Monday, January 08, 2018

Americans’ retreat from cinemas, Matt Damon's controversia, Witness for Prosecution

"Eventually stardom is going to go away from me. It goes away from everybody and all you have in the end is to be able to look back and like the choices you made." -Matt Damon

Not even “The Last Jedi” will reverse Americans’ retreat from cinemas: Tickets sold per head have declined to their lowest point since the early 1970s. Expensive flops have prompted studio executives to complain that Rotten Tomatoes, a ratings website, is killing off films before their opening weekends. Americans are losing the film-going habit as new sources of entertainment seize their attention. Netflix and other streaming services have made it more convenient to watch movies and TV programmes anywhere, on internet-connected TVs, tablets and smartphones. Apps such as Facebook and YouTube are fine-tuned to keep users gawping. Americans spend more than eight hours a day on their various devices, compared with just over four hours a day on TV in 2002, according to Nielsen, a research firm. Americans are on track to have bought around 3.6 movie tickets per person by the end of the year, down by 30% from 5.1 in 2002. They pay $8.93 for a ticket, 54% more than 15 years ago, which means higher total takings, but attendance is expected to decline further. Frequent filmgoers have dwindled, from 28% of North Americans in 2002 to 11% in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. 

With the exception of Disney, profits are stagnating. Last year the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of the film studios at Fox, Time Warner, Universal and Viacom (Paramount) added up to $1.8bn, down from $1.9bn in 2010, MoffettNathanson estimates. When “Revenge of the Sith”, another “Star Wars” film, was released in 2005, retail sales, rentals and downloads of all films totalled $25bn, with the studios taking fat profit margins. That market collapsed to $12bn last year. Streaming revenue is on the rise, but less of that money goes to the studios. Studios rely increasingly on international markets for box-office returns, especially fast-growing emerging markets such as China. Studio and cinema executives argue that the secular trend in American film habits is less about decline than a change in tastes. Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former head of Disney’s film studio and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, observes that American film-going has evolved from a “blue collar egalitarian” habit to a more “upscale” experience, at cinemas with luxuriant comforts and IMAX and 3D screens. That may be true, but there is a limit to how long new technology can justify rising ticket prices for the silver screen. Source:

Matt Damon's wan 2017 at the box office: The A-list actor capped off a year of box office disappointments—from ‘The Great Wall’ to ‘Downsizing’—with some poorly considered comments about sexual harassment. Downsizing—which opened in December to mostly bewildered reviews and flopped badly—is a precise mixture of goofiness and heartbreak. Thus concluded an awful year for Damon at the box office. Thanks in large part to his response to the ongoing Harvey Weinstein scandal, Damon’s year as a public and nominally political figure was much worse. Playing an affable Nebraskan occupational therapist with a solid-enough marriage and common-enough economic anxiety, he’s still plenty charming enough to come across as an everyman in Downsizing, even if the everyman role requires him to suppress most of his charm. 

He’s gone puffy and pale and hapless plenty of times before—see Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 comedy The Informant!—but here, with just a slight paunch and slightly thinning hair and a mildly dazed demeanor, the effect is somehow magnified. He is at rest, but far from at peace. Downsizing is an odd mix of bone-dry humor and squishy earnestness, its calls for human decency and dire warnings about climate change achingly sincere. As with his other major 2017 movie, oddly enough, Damon once again plays a largely apathetic civilian whose potential is awkwardly unlocked by a far more vibrant costar: a fiercely noble soldier played by Jing Tian in The Great Wall, and in Downsizing, a Vietnamese dissident played by Hong Chau. Both women do their part to save the would-be white savior; neither result, at least artistically, is an outright failure. The Great Wall, an absurdly literal depiction of Hollywood’s awkward attempts to conquer China’s booming but volatile film industry, didn’t make enough money in China, and made nowhere near enough money in the United States, with estimated losses of more than $75 million.

In October came George Clooney’s disastrous Suburbicon, which made way less money, and stunk. A 1950s noir based on a 30-year-old Coen brothers script, it sold itself as a nasty but fizzy upper-middle-class spin on Fargo—there’s Damon’s comforting everyman-as-Adonis face, pinched by clunky eyeglasses and artfully bloodied—but immediately revealed itself to be a profoundly ill-advised suburban-racism allegory. Nobody saw it, and most of the people who did would rather not talk about it. Source:

Jessica Chastain defends Matt Damon amid Weinstein scandal: 'He's a really good guy.' If the full range of offensive male behavior is going to be eradicated, as Matt Damon also advocated, it needs to be confronted and discussed rationally. To do that, men need to be heard too. And not every woman who makes an accusation should be automatically believed. The effort by Project Veritas to use a woman to try to lure The Washington Post into reporting false allegations about Roy Moore proves that. A degree of healthy skepticism rightly tests credibility. Yet urging caution or restraint in the age of #MeToo puts a person at risk of being Twitter-shamed as a generationally out-of-touch enabler. The anger of Weinstein’s victims is understandable. But turning that anger against anyone who questions the rush to condemn every man for every touch — that sets up a modern day bonfire of the vanities. Source:

"There's a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated, without question, but they shouldn't be conflated, right?" Damon said. "We're in this watershed moment, and it's great, but the preponderance of men I've worked with don't do this kind of thing and their lives aren't going to be affected, most of the people I know don't do that," Damon told Business Insider while promoting "Downsizing." "If I have to sign a sexual-harassment thing, I don't care, I'll sign it," he said.  

Vanity Fair: -What do you consider your greatest achievement? Matt Damon: -"My marriage, so far." Asked by Vanity Fair when and where he was happiest, Damon answered: "In our bed, making our children, and in the hospital watching them being born." -Do you feel women understand men? Damon: -"Oh, I think they understand us totally. I just don’t think we can completely understand them."

In a time when many couples meet via dating apps, Miles Teller is proud to have met his fiancée Keleigh Sperry in a more traditional manner. "I like human interaction. Tinder puts all of these girls in front of you, so you don't have to go to a bar and you don't have to have the balls to ask a girl for her number. But it's not something that I'm like, 'Oh god, they're having so much fun.'" Marriage is important to Teller, whose grandparents have been married for over 50 years. "My philosophy is Respect the person you're with." The 30-year-old actor popped the question to his longtime love after they enjoyed a thrilling African safari. The news was shared via Instagram on August 21 2017. "It was a beautiful and intimate proposal," a source told E! News.

Overlooked Performance of 2017—Miles Teller in Only the Brave (2017):  Joseph Kosinski’s real-life firefighting drama was completely forgotten at the box office, which is a shame. Even Geostorm, which opened the same week, did better. Only the Brave actually contained a whole host of wonderful performances — from Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly to Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch. But onetime wunderkind Teller was the true standout, playing a part quite far from his comfort zone — a melancholy pothead and perpetual screwup trying to set his life straight after learning he has a kid on the way. Always exhausted, never quite right in the head, but quietly driven, Teller’s character, Donut, eventually becomes the beating heart of this movie, and he also gets what might be its most devastating moment, right near the end. We all knew Miles Teller could act, but Only the Brave showed us the awesomeness of his range. —Bilge Ebiri (Village Voice)

“You can’t write love off or put it on hold. It stays with you until death." —Jerry Lewis

A minority of people are genuinely turned on by intelligence, according to new psychology research. The study, recently published online in the scientific journal Intelligence, found that most people desire a partner who is smart. Furthermore, a small percentage of them reported that they were specifically sexually aroused by intelligence. The researchers also found that people rated those with a higher intelligence as more attractive. But this effect appeared to have a ceiling. “We found that the association between desirability of a prospective partner and IQ of the prospective partner is curvilinear: it peaks at an IQ of 120 (90th percentile) and drops a bit from 120 to 135 (99th percentile),” Gilles Gignac told PsyPost. In other words, people were most attracted to a potential partner who was smarter than 90% of the population. They found someone who was smarter than 99% of the population to be slightly less attractive as a partner. Source:

Putting the world in Mr. Damon’s hands is smart. At once preternaturally boyish and middle aged, Mr. Damon has become the greatest utility player in movies: No one can better vault across rooftops and in and out of genres and make you care greatly if he falls. He’s so homespun that he could have sprung wholly formed from a corn silo (he shares James Stewart’s extraordinary likability if not his later-life, postwar neurotic edge). But it’s the ease and sincerity with which Mr. Damon conveys moral decency — so that it feels as if it originates from deep within rather than from, say, God or country — that helps make him a strikingly contemporary ideal of what used to be regularly called the American character. Source:

Ben Affleck is in talks with Fox to direct and star in a remake of courthouse drama “Witness for the Prosecution.” Christopher Keyser will write the script, and Affleck will produce with Matt Damon, Jennifer Todd and the Agatha Christie estate. The 1957 adaptation of the Agatha Christie short story, directed by Billy Wilder, starred Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Laughton and Best Supporting Actress for Lanchester. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

Marlene Dietrich’s entrance is a swift piece of storytelling in Witness for Prosecution (1957). But take note, we are not to trust everything we see or hear from characters who claim to know each other well. Dietrich’s work here paradoxically went “unawarded,” possibly even disbelieved, because it depends so much on a discovery folded into that don’t-you-dare-spoil ending. Dietrich’s acting talent was an unusual instrument, meant to be carefully wielded and always with the dangerous possibility of overuse, but here she gives an intelligent and careful performance, one fraught with many possible pitfalls but one where she made all the right choices. Dietrich manages to be both direct and elusive, stiff and intense.

She brings that cold blooded, calculating, haughty quality that was already part of her screen persona, but adds to it an uncharacteristic fragility and even some hysteria. Dietrich reveals herself as a perceptive maneuverer; she sees Power’s a user and lets herself be used so she can use him in return. Dietrich’s brief pause before we get our first reveal, that scene where she stops for a moment to relish her own genius and the effect of the bomb she’s about to drop. Her face, her demeanor completely changes in a millisecond as her ego takes over, and with a knowing, mocking grin she proceeds to tell Laughton what she did, lunging at him to drive the point home. That is the moment that very, very few actresses would have been able to pull off. Wilder reportedly thought Rita Hayworth wasn’t capable. Dietrich seems uniquely suited, practically made to deliver a compressed, distilled bit of intimidating acting like that and seamlessly weaving it into her whole performance. Source:

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Moral Choices: "Downsizing" (Alexander Payne), "Dark Age America" (John Michael Greer)

DOWNSIZING (2017) directed by Alexander Payne, is an enormous movie—enormous in its ambition, and enormous in its ingenuity. As such, it is distinctly out of step with the times. Payne and Taylor’s soul-sick seeker is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), employed as a physical therapist specializing in repetitive stress by the Omaha Steaks meatpacking plant. After an ellipsis of ten years, the human “downsizing” process has radically changed the wider world, but not much has happened in Paul’s life—mom with her fibromyalgia flare-ups has been replaced by a wife with migraines, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). Maintaining the status quo promises only a paycheck-to-paycheck life of repetitive stress, but by submitting to miniaturization Paul and Audrey can trade genteel penury for a palatial mini-McMansion at Leisureland, a biodomed community in New Mexico.

As Paul and Audrey go about making their decision to downsize, Payne and Taylor anchor their far-fetched setup by imagining all the practical, political, social, and economic exigencies that such a scientific upheaval might bring about, from plummeting normal-world property values to unchecked immigration to unbalanced tax burdens for large and small to the ability of dictatorships to shrink noisy dissidents out of sight. The premise of Downsizing, like that of any good science-fiction work, takes off from an observable real-world phenomenon. In this case it’s the current cult of minimalism in all its forms: the “tiny house movement”; the gradual device-driven elimination of the clutter of physical media from living spaces. The film takes us through every stage of downsizing, a sequence that shows Payne’s understated visual intelligence at work. 

After Audrey backs out of the downsizing pact, divorce dashes Paul’s dreams of living big while small, and, adrift in a new world, he is sucked into the orbit of his neighbor, Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz). Even in Leisureland somebody has to clean up after the party’s over. This is how Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a woman making her cleaning service rounds on a painful, junky prosthetic leg. Paul recognizes Ngoc Lan from the television news—she is one of those miniaturized dissidents, injured as the lone stowaway survivor of a trip from Vietnam to a Eugene, Oregon-area Target in an imported television’s cardboard packaging, a traumatic experience she refers to as “the TV box.” Well-meaning Paul guiltily offers her his assistance.

In any just world this multifaceted performance would be the part that catapults Chau to stardom, but there have been rumblings of disquietude about her broken English, that very contemporary squeamishness that labels anything creating the slightest discomfiture as “problematic.” It’s a crying shame, because she has given one of the most human performances in recent American movies, by turns comic and somber, hard-edged and meltingly vulnerable, as when seen in tearful confession or in the first heavy breath of the most tender and true romantic interlude at the multiplex this decade. Ngoc Lan’s point-blank proposition to Paul is: “What kind of fuck you give me?” The development of the Ngoc Lan character by Payne, Taylor, and Chau might be seen as an extension of Payne’s 14e Arrondissement, the shining highlight of the otherwise-unremarkable 2006 omnibus film Paris, je t’aime, which follows Margot Martindale—seen in a cameo in Downsizing—as a plus-sized American tourist in Paris. 

In most films Paul would have to pick a side between the poles defined by Dusan and Joris on one hand and Ngoc Lan on the other, between pleasure and principle—but Payne is not most filmmakers, thank God. Instead he brings the entire quartet together to move from Leisureland to the fjords of Norway and the original downsizing commune, where preparations are now underway to move underground in anticipation of an extinction-level event, a final retreat that Paul is invited to join in the name of greater good. This turn might, along with the movie as a whole, be taken as a satire of eco-panic and our fretting over carbon footprints, but there’s less than nothing here to mark Payne and Taylor as climate-change deniers. Downsizing is, rather, addressing itself to a culture of buying dispensation through lifestyle, through conscientious consumer choices, while keeping suffering abstract, at the comfortable distance of that TV box. The film’s climax finds Paul again at a crossroads—or, rather, facing another long corridor. Source:

Downsizing has a subtly structured arc of redemption, as well as a nifty metaphorical design. Although the film’s plot has the apocalypse looming over its characters, Matt Damon believes that ultimately Downsizing is optimistic. “I really do believe that movies are the greatest tool for empathy that we have,” he explained at a press conference in the 2017 Venice Film Festival. “I think it’s a beautiful and optimistic movie. There’s this sense that we’re all in this together. I feel that is a very hopeful message in a very divided world.” Damon emphasized that “Downsizing” shows a “likeable character whose life is different from our own, but whom we can find common cause with.”

Matt Damon’s Paul marks the best character Damon has played in some time. Paul isn’t all that distinguished but Damon invests him with an underdog charm that you don’t expect from someone of his power and charisma. Watching Damon as Paul suffer indignities and setbacks we really feel for him. Damon’s chemistry with Hong Chau is surprising and delightful. Ngoc Lan's snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Paul’s nicely pitched bluff affability. The tentative romance between Damon’s schlub and Chau’s displaced tough chick activist is wonderfully layered and unique. The tenderness and understanding between Paul and Ngoc Lan may not steam up the scream but their warmth and humor will win you over more than any great sex scene.  Source:

Downsizing offers us a message of positivity, urging us to recognise the importance of doing good locally and in our own communities. In today’s political climate, where the politics of spite and fear seem to be thriving everywhere, it might feel as though the whole world’s gone sour. Downsizing tells us the grand gesture is admirable, but so too is striving to make a difference in our own surroundings. And while that might be naïve, simplistic or even old fashioned, as far as messages go, it’s certainly not a bad one to have. At its centre, Downsizing is a real heart warmer. It’s both very funny and melancholy. Downsizing’s concept and attention to detail mean this world is fully realised, believable and fun to inhabit. It explores both concept and message with joyful, imaginative abandon and although its messages are not subtle, they are not heavy handed either. Source:

The fall of a civilization is not a pleasant prospect—the decline and fall of industrial civilization, the long passage through a dark age, and the first stirrings of the successor societies that will build on our ruins. Among the standard phenomena of decline and fall is the shattering of the collective consensus that gives a growing society the capacity to act together to accomplish anything. The schism between the political class and the rest of the population is simply the most visible of the fissures that spread through every declining civilization, breaking it into a crazy quilt of dissident fragments pursuing competing ideals and agendas. No doubt most of us would rather live in a world that didn’t work that way, but morality remains a matter of individual choices—yours and mine—in the face of a cosmos that’s sublimely unconcerned with our moral beliefs. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet republics have seen steep declines in rates of live birth, life expectancy, and most other measures of public health. For that matter, since the financial crisis of 2008, birth rates in the United States have dropped sharply; these days, immigration is the only reason the population doesn’t register significant declines. No matter what your ethnic group, no matter how privileged or underprivileged it may happen to be, it will almost certainly no longer exist as such when industrial civilization on this continent descends into the deindustrial dark age ahead.—"Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead" (2016) by John Michael Greer

Friday, December 22, 2017

Preston Sturges's zany Christmas satire: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Betty Hutton)

In The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) a small-town girl, Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), attends a party held to entertain soldiers on leave. After a night of dancing and carousing, she remembers little, but later discovers she is pregnant. Her adoring childhood friend, Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken), agrees to marry her. Her wisecracking teen sister, Emmy (Diana Lynn), is her only other ally. The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther called the film “audacious” and wondered how Sturges got the subject matter past the censors, while James Agee opined in The Nation, “The Hays office must have been raped in its sleep”, also calling the film “more adventurous, more abundant, more intelligent, and more encouraging than anything that has been made in Hollywood for years.” Alongside a central character who confuses sex with his patriotic duty, Sturges also gives a nod to the birth of Christ by scheduling the delivery of Trudy’s baby on Christmas morning. To this he adds Emmy, a wily 14-year-old whose dialogue intimates more than she should know about such things, and a stammering boyfriend interested in helping with the cover-up: “Maybe we can say we had a flat tire. It’s old, but it’s reliable.”

The film’s chaotic method of presentation is also fascinating. The characters are rarely subdued, and are often shrill. Everyone emphasises their point by yelling and screaming, often bulging their eyes and flailing their arms as blatantly as the early Keystone comedians. There is also a scene where the girls subdue their irate father to the ground with a wrestling hold and restrain him until Norval gets away. Even a simple cutaway to Trudy getting ready for the party shows her fixing her dress with loud jazz blaring from the phonograph, her feet pounding the floor to the rhythm. These small-town characters are not the folksy types found in MGM’s family-oriented Andy Hardy series of the same era. They are not specifically of this world. These people are convulsive and flappable. Their shrillness is in perfect sympathy with the tense situations, and the film is peppered with crisp dialogue to keep this from being distracting or off-putting, even to modern day viewers.

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek was a massive success on its initial release, and became Paramount’s highest-grossing film of 1944. Sturges’ script was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the 1945 Academy Awards. The National Board of Review nominated it for Best Picture of 1944, while Betty Hutton was named Best Actress. The New York Times included it as one of the 10 Best Films of 1942-1944. The film’s legacy continues in the 21st century. It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation on the United States National Film Registry in 2001. “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” is one of the five favorite films by Peter Bogdanovich. Also, with an adjusted score of 91%, it's the #12 Best Christmas Movie by Rotten Tomatoes. 

In 1958, Frank Tashlin reworked Sturges’ film as Rock-a-Bye-Baby, a Paramount release featuring Jerry Lewis (in the character of Clayton Poole, a rewriting of Norval Jones). Lewis said: “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek was a Paramount property, and thus easy for us to do. Tashlin revamped it for me. When I asked him about taking the idea from a famous comedy, he said, ‘Well, at least we stole from the best’.” Although he did not actively work on the production, Sturges received screen credit in Rock-a-Bye-Baby for his original story. Source:

As Alain Silver has observed in Film Noir Reader, Sturges incorporated into his comedies “noirish sentiments of meaninglessness and abject existentialism.” With their caustic and crackling dialogue, his comedies portray not winners, but losers, individuals who resort to absurd strategies to survive the day. Sturges’s protagonists refuse to accept “the hand of fate” as a controlling force of their lives, attempting to overcome insurmountable obstacles; that they seldom succeed is beside the point. Each character in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is an eccentric individual, not a type. Sturges reverses the prevalent images of the boy and girl next-door and inverts the meanings of masculinity and femininity, spoofing machismo as well as female domesticity.

Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) is anything but the innocent or repressed small-town girl; assertive and manipulative, she loves the company of men. Trudy wants to have fun, always seeking to be the center of attention. In an early scene, she is seen singing to admiring male customers in her record store. Later, surrounded by soldiers, she drives Norval’s borrowed convertible. Trudy has boundless energy. “I never get tired,” she boasts to her sister, and Sturges shows Trudy going from one party to another. Trudy combines traits of the girl-next-door and those of the town’s popular girl.

In this picture, Norval (Eddie Bracken) longs for conformity to conventional middle-class values: Marriage and domesticity. Exempt from military service with 4-F, Norval says: “Every time they start to examine me, I become so excited, I get the spots!” Norval lacks control over his two main goals in life: to fight in the war and to marry Trudy. A bank clerk, he is an orphan living with the Johnsons, the town’s lawyer and his wife. Full of doubts, all of his fears materialize in the film, including going to jail. A helpless, yet sincere boy, Norval has the kind of romanticism that’s genuine and heart-felt. It is therefore ironic that, by sheer accident, Norval becomes the symbol of virility: the father of six boys. Norval is the ultra adjustable type, always adapting to the needs of others, aiming to please. As viewers, we are told that Norval “recovered and became increasingly happy.” And Shakespeare is used for the film’s coda: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Norval has greatness thrust upon him.

Trudy’s widower father, officer Kockenlocker (William Demarest), is the town’s constable. Trudy’s sister Emma (Diana Lynn), a 14-year-old brat, defies her father’s authority, lacking any respect for him. “I think you have a mind like a swamp!” she tells her father. “No one’s going to believe something good if they can believe something bad,” says Emma, expressing Sturges’s view of small towns. “You don’t know what to expect in a town like this,” she explains, “a town that can produce schnooks like Papa, always suspicious and suspecting the worst in everything.” Source:

"When I'm working with jerks with no talent, I raise hell until I get what I want. I am not a great singer and I am not a great dancer, but I am a great actress, and nobody ever let me act except Preston Sturges. He believed in me." —Betty Hutton

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Susan Slept Here: Tashlin's Christmas movie

Susan Slept Here: This 1954 holiday set romantic comedy is actually narrated by an Oscar statuette! A struggling veteran screenwriter, played by the former baby-faced tenor of 30′s musicals Dick Powell, is surprised to find a spunky juvenile delinquent under the Christmas tree. It’s Debbie Reynolds, just a couple of years after the classic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Also in the cast are future TV stars Anne Francis (“Honey West”) and Alvy Moore (Mr. Kimball on “Green Acres”). This is one of the early feature films directed by former Loony Tunes animator/director Frank Tashlin. 

Later Tashlin would guide the movie careers of Jayne Mansfield and Jerry Lewis. Tashlin's mastery of color and the general visual impact within the frame is evident much as it would be on Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? three years later. The former animator included less purely visual gags on Susan Slept Here but what he did come up with, like the placement of the Navy anchor on Mark's friend Virgil (Alvy Moore), is typically brilliant, if subtle. The hues are dazzling also, throughout the movie but especially in a strange musical dream sequence that, despite the presence of two great stars of the genre in Powell and Reynolds, comes out of nowhere in terms of the plot.

Vincente Minnelli deservedly gets a lot of credit for his use of color but Tashlin is right there too. His star is simply not as high, and his career was much shorter. Frank Tashlin was one of the best of the fifties Hollywood directors both at working with color and at directing comedy. His smart but zany style of the latter plays today like a natural continuation of the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties. An overlooked Christmas classic, Susan Slept Here is sweet and heartwarming at its core, yet refreshingly caustic around the edges. Source:

Regardless of whether it is character or situation that provides Tashlin with an opportunity for sexual comedy, he seizes it; both cases give him the chance to push the limits of blue humor. Susan Slept Here is one of Tashlin’s most risqué films. A major hallmark of Tashlin’s style is that his sexual gags are both extremely blue and creatively and thoroughly ambiguous. In Susan Slept Here, Susan remarks on the blonde hair of Mark’s fiancée, opining that she has gotten a “dye job”; Mark insists that she’s a natural blonde. “You sure?” asks Susan, to which Mark says, “We’re very good friends. [pause] She told me.” —"Tashlinesque: The Hollywood comedies of Frank Tashlin" (2012) by Ethan de Seife

On Christmas Eve of 1949, Vera Jayne Palmer (Jayne Mansfield) attended a party with her girlfriends. Paul Mansfield was invited to the party also. Jayne immediately had a crush for the black haired, mature looking twenty year old guy. “It was the most conservative Christmas Eve I ever spent. He was not a great talker. He had a silent way of moving and in taking over. I liked that and I was enveloped by his subtle masculinity. I mean the firmness with which he handled himself. I respected him.” Another man, a twenty-four year old gas station attendant, called ‘Inky’ by Jayne, took her to several parties during the holiday season. He also bought Jayne her first alcoholic drink. First timer Jayne drank way too much, so Inky decided to leave and get some coffee and something to eat to sober her up. “On the way home we stopped in the park. Inky kissed me. All the rest followed. I was certainly ready and willing. It was my first time.” Around this time Jayne found out that she was pregnant. Not daring to tell her parents, she called Paul. He directly offered to marry her. Paul Mansfield remembered the following from that period: “Late January we just decided to elope. We didn’t tell anybody about it. She was sixteen, I was twenty-one. I was young and in love and she was too. We got married in a fever, hotter than a couple of cats.” 

But once installed in Hollywood, Paul Mansfield started to get annoyed with his wife’s career hunt: “I had began to not like what I saw and I told her that. I just couldn’t stand the attention she was receiving from other men. I didn’t know how we were going to take care of little Jayne Marie in a family with that kind of atmosphere. So along about the Spring of 1955 we separated and I took a job in San Francisco and moved away.” Although Paul remembers it being the Spring, Jayne and Paul actually separated on January 7, 1955. Later Jayne told Raymond Strait about her break up with Paul: “Hollywood broke up our marriage—my desire for stardom. I was a real bitch after we came to Hollywood.” Still aiming a career as a movie star, Jayne boosted her career with the help of Bill Shiffrin, who became Jayne’s agent. Because he believed Hollywood could use another blonde glamour girl besides Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe, he took Jayne in as a client.

In their earlier film The Girl Can’t Help It, Tashlin let Jayne portray a super sexy girl who was unaware of her physique, but in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Jayne played completely the opposite as the star who used her built to gain publicity and fame for her own success. The character Rita Marlowe is the most crucial role of Jayne’s career. The part brought her fame on Broadway, and upon her return to Hollywood she wasn’t the pin-up starlet when she left for the East coast, but achieved the status of an important celebrity who had the opportunity of becoming a mega star. 

Besides this new career perspective, the part and name of Rita Marlowe of course stands for all that Jayne Mansfield desired to be when she was dreaming of becoming a well known and beloved movie star and all that she became and stood for in real life as the outrageous, publicity keen glamour star the world had come to know. Most critics were enthused with Jayne and the movie, but some thought it to be vulgar and in bad taste. In her autobiography Jayne showed a hint of insight on the effect of her being typecast as a sexpot: “My new bosses at 20th-Fox had to realize they had signed a star personality. My publicity continued to make the papers every day. I was invited to big parties and premieres. But this wasn’t enough. I needed to prove that I could act too. I proved something to Broadway, but could I to Hollywood? So the picture was made and I never worked so hard. It was released and was a big success. The critics liked my dizzy, extroverted, funny Rita Marlowe. I was a hit. I had arrived on all levels.” 

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? started filming on March 19, 1957. Tashlin called it a wrap on May 2. Since Paramount studios producer Hal Wallis didn’t allow Tashlin to use comedian Jerry Lewis for the part of George Schmidlapp, he cast Groucho Marx at the end of shooting. Jayne made clear she preferred Lewis but she agreed to come back to the studio to shoot her scene with Marx on June 10. The movie was released June 29th, 1957. 20th Century Fox planned a publicity tour through 16 European countries for Jayne. On September 25th, she arrived in England. In October she visited Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Italy and Sweden. On November 6, 1957 Jayne arrived in Los Angeles. In the United States only the film brought in $1.4 million for 20th Century Fox. In 2000, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. —"Affectionately, Jayne Mansfield" (2012) by Richard Koper.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Merry Christmas with Lucille Ball & Jerry Lewis

Despite his grudging acceptance of the role of Seymour, Jerry Lewis was brilliant in "My Friend Irma" (1949) directed by George Marshall. In December 1948, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin made a NBC radio show. Lucille Ball was their guest, singing “The Money Song” with them, and Jerry ended the show by stepping out of character to thank the audience and make a plea for the March of Dimes—his first recorded charity pitch. The NBC radio show did, in fact, include a routine from My Friend Irma almost verbatim—but the ratings foundered and the network had trouble finding a sponsor. However, Martin & Lewis were a success on their debut film My Friend Irma. Crediting the “comedy know-how” of George Marshall, Variety described Martin and Lewis as “a team that has decided film possibilities if backed with the right material and used properly.” Lewis, the review said, “will rate loud guffaws for his mugging.” Dean, however, it noted, “needs to tone down nitery mannerisms for films.” 

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Christmas Show, on December 5, 1949. My Friend Irma had been released on September 28, 1949.

I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, a new one-hour special featuring two back-to-back colorized episodes of the classic series, will be rebroadcast Sunday, Dec. 24 (8:00-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL features "The Christmas Episode" and the newly colorized "The Fashion Show." Both were colorized with a nod to the 1950s period in which they were filmed. The main titles and end credits are seamlessly combined into one set at the beginning and end of the hour, with no interruption between the episodes.

"The Christmas Episode" was first broadcast on CBS on Christmas Eve, 1956. The episode was not included in the series' long history of rebroadcasts, first on CBS Daytime and later in syndication. Long thought to be lost, the program was rediscovered by CBS in 1989. In "The Fashion Show," Lucy convinces Ricky to allow her to spend up to $100 on a dress at the fashionable Don Loper Salon in Beverly Hills. However, when an opportunity arises for Lucy to participate in a Loper fashion show featuring glamorous movie star wives, Lucy winds up spending five times that! Lucy hopes that if she gets a mild sunburn, Ricky will feel sorry for her and forgive her for spending so much, though, as always, she goes a bit too far!

"The Fashion Show" was originally broadcast Feb. 28, 1955, and became an immediate favorite not only of viewers, but of Lucille Ball herself. The episode features a few of her real-life personal friends: Mrs. Gordon MacRae, Mrs. William Holden, Mrs. Van Heflin, Mrs. Forrest Tucker and Don Loper himself. "I Love Lucy" Christmas specials have aired on the Network the past four years, each combining the holiday-themed episode with a different comedy classic. Beginning in 2015, "The Christmas Episode" has been shown colorized in its entirety, with fully-colorized flashback scenes. "I Love Lucy" was broadcast on the Network from Oct. 15, 1951 through June 23, 1957. It was voted "The Best TV Show of All Time" in a 2012 viewer poll conducted by People magazine and ABC News. "I Love Lucy" stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and Vivian Vance and William Frawley as the Ricardos' friends and landlords, Ethel and Fred Mertz. Source:

One of the most important things that Lucille Ball showed was that women could be funny and attractive all at once—a groundbreaking concept for the day. This was particularly admirable given that Lucy was beautiful enough to be a conventional film star, and, in fact had become a Hollywood movie sensation as ‘Queen of the B-Movies.’ But she shrugged off the persona of a cool beauty, instead reveling in the chance to get a laugh. She was never afraid to look foolish, silly, or even ugly for the sake of a good gag and her public loved her for it. By proving this formula, she paved the way for generations of funny women to come. Think of Carol Burnett, Roseanne, Gilda Radner, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers—they all owe at least a part of their success to the amazing Lucy. Molly Haskell, one of the most prominent and discerning critics of popular culture, had her say in a piece entitled “50 Years and Millions of Reruns Later, Why Does America Still Love Lucy?” To Haskell, the answer lay in Ball’s subversive approach.

“Although the Lucy persona would disavow any connection with feminism,” the author asserts, “in her own foot-in-mouth way, she cuts a wide swath through male supremacy, saying anything that comes into her head and taking down sacred cows and chauvinist bulls along the way. Trying to say ‘thank you’ to Ricky’s pompous Cuban uncle, and garbling her Spanish, she calls him a fat pig before accidentally (?) shredding his foot-long, hand-rolled cigar—symbol of Lucy’s assault on puffed-up male potency.” Lucy may surrender at the final clinch, but she is no surrendered wife. Molly Haskell’s affectionate tone was amplified by another pop culture critic. Writing in the New York Times, Joyce Millman argued that Lucy “waged an unspoken battle against Ricky’s attitude of male superiority—you could feel her sense of injustice burning behind every scheme.” How did I Love Lucy become television’s most popular sitcom in a deeply conservative era? “It did not violate viewers’ comfort zones, particularly female viewers’ comfort zones. If Ball had been too forthright, she might have turned women away from the show.”

So Ball couched her characters’ bold ambitions in peerless physical comedy. She looked silly and unglamorous. And as a clown, Ball was a radical, powerful figure; it was as if she was daring you to think it was unseemly for a woman to put on a putty nose or a fright wig and throw herself into a joke with body and soul. (Decades later, physical comedians like Lily Tomlin and Gilda Radner finished what Ball started, turning chaotic energy into a feminist statement). Statements like these would have astonished Lucy, who had gone public with her view of the Movement: “Women’s lib? It doesn’t interest me one bit. I’ve been so liberated it hurts.” In High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age, and Comedy (1992), University of Wisconsin history professor Patricia Mellencamp uses Lucy to underscore her investigations of 1950s America: “When it comes to money, there are two kinds of people: the earners and the spenders. Or more popularly known, husbands and wives.” To Mellencamp, “this ‘ethos of gender’ recognizes a key facet of postwar ideology, a cluster of ideals and expectations at the crossroads of mainstream representatives of gender roles, marriage, domesticity, and consumerism.”

Every week for seven years, she reminds us, “Lucy, the chorus girl/clown, complained that Ricky was preventing her from becoming a star. For twenty-four minutes, she valiantly tried to escape domesticity by getting a job in show business. After a tour de force performance of physical comedy, in the inevitable reversal and failure of the end, she was resigned to stay happily at home serving big and little Ricky. The ultimate ‘creation/cancellation’—the series’ premise, which was portrayed in brilliant performances and then denied weekly—was that Lucy was not star material.” In one celebrated episode (“The Ballet”), Lucy throws a pie in Ricky’s face during his solo at the Tropicana.

In large measure the praise of I Love Lucy is due to Lucille Ball's talent and grit. She was not only funnier than anyone else on TV; she was also more beautiful—a matchless combination. But there is another component in the mix—Lucille Ball was a festival of contradictions: a woman who yearned for her own family and didn’t know how to relate to her children; a demanding wife; a cold-eyed, exacting businesswoman who made others cry—and then retreated into tears when her authority was questioned.

Jerry Lewis was once quoted as saying about female comedians: “a woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me, but sets me back a bit.” In 2014 Lewis clarified he thought women were funny, but not as crude standup comics. "Seeing a woman project the kind of aggression that you have to project as a comic just rubs me wrong. And they're funny—I mean you got some very funny people that do beautiful work but I have a problem with the lady up there that's going to give birth to a child—which is a miracle." And Lewis called Lucille Ball "brilliant." In many ways, Lucille Ball was the female equivalent of Jerry Lewis, both having reached the peak of their popularity during the 1950s. —"Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball" (2007) by Stefan Kanfer

How about Lucille Ball's reputation as one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood? Unamused, her voice boomed out loud and clear. “For God’s sake, are you dumb, I haven’t seen a paycheck in 20-some years. I know what I owe. Nobody in Hollywood has any money with our taxes. It’s a lot of crap to say I’m a business tycoon and such,” Lucy emoted on, with a straight face, though she had sold her Desilu production company for $17 million and is the Hank Aaron of TV residuals. “The only people who have big money are some little old ladies in Boston or some Maharaji Cuckoo in Arabia—that’s real money. We all have jobs, not money. I have great credit, that’s my real credential as a businesswoman. The better the year, the more I have to borrow. That’s one reason Cary Grant quit the picture business.” Source:

Film Tribute to Jerry Lewis at the MIC (Interactive Museum of Cinema) in Milan, Italy (Viale Fulvio Testi 121), scheduled from 12-23 December 2017. The ticket cost for admission is 6,50 € (7,64 $).

Tuesday, 19 December, 5:00 PM: The Nutty Professor (1963)
To improve his social life, a nerdish professor drinks a potion that temporarily turns him into the handsome, but obnoxious, Buddy Love. Jerry Lewis directed, co-wrote and starred in this riotously funny movie that set a new standard for screen comedy. Co-starring Stella Stevens as his love interest Stella Purdy.

Thursday, 21 December, 5:00 PM: The Patsy (1964)
When a star comedian dies, his comedy team, decides to train a nobody to fill the shoes of the Star in a big TV show (a Patsy). But the man they choose, bellboy Stanley Belt (Lewis) cant do anything right. The big TV show is getting closer and Stanley gets worse all the time. Source:

"I look closely at the world. I see it as it is, but I'm twisting it to make it funny." —Jerry Lewis

Hampton Fancher (screenwriter of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049) remembers Jerry Lewis as an egocentric sentimentalist, describing the person he met as "this guy who has everything, except he doesn't have enough. I kind of liked him. When you see him in person, he was actually a handsome guy. He's got beauty in his face. He's a serious guy. Takes himself very seriously. Not a funny guy. I met a lot of comedians: Jack Benny, Buddy Hackett... Funny people who socially were quite the opposite. Anyway, Jerry Lewis was the opposite and also very sad and not about any particular thing. I could see that he was the classic Chaplin City Lights kind of thing. He was alone and he doesn't want to be alone. He said to me, when the shoot for the movie (Romeo und Julia 70) was finished: 'You want to stay? I can get you back to L.A.' I was sorry I didn't stay. I felt that kind of sentimental guilt. I was too interested in my own future and I was not happy with him."

"I felt for him. In his persona there is a neediness, in almost all of his roles. Maybe his only roots were his own myths about himself. When I heard that he died, I thought of three scenes from his films that stuck in my head. The first one is of him working in a hospital: The Disorderly Orderly (1964). He is walking on the grounds and while patients tell him of their ills, he is physically feeling everything they tell him about. I always thought that awareness was great. I could identify with that. Someone tells you how they cut their finger - it goes right through your own body. These scenes are a fantastic exploration of empathy." On Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly car chase scene Fancher says: "He doesn't even have a stuntman doing it, he is doing it himself. And who comes down on a gurney down the hill? It's Jerry."

"I did have another connection. My girlfriend was one of his best friends. Joan Blackman, she was under contract by Hal B. Wallis, same guy Jerry was under contract at Paramount. And she did Visit To A Small Planet [1960] with Jerry and they became good friends. He was very generous. He gave her and her husband at the time all kinds of things. He was very kind to them. He helped them a lot in their careers. My second scene: Jerry plays a magician and, appropriately, has a pet rabbit who likes to slide on his belly down the handrail of the staircase—so much, the rabbit's belly is all red and smoke comes off it. The rabbit at one point wears sunglasses and has a drink."

I haven't seen this one [The Geisha Boy, 1958] in a very long time. Maybe that's why they like him in France because he has some surrealistic imagination and does crazy things that nobody does. And the third scene is with Dean Martin (You're Never Too Young, 1955) and takes place in a boarding school where he pretends to be a child but he is really a grown up. He is wearing shorts and is doing a musical number, military inspired, with a group of girl students there. R.W. Fassbinder used this scene in his In a Year with 13 Moons [1978]. Source: