Tuesday, July 30, 2013


“Everyone that watches ‘Deep Throat’ is watching me being raped.” 
― Linda Lovelace, in her 1980 book, Ordeal  

“Yes, there’s a lot of nudity, but it’s a message movie about respecting women.”
 Producer Patrick Muldoon, speaking to the press about his 2013 film, Lovelace

Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy Stratten and Eric Roberts as  Paul Snider in Bob Fosse's last film, the morbid and depressing, Star 80
America loves its porn, but it’s never quite sure how it feels about it. Looking at the theatrical trailer for Lovelace, the forthcoming biopic of 70s Deep Throat porn sensation, Linda Lovelace; I was struck by how much it reminded me, both in subject and approach, of Star 80, Bob Fosse’s 1983 film about Playboy Playmate, Dorothy Stratten.

Both films tell the story of unsophisticated small-town girls who come under the influential wing of sleazy, disarmingly charming - ultimately controlling and abusive - lovers/managers who pimp the women out to the sex industries. Hardcore porn in Linda Lovelace's case (nee, Linda Susan Boreman); the sanitized, mainstream-porn limbo of “men’s magazine” nude photography in the instance of Dorothy Stratten.
photo: The Times
Peter Sarsgaard & Amanda Seyfried (top) portray Linda Lovelace and husband Chuck Traynor (below) in the film, Lovelace (2013).

The trailers for Star 80 and Lovelace are available for viewing on YouTube, with their similarities extending not only to leaving vague each film’s attitude about any presumed passivity or unwitting complicity on the part of these women in their fates, but in addition: near-identical prototypical sleazeball boyfriends assayed by Peter Sarsgaard in Lovelace and Erich Roberts in Star 80 (Roberts also happens to be in the cast of Lovelace); scenes of a woman dominated and forcibly seated in a chair by an aggressive male; and, most intriguingly, a subliminal “inheritance of exploitation” element introduced by the casting of conspicuously deglamorized former sex-symbols (Carroll Baker in Star 80, Sharon Stone in Lovelace) as the mothers of these victimized women.
Given our culture’s ambiguous relationship with industries that traffic in the commodification of sex, it’s perhaps not surprising that whenever we choose to train a cinematic spotlight on pornography, it’s not by way of celebration, but through the dramatic prism of a moral cautionary tale. (Although one might think, in an industry raking in upwards of $1.8-billion annually, there must be somebody celebrating somewhere.)
Lovelace and Star 80 tell tragic true-life tales of women suffering physical abuse at the hands of a professional Svengali. Stratten was ultimately murdered by hers, Lovelace broke free. But the air of sadness that always seemed an intractable part of Linda Lovelace's liberated, anti-porn countenance, hinted at a psychological scarring that prevented one from taking much comfort in her too-public emancipation. The message one gets from the trailers is clear: pornography is dehumanizing. The analogy unassailable: the porn industry and mainstream show business are not dissimilar in their treatment and exploitation of women.

But what about the films themselves?  Is it possible to make a film about sexual exploitation without inadvertently resorting to (and in effect, participating in and sanctioning) the very kind of behavior it seeks to indict?

Read the complete article at HERE at Movieline.com

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Saturday, July 27, 2013


It’s Christmas in July! Or, at least that’s how it feels since I got it in my head this month to read (for the first time!) Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. An act which, in turn, brought about my umpteenth revisit to the 1970 big-budget musical flop Scrooge (mercifully, without an exclamation point), my absolute favorite screen adaptation of this oft-told holiday allegory.

A Christmas Carol and its tale of a miserly old curmudgeon who finds spiritual redemption through the intervention of three spectral warnings, has been adapted, reworked and re-imagined so many times and in so many different formats that reference sources can't even agree on an actual number. I've seen and suffered through a great many over the years myself, the best of the lot being the well-regarded 1951 Alastair Sim version; that beloved staple of my childhood, Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol (1962); and, a particular favorite, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. But no adaptation rouses me, touches my heart, or gets the waterworks flowing for me like Scrooge. I just adore it. It may not be the most faithful Dickens adaptation, or even the best, but like the tree atop the Capitol Records Building in my neighborhood of Hollywood, it never fails to make me feel like it's Christmas. And as such, it's the most thoroughly charming and satisfying of all the versions of A Christmas Carol I've ever seen.
Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge
Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley
Dame Edith Evans as The Ghost of Christmas Past
Kenneth More as The Ghost of Christmas Present
A brief look at the films released in 1970 reveals a kind of battle being raged at the boxoffice. Old-fashioned, elephantine studio releases like Airport, Tora!Tora!Tora!, and Ryan’s Daughter were duking it out with smaller, youth-centric films like M*A*S*H, Five Easy Pieces, and Diary of a Mad Housewife. When my friends and I went to the movies on weekends, it was often a choice between what we called “parents' movies” or “something good,” which usually meant something pretentious, grounded in “realism,” or with nudity (preferably, all three).
Old-style Hollywood movies, particularly musicals, were considered "plastic." Something which, in post-'60s vernacular, was appreciably worse than old-fashioned. Plastic meant artificial, contrived, corny, and old-hat. Hollywood, which had grown increasingly out of touch with public tastes in the latter part of that decade, could have saved itself untold headaches (not to mention millions) by heeding the cultural warning signs and not continuing to sink money into pricey dinosaurs like Star! (1968), Hello Dolly (1969), and Paint Your Wagon (1969) long after interest in films of this scope had waned.
Dancing on His Grave
The townsfolk celebrate Scrooge's demise in the exuberant (and Best Song Oscar-nominated) "Thank You Very Much," a number owing a considerable debt to Oliver!'s "Consider Yourself"
An excellent example of how abruptly tastes had changed by 1970 is apparent in the way movie fans that year avoided Barbra Streisand doing what she does best (singing) in the G-rated On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in favor of seeing her in a more realistic milieu (crassly so, many thought) playing a foul-mouthed, non-singing, New York prostitute in the R-rated and hilarious The Owl & the Pussycat. Even Julie Andrews, the lady primarily responsible for reviving the musical genre with The Sound of Music, couldn't get fans to turn out for Darling Lili that same year. Tellingly, the only movie musicals young people went to see in 1970 were all documentaries: Woodstock, The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, and The Beatles’ Let It Be.
The Ghost of Hollywood Yet to Come
By the '70s, big studio productions like Scrooge were already a dying breed. 

While the story of Ebenezer Scrooge had a pre-sold market familiarity and a royalties-free public domain accessibility, the mounting of a large-scale, wholly British musical production of the material was a hard sell from the start. Albert Finney was known to American audiences for his Academy Award-nominated/Golden Globe-winning performance in Tom Jones (1963), but was nobody's idea of a boxoffice draw. Likewise, director Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss JeanBrodie, The Poseidon Adventure) was hardly a household name. Screenwriter/composer Leslie Bricusse was seen as something of a drawing card due to his long association with entertainer Anthony Newley, but whatever goodwill he'd built up on the strength of Broadway hits like Stop the World I Want to Get Off (1961) was compromised by being very publicly associated with the double-barreled bombs: Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969) and Doctor Dolittle (1967).
Saddled with feebly-rendered posters and a terrible ad campaign practically designed to scare audiences away (“Scrooge - All Singing! All Dancing! All Heart!”), Scrooge limped into theaters in November of 1970, with its only marketing hooks being the familiarity of Dickens' story and the surprising presence of a handsome 34-year-old leading man cast in the role of the crotchety old miser.
Albert Finney as young Ebenezer, Suzanne Neve as Isabel Fezziwig, the love he let get away

For all the above-stated reasons, I steered clear of Scrooge when it came out. But when it began to make the rounds on TV every Christmas, I regretted never having granted myself the opportunity to see it on the big screen. Even in its heavily-edited* state, it thoroughly delighted and captivated me.

*Perversely, early TV broadcasts eliminated most of the musical number "Thank You Very Much," arguably the most lively and kid-friendly song in Scrooge's lovely but somewhat sluggish score. They also edited out the scenes of Scrooge in hell and some of the scarier stuff involving Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Ignoring that children's classics like The Wizard of Oz are heavy on both scares and cheerful music, like a death wish, the networks instead zeroed in on Scrooge's warmth...a guaranteed humbug for children's Christmastime viewing. Happily, the DVD has everything restored.
Banished to Hell, Scrooge is shown the ropes
(or, in this case, chains) by his old friend, Jacob Marley 

I do not mean to sell Scrooge short, but I'd be less than honest if, in praising this well-acted and wholly pleasing adaptation, I fail to mention that I'm a bit of a soft touch when it comes to A Christmas Carol as a story. There is just something I find so elementally moving in the hopeful theme of personal transformation, the retrieval of the lost soul, and the warming of a frozen heart. The idea that all people, no matter how deeply mired in the selfish and superficial, have within them the potential for positive change has always been one of my narrative pet weaknesses. It just rips me up. It would be a poor adaptation of A Christmas Carol, indeed, that doesn't have me in tears by the time Ebenezer begins to see the error of his ways. Scrooge does this job exceptionally well, and by the film’s last 10 minutes I’m fairly a mess.
Albert Finney won a  Best Actor Golden Globe for Scrooge. He would sing onscreen again as Daddy Warbucks in 1982's Annie

There’s something about the fairy-tale quality of Dickens’ writing - present in A Christmas Carol in particular - which lends itself to easy transfer to a musical format. The characters have great, Seussical names like Fezziwig and Cratchit (and, of course, the onomatopoeic perfection that is Ebenezer Scrooge…which is, like, the best name EVER!), and the broad emotions of Scrooge’s reality are, almost like musical counterpoint to the melancholy tenderness of the story's sentimentality. When the two contrasting worlds mesh during the last act, it feels like a musical crescendo.
The redemption/transformation musical medley that makes up the final act of  Scrooge (wherein many of the songs that had previously underscored highlighted Scrooge's misanthropy are converted into anthems celebrating his magnanimity) is the star on top of this particular cinema Christmas tree. It's funny, it's moving, and I wish I could watch it just once without getting all choked up.

Because the story itself has such a musical rhythm, Leslie Bricusse's score of melodic, undistinguished songs feel perfectly fine without being particularly noteworthy. The songs are pleasant enough, propelling the plot, fleshing out character and motivation, and, when they are at their best, expressing joy. But unlike say, the songs of the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins, Bedknobs & Broomsticks) whose melodies for Disney movies are so infectious they have almost become nursery rhymes and childhood classics; no matter how often I see Scrooge, I can’t remember a single song afterward except “Thank You Very Much.” On the plus side, the forgettable nature of Bricusse's songs has the effect of making the film feel new to me each time I revisit it.
David Collings and Frances Cuka as Bob & Ethel Cratchit
I love adaptations of A Christmas Carol that deviate from the book text and
 allow for scenes of the Cratchit family reacting to the rehabilitated Scrooge.

Where Scrooge surpasses so many other versions of A Christmas Carol for me is in the pleasure I derive from Albert Finney’s bilious take on Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a great deal of fun as a devoted killjoy, barking insults at people and shoving children out of his path. So much so that one is likely to be reluctant to see him rehabilitated too soon. As should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen his Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, Finney is a movie star with the heart of a character actor. Concealing makeup and prosthetics that would swallow up lesser actors only seem to liberate the versatile British actor from the limitations imposed by his "leading man" good looks.
As Scrooge, Finney’s transformation is mostly body language, and he plays Ebenezer as a sad, disappointed man who has steeled himself from pain by stiffening and gnarling his entire countenance into a knot of meanness.
Scrooge contemplates his younger self

I have no idea what that shooting budget for Scrooge was, but the film looks great in that old-fashioned, shot-entirely-in-a-studio way that triggers a certain nostalgia. The scope of the film isn't as grandiose as its spiritual cousin Oliver!, but Scrooge boasts a distinguished cast of British actors, pleasing period detail in costumes and sets, and the overall look of it is finely turned-out and sumptuous. The special effects, which must have been pretty dazzling in 1970, are pretty primitive by today's standards, but rendered all the more charming by that fact (God, am I tired of CGI). Also, I think most of the cast, if not all, does its own singing! 
A Page Out of Dickens
Bob Cratchit with son Tiny Tim (Richard Beaumont) and daughter, Kathy (Karen Scargill)

Christmas is my favorite holiday season. And living here in L.A., its a beautiful time where the city of glitter and glitz puts on an extra layer of tinsel that makes a simple walk down the street feel like you're starring in your own MGM musical. It's not my usual habit to watch holiday movies in the swelter of summer, but in this case, I had such a blast (and a REALLY good cry) revisiting the world of Charles Dickens. Dickens by way of a delightful musical film that just happened to have been released when delightful musical films were no longer on America's agenda of moviegoing prerequisites. If Scrooge isn't already considered a holiday classic, it should be. It stands as an excellent reminder that just because a film is out of step with the times in which it was made, doesn't necessarily mean that it's a film out of step.
"God bless Us, Every One!"

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2013

Saturday, July 20, 2013


In writing about films, I'm afraid I'm guilty of coming down pretty hard on the recent spate of comic book movies. My usual gripes:
1. The cloak of self-seriousness they've shrouded themselves in of late.
2. The need for each successive film in a franchise to be busier, noisier, and more frenetically-plotted than the last.
3. The gradual usurpation of the kid-friendly genre by adult males (college-age to middle) willing to come to social media blows and death threats over plot points, casting, trivia, and fidelity to source material. Which, it bears repeating…is a Comic Book.
4. There just being so darn many of them.

Despite their obvious popularity and profitability, I still stand by my assertion that glutting the market with so much ideologically and stylistically similar "product" may be good business, but it's lousy art. But whenever I find myself being too much of a curmudgeon about the ceaseless hype surrounding the latest cookie-cutter entry in the DC or Marvel franchise, I only have to remind myself of what a flurry of hoopla and excitement I happily allowed myself to get swept up in way back in 1978. 
I don't think there was a soul on earth more charged-up about the release of Superman: The Movie. A film that was then, and remains today, my absolute favorite superhero movie of all time.
Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent
Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher

Like many people my age, Superman comic books and reruns of The Adventures of Superman TV series (1952-1958) were an inextricable part of my childhood. And, outside of a few Saturday morning cartoons, they were also the only Superman I knew. (The less said about the 1975 TV version of the 1966 Broadway musical, It's a Bird… It's a Plane… It's Superman the better). So while I dearly loved the TV series, when it was announced in 1976 that a mega-budget, all-star Superman film was going into production, I was overjoyed at the prospect of any form of updating of that program's '50s sensibilities (gangsters and crime lords), cheesy flying effects, and George Reeves' baggy-kneed Superman tights. 
Interest and excitement intensified as I opened myself up to being subjected to nearly two years of pre-production hype and advance publicity. I ate it up. By the time the film was set to open, I had whipped myself into a proper frenzy of anticipation.  
Marlon Brando and Susannah York as Jor-El & Lara
Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter as Ma & Pa Kent

Superman: The Movie opened Friday, December 15th, 1978, at Grauman's Chinese Theater in LA, and, of course, I was in line opening night. The pre-release press reviews were near-unanimous raves. The film's marketing strategyminimalist teaser ads dramatically highlighting the Superman insignia and little else—left everyone intrigued yet completely in the dark. In those pre-internet days, it was easier for movies to keep much of their content under wraps before release, so buzzing through the waiting crowd that night was the thrill of expectation, wonder, and the sense of being present for an "event." 
The first weekend of release saw the theater adding late-night screenings to accommodate the overflowing masses. The line I stood in (formed at 4pm to get into an 8pm show) wrapped almost around the block. Camaraderie born of the shared battle fatigue of waiting so long revealed that all any of us could talk about was how Superman: The Movie was going to stack up, special effects-wise, to the previous year's megahit, Star Wars. That, and speculating on how the film intended to make good on the promise of its tagline: "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly." 
The makers of Superman had a knack for setting up and meeting audience expectations.
The first time Reeve unveils the "new" Superman outfit (no baggy knees!)
 is also the first time the audience finds out how this particular Superman will fly.
The audience I saw it with started cheering the moment they saw that cape and blue tights. But when the Man of Steele took off in graceful flight, throwing us a literal curve by banking the wall of the fortress (no prior Superman had ever flown in any directions other than horizontal and vertical) ...the cheers and applause reached stadium levels. 

George Reeves, the Superman of childhood.
Christopher Reeve, my favorite Superman of all time.

Whenever I rewatch Superman, I can still remember, clear as a bell, what it was like seeing it that first time. First, there was that familiar rumble of excitement that passed through the packed theater as the lights dimmed and everyone sat higher in their seats and got in their last-minute shushes. Then, that moment when the square aspect ratio of the B&W prologue is literally pushed into 70mm widescreen color (and MAJOR amplified Dobly sound) by those laser-like "flying credits" whooshing towards us. The loudest boom (which sounded like a jet plane taking off) was reserved for the appearance of the Superman insignia, which seemed to zoom in over our heads onto the screen from somewhere at the back of the theater. 
Next came the first trumpeting of horns of composer John Williams' majestically heroic score, and with this, absolute pandemonium in the auditorium. The biggest collective gasp I've ever heard in my life filled the Chinese Theater, followed by applause and thrilled exclamations all around. 
Superman wasn't even two minutes old and already had the audience eating out of its hand.
Otis (Ned Beatty) and Miss Teschmacher read about the Man of  Steel. I think Otis moves his lips.

Although production on Superman had begun before Star Wars was released, Superman: The Movie arose from the same cultural zeitgeist. In concept and execution, it was another affectionate update and tribute to the kinds of films that kids of my generation grew up seeing at Saturday matinees. The cynical and disillusioned '70s—whose attitudes echoed the Great Depression of the 1930swere searching for hope and heroes. (That other Depression Era optimist, Annie, had opened on Broadway just a year before in early 1977.) The simplicity of Superman's motto: a belief in "truth, justice, and the American way," struck a social chord.
Superman: The Movie accomplished the miracle of being something totally new, yet comfortingly nostalgic. Something sophisticated, yet charmingly corny. Something spoofishly fun, yet respectful of both the Superman legend and its legions of fans. And, for once, a film had lived up to its massive hype. 

When action films and summer blockbusters come under critical fire for being moronic, shoddily written, or just a series of explosions and car chases strung haphazardly together (directors Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich come to mind), I always take umbrage when their lazy defense is: "It's not supposed to be taken seriously," "It's pure escapism!", or "It's intended for kids!"
As children's book authors Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl could tell you, kids aren't stupid, and escapist fare doesn't mean mindless.  
Jackie Cooper as Perry White
What I love about Superman: The Movie is how smart it is. Correction: make that ingenious. It's the canniest transfer of a comic book character to the movie screen I've ever seen. The script is witty and sharp, the tone is winkingly arch, and there are many thrills to be had in the film's masterfully-handled action sequences. But best of all, the film never plays down to the audience. 
Expertly balancing ever-shifting tones of adventure, romance, drama, and comedy, Superman: The Movie employs a classic, three-act story structure and finds ways to lend dimension to its comic-book-originated characters. 
Jeff East as Young Clark Kent
Though the budget for Superman: The Movie tipped at $55 million, an element that plays out nicely over time is the human-sized scale of the film's narrative. Hewing closely to the simplicity of the original comic books and TV series, the villainous stakes of Lex Luthor and his henchmen may come across as modest compared to the overcrowded, overplotted, mass-mayhem destruction noise fests of today. But for me, the film's accessible scale is a significant part of its charm.
I like a Superman who has time to rescue cats from trees and apprehend common thieves. I find the whole "global destruction" angle of contemporary superhero films just too emotionally distancing.
Jor-El sentences Ursa, Non, and General Zod to the Phantom Zone
Villains Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran, & Terence Stamp
don't really make their presence felt until Superman II (1980)

During the entirety of my childhood George Reeves and Noel Neill were the only Superman and Lois Lane I knew. Now, rather spontaneously, when I think of Superman and Lois Lane, I can only see Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Their performances have blotted out all prior and subsequent incarnations of the characters. Both actors are such spot-on, visually witty, temperamentally ideal incarnations of the characters that they have become Superman and Lois for me. 
Lke Jeremy Irons in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Reeve's dual performance
 involves subtle shifts in body language that transform his features right before my eyes

I've loved movies all my life, but I've never fully understood that imperceptible, interdependent alchemy the camera captures that accounts for screen chemistry and star quality. It strikes me as a most elusive, ethereal factor, yet the fates of multimillion-dollar movie projects are tethered to it. Both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are fine actors in their own right, but for me, they've never registered as effectively in any other film or with any other co-star. They are magic together, and I treasure every scene they share. 
The casting of Marlon Brando was a central thrust of Superman's early publicity, but time has revealed his contribution to have been simultaneously significant (the Brando persona adds gravitas to the whole "Father of Superman" thing) and negligible (any number of competent actors could have done as well).
However, I've nothing but unqualified praise for the rest of the marvelous cast assembled.  
I sense a great deal of the credit is owed to director Richard Donner (The Omen), who, after setting the right tone and creating a kind of cartoon reality, then has his actors pitch their performances to just the right level of believable and comic. Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter play their scenes with a beautiful, relaxed naturalness that perfectly sets up the "comic book" style acting that takes over when Clark moves to Metropolis. Jackie Cooper's excitable Perry White is one of my favorite performances, and I am particularly delighted by Gene Hackman and his barely-up-to-the-task minions Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty.
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen
Swoon alert. One of the top reasons Superman: The Movie is my fave rave superhero movie is because I am absolutely enchanted by the Superman/Lois Lane romance. And as embodied by Reeve and Kidder, they make for one of cinema's most charismatic and charming screen couples. I'm a sucker for corny romance anyway, but in taking the time to create a Lois and Clark that are quirky, imperfect, and endearing, Superman made the pair so likable that you're practically rooting for them to fall in love. 
*Spoiler Ahead*
I'm well past middle age, I've seen this movie dozens of times, and it's a movie adapted from a comic book for Chrissakes; but when Lois dies at the end, I get waterworks each and every time. Christopher Reeve's performance is just remarkable (I love that bit when he tenderly places her body on the ground and winces, as if afraid to hurt her even in death). The entire sequence is a tribute to what writers can achieve in a big-budget genre film if they remember a film's audience comprises human beings, not market analysts. Superman made me believe in these fictional characters by getting me to identify with them and care about what happens to them. Today, I think superhero films are out to get their audiences to have a relationship with the stunts, gadgetry, and special effects. .
The Effects Are Fake, The Characters Are Real
Since the relationship between Lois and Clark looms so large in my fondness for the film,  it never bothers me that the special effects in Superman look so dated. In an ironic twist, today's superhero films have special effects that are eye-poppingly real; only the characters are cardboard.

I'd be remiss in praising Superman without making special mention of the indispensable contributions of famed cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (Murder on the Orient Express, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Cabaret) and composer John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind). A master of light with an eloquent eye for composition, Unsworth gives Superman a distinctive sheen (evident in the screencaps used here), its degree of impact made all the more conspicuous by how significantly subsequent Superman films suffered due to their lack of visual distinction.  
And what can I say about John William's epic Superman theme? Absolute perfection! It deftly strikes the right chord of nostalgia by recalling the classic TV show theme, yet feels like a wholly new take on those soaring themes from serials and adventure films of yesteryear. Williams' score is one of those real goosebump-inducing anthems that absolutely MAKES the film. As far as I'm concerned, John Williams is as responsible for Superman's success as Richard Donner.
Past Meets Present
The best joke in the film, and the one that got the absolute biggest, loudest laugh of the evening, was the sight gag featuring Clark Kent, in full retro "This looks like a job for Superman!" mode, encountering his first modern phone booth.

After 1980's Superman II (which I very much enjoyed), it's fair to say I haven't liked a single Superman incarnationfilm or TVsince. I do intend seeing Man of Steel (2013) when it comes out on DVD*, although I admit, my expectations aren't very high. 

*Update 2014: Watched Man of Steel and my jaw never left the floor, stunned as I was for how epic a miscalculation the whole costly enterprise was.
So, the point of this post is that, despite my grousing, I really do "get it" when it comes to the public's fascination with comic book movies today. Even without needing to call them 'graphic novels." I appreciate that illustration is a valid narrative medium and doesn't instantly brand a work as lightweight or intended only for children. 
It's natural to want to recapture the sense of wonder movies had for us as kids. And I can't think of a better reminder of that fact than Superman: The Movie

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013


Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. It's a strange feeling, indeed, to harbor a fond memory of a film enjoyed in childhood, only to reencounter it as an adult and find yourself at a complete loss as to what captured your imagination in the first place.
Had this post been written in the recollection of the many times I enjoyed Inside Daisy Clover on late-night TV as a kid, I'm certain my comments and observations would reflect my generally positive response to this not-uninteresting-in-concept (but veering towards camp in execution), very '60s look at 1930s Hollywood and the dark underbelly of the film industry. Back when I could only see Inside Daisy Clover in black & white with commercial interruptions, I guess I was just young enough to have found the era-inappropriate music to be rousing, and the strung-together show biz clichés that make up its plot to be a bold inversion of the usual rags-to-riches success story.
So when, after many years, the opportunity arose for me to finally get a look at Inside Daisy Clover in color, digitally restored, and widescreen, I couldn't pass it up. Alas, I should have left things as they were.
Natalie Wood as Daisy Clover
Robert Redford as Wade Lewis
Christopher Plummer as Raymond Swan
Ruth Gordon as Mrs. Clover
Inside Daisy Clover (adapted by Gavin Lambert from his 1963 novel) is about two traumatic years in the life of its titular character, a 15-year-old Santa Monica beach urchin with a big voice ("I open my mouth and a song comes out") who, in 1936 Hollywood, becomes America's Little Valentine virtually overnight. Advertised at the time with the tagline "The story of what they did to a kid...," Inside Daisy Clover is a behind-the-scenes exposé of the Hollywood Dream Machine as assembly-line sweatshop. A hardhearted fantasy factory that systematically exploits its talent, treats them like property, and ultimately (and callously) discards those who are too sensitive to withstand the near-constant demoralization. All in the pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. It's a story Hollywood never seems to tire of telling about itself, this time the familiar tinsel-town pathos given a tawdry facelift by having an adolescent as the target of all the abuse. That is, of course, if you can buy 26-year-old Natalie Wood as a 15-year-old. 
Natalie Wood felt her performance was compromised when the heavily edited film (21 minutes were cut prior to release) left much of her character's motivation and voiceover narration on the cutting room floor. I shudder to think what they left out when what they left in are such piquant Daisy-isms as: "My mother says the world's a garbage dump, and we're just the flies it attracts. Maybe she's right. But when I sing, the smell doesn't seem so bad."

Two things struck me on seeing Inside Daisy Clover again after so many years: 1) A common complaint I have about '60s period films, one so pervasive I should by now accept it as a given (yet can't) is that '60s movies are notorious for always looking like the '60s, no matter what era they intend to depict. Inside Daisy Clover goes through all the trouble of changing the novel's 1950s setting to Hollywood in the 1930s, but beyond a few vintage automobiles scattered here and there, there's a notable lack of period authenticity.

I know it's partly a matter of aesthetics… '30s standards of beauty (pencil-thin eyebrows, baggy clothing, severe hairdos) can be unflattering to celebrities who still need to look alluring to their contemporary fans. But in Inside Daisy Clover, a movie I assume wants to be taken seriously, its anachronistic appearance merely comes off as lazy, cheap, and uncommitted. Compare Inside Daisy Clover's studio-bound, overlit artifice to the gritty 1930s authenticity rendered just four years later in Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Movie fans who mourn the loss of Old Hollywood need a film like Inside Daisy Clover to remind them of what used to pass for gritty realism in movies before foreign films and Bonnie and Clyde came along to shake things up.  
Former child stars Natalie Wood and Roddy McDowall. 
McDowall (a tad overqualified for such a small role) appears as Walter Baines,
producer Raymond Swan's vaguely sinister flunky 

2) Why is it that when Hollywood attempts to be hard on itself and show the world its true face, warts and all, it comes across as being phonier than when it's feeding us platitudes and myths? Based on what's come to light over the years about the lives of countless child actors, the events of Inside Daisy Clover are far from exaggerated (although perhaps over-acted). Yet, so little of what happens onscreen feels particularly true to life. 
Part of it's due to the performances, which seldom move beyond surface indications of emotions. Another part points to the writing. Everything grim in the movie has been unnecessarily pitched to melodrama (Plummer's Swan only lacks a top hat, cape, and a handlebar mustache to twirl), and those aspects that should be emotionally moving or affecting instead feel under-directed and unengaging. 
For example, Daisy's frequent outbursts and eruptions of temper have all the requisite sound and fury, but there's no anguish behind them. I suspect they're supposed to be born of Daisy's inability to articulate complex feelings, but in Natalie Wood's hands, her often one-note performance turns a young girl's pain into a series of shrill tantrums.
Daisy Clover's nervous breakdown while looping a song in a sound booth has become a camp touchstone over the years. I found it quite harrowing when I first saw it as a kid. Now, Natalie's histrionics are overshadowed by my taking note of the inspired sound editing, which is quite marvelously done.

For reasons that make sense only to me, Inside Daisy Clover remains weirdly engrossing and watchable in spite of not being in the least bit good. How is this possible? Well, chiefly due to my certainty that the entire film is haunted by the campy ghost of Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara in Valley of the Dolls. I can't help it. When I watch Inside Daisy Cloverfrom fade-in to fade-outI can't stop drawing parallels between Clover's story and that of the pint-sized trainwreck at the center of Jacqueline Susann's iconic soap opera. That and thinking how much betterand more hilariousthis film would be had Patty Duke been cast instead of Natalie Wood. (Even Clover's "The story of what they did to a kid..." tagline recalls Dolls' "Neely...such a nice kid. Until someone put her name in lights and turned her into a lush!")

I consider myself a fan of the immensely appealing Natalie Wood, but at age 19, Patty Duke would have made for a much more persuasive 15-year-old. Not to mention the fact that Duke's less glamorous, tomboyish looks fit the character better than Wood's delicate, inescapably mature countenance. In addition, Duke's natural speaking voice has the low register and rough edge that Natalie Wood works so conspicuously hard to capture in the film's early scenes. 
The Circus is a Wacky World / Give a Little More
As much as I like her in Splendor in the Grass, I truly find Natalie Wood (who campaigned aggressively for this role) terribly miscast in Inside Daisy Clover. I would have much preferred to see Patty Duke or Sally Field in the part. That's Duke pictured above as Neely O'Hara, just minutes before getting her big song cut from Helen Lawson's show. For the uninitiated: the only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson.

In both form and function, Daisy Clover IS Neely O'Hara to me, and Inside Daisy Clover is full of scenes that recall or inadvertently reference Valley of the Dolls and Patty Duke's legendarily comic dramatic performance. 
Both Neely and Daisy are given to striking "little toughie" postures to convey defiance. Their careers are chronicled with climbing-the-ladder-of-success montages. Each marries a gay or rumored-to-be gay husband. Each suffers a nervous breakdown while trying to manage self-destructive behavior patterns.  And, of course, both Neely and Daisy are singing stars with dubbed voices. Perhaps best of all; Daisy's and Neely's songs were penned by the same composers: husband and wife team Dory & Andre Previn—two individuals who never heard a Vegas-style musical cliché they didn't like.
Natalie Wood and Robert Redford doing what they do best in Inside Daisy Clover...looking pretty.
Wood and Redford reteamed in 1966 for This Property is Condemned

I hate to say it, but 26-year-old Natalie Wood plays Daisy Clover as Peck's Bad Boy with bosoms. She doesn't inhabit the character so much as reduce the rather enigmatically-written teen down to a series of broadly drawn attitudes. There's that awful pixie/waif haircut wig (and if it isn't a wig, Ms. Wood should have sued); the freckles; the studied, ungainly gait; and let's not forget the artfully applied smudges of dirt to the requisite nose and chin to convey pugnacious spunk. 
In lieu of characterization, we're given a too-mature actress in '60s false eyelashes and eyeliner, trying too hard to convey spirited adolescence by utilizing cartoonishly rendered explosions of piss and vinegar feistiness. 
Riled-Up Ragamuffin
I half expected her to sound like Edward G. Robinson in this scene

Like Elizabethg Taylor, Natalie Wood is an actress that needs a strong director. And when she has one (Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, Love With the Proper Stranger), she always delivers. It's hard to guess what director Robert Mulligan was going for, but Wood's performance during the first ten minutes of Inside Daisy Clover borders on amateurish. She's so unpersuasive in these scenes that it takes the film a long time to regain its footing. Wood gets better once she drops the butch act, but not by much. I don't know if this is considered one of the worst performances of her career, but I'll wager it's pretty close. 
Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Daisy's eccentric (what else?) mother.
To be fair, this was Gordon's return to the screen after a 22-year absence. The Academy had no way of knowing she'd be giving variations on this same performance for the next 20.

My favorite performance in the film is given by Christopher Plummer as the ironfisted producer, Raymond Swan. Plummer plays him in an amusingly reptilian mannerholding himself very still, lizard-like eyes darting about—making his scenes the most compelling in the movie. But, unfortunately, the same can't be said for gorgeous superstar-to-be Robert Redford. His method of conveying ladykiller charm is to precede each line of dialog with a drop of his chin and a purposeful stare upwards into the eyes of whomever he's talking to...like a superannuated member of some boy band.
Daisy gets Schooled

I do have a weak spot for Inside Daisy Clover's two big production numbers. The songs: You're Gonna Hear from Me, and The Circus is a Wacky World are arranged in a manner that plants them firmly in the mid-1960s, making Daisy's 1930s musical clips look like excerpts from a TV variety special. The numbers are staged by choreographer Herbert Ross (he did the numbers for Funny Girl - 1968), who would later make his film directing debut with Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) and go on to have a successful, Oscar-nominated career as a film director and producer. 
"Listen, world, you're gonna love me!"
Intergalactic megalomaniac Daisy Clover foists herself on an unsuspecting planet
Like Sammy Davis Jr's I Gotta Be Me, Frank Sinatra's My Way, Anthony Newley's Gonna Build a Mountain, or Helen Lawson's immortal I'll Plant My Own Tree, Daisy Clover's You're Gonna Hear from Me is one of those self-aggrandizing show-biz anthems beloved of aging pop stars and Vegas lounge singers. Though the song failed to nab that Best Song Oscar nomination it was so blatantly seeking, in 2003, Barbra Streisand covered it for her The Movie Album.
The Pepto-Bismol-pink musical extravaganza, The Circus is a Wacky World stands as Inside Daisy Clover's metaphor for the phoniness of Hollywood. It's also a melody so infectious that it takes several days to dislodge it from your brain after seeing the film. 
Character actor and vaudevillian song and dance man Paul Hartman (best known as Emmett the handyman on The Andy Griffith Show) is seen here with Natalie Wood in a deleted scene. Most likely from the film-within-a-film "Dime Store Kid."

It's difficult to imagine how any well-constructed film can survive the excision of 21 minutes of footage, so perhaps one of my biggest dissatisfactions with Inside Daisy Clover might, in part, be the result of how much had to be left out. As it stands, Daisy's disillusionment with Hollywood is near-instantaneous. We're never given even one scene where she's happy to have her dream come true.
That being said, it's still unlikely that Inside Daisy Clover would ever register with me again as it did when I was young. For one, when I was a kid, EVERYBODY looked older, and it didn't bother me so much how little Natalie Wood looked or acted like a teen. Now, I can't get past it. Similarly, the then-shocking revelations of the filmbisexuality, adultery, family dysfunction, child labor abuses—lack much gravity in a screenplay where the characters are given so little dimension. 
Katharine Bard is really rather good as Raymond Swan's neglected wife, Melora.
There are better screencaps I could have used of her, but the ever-shaggable Robert Redford is just so darn cute here

On a positive note, I must say that Inside Daisy Clover looks rather spectacular in widescreen DVD. 

Christopher Plummer
I got this autograph back in 1983 when I was taking dance classes in New York. Plummer was walking down the street somewhere in the theater district, and I asked if he would be so kind as to sign this (a schedule from Jo-Jos Dance Studio). Of course, I had one of those cheap pens that made you scratch the paper just to get ink to come out. That accounts for the undecipherable first word preceding "...of best wishes" in the autograph above. As I recall, he was very courteous, very tall, very tan (this was dead of winter, mind you), and VERY handsome!

Inside Daisy Clover opened in Los Angeles on
Wednesday, December 22, 1965 at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2013