Montgomery Clift and the LGBT Connection

Mont cliftIn light of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, it comes to mind that many younger people have no idea who Montgomery Clift was. He was a tortured soul and a fearless actor. He was also before his time in so many ways. He was loved by both men and women, who saw the vulnerability that shone out of his eyes. He made us love him for the man he was, not the Hollywood pinup that was presented to the world at large.

His performance in films of the fifties made him a worthy contemporary and competitor of Marlon Brando. Montgomery Clift was also bi-sexual, and because it was the fifties in America, Clift was forced to live his life in the closet, never openly acknowledging his sexuality. Perhaps it even made his acting more intense, but for whatever reason, his films are still gripping and highly recommended viewing.

A tragic car accident sidelined his career while he was still at the height of his fame, and the aftermath and recovery made him face those inner demons. Addicted to pain killers and alcohol, Monty Clift suffered an inner torment along with his outward pain in his final years.

Yet his body of work is remarkable. Clift is superb in so many films, beginning with the adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel called A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor. He then manages to make a boiler-plate B movie, The Search, somehow become one of the most heart-rendering stories of suffering that came out of the post-World War II era. He was able to convey onscreen what was felt by millions of displaced families living in the ruins of Europe at the end of the second World War.

Clift went on to give stellar performances in The Young Lions, Red River and Miss Lonelyhearts, and with each part he played the vulnerability and the pathos are on full display. A man who lived ahead of his time, each performance was in the moment and spot on in conveying the torment and inner angst that so many in the LGBT community have known and felt for so many years.

Those who have not discovered Montgomery Clift and his body of work, I would highly recommend an intensive session for the “Armchair Film Festival”. Don’t delay in screening some of Clift’s classic performances found on DVD or shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo plays Sunday at Tampa Theatre

 

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Vertigo was released in 1958 to a mixed reception. It was later heralded as one of Hitchcock’s greatest works. It’s a complex, psychological thriller starring the venerable James Stewart, a Hitchcock favorite along with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Vertigo was part of a nine-picture deal that Hitchcock made in the fifties that included many of his most famous films like Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho and To Catch a Thief.

*Hitchcock was an early master in the art of Marketing a Movie. He marketed Pyscho brilliantly, and refused to allow reporters to see advance drafts of the film. He had a trailer for the film where he teases audiences by taking them on a tour through the Bates Motel and he followed that up with his famous decree to theatre owners stipulating that patrons were not allowed into the theatre once the film began. This unusual practice both intrigued and piqued the moviegoers interest.

Hitch’s TV Show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was further proof of his marketing savvy. He not only designed the signature silhouette of himself, he even picked the opening music for the series. The now familiar strains of Gounod’s“The Funeral March of the Marionette”are forever associated with Alfred Hitchcock Presents….

When the idea of a television show was first proposed to Hitchcock, he was hesitant. But he agreed after he was allowed to introduce each episode and also given script supervision. Not only was Hitchcock given a platform to promote his upcoming films, but he also was allowed to make fun of television and advertising, which further delighted both him and his audience.

Hitch highlighted his own paranioa in films like Vertigo and North by Northwest. He had a fear of being stopped by the police and therefore he didn’t drive a car.

hitchhandcake Hitch & Blue Food 2015

*Hitchcock had a sense of humor that was highly unusual. His favorite dinner party was one where the food was entirely blue. Hosted in the thirties for the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Hitchcock said of the dinner, “”Even when you broke your roll. It looked like a brown roll but when you broke it open it was blue. Blue soup, thick blue soup. Blue trout. Blue chicken. Blue ice cream.”…..

6 Degrees Armchair Film Festival

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It’s summertime at the movies! That means vacations and lighter fare and blockbusters and perhaps lots of different memories for many of us. Beach movies and films from our high school years and summer fun.

There are so many different film festivals out there it’s hard to keep track. One thing in this age of video that is definitely a bonus is the discovery of so many great films and great performances that you can see on demand and on video. For instance, I fell in love with Russell Crowe and Peter O’Toole and Clive Owen at the movies and subsequently became a fan after watching so many of their older films that were available on video.

Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe, before he became a big star, was in some great movies like Proof from 1991, The Sum of Us (1994), Virtuosity (1995), and his big break into A-list films in 1997’s L.A. Confidential.

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Peter O’Toole’s best performances were often in films not widely seen today like Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim or the comedy, How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn. Clive Owen, who has suffered (and made me suffer) through some real clunkers in recent years, was brilliant in the movie based on the play Bent (1997), the made for TV movie Second Sight (1999), Greenfingers (2000), Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001), the film noir movie I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead (2003), and Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie also in 2003. He was best known to audiences in the 2004 King Arthur film and then was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Closer, also from 2004.

All of these actors and many more are seen in what I call the “Armchair Film Festival”. If you are a fan of Film Noir, then you’re in luck.  TCM shows some of the greatest film noir classics and is even offering a class online that’s free and open to the public!

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Turner Classic Movies has a featured star each month and will show many of their greatest films. For example , the work of actor Montgomery Clift can be seen on TCM as he is featured this month in A Place in the Sun and Hitchcock’s I Confess.

If you are interested in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and films dealing with Human Rights issues, then you should watch A Gentleman’s Agreement and To Kill A Mockingbird, both starring Gregory Peck, and Judgment at Nuremberg with Spencer Tracy.

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**Woody Allen at the Movies: Woody is worthy of volumes and is definitely recommended for Armchair Film Festival viewing. His early comedies and transition from comedy to drama would give any film lover enough material for several retrospectives on his work. TCM is showing showing Annie Hall and Hannah and her Sisters  this month.

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**Steve McQueen, another actor worthy of an Armchair Film Fest retrospective, is featured in Bullitt and The Sand Pebbles. Bullitt is one of my favorite films. It’s one of McQueen’s best, and the car chase sequence is probably the granddaddy of all those car chase scenes featured in countless pictures for generations. Bullitt set the standard and it added a touch of authenticity to the screen just knowing that Steve McQueen loved to race cars and was known for doing many of his own stunts.

Sound of Music

Fans of The Sound of Music may recognize some of director Robert Wise’s trademark work in the Film Noir classic, The Set Up. If you can appreciate Wise’s use of shadows and light in The Sound of Music, you’ll know he was attuned to the process from his history with so many film noir features.

**6 Degrees readers, stay tuned as we look at a star or a film genre to recommend each month in the Armchair Film Festival.

On the making of Caddyshack and the definition of Gonzo

Caddyshack

Here in Tampa, the Tampa Theatre Summer Film series continues this weekend with a showing on Sunday, June 21st, of Caddyshack at 3:00 p.m. One of my favorite comedies, I was surprised to uncover a few factoids I didn’t know about the making of Caddyshack. Here they are:

1) Harold Ramis co-wrote Animal House and due to the strength of that hit movie, he was given the go-ahead for Caddyshack. Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle Murray, also co-wrote the script. Brian was a caddy at one time, as was Bill Murray.
2) Don Rickles was the first choice for the Rodney Dangerfield role of businessman Al Czervik. Dangerfield had never had a major role in a film until Caddyshack and reportedly, he was nervous throughout the shoot.
3) Caddyshack was Ramis’ directorial debut in 1980. Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, went on to direct many hit comedies such as National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase and Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.
4) Caddyshack was filmed in Davie, Fl at Rolling Hills Country Club. Rolling Hills was one of the few clubs to allow movie production on the grounds.
5) Bill Murray’s role of groundskeeper Carl Spackler was planned as a quick cameo appearance, but he stole the show improvising his scenes! His famous lines, the Dalai Lama speech and the Cinderella story speech were improvised on the spot. The Cinderella speech was written as “Carl cuts the tops of flowers with a grass whip”.
6) Caddyshack quickly evolved from a coming-of-age story featuring actor Michael O’Keefe as Danny Noonan into a Marx Brothers style ensemble film. According to director Ramis, he thought of Dangerfield as Groucho, Murray as Harpo and Chevy Chase as Chico.
7) The Caddyshack Gopher was an after-thought. It was expanded to tie the sequences together and bring some cohesion to the plot. Star Wars veteran special-effects master John Dykstra created the gopher imaging after principal photography ended. The Gopher’s voice was supplied by the same sound-effects used for Flipper in the TV series!
8) The New York Times called the film Caddyshack “immediately forgettable”.
9) About Bill Murray: After leaving SNL, where he replaced Chevy Chase in Season 2, Bill Murray went on to become a huge star with hits in Stripes, Ghostbusters 1 & 2, What about Bob?, & Groundhog Day. He’s known in Hollywood for his eccentric behavior.
Murray has no agent, only a phone number where you must leave a message for him to get in touch.
In 2003, Murray scored a hit with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and subsequently transitioned into a career appearing in “Indie” films. Since then, he has collaborated with independent director Wes Anderson in the past decade, appearing in some capacity in most of Anderson’s films.
His latest films of note include Hyde Park on Hudson, in which he played President FDR, the critically acclaimed St. Vincent from 2014, and the highly anticipated upcoming  Rock the Kasbah.

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10) Many have described Bill Murray as a “Gonzo Comedian”. The definition of Gonzo states it is “a strange or unusual quality-bizarre; freewheeling or unconventional, to the point of outrageousness”.

6 Degrees of Film: Notes from the Global Village

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After seeing more than one story from a critic complaining about the volume of films and the impossibility for a single film critic or film website to adequately cover all of the existing material, it seemed to be a good idea to try and sort out some of the mass data dump we are all receiving on a weekly basis.

Here’s a listing from 6 Degrees of all the news that’s fit to print. Alright, perhaps that’s an overstatement but at least here’s a stab at the top news from the world of film-makers and Hollywood, with a healthy dose of 6 Degrees skepticism tossed in for good measure.

Features will include:

1) Top Stories: From Hollywood and global markets.
2) Critics choice: Good buzz. What the critics are saying about films.
3) Coming soon: What looks good in Upcoming Features
4) The Armchair Film Fest: Recommended viewing of classics plus streaming and on-demand/DVD
5) Of Note: Future events and Hollywood trending…

Jurassic World

1) Top stories of this week include the colossal success of Jurassic World. That’s no surprise considering that Jurassic Park is still high on the list of top-grossing films and it has been over twenty years since its debut. On the other hand, it looks like Disney and George Clooney have a flop in Tomorrowland, which posted disappointing numbers.

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2) Critics like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It’s a film about a young high school boy who finds an emotional connection with a young girl diagnosed with cancer.
They also like Wolfpack, a film about a group of young Peruvian-American brothers who were socially isolated for years in their New York apartment dwelling and passed the time by watching perhaps as many as five thousand movies. I like these films because they dwell on a subject I have written on extensively, and that is the growing sense of isolation that exists in our society.
On a much ligher note, Spy has generally received good reviews for Melissa McCarthy. Also Love & Mercy, the film about Brian Wilson’s life as the creative force behind The Beach Boys, is getting great reviews.

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3) Some of the biggest openings coming up are Ian McKellan as a much older version of Sherlock Holmes in Mr. Holmes, and Terminator Genisys, both premiering in July, with Arnold Schwarzenegger recreating his iconic performance as the robot killing machine. Fans of the old TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will be pleased to know the film is set to open in August.

 

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4) The Armchair Film Fest: A personal (over a year in the making) favorite of mine is the idea of binge-watching when a noted actor or star comes across the radar. For this, it’s best to contemplate your own personal “Armchair Film Festival”. In days gone by, it would be impossible, but in today’s world, there are so many great performances and actors that need the Film Festival treatment that it makes sense to create your own.
There are so many different film festivals out there it’s hard to keep track. One thing in this age of video that is definitely a bonus is the discovery of so many great films and great performances that you can see on demand and on video. For instance, I fell in love with Russell Crowe and Peter O’Toole and Clive Owen at the movies and subsequently became a fan after watching so many of their older films that were available on video. My recommended viewing includes favorite actors and genres plus what’s playing on TV.

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5) Of Note: The Hateful Eight, the Quentin Tarantino re-make of the Magnificent Seven, is set to premiere in December. Bill Murray, who has kept audiences guessing for more than a decade with his quirky performances in Wes Anderson and other indie films, is back in Rock the Kasbah. Star Wars fans are still buzzing about the trailer for the upcoming (December release date) JJ Abrams directed Star Wars picture. Chaz Ebert has released a list of the worst films of the year. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is prominent, although I have to say, I have seen films far, far worse than this light and insipid comic romp.

Bogie & Bacall at Tampa Theatre

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*He was 44 when they met.….She was 19. They played opposite each other in “To Have & Have Not” in 1943 and in the beginning she was terrified. She kept her head down low to keep her mouth from trembling. Bogie was patient and helped her enormously. They immediately hit it off. . He called Bacall “baby” and she looked on Bogart as a mentor and a teacher throughout their life together. The problem was he was married at the time to actress Mayo Methot (his third marriage). They called Mayo and Bogie the “Battling Bogarts” as their fights were legendary. Bogie and Mayo drank and fought together.

*Bogie had been a popular actor at Warner Bros known for his “tough guy” image and gangster roles. He got his big break in film from actor Leslie Howard in the 1936 film adaptation of the popular stage play, “The Petrified Forest”. His role as gangster Duke Mantee.on Broadway had brought him acclaim, and Leslie Howard dug his heels in and refused to do the film without Bogart in the role of Mantee. Bogie never forgot and named his daughter Leslie after his friend, Leslie Howard.

*Bogart was not the original Gerber baby model, but he was the model for Mellin’s baby food ads at the turn of the century. His mother, Maud, a renowned illustrator, used him to sketch the ads. He was born into wealth, his father was a prominent doctor in New York who made around 20,000 a year, yet Maud made more from her illustrations-$50,000 yearly, an enormous sum for the time.

*Bogart started on the stage and was credited for appearing in period pieces of the day where his character would wander onto the stage with tennis racket in hand saying, ‘Tennis, anyone?”

*Bogart was known for his battles with studio boss Jack Warner. It was the heyday of the studio system and Bogie, as he was known to friends, would boast that he always had some, what he called, “F.U” money tucked away (he actually used a far more colorful phrase!). The studios would periodically lend the actors out to other studios as part of a deal that was struck between the two companies, with or without the consent of the star in question. But Bogie often objected, and would be prepared to walk away. Hence, he needed his “F.U” money as leverage!

*Bogart was one of the founders and reigning members of the original “Rat Pack”, an exclusive club that met for lunch and cocktails and witty repartee. Bogie, along with wife Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, David Niven, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy were all members. Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland continued the club in Hollywood that later included Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

*Bogart has such an iconic face and voice that even after his death, he has starred in various films, stage plays and finally a cable television program! He was the basis for Woody Allen’s successful play (1969) and film from 1972, “Play it Again, Sam” and, through the magic of editing, co-starred with Steve Martin in the 1982 movie, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”. Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s special effects studio, revived Bogie’s image to star in a 1995 episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt entitled, “You, Murderer.”

Key Largo is part of the continuing Summer Film Series at Tampa Theatre. Next Sunday, Caddyshack is showing at 3:00 pm.

Tampa Theatre

 

 

Spy is the feel-good movie you’ve been looking for

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Spy is a good, light and frothy piece for summer entertainment. It was tailored to fit Melissa McCarthy’s unique talents and she drove the plot the whole way. The biggest surprise was Jason Statham, not known for his comic ability. He was a good fit for the role of a hothead who goes off at the slightest hint of provocation.

The plot centers around the idea of McCarthy as hapless schmuck turned undercover agent and Jude Law is suave and charming in his supporting role of a super sleuth that McCarthy is fixated upon. Jason Statham and Jude Law are mere sideshows, but the heart and soul of the script belong to McCarthy.

She finally finds some comic material that compliments her ability to deliver the cut grivatas  and her trademark delivery of asides (mostly self-deprecating humor) that is a constant throughout the movie. Another plus is the hilarious disguises that are ignominiously heaped upon her in lieu of the more dashing and “sexy” style of her mentor Jude Law.

The best of comics are the ones that can turn the humor around and manage to amuse us as they are amused by the rest of the world whizzing by. That is the one standout in an otherwise fairly innocuous comic outing. And, as I’ve often stated, Melissa McCarthy is a huge talent who has not been graced with really good material that suits her stand-up style in past films. This time, they wrote something that actually fits her like a glove. It works for her and it makes for a light and entertaining feel-good summer movie.