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Entries in Liz Taylor (54)

Tuesday
Mar222011

Tennessee 100: "Suddenly Last Summer"

Robert A. here (of Distant Relatives). When Nathaniel asked us to pick a Tennessee Williams based film and write about it, my first instinct was the pick something I’d seen again and again and thus could write with authority. Unfortunately all of those films were quickly scooped up and I thought, why not take the opportunity to explore one I’d always wanted to see but hadn’t gotten around to. Why did I want to see Suddenly, Last Summer?

Well...

 

Of course, Tennessee Williams films are often saturated in dripping sexuality.

Cue the crotchety old man in me saying “In my day, when films couldn’t show two people hopping in the sack, they were sexier.”  But in the case of Williams, it’s true. Consider shirtless desperate Marlon Brando shouting out for his lover in Streetcar or Eli Wallach seducing Carrol Baker in Baby Doll. This wasn’t every day sexuality winkingly eluded to to get past the censors. This was dangerous stuff.

Which finally brings me to Suddenly, Last Summer which stars Montgomery Clift as a psychiatrist hired by Katharine Hepburn to analyze, diagnose (and lobotomize) Elizabeth Taylor who has been hopelessly manic since witnessing the sudden death of her cousin Sebastian (Hepburn’s loving son) "last summer".

death haunts those conversations about last summer.

 

Made just a year after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had every suggestion of Brick’s homosexuality purged, and knowing writer Gore Vidal claimed the studios made him do much of the same I went in expecting no less. Perhaps the innocence of the 50’s was still in full swing but from Taylor’s blunt declaration that Sebastian used she and his mother as “decoys” to attract desperate men, to the production design which covered Sebastian’s study with pictures and sculptures of naked men, the “undertones” seemed more like overtones.

To be gay would be shocking enough for audiences in 1959. But Sebastian’s predatory nature and the details of his grizzly murder add up to a kind of vampire sexuality where characters are at the complete whims of their urges, easily seduced, uncontrollably impassioned, set in a world explicitly characterized as one where the chaos of nature has free reign and we’re all victims in the making waiting to be devoured. My introduction to Suddenly, Last Summer was also my initiation into the most shocking of Tennessee Williams.

not the kind of action Sebastian was looking for

Suddenly Last Summer is actually a one-act play and, as such was not a Broadway outing for Tennessee in it's original run, double billed with another one-act. The film version won 3 Oscar nominations (art direction and a double Best Actress for Taylor and Hepburn. They lost to Simone Signoret in Room at the Top) There are no other feature film versions though there was a televised BBC production in the 90s with Maggie Smith (Emmy nominated), Rob Lowe, Richard E Grant and Natasha Richardson. 

Monday
Mar212011

Tennessee 100: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958)

Robert G from Sketchy Details here to discuss the real star of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for this Tennessee Williams Centennial Week. The beauty of the fifties screen adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not in the quality of the performances, set design, or cinematography. It comes from the tightly-wound dialog and plot structure adapted from Tennessee Williams' stage play.

Elizabeth Taylor and a No Neck Monster

For this one-day tale of adults acting as foolish as children, the true nature of the story is revealed when the characters pull away from the lines they learned by heart. The dialog is a mask used by the characters to hide their true feelings about everyone else. Even something as ridiculous as Maggie's (Oscar nominated Elizabeth Taylor) constant put-downs of the "no-neck monsters" is nothing but an act of misdirection.

Brick has major emotional hurdles to leap.Every major character in the film, regardless of age, is no more mature than the parade of children singing and dancing throughout the estate. The adults fire off sharp words at each other to draw attention away from their own insecurities. They all play into the roles defined for them by the family. If Brick (Oscar nominated Paul Newman) can't be the football star he once was, he will be the most dedicated alcoholic the family has ever gossiped about. The same goes for Big Daddy (Burl Ives) as the no-nonsense patriarch of an empire, Big Momma (Judith Anderson) as the unyielding caregiver, and even Mae and Maggie as the manipulative money-hungry wives. Talking about the roles they're playing only encourages each of them to act out the roles with more energy and commitment.

It is only when the constant talk of "Big Daddy," "cats," and "Skipper" gives way to the overbearing discussion of "mendacity" that the film comes into focus. Brick isn't the only person trying to escape the lies of the Pollitt Empire; they all are. Every single member of the family is sick of the roles, game play, and war of kind facades with bitter tongues. They don't want to play into it but they don't know how to escape it. Even the doctor plays into the game of lies when he tells everyone except for Big Momma and Big Daddy that Big Daddy's dying from cancer.

The constant repetition in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an effective device: Brick always plays with his glass in a certain way, Maggie wipes her hands and arms, Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) always conducts the children's songs in the same way, Big Daddy dismisses everyone with the same tone and arm wave. The repeated discussions of child rearing, marriage, Big Daddy's health, and the titular cat metaphor are just extra tools used to keep each member of the family in their respective role.

These words and actions are choreographed to create an artificial sense of normalcy that will eventually give way to more believable mannerisms, speaking patterns, and interactions when the lies stop.

The only thing that can break the pattern is to discuss the environment of lies itself: mendacity. Brick blames it for his drinking, but Big Daddy won't accept that as an answer because Brick is expected to play the role of a drunk. One by one, the lies that support the clan are torn apart until only the true nature of each character is left standing. There is no more glass spinning or arm waving; there is only a family transitioning into better fitting roles.


Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It lost the Tony Award to The Diary of Anne Frank in 1956. The film version was nominated for 6 Oscars losing Best Picture to Gigi. Burl Ives won the Supporting Actor that year but for The Big Country instead. "Big Daddy" surely had something to do with that.

Wednesday
Mar092011

This & That: Balloon House, Birthday Party, Bookshelf Franco

Refiner 28 James Franco's bookshelf analyzed. Hee.
Crave Pixar's Up (2009) balloon house recreated in real life!
Small World a follow up story to that bit about The King's Speech producer's daughter who dropped the Oscar. This one stars BANKSY.
Rope of Silicon Rememeber that movie that 50 Cent lost all that weight for? I had forgotten all about it, too.
Cinema Blend assembles / decodes all the news and rumors about Stoker which may star the impressive lineup of Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth
Variety on Julie Taymor's possible departure from the Spider-Man Broadway musical and a shutdown for the show itself.
Jacki Beat needs work, gurl! I love that Miz Beat is classy/funny/perverse enough to ask for work on her blog and threaten you with crimes simultaneously. The world needs more dangerous drag queens. I also need work but I have no funny jokes about it. Times is tough.
Movie|Line talks to Jane Eyre star Mia Wasikowska about the book and working with both Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell.

M|L: In terms of your other love interest, you got to reunite with your Defiance co-star Jamie Bell, which was fun for me as a viewer, thinking “Forest wife!” to myself in the theater.
Mia Wasikowska: I know! We’ve already been married in a previous film! It was so much fun — Jamie is one of my favorite people to work with. We had a blast.

Also, I'm not sure how I missed this but here's Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at La Liz's birthday party last week (you'll remember her actual birthday was Oscar day).

This casts a whole new light on that bit in Carrie's stage show mapping the complex tabloid-ready relationships of Elizabeth Taylor to her parents Eddie and Debbie.

Sunday
Feb272011

Liz Taylor is 79. Here's Hoping For 80.

Liz Taylor is still the diva of the silver screen. I confess that every time I see her face on the news now I fear that she has passed away. Some people should never die. Normally on La Liz's birthday we'd do a huge post a la "78 Appropriate Ways to Celebrate Liz Taylor's Birthday" so for this her 79th, let's add just one more to that old list.

79. Live to see another Oscar night.

Liz is such a diva that her birthday falls during Oscar season each year. This year it's actually ON Oscar day.

Liz famously won the statue twice and for her first win, BUtterfield 8 (1960) -- which I keep meaning to write about as I firmly believe that performance's bad rep is unjustified -- voting followed a very publicized sickness. She was  actually pronounced dead at one point. Needless to say she lived. Even after she dies, she'll live given the size of her on and offscreen legend.  On the YouTube video of her speech you can see that she was such a diva that she spends more time walking up to her coronation (1 minute and 10 seconds) than she does accepting the damn thing (17 seconds).

I don't really know how to express my gratitude for this and for everything. I guess all I can do is say thank you. Thank you with all my heart.

That's how you do!  Always leaving the audience wanting more.

Monday
Feb142011

and you can't link me down...

Nick's Flick Picks extensive thoughts on Jennifer Lawrence's (Winter's Bone) career to date.
IndieWire "a modest proposal" a chilling essay about how the new Justin Beiber movie is more of a time capsule for the here and now than The Social Network is.
Acidemic retraction. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World racks up more points.
Roger Ebert apparently if you guess ALL of the Oscar winners correctly, you can win 100,000 bucks courtesy of Ebert and MUBI. Though strangely the article has no link to an actual contest. Curious.
ABC News Elizabeth Taylor very ill in hospital. I can't deal when thinking about losing La Liz. I really can't. It'll be the end of a monumental Hollywood era. GET WELL SOON.
Movie|Line I knew that Andy Rooney 60 minutes King's Speech endorsement I mentioned earlier was going to spread online.
Vulture Channing Tatum on The Eagle and his bromance with Jamie Bell. Fun interview
Scott Feinberg on the recent new arguments that The Social Network can still win Best Picture

Finally, I saw this video at Critical Condition and wanted to share it since I know many of you reading are "Wicked" fans. An artist Heidi Gilbert storyboarded it imagining it as a movie. This was done in September I guess but if it's new to me, it's  new to some of you, too. And who can't use a bit of "Wicked" to brighten a Monday?

Defying Gravity Storyboards from Heidi Jo Gilbert on Vimeo.

 

Monday
Feb072011

About That Best Actress Oscar Curse...

I've noticed a raft of articles popping up about the infamous Best Actress Oscar curse which states that your marriage will fall apart if you win Best Actress.

Recent Oscar-Winning Divorcees

This is undoubtedly on the brain because of the whole Sandra Bullock Brouhaha last year (and because people have run out of things to talk about Oscar-wise?). ABC says scientists have proven it statistically and one of said scientists offers up this unscientific theory.

Winning an Oscar can be construed as a big jump in professional status that an actor or actress has in their world and in the eyes of the broader audience… The general social norm kind of requires a man to have higher professional and economic status over the wife. So whenever that social norm is violated, both husband and wife may feel discomfort.

We do still live in a patriarchal society so this is probably true. It would be especially true for men or women who buy into the patriarchy without having questioned its value system thoroughly (most people don't). This problem of separate status might just be acerbated by Hollywood itself which knows from hierarchies. Who's hot, who's not, etcetera. Star actors undoubtedly have egos.

But here's another happier detail they didn't think to look at. What of the women who win only after they shed their troubled relationships? Perhaps break-ups prompt creative renewal.

Jane Wyman won her Oscar for Johnny Belinda shortly just after dumping Ronald Reagan. Nicole Kidman won her first nomination (Moulin Rouge!) and then her first win (The Hours) back-to-back in the year that followed her high-profile split with Tom Cruise. That's just the two I can think of off the top of my head but I'd be willing to bet that there's more. Julia Roberts and Benjamin Bratt's break-up was already brewing before she won for Erin Brockovich. Julia's case could theoretically be part of the aforementioned curse or part of this bizarre blessing in disguise; lose a handsome man, get a naked gold one to replace him.

As for actresses who married or will marry their man after they've already achieved major star status (I'm thinking of Amy Adams actor man and Natalie Portman's acclaimed ballet star fiance in this year's Oscar race), I don't think they should worry too much. These men have undoubtedly already evolved or acclimated themselves to their "societal-norm" breaking coupledom.

Then you have women who crossover these categories, defying it. Emma Thompson's marriage to frequent collaborator Kenneth Branagh ended two years after her Oscar win but her relationship with Greg Wise (her Sense & Sensibility co-star) didn't suffer when she won her second Oscar.

His & Hers BAFTAs (Spring 1993); Emma's Oscars (March 1993 and March 1996)

And where does marriage-crazy two-time Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor fit into all of this?

If you have the answers or just theories to these wedded bliss / wedded miss questions, have at it in the comments.

 

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