Archive for Marilyn Monroe

As You Know, I’m Your Father…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2020 by dcairns

“As you know, I’m your father…” What vistas of the strange those six simple words open up.

We were watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a bunch of us (four being a bunch for the purposes of this discussion). The film begins with some scenes of an expository nature. The throng (four being a throng as well as a bunch) being composed entirely of people with at least a toe in the business, we soon bridled.

First thing we see — after three pieces of text — THREE! — to tell us it’s a true story — is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in a recreation of the Having a Heatwave number from THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which is totally unlike the original but I suppose not wildly anachronistic or inaccurate in terms of period style. It’s not madly overedited, for one thing.Cut to an audience, Our Young Hero front and centre. Marilyn herself liked to sit front and centre when she went to the movies as a kid, which is why this is the proper place to sit: think of whom you might meet. However, I immediately don’t want to meet this guy, based on his macabre smile.

Main title.

Cut to stately home. Voice over. “Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of mine.” Well, could be worse. A bit blunt. It’s not only going to tell you a story (as opposed to showing you it), it’s going to tell you it’s telling you a story.Here comes Our Young Hero again, walking briskly across the lawn. “I was the youngest of a family of over-achievers.” Backstory, not interested.

As the VO tells us that OYH liked going to the pictures, we cut back to him at the pictures, even though we’ve just seen this. Well, if you must. OYH mentions film people he liked, and names Olivier, and the film obligingly shows us Kenneth Branagh playing the part in a clip from a movie premiere which we’re going to see in full moments later. This is a bit shit, I remember thinking.Back to OY Hero entering some rough-stone outbuilding. Turns out it’s a posh library, and here’s a man and some other people. “Ah, Colin, come in, have you met James and Anna, my two very brilliant pupils?”

Oh, good, he’s called Colin and this man knows him and has two very brilliant pupils, who are called James and Anna (must remember that, it’s obviously important). Wait, how does Colin not already know them?

“Hello, I’m off to London now, pa.”

Brilliant, right, this chap is Our Young Colin’s father, and what’s more Colin KNOWS he’s his father. It’s not going to be like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, all confusing twists. And OYC is off to London now, and he’s telling his father that. Good. Got you. Wait, how does his dad not already know today is the day his son, Colin, his son, leaves home? For London? His son?

“Ah, your silly job interview. Well, bonne chance, dear boy, I can always get you a research position at the V&A once you’ve grown up a bit and got this film idea out of your system.”

OK, let’s see if I’ve fully grasped the layers of subtext being poured over me like slow-motion nougat. OYC’s father (OYCF for short) disapproves of his son, Colin’s choice of career and hopes he will soon put away childish things and assume a more respectable occupation. Perhaps very soon, as this is only an interview.

The film continues, but our thoughts kept straying back to this scene and its supreme awkwardness.

“I’m off, Mother.” It’s a new scene, do keep up. OYC is telling his mother (OYCM) that he’s off. “My job interview, ‘member?” OYC is a mumbler. He means “remember?” But it hardly matters because we’ve just had this scene with his dad (OYCF).OYC crosses a London street. “Like every young man, I had to make my own way.” And indeed, OYC does manage to make it across the street without being flattened by an omnibus. Well done you. On the other hand, his rich parents and expensive education and school tie might be opening just a few studio doors for the entitled little prick (ELP).

The next scene, in the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions, is confusing, as it seems OYC doesn’t have a job interview at all, nobody’s expecting him and they’re not looking for anyone, which kind of casts doubt on ELP’s street-crossing prowess after all.

At this point in the film, we were getting a bit distracted, still talking about that weirdly expository chat with OYCF (the dad: do keep up). I ad-libbed a satirical example of the kind of dialogue we’d been forced to consume: “As you know, I’m your father…”OYC hangs about Laurence Olivier Prods in the best Rupert Pupkin manner until he somehow picks up some work. Cut to him crossing the road again, successfully staying out from under the wheels of another red bus.

Enter Branagh with a thing in his lip.

Monroe’s agent is called Mr. Jacobs. Here’s Toby Jones! “Hello, Mr. Jacobs.” He’s Mr. Jacobs. “Who built this place?” Mr. Jacobs is a brash agent.What’s actually happening is fine: we see OYC display tact and ingenuity in locating a house for MM to stay in. But we are continually being spoonfed. Meanwhile, by now we’ve practically convinced ourselves that “As you know, I’m your father…” is a genuine line of dialogue from the opening of the picture. I tactfully remind everyone that I made it up. Must be fair. Plus, I want credit.

OYC arrives at Pinewood. They’ve taken the trouble to engage and costume a Norman Wisdom lookalike, which impresses me because they’re showing a heedlessness about whether anybody recognizes NW. Not typical of this film, which is so anxious that we understand everything. Then this guy glides past, and I get the impression I’m meant to recognize him, too, but I haven’t a clue. Well, I suppose that should impress me even more.

We glimpse the Romantic Interest (not Monroe: the other one) and OYC is immediately warned about love affairs in the workplace, so we know she’s going to be a Romantic Interest, especially because we recognize the girl from HARRY POTTER. And come on, Pinewood may not be Hollywood, but the British film industry was a veritable hotbed of, well, hot beds.A bodyguard, an ex-copper, is engaged for Monroe, whose habits are described as “Erratic.” “She drinks?” “Among other things.” “Pills?” GOOD GUESS!

Here’s the thing. Screenplays and movies are meant to be clear, except when they’re being mysterious on purpose. Look at the care with which Chaplin shows us that the Blind Flower Girl is blind. Also, a flower girl. But belabouring points is ugly.

Billy Wilder said it much better and quicker: as storyteller, your job is to put across your points clearly. The more elegantly you manage it, the better you are.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a Harvey Weinstein Production. Weinstein was (I hope we can safely use the paste tense now) a true auteur. You can spot the clumsy, overanxious storytelling in ever film he touched. Usually in the form of overdubs on people’s backs, stuffing dialogue into their mouths to make sure we understand. “Master Shakespeare!” expostulates the back of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head when the front of her head sees Master Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. “The King!” murmurs the back of Mina Sorvino’s head when the front of her head sees the king insect in MIMIC (the company was apparently so patriarchal the insects weren’t allowed a queen).

But I think it’s even worse when the lines come out of the front of people’s heads, having been planted in their mouths by a long development process. (I don’t blame the screenwriter.)

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is also a BBC production, and seems to use all the same locations as STAN & OLLIE. I could be wrong, but it certainly has the same feel. A certain limited degree of plushness. Solidity. Craft. Zero excitement.

I would sort of like the BBC to be prosecuted for sexual offences (this more or less happened a few years ago) so that this kind of filmmaking could end. But the BBC didn’t have a hand in JUDY so I suppose it’d carry on, zombie-fashion.

It’s not even BAD, compared to lots of things, but it’s the reverse of imaginative or daring.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN stars Charity Barnum; Balem Abrasax; Sabrina Fairchild; Gilderoy Lockhart; Lily Potter; Christopher Foyle; Lavrenti Beria; Dr. Arnim Zola; Jennifer the Viking – another rapist; Sir Thomas Fairfax; Uday Hussein; Queen Victoria; Madame Hooch; Hermione Granger; I, Claudius;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apartments

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2019 by dcairns

My card, sir.

LOVE NEST caught my eye because (a) it’s early I.A.L. Diamond (b) it’s late Frank Fay (c) it’s directed by Joseph M. Newman of THIS ISLAND EARTH and (d) it’s early Marilyn Monroe. The latter is the only reason it’s available on DVD, an attempt to wring $ from die-hard fans who’ll watch her in anything.

It’s… OK. Interesting to see Fay, still at it. He gets the only laughs — he plays an aging conman who seduces and robs wealthy widows. He happens to move into the brownstone acquired by bland leads William Lundigan and June Haver (too cutesy, both of them).

Since the general terrain is similar to that of THE APARTMENT, it’s interesting to see how uninteresting Diamond’s writing is — mechanically skilled but without sparkle (I’ve yet to see anything of his I liked apart from his Billy Wilders — which I adore, or most of them). It definitely hasn’t occurred to anyone to make the main characters in any way interesting, as if surrounding them with eccentrics would defray the need for any characterisation as far as they were concerned.

Monroe, of course, gives her usual performance, an excess of lust seething through her carefully arranged smiles, giving the impression she’s ready to rip the pants off any of her co-stars or else leap past the camera and ravish a random crewmember. No shortage of enthusiasm.

Amusing, of course, to hear Lundigan say that if Frank Fay were a little younger he wouldn’t trust him alone with his wife. I’m always sad that there aren’t more FF films, since he’s so skilled and weird, but not as much as I am amazed that there any at all, since he’s so swishy and kind of creepy and doesn’t really have the kind of face photography was meant for. It’s a face that looks as though it’s been dropped on the floor a few times. But issuing from it is that peculiar timbre and that immaculate, unexpected comic timing:

“Would you like a facial massage?”

“Well, it won’t do any good, but it may give me confidence DO IT!”

Up, skirt

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2018 by dcairns

Strange that THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH should be this famous thing, despite being one of the weaker Billy Wilder films of its era. (Arguably, all six Wilder films made between ACE IN THE HOLE and SOME LIKE IT HOT are minor work, but minor Wilder ain’t nothing, and some of them are favourites of mine, whatever their flaws.) He never co-wrote with George Axelrod again, and would later say the one-off collaborations were the ones that didn’t work. Axelrod said that the play was about a man who commits adultery and feels guilty about it, but censorship forbade the sex from actually occurring so the movie is about a man who DOESN’T commit adultery and feels guilty about it — a somewhat trivial complaint.Also, Wilder had wanted to cast Walter Matthau. Imagine THAT film. Tom Ewell is skilled, but he has a truly sinister smile and is never what you’d call pleasant to look at. Calling him “Tommy” in the Saul Bass titles doesn’t make him any more boyish. There’s a reason why Skelton Knaggs never played lead in a romantic comedy. (Matthau’s shall-we-say unconventional looks never seem to be a problem — except when he takes his shirt off — and he eventually acquired leading man status and became a fixture in Wilder’s films.)

The film’s balancing act begins at the beginning, with a history of Manhattan in which the voiceover man has to sound like a classic fifties narrator-dude but also break character with casual jokes. The uncredited voice artist isn’t quite up to the second task.The island of Manhattan, as viewed from a nearby hill.

Having packed wife Evelyn Keyes and space cadet son* off to cooler climes for the summer, Ewell starts fantasising, which is most of the film.

This is Wilder’s first ‘Scope production, in some ways a counterintuitive format for a movie consisting largely of a guy alone in his apartment. In New York, yet. A city that seems to invite the filmmaker to rotate the anamorphic lens 90º and make the vertical horizontal, like with a camera phone. (I think I’d seen this movie in every ratio except the right one, until now.) But it’s a Fox pic, so the frame shape was compulsory. And Wilder finds an interesting use for the width when mixing into flashback. The long slow dissolves, in which the foreground stays solid for ages as a new background bleeds through, must be influenced by CITIZEN KANE, but the 1949 stage debut of Death of a Salesman, with its lighting-change time-shifts, may have influenced Axelrod in the first place. (Hmm, I seem to recall another Arthur Miller connection here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.) Preston Sturges said he wanted the fantasies in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS to look as if they were written and directed by the protagonist, who is neither a writer nor a director, Wilder’s treatment of Ewell’s nocturnal thoughts really takes this idea further. Ewell’s job, publishing sensational literature (a milieu already explored by Danny Kaye in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY), further inflects his lurid imaginings. Wilder frames stagily and Ewell aims his performance at the camera rather than his co-stars (who include the great Carolyn Jones as a passion-crazed nurse) and the effect is as much soap opera as it is pulp magazine. The spoof of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (whose director, Fred Zinnemann, was a friend, fellow Austro-Hungarian, and former collaborator of Wilder’s) got the biggest laugh from Fiona, due to Ewell’s disabled sprint along the shore. It’s not the most sophisticated bit of comedy, but this isn’t exactly Wilder’s most sophisticated film.**

Just before meeting Marilyn’s “The Girl,” Ewell slips on his son’s roller-skate and spills raspberry soda all over his pants. (The second skate will slide, sharklike, silent and seemingly under its own will, to trip him again much later. No explanation offered for its cartoon self-propulsion: either the family home is poltergeistically punishing him for thoughts of infidelity, or it’s acting as psychic familiar for his son, junior member of the Anti-Sex League. Note how the lad used his space helmet to escape a fatherly kiss. No affection is allowed. The child’s role in marriage is to cockblock the parent, right?) Seconds later, speaking to Marilyn, Ewell is dry of trouser. I guess the detail of the soda spatter was impossible to reproduce, though the appeal of Ewell grinning after the leading lady with a sodden crotch strikes me as a detail worth pursuing.Monroe is so artificial a performer when she’s doing her thing (the carefully arranged grin, lips pulled tight to hide gums), that it’s hard to assess her performance, especially when playing such an obvious fantasy figure. It IS nice to see her playing Chopsticks, though, with a different kind of smile, one we aren’t used to seeing on her, one that seems real. Or at least unfamiliar. It’s the shape her face makes when she smiles, sings “pop-pop-pop” along with Chopsticks, and keeps her gums hidden. It’s a good face. I guess the scene’s other purpose is to make her tits jiggle. Trevilla’s costume designs emphasise the natural squishiness of body fat and avoid bullet-bra rigidity.

“What IS this relationship?” asked Fiona as the film ends. What has the film shown us, in fact? Ewell enjoys (and is tormented by) a flirtatious friendship, and this is somehow going to reinvigorate his marriage, though it’s not quite clear how. His wife is unaware of everything that happens, and isn’t aware of any marital problem either. The problem The Girl diagnoses is that his wife trusts him: not the worst problem to have.There’s also a half-hearted attempt to make something out of The Sonny Tufts Subplot, with Ewell becoming jealous about his wife (obviously a feat of projected guilt) and the aforementioned Tufts, whom he will eventually slug. Since Tufts is blameless in reality, this bit of gratuitous violence seems to stem solely from Wilder’s assessment that Tufts is the kind of guy we would like to see punched, an assessment I cannot honestly fault. There’s a fine German word, Backpfeifengesicht, for Sonny Tufts’ face.There’s also a very weird, broad, Neanderthal performance from one Robert Strauss, who inexplicably doesn’t get punched. I guess we could say he has the Cliff Osmond role. And a VERY funny perf by Oscar Homolka as Dr, Brubaker, psychologist, who proves himself a fine conduit for the Wilder style. As we’re told Wilder dictated every pause and gesture, I assume he also gave indications of timing/delivery, or maybe it’s just his writing that offers to the sensitive actor a suggestion of what to stress and what to throw away. At any rate, Homolka proves himself the funniest headshrink in Wilder’s long parade of nerve specialists (certainly more amusing than Martin Gabel or Klaus Kinski).The removal of the act, or even the suggestion of the act, of consummation, does more than turn the movie into merely an exploration of male fantasy (something it would need to employ Dr. Brubaker fulltime in order to get to the bottom of). It sadly turns it into a disconnected bag of bits, blackout sketches without a real final punchline. Some very funny bits, some stylish filmmaking, and a strong sense of the specific weirdness of its time and place. All accidentally elevated to classic status by a scene where a skirt blows up, and the girl enjoys the sensation.**** See also Fred MacMurray’s moon-mission aspirant offspring in THE APARTMENT. Admirable efficiency of American society: as soon as they got a space program, they started giving birth to would-be astronauts.

** Wilder has the fantasy female in this segment declare “from here to ETERNITY!” to make sure we get it, but also to make a joke out of the making sure. Later he has Ewell mention the famous actress Marilyn Monroe — evidently she was already too iconic to be wholly enveloped in the story as a fictional presence. The most amusing in-joke, however, is the reference to one “Charlie Lederer” — the name of a fellow screenwriter irl — going crazy last summer and getting tattooed.

***Was the scene perceived as a triumph of eroticism because it shows us legs, and shame-free exposure, or because it makes us FEEL the sensation of cool air on bare skin?