Archive for Vincente Minnelli

The Silver-Tongued Chevalier

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , on June 26, 2019 by dcairns

Oh yes, and GIGI! How could I have forgotten seeing that yesterday? In a vintage Metrocolor print, no less. In fact, vintage prints of musicals should carry a health warning: the smallest splice can be a major irritation if it happens during a number. But this one was relatively free of such issues, and the colo(u)r was radiant.

How can something be simultaneously problematic and perfect? The sense of ickiness around the theme is mostly skirted artfully. Listening to any of the lyrics other than the title of “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” makes it clear that it’s NOT an ode to paedophilia. But there are plenty of other bits to worry about if you’re so inclined. And John Bailey of the Academy reassuring as that Leslie Caron was 26 doesn’t quite cut it — she’s playing a character who’s 14 in the book, and the movie is careful not to assign her a specific age…

But the Freed Unit has it covered. It’s great the way Chevalier, our guide through the story, is basically wrong about everything and his “well-meaning” advice is nearly disastrous. It’s helpful that Jourdan is so charming and looks younger than he is. I’m not sure if Leslie Caron’s extreme sensuality helps or hinders in this context, but I enjoyed it.

And my God, the songs, and Minnelli’s visual perfectionism! Quite hard to write about things that are perfect. I’ll have to try when I have more time.

Advertisements

Past Life Digression

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2018 by dcairns

The Late Show: light reprise.

Holy cats, ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER is quite a thing, isn’t it?

Nutty as it is (blame/credit Alan Lerner), I’d argue that, commercial failure notwithstanding, we could see this as a triumphant conclusion to Vincente Minnelli’s career, were it not for the fact that he made one more movie, A MATTER OF TIME, which was a disaster (recut and partially reshot by AIP, who apparently didn’t notice it was a period movie and spliced in lots of docu-style shots of seventies Rome).

There’s this ordinary girl, see, (only she’s played by Barbra Streisand, so not that ordinary) and she turns out to be really hypnotizable, and shrink Yves Montand discovers he can regress her to a past life and he falls in love with her past life, who was far from ordinary, and meanwhile her present life is romantically complicated by her unsuitable schnook boyfriend and her ex-stepbrother (Jack Nicholson!) and what is Yves Montand to do since he’s in love with a dead girl who he can only contact through her mundane contemporary incarnation who bores him rigid?

Welcome to VERTIGO, the musical. Only it’s barely a musical, since the songs are relatively scarce and usually get played as internal monologue or positioned as fantasies — a translucent apparition of Babs sings to the more solid version of herself, and of course they have great chemistry together). But even if it’s oddly fainthearted as operetta-film, and only a couple of the songs (notable the title number) are memorable, there’s A LOT to enjoy.

Cecil Beaton did the costumes for the period storyline, which feels way underdeveloped in narrative terms but looks astounding. Some friend of Streisand did her modern clothes which are mainly horrid but maybe they’re meant to be? John DeCuir did the production design — check out HIS amazing list of credits. Of course, he had a help from Brighton Pavilion, an amazing location. But he makes the modern-day New York sequences exotic and wild and cinematic too — Minnelli is a director who feeds off his production design (and feeds into it, of course).

The flashbacks are crowded with terrific Brit players — John Le Mesurier turns up just to drop a monocle — Irene Handl and Roy Kinnear and Pamela Brown. And, remarkably, Babs does a spot-on posh English accent and then shares a scene in cockney with her old mum, Handl, where her vocal work is… not embarrassing. No Dick Van Dyke, she. Well, she hasn’t got the legs for it. But you know what I mean.

What she can’t really do — and in fairness nobody seems to be trying to help her — is suggest ordinariness, or suggest why Montand thinks she’s boring and stupid. She plays it full-on kook, which she can certainly do, but she seems more appealing, as a personality, than her previous earthly form. But still, the film, which doesn’t have much of a narrative engine, is able to continually refresh itself by plunging in and out of the past, using a variety of trippy visual devices including stroboscopic flash-cutting, proving that Minnelli had at least noticed what was going on in the visual culture around him.

It’s on Netflix, by the way.

Starring Fanny Brice, Cesar ‘le Papet’ Soubeyran, Maj. Major Major, Schrank, Jake Gittes, Tumak, Queen Eleanor [of Aquitaine], Mrs. Gimble, Private Clapper, Sgt. Wilson, Mr. Alonzo Smith and Eegah.

Anglo/Saxon Attitudes

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona was surprised to find a Kay Kendall biography in the library (see yesterday’s post for an evaluation of the Edinburgh library system’s limitations) and devoured it on sight, demanding supplemental viewing materials, stat. I had tried to sell her on THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE before, but this was now the perfect moment. She didn’t require quality, just so long as KK was prominently featured.

I’ve probably mentioned before my theory that Vincente Minnelli made Hollywood’s most nightmarish comedies — the best of them aspire to pure phantasmagoria, and are more oppressive that they are funny, though admittedly DESIGNING WOMAN is extremely funny and amiable. Often they rise to moments of surreal heightened anxiety, sometimes involving altered states of consciousness. One image from a dream sequence in FATHER OF THE BRIDE, of Spencer Tracy’s feet sinking through a carpet suddenly turned to quagmire was repeated without modification in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and served just as aptly in a horror movie as it had in a “family comedy,” Minnelli-style.This movie takes place during what turned out to be the last ever “season,” when society’s latest batch of debutantes (don’t known what it means) “came out” (don’t know what it means, in this context anyway). Sandra Dee plays the daughter of Rex Harrison, which is the first big laugh and the last for a while. Kay Kendall is the stepmother who sets about arranging the girl’s coming out ball, and trying to arrange her love life in a socially suitable way, hampered by S-Dee’s falling in love with a humble drummer played by John Saxon (very cute, and at times seeming to play the role on-purpose gay).This is John Saxon describing native love rituals witnessed in Africa.

“…and then he carries her off to his TENT.”

This is Kay and Dee reacting to him.(Kay dresses like Big Bird through much of the film.)

This kind of lighter-than-air stuff has to be very good to get by, because you’re trying to get laughs out of nothing. The play and its adaptation, both by William Douglas-Home, aren’t really clever enough to manage this, but laughs are still had, partly from the deft work of Kendall and Harrison, two of the best light comedians who ever lived, and partly from numerous moments where the script hoves perilously close to the foulest bad taste, due to dated sexual attitudes, stuff that could be dealt with lightly then but seems shocking today. And since surprise is part of laughter, we found ourselves laughing at Sandra walking in on daddy just as he plays the role of dastardly seducer to a sofa cushion (really, too complicated to explain) ~Harrison does a fantastic variation on the man determined to finish his sentence even though the changed circumstances make it quite unnecessary and his delivery of the words no longer carries any of the intended meaning. It’s a very familiar trope — think Baloo singing when his disguise falls off in THE JUNGLE BOOK — but Harrison has his own version of it that no one’s ever seen or imagined before. And Kendall has a great bit entering, being surprised, and folding up like a deck-chair as her limbs give way on her.

Peter Myers gives a very funny performance as an upper-class bore forever reciting elaborate tales of how he’s negotiated the traffic to get where he is — but he transformed into an inarticulate rape-hound when left alone with Dee. And here’s her adorable reaction when she quizzes daddy on his early love life and learns that his first amour was a French girl who worked in a house in Paris — a maid? — no, not exactly…The weirdest and best sequence is a hallucinatory montage of balls, with Harrison getting drunk at each one, suffering Deutsch-tilt hangovers in interstitial office sequences, and finally losing contact with reality altogether as his secretary, having just handed him a glass of bicarb, starts announcing guest’s names in a dubbed man’s voice — audio bleed from scene to scene as life literally BECOMES nightmare.It’s in his comedies that you sense that Minnelli was not an altogether happy man.