Monday, February 8, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Play It as It Lays

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne in New York City in 1983. Photographs by Denis Piel.
by Liz Smith

Did Joan Didion "Destroy" Los Angeles? Is She the Angel of Death? Vanity Fair Reports, You Decide.  Also — Channing Tatum ... George Clooney ... Shakespeare in Hong Kong ... Victor Mature and Rita Hayworth.

"THE SUBJECT of this piece, though, is not just a who — Joan Didion — but a what, Hollywood. So to bring them together, which is where they belong, a natural pairing, this: I think that Didion, along with Andy Warhol, her spiritual twin as well as her artistic; created L.A. — that is modern L.A., contemporary L.A., the L.A. that is synonymous with Hollywood.

"And I think that Didion alone was the vehicle — or possibly the agent — of L.A.'s destruction. I think that for the city of Los Angeles, Didion is the Angel de la Muerte."

That's Lili Anolik, writing in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine.
Vanity Fair magazine's 2016 Hollywood Issue.
Hmmm ... and here I thought the destruction of L.A. had to do with smog or lack of water or reality TV stars run amok?

Ms. Anolik's dense, beautifully written, sometimes fantastical take on Didion, her hubby John Gregory Dunne, and their time in Hollywood during the late 1960s and early '70s, is part gossip-fest, part analysis, all compellingly presented. (Didion had written "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and "Play It As It Lays" — the latter, about an actress suffering a breakdown — became a film starring Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins. The movie was produced by John Gregory Dunne's brother, Dominick, who certainly knew the tawdry, break-down side of show biz.)
Play It as It Lays (1970). Photograph by Julian Wasser (Jacket Portrait).
A lobby card for 1972's film adaptation of Play It as It Lays.
The VF article, which is titled, "Our Lady of L.A," deserves several read-throughs, because I am still not sure how the author metaphysically connects Didion and Andy Warhol — although she admits it's basically an imaginary kinship. Nor do I find Didion here to be the femme fatale who destroys Hollywood — but again, I think this is author Anolik going for something out on the limb of a tree in full summer bloom.

Of the many delicious little "moments" in the piece, this one made me laugh out loud. Didion's husband, also a fine writer but perhaps not in his wife's class, told a friend, jokingly that he was walking on the beach and met Jesus. "And Jesus said, 'I love your wife's work!'" Apparently, he laughed too, when he told it.
Joan and John at LAX in 1966. From the collection of Joan Didion.
Joan, John, and Quintana, photographed by Julian Wasser in their L.A. home in 1968.
Joan Didion, after what appeared to be a long fall from the cultural phenomenon she'd once been ("Didion's special extra intuition was gone" insists Anolik), roared back spectacularly with "The Year of Magical Thinking" in 2005 and "Blue Nights" six years later.

Hard to imagine what Didion herself will think of this ambitious, unusual profile. (John Gregory Dunne died in 2003.) The author begins by saying she is "afraid" of Didion — "She is our kiss of death, yet we open our mouths, kiss back."
Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne at work in Trancas, California, in 1972. By Henry Clarke/The Condé Nast Archive.
Writer Anolik also adds, after all this angel of death stuff that, "I think she [Didion] wanted me to say it."

Perhaps Ms. Didion herself will enlighten us, before the soul-smooch of eternity, that is.
Joan in 1968. Photograph by Julian Wasser.
CHANNING Tatum, now being seen tap-dancing his buns off in "Hail, Caesar!" apparently told George Clooney (one of his co-stars in the new Coen brothers film) that "I would probably cut my arms off to have you in 'Magic Mike 3.'"

Sure, Channing has other assets, but we would prefer him whole. I can't imagine what Clooney would do in another "MM" movie. He is still in very nice shape, but for all of Clooney's good-natured charm and self-aware humor, I can't see him grinding up against screaming ladies, wearing nothing but a thong and a leer. Perhaps he would play an ex-stripper? (Chippendales has been around for a good 35 years!) Or Magic Mike's manager? Only time and deftly applied baby oil, will tell.
Damon and Tatum.
SPEAKING OF Channing Tatum, as we never tire of doing, he will star with Matt Damon in director Steven Soderbergh's "comeback" film, titled (at least for he moment, "Hillbilly Heist"). Soderbergh made a big deal about retiring a couple of years ago, but no one believed him. Why would they? He's still young.

Nobody really retires from the movies anyway. Not even Garbo. She just kept waiting for the right script, for about 20 years. Then she made a career out of running away from the paparazzi. This required no motivation, discipline, unimaginative directors, uninspiring co-stars or uncomfortable gowns by Adrian. Just a scarf to hide behind and a handbag to swat the photographers.

Ronald Reagan became a politician which is the exact same thing as being an actor, except you have to be careful about cavorting in the streets and frightening the horses, to paraphrase the great stage star, Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Mrs Patrick Campbell as Juliet, the Lyceum, October 1895.
CELEBRATING the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (time flies, yes?) The Hong Kong International Film Festival will showcase three distinguished and quite different versions of The Bard's "Macbeth."

The festival (March 21-April 4th) will screen Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood," Roman Polanski's "The Tragedy of Macbeth," and Justin Kurzel's "Macbeth," with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, which opened last year.

Also, four of Bruce Lee's martial arts movies will be honored at the festival. Gotta love eclectic film fans!
A scene from Akira Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood."
WE RECEIVED a lovely note from a Debbie MacDonald, in response to our column on Rita Hayworth. Debbie writes:

"My father was in the Coast Guard in Boston in the early 1940s. The CG did not have enough room to billet him, so he slept in his own bed at the Dorchester Hotel. He never liked it when we teased him that he fought the war from his bed! The same situation was true for a fellow Coast Guardsman — Victor Mature. My father's commanding officer would ask my dad to be sure to 'collect' Victor and get him to the base in the morning. So my father would stop by the Ritz-Carlton and get him out of bed when he was with Rita Hayworth. They were in love, having met making 'My Gal Sal.' Mature was soon shipped out to the north Atlantic for 17 months.

"Rita — no doubt impatient — went on to marry Orson Welles. Victor Mature, who married five times, told Louella Parsons that Rita Hayworth was the love of his life."

Thank you, Debbie. Many others wrote in, with their own memories of Rita, the greatest, saddest "Love Goddess" of them all!
Rita and Victor in 1946.

Liz Smith is still recuperating. Denis Ferrara is still pinch-hitting.

Contact Liz here.