Archive for Charles Chaplin Jr

The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by the Idiot Andrew Dominik

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2022 by dcairns

You’ll gather we didn’t care for BLONDE. Actually, to be studiously fair, I thought it was magnificently photographed (by Chayse Irvine) — except for the last scene, which inexplicably falls apart, looking like the worst kind of cheap student film. For all the awful choices — cervical POV shots, talking foetuses — I can give director Andrew Dominik some credit because for every three stupid decisions he’ll make at least one good, bold one. The period recreation, from a visual standpoint, is terrific, and AD has a better sense of how to do that kind of thing than David Fincher evinced in MANK. And composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, by eschewing any kind of 50s-60s sound, maybe dilute the air of authenticity but they don’t fall into the clumsy and inappropriate pastiche effects that crippled Trent Reznor’s score for that other Netflix biopic. (This duo have also scored Dahmer, and did a spectacular job.)

(By the way, I take the view that the correct pronunciation of that compound word is bi-o-pic, not bi-op-ic, rhyming with myopic, as one increasingly hears it said.)

The music, like everything else, falls apart at the ending — your temp track is showing! — it just turns into an Angelo Badalamenti knock-off, while the film itself turns into a Lynch knock-off, FIRE WALK WITH ME plus the last scene of THE ELEPHANT MAN. And, instead of being devastatingly emotional, as the original was, it’s just a transplanted hunk of dead tissue.

(I’ve heard people say the film is a horror movie, but I didn’t feel that dread Lynch always manages to foster. I felt, “Oh, that would be disturbing.” In fairness, I’ve also heard people say “You need to see it on the big screen.” But we’re paying for Netflix so we watched it on Netflix.)

Fiona remarked that the thing she was unprepared for was how little she’d feel. She claims she felt NOTHING. I had some emotional response to the early stuff with little Norma Jeane, powerfully played by little Lily Fisher. The opening firestorm is magnificent. If the nocturnal cityscapes sometimes feel two-dimensional, assemblages of flats, the effect is pleasing and maybe somehow appropriate.

It’s cinematic, one would have to say, but that need not mean GOOD. This desire to attain FILMIC ARTISTRY may be why Dominik limits his use of internal monologue, but the one scene where he lets Ana de Armas, who deserves a better film and director, occupy the soundtrack with her thoughts, is the point where we finally have access to the character, past the adeptly-mimicked vocal mannerisms and facial expressions. It’s an APPALLING scene, a fictionalized JFK blow-job with EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS anachronistically playing on TV, all erectile missiles and detumescing Washington Monument. Oh, so we’ve suddenly decided to have a sense of humour? And a Ken Russell sense of humour at that? Appalling, but oddly welcome as we get a chance to experience our main character from the inside, without the aid of a speculum (Dominik likes his prosthetic labia so much he cranks them open TWICE).

I mean, at times it feels like Dominik hates both Monroe and De Armas. Any sense of this being a feminist take on the story is trashed when a filmmaker leers “Would you look at the ass on that little girl?” (originally said by John Huston, according to later accounts, but here handed to a non-Huston type) and, instead of showing us a leering male, Dominik shows us the ass in question, inviting us to agree or disagree, not to critique the decency of the statement.

It is, I admit, hard not to hold Dominik’s Sight and Sound interview against him. He comes across as cloddish, no cinephile, and while his presumptuousness — he somehow knows Monroe intentionally killed herself — is weird and foolish, it wouldn’t necessarily stop him making a good film: you’ve got to take a view of your subject, after all, and even if your supposed “insight” is spurious, playing it to the hilt should result in drama. I’m fascinated by Dominik’s line “She was the Aphrodite of the 20th century, the American goddess of love. And she killed herself. So what does that mean?” See BLONDE, the film that fails to answer, or pose, that question.

I do kind of like the fact that the film is convincingly taking place in an insensitive, pre-feminist era. Even Arthur Miller is kind of a clod, although as played by Adrien Brody he has appealing traits too. When I watched the first episode of Mad Men I thought they missed a trick by having Jon Hamm (I think it was) intervene when a male colleague is being creepy. What makes the period different to us is precisely the fact that such a confrontation would be unlikely to occur. A friend’s mother told me, “Men weren’t very nice.”

The disjointed narrative (though surprisingly chronological — childhood, then adulthood, then death) uses lots of weirdly fantastical devices — Monroe seeing her mother in places where she couldn’t be, for instance. Tricky stuff to pull off if you’re not arguing that she was psychotic. And, oh yes, I’m calling her Marilyn Monroe. Joyce Carol Oates, in her novel, has a level of plausible deniability — it’s a fictional account of someone with most of Monroe’s attributes and biographical details. In a movie, you’re reminded in about every shot that this is someone based very precisely on the historic Marilyn, and the movie goes to all kinds of impressive effort to restage famous photographs and movie scenes (though casting Chris Lemmon as Jack Lemmon is bizarre, given that Lemmon pere was 35 in SOME LIKE IT HOT and Lemmon fils is 68 — it’s an adept impersonation, the little we see of it, but what stands out are the differences). So it’s a film about Marilyn Monroe. Does that mean we require it to be accurate? I admire a good many “true stories” that take dramatic liberties, but it has to be at the service of something. The invented stuff with Eddy Robinson Jr. and, especially, Charles Chaplin Jr. is… hard to justify. It’s dramatic, but what point does it make? I mean, I’d be happy to hear a theory.

De Armas says she went to Monroe’s grave to ask her permission to make the movie, and left a card signed by the crew. But Monroe is dead, so she couldn’t tell them all to get stuffed. We’re also told of weird poltergeistic activities on set when “Marilyn wasn’t happy with something.” We’re not told what prompted the acts of telekinetic criticism, nor if script changes were made to placate the restless visitor.

The Sunday Intertitle: Gamin(e)

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2022 by dcairns

The choppy narrative of MODERN TIMES could have worked in Chaplin’s favour when he’s incarcerated for the first time: the story can shift over to introduce our leading lady. Instead, he has himself immediately released, offscreen miracle cure effected — his white-coated shrink (Dr. Kugelschlapp, never to be seen again) whacks him heartily on the back after cautioning him to avoid excitement. Charlie walks out of what looks like a library into a dervish-like montage of Dutch tilts. Finds his way to the docks, and innocently involves himself in a labour protest attacked by police.

This is fascinating for reasons beyond Lumet’s great line — “My God, the execution!” — Chaplin avoids making his character politically aware. He’s just trying to helpfully return a red flag. But the film can be political: a peaceful protest is attacked by cops on horseback. I’m not aware of a great many other films of the thirties which show that kind of action. Even at Warners.

You can argue that Chaplin’s indirect approach — surely a lot of audiences don’t think about the underlying assumptions about cops versus workers here — perhaps robs the commentary of punch. But the fact that it’s even there is remarkable. And doubtless a black mark on Chaplin’s FBI file, though the Feds don’t seem too hot at textual analysis.

This is all just an unusually longterm set-up for a meet cute, since on that same waterfront dwells wild-eyed banana snatcher Paulette Goddard, “the gamin.” The most prominent spelling mistake in cinema.

The whole character is interesting. Edna Purviance may have occasionally played juveniles, but this is the first major Chaplin heroine I can think of explicitly typed as a kid. (Merna, in THE CIRCUS, under her father’s thumb until recued by marriage, is a strong candidate though.) The former Ziegfeld girl was 26, old by Chaplin’s usual standards, but he casts her young to make up for it. The two were dating, but kept their relationship non-specific for the press, since marriage was not in their immediate plans.

Chaplin wrote in his plans for the film that there would be no hint of sex in the screen relationship. Probably wise, given his by now apparent middle-age (a spry forty-seven). But then he introduces his co-star lustily eating a banana, which, given his own must-publicised orality, could be a Freudian signifier or what I’m sure I don’t know.

Paulette, as Chaplin’s first leading lady since Edna to star in more than one movie with him (THE GREAT DICTATOR is next), is a significant figure. She encouraged Chaplin to make re-establish contact with his two sons, Sydney and Charles Jr. Sydney recalled sharing a bed with her until it was noticed the boys were getting a mite too old for that, and the pity of it is their pleas — “Why can’t we sleep with Paulette?” — would, by their very ardency, have made the ban more final.

The gamin has some young siblings — don’t worry, too young even for Chaplin — throwaway sentimentality — they’ll get taken away by the authorities, never to be worried about again. The child welfare people, as in THE KID, are a Dickensian social menace. But the true purpose of these characters, like Monsieur Verdoux’s wife, is to justify the gamin’s criminality. Her father, a listless victim of unemployment, is a micro-nod to the film’s social conscience.

The fact that Charlie is arrested by the docks and bundled into a police wagon suggests to me that Chaplin may have intended the tramp and the gamin to meet up immediately after his initial arrest. But instead we now get a whole prison sequence, leaving Paulette’s introduction lying there, not so much a plot thread as an off-cut, waiting to be picked up later.

So now we’re off to jail…