2/20/17

HUSH HUSH SWEET BETTE



Did you know Bette Davis could sing? She could. Sort of. Apropos of my previous posting featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?", I am now veering into "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" territory. The film was a sort of follow-up to WHTBJ and began production with both Davis and Joan Crawford re-teamed. But Crawford walked after a few days of shooting, claiming illness--yeah, right. Production was shut down and the film was almost abandoned (in which case it would have been a prime candidate for my D.O.A. Film Festival). Director Robert Aldrich apparently offered the role to, among others, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivian Leigh, all of whom passed. (The Leigh pass is curious--she might have been ill at the time as it seems like a great opportunity for her at that sad and late stage of her career). Finally Davis's old Warner Brothers friend Olivia De Havilland bailed things out and the show went on. This clip is from a Steve Allen hosted "I've Got A Secret", broadcast shortly after the films seven Oscar nominations were announced. Bette sings the theme song quite sourly--perhaps she didn't trust herself to do it? She didn't have the hit with it. Patti Page did.

 Subscribe in a reader

2/14/17

BEHIND THE SCENES OF "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?"



Yes, Ryan Murphy's much-anticipated "The Feud" promises to take us behind the scenes of the legendary "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane", showing us the no-doubt tense and downright nasty dynamic between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. But what was it really like on that fabled set?

The answer is "I don't know". But I did find the above studio-sanctioned six-minute behind-the-scenes promo piece for the movie, showing us director Robert Aldrich, viewfinder slung around his neck, putting his all into shooting the picture. Aldrich was always a bold filmmaker and he seems to have reveled in the dark (and often tasteless) script by Lukas Heller. Clearly he had no fear of his two (to me) terrifying diva's and the film still holds up terrifically well. This all started because I interviewed his daughter Adell Aldrich for a doc I'm shooting on the actor Burt Young. Adell was her father's script supervisor on a number of films and this was the first of them. (I believe you can see her at 4 minutes, fifteen seconds). Having met Adell, I started the pleasant but time-wasting task of searching Youtube for any footage of her father. I didn't find any at first. But then this nifty little reel turned up, as if yelling from the bottom of a well to be discovered. Perhaps it wanted its day in court, before Ryan Murphy's version of things hits the screens/devices/phones/ or however the hell we watch stuff now.

 Subscribe in a reader

2/13/17

THE KAZAN/MILLER SYMBIOSIS



Above I've posted part one of a terrific American Masters documentary on Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan called "None Without Sin". The relationship between the playwright and director, who collaborated on "Death Of A Salesman", "All My Sons" and "After The Fall" was symbiotic, close and ultimately deeply strained by Kazan's HUAC testimony. They shared theatrical ambition, working class backgrounds, highly charged political activity and Marilyn Monroe. Yes, MM was actually sleeping with Kazan while she and Miller were still courting. I have to assume that Miller didn't know about this perfidy, but Kazan was such an erotomaniac that Miller would have to have been frigging blind not to sense what was going on. Miller finally made the break from his family and married Marilyn, who figures quite importantly in this doc--she helped defend Miller at the time of his own HUAC testimony (unlike Kazan, he refused to cooperate) before ultimately betraying him by sleeping with, among others, Yves Montand. Miller never equaled his pre-Marilyn success in the theater though he seemed to remain randy enough to begin a relationship with a thirty-five year old painter when he was eighty-nine years old. Kazan, for his part, cheated lavishly on both of his wives, finally winding up marrying a seriously younger woman when in his eighties. So I guess both men remained symbiotic after all...

 Subscribe in a reader

2/7/17

THE MANY HOUSES OF ELIA KAZAN



Above is a very good one-hour documentary portrait of the great director, novelist and turncoat ratfink Elia Kazan. It was shot in 1981 when Kazan was 72 years of age and, while you don't really learn anything new about Kazan (assuming you've read his mountainous autobiography) you do get to hear it in his own words. But the doc is important for another, more important reason; it affords us views of Kazan's three homes--a country spread in Newtown Connecticut, a brownstone on West 68th Street and a beach house (shack is more accurate) in Montauk, Long Island.

The film opens at the country spread, with Kazan rowing a boat on a lake that spans fourteen or so acres of his hundred or so acre property. There are no formal gardens, to put it mildly. The place is straight-up country, with thickets of trees, branches, patchy lawn and thorny woods through which we wander with Kazan and the interviewer Michel Ciment. It turns out that there are two houses on the property--one is being lived in at the time by Kazan's eldest son Chris. The other, where the interview is being conducted on the patio, seems to have been built as a little studio and then converted into Kazan's living quarters. It's distressingly junkie and simple--or is that actually its charm? Kazan is very down-home and proletariat and the little studio/house is almost proudly, defiantly not the home of one of the most prestigious film/theater artists of the century. At 32 minutes in we get a view of a very rundown tennis court on which Kazan plays a game with his grandson. At 34 minutes we get a view of a pool that makes Norma Desmond's pool look like the Hearst pool at San Simeon. The Kazan pool, however, sits overlooking that big lake that we saw at the opening of the doc. Water facing water. Quite charming really.

At 38 minutes, we move to New York City where Kazan had a five-story brownstone at 22 West 68th Street. We see his office--a wood-paneled room with heavy old-fashioned shutters overlooking the street. He talks poignantly about how he lost both of his wives unexpectedly and that they'd each just finished putting together a home that would be their perfect, forever place. (The brownstone was the work of wife number two, actress and filmmaker Barbara Loden). Once again, despite the potentially chic surroundings, the house feels beat up and more the repository of a bunch of stuff than the setting one might expect of a world-class director.

Finally, at 50 minutes in, we move to the beach at Montauk. Kazan explains that he bought this seaside cottage when he was 'between wives' and frankly it looks like it--only a distracted, depressed ex-married man would be able to stand the place. Nothing graceful (besides the view) is in evidence. The screen doors are torn, the roof is ramshackle and Kazan sits in a room once again packed with what looks more like storage then furniture. He sits at an IBM selectric, typing away while smoking a cigarette, the ocean visible out the window. The doc ends with him lying on a couch next to a rock (or actually a fake-rock) fireplace, musing on his last wishes, which were to live long enough to complete all the work he has in mind. And in fact he did, living another twenty-two years after this was filmed...

 Subscribe in a reader

1/27/17

LEE MARVIN ON JOHN FORD AND JOHN WAYNE



We'll end the week with one more clip of the Lee Marvin America Theater Wing interview that I've been posting over the past few days. In this one, Marvin discusses John Ford and how he directed John Wayne, how the movie 'Donovan's Reef' came together and a trick that Ford used before shooting a difficult emotional scene. I'm digging the timbre of Lee's voice a lot as well as his hugely expressive eyebrows...

 Subscribe in a reader