Archive for Faye Dunaway

A Mess o’ Flowers

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2018 by dcairns

Was talking to my first year students about editing. Showed them a robbery scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE. Probably didn’t say as much as I could’ve, but the clip was well received, and the first question, from two separate sources at once, was “What’s the name of that film again?” because they immediately wanted to SEE the whole thing.

Which has to be good. And if you’re shocked that they didn’t already know it, remember they’re young, they haven’t had the chance to see everything.

(If you want to get angry at anyone, the BBC and Channel 4 would be suitable targets for their willfully falling down on the job of introducing their audience to great cinema.)

I introduced the film’s stars with their names and the words “And the Oscar goes to…” because that is likely to remain the principal recognition factor for those actors for a little while, but they WILL live it down…

Why this scene? Well, Dede Allen’s cutting of the robbery itself is masterful, with the tautness of each movement, the sparse soundtrack a series of steps and clicks and thuds with dead air between, creating a sense of a tense but very METHODICAL operation being undertaken.

(Gene Hackman was recognised as someone who was grumpy to Wes Anderson.)

And then the car chase — the music being an existing recording rather than a specially made score, simply dropped into place and cut in and out of as required. The fast-and-loose continuity, designed to get a sense of life and jeopardy and velocity into the ponderous movements of aged vehicles. I didn’t have to point out the moment when one camera operator jerks sideways as a jalopy gets a little TOO close for comfort (Objects in Wide Angle Lens May Be Closer Than They Appear).

And the recklessly bold interruption of the chase with cutaways to the bank where witnesses are being interviewed by the papers: sudden silent static shots interrupting the flow of the chase with TOTAL RUDENESS, bringing things to a momentary standstill, seemingly slamming the brakes on every aspect of the tone and pace the sequence is otherwise trying to achieve. And yet, it’s absolutely right. Because the filmmakers have decided, for the sake of the story, that robbing banks is exciting and fun. And the bank scenes are hilarious.

“There I wuz, staring into the face of DEATH.”

“All I can say is, they did right by me, an’ I’m bringin’ me a mess o’ flowers to their funeral.”

By the second interruption, it’s no longer an interruption but part of the peculiar rhythm of the piece, which behaves like a game of musical chairs. The brutal treatment of the music is probably the main survival of the early notion of Jean-Luc Godard directing the picture.

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Tickling the Rivalries

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by dcairns

Really not impressed with Feud, Ryan Murphy’s miniseries about the Bette and Joan conflict on and around WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? One expects the thing to be camp and trashy, and that’s fine, I guess, but does it have to be so tone-deaf, so inaccurate? It was inevitable it would seize on every rumoured ruction from the set of that film, but the weirdly OFF stuff just keeps striking me — the young actress who asks for an autograph from Joan (Jessica Lange) and then says, “It’s for my grandmother. She’s been a fan of yours since she was a little girl.” Joan Crawford was in her mid-fifties. I think, in a show about actresses battling industry ageism, keeping the actual ages of the participants clear is important, and shouldn’t be thrown into confusion for the sake of, basically, a mean joke.

Also, it’s one of those shows that’s wall-to-wall exposition — writers of fact-based stuff today seem to struggle with delivering information convincingly.

I should say that Fiona quite enjoys the show, and is reading Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud. But this led to us running TORCH SONG, in search of some real Crawford kitsch, and my Christ it delivers.

We see THIS a few minutes in. Admittedly, we’ve already seen Crawford herself, who is scary-looking already at this pre-horror-movie point in her life, with what Fiona called “apricot hair” and pretty much an apricot face too. Still, the cardboard version is so startling it should have really come with a warning. A Horror Horn or something to let you know it’s coming. With usherettes dispensing laudanum.

Of course, what the misbegotten venture is best remembered for is something else, but I’ll be more considerate than the movie and give you due notice that a truly alarming image is coming your way.

Meanwhile — script is co-written by John Michael Hayes who wrote some of Hitchcock’s best, but had a regrettable tendency to archness. He’s joined by Jan Lustig, who has distinguished credits too, and by I.A.R. Wylie, who seems more of a Pat Hobby type — except the I. stands for Ida. “I’m going to give them the best that’s in me, no matter who, what or when tries to stop me.” That’s a tricky line to account for. Unless Crawford garbled it and they just left it in, whichever scribe was responsible must have known it was gibberish, but presumably they thought it was clever gibberish. It ain’t.

Crawford’s character is a complete bitch, a showbiz diva who fires a blind man and browbeats and insults everyone in (her) sight. (Or almost: she’s civil with her super-efficient secretary/PA, Maidie Norman, who’s black. The racial insult comes by separate post…) The fact that she’s apparently lonely and cries herself to sleep at night doesn’t redeem her. The movie seems to believe that we’re somehow going to root for her to find love, even though evidently her search for it will involve just being mean to people for ninety minutes. They haven’t quite worked out how to make nastiness a compelling trait, by revelling in it unapologetically.

People we do like in the film — Michael Wilding, the blind pianist, who just does his usual unassuming chap act; Marjorie Rambeau, who is magnificent as Joan’s lovely, boozy mom (“I didn’t know you was comin’ or I’d a gotten some high-class beer”); Harry Morgan, also mild and unassuming. Despite these laid-back performers around her, Joan keeps giving it both knees, as the Germans say. Which is appropriate to the role she’s been given

Her dancing here is better than her mad auntie gyrations in DANCING LADY — maybe she just couldn’t tap, or maybe skilled dance director Charles Walters has restrained her dancing in a way he couldn’t do for her acting. But he does allow her to perform “Two-Faced Woman” in blackface, so we can’t give him too much credit. Of all the mystifying errors of taste in this movie, this one… well, is that sufficient warning?

I’m trying and failing to imagine ways this could be worse. After Joan rips off her black wig to reveal her rigid apricot tresses, she could rip those off and reveal a bald cap, like Constance Towers in THE NAKED KISS, and then she could rip her whole face off and reveal one of the skull-aliens from THEY LIVE, and then she could rip that off and reveal Don Knotts. Nope. Still not worse than what the movie gives us.

Robert Aldrich eventually came to feel — rightly — that casting ageing actresses in horror roles was “kind of cruel.” SUNSET BOULEVARD and BABY JANE and their imitators play remorselessly on a legitimately disturbing theme, the point where the age-inappropriate goes so far as to surpass embarrassment, comedy, and pity, and break through into nightmare. TORCH SONG’s problems only very indirectly relate to Crawford’s age — only insofar as she’s no longer got the clout at the studio to get the best roles in the best movies. It’s true that she doesn’t look really attractive in it, and reviewers pointed this out, but that’s a flaw but not a fatal problem — the performance and the character are far more unattractive than her hard, unnatural look.

Still, it could’ve been worse. Joan recorded the songs herself, and was very unhappy when the studio replaced her singing. but she and we dodged a bullet. This YouTube clip compares the two vocal performances, but is far more interesting because it lets us hear Joan’s speaking voice — when she’s not acting or doing interviews (ie. acting). The feeling that emerges — which is a chilling one — is that she could have made an even more frightening Baby Jane Hudson than Bette Davis did.

It also opens up new and alarming possibilities for Faye Dunaway in MOMMIE DEAREST. Imagine if the regal tone dropped away whenever the media weren’t around… Maybe something as strange and extreme as that would have pushed Dunaway’s perf clean out the other side of camp and into the psychotic-uncanny?

Laughing at fading stars is a cruel spectator sport, whether it’s in BABY JANE or Feud — the horrible thing about TORCH SONG is that it’s useless for any other purpose.

And the Oscar goes to…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2017 by dcairns

3000

For a moment there I was feeling a good deal of sympathy for Warren Beatty. As he said, he was handed the wrong envelope. Finding a card saying “Emma Stone, LA LA LAND” he was understandably nonplussed. Had he looked at the ENVELOPE, it would have been clear what had happened, but in the heat of the moment, it’s understandable that he froze and didn’t think to do that.

Except that won’t quite do, because the card doesn’t just say “Emma Stone, LA LA LAND” it also says “Best Actress” or “Best Actress in a Leading Role” or something. Which means it might as well have said “This is the Wrong Card.” Which would be a surprising thing to read, but not actually a confusing one. You might be thrown by it, but you wouldn’t hand the card over to Faye Dunaway to read out.

I don’t blame Faye, who must have thought Warren had lost it, taking so long to read the damn card. So that when she got a look at it, she thought time was of the essence and blurted out the name of the film printed there.

The same thing ALMOST happened in 1985.

Larry Olivier was given the job of presenting. He omitted to read the nominees’ names. Which caused a couple of the organizers a moment of panic — did Olivier read the name of the winner or did he just read the first name, alphabetically, on the list of nominees.

The organizers rushed up to him afterwards and asked him this. “I have absolutely no idea,” Sir Larry blinked. There was then, as I recall, some kind of CAR CHASE to find the only person who actually knew what was supposed to be in the envelope. It turned out that, by luck or good judgement, the right film won. And I think, actually, the best film of those nominated, which God knows is unusual enough