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stiff BBC adaptation of a lesser Ibsen play
I consider Little Eyolf a lesser play by Henrik Ibsen because it lacks the on-stage dynamics of the best of his work. The major dramatic action here occurs off-stage, and themes like incest between brother and sister, and a woman's jealousy of her child for the love of her husband are only briefly touched upon. Equally the character of The Rat Wife is a Gothic idea that is also not exploited, other than perhaps drawing a character in his fascination with her to his death. Another inexplicable choice is that the unhappily married couple that Ibsen often writes about here do not separate in the end, although the separation is repeatedly threatened, which makes the denouement unbelievable.
The production uses large sets although all are interiors. Act 1 features a large living room, and Acts 2 and 3 the exterior of the house which is located by the sea, with a scrim used for the sky. This size, rather than creating claustrophobia for the characters, is used to express their distance from each other, with stilted blocking often portraying them as statues. The set-bound artificial nature of the production is also apparent when off-stage noise is heard twice to suggest the world away from the house. Additionally the dramatic music that accompanies the slides of landscape to introduce each act creates another expectation that is not met, given how dull proceedings are.
Given the lack of action, the text falls back on endless talk, and this puts all the responsibility onto the actors to make it work. Unfortunately, neither Diana Rigg or Anthony Hopkins succeed in overcoming this problem, although both have their moments. Mostly however we are aware of their enunciation and technique, with Rigg also mimicking Hopkins' use of growling in anger. More successful are Emma Piper and Charles Dance in supporting roles, with Piper playing the standard role of woman being pursued by a man she is not in love with.
Casting About (2005)
I had a negative reaction to this film and submit an opinion that may be unpopular, but I think still valid based on the fact that I have auditioned a lot of actors in my time.
I think Mr Hershey errs in ways that for me make the film a painful experience. He misrepresents what it is to film an actors audition in any standard industry fashion, by using inappropriate and counter-productive camera-work.
Most film and TV is shot in long and medium shots. Close-ups are used, but extreme close-ups rarely. Why then does Mr Hershey shoot these actors in extreme close-up? By doing so it robs the actor the opportunity to present themselves in a practical way, and refocuses the attention to the camera and the director. This technique also obliterates any pretense of an objective documentary. One would think that the very nature of observing an audition would allow for an easy objectivity. If ever a film-maker needed to use simple photography, it is here. You just want to be able to see the actor act. One is reminded of what Fred Astaire demanded - that his movement only be filmed in long shot. But Mr Hershey fails us.
This technique is particularly shoddy when the actors are asked to move. I've seen certain actors perform with their backs to the camera, effectively, but you have to be darned good to do it. And have a darned good director. But to show someone acting in extreme close-up in an audition becomes a laughable device. One can imagine the footage being reviewed and the question raised - Who's ear was that, again?! I also reacted against a montage of hand gestures, robbed of their context, unnecessary shots of cleavage and teeth and hair, and footage of actors preparing to act. The latter is particularly disturbing because it is something that directors are not privy to and should not be privy to, because it is ultimately irrelevant to the result. Yet expressions of anxiety, bravado, examination of the text, and the natural dislike of the monologue form to audition with are presented as if to score points off individuals.
I would like to think that Mr Hershey's motives were noble, and that he did not intend to deliberately mistreat the actors that had agreed to show their work to him. He could have been accused of being naive, if not for the fact that this is not his first credited directing job. But intended or not, he does these women a disservice, in my opinion. To be fair, I point out that the person I saw this film with did not have the same reaction as me, though that person is someone who has never held auditions.
Sinatra: Dark Star (2005)
A Thug's Chum
This 90 min BBC documentary on Frank Sinatra and his nearly life-long connection with the Mafia still manages to acknowledge Sinatra's genius as an entertainer. Those who watch expecting a biography of Sinatra will not be disappointed as it covers his entire life, and those curious about the Mafia accusations, can also listen to witness testimony that contradicts Sinatra's infamous 1981 filmed denial when he was applying for a new Nevada Gaming Licence. We get to hear a lot of Sinatra's vocals and see concert and news footage, as well as film trailers, and some of the celebrities interviewed are Paul Anka, Lois Nettleton, Shirley MacLaine, and Artie Shaw.
However the director also piles on the technique, which includes reconstruction, split screen, slow motion (a cooking pan of sausages seems obtuse but gets a late pay off), repeated imagery, super-impositions, and unforgivably, talking over Sinatra's first recording! The documentary and Sinatra's life are possibly the most interesting in his Ava period 1950-1952 when he feared his career was over, in 1960 when John Kennedy used him as a middleman to get to Sam Giancana and Chicago votes to win the Presidential election, and later in the 1960's when the Vietnam generation and the emergence of The Beatles made Frank's Las Vegas Rat Pack appear outdated.
Those who like gore will appreciate stills of the bloody body of Bugsy Siegel, and those that like irony will admire the footage of Lucky Luciano's funeral procession. 2 mysteries - why is Judy Garland heard singing "Who?" when Virginia Hill is spoken of, and a greater one - why is Sinatra's grave so underwhelming?!
This A&E Biography recalls the earlier Richard Schickel biography of Stanywyck, Fire and Desire, with some of the same movie clips used. However there are a few new details that occasionally make it interesting.
We see Barbara's first husband Frank Fay in a short they made together in 1932, where he appears very fey, and which alludes to the rumors that she was a beard. We see Barbara's 1981 Hononary Oscar speech, and rare footage from movies like Ladies of Leisure, and Annie Oakley, as well as clips and trailers from her milestone films.
We hear anecdotes about how Barbara helped people establish themselves in Hollywood eg William Holden, Aaron Spelling, Nolan Miller, and also Barbara's own voice talking about her life. The best anecdote concerns Barbara's reaction to the director John Farrow being rude to a bit player on the set of California.
Crawford on Garbo
This documentary written by Alexander Walker was made for BBC TV and is narrated and hosted to-camera by Joan Crawford. In fact, Crawford gets as much screen time as Garbo, though oddly Crawford is not seen in Grand Hotel. The film excepts are from Garbo's European films and the American ones here are The Torrent, The Temptress (directed by Mauritz Stiller, and which has an impressive ball sequence), Flesh & The Devil, Anna Christie, Romance, Grand Hotel, As You Desire Me, Anna Karenina, Susan Lennox, Camille, Marie Walewska, Ninotchka, and Two Faced Woman. Nothing is shown or told of Garbo after Two Faced Woman, and it's failure is blamed on Pearl Harbour! Although the film excerpts tend to overstay their welcome, and Crawford's phoniness can be a pain, the best reason to watch this doco are the extended footage of Garbo being stalked by paparazzi. Garbo's lesbian adventures are not mentioned though Stiller is outed as being gay, but then neither is her planned marriage to John Gilbert. Interviewed are directors George Cukor, and Rouben Mamoulian who tells a funny story about Garbo's resistance to rehearsal. Crawford does not tell the anecdote of Garbo touching her face but does recount Garbo's disappointment that they shared no scenes in Grand Hotel, and Walker includes the idea that in Garbo's 7 room New York apartment, 4 of the rooms were empty.
The filmmakers plant their title over Garbo's face as seen in the last close-up of Queen Christina, but thankfully repeat the shot for the end, without title, to redeem themselves.
Critical Choices (1996)
the right to life. the urge to kill.
Although this made for TV movie reads as an ordinary take on the pro choice pro life debate over abortion, the teleplay does add dimension to the characters which changes them from being polemic representatives to flawed humans. Setting the crisis over the last abortion clinic - here called a women's health co-op - in the state at Easter is a nice touch. Statistics are included in the dialogue to an acceptable degree, and there are funny lines. To the pro lifers - "Their notion of life begins at conception and ends at birth". And a chant at the clinic battleground of "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries". There is also a parallel made between church wine and recreational wine, and the irony of the intolerance of the Christian Fundamentalists - who crack the hackneyed Adam and Steve line twice - is shown. Performances from pros like Pamela Reed, Diane Scarwid, and Betty Buckley - who has a lesser role - are all good.
special feature on Laura DVD
This documentary on Gene Tierney describes her as an exotic débutante, an early Grace Kelly, battered by destiny, the unluckiest luckiest girl in the world, and someone who had everything but ended up in stark misery and despair. It is aided immeasurably by the hilarious comments by her former husband Oleg Cassini, and features interviews, make-up and wardrobe tests, home movies, and film clips. The sketch portrait of Gene and her retarded daughter Daria is even more haunting than the Laura painting. There is also a photograph of Gene with a soldier that is possibly the woman that infected the pregnant Gene with measles that led to Daria's condition. Much is made of Gene's beauty. Cassini says she was an extraordinary genetic marvel that he wanted to possess, though soon when his career suffered when he married the younger Gene, he is resentful being Mr Gene Tierney. When she gives him an ultimatum to join him in Argentina during production of a film, he refuses because he claims his career as at the point where he is about to become the man she wanted him to be. How's that for irony? But there is more when Oleg becomes the designer of Jackie Kennedy's personal wardrobe, after Gene had had an affair with Jack Kennedy who had refused to marry her, because she would have needed to divorce Oleg. It is said that Gene had a remarkable gift for mimicry and that she watched movies all night when she first came to Hollywood to learn - but it is not said who she mimicked. It is also said that her role in The Ghost and Mrs Muir mimics Gene's doomed affair with Kennedy. Apart from Daria, Gene's career was affected by her father stealing all her finances, a failed romance with Aly Khan who demanded that she abandon her family to marry her, a mental breakdown in the 1950's which led to a difficult shoot of The Left Hand of God, electric shock treatment and admission to 3 hospitals, severe depression and medication. In 1959 during her mental recovery she worked as a part time dress store clerk. When she returned to Hollywood, she suffered dry mouth from fear, so then was happy to retire from movies and be a Texas housewife, until the death of her husband.
This making of documentary includes interviews, photographs, and behind-the-scenes footage, There is also a still of a moment that was cut -the Siegfried oath between Franz Liebkind, Max and Leo upon signing their contract to get the play's rights; the outtake for the explosion; and an alternate take for the Prisoners of Love song. Paul Mazursky does an impression of Peter Sellers, who saw a screening of the film and placed a trade ad to help publicize it. Sellers was originally cast as Leo, and Mel Brooks doesn't fully explain why he did not do the part. Rather, Brooks turned to Gene Wilder, who was appearing in Mother Courage on Broadway with Brooks' girlfriend at the time, Anne Bancroft. Wilder tells how he wrote Leo's speech in the courtroom scene as Brooks had given him no dialog. Andreas Voutinas tells his Carmen Giya was meant to look like Rasputin and act like Marilyn Monroe, but Andreas was afraid after-wards he would never work again. He did, also for Brooks. Yellow is featured in the film's design eg. walls in Max' office, Ulla's dress, because Brooks thought the color yellow was funny, and Lee Meredith re-enacts Ulla's dancing - which is shown in split screen. There is also mention of the later Broadway musical in the documentary's end credits, which Brooks says was the idea of David Geffen.
This 13 minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the film uses excerpts, 1960's stock footage of Vietnam and Woodstock, pictures of the real Susanna Kaysen who resembles Winona Ryder and an interview with her as she is now, and interviews with the cast and crew. A swear word is deleted from one line in the film just for this short, and two scenes from the film show lines that were deleted and do not appear in the deleted scenes on the DVD. There is also footage of Winona and Angelina in other films to justify their casting. The makers of this short also indulge in color tint and drainage, slow motion and multiple exposures for arty effect.
Loser Love (1999)
when love hurts, it's time to kill the pain
This wannabe feminist revenge drama is undermined by a poor central performance by Laurel Holloman, as a woman who suffers mistreatment from her boyfriend. Although it probably fits the phenomena, Lily's continual forgiveness of misdeeds reads as more weakness on her part than conniving on him, particularly since Tim is presented as such an obvious user. A good clue is his chain-smoking. Although Lily needs to be partially attractive to have attained the attention of a handsome man, her little girl demeanor makes her all too much the masochistic doormat. Holloman's narrow interpretation of Lily extends to her behavior with her parents, though it is because she is a rich girl that presumably allows for her lack of need for employment or some other social milieu which might have let us see her act differently. The therapy sessions that have Holloman talking to the camera, and include screaming, also show Lily to have an immature attitude (though this point at least gets a payoff). The treatment presents Lily's father as a textbook abuser, who submits her to a sporty variation of William Tell, this time with a gun, that supposedly gives context to Lily's future choice of men. Lily's turning point is an act of physical abuse that reads as unbelievable given the physicality of her relationship, with the climactic trap full of contrivance. The teleplay has the distinction of using that howler "You disgust me", and the father is described as "Stanley Kowalski". Although as Tim, Andrew Davoli isn't given much to play, he does supply some boyish smiles and the requisite hunk appeal, and as Lily's best friend with the unfathomable name of Kilo, Rachel Robinson supplies some tartness, even if she backs out of the conflict at the last minute.