Tuesday, November 15, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Wages of Fame

The Wages of Fame — Royal consort accompanies his Queen to the riotous premiere of "Funny Lady."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Cat People" — Criterion DVD Does Its Remastering Magic on the 1942 "sex can kill" horror classic ..."A Star Is Born" — Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in First Trimester of Fourth Remake ... Charlotte Rampling — the body and the spirit.

"MOYA SESTRA! Moya, sestra?

These four words were uttered by the striking but little known actress, Elizabeth Russell, in Jacques Tourneur’s classic “Cat People.” (Produced by the great Val Lewton.)
Elizabeth Russell in “Cat People.”
The ominous salutation marked the beginning of the film’s tortured heroine — played by delicious Simone Simon — descent into madness and/or supernatural monstrosity. Simon’s clueless — and ultimately rather unpleasant new hubby (Kent Smith) asked Simone:  “Who was that strange woman?  She looked like a cat.  What did she say to you?  Simon answered fearfully, “She said ‘Hello, sister.” (The language was supposed to be Serbian, but who knows if Hollywood circa 1942, got it right?  What was right was Russell’s exotic evening-gowned appearance and feline maquillage.)
Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna Reed in “Cat People.”
Kent Smith as Oliver Reed.
“Cat People” is rightly considered one of the greatest and most subtle horror films ever made, with minimum gore and an overload of atmosphere it set a standard not often met in years to come.   Also, was it really a horror film, or only a horror film, or did it carry a subtext about the power of female sexuality and men who are unwilling or unable to deal with it? 

Now, our friends at Criterion DVD have released a new 2k digital restoration of the movie.  It looks fabulous, and as usual there are a slew of extras: audio commentary from film historians, cinematographers, a full-length documentary about Val Lewton, interviews with director Tourneur and Miss Simon herself. 
Simone, who had been brought to America in 1935 with great fanfare, was rumored to be “temperamental” — which in Hollywood, for a woman, often means she has too much to say or won’t “play ball.” (There was also a heavy accent issue.)  She had expected more work like Jean Renoir’s “La Bete Humaine.”

After a sequel to Tourneur’s  film, “Curse of the Cat People” her career in the U.S. was essentially over.  She worked sporadically after that, in France, and died in 2005 at the age of 94.
If she is indeed remembered only for this film, it is enough.  Her vulnerable, fearful performance — deliberately awkward or not very good acting? — is memorable, touching; she cannot give herself to a man. If she does she will kill him.  The movie is rich with classic images — the swimming pool sequence where she terrifies her condescending rival, Jane Randolph.  Or the scene in which she is seen, distressed and jealous, crossing Central Park, the imprints of her high heels turning to panther paws.  Exquisitely and delicately terrifying.
SO Warner Bros. has announced a release date for the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of that old tale of Hollywood rise and fall, “A Star is Born.”  September 28th, 2018.  I assume they are filming now?  Time flies when you are trying to compete with Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand.  Bradley Cooper will make his directorial debut with this, and Lady Gaga will have hopefully learned to act. (I have nothing but admiration for her considerable skills as a singer, songwriter and all-around musician. She also seems like a lovely young woman.) 

Fun fact: One of the producers on this version of “A Star is Born” happens to be ... Jon Peters!  Yes, the very same Jon Peters who acted as producer on his then-lover, Barbra Streisand’s “Star.”  Jon (and Barbra) were savaged because of what was thought to be his untrained meddling — He had gone straight from fiddling with Miss Streisand’s tresses to film producer — it was a real Hollywood story. (Many said Jon was the inspiration for Warren Beatty’s libidinous hairdresser in “Shampoo.”)

Reviews of the movie were scathing.  But that mattered not at all, and Streisand’s version was a huge hit. 
Jon Peters and Barbra Streisand with their Golden Globe awards for “A Star is Born."
Since we're on the subject — Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall at the 1954 premiere of "A Star is Born." Those sure were the good old days!
Jon went on to a quite viable producing career, including another for Barbra (“The Main Event”), Faye Dunaway’s camp classic “The Eyes of Laura Mars” (She must stop saying it was “Mommie Dearest” that killed her career!), “Flashdance,” “Caddyshack,” “An American Werewolf in London” “The Color Purple,” “Superman Returns,” “Man of Steel” and a lot more. 

The moral of this story?  Wear tight jeans.  And make sure you have what it takes to wear them.  Jon did, on the day he showed up at Barbra’s house to change her hairstyle.  She noticed.  She liked what he did to her hair, too.
ENDQUOTE:   “I believe in the spirit as much as the body. We’re made up of body and spirit and soul. I’m not religious, but I like to pray to god, because you want to pray to someone — to god, to angels, to heavenly bodies or creatures. I like to invent all that, because it doesn’t matter. It can be my reality and my way of thinking, that there are people out there watching out for me. If you’re not feeling good, you talk to them, and I think it helps. It’s the mystery side of it which I think is very beautiful. I love little signs, coincidences and things that mean there’s possibly a connection to much more than we know about.”

That is actress Charlotte Rampling, in the latest issue of W magazine.
Juergen Teller's Louis XV No. 2, Paris, 2004, featuring Charlotte Rampling.
Rampling, who has been mesmerizing audiences since the 1960’s  has a new film, “Sculpt” on the way. (Rampling made her first major impression in Luchino Visconti’s “The Damned” in 1969. A few years later, her unmistakable look and persona would be immortalized in “The Night Porter” for Liliana Cavani.)
I am still rather annoyed that Rampling did not cop an Oscar for her devastating performance in “45 Years.”  Not that 27-year-old winner Brie Larson wasn’t more-than-excellent in “Room.”  And Larson’s film — about a woman and her son held hostage for years — had more going for it in terms of audience appeal.

Whatever, I firmly retain my annoyance.
Contact Liz here.