Archive for Down and Dirty Pictures

A Star is Burned

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2018 by dcairns

Inside Daisy Clover from David Cairns on Vimeo.

I’m extremely glad I never watched the pan-and-scan copy of INSIDE DAISY CLOVER I used to own, so I could appreciate the proper super-wide-screen version I have now acquired. That said, there’s only really one scene in it that really comes alive, but BOY does it come alive.

Producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) tackle Gavin Lambert’s novel (with the author himself adapting the screenplay), effectively a Judy Garland roman a clef, with a perfectly cast Natalie Wood as the waif-starlet abused by the system. There’s good, creepy work from Christopher Plummer as her studio boss (though no thirties studio boss was remotely as handsome — you were lucky if you got Darryl Zanuck, “he of the air-conditioned teeth,” as Orson Welles unkindly but accurately remarked) and Katharine Bard as his sinister sister wife. Ruth Gordon plays the crazy mama, a more benign figure than the monstrous stage mother in Natalie’s own life, and Roddy McDowell is rather wasted as a studio factotum.

Robert Redford is intriguingly cast as a dashing drunk, a Flynn/Barrymore composite who also turns out to be gay, something one can’t imagine Redford playing later. Since reading Peter Biskind’s gossip-fest book Down and Dirty Pictures, which characterises RR as, essentially, a passive-aggressive jerk, I can’t help see his characters as passive-aggressive, and it’s definitely a suitable filter for this one. Weird how an actor who’s been criticised for being bland and always playing sympathetic golden boys can be realigned as the movies’ biggest and best portrayer of arrogant jerks.

But the movie fails to catch fire. Wood is energetic and effecting as she always was, but the story’s progress is full of mysterious lacunae. Is it a problem that, in charting this aspirant screen goddess’s rise to fame and heartbreak, we never see her first day on set, meet her co-stars or directors, or see her actually notice her fame or meet her public? It might not have to be, if the lacunae were bridged by consistent narrative development. But Daisy is introduced as a girl who wants to sing, and then her singing drops out of the picture altogether. Sure, there are a couple of musical numbers staged by Herbert Ross, who, as his later PENNIES FROM HEAVEN shows, could certainly pastiche 30s style, but here seems to have been ordered to keep it vague as to period. Edith Head and team’s costumes likewise eschew anything smacking too strongly of the depression, and try to touch lightly on sixties styles. The movie’s planting its feet three decades apart makes for an uncomfortable pose.

It’ a strangely underpopulated film — giant studio barns, inside and out, a deserted boardwalk, a motel in a literal desert, a yacht at sea (always uncomfortable to see Natalie in such a setting, but Redford is there and he’s Mr. Boat) — scene after scene is stripped of extras and period detail, perhaps making a point about the loneliness of stardom, but not as vividly as showing the uncaring mob would.

Then comes the scene quoted above. Outstandingly edited by Aaron Stell, with a really creepy drone from André Previn on the soundtrack, and striking choices with sound editing that make the whole thing modernistically unsettling. There just weren’t Hollywood films evoking this kind of European unease at the time, or damn few: how many American directors really gave the impression they’d seen Godard, Fellini and Antonioni? Mulligan sure has.

I guess this is the pay-off to the character’s initial love of singing, the thing that makes her feel the world isn’t as crappy as it seems. Even that’s been taken from her. But there’s no real middle to that journey. Still, it gets a powerful ending.

The movie ends happily — either a cop-out or an act of mercy. Give Daisy the triumphant escape so few of her real-life counterparts achieved, why not? We also get perhaps cinema’s first instance of what is now a tiresome cliché, the Walking Away From An Explosion moment. Astonishing. Without Natalie Wood, no Wolverine.

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Bart of Darkness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2011 by dcairns

I actually read Peter Bart’s Infamous Players A Tale of Movies, The Mob (and Sex) thinking that he was Peter Biskind. Then I wrote a review on that basis, before I’d even finished the book. Then I realized that Peter Bart and Peter Biskind are two different men — they have different names, different faces, and one of them has a very different moustache. That should have tipped me off immediately.

Nevertheless, despite realizing my howling error before “going to press,” I am presenting the review unchanged, partly because “Rewriting is censorship” (the beat authors) and partly because  “Blogging isn’t writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation” (Elliott Gould in CONTAGION) — a description I embrace with enthusiasm though I’m far from certain about the punctuation part. And also, though I fully acknowledge that Peter Bart and Peter Biskind are not the same man, on a deeper, poetic level, they actually are.

Also also, taking Bart to task for faulty fact-checking in a review where I have confused him with another, different man, makes me look like an asshole, which is good for my ego.

Also also also, this review gives you an idea of what film history looks like without any fact-checking, thus saving you the effort of reading Bart’s book.

A DECADE UNDER THE WEATHER

There’s an aphorism I can’t quite recall about returning once too often to the well, and it hangs over Peter Bart’s memoir of his days at Paramount in the 70s, Infamous Players A Tale of Movies, The Mob (and Sex). The whole thing’s pretty tired, covering ground Bart went over more entertainingly in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (“The gossip culture’s revenge on the counter-culture,” as Paul Schrader put it.)

I enjoy gossip, and enjoy hearing that talented people have feet of clay, so I gobbled up Easy Riders shamelessly. Also, I feel a debt of gratitude to Bart because as I finished the book I came down with appendicitis. I was convinced I had food poisoning and believed I’d feel better if I threw up. His description of the murder of Dorothy Stratton at the end of his book helped me to achieve a successful vomiting, allowing me to realize that the problem was elsewhere.

Peter Bart.

The problem with Infamous Players isn’t that the subject is worn out, though there are numerous books about the period (Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book is a fun one). It’s more like Bart is worn out. And his editor isn’t helping — the Introduction states “I played an integral role in both the success and the chaos,” and then over the page, just seventeen lines later, “I was lucky to be there at a time of great achievement and great confusion, and I managed to contribute to both.”

But then, the book’s title should have warned me: the word “sex” placed in prudish/prurient parenthesis speaks of a fundamentally lousy attitude to words.

Fact-checking is also not the book’s strong point, especially when it comes to plot synopses. Bart apparently thinks the original SCARFACE was about two brothers, one a gangster and one a cop, and he describes PLAY MISTY FOR ME as dealing with a disc jockey who turns violent when a one-night stand won’t date him again.

Peter Biskind.

This is worrying, but not as much as when Bart blithely narrates a series of events and imputes a cause-and-effect relationship that makes no sense. Noting that PLAY MISTY was a box office disappointment, he suggests that Clint Eastwood “wanted the assurance of having his alter ego, Don Siegel, serve as director” on DIRTY HARRY — but in the next sentence he observes that HARRY was released a mere two months after MISTY, which of course means that the earlier film’s box office performance could have played no possible role in Eastwood’s choice of Siegel as director on his next film. If I can catch Bart out like this, it makes me concerned that other stories he tells may be similarly inaccurate, and I won’t have any way of knowing.

Next to this, the disappointing lack of period ambience is a minor quibble. Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture struck me as probably a lattice of self-serving lies, but it reeked of the seventies, because Evans is kind of still in that zone, mentally. You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again likewise benefitted from a strong, albeit vindictive and paranoid, authorial voice. Easy Riders caught a lot of the flavour of the times too, since it was largely an oral history, but this book comes straight from Bart’s defective memories, and its language is pure 21st century journalese, apart from the entertaining moment when Bart gets a makeover to transform from tweedy reporter to hip movie exec: the black amazon saleslady who outfits him is pure Pam Grier. Which is fine: she probably was, and if she wasn’t, this is an improvement.

Frustratingly, Bart portrays himself as pretty square, pretty decent, distancing himself from all of the free love, commercial love, shady mob activity and most of the recreational drug use surrounding him. He’s like Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS, copping to being in the room when a lot of heinous shit went down, but never actually pulling the trigger himself. And of course that may well have been the case. By pointing out Paramount’s ties to the underworld, though, he does weaken his friend Robert Evans’ already unconvincing argument that he was unaware that two of his backers on THE COTTON CLUB were gangsters: it seems Evans has viewed gangsterism as a kind of aphrodisiac for as long as he’s been in business.

Of course, I’m devouring the book as shamelessly as I did its superior predecessors, on a break from Ulysses, which is going to take me a decade to finish at this rate.

***

Bart’s book took me two days. In your face, James Joyce!

Peter Bogdanovich.