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Entries in Liz Taylor (54)

Wednesday
Aug132014

A Year with Kate: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Episode 33 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn is like the Goddess from the Machine.

I want to write about Katharine Hepburn, but the movie keeps getting in the way! Reading last night’s contributions to Hit Me With Your Best Shot, I was struck by how many bloggers described Suddenly, Last Summer as “camp,” “wildly expressive,” or “absolutely batshit gonzo crazy.” This is a film that will not be ignored. It’s garish and shocking. The psycho-babble hasn’t aged well--as Nathaniel points out, such things rarely do. The themes of cannibalism, sexual deviance, and monstrous madness creep like kudzu vines hanging in Violet Venable’s garden, blocking the light and threatening to squeeze the resistance out of unwary viewers who venture into the film unwarned.

This unsettling excess had been, up to that point, unusual for director Joseph L. Mankiewicz--best known for character dramas--but can be easily traced to his collaborators. Gore Vidal adapted Tennessee Williams’s short lyric play about a rich widow’s attempts to hide her dead sons secrets by lobotomizing her niece into a Southern Gothic by way of Freaks. There are scenes with sanitariums and gardens, and many things are said. In fact, you might overlook how talkative the film is thanks to Jack Hilyard’s beautiful black and white cinematography. Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn (both Oscar nominated) battle over and between Montgomery Clift against the lurid Louisiana locations created by Oliver Messel and William Kellner (also nominated). In short, this film is sensory overload.

But I digress. This series is about Katharine Hepburn, not censorship or deviance or strong production design. One shot stands out to me as the definitive Best Shot when discussing Kate’s turn as Violet Venable: an empty chasm in the ceiling into which Dr. Cukrowicz gazes as the elevator whirs to life. You hear Violet Venable before you see her...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Aug122014

Visual Index ~ Suddenly Last Summer (1959)


This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot episode is devoted to the film adaptation of Tennessee William's Suddenly Last Summer (1959) in which a brain surgeon (Montgomery Clift) whose hospital is in dire need of cash is enlisted by a filthy rich woman (Katharine Hepburn) to perform a lobotomy on her niece (Elizabeth Taylor) because that niece keeps telling lies about her dead gay son. Got that? That's just the kick-off to the crazy.

This sensationalistic film, which was the third and final onscreen pairing of bosom buddies and immortal stars Taylor and Clift, was nominated for three Oscars: Two Best Actress nominations and Art Direction.

 

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959)
Cinematography by Jack Hildyard
Shots are displayed in their rough chronological order. Click on the shot to read the corresponding article.
11 Shots Selected By 12 Participants

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Tuesday
Aug122014

Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly Last Summer". Oh how that star burned.

This is an episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot

"Suddenly... last summer" is spoken so often in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Joseph L Mankiewicz & Gore Vidal's adaptation of Tennessee Williams play, that it starts to take on a kind of trancy grandeur. The actresses retreat inward, psychologically, in the thrall of their own theatricality, the overheated jungles of art direction around them, and surely their good fortune to be playing Tennessee Williams characters.

my favorite scene in the film

To a minor degree the repetition of "suddenly...last summer" is not unlike the effect of Rita whispering "Mulholland Drive" like an incantation in Mulholland Dr. The comparison seems apt since both films are batshit crazy sexually charged nightmares in which a beautiful brunette has selective amnesia issues.  But let's not drift away to 2001. We stay in 1959. And two beautiful brunettes is exactly what I want to talk about since Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor loom large in my own movie fantasies, as two of my all time favorite actors. 

Suddenly Last Summer might seem dated in some respects as psychological films often do as science progresses but Elizabeth Taylor's star power hasn't aged a day. She's impossible to look away from and aces the tricky role of Catherine Holly, a woman who is fully sane but goes a little mad sometimes... and not just from the PTSD she's clearly suffering. Taylor is a smart enough actress to go for gray shadings in both Catherine's sexuality and psychology even when the gorgeous lighting by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) is so high contrast and her monologues go so extremely black (the absence of memory) or white (the blazing white beach where her trauma began).

more after the jump

best shot

The beach was very white. Oh how the sun burned. It was like the eye of God watching us, burning, burning. There was no air that day. The sun had burned up all the air. Outside it was like inside a furnace.

And then they came...

This image seizes me. Elizabeth in the sun; Monty eclipsed. 

Which you might say is true of the movie. Both Actresses were Oscar nominated but Monty is constantly overshadowed. I'd argue that his is this adaptation's most difficult role because there's so much less to work with that it's easy to disappear as the surgeon ricochet's between two madwomen. He's best in this, his first scene with Liz; they loved each other dearly offscreen and their chemistry always blazed. It's a long duet in which he coaxes her towards memory and they flirt and spar not a little. The structure of the scene will be somewhat mirrored in the film's climax, Catherine's memory returned.

By contrast Monty practically disappears in his scenes with Katharine Hepburn, where he goes frustratingly blank even when the role suggests so much more than he's giving, particularly in Violet's insistent refrain that he is like Sebastian, her dead (gay) son, in this way or, undoubtedly, that. 

runner up images after the jump if you're a completist or so inclined to consider more options...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul042014

Beauty Break: Headdresses

I've been holding on to this picture of Sigourney Weaver as "Tuya" from Exodus for a couple of days without any idea what to say about it other than 'thank god Sigourney's signature directors still love her'. Between Ridley Scott (Alien) and James Cameron (Aliens), Lt. Ellen Ripley will always find her way back to decent roles on the big screen.

But I don't understand the casting of that movie at all. Everyone is SO white, like pasty white. Especially Joel Edgerton as Ramses. In The Ten Commandments that role went to Yul Brynner. Though Brynner was also white, a white Russian to be exact though that sounds alcoholic and we're not talking about how drunk looking at Yul makes me, he had that exotic visual flair that had Hollywood casting him in every conceivable ethnicity. Kind of the way Ben Kingsley who is Indian British is used now, only sexier.

Let's stick with the sexy.  The Film Experience loves a good headdress on the big screen. Here are some of the best.  

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Friday
Feb142014

16 Days Til Oscar: The Costumes of Irene Sharaff

Irene SharaffIf Catherine Martin wins an Oscar this year for her work on The Great Gatsby, she will join prolific costume Designer Orry-Kelly as Australia’s most Oscared individual. If Martin wins both of her nominations? She will become the first Australian to ever win more than three statues (having already won the same two for Moulin Rouge! 12 years ago). We’re not here to talk about Martin, nor Orry-Kelly really, but that’s an interesting statistic nonetheless. One of Orry-Kelly’s wins was for An American in Paris, which he won alongside Walter Plunkett and the main subject of this entry, Irene Sharaff.

Sharaff was a 15-time Oscar nominee for her work as a costume designer and was also nominated once for art direction, which certainly places her as one of the designers' favorites. She doesn’t have the famous name of, say, Edith Head or contemporaries Sandy Powell, but with such a massive nomination haul and a subsequent five awards, she should be recognized as one of the greats. She had one helluva profile, too.

Consider what Irene Sharaff won for: the aforementioned An American in Paris, plus The King and I, West Side Story, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Consider also the titles for which she wasn’t even nominated: Meet Me in St. Louis, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl and Mommie Dearest, which was to be her final job and was a deserving contender in spite of the film’s reputation. She designed for Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Susan Sarandon. She's a legend.

Irene Sharaff focused almost primarily on musicals, which perhaps explains why her career declined so dramatically after 1969’s Hello, Dolly! She would receive only one last nomination, for The Other Side of Midnight in 1977 (the film's only nomination anywhere, proving her lasting legacy). Likewise, her collaborations with superstars like Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand, two actors with infrequent big screen careers, probably didn’t help either. Or perhaps she was just exhausted. She had also won a Tony Award from six nominations. Maybe she just earned herself a quiet retirement, dying in 1993 at the age of 83.

 

  • Woody Allen received his 16th nomination for writing this year. All of his writing nominations have been for original works, too. Alas, we’ve written about him enough lately, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Friday
Feb142014

Cinema's Greatest On-Screen and Off-Screen Couples

Here's abstew with a Valentine special!

In the dark of the movie theatre is where we fall in love. Romantic films have influenced our lives and how we love since the dawn of cinema. And as we watch–perhaps on a first date–the actors fall in love on the silver screen, we swoon. More often than not, if you believe location rumors, that passion on-screen finds its way into the real-life relationships of the actors involved. In honor of Valentine's Day, let's celebrate those cinematic couples who's love burned bright on and off the big-screen.

Here are five of Hollywood's most iconic lovers...

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh

Click to read more ...

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