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Archive for the ‘BIOPIC’ Category

Lawrence Of Arabia

03 Feb

Lawrence Of Arabia – directed by David Lean. BioPic. 217 minutes Color 1962.

★★★★

The Story: An English cartographer, archeologist, and linguist sets out on a mission to free Arabia by inducing it to fight for the British their WWI Turkish enemy.

~

The impression of spectacle is awe. The desert of the Middle East in color delivers that impression, but it does not deliver anything more internal than awe, such as danger. The smooth systems of color deny the desert its peril. Color comes at you. It blinds, it beguiles, it pleases. All those are real in their way. But color also excises certain levels of engagement which black and white grants. The desert is pretty, even in its mazy peril. But as a wild animal it is never real. Only as a spectacle.

Thinking of color and spectacle, then, as possible narrative tools, we find that in Lawrence Of Arabia spectacle is never reserved for battle, but rather for the charges before battle, the marches to battle, the preparation for battle. David Lean was, at this time, not a maker of great films, but he was a great editor of long films. So the genocide of retreating troops is actually designed to illustrate to the audience the degradation of Lawrence rather than the awesome nature of manslaughter.

The story is so odd. Because T.E. Lawrence was odd. His and its oddity hold us to the story. Peter O’Toole as Lawrence does not stand in the way of the character, but he does not hold us.Peter O’Toole is so obvious. His acting is conventional theatrical, arch, unfelt. He doesn’t seem to have any body, muscle, blood under his djellaba. He seems barely able to walk or to hold up his arms. But we put up with all this and let it pass, because the story of Lawrence, as the film gives it us, is that of an extraordinary feat by a man extraordinary in another realm – as a radical idealist. You don’t see this sort of thing much in movies.

Peter O’Toole’s acting aesthetic was ham. Was then and, if we watched his work as he aged, to see if he got over that, we find evidence that he did. But here he is at the inattentive ignorance of a director who has no sense of the craft of acting at all. With actresses he was even worse. So, spectacle was Lean’s outlet for his addiction to directing films. He had to move away from his defects and into his attributes. Good for him.

Is anyone any good in this movie? Anthony Quinn plays the same dumb brute he played since La Strada and Viva Zapata and Streetcar. He has all the tropes for it in place and releases them all to our unsurprised eyes.

The great Claude Rains plays the British liaison with his usual attentive sophistication, and one waits for a great scene or moment, and it never comes because he is never given it.

José Ferrer brings his stunning enunciation and insect aspect to the role of the sadistic homosexual Turkish commander who violates, beats, and debases Lawrence. A small part for an overwhelming talent.

Alec Guinness plays Prince Faisal, a wily Arabian desert shark and is just silly. It’s a character manufactured out of studied convention, and you don’t believe in it for a moment.

Arthur Kennedy writes his own ticket playing the only American in the story, a photo-journalist based on Lowell Thomas. He’s really good, because his Americanness is out of place, his acting technique among the English is out of place, and his character itself, in The Middle East, is out of place. I love how he takes advantage of all this, and uses it to free himself to act.

Poor Anthony Quayle plays the military liaison officer with a regimented mind; I say poor, because his role need not have been so thankless as the author, Robert Bolt, wrote it. See him in The Tales Of Hoffman to see him at his best.

Jack Hawkins, as General Allenby the head of the British Army in The Middle East has the best part of all, that of a man who is always convincingly fair, and always spoken of as ruthlessly unfair. He brings riches of voice and masculinity to us, and a sense of vitality and power in reserve. What a pleasure to be with him!

Omar Sharif is quite bad. His readings and the script and the music by Maurice Jarre sound bastardized on a Maria Montez movie sired by Rimsky-Korsakov. It is a great part which he fails to stifle with his overacting. Because you can’t help but like Omar Sharif, he became a big star in Lean’s subsequent film, Doctor Zivago. But here he is at first. His moonlight madness eyes gleam. Ah, we had waited a long time for a Muslim to arrive as a matinée idol. A Muslim? Well, whatever he was, he certainly wasn’t a Presbyterian.

Lawrence was a man men intrigued themselves by. He was actually not intriguing, but enigmatic. George Bernard Shaw and his wife later adopted him, and he took Shaw’s name, and Shaw wrote a play about him, Too True To Be Good, which I saw on Broadway with Eileen Heckart, Lillian Gish, Robert Preston, Glynis Johns, Cedrick Hardwick, Cyril Richard, and David Wayne as Lawrence. That’s a lot of attention.

When he enlisted as a private in His Majesty’s service, thrice, Lawrence did so under pseudonym. He loved to play recordings of Delius. He wrote a beautifully written and printed book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom about his Arabian adventure and its failure. Then he hid out. Everyone in the world knew him, except himself.

 

 

Papa Hemingway In Cuba

08 May

Papa Hemingway in Cuba – directed by Bob Yari. Biopic. 1 hour 50 minutes 2016.

★★★★★

The Story: Ernest Hemingway gets a fan letter and invites the young man into his home with its torrents of rage, depression, despair, love, teaching, and wisdom.

~

At the end of his life, the press savaged Hemingway for indulging in:

Bullfighting

Drinking

Beautiful women

Masculinity

Big Game Hunting

Braggadocio

Benders

Bad Writing

Cowardice

All of it was justified, but it was also mean – and ungrateful to what he had meant to every writer who said those things.

It was clear he had big character flaws. But it was also clear that, if all that was true, you could see or imagine that he was also suffering the torments of the damned. He was not well. He had terrible plane accidents in Africa. And perhaps the days of his big books was over. The press incinerated him.

If they had seen what this film shows his condition to have been they might have had the decency to be still.

This is a wonderful film and about a remarkable man approaching the end of his rope. And if we wondered what his daily life might have been at that time, here it is, in all is rawness. He is pitilessly going mad.

His tortured mutually tortuous relations with Mary Hemingway – and what she was like when he wasn’t around. His relations to his Cuban pals. His relation to his male friends. His relations to living. His relations to fishing and to what he relished in the good life. And his imprint on the young man who came to see him, was adopted by him, and whom he turned on.

At first glimpse of Adrian Sparks as Papa, I thought oh-oh he’s too old. Hemingway was only 59 when he died, a worn 59, but not an old man. This impression is immediately dispelled as Sparks plays out the scenes with all the necessary requirements as an actor and as a character. He’s terrific.

Giovanni Ribisi plays the journalist. In real life this journalist experienced and wrote the screenplay which contributed to the film we are watching, and because of that we get a view of Hemingway’s last days that is a revelation.

The film was shot in Hemingway’s home in Cuba. And a sense of authenticity rare in biopics prevails everywhere. We get a real sense of how he was. At times horrendous, at times marvelous. Who would expect otherwise?

Hemingway is honored by the film, as are his wife and his friends. We would not be watching them at all if he had not written those revolutionary early short stories.

Read them. Read them again. They have not dated one minute.

At the time he wrote them, he was married to his first wife, Hadley, whom he betrayed. His betrayal of her crushes him. Wanting to write of her prevents him from writing at all. Unforgivable is what he calls himself.

We do not forgive those we do not blame.

Quietly Hadley Hemingway lived in Douglaston, the town next to mine on Long Island. Everyone knew she was there. No one bothered her. She was spared. And was spared, alas, the book he at last could not write about her.

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, BIOPIC

 

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

10 Jan

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – directed by Justin Chadwick. BioFlic. 141 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★

The Story: A black country boy in South Africa becomes a lawyer and strives for the political equality of all his nation.

~

My cavil with it is that the leading role is miscast, and I keep seeing it in every frame. Idris Elba is the actor playing Nelson Mandela, and Elba is a wonderful actor in this, but he is built like mack truck and Mandela was built like a skiff. Idris Elba has the neck of a line-backer. That Mandela was slender in neck and frame was part of his appeal and power: to think that so frail a man in appearance could withstand so much physical torture. Elba has immense dark gravitas; Mandela was a light. The part needed Bill Bojangles Robinson not Jackie Robinson It doesn’t work.

But what a story! The material is fully dramatized including Mandela’s relations with his wives, particularly with Winnie Mandela who remained bellicose when Mandela became the peace-maker. We are taken into Robben Island Prison and the 26 years of hard labor there, and we are taken into the years as Mandela became the center-pin of the anti-apartheid scandal burning South Africa.

We see the villages and the townships of the cities, what they were like, how folks lived, how Mandela moved through them to prominence and natural moral leadership and eventual capture as a terrorist. We live through the days of the infamy of the forces linked against him.

But the fact was, he was too famous to kill.

Or was he?

No matter. I lived in the time of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR and Churchill and Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer and Sister Kenny and Helen Keller. Shaw, O’Neill, Thomas Mann were my contemporaries. There were many Great Humans alive in those days. People on the order of Nelson Mandela. But in our time,  he was almost alone. Now he is gone. The Dali Lama is left. No one else that I know of.

Therefore it benefitted me to visit his biography once again. It’s a Great Man’s Tale. Don’t deprive yourself of it, even if you imagine you already know it. Great Men’s Tales are never heard  if only heard but once.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: INTERNATIONAL REALISTIC, BIOPIC, Edris Elba, Filmed in Africa

 

Suez

04 Jun

Suez –– directed by Allan Dwan. Historical Epic. Ferdinand de Lesseps struggles to build the Suez Canal. 104 minutes Black and White 1938.

★★★★

He struggles to dig, he has a setback, a woman encourages him, he struggles to dig, he has a set back, a woman encourages him, he struggles to dig, he has a setback, a woman discourages him. The monotony of the story is supposedly counterbalanced by the beauty of the stars and the production values. And the costumes. Except that the film is over-costumed, so you cannot believe for a minute that anyone ever wore any of those clothes to anyplace but on the way to a movie set. Loretta Young is so dressed, she not only looks like the bride on the wedding cake, she looks like the cake itself.

How did people ever go the bathroom in those clothes?

Well, that’s not the sort of question you were supposed to ask of such films. In those days, you were supposed to be humbly and unquestionably grateful for and trusting of the validity of the “history lesson”. Right now all one can say is that Mister de Lesseps was somehow involved in the excavation. The digging itself was easy, since the isthmus in ancient days was navigable. It was the sand of preparation that had to be continually cleared away, and that is what makes up the story here. But we are given two wonderful big-time special effects, a fatal sandstorm and an avalanche set off by those Islamic terrorists again. They still don’t know when to stop. The director Allan Dwan sure keeps things chugging along, though.

A big and experienced supporting cast cannot breathe life into the dialogue which is as stilted as the men’s high collars, although Nigel Bruce, as usual, somehow manages it. The cast is headed up by Our Lady Of The Holy Wood, Loretta Young, and by Tyrone Power. They made delightful comedies together earlier on the 30s and were a popular duo.

Tyrone Power was a man so beautiful you become rapt to see what his face will do next. Since he is an actor of natural discretion, what you see is always authentic, although how he achieves it, given the lines, is impossible to guess, except that his modesty never rises to the level of the vulgarity of them. With Tyrone Power, what you see is what is made gettable by the fact that behind that face lies the quality that made him a great star, his kindness, sense of fun, his gentlemanliness. He’s not vain and he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was inhumanly beautiful but not inhumanely beautiful.

The third star is Annabella, who was soon enough to become Tyrone Power’s first wife. While a good deal older than Power, she is perfectly convincing as a hoydenish teenager. She is French, which makes her seem odd and out-of-place, since, while everyone else at court is French, she is the only one in the cast who actually is so. She is a gifted and very fine screen actor and is wonderful to watch, although might prove irritating to watch much longer.

Anyhow, this is a typical historical Hollywood contraption of the period. It is a showcase. It was a crowd pleaser. And Power and Young when young still are enjoyable to behold.

 

 

 

 

42

17 Apr

42 –– directed by Brian Helgeland. Sports Docudrama. In 1947, Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team ushers the first negro player into major league baseball, Jackie Robinson, and it aint easy. 129 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

I wanted this film to last forever. Is that true, I asked myself, and the answer was, Well, maybe as long as a baseball game.

It has a terrible musical score, full of triumphals and emotional sofas, whereas the material speaks for itself without outside assistance. But you just have to set this torture aside the same way as Jackie Robinson had to set aside the taunts and meanness and murder threats which dogged him as he underwent the ordeal.

What a valiant human being!

What a thing to do!

I lived in Queens when it went on, and my brother was a Dodgers fan with the radio on. It was happening five miles away. It was happening right there. The radio being a more intimate medium than TV, it was happening right in the bedroom I shared with him.

It was a scandal.

It was a scandal because no one much thought about blacks not playing on baseball teams in those days. Only a few black families lived where I lived, but Freddy Perkins was always first choice on the schoolyard team, so in a way it was a scandal also because so much was being made of it. And because we said to ourselves, Oh, right, I never thought of it in major league baseball. How odd of me!

But it was a big deal, and this film realizes that it is still a big deal. The human suffering hidden in black faces is of vast importance.

And that’s what we see in Chadwick Boseman who plays Robinson. I can’t imagine how anyone could be better or more right. While he does not have the monolithic aspect of Robinson, he certainly has the finesse for Robinson’s skills stealing bases and holding his ground while being heckled by crowds and boycotted even by his own team members. And he certainly is a gentleman.

As Branch Rickey, his sponsor in the endeavor, Harrison Ford gives a big hammy performance, which, from this actor, at least is something. The part is very well written, and Ford is quite stirring and entertaining in it.

There isn’t much more to say about the film.

Except that you owe it to yourself to see it. You owe it to your heart to be filled with compassion and gratitude for the valor it took for these two men, these two and no other, to do this for us. You just do.

 

The Magic Bullet Of Dr. Ehrlich

18 Mar

The Magic Bullet of Dr. Ehrlich – directed by William Dieterle. Biopic. A German/Jewish doctor revolutionizes hematology and immunology. 103 minutes Black and White 1940.
★★★★★
Why I adore to watch Edward G. Robinson I simply do not know. Richard Burton said of him that if the most beautiful man in world and Edward G. Robinson were on the same stage together, no one would look at the beautiful man. He is my favorite actor. And he was one of the superstars of his era and his studio, Warners, along with a couple of other odd-looking blokes, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Robinson’s presence and authority, his ability to focus deeply, his ability to instantly switch course, his waking eyes which wake you up, his distinctive voice. Yes, all of that. But perhaps it is the simplicity and directness and immediacy of everything that he does. There is also his courageous heart, his kindness, his humor, his ability to take-it-in.

I don’t know. There is just something about him.

You would have thought he would be, like Charles Coburn, a hugely popular principal supporting actor. But no. He plays the lead always. The story is always about him. It is never about Coburn.

This is one of those biopics the era specialized in and that informed us, if not educated us, about Madame Curie (Greer Garson), Sister Kenny (Rosalind Russell), Gentleman Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn) et al. Dieterle directed some of them, and directs this one well.

The story of this remarkable laboratory scientist – who advanced microbe-dyeing so that a specific disease, such as tuberculosis, could actually be diagnosed by an ordinary physician; who pioneered the vaccine for diphtheria, who discovered the first specific for syphilis – is fairly accurate, and at all points riveting.

What makes it so is the photography of James Wong Howe. Every angle, every scene, every movement by the actors is held in narrative coherence and importance by his camera. He makes the picture exciting and he, in fact, tells its story. And he never intrudes.

Max Steiner did the score. The film was co-written by John Huston and boasts a list of supporting players so deep no modern film could equal it: Otto Kruger who is quite touching as Ehrlich’s best friend, Donald Crisp, Sig Ruman, Donald Meek, Henry O’Neill, Harry Davenport, Louis Calhern. Maria Ouspenskaya, a really bad actress from the Moscow Art Theatre, performs her usual portentous teeny grand dame, and Ruth Gordon doesn’t seem to know what to do as the housewife and mother of Ehrlich’s children. But, if you really want to know what great acting is in all its magnitude take in the great German Shakespearean Albert Bassermann in the role of an early unbeliever in Ehrlich.

Anyhow, I found all three acts of this picture thrilling. For me it didn’t date, because I am of that date. If this picture were made today, it couldn’t be half as good. Like Steinbeck, it was of its time, and has not lost its value for all that.

 
 
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