Archive for the ‘Written’ Category


19 Dec

Polyester – directed by John Waters. Mock Melodrama. 86 minutes Color 1981. ★★★★

The Story: A middle-class American housewife’s husband takes up with his secretary and she takes up with a handsome stranger.

I owe an apology.  I have been reviewing John Waters’ pictures for a time now, and I do not find them funny, appealing, or entertaining. But it is my own fault. For I now realize that is because I have been watching them in my own livingroom, and it is probably true that John Waters films do not belong in anyone’s livingroom.

That, indeed, where they do belong is a movie theatre or drive-in, for they are made with those places in mind. The style of them is the style of masses.

And they probably would work for me if I saw them with a mass of other people. For John Waters’ films do not slap individuals with surprise, humor, and fractiousness, they slap whole crowds. He is writing about crowds. They are made by the same collection of people about a collection of people for a collection of people.

Individuals play the parts, but the individuals who play them play them in the amateur style which is Waters’ earmark and which generalizes them. Amateurism is never specific to the material. After all, there is no such individual as Divine’s Mrs. Francine Fishpaw – for Divine is never real. But there is a “type” of Mrs. Fishpaw, and that is what we are watching. Waters is sending up a whole demographic: The Put-Upon Housewives Of America! And that is why one needs to see them in a crowd of people willing to see such films with other people, that is to say with a demographic.

Here Waters has gathered certain professional actors to his comic mission. But none of them play quieter than a yell, which is the same volume which Joni Ruth White lends to her astonishingly announcement-like line readings. Tab Hunter, a good actor after all, plays the devastatingly handsome stranger, and he alone plays in a natural comic vein. He actually is somebody. And he is just wonderful. But nobody else is anybody. Every single actor in it is a multitude. It is a play performed by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Balloons.

My error was born in on me when I listened to John Waters’ commentary on the film. He is wonderful, simple, real, and quite funny. He is endearing. He finds things funny. How nice. And so he makes movies about those things. I have read one of his books and one about him, and everything that he says belongs in my livingroom. But not one of his films do.

So go and see them at your local revival house. You will be heartened and capacitated by the collaboration of others in the laughter, I am sure. Or, baring that, just rent the film, but don’t watch it – just watch John Waters commentary about it.


Temptation — The Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor

10 Apr

Temptation – Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor –– written, produced, and directed by Tyler Perry. Drama. A female counselor working in a dating service office meets a demon with beautiful eyes. 111 minutes Color 2013.


This piece comes from a Perry stage play, and I had the experience of seeing it just after viewing a series of Robert Altman films of plays. The difference between them is marked. On the one hand Perry has a clear strong story, and Altman frequently courts a story invisible to the point of limpness. But the odds come out in favor of Altman. Because Altman has something he wants to do with the clay and material substance of film, and, as yet, Tyler Perry does not. For Perry film is a means, for Altman a medium.

Perry is a sweet and gifted entertainer. But he probably should not write his own screenplays when taken from his own stage plays, because he cannot see them clearly enough to cut them. There is too much talk and the talk is TV-banal. And he also should concentrate on becoming a director and discovering what that métier really offers. Right now his craft is so ordinary as almost to be insulting to his audience’s aesthetic sense. A high drama executed with a routine of reaction shots is stultifying.

Although the film plays as though it were not originally a stage play, he brings into what is a serious, compelling, and dangerous story, certain stereotypes, not from life, but, without realizing it, from TV comedy. He takes them seriously and they drain the piece of credibility and the balance which supports credibility in a serious drama.

An example of this is the husband of the young woman, who is cut out of paper into a thankless role played by the handsome and well formed and highly professional Lance Gross. The husband is found inadequate to the wife on the grounds that he forgot her birthday twice and watches the ball game. He also makes love in bed with the lamp low and the covers pulled. None of this gives an actor a cue for character. It is external. There is nothing for him to inhale or imagine. All of it is conventional, sufficient, tired.

We also have the maniac mom with The Lord’s Name her word and sword. Disapproval was what the Bible was devised to guide her to bestow. This would be funny in a Tyler Perry comedy, for comedy diets on stereotypes. But not tragedy.

In the rubric of drama the only requisite is imagination. The vivacity and veracity of Altman films come to us from his imagining that these are to be found in the human quirks of the outlying action – literally in the eccentric. But too many of Perry’s characters wantonly lack eccentricity. They lack being.

What does not lack being in the piece is Renée Taylor, a delicious clown as a Jewish pharmacist. (It’s so good to see her again.) And it does not lack top flight talent in the two focal characters of a situation which works like gang busters because the woman is an ordinary woman tempting herself with an extraordinary man. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is full in command of her craft in playing the woman.  Ronnie Jones as the demon set out to seduce her (“To show love for someone, but not to feel that love – that is the work of Mephistopheles.”) is fabulous – and so skilled is the writing and the playing of the scenes between them that while they are going on all else retreats from consideration. See Temptation for that.

One cannot help like and root for Tyler Perry. If here his too many hands make heavy his work, still his spirit and honesty in putting this strong material forth is admirable and big hearted and bold. It is not only blacks in his audience who wish him to succeed – succeed in a way this very successful man has insufficiently dreamed.

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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, ACTORS MALE, and Directed by Tyler Perry, DRAMA, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Produced, Renée Taylor, Ronnie Jones, Written

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