to his birth place, good old Baltimore, Maryland. The Bedroom Window brings Guttenberg back to Baltimore, home to the late Edgar Allan Poe, another master of suspense. Indeed, McGovern’s Denise works at a bar called Edgar’s. At one point, she walks under a neon sign that spells out “Nevermore.” This reference isn’t a lark. It’s a raven.

Thanks for your consideration…

[1] – Per the IMDb, that would be Neil Robinsoon.

[2] – Since The Bedroom Window, Huppert has only selectively worked in U.S. films though she fared well in Hal Hartley’s The Amateur (1994). Back in France, she has since accrued 10 additional César nominations, including the stylish 8 Femmes, winning at long last for La cérémonie (1995); meanwhile, the Cannes judges unanimously voted her Best Actress for 2001’s La pianiste, released in the U.S. as The Piano Teacher.

Please click here to read Curtis Hanson’s obituary on The Guardian’s website: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/21/curtis-hanson-director-of-la-confidential-and-8-mile-dies-aged-71

Tangled: The Hissing of Summer Lantana*

29 Sep

 

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One of my all-time favorite movie posters. I had a mini version of it for years. That’s the back of Anthony LaPaglia’s head resting against Kerry Armstrong, with menacing lantana invading the cozy scene. Breathtaking. IMAGE: Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lantana_(film)#/media/File:Lantanaposter01.jpg

Yes, technically, summer has passed. I began writing this piece the week before Garry Marshall passed away, and then I got sidetracked writing about Frankie & Johnny, my favorite Marshall film. I came back to this piece, but was once again sidetracked when Gene Wilder died. Then, I just needed a short break before I resumed. So, here we are at last….even though, again, summer has passed.

Walking is one of my favorite ways to take care of myself. I love walking the way that many people love wine or chocolate, and, make no mistake, I loooove chocolate. I’ve been walking for fun and/or fitness for most of my life. I used to walk to work and back,  a mile or more, for decades. Didn’t drive. Luckily, I loved to walk. Great way to clear the mind, relieve stress, what have you. I try to take a health walk after dinner every evening.

Lately, I’ve been listening, really, deeply listening, to the buzz of cicadas as I walk among the heavily tree lined lanes of my neighborhood. I get lost in the sound, the thrilling complexity of it, layers upon layers of throbbing buzzing. For me, it’s quite likely hypnotic.

This same sense of awe is very much apparent in the Australian movie Lantana, right from the beginning.

In Lantana, the sounds of cicadas are heard before anything visual is revealed. Then follows a beautiful shot in which camera glides among bushy lantana, masses of colorful blossoms and vivid green leaves growing wild, basking in sun-kissed richness. This gorgeous footage of flowers is deepened, amplified, by the droning buzz of cicadas, maybe frogs, and even crickets. The camera artfully descends into a dark hole in the clump, peers down into the thorny underbrush, slowly revealing something unfortunate, tragic, maybe even sinister. Brilliant. As much as I love this sequence, even I have to admit that it bears a wee resemblance to a similar sequence in David Lynch’s 1986 cult fave Blue Velvet, but Lantana is very much its own movie.

Before writing this post, I researched the lantana plant in order to put it into context, that is, the context that Australians, Australian filmmakers–screenwriter Andrew Bovell, producer Jan Chapman, and director Ray Lawrence, would find compelling. To that end, per the official New South Wales, Australian.gov website [1], “Lantana is one of Australia’s most debilitating invasive weeds” (para. 1). Additionally, “Widespread lantana infestations regularly impact on agriculture, the environment, forestry management, recreation and transport” (para. 2).  Furthermore, all varieties of the plant are considered to be “toxic” to both animals and humans (para. 3-7). Finally, “Lantana is a serious invader of disturbed ecosystems including national parks and reserves. The weed can form a dense understorey competing with native flora and limiting natural regeneration” (para. 11). This then is the “thicket” that occupies the heart of Lawrence’s film.  Not only does the tangled growth literally figure into the plot–twice, in fact–it serves as a metaphor for love and betrayal.

If there is an actual plot in Lantana, it is the story of a woman who disappears while driving along a deserted road in the thick of night. Her marriage is shaky, and, certainly, her husband’s behavior seems awfully curious. Of the two detectives assigned to the case, the male is in the midst of a full-blown midlife crisis, racked in equal parts by doubt and guilt. And for good reason.  That’s the plot, the linking thread among four heterosexual couples in various states of disarray: the unfaithful detective and his frustrated–and also not blind–wife; the missing woman and her suspicious-acting husband; an estranged duo in which the woman is desperately lonely to the point that she stalks a sometime “date” while her ex longs for reconciliation. A fourth couple’s struggles are financial. She picks up extra shifts at her job to earn as much cash as possible while laid-off hubby stays home and takes care of the kiddies. It’s hardly an ideal situation, but these people love each other and try as well as they know to make their relationship work. Unfortunately, a busybody neighbor, one with too much time on his or her hands, observes that the out of work hubby appears to be hiding something, something potentially deadly. Another couple operates on the periphery: yet another presumably hetero  married man cheats on his wife with–gasp!–another man, the patient of a therapist with troubles of his or her own who also happens to be treating one of the women experiencing marital difficulty. Tangled, right?

Lantana belongs to a rare class of motion pictures–okay, rare to me–that I call “solar plexus”  films. This is my own term as far as I know, and I’ve used it for years, well before Lantana ever screened. Other movies of this vintage, and it’s a small, small, group, include The Devil’s Playground (directed by fellow Aussie Fred Schepisi, 1976), Exotica (directed by Canadian Atom Egoyan, 1994), and The Ballad of Narayama (specifically, director Shohei Imamura’s 1983 remake of the Japanese classic from the 1950s). Maybe Frances (1982) and Monster (2003) rate as well, but, again, it’s a super select group. A solar-plexus film is not merely sad nor even depressing. It’s more profound than that, but even calling it profound seems pretentious. I like to think a solar plexus film hits squarely upon an uncomfortable emotional truth. Something painful about the human condition, not necessarily bad, but definitely, again, painful or uncomfortable. It weighs heavily to the degree that it creates its own unique bodily sensation,  I’ve only seen one comedy that came close to that sensation, and that is 2013’s Enough Said with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini.

Lantana is about love and betrayal. I recently read somewhere that betrayal by a loved one is betrayal of the worst sort because we don’t expect such actions form a loved one. On the other hand, does betrayal by an enemy even qualify as betrayal? Is that even a thing? In this case, as the layers of betrayal are pulled back, the truth is even more unbearable than the unknown. Right in the solar plexus where the sensation lingers.

Once upon a time, beginning in the mid to late 1970s and up through the early to mid 1980s, film lovers all over the place fell in love with Australian cinema. And why not? The newly thriving industry, largely underwritten by the government, brought a fresh, hugely talented bunch of filmmakers to the forefront of popular and critical acclaim. For example, director Gillian Armstrong helped launch the careers of charmers Judy Davis and Sam Neil in the Victorian coming of age tale My Brilliant Career. Additionally, Peter Weir, well known in the states for Witness, Dead Poets Society, and The Truman Show,  made a name for himself with the likes of Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and Gallipoli, the latter starring exciting newcomer Mel Gibson who had already begun making a name for himself in George Miller’s Mad Max. Meanwhile, Fred Schepisi helmed the aforementioned The Devil’s Playground as well as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Before he scored in America with the likes of Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford triumphed in his homeland with The Getting of Wisdom and Breaker Morant. Finally, but not really final, is Philip Noyce. Americans know him from big budget blockbusters on the order of Salt (which I wrote about in 2011), Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, but he attracted a lot of attention Down Under with Newsfront (a major Australian Academy winner), Heat Wave (Judy Davis again), and Dead Calm (Sam Neil and a very young Nicole Kidman).

Since that time, the Australian film community has continued to make amazing films, The Dish and Rabbit Proof Fence (the latter directed by the aforementioned Noyce) being two particular standouts; likewise, Australia shares its wealth, meaning some of the biggest names in American made films got their first big breaks Down Under: Toni Collette (Muriel’sWedding), Russell Crowe (Romper Stomper) [1], Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman (Flirting, plus the aforementioned Dead Calm), Guy Pearce (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), and Naomi Watts (also, Flirting), among others. All well and fine, but the “wow” factor, the enthusiasm and intrigue of that first wave, has long passed as audiences explore other genres, other cultures–other styles of filmmaking. That being the case, maybe you missed Lantana in its theatrical run. Maybe you’d see it if you only had a reason.

I can give you 8 good reasons you should consider watching Lantana. Not coincidentally, that’s the same number of Australian Film Institute Awards (the Oscar equivalent) it won, setting a record at that time for sweeping all the major categories. If that’s not enough, how about 14 good reasons, that is, the number of AFI nominations it garnered? Are you ready? Here goes:

  • Anthony LaPaglia (Best Actor) – We’ve become so accustomed to seeing LaPaglia in American TV shows and movies, such as The Client, wherein he played Barry “The Blade” Muldano, not to mention Tony winning Broadway productions, such as A View from the Bridge, that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he is, in fact, a native Australian. As the weary detective whose marriage is falling apart at the seams, LaPaglia is the emotional heart of Lantana. He is at constant odds with himself almost every minute, maybe at odds with everyone he encounters (including one of his children), and his confusion, melded as it is with his sense of justice, is palpable.  An Oscar nomination in the year that produced Denzel Washington (Training Day), Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Sean Penn (I Am Sam), and Will Smith (Ali) would have been more than okay with me as I wasn’t a HUGE fan of any of the nominees though they all had their moments, especially Wilkinson, I guess, in problematic films.  I’ve always believed that LaPaglia’s right-on performance in this film was a likely catalyst in him being cast as the lead detective in Without a Trace, the long-running American TV series for which he netted two Emmy nominations and one SAG nod as well, among other honors. As with his character on that show, he begins his case in this film by searching for a missing person, not by investigating a crime, per se.
  • Kerry Armstrong (Best Actress) – Armstrong plays LaPaglia’s no-nonsense wife. She doesn’t necessarily go snooping to see what he’s up to because she doesn’t have to. She might not know all the details, but she knows enough, and we feel for her because, among other things, Armstrong is a knockout, a casually elegant beauty on the order of America’s own Christy Turlington though Armstrong is, in fact, older by about a decade…no matter. She looks great, and audiences might be baffled by why her husband cheats, but, of course, we all know that, as is often the case, people in relationships who stray often do so for reasons that have NOTHING to do with the person being cheated upon and everything to do with the cheater. Still, it’s obvious that Armstrong’s character dearly loves her husband, and she’s just tired and lonely enough, and don’t forget so incredibly good looking, that she might be tempted to do something she will surely regret. Powerful stuff. She and LaPaglia have a great wordless scene that speaks volumes. They know how to just “be” onscreen. Oh, and the year that Armstrong won her Australian Film Institute award for Lantana, she also won an additional award from the same organization for her work in the TV show Sea Change. Not bad. Not bad at all.
  • Rachael Blake (Best Supporting Actress) – In a film rife with flawed characters, Blake’s divorcee is seriously one of the worst of the lot. She’s desperate for attention and affection, enough so that she hunts a recent fling, setting up an extremely awkward confrontation, and she makes overtures, overtures that could easily be misconstrued, to a neighbor. Aside from all that, she has a lot of free time on her hand, time that allows for a lot of voyeurism, amateur sleuth stuff that has far-reaching implications, both good and bad. She’s a mess, but, in a bit of a twist, her ex-hubby still seems wildly infatuated with her. Out of everyone she knows, he may very well be the only one who actually has feelings for her though she would rather be at home by herself, flailing through life, than reconnect. I don’t know if my response is more geared to the character than to Blake herself but this is probably my least favorite performance in the bunch, with or without her award. Something about her just reads as “awkward” to me, and I mean that in a Jane Lynch kind of way. Even her character is named Jane.  I actually like Jane Lynch, a lot, and Blake is actually a decade younger than Lynch, but Lynch has a way of portraying awkward people in a funny way. Blake isn’t going for comedy. Oh well. She’s a busy lady with multiple Australian Film Institute nods to her credit, besides her win for Lantana.
  • Vince Colosimo (Best Supporting Actor) – As an out of work husband whose actions attract the wrong kind of attention, Colosimo expertly plays every note of a character who is both more and less than what he seems at the outset. In other words, he might not be guilty, but that doesn’t necessarily make him innocent,  or smart, and that is a tricky assignment for any actor. Like Rachael Blake, Colosimo is a busy, busy, actor and has been for decades. In the 90s, he appeared on several episodes of the American series The Practice. At home, his range of credits include roles in The Great Gatsby (yes, the DiCaprio version helmed by Aussie Baz Luhrman) and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. He boasts an additional trio of AFI nods, including Best Actor for Walking on Water, a big hit, as well, at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.
  • Andrew Bovell (Best Adapted Screenplay AND Harpers Bazaar AFI Screenwriting Prize) – I truly do not know the point in awarding two prizes for one screenplay, but there you have it. Bovell’s screenplay is so good that his own countrymen–and women–found enough reason to honor it twice. Of course, Bovell juggles the criss-crossing storylines and varied characters with dexterity, an admirable accomplishment, but Lovell’s greater achievement–arguable, of course–is hitting all the right emotional notes–and even some of the wrong ones, if that makes any sense. Again, before this movie arrives at its final sequence, many of these characters will face some disturbing truths. Some of them, the characters, that is, will come out on the other side of these knotty thorns with dignity intact and hope renewed. The others will not be so fortunate, and give Bovell credit for not tying up each story thread so nicely and neatly after so expertly showing us the dark and desperate side of humanity. Bovell’s other credits include being listed as one of the several writers of Baz Luhrman’s acclaimed, award winning, debut smash, Strictly Ballroom.
  • Ray Lawrence (Best Director) – If Bovell’s gift is for getting inside the heads of his imaginary characters, Lawence’s talent is for excelling likewise with real-life performers.  Certainly, members of the Australian Academy, many of them actors, no doubt, showed Lawrence and his cast their appreciation with all those awards. That consideration, by the way, extended to one more performer who was bested by one of her peers, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Besides noteworthy performances, Lawrence’s concerns include the movie’s lighting and music, both of which he recalls at length on Lantana‘s DVD.
  • Jan Chapman (Producer, Best Picture) – If Chapman’s name seems familiar, you might remember her from 1993’s The Piano which she produced though, to clarify, Jan Chapman should not be confused with Jane Campion, who actually directed The Piano, earning an Oscar nod for Best Director (only the second woman in Academy history so recognized) and actually winning the coveted statuette for her screenplay. Back to Chapman. She is one of her country’s most respected producers with a seemingly unerring eye for material, for recognizing talent, and for creating opportunities. She won Australia’s top film prize for The Piano as well as for this film and her filmography also includes accolades for The Last Days of Chez Nous (directed by Gillian Armstrong) and Bright Star (the John Keats biopic directed by Campion). Besides dominating the Australia Film Institute awards, Chapman and her film made a handsome showing at the Film Critics Circle of Australia derby, claiming prizes and/or nominations in many of the same categories.

Besides these wins, Lantana scored additional Australian Academy nominations for Best Editing (Karl Sodersten), Best Sound (the team of Syd Butterworth, Andrew Plain, and Robert Sullivan), Best Production Design (Kim Buddee), Best Costume Design (Margot Wilson), and Best Original Music Score (Paul Kelly). Let’s break this down.  Kelly lost in his category but emerged victorious at his country’s equivalent of the Grammy awards. Bing! Likewise, Syd Butterworth, of the sound team, was honored by members of his own guild for his work with location recording. Bing again! Regarding the nominations for art direction and costume, it really comes as no surprise that a contemporary film would not go all the way in categories often dominated, at least in the U.S., by period and/or fantasy films. That noted, these designers deserve props for defining the habits and environments of a large number of characters from a wide range of economic backgrounds, from obviously affluent to barely making ends meet, all of which shape the way they dress along with where and how they live. In that regard, the design team is a huge success since everything seems real and lived-in. Also, props to cinematographer Mandy Walker. She wasn’t even nominated for the AFI award, strangely, though she snagged a prize from her colleagues in the Australian Cinematographers Society, and good for her since she and Lawrence worked hard to achieve naturalistic lighting, even during night shoots, always a tricky proposition. Bing!

Still, I want to pay special tribute to one cast member who was nominated but lost–to one of her own cast members, no less. Ouch! I’m referring to Daniela Farinacci, nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role as the put upon wife and mother, taken to working extra shifts as a nurse to help make ends meet while her husband seems helplessly between jobs. Per the IMDb, Farinacci barely had any TV or movie credits to her name when she signed on for Lantana, but, no matter, she’s a real spitfire, trying to hold on tightly to her loved ones in order to keep the family unit together while also trying to make sense of the confusion, and possible (perceived) betrayal that unfolds rather dramatically in a short period. With the possible exception of Thomas’s frustrated wife, Farinacci’s Paula may very well be the most decent, most likeable, character in the whole film. She doesn’t hide her emotions, and everything she does seems authentic. Too bad she lost to Rachael Blake in a role that doesn’t seem quite as compelling.

Among the large cast’s non-nominated pool are two stars well-known to audiences in both Australia and America. The first of those is Geoffrey Rush who, at the time of Lantana, had already achieved international glory, including an American Oscar, for portraying troubled yet triumphant Aussie pianist David Helfgott in 1996’s Shine–that and subsequent nominations for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love (Best Supporting Actor) and 1990’s Quills, in which he played the Marquis de Sade (Best Actor). Rush’s character exists in a strained marriage with no less than American thesp, Barbara Hershey. Coincidentally, Hershey’s lone Oscar nod–Best Supporting Actress for Portrait of a Lady–came in 1996, the same year that Rush won for Shine. To clarify, Hershey does not play her Lantana role with an Aussie accent. Instead, we understand her to to be a transplanted American. To further clarify, the role was not necessarily written that way. Apparently, Hershey won the part through persistence after reading the screenplay–and apparently after no other Australian native (Judy Davis? Sigrid Thornton? Rachel Ward? The late Wendy Hughes?) was deemed suitable or was willing to step up to the plate. Curious, but I digress.  The two characters played by Rush and Hershey struggle to remain civil to one another while pressing on after facing inexplicable tragedy. She clings to the catharsis of writing a book as a coping mechanism while he shields his feelings and clings to workplace minutiae as a means of avoidance. His reluctance to engage spurs within her almost crippling thoughts of infidelity, impairing her judgement. What a mess. Both performers deliver thoughtful performances with Rush definitely working through the murkier challenge.

Despite capturing honors all over the place, including England, France, and Italy, Lantana did not make much of a showing in the U.S. during the 2001/02 awards season. Not only did the Academy ignore the picture, it couldn’t even gain traction with the likes of the Screen Actors Guild or the Writers Guild. The smattering of prizes it did claim came from the National Board of Review (Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking), the American Association of Retired Persons, that is, AARP, award (Best Movie for Grownups), and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, where it garnered prizes for director Lawrence, screenwriter Bovell, and the ensemble cast. It also tied for Best Picture with the Zookeeper.

Maybe you haven’t seen Lantana. Maybe you should. Maybe you should at least consider doing so. If you are a fan of, say, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), or 2005’s Best Picture winner Crash, per writer-director Paul Haggis, Lantana might be just the ticket. Oh, speaking of Altman, aside from his exquisite Gosford Park, I could not work up much enthusiasm for the Academy’s slate of Best Picture nominees that year. Oh, as noted previously regarding the Best Actor roster, the selected films had their moments, but moments, possibly a few standout performances, were all they had. To this day, and, again, with the exception of Gosford Park, I haven’t felt compelled to watch a single one of them again since seeing them in their original runs. Not once. What a strange time that was because both Gosford Park and Lantana did not open locally until early 2002, and I can remember being flummoxed for much of the holiday season, and I felt odd, weird, different, frustratingly unsatisfied that I had not seen that truly awesometastic movie that usually sparks a cinematic jolt followed by, as a good friend once described, movie afterglow. Then in short order, I saw Gosford Park and Lantana almost back to back, and I felt a rush, a wash of delirium as though I had been saved, saved by Lantana‘s tangled embrace.

Thanks for your consideration…

* Debt of gratitude to Joni Mitchell for inspiring this title

[1] – To learn more about the lantana plant: http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/78

[2] – Technically, Crowe was born in New Zealand while Naomi Watts was born in England, and even Nicole Kidman was, actually, born in Hawaii; however, they, as noted, eventually relocated to Australia and began their careers. To further clarify, directors Jane Campion (The Piano) and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) are actually from New Zealand though strongly identified with Australian cinema.

[3] – The big winner that year was A Beautiful Mind (admired the performances, not crazy about the finished product as a whole) though I believe the first installment of The Lord of the Rings scored more nominations (the series built steadily to its third entry). Rounding out the ballot were In the Bedroom (liked, didn’t love…hard to love), Moulin Rouge! (an acquired taste…I belive Time labelled it both the year’s Best AND Worst film), and, finally, Gosford Park, Robert Altman’s exquisite homage to “cozy” murder mysteries penned by Agatha Christie–scripted by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, who later masterminded the wildly popular British series Downton Abbey.

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A slightly different but no less elegant version of the Lantana poster. IMAGE: IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259393/mediaviewer/rm180068096

Farewell, Mr. Wilder: The Candy Man Who Launched a Thousand Memes

5 Sep
Screen shot 2016-08-29 at 9.33.05 PM

“Come with me And you’ll be In a world of pure imagination Take a look And you’ll see Into your imagination.” Actor-writer-director Gene Wilder passed last week (Monday, August 29,2016) at the age of 83.

Who can take a sunrise (who can take a sunrise)
Sprinkle it with dew (sprinkle it with dew)
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Candy Man (the Candy Man)
Oh, the Candy Man can (the Candy Man can)
The Candy Man can
‘Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good
(Makes the world taste good)
          I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
at the Ridgewood theatre in Garland back when it was first released during the summer of 1971. I was 11 at the time, so, naturally, I loved the movie. I even loved the Ridgewood theatre. I loved Wonka’s visual effects and amazing art direction, such as the entry hall that changed dimensions and especially that lavish chocolate room with all the candied treats and chocolate river. Being 11, I didn’t know exactly what “art direction” entailed, exactly, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen since Dorothy’s turn in Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. My love for Wonka didn’t end with its visual appeal. I also enjoyed the songs (obviously, the two I have quoted on this page), and, last, but certainly not least, I loved the the funny looking man at the center of it all. He was funny yet creepy and altogether enthralling. He first appears limping along with a cane and then launches into a somersault, a move which Wilder later relayed was his own idea and essential to his characterization in that, after that introduction, audiences would never know if Wonka was to be trusted. His face seemed perfectly innocent one minute, then smug; silly the next, and sinister the moment after that. Simply, I felt enchanted.
          Several months later, there I sat late one night at the foot of my mother and stepfather’s bed, watching the Academy awards all the way through for the first time ever. The big winner, of course, was  The French Connection. Never heard of it. Or Gene Hackman. Jane Fonda snagged Best Actress for Klute and didn’t make a politically embarrassing speech though everyone seemed to be afraid she would from what I understood, which was not much, actually. She barely looked like Jane Fonda to me, that is, the gorgeous pin-up from the likes of Barefoot in the Park. Instead, she had dark hair in a shag. In the Best Supporting Actress category, I was torn even though I had not seen any of the nominees’ films. On one hand, another one of my faves, Ann-Margret, whom I’d seen umpteen times in Made in Paris and Bye, Bye Birdie, was nominated for Carnal Knowledge (no, I didn’t know what that meant) against no less than Cloris Leachman, whom I’d grown to admire thanks to her role as Mary Tyler Moore’s kooky neighbor, Phyllis Lindstrom. Leachman won, looking nothing like Phyllis,  and gave a delightful speech. (Google it.) There was a lot I did not understand about the Oscars that year. What, after all, was A Clockwork Orange? Who were Nicholas and Alexandra?  Yes, I asked, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? What the heck is Isaac Hayes doing up there in a vest made of chains, and who is Shaft? I knew who Charlie Chaplin was because his Little Tramp figure was so widely portrayed, but I didn’t understand why people were making such a big deal about him though I thought he delivered a sweetheart of a speech. Of course, to me, he looked as old as Methuselah.
          One thing I did know, irrefutably, was Willy Wonka. I sat up at the recognition of one of my favorite movies, and probably the only movie I’d seen in a theatre that year. Part of a babysitting gig with a neighbor across the street, but I digress.  Wonka was nominated for Best Song Score, per the team of Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, and Walter Scharf. Of course, I didn’t know what a score was, let alone a score adaptation. To this day, I really cannot figure how a movie can reap an award for its song score without likewise meriting at least one Best Song nod? No “Candy Man”? No “Pure Imagination”? Really? The winner went to John Williams for Fiddler on the Roof. Eleven year old me asks, “What does it mean, this fiddler on the roof?”  Surprisingly, if not bewilderingly (so to speak), no Oscar nods for Wonka’s sets, per Harper Goff–still a hard one to figure–nor for Mr. Wonka himself, Gene Wilder.
          Not too many years later, I would learn something almost unconscionable: despite being one of the two or three most amazing movies ever made, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was deemed a box office disappointment, at least at the time of its release. Of course, despite an underwhelming start, and a mostly unappreciative Academy, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory endures as a classic. Just like the Wizard of Oz, repeated TV viewings helped it build its audience as one generation shared it with the next. Rinse–with chocolate–and repeat. I was ecstatic to see it on the big screen several years later, probably ’84, in San Francisco, no less. Today, not only do viewers recognize Willy Wonka as a classic, so does the Library of Congress, per the National Film Registry, class of 2014.
          Around the time I learned about Willy Wonka not being, you know, a hit, I learned  (again, after the fact) that Wilder had actually snagged a Golden Globe nomination for his incredible performance. Amazing! Good for him.
          But, of course, Wilder was much, much more than Willy Wonka. And, now, alas, he has passed away. Before he made his big screen debut, playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder had eked out a career in theatre, appearing in the original short-lived Broadway run of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the same tragic role that eventually netted a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Brad Dourif in the 1975 film adaptation. Additionally, during his years on the boards, Wilder also appeared in Mother Courage, the very play in which Anne Bancroft was starring in early 1963 and, as a result, missed accepting her Best Actress Oscar for The Miracle Worker (the result of which provided an infamous photo-op for Joan Crawford, thereby rubbing salt in a fresh wound suffered by Crawford’s co-star Bette Davis, competing against Crawford for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but I digress). We can all breathe a healthy, hearty sigh of relief knowing that Bancroft facilitated Wilder’s introduction to her then beau and later husband Mel Brooks. From there, Wilder and Brooks thrived, starting with 1968’s The Producers for which Wilder earned a Best Supporting Actor nod for playing hapless accountant Leo Bloom, one half of a scheming duo trying to  bilk the system by orchestrating a guaranteed flop Broadway show, notoriously known as Springtime for Hitler. Besides Wilder’s Best Supporting Actor nomination (though, obviously, his is a leading role) [1],  Brooks snagged an Oscar for his screenplay.
          Over the next few years, Wilder worked steadily if not spectacularly though the highlights include(d) Wonka, of course, and Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex…, a parody of Dr. David Reuben’s landmark non-fiction “how-to” book of the same name. In his vignette, Wilder plays a doctor who falls in love with, well, no need for a spoiler or even a spoiler alert here. Really, it has to be seen to be believed, but Wilder is very convincing in a role that might have destroyed a lesser actor.  Again, it’s that face: sparkling blue eyes, wispy lashes, nice teeth, and an impish smile.  No, he’s not conventionally good looking like some of the bigger stars of the era: Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, or Ryan O’Neal, but he has kind features that can turn instantly…crazed.
          Wilder reunited with Mel Brooks not once but twice in 1974, firmly establishing himself as one of the best and brightest stars of the era. First came the bawdy western parody Blazing Saddles, pairing Wilder with Cleavon Little and featuring an Oscar nominated supporting turn by the late, great Madeline Kahn. The film soared to the top of year’s biggest box office hits and later placed as high as #6 on the American Film Institute’s 2000 salute to the 100 funniest films ever made. Even better, per our household, is/was the comic masterpiece, Young Frankenstein, a stunning black and white homage to all those classic Universal horror films from the 1930s. Wilder and Brooks netted Oscar nods for their screenplay, a highlight of which includes the former as Dr. Frankenstein (that’s Frankensteen) doing a righteously elegant “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with Peter Boyle in the role of the doctor’s monstrous creation. Classic.  Also along for the ride are Mary Feldman, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn (of course), Teri Garr, and Cloris Leachman. This one also cracked the roster of 1974’s top 10 box office hits and is also recognized as an American classic by the Library of Congress and also appears, coming in at 13, on the AFI’s list of great American comedies. For those keeping score, Wilder appears in no less than 5  National Film Registry titles: Bonnie and Clyde, The Producers, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. That’s quite a legacy.

          In 1976, Wilder teamed up with Richard Pryor for the comedy-thriller Silver Streak–featuring star-in-the-making Jill Clayburgh as Wilder’s romantic interest. Scripted by Harold and Maude‘s beloved Colin Higgins, Silver Streak proved popular with audiences and critics, netting Wilder another Golden Globe nod and setting the stage for future Wilder-Pryor pairings, most notably Stir Crazy. The 1980 prison themed comedy was directed by no less than Sidney Poitier and sold over 100 million dollars worth of movie tickets, the year’s third biggest box office attraction–just behind The Empire Strikes Back and 9 to 5.  In so doing, Poitier broke new ground as the first director of African descent to stake a claim in the then relatively exclusive 100 million dollar club. Poitier later directed Wilder in Hanky Panky, a North by Northwest style  yarn, like Silver Streak, that mixes comedy and intrigue. Hanky Panky was the film that brought Wilder together with Gilda Radner whom he later married [2], but I’m getting ahead of myself. Backing up a bit, Wilder and Pryor reunited for 1989’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil (directed by Silver Streak‘s Arthur Hiller). Hardly a blockbuster, the film nonetheless held the number one spot at the top of the box office charts for two weeks running. The final Wilder-Pryor outing, Another You was far less successful. Oh, and if you’re still keeping score, Silver Streak weighs in at 95 on the AFI’s list of 100 funniest movies, making that entry number four for Wilder. Again, that’s quite a legacy.
          Fresh from his back-to-back Brooks blockbusters, Wilder turned to directing with 1975’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, featuring Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn (natch); it’s one of Michael’s faves. Of all his directorial efforts, though,  one stands out to me for multiple reasons. In 1984, Wilder, working with producer Victor Drai, released an Americanized version of the French comedy Pardon Mon Affaire, retitled The Woman in Red. Wilder portrays a mild-mannered family man who becomes infatuated–to the point of obsession–with a leggy, voluptuously lipped model that, of course, he scarcely knows. Released by Orion Pictures in August of 1984 with the newly minted PG-13 rating, The Woman in Red was not projected to necessarily be big office, and that pretty much ended up being the case. Except at the theatre where I worked at the time, the old UA Prestonwood Creek 5.  Almost no movie in my 16 years at that venue serves as a better example of the old maxim: location, location, location. No, The Woman in Red really wasn’t a big hit, but it was a perfect fit for that particular theatre, selling out on Friday and Saturday evenings for weeks on end,  a must see for yuppie couples on date nights, and pulling respectable numbers among the ladies who lunch on the weekdays.  (I must have seen it at least a half-dozen times during its run.) This was our kind of picture, a sophisticated romantic comedy, a movie clearly designed for adult audiences, that performed well for us and maybe only so-so elsewhere. Of course, what seemed smart and sparkly during the 1980s doesn’t play so well this many years, no, decades, later. Much of the humor seems sniggery and sexist, and the plot is barely more than an excuse for Wilder to build comic set pieces, but Wilder, pushing 50 at the time, has an almost boyish charm, a naivete,  that helps sell the material.
          Do you want to know what else helps make The Woman in Red so memorable? A stunning passel of songs written and performed by Stevie Wonder, with guest vocalist Dionne Warwick.  No, The Woman in Red is not a musical, but Wonder’s smooth tunes provide an elegant counterpoint to the onscreen action. Of all the featured songs, of course, none became more successful than the lively “I  Just Called to Say I Love You,” which not only flourished as a damn near inescapable radio smash but also captured that year’s Oscar–and Golden Globe–for  Best Song. Not bad given that the competition included two hits from the Footloose soundtrack, a Phil Collins power ballad (“Take a Look at Me Now” from Against All Odds) and the theme to the wildly popular Ghostbusters. (Meanwhile, Best Song Score went  not to Wonder, who wasn’t even nominated, but to Prince for the iconic Purple Rain soundtrack, but, again, I digress.)
          The Woman in Red also launched Kelly LeBrock, as Wilder’s intended, on her path to stardom, however short lived. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was the producer’s wife and all (at least at the time), but, still, what a knock-out; likewise, on her way to winning her second Tony award, Judith Ivey enjoyed one of her first significant film roles as Wilder’s trusting wife. Her character bounces all over the place, and Ivey clearly has fun with some of her line readings. Of course, she is almost 20 years younger than Wilder, so the costume and makeup people do their best to make her look a bit more matronly and/or age appropriate. Dig her 1980s overalls. (She was in her early 30s at the time.) The Woman in Red also features a scarily peculiar supporting turn by Gilda Radner as one of Wilder’s co-workers, a borderline pathetic take on the archetypal Miss Lonelyhearts figure. She’s so scary she could have been the model for Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction. Wilder’s treatment of this pitifully timid woman, pushed to the brink, seems cruel, and the role almost seems beneath the skill set of a performer with Radner’s immense talent, but the payoffs come soon enough. Finally, Wilder shows great generosity with supporting players Joseph Bologna and Charles Grodin, both of whom shine as members of Wilder’s gang of overgrown boys with roving eyes. Grodin, in particular, fares exceptionally well in a role that encompasses everything from comic hijinks to uncomfortable silences.  I remember reading a report from the time that Grodin, buoyed by many favorable notices, actually paid for his own campaign to snag a Best Supporting Actor nod, a move not unheard of when studios want to hedge their bets during awards season, preferring to sink money only into the sure things. In this case, Orion chose to lavishly promote Amadeus, which ultimately dominated that year’s Oscars, and invested less in campaigns for The Woman in Red and Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose [3]. Grodin spent all his own cash to little avail. The performance, for what it is, works–but it worked better in 1984 than it does today because our perception of men like the one Grodin portrays has changed. Oh, and don’t forget all that gorgeous location footage of romantic San Francisco.
          Why am I writing so much about this all-but-forgotten 1984 Gene Wilder film, even with an Oscar? Simple. It was one of my mother’s all-time favorites. Seriously. Seeeeerrrriiiiioooouuusssllllyyy. She saw it on Labor Day weekend back in the day and almost never got over it. For years and years, she could barely mention it without doubling over in laughter. It gave her such tremendous joy watching Wilder try to squirm out of one awkward situation after another.  Of course, she also bought Wonder’s top selling record to enjoy anytime she wanted.
          So that’s where this tribute begins and ends. Wilder’s appeal extended, or extends, across generations. I loved him when I was a child while my mother didn’t come to love him until she was in her 50s. In the summer of 2005, when my niece was all of 11 (the same age I was when I first saw Willy Wonka), I loaded her up in the car with one or two of her friends, and off we went to see Johnny Depp play Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Why not? After all, it was Johnny Depp. On the way out of the theatre, my niece sighed and said that she couldn’t wait to get back home and watch the real Willy Wonka. That’s a nifty trick, yes, even for Willy Wonka.  Wilder’s well-earned stardom endures in some of America’s favorite movies, and how many times a day does his delightful face pop up in a meme reminding us of how silly we can sometimes be? And is it just me, or do you also hear his soothing voice, softly dripping with sarcasm,  as you read those barbs? What a legacy.
Thanks, Gene.
[1] – Coincidentally, Wilder lost in his category to Jack Albertson (The Subject was Roses) who would co-star in Willy Wonka as little Charlie’s grandpa.
[2] – Wilder and Radner collaborated on three movies, the last of which was 1986’s ill-fated Haunted Honeymoon. The actress died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Wilder then dedicated much of his life to spreading cancer awareness, including promoting Gilda’s Club for cancer patients and their families. Wilder remarried some years after Radner’s passing and was still married at the time of his death.
[3] – Allen’s black and white offering about showbiz wannabes and gangsters netted nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay; meanwhile, Grodin’s self-financed campaign proved unsuccessful, coming as it did in a season dominated by such heavyweights as Khmer Rouge survivor Dr. Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields, Adolph Caesar in A Soldier’s Story (that’s two Best Picture candidates), and the late Ralph Richardson, in Greystoke, his final screen appearance, not to mention newcomer John Malcovich in Places of the Heart (another Best Picture contender), and Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita in the crowd pleasing The Karate Kid.  By comparison, The Woman in Red wasn’t a significant enough achievement even as good as Grodin was in it. I would have applauded his nomination, but the deck was stacked against him.

When Garry Met Michelle in the Moonlight

28 Aug

Writer-producer-actor and director Garry Marshall passed away on July 19, 2016. My regrets for this delayed tribute.

So, by now, most of us know that Garry Marshall has passed away. He died of pneumonia following a stroke at the age of 81. So sudden. After all, only a few months previously his Mother’s Day premiered, an ensemble piece that followed the pattern of interlocking multi-character stories that Marshall began with Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Mother’s Day featured a compelling performance by Jennifer Aniston as a woman bearing the slings and arrows of divorce aftermath, that is, when the spouse has already moved on to a new s.o. Frequent Marshall muse Julia Roberts appeared in the flashy role of a lifestyle guru not unlike HSN superstar Joy Mangano or even Martha Stewart. Of course, Marshall famously directed Roberts and Richard Gere in a pair of blockbuster romantic comedies, Pretty Woman–the movie that effectively transformed the actress from promising newcomer to full-fledged star–and Runaway Bride, the former in 1990 and the latter in 1999.

Before Roberts and Marshall’s 1990 smash, he had long established his credentials on TV, writing for scads of sitcoms and then coming into his own empire as creator-producer of such fabelled 1970s hits as Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy, not to mention his small-screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. In the 80s, he segued to feature films, directing and sometimes even writing (or co-writing) such films as The Flaming Kid, a less angsty, nice change of pace role for a then still young Matt Dillon that also featured what appeared to be a certain Best Supporting Actor caliber performance by Richard Crenna (alas, only garnering a Golden Globe nod rather than Oscar approval). The pre-Pretty Woman titles include such  star-studded offerings as 1986’s Nothing in Common (Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason), 1987’s Overboard (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell), and 1988’s Beaches (Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey). Of course, not everything that Marshall touched turned to box-office gold, as was the case with Overboard (which nonetheless has its admirers)  and Exit to Eden.

My favorite Marshall film is none of the above. I don’t necessarily hate Pretty Woman, but I find it a bit problematic aside from Marshall’s exemplary work with actors, and not just Oscar nominee Roberts, but also Richard Gere, Hector Elizondo, MVP of Marshall’s rep company,  and even Elinor Donahue. I enjoyed it. Kind of, but once was definitely enough. I seldom stop and watch it if I happen to catch a glimpse while flipping channels. Nope. Not interested. Now, Frankie and Johnny (1991) is in a whole other category. Indeed Michael and I watched it on VHS, along with Rear Window and 84 Charing Cross Road, the night before we got married.

Frankie and Johnny, apparently more loosely–than tightly–adapted from Terence McNally’s two character play, Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune [1], is about two lonely New Yorkers who might very well find love in spite of setbacks that have left both of them, well, a little anxious. He, Johnny, that is, wants the world, and he wants it now. Why not? Just released from prison and estranged from his family, he wants to make up for lost time and somehow “correct” the mistakes he made during an early marriage. She, Frankie, on the other hand, is resolutely NOT looking for love, and while she notices something attractive in Johnny, his intensity curdles her faintest enthusiasm.

Consistent with McNally’s text, Johnny works as a short-order cook, and Frankie toils as a waitress. Unlike the original, McNally, credited as the sole screenwriter, reconceptualizes the story which originally unfolds in a single setting over the course of a one-night stand–and takes the audience into the daily lives of the characters and the world they inhabit, mainly the bustling Apollo Cafe, owned and operated by ever-reliable Elizondo as Nick. The rest of the cast includes Kate Nelligan as flashy waitress Cora and Nathan Lane as Frankie’s de rigueur gay neighbor [2]. Also on board in a smallish though effective role as yet another waitress is ever-wry Jane Morris who, like Elizondo, frequently appears in Marshall’s films.

The movie adaptation is famous for two things, maybe three. First, it was reportedly the first major motion picture to shoot in New York City after a strike shut down production in 1990 though exact documentation is hard to locate. At any rate, Marshall plunks his cast right in the thick of things, including playing handball on street corners and alleyways and a stop at the flower market, a lovely sequence that includes one of the all-time great “reveals.”  While Marshall sometimes overplays his hand at portraying New York as a cold, fearful place, it is also busy and colorful, somehow more diverse than the affluent Manhattan often depicted in the films of Woody Allen.

Secondly, Frankie and Johnny is notable in its casting, especially the role of Frankie. Kathy Bates portrayed the insecure waitress in the play’s original off-Broadway production but lost the movie role to Michelle Pfeiffer. It was the second time in only a matter of years that Bates, a seasoned, vital character actress with plenty of stage cred, saw one of her signature stage roles go to a more conventionally youthful–dare we say thinner and/or prettier–Hollywood star. The first indignation came when Sissy Spacek was cast as the suicidal epileptic in the 1986 screen version of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer winner Night Mother, for which Bates had earned a Tony nomination.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was originally one of those skeptics. I’d long been a Bates fan,  thanks to her supporting roles in the likes of Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (in which she was an eerie ringer for someone I happened to know, since deceased), The Morning After (1986), and Men Don’t Leave (1991), spot on as the no-nonsense proprietor of a gourmet deli in the latter, and I wanted her to have greater opportunities. Plus, the idea that she would be overlooked because she was no longer ingenue material–if she ever really was–seemed disgraceful. So, I truly didn’t think I would enjoy seeing Michelle Pfeiffer as Frankie, but the trailor hooked me–good job–and I gave the movie a look.

Pfieffer won me over, and in doing so she also reminded skeptics, like me, of a point that we might have not considered. In real-life, good looks–like Pfeiffer’s–aren’t everything. The truth is that in NYC and points all across the map, there are plenty of attractive young women who do not aspire to be models, actresses, or TV personalities, and these same lovely people toil in tons of non-glamorous jobs, such as waiting tables. Of course, they do. Their lives are not carefree. They might even be burdened by the expectation that because they are so attractive they would want to aspire to more, but maybe they enjoy what they do. Insecurities, disappointment, and living paycheck to paycheck aren’t necessarily the exclusive dominions of folks who might not live in a state of perpetual camera-readiness.  That’s the unvarnished truth.  Pfeiffer’s Frankie doesn’t necessarily want to be a waitress for the rest of her life, but she’s good at it, and it pays the bills… …for now.

This is one of my two favorite Pfeiffer performances, the other being that bravura turn as Selena Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, in 1992’s Batman Returns. This character, in spite of her confusion and misgivings, seems fully-realized, like someone any of us might want to hang out with after work, especially if we all worked at a diner. She reminds me just a bit, but a significant bit, of one of my best friends, a woman I know who used to be a waitress and despite having teen-tiny wrists was the go-to person for opening exasperatingly tight jar lids.  Pfeiffer seems to inhabit Frankie so fully that I wouldn’t be surprised if she had actually worked as a server at some point in her past–and why not? A lot of actors and actresses do that very thing while pursuing acting gigs, always scouting for the next big break. She also, I’ll freely admit, reminds me a bit of myself, especially the part of her that sometimes just wants to grab some take-out on the way home and plop down in front of the TV and watch a movie–the same as I used to do on Saturday nights in my 20s when The Facts of Life and The Golden Girls were staples after a grueling day of selling tickets at the box office window. (For some reason, however, I think Frankie’s routine is intended almost as indictment of her fragility, and I take an exception to that.)

Frankie’s emotions are all over the place, and Pfeiffer hits all the targets, you know, the weepiness and frustration. She’s great at all that, but those aren’t necessarily the most lasting or insightful aspects of the performance. For example, she delivers a zinger of a line in response to a well-meaning, if also dunder-headed and snoopy, question posed by Pacino’s Johnny. Additionally, she puts a great spin on a painfully icky moment when Johnny, again, makes an abrupt and incredibly awkward request. Most of us probably want to look the other way as soon as Pacino utters the words, but, luckily, McNally gives Frankie a speech as a distraction, and she milks it for its full value. Finally, and this is truly best of all, Pfeiffer is great at reacting. You know the old saying, “all acting is reacting.” That’s what she does. She listens, and that is sometimes when her confusion is most apparent. Along with that, she’s great at bits of business that underscore whatever she might be thinking. At one point, Johnny tries to sweet talk her while hanging out behind the diner–and notice, if you will, the way Pfeiffer’s Frankie chews the lip of her paper cup in the process. Perfect. Almost magical work, this, but no Oscar  nomination though the Hollywood Foreign Press saw fit to nominate her for a Golden Globe in the Musical or Comedy category. She lost to Bette Midler’s over-hyped For the Boys, a high-profile labor of love that nonetheless flopped–and flopped hard, but the HFPA and the Academy were a forgiving lot that season. But I digress.

Kate Nelligan and Hector Elizondo both deserve praise as well. The former, a Canadian whose biggest successes have often been on stage, fully delivered a cinematic one-two punch back in 1991, what with her role as the outwardly rollicking waitress Cora in this film as well as Nick Nolte’s domineering mother in Prince of Tides (in which she plays the character as both a young woman clawing her way out of a bad marriage and a refined, if ice-cold, aging matriarch). The appeal of Cora is not the bawdy, good-time gal stuff–though it presents a contrast to the the performance in Prince of Tides–but those moments when Cora carefully lets down her guard, such as a from the heart, post-coital pep-talk to a recent conquest. In that season’s awards derby, Nelligan won a British Academy Award (supporting) for Frankie and Johnny. She also claimed honors from the National Board of Review. She came in third place among the New York Film Critics Circle for both this movie and The Prince of Tides, ultimately scoring a Best Supporting Actress nod from the Academy for the latter.  Mr. Elizondo, meanwhile, brings warmth, understanding, and maybe even love to his role as the owner-operator of the jumpin’ diner. Though sometimes uncredited, Elizondo has actually appeared in 17 Marshall movies, going all the way back to 1982’s Young Doctors in Love. Among those, he is probably most loved for his role as Pretty Woman‘s decorous hotel manager, an elegant performance that did indeed net a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor–and how great is that? For if Elizondo in Pretty Woman is not the epitome of what it means for one actor to support another actor, then I don’t know what is.  That noted, I think I prefer his work in Frankie and Johnny. He’s somehow looser and seems to be enjoying himself. Maybe he’s just having fun with the accent, but he is as different in this one from Pretty Woman as he is from either in Nothing in Common, in which he steals scene after scene. Good stuff.

Marshall’s talents in this film extend beyond his grace with actors, as he also works wonders creating the characters’ environment, especially the café itself. It may very well be the most fully realized depiction of what it’s like to work in such a setting. At least in my experience. Have I ever worked at a bustling diner in NYC or anywhere else? No. But I spent my late teens and early twenties working in fast-food outlets: two years at one location, a year and a half at a second. I have fond memories of both. One was more suburban with a hearty bunch of breakfast regulars and a close-knit team of workers who definitely aimed to please. The other place was closer to downtown Dallas, and while I don’t remember anything special about our breakfast brunch, I know we saw a little bit of everything on a daily basis, and, again, my co-workers and I were great pals, often hanging out during the down time in our split-shifts. This day-to-dayness is what Marshall captures so accurately. Everyone at this diner is always in motion. Even when they stop to chat, they are still doing something, and activity swirls around them. Look how they move. They’ve been working with each other in tight quarters for so long they’re attuned to each other’s rhythms. They communicate silently as is the case with Frankie’s aforementioned knack for opening jars. They also get on each other’s nerves, too, and that’s also okay. I want to add that one character, a slightly older waitress played by Goldie McLaughlin, reminds me oh-so-much of a woman who was a fixture at one of the places, a tiny thing who charmed customers but took no guff.  She had worked there so long. Everyone loved her, she was untouchable, but the signs of affliction were always there. To clarify, the actress looks like nothing like my real-life counterpart–nothing–but their stories are so similar.

The diner does not look like a set, not at all, but it could be. Whatever it is, it works, so props to the production design team led by Albert Brenner along with Carol W. Wood and Kathe Klopp. Pfeiffer’s apartment, on the other hand, is clearly a set, looking somehow cramped yet just a little too spacious, all things considered. Still, the furnishings look suitably eclectic, and that bathroom, well, we’ve all seen it and lived it. I know I have. Marshall also sets Johnny up for a kind of Rear Window moment as she has a up-close view into neighboring buildings and sees things that occupants assume are private, but that’s part of city life when everyone is bunched up right next to and on top of each other. I’ll even give a shout-out to the wardrobe and makeup staff (too numerous to list here) for not trying too terribly hard to “drab-down” Pfieffer and make her look homely. Her waitress uniform is what it is, and when she isn’t working, she looks like anybody else one might find on the streets or at home doing housework. Her party frock, selected by her gay neighbor, isn’t such a knock-out, and may very well look just a tad…too…cheap. (Not tacky, exactly, but probably cheaper looking than it needs to be.)

With so much to praise, what about Pacino? Why have I avoided writing about his performance, that is, praising him? Of course, he’s Pacino, and he’s always worth watching. Indeed, he has many watchable moments in Frankie and Johnny, but that might be part of the problem. Watching Pacino as Johnny is like watching a wonderful actor act wonderfully. Sure, it’s entertaining, but it’s entertaining as a performance rather than as a portrayal, a characterization. In other words, there is seldom a moment in which I actually believed that Pacino was anything other than Pacino, whooping it up and wearing his considerable heart on his sleeve, all good, all well and fine, but not dipping too far beneath the surface like his co-star. Again, he has many tender and engaging moments, but Johnny is almost too good to be true. Maybe the problem is the way the character is conceptualized because Johnny is one pushy guy, yet he is somehow supposed to be endearing–the way a saviour is endearing–in spite of that. Luckily, as fans of Brian De Palma’s cult classic Scarface already know, Pacino and Pfieffer definitely have chemistry, such that she makes his brashness almost palatable.

Music fans will not be disappointed. The title inspiring classics are both present, that would be a rousing, rock-a-billy version of “Frankie and Johnny” by–no, not Elvis–James Intveld who, as I learned while researching this article, provided the singing voice for Johnny Depp’s titular character in John Water’s Cry Baby (1990). On the other end of the musical spectrum, no less than Marvin Hamlisch, credited as the score’s  composer, plays piano on Claude Debussy’s stirring “Clair de Lune,” used to great effect in one of the film’s richest sequences.  All that AND Rickie Lee Jones, alternately purring and wailing her way through “It Must be Love,” also to great effect.

Frankie and Johnny, if I have not stressed this point enough, was hardly a box office hit–even with the star wattage of its two leads and the fact that it was Marshall’s follow-up to the phenomenally successful Pretty Woman. Of course, the fall of 1991, when this film was released, was a particularly bruising period for movies. One possible factor can be attributed to no less than the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, televised in October of 1991 just as Frankie and Johnny arrived at movie theaters. This is not news, by the way, as Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, and maybe even USA Today were all over it back in the day. National events definitely affect box-office as anyone who works at the movies can attest–look no further than the L.A. riots in ’92, and, of course, 9/11.

Thank you, Garry Marshall, for this thoughtfully produced and acted movie. I actually think of it as a gift because it was so unexpected. Nothing Marshall had done before it prepared me for its beauty.  And I treasure it.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Marshall.

Thanks for your consideration…

[1] – Clair de lune translates into English as “by the light of the moon” or “moonlight.”

[2] – Lane, well-known in theatre circles at the time for his roles in a handful of McNally’s plays, had yet to achieve marquee status, per Broadway revivals of Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the Americanized remake of French Farce La Cage Aux Folles, redubbed The Birdcage, and, of course, the smash musical incarnation of Mel Brooks’s The Producers.