Monday, March 5, 2018

The Movie Stars

A spread from Richard Griffith's still richly relevant 1970 book, “The Movie Stars.” 
Oscar Hor d'Oeuvres Before the Main Dish.  Also — Jennifer Lawrence ... Rupert Everett ... Quentin Tarantino and ... "Gigi."  
by Denis Ferrara

“WHO FIRST thought of the Academy Awards is lost in the mists of the Academy’s beginnings, which are misty indeed.  This unsung genius forgot one thing; a crucial thing: he omitted to suggest an award for the smartest publicity trick of the year.  Perhaps it was just as well; had he done so this award would have been won every years by the Academy itself.”

This is Richard Griffith, writing in his magnificent and still richly relevant 1970 book, “The Movie Stars.”  I bought it in 1970 — or at least I acquired it.  I still have my original copy, in excellent condition. I recommend this big glossy tome — packed with incisive, loving, witty text and wonderful photos — to anybody really serious about movies, their stars and the machines and myths behind the stellar images. 

I probably should have saved that quote for the day I actually “review”’ the Oscars.  I am writing this on Friday morning, the 2nd.  I have yet to be assaulted by the Oscar telecast.  So you see today, you all know more than I do right now.  Right then?  (Oh, let’s face it — you guys always know more than me.)

Naturally, I’m thinking a lot about the Oscars. Today I’ve mostly mulled over the fact that Michael Stuhlbarg was not nominated for the role of  Timothee Chalamat’s father in “Call Me By Your Name.”  Omissions such as this remind me that neither we nor the actors should take Oscar too seriously.  (I’ve seen the film twice now, and both times the audience was overwhelmed by Stuhlbarg’s speech to his son, toward the end of the movie. His words should be made into posters, pillows, flags, and sent to every so-called parent who has made an outcast of their gay son or daughter. )
Michael Stuhlbarg in “Call Me by Your Name.”
Not that I would have wanted any of the nominated actors in the Best Supporting category to be bypassed.  Oh, wait — I’m wrong.  Christopher Plummer.  He wasn’t so extraordinary in “All The Money in the World.”  The nod seemed simply a thank-you for stepping up and helping erase Kevin Spacey from the film.  But more than that, I was chilled by an answer he gave in an interview when asked if he knew Kevin Spacey?  “I know Kevin a little.  I had no time to even consider him.”  No time to consider the feelings of another actor, another human being?  “Cold, cold, cold like an ice cream cone” as The Stones sang. Eh, so was director Ridley Scott.  That’s show biz, and no guts. 

I hope Sam Rockwell got it. 
Sam Rockwell in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
I am/was prepared for a lot of tired jokes about the president and MeToo and TimesUp references.  I’ll be interested and amused to see if the ladies again do their mournful all black attire, or if some wear black as Catherine Zeta-Jones did at the Globes — as a negligee.  Or black as Jennifer Lawrence wore it posing with some fellow actors recently.
Lawrence got together with her "Red Sparrow" director Francis Lawrence, and co-stars Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons in chilly London.  They were rather bundled up; she wore a black, tight low-cut, leg-revealing Versace.  She looked great.  Criticized (by women), Lawrence was having none of it. She said she loved the dress, would have donned it in zero weather, and the women who carped were themselves sexist.  Some of the offended even suggested that the men should have worn, you know, ass-less chaps or something.  Really?  Jeremy Irons perhaps — twenty years ago.   These absurd kerfuffles do so much to undercut the real issues of harassment and abuse.  
I like Lawrence.  She is somewhat over-praised as an actress, but an appealing hot mess when she opens her mouth.  I can’t wait to see “Red Sparrow.”  It looks wonderfully bad.  But I could be wrong about this.  Reviews for the sci-fi romance “Passengers” were all in the “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” vein, and I loved it, and her — and of course, the charming Chris Pratt. 
Anyway, when I do write up the Oscars on Wednesday — which these days is a lifetime of “breaking news” — I hope you’ll still be interested.  If any of you were actually interested on Oscar night to begin with.

... WHEN I heard that Quentin Tarantino was making a movie that somehow involved the Sharon Tate murders I was hoping that it was either a false rumor, or if true, wiser heads would prevail.  But no, it’s going ahead with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio attached.  They play a down-and-out actor and his stunt double, coping with the changing Hollywood culture in 1969.  They live next door to Miss Tate.  Perhaps Sharon is simply a tangential figure, a symbol of the changing times and won’t play a big part, nor will her terrible death and that of her friends be exploited. I know, I know — Tarantino.  Not exactly George Cukor.  But it’s never too late to acquire a modicum of restraint. 
... SUCH good and interesting news that Rupert Everett has finally made his Oscar Wilde movie, “The Happy Prince,” picked up Sony Pictures Classics.  I recall lunching with Rupert about eight years ago.  He mentioned this film and his hopes to get it made.  He didn’t seem very encouraged — about anything.  I am so glad this is happening.  Colin Firth plays Wilde’s faithful friend Reggie Turner, Emily Watson is Constance Wilde, the writer’s long-suffering but loving wife, and Colin Morgan will essay Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, Oscar’s capricious lover and his downfall. (If you want to read some brilliantly executed shade, pick up Wilde’s prison manifesto, “De Profundis.”  He does not spare Bosie, although they did reconcile — rather miserably — at the end of Wilde’s life.)
Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde on stage in The Judas Kiss, 2012.
... I LOVE Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s column in The Hollywood Reporter.  He is such a good writer, so sensitive, in tune and deeply thoughtful. But as good a writer as he is, he needs to learn one word — “spoiler!”  In his richly considered take on “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” he not only reviews the film and analyzes the complex/infuriating actions of all the characters — what was said, unsaid, minimized, emphasized and celebrated — he also revealed the fate of every character!  I’ve seen the movie, so it was no surprise to me. And maybe he thinks that everybody who reads The Hollywood Reporter has seen all the movies. That makes some sense.  Still, in this age of social media and tagging and sending articles, Kareem might want to hold on to a bit of mystery when tackling a film. Otherwise, he is one of the jewels of THR. 
Illustration by Michael Marsicano for THR
ENDTHOUGHT:  I caught the 1958 film “Gigi” the other night, and it swept me up just as it did when I was first saw it in 1959. (One of the words I learned from the film was “ennui” which Louis Jourdan flamboyantly snorts before pouring a glass of champagne down Eva Gabor’s décolletage during the “She is Not Thinking of Me” number. 
And I also learned that a topaz is NOT a major jewel, as per the horrified reaction of the great Isabel Jeans, when it is suggested that one such stone resides among her souvenirs of love.  Leslie Caron, as the gawky courtesan-in-the-making is divine, perfect; ditto Hermionie Gingold and Maurice Chevalier. (As a little boy who knew nothing about love — and certainly not the mature type, as delineated by the famous “Ah, Yes, I Remember it Well” duet, I recall being oddly moved by the song; even crying a bit. I was such a strange child.) 
But even then I thought Louis Jourdan’s long, long walk through Paris, singing “Gigi” — occasionally sort of leaping toward the camera — was embarrassing.  It still is.  And it almost stops the film dead.  

“Gigi” remains a great, wickedly stylish film, the last of the old MGM dazzlers.  It won nine Oscars. But couldn’t Vincent Minnelli have kept Jourdan in place while he musically pondered, “When did her sparkle turn to fire/and her warmth become desire?”  
Oh OY, Gigi!
Contact Denis here.