Monday, January 21, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette's death reminds me that, though she was one of those people who finally did achieve some measure of renown (playing Emily, the wife on "The Bob Newhart Show"), she was a very talented and quite lovely actress who was seen as an also-ran. Her biggest success on Broadway (and she was quite young at the time) was as the successor to Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker"; she was then signed by Warner Brothers as the sort of second-rung Natalie Wood (small, petite, pretty brunette), and put into some of the programmers that Wood had outgrown (cf. "Rome Adventure"). She's quite charming in "The Birds", though her character is secondary to Tippi Hedren's (in the same way that Diane Baker is secondary to Hedren in "Marnie", and you can see Hitchcock setting up the contrasts in the same way)... now that reminds me of something someone wrote, about Hitchcock and his preference for the (untalented, uninteresting) blondes, as opposed to the more talented and more interesting "brunettes" (though not all of them were brunettes). In "To Catch a Thief", there's Grace Kelly as opposed to Brigitte Auber, in "Vertigo", there's Kim Novak as opposed to Barbara Bel Geddes, in "The Birds", it's Tippi Hedren as opposed to Suzanne Pleshette, and in "Marnie", it's Hedren as opposed to Diane Baker. But who wrote that? I know it wasn't Stanley Kauffmann (i know Stanley never gave Hitchcock that much thought), but was it Wilfred Sheed? Dwight MacDonald? But Suzanne Pleshette was an example of the problems at the end of the studio system, and the talented people who really didn't get a chance.

Last night, watched the full-length "The Bullfighter and the Lady"... realized that i had only seen it sometime in the 1970s at a Boetticher retrospective (where? The Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle? The Thalia?), and that it had run 87 minutes, so it was a treat (after all these years) to see the full-length version. Very impressive. As for blond love objects: if Robert Stack isn't one in that movie, i don't know from love objects. I had always thought that in "A Date With Judy" he was to swoon over (and Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor did a good job as audience surrogates), but in "The Bullfighter and the Lady" he is simply to die for. But the authenticity (which Pauline had cited in her recommendation of the film) is really apparent in the full-length "The Bullfighter and the Lady", and Boetticher's impulse towards documentary (which would try to fulfill itself in "Arruzza") is very much present in the very detailed and meticulous sequences of the bullfights and the preparations. It was also nice to see Joy Page.

Larry and i watched "Superstar", because we got a new DVD-VHS player over Christmas (our old VHS player died on us at the end of the summer) and we hadn't yet tried it out. So we put in the old VHS tape that Todd gave us decades ago. Of course, we were afraid that the whole thing would be a mess (it's been almost two decades since Todd gave me that tape... probably, what? 1989?) since VHS tapes have been known to disintegrate... but it's ok!

After "The Bullfighter and the Lady", TCM played "Fiesta", the inane comedy with Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban as twins! There are some movies that you really shouldn't admit that you've seen, i think "Fiesta" falls into that category. And Esther Williams doesn't even get to swim! (Was it Fanny Brice who said of her, "Wet, she is a star, dry, she ain't"?)

But we watched "The L Word" on our other TV, so i spent time going back and forth, watching "The Bullfighter and the Lady" and "The L Word". The little "Charlie's Angels" parody at the beginning was charming, but what was really nice was seeing Katherine Moennig with different hair and makeup. That is one very pretty girl. (I, of course, have a crush on her, and on Daniela Sea.)

But this reminds me that over the weekend, on some board i posted, i made a comment on how so many people (the person under discussion was Rita Johnson, but it could just as easily be Frances Dee or Kay Johnson) really never had opportunities under the studio system, and this kind of waste of talent highlights the problems that existed under the studio system. And someone wrote in, yes, but why did the studio system make so many great movies?

And (of course) the answer is: did they? Are those movies really great, or have we been educated to think that (say) "Gone With the Wind" is a great movie, or "Casablanca"? And if so, isn't it a sign of the degradation of our tastes that we would accept this crap as art? And that we wouldn't know "art" when we see it?

It's like when i was trying to explain why Leslie Caron would be so angry about her MGM contract, and why she hated her days at MGM... she was a Frenchwoman, raised in France, and when, in 1954-55, she was contacted by Rene Clair and Jean Renoir about possible projects, wouldn't she (as a Frenchwoman with some degree of knowledge of French culture) be thrilled? And wouldn't she be furious when MGM told her she couldn't do them? That MGM controlled what she could do? What she did do was marry George Hormel and stop making movies for a while.

And people were saying how she was an ingrate, because MGM made her a star. But is being an American movie star really the aim for a French girl who was training to be a ballet dancer? In 1949, Caron was signed by Marcel Carne for a movie, that was to star Gerard Philippe. What happened was that scouts from MGM saw the screentest (since they were looking for someone who could dance), and MGM bought out the contract that Caron and her parents had already signed. (The Carne movie was made, it turned out to be "Juliette ou la Clef des Songes", and the replacement would be Suzanne Cloutier, who also wound up being Desdemona in Welles's "Othello" for the same reason, the various actresses Welles tried to get to be in his film always had to leave, and she was the one who was able to stick it out.) So instead of working with Gerard Philippe, Caron is in Hollywood working with Gene Kelly...

But so many people think that Hollywood is the aim, and (really) it's not for a lot of people. That's what people don't understand. It wasn't for Leslie Caron, and she wound up resenting the whole process (especially when she missed things like the chance to work with Renoir).

It reminds me of one time when Kenny was trying to talk to David... David was in jail at that point, and he wanted Kenny to send him some books. And David wanted... i don't know. Something like Stephen King or John Grisham. And Kenny was trying to explain why David should read Victor Serge's "Men in Prison" or even Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song" (two of Kenny's very favorite books), and they're talking on the phone, and Kenny said, "But they're more better!" And then Kenny tried to explain the difference, how some books try to be profound and make you know how other people really think and feel, and not just how people just get in trouble.

I was very touched by that moment.

But so many people think that Hollywood represents the summation of "art" in our culture. And perhaps they're right, because (of course) that was Warhol's point.

Oh, yes, the other day, when i was walking downtown, i saw Matthew Barney, and he was with his little daughter (whom he put on his shoulders), and she was dressed in a little parka, but she also had on a little pink hood... with little cat ears on it! I couldn't help it, my immediate thought was, well, like mother like daughter, she gets her fashion sense from her mother (Bjork).


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