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BBC Play of the Month: Little Eyolf (1982)
Season 15, Episode 3
stiff BBC adaptation of a lesser Ibsen play
17 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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Casting About (2005)
1/10
audition nerve
11 May 2007
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.
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Sinatra: Dark Star (2005 TV Movie)
A Thug's Chum
17 December 2006
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?!
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Biography: Barbara Stanwyck: Straight Down the Line (1997)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
A&E Biography
8 August 2006
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.
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Garbo (1969 TV Movie)
Crawford on Garbo
24 October 2005
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.
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Critical Choices (1996 TV Movie)
the right to life. the urge to kill.
21 July 2005
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.
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Biography: Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait (1999)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
special feature on Laura DVD
24 June 2005
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.
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DVD extra
11 May 2005
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.
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DVD extra
7 April 2005
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.
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Loser Love (1999)
when love hurts, it's time to kill the pain
5 April 2005
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.
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Bed Scenes
1 April 2005
This collection of 7 shorts by Francois Ozon shows the talent that he would later display in longer form - humor, sensuality, erotica, empathetic treatment of homosexuality, and unsettling behavior. All of the shorts involve 2 people in a bed, and the camera-work is mostly single medium-shot setups. This means that he relies upon performance and inventiveness of narrative to make his point. Also Ozon adds an Ingmar Bergman bell ring after each short. The Black Hole, about a prostitute and her client, features Francois Delaivre who was in Ozon's earlier Le Petite Morte, with a fanciful horror-style conclusion. Mr Clean is solely reliant upon performance to create an unsettling character in opposition of the title, whereby there is no other evidence to support what he claims. The Lady is the weakest of the group, presenting a somewhat aimless tale of the coupling an older woman and a young boy. Presenting a woman as 52 and still attractive and sexually active, suggests a theme that Ozon will later present with Under the Sand and 8 Women. Heads and Tails is a gimmicky piece with a funny conclusion. The Ideal Man uses humor to undercut the tension of both a woman in love in pain, and lesbianism. Again Ozon has an older woman pursuing a younger person, though what could be interpreted as predatory behavior is diluted by the context of patience and empathy. Love in the Dark is the most successful of the shorts in terms of sustained tone. It shows a woman's sexual frustration over men's predilections, and gets laughs from a reversal of the social expectation that a women prefers to make love in the dark. What elevates the situation is how innocent and dumb and of course gorgeous the man still is. Ozon also can't help being a little heterophobic here. The Virgins covers the same male bisexual territory as his short Summer Dress, for which he was criticized for seeming homophobia, or at least an argument that a gay man cannot be exclusively gay when there is a woman available. However by adding a gay man's curiosity about women to counterbalance a straight man's curiosity about another man, this time is seems less problematic. Here also Ozon shows two beautiful men in erotic and amenable behavior.
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Never trust a school teacher with bleached hair who dresses inappropriately - 1 x spoiler
26 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This made for TV movie is a mix of serial killer and other woman genres, that doesn't feature too many stupidities. (The biggest one is probably naming a character Samantha Stephens, as in Bewitched). The narrative doesn't supply much back-story or psychological motivation for the actions of the predator (and her spider-web stockings are a bit much), but then it doesn't make what she aspires to that attractive either - bland domesticity which "grows old". Also the notion of her writing a book of her story as she experiences it suggests that she wants to be caught, because her readership necessitates infamy, with the voice-activated word processor being a nice touch. Erika Eleniak is an acceptable villain, but she can't elevate the role into greatness. Whilst Patricia Kalember provides some tiny moments of pleasure within the confines of her role as doormat housewife, the best performance comes from Lori Triolo, who does wonders with a minor part and thankfully isn't punished. However, the climactic struggle to the death is too stunt-double obvious, with a denouement that is totally unbelievable.
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DVD extra
24 March 2005
This making-of short on the Mel Brooks film is chaptered by Script, Scenes, Cast Of Characters, In Black And White, Sets And Lighting, Mel, Tricks Of The Trade, Fine Tuning, and A Classic headings. Of the principal actors only Gene Wilder is interviewed, and Brooks is absent. The short could be thought of as an extended interview with Wilder. There are excerpts from the film, outtakes, on-the-set stills, and a trailer narrated by Brooks. Some interesting points are the idea of having studio secretaries preview the film whilst in his audio commentary on the DVD, Brooks says that he only works to please himself. How Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle were cast with Wilder because they were all represented by the same agent. How Wilder offered Madeline Kahn the role of Inga but she preferred the part of his fiancé. Unvoiced antipathy between Brooks and DOP Gerald Hirschfeld, and the mechanics of the flying cable for the little girl. But an edit to jump over dialog in one scene is explained but remains obtuse when what was excised is not shown.
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originally presented in IMAX theaters
17 March 2005
This short documentary on sharks doesn't feature any human attacks or evidence of same, except in anecdote. The worst things that happen are that the diver Rodney Fox nearly dies twice, because of a dropped flipper, and a shark getting tangled in his oxygen cord. Fox tests shark repellent on blue sharks, and later submerges in a glass tube to see if sight is what makes sharks attack, as opposed to scent or electrical fields emitted by living things. Interesting things to see are 2 Great White sharks nearly colliding as evidence of their poor close sight range, and the underwater kelp forests at Catalina Channel. There is a somewhat unnecessary sea-lion POV swim, slow-motion, and self-conscious camera-work and sound effects - distorted lenses, the filming camera being screen-cleaned, and underwater camera clicks.
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Big Girl's Blouse (1994–1995)
the girls without Marg
4 March 2005
This sketch comedy series features 3 of the 4 funny ladies from the comedy show Fast Forward. The 4th, Marg Downey would rejoin the 3 for their next series Something Stupid. As is the nature of sketch comedy, the material here is hit and miss. What makes the show remarkable is the ambition of Gina, Jane and Magda, who co-wrote and produced the series. The most obvious reference point is the Kim's Wedding episodes which would evolve into the later Kath and Kim series, and also the rich society ladies here blonde and also featuring Magda who would later become grey-haired and far more verbally arch. Girls Talk, featuring Patty Stacker who is "freaking out", is an extension of the Fast Forward genre parody, here sending up 1960's Australian conventionality, with faux-British accents and faulty film stock. Midweek Ladies, and The Coralee Hollow Dance Company both use a mock-documentary approach to expose the political machinations of a pensioner tennis club, and a pretentious artist. Other highlights are The Order of Saint Gary, nuns dedicated to their patron Gary Sweet; Community Access TV with Gina and Jane as drag queens; and the frumpy shoppers played by Jane and a poignant hook-nosed Magda. Gina shines as Claire the bitchy editor of the Big Girls Blouse tabloid magazine who attempt to out Jesus and the parallel staffed Playschool, as the murderous cabaret singer Funny Lady, yet another Liza Minnelli, and a girl suffering from the Juliette Lewis Syndrome. Jane is the geriatric dancing Margaret Bland and the diminutive jockey Dale Cummings. And Magda does the grotesque canteen lady Lyn with her catchphrase "I said love, I said pet", an hysterical Katharine Hepburn, has a wonderful aria as a downtrodden minion of Claire, and the womanizer Neville Crawley.
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bonus DVD
2 February 2005
This DVD came as an addition to Barbra Streisand's 2003 CD The Movie Album. On it, Streisand performs alternate take live editions of the songs "Wild Is The Wind" and "I'm In The Mood For Love". There is also a 6.37 audio song commentary by her, excerpts from an interview she gave after a recording session one morning, reflecting on her song choices, while we see still photos of Barbra that appear on the CD jacket. The 4.42 video for "Wild Is The Wind" features inter-cut clips from the film, as well as cutaways to the orchestra. She talks before the take and add-libs amusingly when the vocal is "I hear the sound of violins" and she hears horns. The 6.37 video for "I'm In The Mood For Love" bookends the clips from Every Night At Eight, and also has cutaways to the orchestra. In both videos, Streisand is lit beautifully, and poses so that the left side of her face is featured, as is her wedding ring. We see how she holds the earphones upside down so that they do not sit on her head, and how she uses her eyes a lot when she sings. Streisand also moves out of the light dramatically for the end of the songs, though only enters for the second.
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Remembering The Carpenters
4 January 2005
This documentary was made with the co-operation of Richard Carpenter, which may explain the focus on the music of the group as opposed to exploring the details and reasons for Karen's death.

Replacing narration with anecdotal voice-overs, we see music clips dating back from 1969's "Ticket to Ride", which was their first hit; news footage; TV specials, Grammy awards, and interviews. Richard gets a lot of camera time, but we also hear from Herb Albert, Burt Bacharah, Paul Williams, and Petula Clark. Dionne Warwick is also spotted at Karen's funeral.

Photos show how Karen was a fat little girl but when she joined Richard's first band as a drummer and forever after, she is thin, so that the anorexia she suffered from is not dramatically noticeable until the 1980 TV special. Ironically the song we hear from her 1979 solo album is entitled "My Body Keeps Changing My Mind". There is a hint of Karen's unhappiness in her lack of a romantic life during the group's greatest popularity.

It is interesting that The Carpenters understood marketing enough to make music clips of their songs from the beginning, pre-MTV, in spite of the criticism made against them being too 'wholesome' in the 1970's hippie druggie era. Also noteworthy is the 'scandal' of the fuzz guitar solo in "Goodbye To Love", where Richard was told he had "sold out" to rock'n'roll; and how in Karen's 1980 duet with Ella Fitgerald, Ella's voice is past its prime.

Probably because Richard has such a role in this doco, it is not surprising that the appeal of the group is divided between Karen's haunting voice and Richard's gift for arrangement. He is gracious enough to admit that Karen was the star of the group, and also reveals that the over-dubbing stacked vocal harmony that was the group's sound derived from Les Paul and Mary Ford - a duo from the 1950's.
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American Masters: On Cukor (2000)
Season 15, Episode 3
intelligence, sophistication and wit
4 January 2005
This documentary on George Cukor is informative without displaying much depth, given the length of Cukor's career and the 90 minute duration. (The DVD additional interviews featured as an extra feature are actually more amusing than those in the film itself).

Cukor's homosexuality is noted, as is his infamous Sunday men only parties. However the Clark Gable rumor as to why he was really fired from Gone With The Wind is absent, and we are told that Cukor sadly never had a significant other. (The GWTW firing is said here to be due to David O Selznick's megalomania and Cukor's objections to his on-set interference).

Apart from film clips and interviews, we also see Paulette Goddard's screen test for GWTW, home movies of Hepburn and Tracy, behind the scenes footage from Sylvia Scarlett, and Joan Crawford announcing his 1962 Oscar for My Fair Lady.

Some interesting points raised are how Judy Garland was partially responsible for the idea of the Born In A Trunk sequence being added to A Star Is Born, which Cukor was against, and which lengthened it to become cut.

Although we are told Cukor hated the label "women's director" which stuck to him, general opinion is that A Star Is Born is his masterpiece, and his 50 year 10 film relationship with Hepburn is a cinematic record of collaboration.
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Prince Unauthorized (1992 Video)
what made Prince king
8 December 2004
This anonymously credited 50 min DVD features interviews with Prince's former drummer, producer, manager, adviser, musician, and music critics, describing his rise to fame, intercut with occasional video footage and scenes from the film Purple Rain. However no songs are heard presumably to avoid copyright problems. The main opinion is that Prince is a "genius", and though we see plenty of pictures of the man, there are no words from him.

Points of interest are the RSO rejection letter when Prince was trying to get a record contract, describing him as "not a talent"; his first disastrous industry showcase; the Prince mythology, including the notion of his isolation depriving him of true greatness (he is referred to as the "Howard Hughes of the music industry"); how stardom has changed him; and his competition with Michael Jackson.
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DVD extra
7 December 2004
This extra on the Collectors Edition DVD of Candyman features some interesting observations and anecdotes on the film. Bernard Rose adapted Clive Barkers short story, changing the locale from England's Liverpool to Chicago, and making Candyman a black man which he is not in Barker to explore American racial attitudes about a powerful black man seducing a white woman. Rose says that the latter is also an exploitation of 2 'blots' in American history - the massacre of the American Indians and slavery. Filming also provoked reactions when it was finishing up as the Rodney King riots occurred. We see photos of Clive Barker's childhood, Rose and Virginia Madsen talk about how she was hypnotised for her scenes with the Candyman, and we also learn how the bee scenes were accomplished.
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A Streetcar Named Desire (1995 TV Movie)
Lange and Baldwin's stage performances captured on film
20 November 2004
This made for TV movie of the classic Tennessee Williams play was produced following the Broadway revival starring Jessica Lange and Alex Baldwin, that was not critically well-received. Given the Hollywood marquee names of the stars, the idea that a film would be made with them is not too surprising, though we were deprived of Amy Madigan's Stella. (Ironically Lange's performance on stage had been criticized as being 'for the camera').

Given the gay context of Blanche DuBois as a fading old maid at 30, Lange is too old to play her, and her sturdy physicality works against the standard interpretation of Blanche as an Ophelia-ish lightweight. (Lange's waist makes the idea that Blanche has not gained weight in 10 years unintentionally funny). However Lange provides redemptive brilliant touches, that make her Blanche more accessible than that of Vivien Leigh in the 1951 feature, with Leigh's theatrical Gothic Blanche looking as if she would fit into The Munsters. (Don't get me started on Ann-Margret and the way she threw away Williams' lines in her TVM). Lange has fun with the southern accent, and makes you appreciate the beauty and wit of Williams' language. Witness what she does with Blanche's story of the death of her first husband, which director Glenn Jordan rewards her with a close-up for the climax, where she is touching in her hesitance and sorrow. Lange also looks very beautiful in half-shadow when Blanche confesses her indiscretions, though she is lit so well otherwise that the idea that Mitch has never seen Blanche 'properly' reads as silly. The mature Lange mannerisms - her giggling, whispering, preening and fidgeting - draw attention to the performance, and she does not use her low vocal tones enough, but still, this is a performance we should be glad has been captured.

Baldwin does not repeat the mistake of Treat Williams in the A-M TVM. He does not try to imitate Brando, but rather underplays his Stanley, which also does not detract from the character's cruelty. Baldwin shows his attraction to Lange's Blanche, which Brando never really did with Leigh, and his hairy chest still alludes to the hunk appeal that Stanley has for Stella. John Goodman's casting as Mitch was presumably at the suggestion of Lange, since he has appeared with her in many films, and he supplies delicate line readings. I suppose Diane Lane was cast as Stella for her earthiness, but she doesn't really match up as Lange's sister, and doesn't suggest the breeding Stella is supposed to have had.

Jordan doesn't get in Lange's way for the most part, and he succeeds in translating the piece fluidly from theater into film, though one shot of Blanche and Mitch standing apart on a porch makes us imagine how this would look on stage. The only time we are aware of the camera-work is in the last scene, where he repeats a shot of Blanche as she screams, somewhat gratuitously. That last scene is handled simply, with Blanche's fate and Lange's casting inevitably drawing parallels with Frances Farmer.

Although this version of the play allows for what was censored in the original production eg Blanche's husband's being a 'degenerate, thematically the treatment still has some trouble spots. Here Blanche seems to offer little resistance to Stanley's rape, and Stella does not reject Stanley once her sister is taken away. That rape remains as an in-balance in the power struggle - something you would think to be unforgivable by Stella, and certainly undeserving to Blanche. She may have been a relative overstaying her welcome, but is Blanche believable as a force that could destroy Stanley's marriage?
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DVD extra
10 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This short promoting Far From Heaven uses behind-the-scene footage, scenes from the film, and interviews. It also has posters, trailers, titles and quick scenes from the Douglas Sirk films which director Todd Haynes approximates - All I Desire, All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, and Imitation of Life. Haynes says he likes Julianne Moore because of her restraint, and the only time we are shown him directing her is about blocking.

This kind of short is one of those that is so full of excerpts that it is best viewed after having seen the feature. It's not that it shows any of the spicy spoilers, but it provides a lot of narrative via mixed editing.
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DVD extra
15 October 2004
This making of short is as pretentious and dull as the film Elephant itself. Scored to a Bach sonata, it features untitled interviews with Alex, Elias, John and Michelle; fighting hijinks between Alex, Eric and John; Gus van Sant in the editing room; slow motion; black and white film stock; and dissolve overlaps. The tank-like steadicam apparatus looks funny, and we also see the hand-held camera that was used for the long tracking shots. Van Sant is seen directing, Michelle in particular, where he shows her how to move, and the volumes of film cans is evidence of the multitude of footage apparently shot. You also see in the scene where Alex is pelted with stuff, how the teacher tells him to go and clean it off (which is not in the film) and how some of the material had also landed on a glass case behind where he sat, I suppose further evidence of the teacher's indifference.
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It's never too late to change your life story
12 October 2004
This lovely Canadian feature has Claire Bloom, playing younger than her real age and looking plump, as an English woman who leaves her marriage after 40 years. Although the narrative presents living on the pension as near-homelessness, with Bloom rifling through garbage to find useful items, her new life also happens to provide her with a protective boarding-type house, and a romance with a younger man. The romance is helped by the charm of Danjel Lavdie who plays off Bloom's elegance - though she uses a manic laugh to suggest that isn't totally a lady.

The treatment features an unintentional laugh in a gay man's line "I've never seen someone so careless with his (chess) queen", and a funny intentional exchange between Bloom and her ogre husband - "Couldn't ply your legs apart with a crowbar", "That probably wasn't the best way to try".

Susannah York pops up as Bloom's oldest friend, but she is featured in some of director Claude Fournier's ill-advised fantasy scenes - one where a boy in a thong parades for both women, and others where the characters are outlined with white light.
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silk on one side, sandpiper on the other
20 August 2004
This Gene Feldman documentary features funny anecdotes and insights from Sheree North and Celeste Holm especially, describing the drive and will behind Monroe's sadomasochistic help-me pose. Holm tells that Monroe studied Betty Grable, in particular, to imitate her, though Monroe only occasionally paralleled Grable's brassy quality.

Feldman edits the song Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend to footage of Monroe's ascending success at the time of the film it came from, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but the narration incorrectly names her last film as Something HAS to Give.

What emerges from this study is the irony of Monroe's celebrity and how her need for publicity and attention to further her career did not come with the respect she so wanted as an actress. The end does not comment on the way Monroe died, with no mention of the Kennedy- associated murder conspiracy theory, and the highlight of Monroe's acting is said to be in Bus Stop. Otherwise, the label 'sex goddess' is repeated to an extent that you would guess that Marilyn herself would feel is reductive.

Actors Clark Gordon and Susan Strasberg all offer impersonations of Monroe, with Strasberg's own natural elegance in counterpoint to Monroe's perceived tackiness.
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