Tuesday, September 20, 2016

LIZ SMITH: From Here to Eternity

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity — "I never knew it could be like this!" Especially between takes.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Renee Zellweger — We Love Her, and We Love her New "Baby" ... More Stars for Chita Rivera's Big November Night ... Another Winner From Ken Burns ... Re-Thinking "From Here to Eternity."

an hour, a big movie star and a gossip columnist discussed the new technological advances in science, the Internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, reality TV, the coarsening of the cultural landscape, the lack of civility in this cyberage, the bizarre nature of modern stardom.

Renee accepting her honor at the annual Austin Film Society Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I was struck more than ever by Renee’s intelligence, but also by something else; her immense curiosity and eagerness to listen and learn from others. For all her adult smarts, she is very much like an eager adolescent; she jumps in her seat and gestures expansively. She is the personification of charm.

“I felt that in her efforts to understand the often-terrible power of the Internet — of gossip sites and a world full of people with opinions who now have the power to convey them instantly — Renee is still attempting to understand her own stardom and what it means. The press finds her a little odd. They would like her to be a victim, because she has a distinctly vulnerable quality. But she won’t go that way.

“She is an actress and a woman still in search of herself, in a business that often short-circuits self-awareness. But she’s not dreary or a bore about her journey. She couldn’t be more enchanting. She is the kind of girl men fall madly in love with over dinner. She is so open and real.”

We wrote that tribute to Renee Zellweger back a few ago, when one Liz Smith was asked personally by Renee to present her an award at the annual Austin Film Society Hall of Fame.
Liz and Renee with other fans and friends.
WE had our long conversation in the dining room of Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel, after the ceremony. She must have been exhausted, but left her table — her family and close friends — to thank us again and then sit and talk and eat. (Her father stopped by a few times to make sure she was eating.  “I am. Thank you Daddy!”)

At that point, we were unaware that Renee would soon take a six year sabbatical from filmmaking, although looking back at her questioning the values of fame and the intrusions of publicity, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. That evening, an award-winning evening, was one of the last “show biz” events in which she would participate.  We often heard from her — she sent notes, gifts, good wishes — and so her absence from the screen didn’t register much.  We knew the girl, after all!

Now Renee is back, in the third installment of the adventures of Bridget Jones, “Bridget Jones Baby.”  I saw this in Manhattan, with a full, appreciative audience. Co-starring Colin Firth and “Jones” newbie Patrick Dempsey the film is charming. (I did miss Hugh Grant, who was part of the original trio, especially in light of his marvelous recent performance in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” As I’ve noted, maturity is enhancing his talent.)

This movie was not meant to change the world, and it doesn’t. It’s simply a reminder that the world can be a, well — charming, amusing and comfortably entertaining place. To be honest, I preferred “Baby” to the second in the series, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.”
Patrick Dempsey, Renee, and Colin Firth filming a scene from “Bridget Jones Baby.” 
In America, the box-office is somewhat disappointing, but Europe seems to be fondly embracing Bridget and child. Well, even now I think Europeans are less likely to be swayed by the unreasonable passions and prejudices and imaginings of the Internet. All that absurd fuss about Renee’s altered appearance.  I stayed away from it while the “opinions” poured down; I found it so painful and unfair.  But now that Miss Z.’s movie is out, and I’ve also seen her on several talk shows, promoting it (shy and a little awkward, as ever) I want to weigh in.  She looks the same!  A little thinner, perhaps, but completely recognizable as Renee Zellweger. Those who insist otherwise are just trolls or have been so conditioned by what they’ve read and what they assume, they really can’t see straight. 
Talking “Bridget Jones Baby" with “Jones” newbie Patrick Dempsey.
I love you, Renee.  You are as dear and unique a presence onscreen as you were in “Jerry Maquire” and “Cold Mountain” and “Chicago” and “Miss Potter,” Nurse Betty,” “Cinderella Man,” etc.  Nothing can alter your talent, and judging by what I’ve just seen, nothing has altered anything else. (If I didn’t mean this, I wouldn’t write it.)

I hope by the time your next movie, “Same Kind of Different As Me,” arrives, we’ll be past this cruel absurdity.
AS ALL readers of the Liz Smith column know, the great Chita Rivera will make her Carnegie Hall debut on November 7th.  Alan Cumming and Andy Karl are already on board as special guests.  Now we learn that Javier Munoz (“Hamilton”) and Brandon Victor Dixon (also “Hamilton”) will join Chita. But wait, there’s more!  The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus are also in on Chita’s big night. Expect more stars and friends and fans to pop up.  This is going to be one of “those” nights in New York. Tix are still available but going fast. For info, visit www.ChitaInConcert.com
TONIGHT Ken Burns' latest PBS documentary, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War" debuts. This is a little-known story of a Unitarian minister and his social worker wife, who left their home in America, and their children, for what they saw as the greater good, helping Europe’s refugees escape Hitler’s devastating “final solution.” (Tom Hanks, again heroic, and Marina Goldman, read from the couple’s copious correspondence.) I will watch, as I watch all of Ken Burn’s films, which I consider masterpieces, works of art and humanity that should be mandatory as part of school curriculum.
Just a few days ago, several of the PBS stations re-ran Ken’s 2012 series “The Dust Bowl.” It put me on the floor. (If you think it was just about a drought and a persistent strong wind, think again!) The manner in which Burns presents and respects history — from every angle — not to mention the frequent, invaluable narration of Peter Coyote, brings up great surges of emotionalism, patriotism; a belief in the power of courage and goodness. Also the sad realization of how and why courage and goodness often fall short.

I expect to be similarly undone by my emotions tonight.
RETHINKING The Classics:  Over the weekend, we watched 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.  Based on James Jones’ sensational book about the less salient aspects army life, the movie version — directed by Fred Zinnemann — was considerably watered own, although still strong stuff for early '50’s audiences. (The famous beach scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr — “I never knew it could be like this” — raised temperatures and was parodied endlessly for years to come.) 
Wait for it ...
The film won eight Oscars, including gold for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed in supporting roles, director Zimmerman, and the highest honor, Best Picture.

However, watching it now, one is struck by the incredible miscasting of almost every major actor, with the exception of Lancaster and Sinatra. The ladies — Kerr and Reed — playing against type, appear supremely uncomfortable as “bad” girls (vulnerable underneath, natch.)
The lovely Miss Kerr, affects an abysmal, distracting, American accent. It’s not that Deborah couldn’t be sexually appealing; she is at her most sensual as nun, in “Black Narcissus.”  But as the troubled tough cookie wife of a military man, she is awkward — ditto Donna, who was then best known as Jimmy Stewart’s saintly spouse in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (After the Oscar, she would cast off her “Eternity” hooker clothes, and return to goodness, on TV’s classic “Donna Reed Show.”)
"Oh, come on tell me. I wanna hear."
Although Monty Clift as Prewitt, was playing a boxer who refused to box, nothing about him conveyed that he had ever boxed.  As for Frankie, as Maggio, while “Eternity” turned his career around — helped by his new deal at Capitol Records — I can think of half a dozen other performances which are actually better. But, Hollywood wanted to “forgive” Frank and boost him up again, after the mess of his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner, bad films and dwindling record sales.  (Also, everybody in the movie is about 10 years too old for their roles. A persistent casting issue that Hollywood has yet to solve.)
The dialogue, particularly between Lancaster and Kerr is pretty bad.  Watched it to the end, of course and it is still a fine-looking film, with some powerful moments, but it’s funny how time can take a toll.

In 1979, “From Here to Eternity” was remade as a TV miniseries starring Natalie Wood, William Devane, Kim Basinger and Joe Pantiolano.  That, too, failed to match Jones’s great book. (The most the TV version accomplished was showing off Natalie Wood looking sensational, and conveying somewhat more complexity as the emotionally battered Karen, than had Miss Kerr. Although having been away from filmmaking for several years, Natalie was a bit stiff. However, Hollywood was happy to have her back at work, and gifted her with a Golden Globe for her "Eternity" effort.)
"Of course, I have no right to inquire into your actions, anymore."
Paul Michael Glaser, Natalie, and her Golden Globe for "From Here to Eternity."
I rarely say this — forever bemoaning the lack of original ides coming out of Hollywood — but “From Here To Eternity” is ripe for a juicy, accurate, 21st remake.

Uh, yes.  We’re expecting a big push-back on this!

Contact Liz here.