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Articles on this Page
- 11/05/17--13:14: _Max Linder and Andr...
- 12/13/17--07:30: _Richard Pryor in Ho...
- 12/13/17--07:36: _The Best Film I Saw...
- 12/13/17--08:17: _Tidbits of December...
- 12/13/17--10:46: _The Shape of Guille...
- 04/28/18--17:15: _The Spencer Bell Mi...
- 04/28/18--17:46: _Slap Happy
- 04/28/18--18:13: _Silent Comedian Por...
- 04/28/18--18:30: _The Mirror Routine ...
- 04/28/18--20:20: _Tidbits for April 2018
- 04/28/18--20:41: _Hollywood Loves Guns
- 04/28/18--22:47: _The Worst Year in O...
- 06/26/18--11:00: _Lloyd Hamilton: Rem...
- 06/26/18--13:07: _Tidbits for June, 2018
- 06/26/18--13:17: _Book Review: "Gale ...
- 07/03/18--13:04: _A Retrospective on ...
- 07/03/18--16:19: _Richard Pryor's Ear...
- 07/03/18--16:57: _Harry Northup: "Pry...
- 07/03/18--18:09: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/04/18--08:31: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/04/18--09:57: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/04/18--10:54: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/04/18--17:04: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/04/18--21:59: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 07/05/18--12:56: _Richard Pryor's Nar...
- 11/05/17--13:14: Max Linder and André Deed: The First Comedy Team of the Cinema
- 12/13/17--07:30: Richard Pryor in Hollywood
- 12/13/17--07:36: The Best Film I Saw Recently/ The Worst Film I Saw Recently
- 12/13/17--08:17: Tidbits of December, 2017
- 12/13/17--10:46: The Shape of Guillermo del Toro
- 04/28/18--17:15: The Spencer Bell Misidentification Syndrome
- 04/28/18--17:46: Slap Happy
- 04/28/18--18:13: Silent Comedian Portraits
- 04/28/18--18:30: The Mirror Routine at The Circus
- 04/28/18--20:20: Tidbits for April 2018
- 04/28/18--20:41: Hollywood Loves Guns
- 04/28/18--22:47: The Worst Year in Oscar History
- 06/26/18--11:00: Lloyd Hamilton: Remastered and Remarkable
- 06/26/18--13:07: Tidbits for June, 2018
- 06/26/18--13:17: Book Review: "Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record"
- 07/03/18--13:04: A Retrospective on Richard Pryor's Narrative Films
- 07/03/18--16:19: Richard Pryor's Early Years on Television
- 07/03/18--16:57: Harry Northup: "Pryor was fast, funny, explosive and imaginative"
- 07/03/18--18:09: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1967-1970)
- 07/04/18--08:31: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1971-1973)
- 07/04/18--09:57: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1974-1976)
- 07/04/18--10:54: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1977-1979)
- 07/04/18--17:04: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1980-1982)
- 07/04/18--21:59: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1983-1988)
- 07/05/18--12:56: Richard Pryor's Narrative Films (1989-1997)
|Max Linder finds a way to look taller in Max Joins the Giants (1912)|
Linder and Deed are equally prominent in Unwilling chiropodist. Deed is the first to appear. He is a chiropodist who has been summoned to an affluent home to treat the madam's aching feet. Deed, festooned with an extravagant wig and pointy Van Dyke beard, expresses courtesy and deference to his wealthy benefactor with a never-ending series of showy bows and sprawling hand gestures. The next guest to arrive at the home is Linder, who is having an affair with the woman. The woman sends Deed to the dining room once her maid announces her lover's arrival. Linder provides a much more subtle performance than Deed. But then, when he comes before the woman, he articulates virile passion as only Linder could. In many of his films, the comedian burst into excitement at the sight of a pretty young woman. He often smiled, cavorted, and threw kisses. This time, he gets down on one knee to profess his undying love. Meanwhile, in the dining room, Deed gets down on one knee to profess his undying love for a hefty cook. Linder is parodying the ardent suitor of melodramas and Deed is in turn parodying Linder's parody. When the husband arrives home suddenly, Linder must pretend to be the wife's chiropodist. The narrative switches back and forth between the two men, who remain in different rooms. The actors do not appear together until the final moments of the film, at which time Deed is tossed out of a window and falls on top of Linder. The film fades as the two men happily shake hands.
|Max Linder and André Deed in Unwilling chiropodist (1908).|
Linder remade the film in 1914 as Max pédicure.
In 1940, film critic Pablo C. Ducros Hicken wrote about Deed in the article "Historia Argentia de Toribio Sanchez" (Deed's character Boireau was named Toribio Sanchez in Spanish releases). Hicken discussed Linder and Deed collaborating on a film entitled Max steals cleverly. The article includes a photo of the comedians together in a scene. Deed, dressed up as an Apache gangster, is being arrested by a police officer while Linder, eager to lend his assistance, holds a gun on Deed.
No film among Linder or Deed's credits is named Max steals cleverly. Most of the films that Hicken talks about in the article are known by names different than the ones Hicken provides. Georg Renken, the foremost authority on Linder, has addressed the specific matter of Max steals cleverly. He has found that the action depicted in the photo exactly matches the action described by the Pathé Catalog for a 1907 comedy, Idée d’apache. The film involves two burglars who compete to rob a luxurious home. The one burglar, described in the literature as a "vicious and stupid cretin," applies brute force and brute intimidation in breaking into the home and getting the residents to cooperate. The housemaid runs for help and runs into the other burglar. This burglar, who is stylishly dressed and well-mannered, is able to convince the housemaid that he is a police officer. He facilitates the arrest of the first burglar and then discreetly gets away with the homeowner's valuables. This is a perfect vehicle for Deed, the cloddish cretin, and Linder, the wily gentleman. It is a classic opposition familiar to comedy fans. Think, for instance, of Hope and Crosby. Or, maybe, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
Linder and Deed had come a long way in the two years that preceded Unwilling chiropodist. The best information that is available at this time indicates that Linder's first film with Pathé was First Night Out, which was released in August of 1905, and Deed's first film with Pathé was The Wig Chase, which was released in May of 1906. Hicken, who knew Deed, reported that Deed preceded Linder at Pathé. He said that Deed made his debut at Pathé playing a clumsy waiter in a film produced in 1905. But, for now, Deed's first known Pathé film is The Wig Chase, which is regarded to be one of the most imaginative of the early chase comedies.
|Illustration for The Wig Chase (1906)|
While Max Linder brought scenes of vaudeville, of finer grace, in situations usually gallant, Deed was debating in very simple arguments. Ashes of Buddha presented a colonel who commissioned his assistant (Deed) to remove an urn from the mail with the ashes of Buddha, sent from India. The return journey was very complicated, and between bumps, rollovers and various accidents, the sacred content was, in unprecedented volume, scattered over coffee tables, hats and preoccupied readers. Cretinetti stole a carpet  showed the actor dragging a long carpet through endless and uncluttered streets and walks, sowing confusion and disaster. In Sanchez has guests (Pathé Frères, 1912), the actor receives a bouquet of flowers. Not having at hand a coin with which to give to the delivery man, and before the man's significant glance, he removes a flower from the bouquet and gives it to him. Then, to the strange regard of the man, he trims a few twigs [off the flower] to complement his gift. . ."Deed was quicker to establish his screen character, the disaster-prone simpleton Boireau. Boireau took form in the comedian's earliest films, including The Wig Chase, Boireu Moves (1906), Three Cent Leeks (1906). The Son of the Devil Spends the Night in Paris (1906) and The Inexperienced Chauffeur (1906).
Hicken recognized the importance of Deed in film history. He wrote:
He was always airy, to the delight of his audience. To fight against brigades of guards, to elude creditors, to dominate the angry mother-in-law, to outdo a hypnotist, was all a task at hand. With his car he bored through walls and, in a crazy succession of incidents, he ended up in a trash can, battered, but proud of having achieved some naive purpose. This Pinocchio species of impossible adventures, supernatural, playful until the end, had conquered for the first time the chuckle of the fans, and all this four or five years before Chaplin debuted in Keystone. . .Deed's films were filled with exuberant antics and fantastic effects. In The Inexperienced Chauffeur, Deed's inexperience as a driver causes him to weave wildly down the street and hit lampposts and market stalls. An even better example of Deed's exaggerated style of comedy could be found in The Son of the Devil Spends the Night in Paris, which introduces Deed as a junior Devil speeding through the streets of Paris in a flaming automobile.
By comparison, Linder's comedy was subtle, expressive and personal. The only thing that produced a flame in a Linder film was a lighter extended to the tip of a gentleman's cigarette. But it took Linder slightly longer to develop his character, the dandy boulevardier that fans would come to know as "Gentleman Max." Film historian Richard Abel, author of "The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914," traced the character's evolution in an eloquent study of Linder's early films. He wrote:
[Linder] alternated between performing as the lead and simply walking on as an extra. Even when he played a leading roles, however, as in the comedies apparently directed by [Louis] Gasnier, his character fluctuated – from a schoolboy in La Premiere Sortie to the young dandy in Les Debuts d'un patineur. Yet one crucial character trait remained relatively constant: Linder often acted like what Eugen Weber has called the leisured French bourgeois rentier or, at least, a lower-class bourgeois figure with pretensions to that status, and occasionally – as in The Would-Be Juggler– showed signs of the subtly affected elegance that would later become his trademark.
|Linder in one of his earliest films, Rencontre imprévue (1905).|
A lady and maid are seen in a post office, where the lady is posting some letters, using the maid's tongue for moistening the stamps. With each successive application the stickiness becomes more pronounced. Meanwhile a young man, evidently the beau of the maid, is waiting for a chance to greet his sweetheart. While the lady posts her letters the two lovers are seen affectionately embracing each other. As the lover imprints a kiss upon his sweetheart's lips, the gum from the stamps adheres to his mustache and sticks. All efforts to separate them prove futile, and in final desperation a pair of scissors is brought and they are cut apart. Part of the man's mustache clings fondly to the girl's lips and the final picture, a close range view, shows the happy but parted lovers.Linder remained in the background as a postal customer. Notice in these screen captures from the film that Linder appeared on screen as a dapper gentleman well before he starred in Les Debuts d'un patineur.
An example of a walk-on role by Linder can be found in Madam's Tantrums (1907). The Kalgoorlie Miner, an Australian newspaper, described the film's plot as follows:
Madam Tantrum's show what a wrathful woman can accomplish in a house with a large staff of servants and hangers-on, who are kicked from here to Hackney by madame when her anger has been set fairly boiling.A print of the film is housed at the EYE Film Institute Nederlands. Catherine Cormon, a manager at the facility, reported that Linder appears in the film as the Madame's lover. She wrote, "His appearance is very short: he walks in and gets chased away by Madame. Linder has been conclusively identified as an actor in 37 films made from 1905 to 1908. He has been tentatively linked to 15 other films made during this period. Renken has compiled a comprehensive list of these films on his website http://www.maxlinder.de/. Renken wrote, "The number or titles of the films [Linder] shot in the first 1 ½ years are largely unknown. While in an interview (Caras y caretas, 12.4.1913) he spoke of 'rare films,' which he made between his stage performances. He remembered eight years later to have 'turned a drama or a comedy every day' (Cinémagazine, 25.11.1921)."
Abel was correct to call Max "a lower-class bourgeois figure with pretensions to that status." The character is often struggling to fit into bourgeois society. The easiest way to pretend to be high-class is to dress high-class. But his clothing have a tendency to betray him, as I have written about in my previous essays on the comedian. He splits the seat of his pants at a party in In a Difficult Position (1908). He covers up the open tear with various objects - a platter, a seat cushion, a chair, a handkerchief and a lady's fan. Moving Picture World reported:
His downfall comes only when the lady asks him to tie her shoe lace. He is stunned by the request, but pulls himself together and makes a daring attempt to oblige one-handed. But this feat being impossible he gives up, and the guests discover the tear. The beau sits on the floor in despair, but too late, for all are already gathered round him, and 'mid much laughter and ridicule he succeeds in dashing out of the room without turning his back toward the company.The film was remade in 1910 as Shame on Max (released in France as Max manque un riche mariage). It is a routine that would be performed years later by Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Jerry Lewis and Mike Myers. In Max Sets the Style (1914), Max is getting ready for a party when he rests his feet too close to a fireplace and sets his shoes ablaze. The best replacement footwear that he can obtain on short notice are crude work boots. In Max's Hat (1908), Max has a series of hats destroyed in various accidents on his way to have dinner with his prospective in-laws. My research only recently turned up a 1910 comedy called Max's Feet Are Pinched (released in France as Le soulier trop petit). Max's new shoes are too tight. While having dinner with his fiancé's family, Max slips off his shoes to give his feet some relief. At first, his foot odor becomes a disturbance to everyone around the table. Then, his fiancé's dog runs off with the shoes. This becomes a problem when Max is asked to dance.
|Max is appalled to be wearing work boots in Max Sets the Style (1914).|
[The young dandy] character was the exclusive property of the actor [René] Gréhan, who was, with Andre Deed, one of [Pathe's] most successful series comics. In 1907 Gréhan got a better offer at a new competing studio, and his departure left a big gap in the company's production schedule. Linder was chosen to fill Gréhan’s shoes, as well as his evening coat, dress shirt, and tie. Assuming the costume and much of the manner of Gréhan’s character 'Gontran,' Linder made, under Gasnier’s direction, Les Debuts d’un patineur/Max Learns to Skate (1907), the first work in which he becomes, recognizably, 'Max.' The film was not a hit either with audiences or with Pathé executives, however. For two years it remained without a sequel, while Linder continued to perform as a lead or secondary character in various other projects for the studio.
[O]ne can speculate that the Pathé company may have considered constructing a series around Linder that would complement the Boireau films. For some reason, however, these films did not establish Linder as a major comic, and Pathé seems to have turned to Gréhan, whose elegant, swaggering Parisian dandy, Gontran, might supplement Deed's work for the company.Here are screen captures of Gréhan from Gontran et la voisine inconnue (1913).
Abel added, "As played by Gréhan, by contrast, Gontran is an anxious, overconfident bourgeois type not unlike Max — and his polished style of performance and facial appearance (large eyes, hair parted in the middle, and thin mustache) do remind one of Linder."
Much new material about Linder, including articles, films and studio literature, have become available in the last twenty-five years. In light of this material, let us examine the claims of Williams and Abel.
To start, Abel claimed that Linder did not achieve major success until 1910. To prove this is untrue, Renken provided an article that was published in Comœdia in March, 1908. The article makes it clear that Linder was a great success at the time. It is predicted in the article that the comedian is headed for worldwide fame. Four months later, Linder was the star attraction at the grand opening of the Cirque d'Hiver, an historical theatre that had been converted to a picture house. Linder was well-received at the high-profile event. It was reported in the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly:
An interesting feature of a long programme was the presentation of a film in which one of the artistes performing at the Pathé theatre was seen receiving a telephone message and leaving his house hurriedly for the theatre. Colliding with numerous passers-by a chase is set up and the artist is seen entering the theatre in rags. At this stage the artist himself appeared on the stage and took up the tale of adventures, the novelty being a great hit.This was a gimmick that Linder used at live shows for years. The audiences always responded enthusiastically. Linder continued to gather fans from his stage and film appearances. In the fall of 1909, Pathé launched a major advertising campaign designed to promote Linder as "the first truly international star."
Next, Abel suggested that Deed was much bigger star than Linder. Renken found nothing to indicate that Deed was a bigger star than Linder in 1907 and 1908. Renken wrote, "It seems both were quite successful. . ."
Williams claimed that Les Debuts d’un patineur, in which Linder officially introduced his world-famous character, was "not a hit" and it diminished the studio's faith in the comedian. Renken wrote, "I have not seen any evidence, that Debut d'un patineur (The Skater's Debut) was NOT a success. I have seen however press reports that it was greeted with 'gales of laughter' (Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, Jun. 20, 1907)."
Williams claimed that Gréhan was one of Pathé's early comedy stars and he created a dapper character that Linder later imitated. He doesn't specify when Gréhan started at the company, but he is clear that the comedian left in 1907. That story doesn't appear to be true. Gréhan made five or six films for Pathé in 1910, after which he moved to the Éclair Film Company. Renken's exhaustive research did not turn up any evidence that Gréhan worked at Pathé before 1910. By 1910, Linder had been appearing on screen in his popular role for three years.
Abel's account is closer to the truth than Williams' account. Abel claimed that Pathé had become disillusioned with Linder, who had failed to catch on with audiences, and brought in Gréhan as a potential replacement. Gréhan may have, in fact, been a potential replacement. Linder had a history of bad health. He had been unable to work due to illness from October, 1908, to March, 1909. He was sidelined again in December, 1910, due to appendicitis. It could be that Pathé brought in Gréhan to satisfy exhibitors in case their fragile star became sick again and was unable to stay on schedule.
Linder remained an active force at Pathé from 1905 to 1917. He turned out a wide variety of delightful films during this period. A film that remains a favorite of Linder fans today is Max toréador (1913), in which Max trains to become a bullfighter.
Linder occasionally tried to be as fantastic as Deed. He could be found at his most far-fetched in Max asthmatique (1915). Max, who has come to the Alps to improve his breathing, dreams that his breathing has become astoundingly powerful. At first, he manages with a casual exhale to knock over skaters at an ice rink. Then, he uses the force of his breath to overtake his competitors in a ski race. Unable to stop, he flies over the mountains, crosses the sea, passes over a city, and finally crashes through a roof.
While researching this article, I learned about a Linder comedy called Max virtuose (1913). The plot involves Max using a mechanical piano to trick his girlfriend's father into thinking that he is a piano virtuoso. This was a stock plot used by many comedians. I wrote about this before in article titled "Sing, Clown, Sing!".
I also learned about a Pathé comedy called L'Electrocuté (1908). To my knowledge, neither Linder nor Deed appear in this film. But the film got my attention due to its imaginative plot. A cook falls asleep in a chair while peeling vegetables. Later, she gets sleepy while serving dinner and spills soup on her employer. The employer is furious and throws her out into the street. The cooks sees a store that sells electrical devices. She has herself covered with electrical wires and keeps an electrical current flowing through her body. Now that she is electrified, she no longer wants to sleep and moves at a rapid speed. Her employer gives her back her job, but he is unsettled when she serves his dinner at full speed. She trips coming down the stairs and falls into a water basin, which causes her to short-circuit. Her employer is disgusted by her performance and fires her again.
I would not have been able to write this article without the help of Georg Renken. The website that Mr. Renken has devoted to Max Linder is a vast resource, which likely includes every contemporary article ever written on Gentleman Max.
Other Reference Sources
Abel, Richard. The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914, Updated and Expanded Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press (1994).
Hicken, Pablo C. Ducros. "Argentine History of Toribio Sanchez." The Nation (January 14, 1940).
Williams, Alan. Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (March, 1992). p. 60.
I was taken by surprise by Wonder Woman. I expected a film devoted to the crass and angry promotion of Girl Power. I expected a big-budget spectacle bloated with CGI effects. But Wonder Woman is different. It is an imaginatively conceived, lovingly crafted film. It is not a hateful, contrived or politically correct. It is not a cynical cash grab. It is a truly artistic effort on the part of its director, Patty Jenkins.
The Big Sick, a comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, is based on a real-life crisis in which Nanjiani coped with a girlfriend contracting a rare life-threatening disease and then stood by desperately while the girlfriend was put into a medically induced coma to facilitate treatment. The film could have been a profound personal story that examined real relationships and real situations. Instead, it devolves into the standard shtick of producer Judd Apatow. The story can only be effective if the audience empathizes with Nanjiani, but the filmmakers cannot resist turning Nanjiani into an off-putting boob to push forward Apatow's usual cringe comedy agenda. Unnecessary plot contrivances abound. Frequent efforts are made to let the audience know that Nanjiani, a Shia Muslim, is a good Muslim and he had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Is that really relevant to the film? Nothing is really relevant to the film, which is as unfocused and shallow as many of Apatow's other recent films. Shallowness masquerading as profundity is the film's biggest joke.
|Ossi Oswalda in I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)|
I have a few choice tidbits for the month.
Here is a rare image from Lloyd Hamilton's popular shipwreck comedy Robinson Crusoe Ltd. (1921).
I've heard that work on the new Hamilton DVD is progressing nicely.
Vitagraph comedy team Montgomery and Rock have a laugh with an Idaho exhibitor in a 1919 photo.
I have talked about Ernst Lubitsch's early features in a number of articles. I have recently obtained new DVD's of these features. Let me share a few screen captures.
I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)
Ossi Oswalda practices how to bathe a baby using a doll in place of a baby.
A similar scene later turned up in the I Love Lucy episode "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable" (1952).
In Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls (1995), pet detective Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is able to eavesdrop on a suspect by camouflaging himself inside of a fake rhino.
One hundred years earlier, British brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton obtained unique wildlife photography by camouflaging themselves inside of a fake ox.
This is Lano and Woodley's "Deaf Interpreter" routine from 2007.
I once wrote about a "no smoking" routine (Click here). I found another example of the routine performed by Snub Pollard and Marie Mosquini in a 1921 comedy Blue Sunday.
Which is the better monster theme song - the jazzy, hand-clapping song for The Blob (1958) or the swinging, groovy song for The Green Slime (1968)?
The Australian sketch comedy series Thank God You're Here plunged guest stars into absurd scenes without a script. The other actors in the scene fed scripted lines to the guest star, who had to improvise his responses. The guest star didn't see the set until he walked through a door and was greeted with the line, "Thank, God, you're here." Here is Frank Woodley winding his way through a scene from the pilot episode.
This is Hamish Blake suddenly finding himself in a spoof of The Bachelor.
Blake was a favorite on the series. Here he participates in a dubious science program for kids.
Every episode ended with a group challenge.
Efforts to recreate the show in the United States and England were unsuccessful.
I no longer find laughs in the crass and forced comedy features produced by the Hollywood studios. I prefer to keep an eye on foreign comedies. Currently in release in France is Jalouse, which stars acclaimed actress Karin Viard as divorced teacher who suddenly becomes dissatisfied with her life and lets herself be overcome with jealousy.
|Alain Chabat in Santa et Cie (2017)|
I enjoyed a new French Canadian comedy called De père en flic 2 (the English title of which is Father and Guns 2). The plot is original. A police task force infiltrates a couples boot camp to investigate a Mafia lieutenant attending the boot camp with his girlfriend. It turns out that bickering police officers, which include an aging renegade cop, his straitlaced work-obsessed son and the son's neglected girlfriend, are more in need of relationship counseling than the actual patients.
|Michel Côté and Louis-José Houde in De père en flic 2 (2017)|
Guillermo del Toro has made it clear in interviews that The Shape of Water, his offbeat retelling of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, is his "Fuck you" to white Christian Americans. Imagine that, the Creature from the Black Lagoon Takes a Knee. But the soggy fish tale does more than promote the hatred of white people. The film, which depicts a sexual affair between a woman and a scaly green fish man, also serves as an endorsement of bestiality. Sound like an unfair assessment? Sound far-fetched? Read on.
The film is never outright in its endorsements of racial hostility and bestiality, which the director charmingly disguises in fantasy tropes. We need to peel away the fantasy tropes to find the weirdness and rancor beneath.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is a film that touches upon "Beauty and the Beast" folklore. But "Beauty and the Beast," itself, borrowed liberally from earlier stories.
An early woman-loves-animal story is the Greek mythology tale of the Minotaur.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 8 - 11 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.):Let us look at a different sort of mixed coupling in "Cupid and Psyche," which was written by 2nd century Roman author Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis. A god, Cupid, finds himself smitten by a beautiful mortal woman, Psyche. Cupid manipulates the wind to sweep Psyche to a secluded valley, where the young woman finds a magnificent palace. The palace is so beautiful that Psyche feels drawn to enter it. Cupid remains unseen. His voice echoes through the halls as the god invites Psyche to take up residence in the palace. Psyche agrees.
Minos aspired to the throne [of Crete], but was rebuffed. He claimed, however, that he had received the sovereignty from the gods, and to prove it he said that whatever he prayed for would come about. So while sacrificing to Poseidon, he prayed for a bull to appear from the depths of the sea, and promised to sacrifice it upon its appearance. And Poseidon did send up to him a splendid bull. Thus Minos received the rule, but he sent the bull to his herds and sacrificed another. . . Poseidon was angry that the bull was not sacrificed, and turned it wild. He also devised that Pasiphae [Minos' wife] should develop a lust for it. In her passion for the bull she took on as her accomplice an architect named Daedalus. . . He built a wooden cow on wheels, . . skinned a real cow, and sewed the contraption into the skin, and then, after placing Pasiphae inside, set it in a meadow where the bull normally grazed. The bull came up and had intercourse with it, as if with a real cow. Pasiphae gave birth to Asterius, who was called Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but was otherwise human. Minos, following certain oracular instructions, kept him confined and under guard in the labyrinth. This labyrinth, which Daedalus built, was a "cage with convoluted flextions that disorders debouchment."
Cupid continues to hide his identity. Madaurensis wrote:
He came only in the hours of darkness and fled before the dawn of morning, but his accents were full of love, and inspired a like passion in her. She often begged him to stay and let her behold him, but he would not consent. On the contrary he charged her to make no attempt to see him, for it was his pleasure, for the best of reasons, to keep concealed.Riley Winters of Ancient Origins wrote, "When allowing her two sisters to visit, they are jealous of her beautiful home and insist that Psyche's husband really is a monster and she owes it to herself to find out." Psyche gazes upon Cupid as he sleeps. He is awoken suddenly when wax from her candle drips onto his face.
"Why should you wish to behold me?" he said. "Have you any doubt of my love? Have you any wish ungratified? If you saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I ask of you is to love me. I would rather you would love me as an equal than adore me as a god."
Psyche must endure a series of trials to win back Cupid. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.
[Jupiter] pleaded the cause of the lovers so earnestly with [Cupid's mother] Venus that he won her consent. On this he sent Mercury to bring Psyche up to the heavenly assembly, and when she arrived, handing her a cup of ambrosia, he said, "Drink this, Psyche, and be immortal; nor shall Cupid ever break away from the knot in which he is tied, but these nuptials shall be perpetual."We are familiar with Disney's animated and live-action versions of "Beauty and the Beast." Elizabeth Logan of Glamour Magazine wrote:
[A]s much as the new version of BATB [Beauty and the Beast] rewrites Belle to have personal agency, the original story was very much about young women — girls, really — being married off to old(er) men, who kept them in their castles and dressed them up and made them come down to dinner and. . . well, you know the rest. . . So much about the tale makes sense now, right? To a girl of, say, 13, a man who has gone through puberty is basically a huge, scary, smelly beast. . . [Maria Tatar, professor of folklore and mythology at Harvard and editor of "Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animals, Brides, and Grooms From Around The World," explained,] "[T]he monster is a projection of our own anxieties. We create these monsters, and then make peace with those monsters."We often see this in horror movies. An argument can be made that the shark in Jaws was a projection of Sheriff Brody's anxieties about the ocean.
A crisis develops in Beauty and the Beast's relationship. Jealous sisters are again the source of the problem. Wikipedia reports:
Her sisters are envious when they hear of her happy life at the castle, and, hearing that she must return to the Beast on a certain day, beg her to stay another day, even putting onion in their eyes to make it appear as though they are weeping. They hope that the Beast will be angry with Beauty for breaking her promise and eat her alive. Beauty's heart is moved by her sisters' false show of love, and she agrees to stay.The Beast is devastated when Beauty abandons him. Beauty returns to Beast when she learns he has fallen ill due to his broken heart. Wikipedia reports:
Beauty weeps over the Beast, saying that she loves him. When her tears strike him, the Beast is transformed into the handsome prince from Beauty's dreams. The Prince informs her that long ago a fairy turned him into a hideous beast after he refused to let her in from the rain and that only by finding true love, despite his ugliness, could the curse be broken. He and Beauty are married and they live happily ever after together.
Fake tears divided the couple and real tears brought them back together. The love of beautiful young woman proves in the end to be the beast's salvation. The strange coupling was tied to a curse meant to deceive, punish and degrade much as had happened (albeit more vulgarly) in the tale of the queen and bull.
Horror films adopted the "beauty and beast" theme with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). But, unlike "Beauty and the Beast," a beastly man's love of a beautiful young woman does not inspire the love of the woman or lead to a happy ending.
The beauty in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a gypsy girl, Esmeralda, and the beast is a bell ringer at the Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo. Wikipedia reports in its notes on the novel:
The deformed Quasimodo is described as "hideous" and a "creation of the devil." He was born with a severe hunchback, and a giant wart that covers his left eye. . . Quasimodo is never loved by Esmeralda; although she recognizes his kindness toward her, she is nonetheless repulsed by his ugliness and terrified of him. (In the 1982 television film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she kisses him goodbye at the end; something that does not occur in either the book, nor any other film version of the novel.) He continues to watch over her and protect her regardless. . .An important message of the book is that a person's true value is to be found in his character. Wikipedia reports:
In the novel, [Quasimodo] symbolically shows Esmeralda the difference between himself and the shallow, superficial, self-centered, yet handsome Captain Phoebus with whom the girl has become infatuated. He places two vases in her room: one is a beautiful crystal vase, yet broken and filled with dry, withered flowers; the other a humble pot, yet filled with beautiful, fragrant flowers. Esmeralda takes the withered flowers from the crystal vase and presses them passionately on her heart.Quasimodo is so in love with Esmeralda that he dedicates himself to protecting her against a lustful archdeacon and a murderous mob. In the 1923 film, he is stabbed while saving Esmeralda's life. Esmeralda does not dispense magical tears that heal Quasimodo's knife wound or cure his hunchback. Quasimodo dies.
The Phantom of the Opera's hideously deformed madman Erik abducts opera star Christine, imprisons her in his underground lair, and demands that she marry him. Erik wears a mask in Christine's presence. He informs Christine that she is free to come and go as she pleases, but that she must never look behind his mask. He, like Cupid, does not want the young woman to see his face knowing his appearance is likely to shock her. Cupid is concerned that Psyche might fear him for his divine beauty. Erik is concerned that Christine might fear him for his ghastly ugliness.
In the novel, Erik is subdued by Christine's tears. Wikipedia reports:
When Erik is alone with Christine, he lifts his mask to kiss her on her forehead, and is given a kiss back. Erik reveals that he has never received a kiss (not even from his own mother) nor has been allowed to give one and is overcome with emotion. He and Christine then cry together and their tears "mingle." Erik later says that he has never felt so close to another human being.
He frees Christine from his lair, but he misses her terribly and dies of heartbreak. So, the novel does not end well for Erik, who dies as ugly and unwanted as ever. The original preview cut of the film revealed Erik dying of heartbreak at his organ, but the audience found the ending to be less than rousing. The studio filmed a new scene in which an angry mob chases Erik, beats him brutally, and drowns him in the River Seine. A good mob beating is rousing if nothing else. So, the love of a beautiful woman can leave a man fatally heartbroken, fatally stabbed, or fatally floating face-first down the River Seine.
King Kong (1933) opens with a title card offering an Old Arabian Proverb:
And the Prophet said, "And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead."No such proverb exists outside the film. It is, as one commentator stated, "a bit of hokum."
The idea for the film came from the film's director Merian C. Cooper. Cooper became interested in gorillas as a child when he read a book by Paul Du Chaillu called "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa." Wikipedia reports:
Cooper became fascinated with the stories involving the gorilla, in particular Du Chaillu's depiction of a particular gorilla known for its "extraordinary size" that the natives described as "invincible" and the "King of the African Forest." When Du Chaillu and some natives encountered a gorilla later in the book he described it as a "hellish dream creature" that was "half man, half beast."
The title for the first draft of his giant gorilla script was "The Beast." Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray, is the beauty to Kong's beast. Caroline Madden of Screen Queens wrote:
Ann is captured by the natives and offered up as a delectable sacrifice for Kong, but instead of eating her he is enamored with her beauty.Some viewers have identified a racist allegory that was never intended by the filmmakers. Robert Malesky of NPR wrote, "Cooper and Schoedsack rejected any allegorical interpretations, insisting in interviews that the film's story contained no hidden meanings."
There is no emotional reciprocity in Kong and Ann’s relationship. Ann remains a damsel in distress by screaming her head off while being held by Kong like a rag doll, the prize that he has won. She does not feel anything for him but terror, even as he protects her from T-Rexes and other creepy-crawly creatures. . . When Jack Driscoll shows up and rescues her, she doesn’t bat an eye leaving him.
Zeba Blay of the Huffington Post wrote, "Critics have drawn connections between the capture of Kong and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. . ."
Cynthia Erb, the author of "Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture," wrote, "There is certainly an interpretation of King Kong himself as an extension of the Skull Islanders. . ." She added, "In my opinion, it always has this other dimension that focuses on King Kong as a victim and on the Carl Denham character as a real intruder, as a certain type who really intrudes and is very clueless about the space he is conquering."
Nathan Rabin wrote in Vanity Fair, "[T]he story of a giant ape from Somewhere Else — a creature worshiped as a god in his own world, who is kidnapped and taken to the United States in shackles to serve as a plaything for a wealthy white elite — has proven especially metaphorically rich." Rabin believes that it is reasonable to read the film as "an anti-colonialist allegory." He adds, "No wonder he rebels so righteously."
As much as Kong stirs up discussions of race, it stirs up even more discussion about sex. Malesky wrote, "King Kong hums with an undercurrent of eroticism. There is bondage imagery and a very famous disrobing scene, where Kong slowly peels away Darrow's dress, then holds it up to his nose and sniffs."
Erb said, "I've read fans who quote Cooper as saying that moment is supposed to be about peeling petals from a rose. I think Cooper did not want people to look at the film [in a sexual way]. But. . . I feel that there's a definite eroticism there. I think he stands for a strange kind of animal love."
The unasked question in the movie is about. . . well. . . sex. What exactly does Kong intend to do with his captive girl? It's a question Cooper biographer Mark Cotta Vaz thinks the filmmaker never even contemplated. He said, "Merian Cooper and Dorothy Jordan were a great couple, and they were worldly people, but they were pretty conservative, and, you know, he was a good Southern gentleman."In the film, moviemaker and expedition leader Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) says, "If it hadn't been for [Miss Darrow] we couldn't have gotten near Kong. He followed her back to the village. . . Beauty and the beast. Kong could have stayed safe where he was, but he couldn't stay away from beauty." Earlier in the film, Denham made comments that foreshadowed Kong's infatuation for Ann. He insisted, "I never knew it to fail. Some big hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face, bang. . . he cracks up, gets sappy." He talks about his latest script, which is focused on a "tough guy" who could "lick the world." "But," he said, "when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him." The filmmakers lay out this theme as plainly as possible.
In the end, Kong climbs the Empire State Building with Ann firmly in his paw and is quickly knocked off his perch by a hail of gunfire from biplanes. As Kong lies dead in the street, a policeman remarks that the planes got him. Denham tells him, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
The message is that love can paralyze the beast, cause it to drop its defenses, and allow it to acquiesce to its own destruction.
Then, we have the 1976 remake of Kong, in which the beauty is Jessica Lange. Rabin wrote, "Lange radiates incandescent sensuality as the unfortunate object of King Kong’s carnal desire — as well as everyone else's."
Inexplicably, scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. renamed the Ann Darrow character Dwan. Just Dwan, no other name. But the young lady's role in the film remained essentially the same. Rabin wrote:
[Kong's] monomaniacally focused on trying to make sweet jungle love with the tiny little human woman of his dreams. Dwan’s villager-engineered meet-ominous with King Kong after being drugged by Kong worshipers has the groggy, disorienting quality of a date rape, while her initial interactions with the ape are like a more innocent but still awkward and very 1970s setup — complete with Dwan accusing her suitor of being a "male chauvinist."Peter Jackson's 2005 remake presented Ann differently. Madden described the new Ann as "a woman who feels compassion and empathy the giant gorilla once her initial terror subsides." He continued:
This is not the monster movie villain of the original. Instead, he is a Quasimodo type and lonely figure who feels affection for the first time. . . What is most unique about this interpretation is that it completely rejects any subtext of sexuality, making an intricate relationship for Ann and Kong. Kong is still offered Ann as a sacrifice, but it is more for eating. Kong still desires and protects Ann, but it is because he wants a friend."Kong is childlike and playful as he watches Ann, a vaudeville entertainer, dance and perform tricks. Madden wrote, "Ann starts to understand and identify with him in that moment, seeing him as an isolated creature. Ann stops becoming a victim in that moment and becomes something he empathizes with. He is curious about her, he wants to protect her because he cares about her and she has touched his soul."
Rabin wrote, "Jackson's King Kong is neither the horndog of 1976 nor the savage brute of 1933: he’s a furry dreamer who pines hopelessly in ways that are all too human for a gorgeous, sad-eyed vaudevillian played by Naomi Watts."
Watts does not shriek in terror as Wray once did. She is fully accepting of a creature much different than herself. Mankind was once a tough guy who could lick the world. Mankind battled the toothy beasts of the earth for primacy. But now mankind has gone soft, which brings us this soft retelling of the Kong saga. It is more than acceptance that Ann offers Kong. Ann now offers him love. It is not necessary for a magic spell to cause Kong to shed his fur or shrink him to the size and form of a man.
Meghan O'Rourke of Slate wrote, "Darrow, played by Naomi Watts, actually falls for Kong; she's been handled roughly in the past, and something about Kong's protection of her makes her feel that, at last, she's met a guy who can commit."
Kong saves and rescues Ann from dinosaurs, as in the original. After saving her life, they sit by a cliff and see a beautiful jungle sunset. Ann puts her hand to her heart, showing that sharing this tender moment with him moves her. Kong offers his hand to Ann, and she lovingly sits in it as they stare at the sunset.But the beast still has to die.
Ann is incredibly upset when Kong is captured and unjustly taken from his home. Back in New York Kong and Ann share another tender moment after he escapes the theatre by dancing with her on an ice-skating rink. This isn’t the Kong of the original that snatched Ann from her bedroom. Kong sought her out, and Ann willingly returned.
The famous finale on top of the Empire State Building shows Ann pleading and heartbroken that Kong is being attacked (similar to the 70s version.) Kong and Ann share an extremely loving final look as Kong holds his final gaze on her. He gives one last look at not just a beautiful girl, but the one person in the world that he cared about, and who cared about him.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a lovely piece of Americana. The film, as described by Dave Trumbore of Collider, involves "a prehistoric humanoid. . . [who] rises from his watery abode to terrorize terrestrials." The story has to do with scientists who discover the prehistoric Gill Man while searching for fossils along the Amazon River. The scientists subdue the creature with a toxic chemical and lock him in a cage. The creature breaks free and kidnaps a scientist's fiancée, with whom it has fallen in love.
Producer William Alland got the idea for The Creature from the Black Lagoon during a dinner party chat with Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. Figueroa insisted that a half-man and half-fish creature lived in the Amazon River and it rose from the river's depths once a year to claim a maiden. Based on this conversation, Alland drafted a summary for a film, which he intended to call "The Sea Monster." The beast was matched with a beauty, which Alland simply called the "blonde." Tom Weaver discussed the summary at length in his book "The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy." He wrote:
The scientist of the expedition turns heavy, sends the blonde’s boyfriend off on a wild goose chase, then "overpowers the girl, chloroforms her, ties her, semi-nude, onto a raft, [and] sets a snare-trap around the raft… ." As he watches, the webbed hand of the monster reaches up and drags the unconscious girl into the water. From here, Alland suggested two possible story directions: (1) The boyfriend succeeds in rescuing her, and the monster is killed, or (2) the monster is captured and brought to a small South American seaport, but it escapes and terrorizes the area. "Needless to say," Alland concludes, "the monster's end is brought about by his desire for the blonde-haired girl of the expedition."Steve Kronenberg, a contributor to "The Creature Chronicles," wrote:
The second proposed ending instantly calls to mind King Kong (1933), and in fact makes any worth-his-salt Monster Kid realize that "The Sea Monster"'s whole plot is lifted from Kong. When I asked the always forthright Alland about the similarities, he made no effort to deny it: "Absolutely! As a matter of fact, [reusing Kong’s basic plot] was the whole idea. Oh, sure, that was my idea!" he laughed.
Like Kong, the Creature is not a product of mad science or myth, but a biological aberration and prehistoric holdover. The Creature rules his dark underwater domain in the Amazon the way Kong was master of the misty Skull Island — and neither of them takes kindly to strangers invading their space. Most of all, the Creature 'apes' Kong’s humanoid characteristics: Both are captivated and victimized by the desire for a beautiful woman, and both die amidst great audience sympathy.Maurice Zimm wrote a treatment based on Alland's summary. Zim's beauty was named Kay. Weaver describes Kay's capture by the sea monster (alternately called the Gill Man and the Pisces Man) and her confinement in his grotto. The Gill Man's grotto is a refuge that is meant to isolate the beauty and the beast from the rest of the world. It serves in the same capacity as the Beast's castle, Kong's cave, Quasimodo's bell tower, and the Phantom's subterranean lair.
The Gill Man places Kay on the "floral carpet" and then backs into the shadows, his gaze still fixed on her. When she wakes and is startled by the sight of the Gill Man, he approaches slowly, making a crooning sound that is almost human, a look of pleading in his eyes.Later, the Gill Man is imprisoned in a tank. Weaver wrote:
Kay is drawn to the prison-tank and looks in at the Pisces Man, whose eyes are "so human, so tortured, so pleading. . . Why should they affect her so? What had come over her that day in the grotto beneath the Black Lagoon?" Reed ignores her suggestion that they allow the Pisces Man to return to his grotto and the graves of his ancestors.Arthur Ross succeeded Zimm as scriptwriter on the project. Weaver wrote:
Crowds swarm on the Leticia docks trying to get a look at the creature; to Kay, it’s all as "tawdry and revolting” as a freak sideshow. That night, in the airfield hangar where a cargo carrier (with the tank aboard) are stored, she again looks in at the Pisces Man, whose eyes seem to say, “It’s now or never. . . now or never." Making up her mind, she unbolts the tank door and stands unafraid as the grateful creature gently touches her as he leaves the plane.. . .
Although violent when provoked, Zimm’s Pisces Man is in his own way civilized and, with Kay, almost courtly. Zimm mentions his scalloped gills which at a distance “resemble the bobbed hair of a knight of old"; if he’d looked like that in the movie, it might have added to the subliminal impression that this horror hails from the royal family of movie monsters. In short, Zimm’s descriptions and depiction of the Pisces Man make him seem more human than monster.
Discussing the movie with me, Ross said that Alland wanted to put in more of the woman. Here comes this big Creature with his cock four feet long, he’s going to fuck her, and she gets away just in time — but she does think about him [laughs]! … I had done as much [Beauty and the Beast] as I thought it was correct to do, because essentially that wasn’t the story. The fact that the Creature was attracted to the woman was not the reason he fought back. . . But Bill wanted more of the King Kong element in Creature, so [Harry Essex came in]. Really, all he did was add more of the girl. Underwater shots, the Creature sees her, the Creature gets an erection [laughs]. . . I rather felt that the nature of the Creature’s relationship to the woman in the picture was quite simplistic.
The Gill Man is as much a horndog as the 1976 Kong. The script was a concern to the MPAA's Joseph Breen, who insisted that the filmmakers "avoid any sexual emphasis that might suggest bestiality." His demands were not met exactly. A sexual union between beauty and beast is suggested by, according to Weaver, "[t]he justly famous scene in which the Gill Man swims in parallel below Kay in a kind of synchronized sexual ballet." But Kay never becomes aware of the Gill Man's presence during her swim. The dreamy coupling displayed in the scene is nothing more than an illusion.
The Gill Man did not turn out looking as human as Alland wanted. But there is still an unusual beauty to the monster, which was given a feminine touch by designer Millicent Patrick. The makeup competition series Face Off has often shown that men and women have a different approach when it comes to designing a monster. The monsters that women create do not lumber or ooze slime. While men tend to make their monsters as repulsive and frightening as possible, women tend to work hard to draw out beauty, dignity and grace in their monsters. That is what happened here.
No one who saw The Time Machine (1960) wanted to see Yvette Mimieux end up with a Morlock.
This fellow from The Mole People (1956) certainly could never muster up enough charm to win over Cynthia Patrick.
But the Gill Man is different. His beauty is especially evident when the Gill Man is compared with the half-man/half-fish sea creatures in Humanoids from Deep (1980).
Robert Skotakm, an author and visual effects supervisor, told Weaver, "I think Alland was always wanting more of a Cocteau Beauty and the Beast feeling to the film — sad creature, enchanting undersea realm, an unattainable love, etc., but with scares."
|Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)|
So, yet again, the beast is a projection of the beast that resides in us all.
In The Seven Year Itch (1955), homely Tom Ewell is tormented by beastly urges that make him think about sexually ravaging the beautiful Marilyn Monroe. At one point, Ewell and Monroe come out of a theater showing The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Here is their dialogue:
MONROE: Didn’t you just love the picture? I did. But I just felt so sorry for the Creature. At the end.
EWELL: Sorry for the Creature? [shrug] What did you want, him to marry the girl?
MONROE [stopping in her tracks]: He was kind of scary-looking. But he wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection. You know? A sense of being loved and needed and wanted.
EWELL [nods]: That’s a very interesting point of view! [Laughs.]
This is essentially the view of del Toro, who told GQ Magazine, "I fell in love with Julie Adams, I fell in love with the creature equally, and I fell in love with them in love." But it must be noted that, in the finished film, Kay shows only fleeting sympathy for the Gill Man. Viewers like del Toro projected a mutual love that wasn't actually depicted on screen.
British screenwriter Nigel Kneale turned out a script for a proposed Creature remake in 1981. The Gill Man is held captive at a naval base presided over by a sadist military officer, Captain Paul Shriver. Shriver sees the Gill Man as an abomination. He says, "They’re Men of the Wrong Day. Mankind was created on the Sixth Day. These must have come too soon, the day of the creatures of the sea, and the great whales. . ."
A remake went into development under Ivan Reitman in 1996. Reitman hired Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod to write the script. Their script had the Gill Man stalking beautiful women for the specific purpose of reproducing. Weaver wrote, "A Sports Illustrated swimsuit model named Tanya is impregnated to death on page 43, and Alex discovers the Creature’s 'male sperm' inside her corpse." A woman named Laura becomes the focus of his amorous attentions. Weaver wrote:
"[T]he Creature nabs Laura and takes her to the Lagoon to mate. Laura calms the Creature down by blowing air bubbles into his face and stroking it; it’s all a trick so she can spear him in the heart.
Del Toro was briefly attached to a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 2002. Del Toro planned to show the natives of the Amazon jungle worshiping the Gill Man as a god. But the project never came together. Two years later, the filmmaker brought an amphibious man to the big screen in Hellboy (2004).
|Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) from Hellboy (2004).|
Our friends are also our peers, associates with whom we are compelled to maintain an equal standing. It undoubtedly puts del Toro in a bind being close friends with fellow Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. The trio, which has been celebrated in Hollywood, has become known collectively as "The Three Amigos of Cinema." Cuarón won Best Director Oscars for Birdman (2014) and Revenant (2015). González won a Best Director Oscar for Gravity (2013). Del Toro can't be happy to be the one filmmaker in his inner circle who doesn't have a Best Director Oscar.
Del Toro's career has been in decline in the last few years. His last unqualified success was Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which came out nine years ago. His subsequent projects - Pacific Rim (2013) and Crimson Peak (2015) – have not done as well. Pacific Rim, a homage to the old Godzilla movies, underperformed in the United States (although it did do better in Asia). Crimson Peak did not fare well critically or financially in the United States or elsewhere.
The critics who liked Crimson Peak liked it because of the beautiful visuals, not because of the story or characters. Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, "The film by the stylish fantasist Guillermo del Toro looks marvelous, but has a vein of narrative muck at its core." Sara Stewart of the New York Post wrote, "Watching the [actors] square off within del Toro’s eye-popping, painterly palette is a feast for the eyes, if not particularly substantial fare for the mind." Dan Jolin of Empire spoke of the film being "a little overwrought for some tastes" and presenting "borderline camp at points," but the critic found the romantic Victorian atmosphere to be an "uncommon treat." Tom Huddleston of Time Out London wrote, "All three actors work hard. . . and when the melodrama hits fever pitch, Crimson Peak lurches into life. But overall this lacks weight and intensity: a Brontë-esque bauble smeared in twenty-first-century slickness." Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "Aflame with color and awash in symbolism, this undeniably ravishing yet ultimately disappointing haunted-house meller is all surface and no substance, sinking under the weight of its own self-importance into the sanguine muck below." Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Crimson Peak is a cobwebs-and-candelabras chamber piece that’s so preoccupied with being visually stunning it forgets to be scary." This is a director who struggles to win over audiences with style rather than substance.
Del Toro's 2014-2017 television series, The Strain, steadily declined in viewers throughout its 46-episode run. Only a third of the viewers of the premiere were still around for the series finale. The series never aroused the enthusiasm of genre fans and often annoyed fans with ill-conceived plot developments and poorly-drawn characters.
From the start, Del Toro's monster films were not the sort of films that win Oscars. Take, for example, Mimic (1997). Under normal circumstances, you are not going to get an Oscar for making a movie about a giant cockroach. The director was once asked, "Is there part of you that feels like, as soon as there's a monster or any fantasy or genre element in a movie, it automatically gets put in a box and isn’t taken seriously?" He replied, "Oh, for sure. But that would be important if I cared — but I don't." Don't believe him. He cares very much. The good news is that the matter has a simple fix. Just say that the cockroach represents an illegal alien and you now stand a chance of winning an Oscar.
So, now comes del Toro with The Shape of Water, which the director describes as "a fairy tale for troubled times." The film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with a mysterious sea creature held captive at a government research facility. The inspiration for the film was clearly The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The success of The Creature from the Black Lagoon had much to do with the shape that Julie Adams displayed in her well-padded bathing suit (Adams: "I had never seen a suit before where the breasts were built into the suit."). Del Toro, himself, would agree. He told Vanity Fair:
A seminal moment for me was the moment in Creature from the Black Lagoon where the creature swims under Julie Adams in a white swimming suit. Three things awakened in me - one, Julie Adams. At six I was a horny little bastard. The second [thing] that awakened was a Stendhal syndrome. There was something unassailable in that movie that I could not express. And the third thing is, I felt a longing in my heart that I could not name. I kept thinking I hope they end up together and they didn't.
He admits that most six-year-oldboys didn't watch the film and hope that Adams and Gill Man ended up as a couple ("No, I'm a weird one," he said). But this remained a fantasy of his throughout his life and he made The Shape of Water for the explicit purpose of "correcting the cinematic mistake."
Del Toro later decided to make filmgoers believe he has, in fact, designed a film to correct many of the world's mistakes. We are meant to believe that, as the film is exhibited across the country, it will wash away all of our sins.
Let us examine how the plot develops. Hawkins' character, Elisa Esposito, elicits her friends help to free the creature. Her friends are a gay artist (Richard Jenkins) and a black co-worker (Octavia Spencer). Del Toro said, "They are invisible people. Everybody that rescues the creature is invisible to the eyes of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy. Everybody." Michael Shannon, as Esposito's intimidating boss Colonel Strickland, is the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy. He is a vicious, power-mad sociopath meant to represent every white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant guy.
Don't be quick to buy this malarkey. This is just, as suggested earlier, a director's Oscar bid. Del Toro believes the perfect way to court Academy voters is to claim that his film is an anti-white, anti-Trump diatribe. Only in Hollywood could a man find success by bashing America and expressing unmitigated hatred of white people.
|Two white, square-jawed 1950s good guys, Richard Denning and Richard Carlson|
Strickland, who certainly has a square jaw to flaunt, sees the creature as "a dark, slimy thing that came from South America." His blind prejudice against this dark-skinned (green) creature fits him snugly into the mold of a racist, or speciest, or something. Strickland is reminiscent of Captain Paul Shriver, the sadistic military officer who presided over a research facility in Kneale's unproduced Creature screenplay. Del Toro said, "[Strickland] doesn't see [the creature] for the divine and beautiful thing that it is." The character is condemned by the filmmaker for believing that he, as a man, has a unique connection to God. He tells the cleaning woman, "You may think that thing looks human. Stands on two legs, right? But we're created in the Lord's image. You don't think that's what the Lord looks like, do you?" He lives under the pressure of the American work ethic, which demands that he work hard and effectively to accomplish his duties. This makes him feel like a failure when he finds that the amphibious man has escaped from the facility. He expresses agony as he stares at himself in the mirror, offers himself desperate encouragement, and calls upon himself to fix the situation. He bellows, "You deliver, that's what you do, right?" Of course, del Toro want us to see the devout American work ethic as something insane and diabolical.
The Washington Times published the following headline:
Director Guillermo del Toro: Trump's America like a "tumor"Del Toro told IndieWire, "I set [The Shape of Water] in 1962 specifically, because when people say, 'Let's Make America Great Again,' they're dreaming of that era. It’s an era where the cars had jet fins, the kitchens were automatic. Everything was super-great if you were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, but it you were anything else, you were fucked. It hasn't changed that much." He told the Hollywood Reporter, "I've seen, for most people, this [opposition to illegal immigrants] thing started two years ago. But if you're Mexican, and you crossed the border, they never really went away. They've been latent all this time."
Del Toro said that his film addressed "[t]he idea of otherness being seen as the enemy." He insisted that this is something he felt as an immigrant. He said, "What I feel is an ugly undercurrent not in the past — not in the origins of fascism — but now." The director made it clear that the creature was meant to represent the Other. This relates to a theory that imperialistic Europeans saw the people of non-white countries as the Other and felt these people didn't matter in their expansion across the globe.
Del Toro said, "I experienced [racial prejudice] in the 90s for sure, when I was starting to go to Hollywood." He has talked about this often in his recent interviews. He said, "For the world, this has been going on politically for a year and a half, but for me as a Mexican it’s been going on for decades. Each time I would cross customs and immigration for me it’s like Midnight Express. . . As a recently as a year and a half ago I was very thoroughly interrogated crossing the border in Texas." He said in another interview, "I’ve been stopped for traffic violations by cops and they get much more curious about me than the regular guy. The moment they hear my accent, things get a little deeper."
Midnight Express, really? The 1978 drama Midnight Express involves an American tourist being sent to prison in Turkey for drug smuggling. While in prison, the man is physically brutalized by guards and inmates. Is that really comparable to del Toro's experience with American police?
It is important to note the reason that del Toro abandoned Mexico for the United States. He was frightened away after his father was kidnapped in 1998. He said, "[N]ot everyone who participated got captured. Coming back to México would make me vulnerable because I have a routine that is the same every day, an everything I do gets published, those people will know what time and when I’m getting picked up and where I'm going throughout the day. At the end of the kidnap [his father’s kidnap] we didn’t say goodbye with a kiss. There were threats from them that stop me from coming back." But that was not the only kidnapping incident in his family. He added, "My wife's cousin has been missing for a month. He just disappeared, there's no information, we don't know anything."
In this country, del Toro's most terrible experience has been enduring a cop eyeing him curiously during a traffic stop. Meanwhile, in his home country, his family has had to cope with kidnappings and disappearances. Why doesn't he make a movie about that? I have the perfect plot for him. A Mexican drug cartel kidnaps a lizard man. But it wouldn't work, would it? The problems in Mexico are real and to address those problems in such a silly and trivial way would be offensive. It makes more sense to address the overblown imaginary problems that he says exists in the United States ("they get much more curious about me than a regular guy") with an overblown imaginary story.
Americans do not automatically see people who are different from them as the enemy. Americans are not ignorant and hateful as del Toro claims. Americans regard as their enemy those people who disrespect their values, people who disobey their laws and, most of all, people who do them harm. There's nothing romantic, mysterious or poignant about Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant who murdered a young woman.
|Reality versus Fantasy.|
Del Toro's Mimic featured a six-foot-tall cockroach that ate dogs and children. Should we love that mysterious creature rather than fear him?
Del Toro told the Los Angeles Times, "I think the movie says that there are so many more reasons to love than to hate. I know you sound a lot smarter when you're skeptical and a cynic, but I don’t care." He said, "I think when we wake up in the morning, we can choose between fear and love. Every morning. . . It’s important that we choose love over fear, because love is the answer. Silly as it may sound, it is the fucking answer to everything."
The filmmaker got more poetic on the matter with Vanity Fair. He said, "It’s falling in love with the other, with the thing you're not supposed to be in love with. What the movie says is, love knows no shape. Wherever it lands, you fall in love with. It doesn't matter if it’s religiously wrong, politically wrong, the gender as you. It doesn't matter. Love is love. And it’s much better than hatred and fear. I think it's an antidote to what we’re living through today."
Josh Rottenberg of The Los Angeles Times called The Shape of Water"a fable of improbable love in the face of fear and intolerance." Del Toro speaks a great deal of love in discussing the film, but his references to love are really references to sexual attraction. The cleaning woman does not feel love for the creature as she might feel for her grandmother or a friend. She has an intense feeling of physical attraction that makes her want the creature to put its fishy penis inside of her. She befriends the creature by offering him eggs, which comes across as an obvious metaphor under the circumstances. Doug Jones, who plays the Creature, said, "There was always a romantic side to these characters and relationships [in monster films] that never got actualized all the way. Guillermo said this time, the monster's going to actually fuck the girl. A gentler way to say it is that this is the creature from the wet, black lagoon who actually gets the girl this time."
Call it Monster Love. Call it Beast Love. It is not Other Love. Forget about del Toro's speeches about the Other. That talk was just a way to market the film to open border millennials. It is difficult to imagine del Toro really likes illegal aliens when the director's previous films are taken into consideration. In Pacific Rim, alien monsters emerge from an interdimensional portal called the Breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The heroine of Crimson Peak is plagued by an influx of gruesome ghosts who cross through a mystical veil to our earthly domain. We need to be careful about who we let into our personal space.
Comments on social media show that the public knows the film is specifically about bestiality. One person asked, "Is he hung like a whale or a grouper?" Sam Adams and Dana Stevens debated in their Slate podcast, "Is this Del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth? What should we make of its mysterious ending? And how hot is that fish-monster sex?" A bull fornicating with a queen, which was once presented as the repulsive outcome of a wicked curse, is now presented by del Toro as a beautiful and arousing thing. It is, for the filmmaker, a "reversal." It is to many others a perversion. Of course, Del Toro has tried hard to deny the obvious. He said, "Well, to me, there is no perversion in sex if you're not perverse. You can do whatever you want and as long as you do it in the most beautiful way, it doesn’t matter." Pedophiles, rejoice, you are not perverse if you molest children in the most beautiful way.
It was the main objective in designing the creature to make him a hottie. Shape does matter in the romance department. Del Toro said, "We sculpted the shoulder ratio with the butt ratio. We sculpted the lips. We wanted it to slowly be seen. . . as a beautiful thing." Del Toro stressed, "The creation of the creature demanded a lot because we were not creating a monster; we were creating a leading man. That required a little more sophistication in the execution of the suit, the makeup, and the performance."
The director's marketing strategy has not been universally embraced. Just take a look at the comments on movie site forums.
FistInMouth: "His movies suck horribly. Which, I imagine, is why he decided to garner publicity by yapping about our politics. I wonder how he feels about politics as usual in his homeland. If Mexicans spent as much time trying to fix their own country as they do complaining about their right to break our laws they might have a decent country. But they don't."This is hostility breeding hostility. Forget about del Toro's hollow claims that he is spreading a message of love.
Biker Guy: "Actually, he's an excellent filmmaker. Far better than most of what is made in America. His inflammatory comments aren't helpful though. . ."
Del Toro said, "The first thing is, I thought it was an ideal time to talk about love. . . We’re living in a time where the one percent has created a narrative in which they are not to blame. Who is to blame is them, quote unquote, the others, Mexicans, the minorities. What the creation of that other does, it exonerates from responsibility. It directs hatred in a super streamlined way."
He spoke further on this subject to the Los Angeles Times. He said, "The thing that is inherent in social control is fear. The way they control a population is by pointing at somebody else — whether they’re gay, Mexican, Jewish, black — and saying, 'They are different than you. They're the reason you're in the shape you're in. You're not responsible.' And when they exonerate you through vilifying and demonizing someone else, they control you."
Del Toro is able to produce beautiful visuals, but a film is about much more than visuals. Beautiful visuals can be misused, becoming a way to seduce a viewer into absorbing vile or misguided notions. One should not be fooled. The Shape of Water looks to be a mixture of fantasy, love story and monster movie. But it is, if the director's statements are to be believed, an angry political statement that condemns white Americans for opposing illegal immigration. Or alternately, if the director's other statements are to be believed, it is about bestiality.
Del Toro is part of the "one percent" that he so gleefully condemns. He always has been. His father, automotive entrepreneur Federico del Toro, provided well for his son while he was growing up. He got every plaything he ever asked for. Yet, del Toro loathes rich people, who he accuses of creating a narrative to blame innocent people for the problems that they themselves have created. But what of his own narrative? The Shape of Water is, in its candy-colored influence-peddling, more harmful than the unimaginative speech of a politician. The film vilifies and demonizes white people. Its message is that white people are the problem. This is a staggering example of hypocrisy.
In the end, Del Toro wants Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" to be replaced with his own slogan "Love is the Fucking Answer." It is not surprising that del Toro is unable to speak of love without dispensing his usual vituperation. Del Toro is not a loving man. You can tell this from watching his films or reading his interviews. He is a curmudgeon, often grousing about the American studio executives with whom he has had to work. He said, "Our curse is that the film industry is 80 per cent run by the half-informed. You have people who have read Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, and now they’re talking to you about the hero’s journey, and you want to fucking cut off their dick and stuff it in their mouth." Feel the love.
Del Toro rejected Catholicism because he found as a boy that the religion was "unforgiving." It did not allow for imperfection. He said, "There was no leeway."
He said to Vanity Fair, "Listen, it's an imperfect world. The only thing I'm trying to say with the movie is the most desirable thing is imperfection and tolerance. The ideologists enthrone purity and perfection. They are values that are unattainable. If I tell you, you’ve got to be perfect, you can't. If I tell you, you’ve gotta be imperfect. . . The greatest act of love you can give to anyone is to see them exactly as they are. That's the greatest act of love, because you wash away imperfections. What the ideology does, it blinds you to that person. He's an immigrant. He's illegal. He's black. Gay. Whatever it is that can allow you to make that person invisible and part of a group or a thing, that’s what it erases the act of seeing. And what is cinema? It is the act of seeing."
First, the illegal immigrant is not invisible and people can see the illegal immigrant as a problem. Second, a country is nothing without an ideology. The alternative is immorality and anarchy.
Our bad angels appeal to us through our weaknesses. They tell us that it's alright to be weak or to be bad. It is our acts of weakness and acts of vice that religion asks us to rise above. A person who aspires to standards of perfection cannot reasonably expect to be perfect, but it is sure that this person will turn out to the best person they can be. It is a person's noble aspirations and striving towards those aspirations that give a person value. It is repulsive for a person to wallow around defiantly in their imperfections. It is not helpful for a filmmaker to embolden imperfection.
Although Del Toro speaks more of imperfect values than physical imperfections, he does present a heroine who lacks the physical perfection of Julie Adams in her white swimsuit. Del Toro said, "The idea was to create, through fantasy and science fiction forms, a new type of 'Beauty and the Beast’ in which the beauty is someone you can relate to — not a perfect princess. And the beast doesn’t need to transform to find love."
Del Toro has made it clear in countless interviews that he sees monsters as gods. He told Vanity Fair, "Monsters are evangelical creatures for me. When I was a kid, monsters made me feel that I could fit somewhere, even if it was an imaginary place where the grotesque and the abnormal were celebrated and accepted." He told the Los Angeles Times, "I know that what I saw when I was a kid had redemptive powers. Some people find Jesus. I found Frankenstein. And the reason I’m alive and articulate and semi-sane is monsters. It’s not an affectation. It’s completely, spiritually real to me." He told Q Radio, "There is a sense of fragility and loss with monsters. There is a sense of acceptance. They are not aspirational figures. They are sort of martyr-like figures. They represent suffering and a sense of being an outcast. That I can identify with since I was a very young kid. I was the quiet kid that looked but didn't participate. . . It was not an easy childhood, but I eventually found companionship with these creatures."
The Gospel of John teaches Christians that God is the light. A man who walks with God walks in the light. But what of del Toro and his worship of monsters? The Frankenstein monster, a composite of body parts grafted together from soulless cadavers, is a dark and empty creature emblematic of the graveyard. A man who walks with the Frankenstein monster is surely a man who walks outside the light. Del Toro has openly acknowledged this. He said, "The love of the dark is for me a vocation."
It was noted earlier that, as a child, del Toro received every plaything he ever desired. That may not be entirely true. One Christmas, when he was five years old, he asked his parents for mandrake root, which he needed to cast a black magic spell. Del Toro didn't say if he found the mandrake root gift-wrapped under his Christmas tree. But it doesn't matter if the boy got to cast his spell or not. A five-year child obsessed with black magic is even weirder than a child who fantasizes about the Gill Man having sex with Julie Adams.
This is del Toro's church. It is a building that he created to house his macabre collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art. It is his second home. He comes here to work on scripts. He calls it Bleak House. It is bleak indeed.
The Shape of Water advances del Toro's Gospel of the Monster. The director said, "The creature is something to everyone. . . Giles [Richard Jenkins’ character] is the first one who knows the creature is a god. This is like [Pier Paolo] Pasolini's Theorum  with a fish."
Theorum involves a charismatic, otherworldly man (Terence Stamp) who mysteriously shows up at a bourgeois household and seduces the members of the household one by one. The household members are so affected by their sexual experience with the man that they become liberated from their oppressive lives and quickly go mad. During his sexual escapades, the man steals the childish innocence of the young daughter, who subsequently falls into a catatonic state.
Del Toro insisted about The Shape of Water creature, "He's not an animal. He's an elemental god." The creature is greater than Kong, who the occasional film critic has identified as a black king. It is, by explicit design, a South American god. The fact that the creature is a god makes him comparable to Cupid. (SPOILER ALERT! The ending of The Shape of Water mirrors the rapturous ending of "Cupid and Psyche.")
In Theorum, Pasolina's camera shots focus at times on the mysterious stranger's divinely potent penis.
In The Shape of Water, del Toro is similarly fixated on his creature's retractable penis, which the mute woman describes to her friend with a gleeful pantomime after the first time the couple have sex.
A skillful filmmaker can be persuasive and seductive regardless of his message. In filmmaking, you can polish a turd.
Germain Lussier of io9 wrote:
In Guillermo del Toro's latest film The Shape of Water, a mute cleaning lady falls in love with a mysterious fishman. It's a weird premise, to be sure, but nothing about how it’s handled feels weird. Instead, del Toro’s film is poetic, sumptuous, emotionally complex, and yet almost strikingly simple in its narrative. . . From there, del Toro’s film kind of goes exactly where you’d expect a love story between a mute woman and a fish creature to go. No, it’s not a typical story, but when viewed through the eyes of those characters, it feels right. It’s engaging, exciting, and romantic, but rarely shocking. And along the way, del Toro paces the story briskly and efficiently, because the story isn’t really the point.Del Toro made a woman fucking a fish man feel right.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, "Even as the film plunges into torment and tragedy, the core relationship between these two unlikely lovers holds us in thrall. Del Toro is a world-class film artist. There's no sense trying to analyze how he does it."
It's called weaving movie magic, manipulating audiences to believe in the make-believe.
Brian Truitt of USA Today examined the film in an article titled "Guillermo del Toro romanticizes interspecies love in superb Shape of Water." Yes, that's a real title. He wrote:
Woman meets cute with a creature from a South American lagoon and sparks fly. It's a noir fairy tale that touches on the cruelty of man, as well as the heart wanting what (and who) it wants. . . Elisa sneaks in and their eyes lock, creating an instant connection. She can’t speak, he only makes noises, yet they bond when she shares her hard-boiled eggs.
|This is NOT Spencer Bell|
Bell and Conley functioned as a virtual comedy team. This became evident to me when I enjoyed the team in a double feature, Wild Game (1924) and Below Zero (1925), at the Museum of Modern Art. According to film history researcher Carlos Devanti, the team was billed in Italy as Pick and Puck.
The man hanging from the plane in this ad for Air Pockets is Bell.
Here are news articles that specifically identify Bell in this role.
Here is a screen capture of Bell hanging off the plane.
A second black actor, Henry Trask, also hangs off the bottom of a plane in this film.
Trask is mentioned in yet another news item.
Today, no reliable credit listing exists for Bell. The Internet Movie Database lines up 78 actor credits for the funnyman, but the list is not entirely an accurate record. To start, it is reasonable to assume that not all of Bell's screen appearances are identified on the list. This is a common problem when it comes to credits for the supporting players of the period. At this time, acting credits were limited to the lead actors and the lead support. But a less common problem also mars the data. A question has recently been raised among film historians if it is possible that many of the roles attributed to Bell belong to other actors. Useful information has come from several sources, including Tommie Hicks, Richard Roberts, Robert Moulton, Lord David Heath and Steve Rydzewski.
In 1925, Chadwick Pictures Corporation circulated press releases for a black contract player billed under the gag name "G. Howe Black."
It has long been believed that G. Howe Black was actually Bell. But comparing screen captures of Bell and screen captures of Howe show distinct physical differences between the men.
Bell is credited by IMDb with appearing in eight Larry Semon comedies from 1922 to 1924. But screen credits do not verify this claim outright and a careful examination of the films has raised doubt in my mind that the black actor in the Semon films is Black. From what I can see, the actor bears a strong resemblance to Curtis McHenry, a high-spirited comic actor who often played servant roles in Christie comedies. McHenry did receive credit in one Semon comedy, Stop, Look and Listen (1926).
Let's talk a bit about McHenry. McHenry transitioned from the circus to films in 1920. He started with the L. K. O. series and soon moved to the Century Comedies, where he was known as "Snowball." This is a 1922 news item in which "Snowball" is praised for performing "death defying stunts" with lions.
The comedian's affinity to animals is demonstrated by this news item found by Moulton.
McHenry is mostly recognized today for his work in the Christie comedies, but the comedian often remained nameless despite his stand-out work for the studio. A review for the 1925 Christie comedy Call a Cop reports: "A colored comedian does some excellent work in a 'scared to death' scene with a skeleton."
McHenry is identified in an on-screen title for Christie's Goofy Ghost (1928).
An exhibitor, who no doubt took notice of the credit title, went on to praise McHenry's work in the film.
McHenry is also known for having played Friday in Bryan Foy's 1924 satire of the classic "Robinson Crusoe" novel.
Other black comedians received better press attention in the Hollywood press during this period.
So, let me provide screen captures from the various (mostly fuzzy) prints and you can decide for yourself if Bell deserves all of his IMDb credits or if many of these credits in fact belong to McHenry.
We know for sure that Bell appeared in the following films:
We know for sure that McHenry appeared in the following films:
Hold 'Er Cowboy (1928)
The Counter Jumper (1922)
Lightning Love (1923)
No Wedding Bells (1923)
The Gown Shop (1923)
Kid Speed (1924)
Her Boyfriend (1924)
Dome Doctor (1925)
The Cloudhopper (1925)
Here is the actor billed as G. Howe Black:
Keep in mind is that the character is called "Snowball," which was McHenry's usual name on screen.
What do you think?
This article, which is dated December 4, 1920, was uncovered by Robert Moulton.
The article is important as it may identify two black comedians that have remained unknown for decades. Film historians have questioned who played Buster Keaton's caddy in Convict 13 (1920).
This just might be Thurston Brooks, who we now know from the article was working with Keaton at the time. Convict 13's caddy bears a distinct resemblance to an uncredited comedian who acted as Larry Semon's sidekick in The Sportsman, which was filmed the same month that this article was published.
It is noted in the article that a black comedian working with Semon at the time was Huel Brooks. Could the actor in The Sportsman be Huel Brooks? I also cannot help but wonder if Huel Brooks and Thurston Brooks be the same man.
At the time, audiences couldn't always tell the difference between a white actor in blackface and an actor with a natural black coloring.
Tom Wilson, best know as the cop who tormented Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921), adopted blackface for several film roles.
Wilson appeared in blackface in Fox's Goodbye Girls (1923). An exhibitor in Baltimore reported, "Tom Wilson, negro comedian, keeps 'em laughing from start to finish."
Charles "Heinie" Conklin appeared in blackface in George Washington Jr. (1924). A Detroit exhibitor wrote, "[T]he colored comedian carries off the bacon." An Akron exhibitor noted, "The colored comedian is the whole show." An exhibitor from Conway, New Hampshire, declared, "Colored comedian kept audience in a roar."
|Glenn Ford and Rita Hayward in Affair in Trinidad (1952)|
The idea of slapping a hysterical person to compose them had been circulating in films and literature for years.
Here is a passage from the 1939 novel "Ten Little Indians":
She began laughing wildly again. Dr. Armstrong strode forward. He raised his hand and struck her a flat blow across the cheek. She gasped, hiccupped – and swallowed. She stood motionless a minute, then she said, "Thank you. . . I’m all right now." Her voice was once more calm and controlled - the voice of the efficient games mistress.
|Martino and Alexander (2015)|
Illi and Olli at Circus Roncalli
The Shepperd Clowns
The Capital Circus of Budapest
|Stuart Robson and William Crane in William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" (1888)|
|Leon Errol in We're Not Dressing (1934)|
One of my favorite Max Linder comedies is Max, professeur de tango (1912). The main scene involves Max's awkward efforts to give a dance lesson while inebriated.
This routine is marvelously expanded by Leon Errol in The Jitters (1938).
The longest-running thread on the Nitrateville classic film forum addresses the topic of the Murphy bed in films. The thread has garnered 109,953 views and 271 comments in the last ten years.
Here are a few Murphy bed scenes that I learned about from this thread.
A piano converts into a Murphy bed in Saturday Night (1922).
Patsy Kelly gets trapped beneath a Murphy bed in Sing, Sister, Sing (1935).
Danny Kaye gets closed inside a Murphy bed in Money on Your Life (1938).
Joan Blondell has difficulty pulling down a Murphy bed in The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939).
Nicholas Smith and Frank Thornton get shut up in a Murphy bed in 1973 episode of Are You Being Served? called "Camping In."
The film includes a popular English music hall routine in which a drunk man gets his coat entangled around a lamppost.
From the drunk man's perspective, the sidewalk appears to be tilting one way and the other like a ship deck listing from bow to stern during a storm. This routine, which has been discussed in a previous post, was used in many early films.
The film's most interesting gag involves Evans fretting over a brazen woman showing off her ankle. He suddenly comes up with the idea of painting over the lens to obscure our view.
The same basic gag was later used by other comedians, including Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.
Lupino Lane performs a variation of the classic Commedia dell'arte routine "Lazzi of Fear" in The Dummy (1916). I have written about this routine in "The Funny Parts" and past blog posts (Check out one blog post here).
The I Love Lucy writers had a knack for coming up with a funny scene to highlight an episode. In the 1951 episode "Drafted," Lucy and Ethel invite guests to the Ricardos' apartment for a surprise party for Ricky and Fred, who they mistakenly believe have been drafted into the Army. Ricky and Fred see their teary-eyed wives knitting blankets (which they intend to give to their husbands as a going-away present) and assume that the wives must be crying and knitting blankets because they are pregnant. Ricky and Fred invite guests to a surprise baby shower on the same night as their wives' surprise going-away party. Lucy and Ethel's strategy for hiding their guests is to hurriedly shove them, one by one, into a hallway closet. Ricky and Fred have the same idea, shoving their guests into the same closet. In the end, the party guests get tangled up together within this terribly cramped space.
A similar scene turned up more than twenty years later in a Here's Lucy episode.
Danny Kaye, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier dressed up as children for a benefit.
Here is a full-page trade magazine ad for Universal's popular comedy team Lyons and Moran.
The Orgamatron in Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973) was based on real-life device, Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Accumulator.
I thank Jorge Finkielman for these images from Skirts (1921).
Footage deleted from Skirts ended up in a two-reel comedy called The Singer Midget's Scandal (1921).
A screen capture of Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe in Under Pressure (1935).
Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, a comedy duo brought together by Alfred Hitchcock for The Lady Vanishes (1938), were still a feature attraction more than a decade later in It's Not Cricket (1949). The blonde bombshell applying for a job with the men is Diana Dors.
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca perform a unique version of "Slowly I Turned" for Your Show of Shows.
The following clip features André Deed as a reporter trying to sneak into a news-worthy wedding.
Inflatables humor is back in Johnny English Strikes Again (2018).
Veronica, a 2017 horror film that has been gaining many fans on Netflix, features a Ouija scene.
"The Old Bazaar in Cairo" was a popular song in England. Here are four renditions of the song.
Joan Savage and Ken Morris
Cilla Black and Roy Hudd
The other day, a self-styled hipster on Facebook told me that a person who keeps a gun in their home for protection is paranoid. When I explained to him that crime statistics show that home break-ins are a realistic threat (a family member of mine was in fact a victim of a home invasion), this young man responded that he is not the type of person who lives his life in fear. He clarified, in case I didn't understand his previous comment, that people who worry about home break-ins are mentally ill. School shootings are far rarer than home break-ins, but his entire anti-gun position is based on his fear of school shootings. Isn't he living his life in fear? It doesn't make a person paranoid to buy a fire insurance policy for their home. And a person who has a fire insurance policy isn't a person who lives in fear. The policy is something that makes a person sleep better at night.
Meanwhile, the same people who are upset with gun owners find great pleasure in watching people get shot up in movies and television shows. Guns represent empowerment in Hollywood entertainment. I asked Spotify to play the Fifth Dimension. You know the Fifth Dimension, right? Aquarius. Up, Up and Away. Spotify played a rap group called Fifth Dimension. This what I got to hear.
Good Girls, a new television series, takes a fond look at a group of women who take up guns to rob a bank.
See, guns are female empowerment.
Hollywood filmmakers insist that the constant gun violence in their films has no influence on the gun violence that we see so often in the real world. Our culture is very much shaped by movies, television shows and music, which hold up role models, define our moral behavior and, most of all, manipulate our emotions. We are fooling ourselves if we deny this obvious fact.
Fictional narratives, which arouse deep emotions in people, have a strong persuasive effect. Fictional narratives change beliefs, alter culture and affect human behavior. Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, psychology professors at the University of Cologne, have conducted extensive research on this subject. They came to the following conclusion with their study "Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time":
Fictional narratives conveyed by books, movies, and — perhaps most importantly — television programs play an important part in everyday life and, therefore, in the socialization of children, adolescents, and adults. This study suggests that fictional narratives can have a persistent implicit influence on the way we view the world, and that these effects may last longer than the effects of typical explicit attempts to change beliefs by presenting claims and arguments. Apart from the unintended consequences this instance might have, fictional narratives are a powerful educational tool that on the one hand may be used in a planned and reasonable way to change beliefs and behavior concerning existential topics such as HIV or school education (Singhal et al., 2004). On the other hand, applied fictional persuasion also includes the marketing of political ideas and products in television soap operas without viewers’ awareness (e.g., Lilienthal, 2005) and similar phenomena.People were convinced from watching The Shape of Water that having sex with a fish was a good idea. We know this because, according to the sex toy company XenoCat Artifacts, a number of people rushed to purchase the company's fish dildo to recreate in the real world the fishy sex that occurs in the film's fantasy world. If a film can stimulate a man or woman to have a sexual desire for a fish, then a film can convince people of anything. People who saw The Blank Panther have attempted to purchase airline tickets to the nonexistent Wakanda.
I have become convinced after writing a number of articles on the violence in mass media that a steady diet of violent films can bring about emotional and behavioral problems. The shooters tread a fine line between fantasy and reality. To them, their name in headlines is like star billing in a blockbuster action film.
I am barely interested in the Oscars anymore. I am just curious enough to find out who was nominated for the major awards, but I don't care who wins and I will not bother to watch the tedious three-hour awards show.
Hollywood has made it painfully obvious in recent years that it no longer has the ability to turn out a quality film. Not one of the films that the Oscars had in its Best Picture category this year deserved to be there. Not one. This stands as the worst Best Picture lineup in Oscar history.
Call Me by Your NameHollywood doesn't know how to make films about normal people anymore. The major American studios only know how to make films about impossibly powerful crusaders, mentally unbalanced weirdos and disturbingly immoral creeps. We are in the Superheroes and Superfreaks Era.
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
At one time, the Academy of Arts and Sciences was committed to acknowledging and rewarding the high artistic achievement of popular entertainment. The films honored by the Academy were grand in scope and ideas. The films stood out for their universality and grandeur.
Hollywood has become an island unto itself and its residents look upon anyone who doesn't live on its island with wariness and disdain. It has become a weird, dark place where weird, dark people live. The people who control film production find it difficult if not impossible to understand normal people. This is clearly reflected in the ugly and petty films that they produce.
Hollywood films turn people away from the joy and beauty of the world with their dark stories. They turn the public to ugliness and tell them they must submit to it. The Hollywood filmmaker hypnotizes their prey like an old cobra, luring them to their own spiritual doom. What's left is chaos. What's left is angry, confused, frightened people. What's left is a howling, empty mob. This week, the mob moved to push The Simpsons and The Breakfast Club into the dustbin. They accused The Simpsons of racism and The Breakfast Club of sexism. We now have masterpieces of art being subject to condemnation and censorship while works of degeneracy and vulgarity are celebrated.
|Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club (1985)|
Let's look at the films that the Academy of Arts and Sciences recently nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, a historical war film, had a trailer with the conventional images of battleships, dogfights, a plane dropping a bomb on soldiers amassed on a beach. A key moment of the trailer featured a shot of a steely British commander played by movie star Kenneth Branagh. But the film was far from conventional and its unusual storytelling techniques made it difficult to connect to the film.
I appreciate Nolan's objective of making the film authentic. The film was to be the antithesis of the memorably and nauseatingly corny Pearl Harbor (2001). Nolan refused to take the focus away from the real-life story to show a pretty leading man and pretty leading lady embroiled in a torrid romance. Not one bodice was ripped in the making of this film. Do you remember the bad reviews that Pearl Harbor got? Joe Morgenstern of Wall Street Journal wrote, "Pearl Harbor is a blockheaded, hollow-hearted industrial enterprise." Leah Rozen of People Magazine wrote, "Bloated and boring, Pearl Harbor is a collection of war-movie clichés." David Germain of Associated Press wrote, "[T]he movie offers almost no sense of authentic humanity. The faces the filmmakers plaster on their characters are as flat and stereotyped as those on war-recruitment posters." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said it best when he wrote, "Pearl Harbor is. . . about how, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality."
Dunkirk has little dialogue, doesn't bother with backstory, and avoids big moments. Nolan said, "I wanted to tell story in as objective way as possible and trust that the facts of it would inspire an emotional response. We tried not to be overtly emotionally manipulative." Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Phantom Thread, told Variety, "[The film is] stripped down to bare essentials." This approach was successful to the many fans of the film. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as "an impressionist masterpiece" that was "deeply moving" without "manufactured sentimentality or false heroics." Brent Lang of Variety wrote, "The focus throughout is on the tactile experience of war, which Nolan achieves by concentrating on banal details."
Of course, the critics were not unanimous in their praise. Kevin Maher of The Times wrote, "[Dunkirk] is 106 clamorous minutes of big-screen bombast that's so concerned with its own spectacle and scale that it neglects to deliver the most crucial element — drama." He indicated that the film has as much drama as a "Call of Duty" video game.
Nolan could have made a film authentic, respectful, unique and profound without stripping it of every dramatic device known to man. Someday, I may revisit the film and think more of it than I do now. But I doubt that I will ever see it as a Best Picture contender.
Call Me by Your Name, which was widely criticized for promoting pedophilia, is not a mainstream film. Jeffrey Bloomer of Slate discussed at length "the understandable squeamishness that surrounds the film." He wrote:
Call Me by Your Name is, for all its subtlety and specificity, fundamentally about an erotic relationship between a 17-year-old teenager and a 24-year-old man. It will also be released in a moment of heightened scrutiny around sexual abuse in Hollywood, including the revelations about Kevin Spacey, which, thanks in part to his joint apology/coming-out statement, seemed to renew old and damaging associations of gayness with molestation. It isn't hard to find more tweets accusing the movie and even [leading man Armie] Hammer himself of promoting pedophilia, and as more people see the film, these accusations will undoubtedly intensify.Bloomer found that the film erred in emphasizing the teenager's fragility and youth. This came across in the teenager's sensitive emotional reactions and slight physical appearance. The critic wrote, "There is also the simple fact that Hammer, at 31, looks much older than 24, and Chalamet, at 21, barely looks 17. In the book, one has the sense that while Oliver carries a sort of broad-shouldered 'American' manliness compared with Elio, the two are not in such wildly different zip codes physically. The film exaggerates that difference."
For fans of the book and the film, it may feel self-evident that Call Me by Your Name is not a story of predation: It's a story of first love and lust told from the perspective of a particularly mature teenager on the cusp of adulthood; the relationship is consensual; even [the teenagers'] parents seem to approve; and, in any case, this is a fictional depiction, not an ethical endorsement. But the age gap will give pause to more people than right-wing trolls — it did to my progressive companion at an early screening — and it does the film no favors to pretend it’s not a question worth exploring.
|Fan art further emphasized the age difference.|
He noted that he viewed the film as "an urgent and beautiful story of discovery." He wrote, "He’s an older teenager messily discovering his sexuality. It’s misguided to deny that such a basically human process should be represented in a work of art, even if the outcomes of that process make us uncomfortable." But he accepted that his view of the film might not be true for others. "That's fine," he wrote. "Even if the relationship is legal or consensual or meets any other criteria, some viewers will find it inappropriate or worse, and that’s a subjective reality that the movie's fans — and Hammer and the filmmakers — have to accept." He concluded, "In my view, it’s reasonable to be disturbed by the unconventional relationship in Call Me by Your Name, but it’s not reasonable to say the movie endorses pedophilia, or really any kind of power-based abuse, just because it depicts that relationship. If we go down that censorious and unnuanced path with our art, very little will survive the trip."
The director, Luca Guadagnino, described Call Me by Your Name as a "film for families." He said, "I like to think it’s a film for the transmission of knowledge and hope that people of different generations come to see the film together." The film includes a scene in which the teen masturbates into a peach and the man eats it. This is not a film for families.
It was obvious in the early images released for Call Me by Your Name that the filmmakers were more interested in being sensational and controversial than telling a coming-of-age story that was subtle and nuanced. The images were bound to dissuade a mainstream audience from seeing the film.
And what can I say about The Shape of Water that I haven't said before? Anne Cohen of Refinery29 wrote, "[Shape of Water] has fish sex and Russian spies. (And did I say fish sex? Because seriously, this woman fucks a fish! And it's romantic!)." Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire called the film "Grinding Nemo." But Cohen advised viewers to "delve a little deeper" to root out "themes of otherness, sexism, and race." She wrote, "We, like Elisa, can do better. Why settle for bad men when we can have fish sex?" Yes, why fuck one of those evil things we call a man when you can fuck an animal? The Shape of Water unashamedly promotes bestiality. Kate Knibbs of The Ringer wrote:
I realize that this is a film, not reality. . . And I realize that this is an allegory about two outsiders finding comfort and kinship in one another’s arms, and that it’s magical realism, and that Guillermo del Toro loves his monsters, and that maybe I should lighten up. But it’s still a monumentally gross allegory — one which involves a human woman allowing a creature with a scaly, slimy body; sharp claws; and a bizarre collapsible penis to enter her — and that deep, abiding ickiness must too be examined.
The director, Guillermo del Toro, hasn't even bothered to call the film's creature "a fish man." He has in his many interviews referred to the creature simply as "a fish." I must admire him for being plain about his message. But I must, in the end, reject del Toro's message that perverse (fish/woman) sex is better than normal (man/woman) sex.
Paul Bois of The Daily Wire found The Shape of Water to be "emotionally false, manipulative, hackneyed, and worse, Machiavellian." He wrote:
The values governing The Shape of Water are best summed up as follows: have sex with anything you want, even if that "thing" is not of your species, and kill innocent people to do it . . . Fin! That the film presents this in the guise of a tale about how love conquers all in the face of white male patriarchal oppression makes it all the more insidious.White male patriarchal oppression is represented by a hateful American colonel, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who uses Bible quotes to justify his anti-social behavior. Of course, the film wants us to believe that Christians are evil. In the end, the creature slits open Shannon's throat because evil Christians must die. Also, an innocent security guard is killed during the creature's escape from a government research facility. Bois wrote:
The innocent guard remains nameless, as Del Toro expects us to accept his murder for the sake of saving an anthropomorphized beast as necessary justice. For this is not a world of unconditional love that imposes itself through grace and mercy, but rather the Alinskyite kind of love that divides people by violence and cruelty and then has the nerve to boast of unity.The creature proves to have godlike powers, including the miraculous ability to heal his dying lover. Bois wrote:. . .
Make no mistake: Elisa crosses a line that warrants examination and insight. It asks no questions. Can someone really have an interspecies sexual relationship without sacrificing their own humanity? Can those bonds truly be everlasting? Is there no danger in crossing such a line? No tragedy? No pathos? Nothing?
And what does this godlike creature with invincible powers do? Does he transform Strickland's hateful heart by showing grace? Does he heal Strickland of his wounds? Does he use his power to bring the man into redemption? No, he slits Strickland's throat.
Take another heroic figure who faced a similar situation: Jesus Christ. Facing certain death and capture in the garden of Gethsemane, Christ tells St. Peter to lay down his sword when he slices a soldier's ear off. Choosing mercy over vengeance, Christ then uses His power to heal the soldier's wound – for no man should have to die when triumph will prevail no matter what. In Del Toro's worldview, Christ should have used his powers to kill everyone who betrayed him.
What exactly is the film about? NPR reported, "The movie centers on a complex mother-daughter relationship, a relationship that becomes particularly fraught when the teenage daughter is trying to assert her identity as a soon-to-be adult. This will be recognizable territory for a lot of mothers and daughters." Gerwig said, "Well, I feel that it's such a rich relationship. It has a tremendous amount of love and a tremendous amount of angst. And I don't know any woman who has a simple relationship with their mother or with their daughter. . . I had a hunch that the mother-daughter dynamic was something that would be infinitely interesting. . ." This is recognizable territory for sure. What could get weird about this story?
Micah Mertes of the Omaha World-Herald wrote:
[Gerwig] has made a perfect film about a deeply, hilariously, movingly imperfect young woman. That young woman is Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), a pink-haired misfit finishing up her 2002-'03 senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California.Wait, hold on, the pink-haired misfit jumps out of a moving vehicle? That's right, Lady Bird gets upset and leaps out of a car speeding down the road. A contentious relationship between a parent and child is universal, but a child jumping out of a moving car is weird. In real life, the girl would likely have been killed. But Lady Bird comes out of the incident with a broken arm. . . or, um, broken wing. Lady Bird is not Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles.. . .
Like many young people (or just people in general), Lady Bird is a bundle of contradictions: She’s an underachieving student who dreams of prestigious universities and a successful career. She’s an iconoclast who wants to fit in with her popular classmates. She has a loving knowledge of her hometown but can’t wait to escape it.
Lady Bird is partly defined by her bruisingly contentious relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Their dynamic is so heated that in the film’s opening scene, Lady Bird jumps out of a moving vehicle just so she doesn’t have to keep talking to her mother.
Terry Gross of NPR talked about the car scene with the woman who wrote and directed the film, Greta Gerwig.
GROSS: So this is the daughter - the daughter's just, like - she's so angry with her mother, she just jumps out of the car.Jazz Tangcay of Awards Daily wrote:
GERWIG: That's right.
GROSS: And it's the only, like, totally crazy, unhinged thing that she does during the movie. Why did you want her character to start by doing something so extreme?
GERWIG: Well, I think everybody knows what it feels like to be in a car, particularly with your mother and - or with your daughter, and either you want to shove them out of the car or you want to jump out of the car. There's a quality to fighting in cars where you're trapped. And it felt like it kind of gave the right tone for the movie, and it's going for something that's emotionally real. And then the entire scene to me - it starts off with them listening to John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" on Books on Tape that they checked out from the public library. And they're having this moment where they're both crying at the end of the book, and they're really connecting. And then within two minutes, it's completely off the rails.
For anyone who’s been in a car arguing with a parent, there’s a feeling of being trapped and you may want to throw yourself out of the car and that's exactly what Lady Bird does. Gerwig explains she looked at two films that influenced the way she shot the scene. "There's a particular fight in Paper Moon, it's extraordinary and it’s one shot, Tatum O'Neil and Ryan O'Neil fighting and it's this astonishing shot. We looked at that and there’s a lot of driving in Cléo From Five To Seven, but something we realized about both of those films, both of those cars don't have tops."Here is the Paper Moonscene.
There are multiple car scenes in Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962). The title character, pop singer Cléo Victoire (Corinne Marchand), is as selfish and temperamental as Lady Bird. Cléo gets antsy in a closed car and becomes more relaxed in an open car.
A woman on Facebook said that, in her view, the opening scene of Lady Bird was the best scene of the year. I imagine this woman has been in a similar situation and wanted to jump out of the car. Some people like it when a film depicts their worst fantasies. It's like imagining punching out your boss and then you see a person punch out their boss in a film. It's a relief to know that others have had the same bad thoughts that you have had. But this sort of extreme behavior in everyday relationships with bosses or parents is never useful in our real life or a fictional narrative.
Gerwig was concerned that her leading lady, Saoirse Ronan, wasn't injured filming the scene. She understood how dangerous it was to throw yourself out of a car even if Lady Bird didn't. Gerwig said, "Technically, figuring out how we were going to get Saoirse falling out of that car was a bit of a beast. . . [W]e looked at different ways of doing that. [Saoirse] was in a harness and she worked with a stunt coordinator who helped her figure out how to do it safely and it really came together."
Of course, the fact that the teen girl whose legal name is Christine insists on being called "Lady Bird" is pretty weird. Brody wrote:
Lady Bird explains [about the name], "It was given by myself to myself." Her fierce struggle to be called by this name is the struggle over what she got from, or is given by, her parents.Gross talked about this with Gerwig.
GROSS: She wants her school to call her Lady Bird. She wants her mother to call her Lady Bird. And it seems like there's something so passive-aggressive of insisting that your mother, who named you Christine, should now have to call you by a totally different name, Lady Bird (laughter).The arrogant Lady Bird has great ambitions. She sees herself as an extraordinary person and she will not be satisfied unless she has an extraordinary life. Tim Lewis of the Guardian wrote:
GERWIG: Yeah, it's a rejection of everything her mother gave her, including her hair color. It was just totally, like, I'm not yours.
In Lady Bird and before, Gerwig is drawn to dreamers: young women who believe they are destined for greatness, even when the audience finds plenty of cause to doubt that.Gerwig said that, in writing the script, she was influenced by Saint Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits. She said:
[He] was a soldier. And he wanted to be a great soldier and a hero. And he was very ambitious. . . [B]ut he hurt his leg. And while he was recuperating, he was reading the lives of the saints. And he had this kind of teenage ambition moment of - he basically looked at it and said, I could do that. I can do that better than those saints. I could be the best saint there ever was.The film ends with Lady Bird going off to college in New York. Anne Cohen of Refinery29 summed up the final incident of the film as follows: "[A] night of freshman drinking lands [Lady Bird] in the hospital. . ." Lady Bird is standing outside a church as she calls her mother. Her mother doesn't answer, so she leaves a message. Here is the message:
And he set out, in almost this childish way, to do it. . . [T]he moral of it, in a way, is that God can use whatever you have, even if it looks unpromising. Even if you're just kind of an arrogant teenager, that can be something that's transformed into something holy.
Hi Mom and Dad, it's me, Christine. It's the name you gave me. It's a good one. Dad, this is more for Mom. Hey, Mom, did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento? I did and I wanted to tell you, but we weren't really talking when it happened. All those bends I've known my whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you I love you. Thank you, I'm. . . thank you.The character spends the whole film acting irrational, making impulsive decisions that cause problems for herself and others. Suddenly, she is mature and wise and sees the errors of her ways. This transformation is too abrupt to be believed.
Lady Bird takes its protagonist through adolescent solipsism to recognition and gratitude, through the hazards of friendship complicated by matters of self-image and self-imagination, through openhearted but uncertain fumblings of romance, through the unresolved and ever-mounting tensions of family life and the acknowledgment of its hard material practicalities, to a radiant reconciliation with her family, her home town, and herself.Lady Bird, as Brody describes it, is a great film, but that is not the film that made it to the screen. Lady Bird fails reach the lofty heights to which Gerwig so admirably aspired. It can be a messy business when a person makes the crucial transition from child to adult. The person must assert their independence, which requires them to redefine the most important and long-lasting relationships of their lives. But Lady Bird provides much of the mess without providing any of the business.
Certainly, the ending is not radiant. Lady Bird is not a holy figure standing outside the church. She might still have specks of vomit on a shirt from the drunken spree she had only hours earlier. The film begins with Lady Bird nearly killing herself and ends with her nearly killing herself. A self-destructive heroine is not charming, not admirable, and not poignant. As hard as I try, I cannot find anything that I can learn from this person. Saint Ignatius acted for the greater glory of God by creating schools, colleges, and seminaries. Lady Bird finally sees the stupidity of the name that she created for herself and realizes that she should be grateful to her mother for everything the woman did for her. Most children accept their given name and feel gratitude to a loving mother. This is basic human decency stuff.
Ronan was miscast in the role of Lady Bird. The actress, who was 22 or 23 when the film was made, looks too old to be in high school. Then we have her deadpan acting style. Richard Brody of the New Yorker wrote, "The character of Lady Bird is impulsive, ardent, spontaneous." But how well does Ronan adapt her usual style to this sort of character? Not very well. Brody noted, "Lady Bird's volatile temperament comes through more in the writing and the drama than in the performance; Ronan doesn’t quite display the text's sudden and mercurial energy." The best that Ronan can muster is a seething defiance.
Lady Bird's mother Marion, played wonderfully by Metcalf, is a sympathetic character who did hold my interest throughout the film. Let me unhesitantly express my gratitude to Marion and all the neglected parents of the world.
Winston Churchill accomplished a great deal in his life, but Hollywood has now reduced this great historical figure to someone as childish and emotionally disordered as Lady Bird. The writers of Darkest Hour put forth a distorted version of Churchill, emphasizing to gross exaggeration the man's most notorious flaws and peculiarities. The scene in which Churchill is introduced makes the British leader look like an unhinged lunatic.
The scriptwriter invented the following line for Churchill: "My emotions are unbridled. A wildness. In the blood. I share with my father. And my mother also. We lack the gift of temperance."
Elizabeth Layton, Churchill's longtime secretary, suggested in her memoir that the man was mercurial and sometimes mean. Here is an excerpt from her memoir, "Mr. Churchill's Secretary":
[T]hat great man – who could at any time be impatient, kind, irritable, crushing, generous, inspiring, difficult, alarming, amusing, unpredictable, considerate, seemingly impossible to please, charming, demanding, inconsiderate, quick to anger and quick to forgive – was unforgettable. One loved him with a deep devotion. Difficult to work for – yes, mostly; loveable – always; amusing – without fail.Did God use whatever Churchill had in his messy character and make him something holy?
Layton's memoir was clearly the inspiration for the dictation scene. His hostile reaction to meeting a new typist is justified by the following remark:
Mr. Churchill greatly disliked any change of staff. Specifically he disliked the new typist – or shorthand-writer, which was the official term – in fact, at times it would put him off his work to see a strange face opposite him.The rest of the scene is supported by the following excerpt:
But, they told me, it's not easy to hear what he says. He has a very slight impediment in his speech connected with the letter S, and that, combined with the clicking of the typewriter, makes for difficulty. Until you get used to his voice it's almost impossible to catch everything. There's always that cigar, and usually he paces up and down the room as he dictates, so that sometimes he's behind your chair and sometimes far across the room. You must be prepared to go fast in short bursts, to finish one sentence before he starts another – and for Heaven's sake don't make any typing errors. When you don't hear you may ask him what he said, if you're brave and prepared for a squash; or you may put what you thought he said, if you don't mind having your head snapped off; or you may leave a space in the hope that from the sense you'll later realize what it was you missed, in which case you can creep back quietly on the typewriter and put it in – and hope he doesn't roar at you for fidgeting.The typist confusing the word "ripe" for "right" comes directly out of the book:
Sometimes that cigar would seem to get in the way of some of the words: one might perhaps feel what one handed over was correct, but back it would come with the information, impatiently given, that the time was "ripe" rather than "right," or that he dictated "fretful" and why did they put "dreadful"?An exhausting six weeks went past before the Prime Minister and the typist settled into a comfortable relationship.
So, we had a secretary who said that Churchill was quick to anger and might snap off a secretary's head for a dictation error. Does that mean he would rip a page out of the typewriter, imitate the typist's nervous stutter in a cruel way, scream angrily at the top of his lungs, and chase the young woman out of the room? And, keep in mind, this occurs only seconds after he first meets the woman. This introductory scene was overdone to make Churchill look wildly neurotic and strange as opposed to making him look like the extraordinary leader whose great discipline, vision and courage contributed significantly to the defeat of Hitler. The filmmakers preferred to treat Churchill as if he was a tantrum-prone teen. The reverence for our leaders is a thing of the past. At one point in the film, Churchill takes a ride in an underground carriage. I was waiting for the wild man to throw open the doors and hurl himself onto the tracks.
[W]e were utterly devoted to him, not because he was Prime Minister but because he was himself. Mr. Churchill – as I shall now continue to call him, for so it was that I knew him – was a hero to his staff, and particularly to his female staff. He was a person it was safe to hero-worship, for if one had that done so one could hardly have born the effort involved in giving him satisfactory service. Certainly to me he shone with a very, very bright light. Perhaps, after all, it was the unheroic in him that endeared him to us – his twinkling of an eye and occasional jest at the expense of ourselves or the Private Secretaries, his own self-consciousness, his extravagant love for the cat, for instance – the emotion he would feel on hearing of the exploits of Royal Navy ships, his beaming smile of thanks when he was aware that one had stayed up all night fair-copying a speech.
Churchill was a vigorous 65-year-old man at the time of the events depicted in the film. Oldman, at 59 years of age, was not much younger than Churchill was at the time. So, the wrinkles and sagging jowls of old age makeup shouldn't have been necessary. Of course, Oldman did have to carry pounds of prosthetics to achieve Churchill's roundish physique. The makeup artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji, said, "I knew the limitations of this makeup. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t create an exact likeness of Churchill on Gary because their proportions are so different." Yet he tried. He said, "We had probably over 60 sets of facial appliances to apply on Gary." Oldman had to be fitted with an elaborate makeup piece designed to simulate Churchill's heavy jowls.
Unfortunately, Oldman's makeup was laid on too thickly. In most scenes, a soft white light pours into windows, bleaching out the features of the actors and diluting the colors and textures of their environment. The bright light brings out the flaws of the makeup and, at times, makes Oldman's face look waxen. At times, he looks as realistic as Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers comedy Goldmember (2002). Worst of all, Darkest Hour's Churchill looks much older than he is supposed to be. He comes across, with Oldman's various affectations and Tsuji's various prosthetics, as a doddering 85-year-old man.
Many great actors portrayed Churchill. I am reminded of Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). . .
. . . and Brendon Gleason in Into the Storm (2009). . .
. . . and Brian Cox in Churchill (2017)?
Does Oldman's performance really stand out from any of those prosthetics-free performances?
No film had less universality than Phantom Thread, which loss a significant amount of money at the box office. To my knowledge, the only Best Picture nominee to lose more money was Munich (2005).
Cole Smithey describes Reynolds Woodcock, the central character of Phantom Thread, as "a mercurial fashion designer who runs his own dressmaking shop." David Ehrenstein wrote in Gay City News:
[The director, Paul Thomas Anderson,] asserted his film's anti-hero Reynolds Woodcock was drawn from the lives of Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Michael Sherard, Digby Morton, Edward Molyneux, Victor Stiebel, and John Cavanagh. The things is each and every one of these designers was gay. Reynolds Woodcock, while acting like a younger and ever-so-slightly less imperious version of Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in Laura (one of the greatest "coded gay" characters of the pre-Stonewall era), is seen (in long shot) taking the hand of the film’s heroine Alma (Vicky Krieps), a café waitress Woodcock makes his model and muse, and pulling her into his bedroom. What goes on inside that bedroom Anderson doesn't show. And that’s because he has no idea what gay men think of straight women or how we interact with those whose beauty inspires us despite a complete lack of sexual desire.A film about a gay artist with a woman as his muse may have been a more interesting film than the one that Anderson made.
Reynolds holds so many fussy affectations that he could easily pass as gay if not altogether asexual. However, Reynolds reveals himself to be that special queer bird who exploits women for their seamstress skills and for the precise measurements of their bodies.Owen Gleiberman of Variety saw Woodcock as an "elegant tyrant" at odds with his new wife. He wrote:
Reynolds makes a dire mistake when he courts Alma (Vicky Krieps), a dining room waitress of Central European descent. What appears to be a charming meet-cute devolves into a seething hatred fueled by Alma’s incessant neediness and Reynolds’s prickly nature that he uses to protect his demanding working methods. Alma wants to be Reynolds' center of attention, he wants to work.
The movie is constructed as a kind of suspenseful showdown: Will Reynolds. . . break her down? Or will she turn the tables?Aleksandar Hemon of The New Yorker wrote:
Reynolds Woodcock, the controlling dressmaker played by Daniel Day-Lewis, governs a domain peopled exclusively by obedient and loyal women. Among them, Alma distinguishes herself by refusing to be used and discarded by the couturier. But, for all her relative agency, she exists only within the world of Woodcock. We have no idea who she was before entering it, where she might have come from, or what she might have wanted from her life. Soon after she meets Woodcock, he measures her for a dress. When, in a fit of internalized misogyny, she apologizes for having small breasts, he says, "Oh, no, you’re perfect. It’s my job to give you some — if I choose to.". . .
[Alma] remains desperate to remain in the House of Woodcock, where she can be the well-dressed mannequin muse, replenishing with her emptiness the great man’s inner life and creativity.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s prestige period piece is a toxic vision of a dysfunctional marriage. It is a film that self-destructs. What starts out as a ‘50s era English love story gradually tears into a tattered tale of two incompatible people whose only connection lies in the alternating currents of sadism and masochism the two can withstand. For so much ornate beauty, Phantom Thread is a truly ugly movie that reneges on its promise of romantic sincerity. There is nothing heartfelt here for any audience member to sew a button on. . . Considering that Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed this overwrought feel-bad-for-no-good-reason filmic atrocity, there is no one else to blame.Reviewers have speculated that Woodcock suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. A contributor on the website TV Tropes noted:
He is obsessively committed to his work and relies on a carefully constructed routine to get through each day, becoming irritated whenever it is interrupted. He has No Social Skills and is averse to being in large crowds. He is also hypersensitive to sound and small details. . . Some have also speculated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as he exhibits an anxiety caused by his routine needs not being met. . .It might have been an interesting film if it was a film about a man struggling with a mental disorder, but a weird twist turns the film into a Gothic horror story.
A film about a dysfunctional marriage might show the husband and wife examining themselves and examining their relationship and finding a way to make their marriage work. Or, the couple might find a way to end the relationship and move to a new place in their lives where they can be happy and prosperous. But Phantom Thread is a film about a marriage that is dysfunctional at the start and far more dysfunctional at the end. It is, for sure, a dark and ugly film.
I recognize Woodcock for what he is. I had a family member like the madly controlling fashion designer. No one, in my eyes, was more fixated and fussy than my granddad. I believe that he had an intense form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was fixated on three areas of life - food, finances and fucking. Nothing else drew the slightest interest from him. Not art. Not sports. Not politics. He pursued his limited interests with neurotic excess. He had to always be in control to satisfy his compulsions. He was a wretched miser, an insatiable sex addict, and a ruthlessly demanding food connoisseur.
He had a particular obsession about electricity costs, going on regular tours of his house to see what lights were on. I sometimes stayed with my grandparents during the summer and I became well accustomed to this quirk. One afternoon, I was reading a book in my room and he instructed me to close my lamp and move near the window for light. Even worse, he didn’t understand the reason I needed to have a light on while I watched television and always made me watch television in the dark. It was like living in a cave. The old man nearly had a heart attack the one time I forgot to close the light in the bathroom. I may, on some unconscious level, have done this just to see how he would react. Understand, this was not an issue of money. My grandfather had the money to pay his light bill at the end of the month. It was, undoubtedly, an irrational compulsion.
The only thing that made my grandfather more neurotic than electricity was food. My grandfather was extremely careful about the food he put into his body. This was a man who never ate a bite of junk food. He strictly consumed meat, vegetables and fruit. He spent time inspecting the vein pattern in his meat, the texture of his vegetables, and the color and consistency of his fruit. He raised fruit and vegetables on his family farm as a child and he owned a fruit and vegetable business as an adult. He was a difficult buyer at the farmers' market. He would refuse to buy produce unless it met his high standards. He knew a good plum from a bad plum and he refused to ever accept a bad plum.
My grandfather had a problem in that he also refused to foist a bad plum on a customer, which had a severe effect on his bottom line. My grandparents each operated a produce stand. My grandfather, who was quick to mark down prices to move out aging inventory, did not earn nearly as much money as my grandmother did. It unsettled the man to be surrounded by ticking time bombs of apples, peaches and plums. Harvested produce - uprooted, de-vined and crated - was inevitably racing to a sickeningly black and squishy state. Oranges, which had a thick skin, were more durable than most fruit. But others, such as strawberries and raspberries, were never to be trusted. A fuzzy gray mold could spread over berries in no time.
My grandmother had to prepare my grandfather's meals in the exact way he demanded or else he would fly into a rage. She held her breath whenever he took the first bite of one of her meals. He usually approved. But not always. One time, he became so angry with something my grandmother had cooked that he slammed my grandmother in the head with a frying pan. My grandmother was knocked unconscious by the blow and she awoke not remembering who she was. My mother remembers it taking a week for my grandmother to regain her memory. Years later, my grandmother suffered a sudden and severe decline in cognitive abilities. My grandmother, a dear and sweet woman, became catatonic in a matter of weeks. She was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease, which I believe was a result of her earlier head injury.
All my grandfather’s children, including my mother, turned out to be obsessive-compulsive. I don’t know if the man passed on irrepressibly dominant genes or he set such a powerful example that his children could not resist following it. My mother had the same problem with electricity. She would never leave appliances plugged in for fear that the plugs would still draw electricity even though the appliances were turned off. The fact that the microwave’s LCD lights were aglow was proof to her that the microwave remained active and was ruthlessly sucking power. It was highly inconvenient to have to squeeze behind a counter to plug in her microwave every time I had to use it.
Hollywood has turned OCD into light comedy fare. Take a look at Monk or As Good as It Gets. But there is a very dark side to this disorder. Phantom Thread could have shed a light on the tragic intricacies of the disorder. It didn't.
Phantom Thread is seductive and absorbing, but it’s also emotionally remote. The film is framed as a love story, but it never swoons, and it’s enough to make you wonder: Why does Anderson, whose work back in the late ’90s (the transcendent Boogie Nights, the enraptured Magnolia) pulsated with off-kilter humanity, now make dramas that are essentially didactic studies of fantastically cold brutes? He remains a filmmaking wizard, and Phantom Thread sweeps you up and carries you along, much more, to my mind, than The Master did. Yet it’s a thesis movie: the story of a bullying narcissist who lacks the ability to have a relationship, and the outrageous way he’s schooled into becoming a human being. It’s the story of a control freak made by a control freak.Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has an unusual plot. A woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), is furious with the police for failing to solve her daughter's murder and apprehend the perpetrator. She rents three billboards and posts the following messages: "Raped While Dying,""Still No Arrests?" and "How Come, Chief Willoughby?"
Three Billboards is pointless and sensationalistic. I watched the first fifteen minutes. I was disturbed by a scene in which Mildred jammed a drill into her dentist's hand because the dentist offered her advice she didn't want to hear. I skipped ahead and watched another ten minutes. Nothing that I saw at this point of the story caught my interest. Then, I skipped ahead and watched an overwrought scene in which the unhinged protagonist sets a police station on fire. Alison Willmore of BuzzFeed described Mildred "kick[ing] sniggering high schoolers in the crotch." I missed that scene. How is this serving the woman's objectives? How is a drilling a hole into a dentist's hand, blowing up a police station or kicking high schoolers in the (collective?) crotch resolving her grief or solving her daughter's murder? It is gratuitous violence that exists for no reason other than to shock an audience. Don't look for a meaningful statement to come out of rage and violence. Don't look for a meaningful statement to come out of shock entertainment.
There are better movies in 2017 than Martin McDonagh's dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but no performance this year has felt more rawly resonant than Frances McDormand's turn as its caustic heroine, Mildred Hayes.What can we say about Mildred? She's a small-town terrorist comparable to The Andy Griffith Show's Ernest T. Bass, who ran around Mayberry breaking windows with rocks. The following dialogue about Bass can be applied to Mildred:. . .
Mildred, whom McDormand plays with a resplendent wrath and heartsick grief, is perfectly positioned to be the fictional patron saint of our current cultural moment. She is a woman who refuses to let the act of brutal sexual violence that tore her family apart be forgotten, to let it slide into the realm of regrettable but normalized tragedy. . . Her singularly feminine rage glows so brightly that you could hold your hands up to the screen and warm yourself by its furious glow. Anger is destroying her life, but it's also liberated her in a way that. . . is incredibly cathartic.
McDonagh. . . has stumbled into something that reverberates deeply with 2017’s discourse about sexism — a tale of a small-town crime and cops that gets at what happens when a society runs out of patience for female pain. But while Three Billboards gets at something bitterly real in showing the turn that takes place when a woman's outrage becomes genuinely inconvenient for the powers that be, there's a less laudable way in which it also feels timely.
Sheriff Andy Taylor: "If you ask me, this Ernest T. Bass is a strange and weird character."Wrath is resplendent? Wrath is liberating? I don't think so. A school shooter finds wrath liberating. He finds killing classmates to be a spectacular and splendid experience. He is no patron saint. He's a nut.
Briscoe Darling: "Just plain ornery's what he is."
Deputy Barney Fife: "I think he's a nut."
What is "singularly feminine" about rage or grief? When a young woman is murdered, it is not only the mother who is consumed with emotion. Grief is felt by many men in the woman's life. Her father cries, her brother cries, her grandfather cries, her uncle cries.
We need only look at the way that Mildred dresses to know she is not normal. Aaron Haughton of Viddy Well wrote:
Early in preparation for the production, McDormand hit on an idea that soon became a part of her performance: to have Mildred wear a singular outfit all through the film — a kind of unadorned, blue-collar regalia she dutifully puts on each day. "Frances came up with Mildred wearing the same jumpsuit every day as a kind of 'war uniform,' and I thought it was a great cinematic idea," recalls McDonagh. "I liked the idea that Mildred doesn't have time to think about what she's wearing; she's at war."McDormand wanted the jumpsuit uniform to make her character into Superman. But she was more like Freddy Krueger, the vengeance-crazed maniac in a red-and-green striped sweater and brown fedora.
Costume Designer Melissa Toth added: "Mildred is such a radical character the way Frances plays her and to her it was important to show that Mildred is on a daily quest that drives here from the moment she gets dressed in the morning. Sometimes she's wearing a bandana, sometimes not, and at one point, she even wears a gift shop smock over the jumpsuit — but the jumpsuit really was the part of the performance for Frances."
Mildred is weird beyond reality. Other mothers have lost daughters to murderers. How many run around in a jumpsuit tossing Molotov cocktails at the local police station? Forget about reality, she is even weird in comparison to fantasy characters. We have seen many action film vigilantes. These men direct their activities at uncovering and destroying criminals.
The only person responsible for a murder is the murderer. Taking out your anger on everyone else around you is unreasonable, mean and hurtful. Yet, Mildred's rage glows brightly throughout the film. Willmore wrote, "You could put Mildred on a T-shirt, layering her scowling face over selected quotes from the ever-growing mountain of inadequate apologies from disgraced men."
Plainly, Three Billboards is anti-religion, anti-police, anti-white men. A person on YouTube said that McDormand deserved an Oscar for just the following scene:
False equivalence alert!
Does this mean that McDormand is complicit in Hollywood's growing list of pedophilia scandals?
The scene is a copy of a scene from The Queen (2006).
Still, I couldn't trust Mildred as she spoke to the deer. I thought that, as she smiled slyly, she was about to extend her jaw and pop out fangs so that she could devour the sweet creature.
If Guillermo del Toro had directed the film, she would have let the deer fuck her. But, understand, this is not a film about a person who expresses heartsick grief. The script called for McDormand to mostly scowl. Scowling gets you an Oscar these days.
A friend explained to me that the film is a "black comedy." I did not, at any point, get the sense that the film was trying to make me laugh. This is the director, Martin McDonagh.
I cannot imagine McDonagh being a fun guy to have at a party.
I have also heard the film called a "black satire." It is fair question to ask what an alleged satire is satirizing. Is it satirizing grief? Rape? Murder?
Mildred is not a believable character. A character that is believable is a character that can convince you they could exist and function in the real world. An audience must be persuaded that the character is acting in a way a real person might react if he found himself in the same or similar situation. I didn't accept Mildred's motives or actions. The best protagonists are people we are or people we want to be. I am not Mildred and I do not want to be Mildred.
How much different is a man from a baby? He is not at all that different emotionally. A man cries and laughs no differently than a baby. He can be reassured by a soft hand. He can be hurt by a slap. Look at this baby react to the beauty of a song and the playful silliness of a Muppet.
How would he react to seeing Mildred attack her dentist? How much differently would he react twenty years from now? The baby has a soul and he will still have that same soul twenty years from now. Why let any gratuitous foulness into our hearts and minds to needlessly darken our soul?
Let's look at another of McDormand's small town characters, Fargo's Marge Gunderson. The 1996 film Fargo is filled with insane, selfish, homicidal, dysfunctional characters who create chaos, misery and death. Gunderson, a pregnant Minnesota police chief, brings a reasonableness, morality, and quiet closure to the story. The film wouldn't work without Gunderson as the film's moral center. Marge Gunderson is a character that has stayed with us for the last twenty-two years. Think about her and chances are you will smile. Mildred Hayes will burn to grim ashes in our memories faster than the police station burned up in the film.
It is interesting that film critics have referred to Lady Bird as mercurial, Churchill as mercurial, and Woodcock as mercurial. The scowling Mildred, who steadily retains the same angry mood throughout her story, is not mercurial, but she is still just as wild, angry, anti-social and weird as those other characters. I miss the days of the calm, steady and noble hero.
The satirical thriller Get Out is certainly a clever and entertaining film, but it far less meaningful than its advocates claim it is. Seeing the film get a Best Picture nomination was a big surprise. Times have certainly changed. It would have been like The Stepford Wives getting a Best Picture nomination in 1975 alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Nashville. People would have been flabbergasted.
The Post is a film that I find so uninteresting that I can barely write an entire sentence about it.
The one film of 2017 that has believable and sympathetic characters is The Florida Project. The people in The Florida Project are a lot like people I have known. But the film, though highly acclaimed, got shut out of the Oscars. Strangely, some critics have more sympathy for a homicidal fish man or a crotch-kicking lunatic than poor people. The director of The Florida Project, Sean Baker, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the film's negative reviews. He said:
Watching audiences respond to Halley becomes a sociological experiment, to tell you the truth. You see people's sensitivity levels. You read the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, you see there's no empathy at all. "Why are we watching this white trash girl who obviously doesn't know how to raise a kid?""Take that kid away from her right now!""Why do I need to watch a movie about this?" It's actually pretty offensive in many ways.I have my own questions about the films that were nominated. Why am I watching a woman fuck a fish? Why am I watching a teen boy jerk off into a peach? Why am I watching a film about billboards?
Ron Howard and Natalie Portman had a dumb exchange while presenting the Oscar for Best Director.
Howard: "We are honored. . . to be here to present the award for best director."Portman saw herself as being brave to point out the lack of female directors among the nominees. But what does she really think about the competency of women as directors? Portman's production company, Handsomecharlie Films, has produced seven feature films since 2009. Portman directed one of the films, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015). The remaining six films were directed by an all-male lineup.
Portman: "And here are the all-male nominees."
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (2009) director: Don RoosThis sort of shameless stupidity and hypocrisy keeps me away from the Oscars. Look at the way that Three Billboards' politically correct director reacts to Portland's remark.
Hesher (2010) director: Spencer Susser
No Strings Attached (2011) director: Ivan Reitman
Jane Got a Gun (2015) director: Gavin O'Connor
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) director: Burr Steers
Eating Animals (2017) director: Christopher Dillon Quinn
He doesn't look happy to be a victim of feminine rage and have a woman throw a Molotov cocktail into the middle of his big party.
Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, "Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase Over Time,"Media Psychology, 10:113–134, 2007.
Jeffrey Bloomer, "What Should We Make of Call Me by Your Name's Age-Gap Relationship?,"Slate, November 8, 2017. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/11/08/the_ethics_of_call_me_by_your_name_s_age_gap_sexual_relationship_explored.html.
Paul Bois, "The Shape Of Water Review: An Adult Disney Movie With A Wickedly Perverse Heart,"The Daily Wire, January 19, 2018. https://www.dailywire.com/news/26098/shape-water-review-adult-disney-movie-wickedly-paul-bois.
Richard Brody, "Greta Gerwig's Exquisite, Flawed Lady Bird," The New Yorker, November 2, 2017.
Anne Cohen "Sex With A Fish Man Is More Woke Than Any Amount Of Billboards,"Refinery29, January 23, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/2018/01/188714/shape-of-water-win-best-picture-oscar-2018.
David Ehrenstein, "Heterosexuality’s Phantom Stalking,"Gay City News, December 21, 2018. http://gaycitynews.nyc/heterosexualitys-phantom-stalking/.
Owen Gleiberman, "Film Review: Phantom Thread,"Variety, December 7, 2017. http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/phantom-thread-review-daniel-day-lewis-1202632204/.
Aaron Haughton, "5 Fun Facts: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,"Viddy Well, November 10, 2017. https://www.viddy-well.com/top-5/5-fun-facts-about-three-billboards
Aleksandar Hemon, "Why Phantom Thread Is Propaganda for Toxic Masculinity,"The New Yorker, April 8, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/why-phantom-thread-is-propaganda-for-toxic-masculinity.
Kate Knibbs, "We Need to Talk About the Award-Winning Fish Sex,"The Ringer, January 11, 2018. https://www.theringer.com/movies/2018/1/11/16876130/shape-of-water-fish-sex.
Brent Lang, "Christopher Nolan Gets Candid on the State of Movies, Rise of TV and Spielberg’s Influence,"Variety, November 7, 2017. http://variety.com/2017/film/news/christopher-nolan-dunkirk-oscars-movies-tv-spielberg-1202607836/
Tim Lewis "Greta Gerwig: 'I'm at peak shock and happiness'"The Guardian, February 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/04/greta-gerwig-lady-bird-interview-metoo-oscars
Micah Mertes "Coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird is a perfect film about an imperfect heroine,"World-Herald, November 17, 2017. http://www.omaha.com/go/movies/reviews/review-coming-of-age-comedy-lady-bird-is-a-perfect/article_59331f13-68f7-58c2-8e8b-a3a9b9ea8442.html
Cole Smithey, "Phantom Thread,"Cole Smithey, January 16, 2018. http://www.colesmithey.com/reviews/2018/01/phantom-thread.html.
Jazz Tangcay, "The Art of the Scene: Greta Gerwig Discusses The Opening of Lady Bird,"Awards Daily, January 6, 2018. https://www.awardsdaily.com/2018/01/06/art-scene-greta-gerwig-discusses-opening-lady-bird/.
Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt did excellent work on their recent Lloyd Hamilton DVD, which features comedies that the funnyman made for his fledgling production comedy in 1920. This is Hamilton's man-child character before the comedian distinguished the character with absurd embellishments (a shabby gentleman's frock coat, a checkered cap with matching Victorian-era tie, and an extreme exaggeration of his funny walk). There is a purity to this version of Hamilton that I greatly enjoy.
One of my favorite routines on the DVD involves a thief knocking Hamilton unconscious and making his arms look like Hamilton's arms as he steals a church's collection box.
This is a commedia dell'arte routine that Hamilton plays so well.
I watched Dr. Strangelove (1964) many times before I realized that the centerfold model that Slim Pickens peruses in his Playboy magazine is Tracy Reed, who later appears in the film as the girlfriend of General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott).
Don't ask me how I missed that. I suppose that I am just get a shy guy who averts his eyes at the sight of a beautiful naked woman. It's just something a virtuous guy like me does.
The lovely Ms. Reed would not be able to show off her feminine beauty in today's films. An online protest of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2018) raged after the following publicity still was released.
Feminists were appalled to see actress Karen Gillan in this sexy outfit. Excuse me, I must avert my eyes again.
Welcome to the Jungle is about a magical video game that transports players into an imaginary jungle as various game avatars. Jess Denham of The Independent wrote: "[W]hile her male co-stars are well-covered up, Gillan is wearing a tight-fitting crop top, tiny hotpants and boots that look far more sexy than they do durable [for the jungle]."
Gillan told Vanity Fair, "I don't know if I was fully expecting that much sort of controversy around it. However, I have to say, I think everybody had a point. To look at the picture out of context, it is ridiculous, and that is exactly the point that we're making with it."
Producer Matt Tolmach said, "[T]here's a very real consciousness and idea there. When all the noise came out it was like, this is exactly what we anticipated, and is very definitely spoken to in the movie… Super aware of what we were doing there, and it’s addressed in the movie."
|Run, Bad Ass Girl, Run!!!|
Martha pre-emptively pushes people away because she doesn't like herself, as Bethany diagnoses in one scene. So apparently the cure for what ails her is to assume the identity of generic lady badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and "dance-fight" her way out of situations. Again, this is a cop-out solution, since the idea here is that, at film's end, Martha feels empowered by abilities that she does not naturally possess. Which self is Martha supposed to believe in: the scantily-clad, karate-chopping stereotype that reeks of unexamined sexist values or the sassy teen girl whose character flaws are magically fixed as soon as she accepts milquetoast Spencer's generous offer to date him?Abrams is probably one of those white knight idiots that averts his eyes at the sight of a beautiful naked woman. Okay, fine, you got me - I lied. I cannot get through a day without ogling a naked woman.
I don't know what to say about the Welcome to the Jungle controversy. I get my philosophy of life from the 1971 film Cold Turkey. The booze bone is connected to the smoke bone and the smoke bone is connected to the head bone and that's the word of the Lord!
Abrams is right that woman are being unduly influenced by films. Women are expressing a fascination with fish sex after seeing The Shape of Water.
A woman who has seen an endless stream of empowered women shoot guns in films decided that it was time for a woman to engage in a mass shooting.
Let me get to lighter subjects now.
Kenneth Connor and Sid James find themselves avoiding a serial killer while spending a night in a gloomy mansion in What a Carve Up! (1961).
Bob Hope must explain to Helen Vinson the reason he is in her room dressed in her gown in Nothing But the Truth (1941).
A final observation: a fish many not share in your sexual fantasies.
Simon Abrams, "'Jumanji' Has a Confusing Message for Teenagers," The Hollywood Reporter (December 23, 2017). https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/jumanji-welcome-jungle-has-a-confusing-message-teenagers-1070207.
Jess Denham, "Jumanji 2: Dwayne Johnson tries and fails to calm sexism outcry over Karen Gillan's skimpy outfit," The Independent (September 21, 2016). https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/jumanji-2-dwayne-johnson-tries-and-fails-to-calm-sexism-outcry-over-karen-gillans-skimpy-outfit-a7320456.html.
Yohana Desta, "Karen Gillan Agrees with You About Her 'Ridiculous' Jumanji Costume,: Vanity Fair (Decembe 18, 2017). https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/12/karen-gillan-jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle.
|Gale Storm, Zasu Pitts and Boris Karloff in The Gale Storm Show (1959)|
|Gale Storm and Charles Farrell in My Little Margie (1954)|
Again, it must be stressed that you shouldn't expect scandal in the pages of Tucker's book. The production of Storm's films and television shows went on with little problem. Cast members got along well together. Storm enjoyed a happy homelife, maintaining a good relationship with her husband and children. The actress sometimes worked too hard and had a brief battle with alcohol in the 1970s, but she had enough self-awareness to identify her problems and make the appropriate course corrections. Some people prefer to read about actors who fought with co-workers and had messy personal lives. I, myself, find it intriguing and helpful to read about people who got it right. It is heartwarming to read about the success of a good-natured actress and learn the history of the sweet and silly sitcom that she helped to make a television classic.
The majority of the book is dedicated to Storm's credits (the "career record" portion of the book). Tucker includes plot summaries, production details and critical assessments for the films and plot summaries, notes and quotes for the television episodes.
Have yourself a nice time reading Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record, which can be purchased with no comic mishap from Amazon.
I am pleased to announce the release of my new book, "Richard Pryor in Hollywood: The Narrative Films, 1967-1997." It required extensive research to be fair and accurate in my representation of the comedian's film work. I watched the films repeatedly, reviewed scripts, talked to scriptwriters, read numerous books on cast and crew, and searched exhaustively through newspaper and magazine archives for contemporary articles and interviews. Each chapter examines an individual film by presenting development history, production notes, plot summary, critical consensus, and my own critical analysis.
My mom was with me when I stopped off at the post office to ship out complimentary copies of the book. I had the packages stacked in a box. The top package sat above the rim of the box and would surely have slipped onto the ground if I didn't hold the box perfectly steady. So, my mother watched me perform a magnificent balancing act as I made my way into the post office. When I got back to the car, my mother said, "You work too hard with these books." I will accept that as the first review for the book.
"[Anthony Balducci] work[s] too hard with these books." - Mom
The next few articles on this site will feature a roll call of the 38 films that are examined in the book. The articles will includes facts, observations and photos that, for one reason or another, didn't make it into the finished book. I hope you enjoy it.
The book can be purchased at Amazon.
Richard Pryor worked extensively in television prior to his career in feature films. He started out making appearances on talk shows and variety shows.
Later, he took on acting roles in a number of series, including The Wild Wild West ("The Night of the Eccentrics," 1966), The Young Lawyers ("The Pilot," 1969), The Partridge Family ("Soul Club," 1971) and Mod Squad ("The Connection," 1972).
|Pryor plays a villainous ventriloquist on The Wild Wild West.|
Dave Madden, a regular on the series, said:
I had known Dick Pryor a little bit too because I had done stand-up comedy and I had met him before too. I had fun on that show. . . The only thing that was a little disturbing to me is that Pryor was in the habit of not sticking to the script. He loved to just ad-lib the scene and say what he felt like saying. Which is alright except if you have to take cues, if you have a line that comes off of one his lines, you have to know when he' s going to finish. Maybe you don' t have to know exactly what he' s going to say but you have to know when he' s going to finish, or you' re going to be standing there waiting for him to say something. They didn't seem to mind him doing that.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
|Northup as the chief goon of Pryor's corporate bosses in Which Way Is Up? (1977).|
|Northup got to improvise with Pryor during a bar scene in Blue Collar (1978).|
Northup's work in films is something that I admire. Some of his best work can be found in the following films.
Northup played a racist cop in Boxcar Bertha. The actor said:
In one scene I had to call Bernie Casey racist names and beat up David Carradine with a blackjack. . . Before I shot that scene, I told an old black man who was sitting outside the courthouse, "I have to call a black man racist names and I feel odd about it because I like him." And the old man said, "Well, sonny, it’s just a movie." And that relaxed me a little bit.
Northup admitted to having a violent streak and said that he was "grateful to have been able to channel it in a creative way in film."
Northup plays a soldier joining old friends to celebrate his return from Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the soldier has been deeply traumatized by the war and suddenly becomes violent.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Fighting Mad (1976)
Over the Edge (1979)
Used Cars (1980)
Tom Horn (1980)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
In The Silence of the Lambs, Northup played the father of a murder victim. He said:
I have never experienced the death of a child. When my son Dylan, whom I love with all my heart, was a teenager, he got into trouble several times and that caused me a lot of pain. Being a Method actor, I chose a time when Dylan got into trouble and I recreated that particular time. . . I could have cried but didn't. I remember asking Jonathan if I should have cried and he said, "No, let the audience do that."The father, Mr. Bimmel, keeps pigeons.
Northup said, "A friend of mine kept pigeons, so I asked him to teach me about pigeons and show me how to hold one. . . He gave me one to take home and work with." Northup kept the pigeon, named Champ, in a cat cage on his patio. He said, "I got the script two and a half months before the shoot, so each day, for two months, I. . . took [Champ] into the bedroom after I had put papers down all over the place and spent an hour or two with him every day. When you take care of a pigeon, he becomes your mate. . ."
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
"Take a ride with Harry Northup,"Retro Lady Land, February 11, 2015.
James M. Tate, "In Character: An Interview with Harry Northup," Cult Film Freak. http://www.cultfilmfreak.com/harrynorthup/.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
Barry Shear, a television director whose resume included numerous episodes of The Donna Reed Show and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., made his feature film debut with Wild in the Streets.
Adrienne Barbeau worked with Shear on a 1978 television movie called Crash. She offered her opinion of Shear's style of directing during an interview with the "Terror Trap" website.
Barbeau: What sticks with me most [about Crash] is that the director was a screamer. I mean, this man just screamed and his language was horrible. It sort of took me by surprise. Barry Shear, I believe was his name. . .
Terror Trap: Right, Barry Shear. . .
Barbeau: I liked him but I had never worked with anyone who screamed at people and used expletives so it was a bit of a shock.
Terror Trap: Was that helpful?
Barbeau: Not to me. I also remember acting with Sharon Gless and we were working nights and it was cold. We were wet and it was messy. That's all I remember.
Barry Shear said:
I'll give AIP two things: they gave me the opportunity to direct my first feature and they told me all the tricks I needed to know before signing the contract for my next picture. And that's all I'll give give 'em.
The way the picture turned out it seems anti-youth, which was not what either Bob Thom, the writer, or I had in mind. The theme of the picture is that no matter who takes power, young or old, the way Chris did, the result is a dictatorship and that the less experience and less education the leader has the more trouble we're in.
I can't begin to tell you all the things that were changed after I left. For example, the picture was supposed to end with Shelley Winters (Jones' smother-loving mother), her bleeding hand impaled on the barbed wire fence of the over-30s concentration camp, singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." There's supposed to be a freeze-frame of her and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir goes on singing for her.
But the reaction to the picture has been absolutely fantastic. I went to see it at least 10 times. Every audience was entirely different. Where one crowd would roar another would gasp and vice versa.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
"Barry Shear: TV, Film's Lively One,"Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1969, p. 78.
"Terror and the Dame: An Interview with Actress Adrienne Barbeau,"Terror Trap, February, 2006. http://www.terrortrap.com/interviews/adriennebarbeau/.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
Lady Sings the Blue depicted the life of jazz singer Billie Holiday.
The executive producer of the film was Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Record Corporation. Gordy saw this project as a way to make his most popular singer, Diana Ross, into a film star. He was determined to control every aspect of the film. He fought with Paramount president Frank Yablans. He fought with the director, Sidney Furie. In the end, he paid back the $2 million that Paramount had invested in the film to have complete authority over the final cut.
Ross talked to musicians who had worked with Holiday. She said, "Everybody seemed to remember a different lady." So, the actress had to decide on her own how she should play the role.
Furie opposed the casting of Billy Dee Williams as the leading man. J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote in Diana Ross: A Biography:
Even though his had been the worst audition of the bunch who wanted the role, Berry something between him and Diana that he knew was magical. When Diana saw the footage of her work with Billy, she agreed. She sank down in her seat and told [producer] Jay Weston, "I just got chills. I'm in love."Williams said, "The first time a man of my hue had ever been a real romantic character on the screen was in Lady Sings the Blues. I invented that character. The way I am now is in many ways that same character. Much of what I've done since then has been based on that particular look, that particular persona."
Williams had much praise for Gordy. He said, "I never saw such attention to detail, to research, [to] planning as Berry put into that film.
The actor expressed great affection and admiration for Ross. He said:
You know, it is absolutely amazing what that Diana Ross can do as an actress. Here is a girl who's a top singer and on-stage entertainer who has never done anything dramatic. I've never met her before we started the film. I ran into her in the hall and she said, "Hey, you must be Billy Dee." We just stood and looked at each other for a while and already the communication started. It never stopped, not for one scene and not for one moment off stage.Joyce Haber of The Los Angeles Times wrote:
Billy's so handsome that, watching him, I recalled Diana Ross's response to my remark that he's good looking: "Yes," she laughed, "and it's a shame that he knows it."
Gordy, who had once dated Ross, was uncomfortable having Ross perform love scenes with Williams. Williams said:
I think there was only one scene in the whole film where Diana and I really kissed, and Berry made it very tough on us. It sounds silly in retrospect, but he really did not want the kiss to take place. We'd get to that place in rehearsal, and he'd stop it. Again, and he'd stop it. He was saying he wanted the real kiss to take place on camera, but we knew that he just didn't want us to make out more than once. Diana was beyond frustrated. "Jesus Christ, Berry," she said, "it's only a kiss." I have to tell you, I truly believe that he had never seen her kiss another man before in his life, and he did not want to see it. So, I thought that was kind of sweet. And kind of weird, too. In the end, we did kiss, obviously. Diana has the best mouth in show business, and kissing her was. . . well, magical. And I was only acting. So, after that kiss, I was, like, okay - I get it - if this was my woman, no way would I want her kissing another man.Williams often used the word "magic" in describing Ross. He said:
Let me tell you about Diana. You know how they usually have cast parties when the film is done, usually on the set and there's lots of brass around. Diana would have any of that. She insisted that everyone concerned with the picture, no matter what their job was, should come to a big party at her own home. It was a great, friendly, warm party.
When we first started, the grips and prop man and gaffers were practically saying "ho hum" to the whole thing. After a few scenes were shot you could feel the magic Diana projected in everyone around.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
"Billy Dee Williams thinks he's romantic," The Daily News-Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee), May 18, 1985, p. 13.
Joyce Haber, "All Eyes on Mitzi at Tropicana Gig,"The Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1973, p. 83.
Kurt Lassen, "Billy Credits Success To Others,"Nashua Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire), November 11, 1972, p. 16.
Jerry Parker, "She wasn't sure about acting,"Tucson Daily Citizen, March 3, 1973, p 15.
J. Randy Taraborrelli, Diana Ross: A Biography, New York: Citadel Press, May 1, 2007.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
In a distinct role reversal, Bill Cosby mostlyacted as straight man to a silly and panicky Sidney Poitier.
Harry Belafonte was a scene-stealer in the role of a greedy, hot-tempered mob boss, Geechie Dan Beauford.
Cosby insisted, "[T]his is not a black film made by blacks for black audiences. We are Americans, and we made the picture to be seen and enjoyed by Americans."
Warner Bros. has plans to remake Uptown Saturday Night with Kevin Hart in the Poitier role.
Pryor was inspired by his boyhood hero Lash LaRue in playing his Adiós Amigo character.
|Pryor on the run in Adiós Amigo.|
Pryor's character, Charlie Snow, shows up at the end of the film with a new Mohawk hairstyle and dressed in tanned buckskin. He explains to his friends his idea to bypass a prohibition against black players in the major leagues by pretending to be a Native American named Chief Takahoma. The scene gets a laugh because the audience knows Snow's blatant disguise could never fool the major league officials into thinking the ballplayer is a genuine Native American. But I learned from reading Hal Erickson's book on baseball films, The Baseball Filmography, 1915 through 2001, that Pryor's "Chief Takahoma" ruse was actually employed by a baseball manager 75 years earlier. This comes from the History website:
[I]n 1901, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports the signing of a mysterious player named "Chief Tokohama" to baseball’s Baltimore Orioles by manager John McGraw. Chief Tokohama was later revealed to be Charlie Grant, an African-American second baseman. McGraw was attempting to draw upon the great untapped resource of African-American baseball talent in the face of baseball’s unspoken rule banning black players from the major leagues. . . Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey discovered [the player's] real identity and led the charge to ban him from the league. Grant ended up spending the 1901 season playing stand-out second base for the all-black Columbia Giants.
James Earl Jones believes he was cast for the role of Leon Carter based mostly on his appearance. He said, "I'm 6-foot-1, so when I'm in shape, I qualify for a lot of athletic looking parts."
Bingo Long started a trend for Jones. The actor was later featured in other baseball films, including Field of Dreams (1989) and The Sandlot (1993), and he played a former baseball player for three years in the acclaimed Broadway play "Fences." But the actor was always quick to admit that he was never a baseball fan. He said, "I love the idea of baseball, the feeling of baseball, but I don't follow the game or have a favorite team." He explained in another interview, "My grandfather was a big fan of Satchel Paige, but the pace of baseball when I listened to it on the radio as a kid was too slow for me."
Jones studied baseball to look good on the field in Bingo Long. He said:
I learned that baseball is about Zen. You can't hit the ball, even by accident, unless you see it. That to me is Zen. In order to achieve something, you don't strive at it, but you become the ball and bat. I think a guy like Bo Jackson [home run hitter with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox] can do that instinctively.
The film focused on a deep and abiding friendship between Jones and Billy Dee Williams.
But, though not the focus of the film, Pryor was spotlighted in a number of scenes.
Silver Streak was released in Germany as Trans Amerika Express.
A comic thriller is not good without a believable villain. McGoohan, with his darkly menacing glares, made murderous art forger Devereau one of the vilest villains in film comedy history.
It made viewers root even harder for the film's heroes, Jill Clayburgh, Gene Wilder and Pryor.
The one character that did not survive McGoohan's villainy was the titular character, Silver Streak.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
Thomas D. Elias, The Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), May 22, 1990, p. 19.
Millie Entrekin, "Diamonds on the Silver Screen,"The Newark Advocate (Newark, Ohio), October 14, 1992, p. 21.
Bob Thomas, "Cosby Piqued by Criticism of Uptown Saturday Night,"The Gettysburg Times, July 11, 1974, p. 8.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
This was Pryor's most successful period in film.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
JoBeth Williams said of her experience working on Stir Crazy:
I was extraordinarily lucky earlier on to work with Gene Wilder and see his comic timing. Richard Pryor was in the movie and to watch him with Gene was amazing. They are comedic geniuses. Sidney Poitier is the kindest man in the world. He said things to me like, "You are such a professional at such a young age. It is a pleasure to work with you."
She said of Poitier in another interview, "He was dealing with Richard Pryor in that movie, who was dealing with his own drug issues at the time, so it wasn't easy for Sidney. But, I had such respect for him, and no question that he was a mentor."
Poitier did, in fact, have problems with Pryor during the making of Stir Crazy. At one point, Pryor's drug use got so out of control that the comedian couldn't make it to the set. Poitier called Pryor's ex-girlfriend Pam Grier and asked her for help. According to Grier, Poitier told her, "Pam, Richard’s high, and we’re like 10 weeks behind and they’re going to pull the plug on the movie. Gene Wilder. . . everybody’s mad. Everybody’s upset. Everyone's afraid they’re going to lose their jobs. Can you come down here and talk to Richard? I think you’re the only person who can reach him."
I was on my way to do Fort Apache [in] the Bronx. . . and I said I would come down on my way and see if I can do anything or say anything. I get there, and he’s freebasing. I’d never seen anything like that. Holding a Bunsen burner of liquid in front of your face, while something’s in a net that looks like a rock cooking … it was just so bizarre to me. And I wanted to say, ‘Well, you know, Sidney, Richard has some fears, insecurities and they have to be addressed. Maybe like a musician he has to prepare himself, get high before he comes to the set. I don’t know. You always knew he did indulge and now you want him to stop? I don’t know how you’re gonna do that. But you’re gonna have to give him some time, help him figure out how he can prepare without that, so his career isn’t destroyed.’
So Richard and I talk, we go to the set and he says, "I'm glad you came and I’m going to try, I’m really going to try to stop. I didn’t want you to be disappointed." And I said, "I’m not disappointed. It’s just you have such an opportunity. People love you so much. And you're gonna take it all away. For some reason you don’t want to give whatever it is. So, I’m gonna go."
The film begins with Pryor getting caught trying to steal televisions from a warehouse.
Pryoris coerced by his parole officer into driving a group of special needs children from Pennsylvania to Washington in a dilapidated school bus.
It takes great effort and great patience to make the bus roadworthy.
Pryor filmed a scene with Vincent Price at Seattle's historic Firehouse 25, which the city constructed in 1909 as its first brick firehouse.
Set designers dressed up the firehouse to look like a ramshackle garage owned by Price's eccentric character, Smokey St. James. This is where Pryor takes the bus to get it repaired. Smokey is a man of many faces - scholar, drunkard and mechanic. Unfortunately, none of these faces made it up on screen as the scene was deleted from the final cut.
|"My friends call me 'Smokey St. James,' Raconteur Extraordinaire and resident wino at your service."|
Pryor is impatient with the children at first.
But he eventually takes the time to get to know them and act as a father to them.
On June 9, 1980, Pryor poured rum on himself and lit himself on fire. He was in the hospital recovering from severe burns when Universal Pictures executives contacted him about returning to work for reshoots on Bustin' Loose. The Bustin' Loose reshoots turned out to be the first time that the comedian worked after his injury. Pryor's pre-burn scenes can easily be identified as Pryor's face is noticeably fuller in these scenes.
The original cut of the film emphasized the dramatic elements of the story.
But the third act of the film was reshot to add more comedy to the film. In an effort to help the children, Pryor dresses as a rich cowboy to rob money from a con man.
Pryor flees with the money, but the con man's goons corner him inside a warehouse.
The film climaxes at this point with a slapstick battle.
Pryor is triumphant in the end.
Film critics were less than enthusiastic about the film. The New York Times review by Vincent Canby brandished the headline 'BUSTIN' LOOSE' STARS RICHARD PRYOR GONE SOFTY.
Pryor plays a former prisoner of war who suffers a difficult homecoming.
He learns that his wife has found another man and his mother been debilitated by a stroke.
He finds comfort in the arms of a hooker played by Margot Kidder.
Pryor resorts to robbery to pay his mother's medical bills.
Strangely, the filmmakers saw the war veteran's medical exam by army officials as an opportunity to add more laughs to the sad story.
Pryor wanted to make dramas. He wanted Greased Lightning to be a drama. He wanted Bustin' Loose (originally titled "Family Dreams") to be a drama. He wanted Some Kind of Hero to be a drama. But studio executives didn't see the point of having Pryor in a film unless he could be funny.
Ray Stark was an acclaimed film producer whose prolific output (33 films between 1960 and 1993) included mostly comedies and musicals. Stark formed a creative partnership with famed comedy writer Neil Simon that resulted in 11 films, including The Sunshine Boys (1975), The Goodbye Girl (1977) and California Suite (1978). Stark became interested in the work of Francis Veber, who many critics hailed as the French Neil Simon. The producer set out to remake Veber's French comedy Le Jouet (1976). Stark's film, The Toy, stood as the first American adaptation of a Veber film. Veber was excited by the project and was willing to do anything he could to assure its success. He said:
I arrived in Los Angeles for the first time and I called Ray Stark and I talked to his secretary, and I said, "I'm the original writer of The Toy. If you want me to work with you as screenwriter, I would be delighted." And he never called me back. So I understood then that, when they buy a film, they don't want to be disturbed by the people who did it, you know?When asked what he thought about The Toy, Veber replied bluntly, "It was a disaster."
Veber was then asked why most of the American remakes of his films failed. He replied:
Because I think the process of filmmaking is very complicated. I have a kind of explanation. When a producer, for instance, buys a French or Italian or Spanish film, he shows the film to a lot of people — writers, actors. And he starts to get used to the jokes, the situations, you know? And he asks his writers, "Make it richer." And this is the beginning of trouble.Veber had Chaplin in mind as he put Le Jouet's protagonist through a series of humiliating situations. He said, "Chaplin was always being humiliated. Life is humiliating." Veber was asked if it was necessary to inflict cruel indignities on comedy characters. He said, "Humor must be cruel. It's very hard not to be cruel. There is a base of cruelty in comedy. Mostly in mine."
But it completely changed the story to put a black man into these humiliating situations. It is one type of story when a wealthy white man's bratty son buys a white man to amuse him. It is something else entirely when a wealthy white man's bratty son buys a black man to similarly do his bidding.
Columbia Pictures released two high-profile comedies, The Toy and Tootsie, a week apart. Dustin Hoffman becomes empowered when he dons a dress in Tootsie.
Putting a black man in a dress is different. Look at Pryor in a maid's outfit in this scene from The Toy.
It is emasculating. In the end, Hoffman got far more laughs in a dress than Pryor did. It's is no wonder that Pryor is in anguish through much of the film.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
"Francis Veber — The Valet— 04/11/07,"Groucho Reviews. http://grouchoreviews.com/interviews/208
"JoBeth Williams On Her Longevity, Philanthropy, Exciting New Projects And More!"Icon Vs. Icon - All Things Pop Culture, December 18, 2014.
Jamie Allen, "Francis Veber: Playing 'The Dinner Game,'"CNN, August 31, 1999. http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9908/31/dinner.game/index.html.
Mike Fleming Jr., "'70s Screen Icon Pam Grier Speaks On Sex Harassment & Her Biopic With Jay Pharoah Playing Richard Pryor,"Deadline Hollywood, January 16, 2018. http://deadline.com/2018/01/pam-grier-sex-harassment-biopic-jay-pharoah-richard-pryor-freddie-prinze-quentin-tarantino-1202243769/.
Kelly Oden, "An Exclusive Interview with Jobeth Williams,"Coming of Age (Winter, 2004).
Sharon Waxman, "Comedy Francaise: Director Francis Veber's Unusual Cultural Export,"Washington Post, July 5, 2001. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2001/07/05/comedy-francaise-director-francis-vebers-unusual-cultural-export/a40db53a-d0db-46db-b568-1f101790c134/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1003fcf10720.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
Pryor plays a genius computer programmer who helps an evil business magnate to battle Superman.
But, after the story takes a few twists and turns, Pryor and Superman become buddies in the end.
Here's an excerpt from a Today interview that Pryor did with reporter Jim Brown to promote Superman III:
Brown: Was it everything you thought it would be doing that kind of film?It is now known that Pryor spent most of his free time in London ingesting large amounts of cocaine.
Pryor: No, no, because it was the work, it wasn't like fantasy. The fantasy is going to see a movie like that. But being in one is real hard work.
Brown: Do you feel pressure as an actor when you are working in a film of that scope, and by scope I mean that budget where every hour the dollar signs are clicking away. Is there as subtle pressure on an actor to perform?
Pryor: I didn't feel that in this movie at all because it was Superman. I was just playing a part in it. So, I felt real relaxed about stuff like that. I didn't feel any pressure other than the fact that I didn't work a lot when I was over in England. Two months in a hotel not working - every day, three and four days at a time, sometimes a week.
Brown: Waiting for them to call.
Pryor: Yes, waiting for them to call me.
Brown: But there's a pressure in that though, isn't there?
Pryor: I've been some places, you know. I mean you see the Palace a couple of times, you know. There you go, well, thank you. It's amazing you think about how they make movies. You know, what all that goes into it. I mean, the struggle because everybody has a vision of it and to get the vision to work and for the whole movie and the character you're playing [to work], you know. It's a real struggle and it takes a little back-and-forth, you know. . . So, it's not a day at the beach to make a movie. I mean, I thought it was one at one time when I first started. . . [N]ow, I just feel I'm a professional, you know.
Jake Rossen wrote in "Superman Vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded An American Icon":
Both the Newmans [producers David and Leslie Newman] and Lester [director Richard Lester] expected the chatty Pryor to veer from his character's dialogue, but the performer largely stuck to the to the script. . .
Most days, the actor was affable and agreeable to Lester's suggestions. Sometimes, however, he appeared on set moody and disgruntled. Whether the changes in attitude were attributable to drug consumption is unclear. . .
Pryor had a great fear of heights, which became a problem when a flying scene required him to be hoisted 60-feet off the ground. Pryor became irritated with the crew while filming the scene. At one point, he made a rude comment to a cameraman. The cameraman went after Pryor, but other crew members held back the man before blows were traded.
Robert Vaughn was chosen to play the villain (although the producers later admitted to originally envisioning Alan Alda in the role). Vaughn, who played most of his scenes opposite Pryor, took a liking to the comedian. He said, "Richard is the one of the most wonderful people I've ever met. . . I got to rank him along with Jason Robards for being an actor that never misses. In every scene and every take, on every situation that you're in with him, he does something different, but it's always right. And that's the one thing that Jason is able to do." He added, "[Richard]'s extremely sensitive, reticent, shy, very sweet, very vulnerable. He's totally unlike he is either in his nightclub act or even in screen performances. There's that vulnerable quality to him which he has personally. I think it comes across on the screen so beautifully. I think that's what you like about him, plus the fact he's so extremely, physically funny.
Vaughn fondly recalled Robin Williams visiting the set and improvising a lengthy comedy routine with Pryor.
Pamela Stephenson, as the villainous Vaughn's henchwoman Lorelei Ambrosia, was made to wear tight outfits to accentuate her curvy figure. She said, "[T]his rather uncomfortable bra utiliz[es] all the wonders of modern science and engineering to give bulk and lift and squeeze everything up and over."
Jim Jerome of People wrote:
The principal quality needed for Lorelei was the right kind of voice. Pamela studied American women in London modeling agencies, airports and hotels, looking and listening for the perfect dizzy-blonde diction. She finally found a California travel agent who quit her job to help Stephenson on the set. "She ended up a liability," says Pamela. "She had never been on a film set before and was very talkative."
|Pryor is a pitcher of the Hackensack Bulls.|
|Pryor shares a beer with Yana Nirvana and John Candy just before he gets into a fight with Nirvana's boyfriend.|
|Pryor and Stephen Collins|
He has further ideas on how to spend his money. He campaigns to become the mayor of New York City, which allows him to spend a vast sum of money on campaign advertising. He invests money in crazy scheme to motorize icebergs to transport ice water to drought-ridden areas of the Middle East.
|Pryor meets with a wacky inventor (Archie Hahn) about making money off icebergs.|
The story comes from a 1902 novel, which went on to be adapted into a number of films. A 1921 film version starred Roscoe Arbuckle as Monty Brewster.
Martin Knelman, author of "Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy," wrote of Candy's performance in Brewster's Millions: "Candy had proved adept at playing the hero's funny sidekick in Splash, and here he fares better than Pryor, bringing a bit of bouncing euphoria to the strained proceedings."
Director Walter Hill said, "John Candy was a genuine person and a hell of a guy, and that's unusual. A lot of big movie stars aren't such likeable people." Candy was on the Pritikin diet during the film's production, but he broke from the strict constraints of the diet when he went out to a bar with Hill to celebrate the end of filming. After Candy died from a heart attack a few years later, Hill regretted that he didn't do anything to discourage his friend from abandoning his diet.
Candy told Gene Siskel, "It was a very ambitious film; it`s been done (many times) before. It did OK, but not what everybody was expecting. I wonder if the problem is that the story just doesn't have the same meaning today it once had. I don`t know if people are really into the rags-to-riches story anymore. You throw $30 million in front of somebody`s face and say, `Here`s how we're spending it`; I just don`t know whether that works."
Jo Jo Dancer was criticized by many (from The New York Times critic Vincent Canby to Pryor's ex-wife Jennifer Lee) for not being an honest account of the comedian's life. The biggest lie of the film is Pryor's depiction of his mean and violent grandmother as, in Canby's words, "a great, sweet earth mother"
Pryor claimed that Jo Jo Dancer, a shy stand-up comedian who becomes a drug-addicted Hollywood star, is based on him but it really isn't him. Even Pryor, himself, didn't believe this. Jo Jo has his first stand-up gig at a strip club.
Jo Jo falls in love with a dancer, Dawn (Barbara Williams), but he catches her cheating on him and breaks up with her.
He falls in love with another woman, Michelle (Debbie Allen), but he is upset that she refuses to commit to him as her only lover. When one of her other boyfriends buys her a car, he becomes enraged and sends the car crashing over a cliff.
Pryor is consulted by real doctors (Bob Dishy and Bob Saget) about a crisis situation in the emergency room.
A family moves. That's the plot, really. People know that moving mostly involves taking belongings and stuffing them into boxes. Then, you have to hire men to put the boxes into a truck and drive them to your new home. Is that funny? Is that a story?
And what's with Pryor's strange beard?
Oh, wait, I found three guys who like the beard.
They say that they are willing to make Pryor an honorary member of their warrior clan.
Pryor turns into a warrior for the film's climax, but he is an extremely timid family man for most of the film's running time. This is not the way that Pryor's fans want to see the comedian.
Here are a few more stills from the film.
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.
Jim Jerome, "Being Bad Is Wicked Fun for Superman's Seducer,"People (July 25, 1983). https://people.com/archive/being-bad-is-wicked-fun-for-supermans-seducer-vol-20-no-4/.
Jake Rossen, Superman Vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded An American Icon. Chicago: Chicago Review Press (2008), p. 139.
Gene Siskel, "Sour Movies Keep Candy Just Short Of Sweet Success,"Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1986. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-03-30/entertainment/8601230533_1_sctv-film-summer-rental/2.
Robert Vaughn "Superman III" Interview, Today, June 15, 1983. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5Km3hI8TlE.
[This article contains material that wasn't included in "Richard Pryor in Hollywood."]
|Eddie Murphy, Pryor and Danny Aiello in Harlem Nights (1989)|
|Eddie Murphy, Pryor and Redd Foxx in Harlem Nights (1989).|
|Pryor and Joan Severance in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).|
Pryor performed his last acting role on the Norm Macdonald sitcom Norm ("Norm vs. the Boxer," 1999).
"Richard Pryor in Hollywood" can be purchased at Amazon.