A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Twenty years ago (!), when I wrote my book about movies that had been nominated for Oscars, I had this to say about Some Like It Hot: "Hilarious farce and one of the sweetest natured of Wilder's usually acerbic comedies, thanks to endearing performances by [Jack] Lemmon and [Joe E.] Brown, [Tony] Curtis' high-spirited mimicry of [Cary] Grant, and [Marilyn] Monroe's breath-taking luminosity." Today, after all we've learned about sexual orientation and identity, after many feminist critiques of Hollywood's depiction of women, and after many explorations of Monroe's tragic history, that comment sounds a little naive. Plumb beneath the surface of what seems to be mere entertainment and you'll find disturbance in the depths. Take the celebrated ending of the film, for example. Sugar (Monroe) gets Jerry (Curtis), but at what price? As he warns her, he's exactly the kind of guy she knows is bad for her. And Osgood's (Brown) shrugging off the fact that Daphne (Lemmon) is a man is one of the funniest moments on film, but in fact, the two men have the kind of chemistry together (as in the tango scene) that works, whereas Curtis and Monroe have no real chemistry. Is the film making a case, well in advance of its time, for same-sex attraction? Probably not Wilder's conscious intention, but what does that matter? As for the difficulties of working with Monroe that Wilder and her co-stars later complained about -- though Curtis eventually retracted the much-quoted (including by me) statement that kissing her was "like kissing Hitler" -- this remains perhaps her best film and best performance. Imagine the movie with Mitzi Gaynor (originally thought of for the part and on standby in case Monroe bailed on it) and you have nothing like the one we now know. In lesser hands than Wilder's the clichés (men in drag on run from gangsters) would have resulted in a second-rate comedy. The real marvel is that Wilder produced something enduring out of clichéd material. Curtis and Lemmon are great, even though their roles are the traditional comic teaming of a bully (Curtis) and a patsy (Lemmon), the formula already worked over by Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Sometimes what you have to do is take the formula and transcend it.

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