Thursday, December 1, 2011

Richard the Lionhearted, Sleeping Beauty, J. Edgar Hoover and Marilyn Monroe

After posting 10 consecutive days and 13 or of the past 14, I'm mostly caught up.

There were a few films here and there which I watched.

The Crusades starring Henry Wilcoxon & Loretta Young; directed by Cecil B. DeMille; (1935)
The Sleeping Beauty starring Julia Artamonov; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2010)
J. Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio; directed by Clint Eastwood; (2011) -
My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams & Eddie Redmayne; with Kenneth Branagh & Judi Dench; directed by Simon Curtis; (2011) - Official Website

The Crusades was part of the UCLA Festival of Preservation at the PFA. The Sleeping Beauty was screened by SFFS at the Viz. I saw J. Edgar and My Week With Marilyn while visiting my father over the Thanksgiving week.


Of those four films, My Week With Marilyn is head and shoulders about the others. It features a stunning transformation by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Williams whom I mentally picture as rail thin and with a pixie haircut gained weight grew her out and curled it to look quite a bit like Monroe. Williams also found the babydoll voice but those are superficial items which 1000s of impersonators and imitators have mastered. Ammazingly, Williams captures some of Marilyn's on-screen sex appeal and a large part of her vulnerability.

The plot is well known and based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, who as young man was the 3rd Assistant Director on The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark's association with Monroe became a prodigious source of literary output which in turn became the source material for My Week With Marilyn.

My Week With Marilyn is filled with these big, audacious performances beyond Williams' turn as Monroe. Kenneth Branagh seems to be delighted to depict Sir Lawrence Olivier as a bully. In smaller roles, Dougray Scott is spot on as Arthur Miller and Dominic Cooper, Zoƫ Wanamaker and Judi Dench command attention as Milton Greene (Marilyn's partner in her production company), Paula Strasberg (Marilyn's acting coach) and Dame Sybil Thorndike (a respected theater actress who had a supporting role in The Prince and the Showgirl).

Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark fades into the background as it he was meant represent the audience's point of view. Frequently, I found myself viewing the film as if I was Clark in the film. Indeed, I cannot recall a scene where we don't see Monroe from Clark's point-of-view. It's a thankless role.

Emma Watson of the Harry Potter series shows up as the wardrobe girl and Clark's erstwhile love interest. She looks a bit like Natalie Portman. In fact, she gets off one of the best lines. After everyone warns Clark to not fall in love with Marilyn because it will end badly, Watson asks him, "Did she break your heart?" Clark responds in the affirmative and Watson rejoins, "Good. It needed a little breaking."

How exhilirating it must have been to Clark. It must have seemed like he was touched by the hand of God. At age 23, out of absolute obscurity, Clark becomes a close confidante to Monroe and sees her at her most unguarded moments. It must have overwhelming like he being consumed by the fires of passion. How I envy Clark and admire this film for conveying that feeling.

I read that Michelle Williams is a strong contender for an Oscar for this performance and I can't disagree.


Clint Eastwood was self-indulgent with J. Edgar. He employed repeated flashbacks to Hoover's early life but didn't really cast much light on what motivated the man. Fussy and quick to be offended, Hoover was strongly motivated by his mother to succeed but he willingness to not just violate people's constitutional right but act in monstrous ways remain unexplained.

Eastwood does a subtle pas de deux. As Hoover ages, his relationship Clyde Tolson emerges. Eastwood would have us believe Tolson and Hoover had fight while vacationing together when Hoover mentioned the possibility of his marrying actress Dorothy Lamour. After a knock down, drag out fight, Tolsom plants a wet one on Hoover's bloodied lips. Poetic license indeed. This portends the future as Hoover and Tolson become partners in their professional and private lives. Hoover's conflicted acceptance of his own sexuality and the unfulfilled (perhaps unconsummated) love towards Tolson gives the film a tragic quality which overwhelms the other aspects of Hoover's life.

DiCaprio is an earnest actor which suits the role of Hoover. It's costar Armie Hammer, last seen as the Winklevoss twins in Social Network, as Tolson who has the break out performance. Dedicated, debonair & selfless, Tolson is Hoover alter ego and Hammer conveys all this with verve and panache.

Also noteworthy is Christopher Shyer as Richard Nixon. Between his makeup and vocal intonations, he evokes Nixon but more strongly evokes a malevolence which Nixon has come to be associated with.

J. Edgar is not a great film. It is well made but not particularly inspired.


The last memory I have from viewing The Crusades in early September is that of the raven haired Katerine DeMille. Cecil B. DeMille's (adopted) daughter and long-time wife of Anthony Quinn, Ms. DeMille has a scheming and dangerous look about her for her limited scenes in The Crusades. She definitely seems to be Berengaria's (Loretta Young) rival for King Richard's (Henry Wilcoxon) affection without every saying word. Her gaze is intimidating.

I was surprised at how accurate The Crusades was. I'm no expert on the Third Crusade but the film hits a few points I recall. As for the performances, Ian Keith as Saladin stood out. I was surprised at how positively Saladin and the Saracens (Muslins) were depicted in The Crusades.


The Sleeping Beauty is the second time director Catherine Breillat has used a fairy tale as the source material. The first was Blue Beard. Allegedly working from the original stories, Breillat presents the more dark and seedy aspects of these stories which are now considered children's stories. For example, I don't recall Sleeping Beauty having a lesbian encounter.

I can't say I fully enjoyed The Sleeping Beauty (or Blue Beard) but it's kind of interesting what Breillat. She deconstructs the fairy tale and returns the story to its origins. Noting the differences between Breillat's version and the one we are familiar with through Disney movies and children's books is an enjoyable pursuit.

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