Tag Archives: screwball comedy

The Passion of Anna

File this one under Good Ideas from Uninspired Executives. Anna Faris has been cast in the Private Benjamin remake.

I think I’m catching on. Hollywood is now a place wherein new talent is eschewed for new versions of old talent (ie Anna Faris is not Anna Faris, she is the new Goldie Hawn.) If new talent happens to slip onto the screen in Big Hollywood, it means someone was not doing their job, or they were looking the other way at the wrong moment. Originality, these days, is an aberration, someone’s mistake.

So while I’m excited at the prospect of Anna Faris becoming the next Goldie Hawn, I’m concerned that Faris, a comedienne of appreciable gifts, will be drawn into a kind of surrogate career, like Madeline, the Kim Novak character from Vertigo, who was possessed by Carlotta Valdez. But who was she really? Jimmy Stewart never knew.

Faris deserves her own persona. Though she shares with Goldie an affinity for easygoing sexiness, she has a tomboyishness, an up-for-anything quality that brings to mind Carole Lombard at her almost-best. If only Faris’s scripts were up to her potential, I’m certain she could one day turn out a performance as full and witty as Lombard’s masterpiece, Maria Tura in To Be or Not To Be, but in the meantime, relegated to the world of middling material and unappreciative executives, the actress will continue to produce, with industrial reliability, her particular brand of rock-solid comedy. But she’s capable of more.

I can already feel myself falling into the studio trap of identifying one actress through the work of another, which is I why I want to look at Faris in double counterpoint, from the perspectives of both Goldie and Lombard. First, a distinction: for all of her airy cuteness, Goldie Hawn is a naturalist at heart. She’s really messy underneath her composure (which is really what Private Benjamin is all about), and though she tries to put on airs, to keep it together, what she craves is simplicity. Among other things, it comes from having a terrific smile, a wailing whine, and sometimes even anger. She wants to be real; that’s what I mean by naturalist. It made her an ideal star for 80s anti-yuppie comedies, reverse Cinderella stories like Overboard (which, by the way, they’re remaking with Jennifer Lopez).

Lombard, on the other hand, is not a naturalist, she’s a fantasist, and as we see in her best roles, she better than anyone mastered the hair-brained antics of a genuine screwball. If she had to flip, slip, fall, she was best off doing them all at once, and then starting from the top and doing them all again. The more elaborate her actions the better. It made her an ideal star for 30s escapist comedies, which gave reality a good run for its money. Back then, more was merrier.

Our gal Anna combines them both. But we still don’t know who she is really. Why we don’t is due to her youth, and the movies they put her in. Scary MovieThe House Bunny, and Observe and Report – these pictures have given us glimpses at Faris’s potential, at the great comedienne to come, but they don’t give her the opportunity to showcase her unique talent, whatever that may be. And I know it’s in there. It’s going to take time, both for her to mature and Hollywood to grow up, but when it comes out – as it did, just a little, briefly in Lost in Translation – I think we’re all going to be very impressed.

Share

Advertisements

The Arthurian Romance

Well, it had to happen. They’re remaking Arthur. With Russell Brand.

The original Arthur, written and directed by Steve Gordon, and starring Dudley Moore in the title role, is one of those almost-great movies with so much great and non-great in it, it’s hard to not not watch all of it, over and over again.

What it has is a sensational first half, loaded with rapid-fire one-liners so well-crafted, rhythmically attuned, and deliciously delivered (by Moore, of course), one can’t help but compare the high points of the film to Noel Coward’s best moments. The difficult thing about one-liners, as low-level productions of Coward and Wilde have famously shown, is that, when mishandled, they can come off as arch, or improbable to the point of distancing the players from the play. They can sound like spoken literature, not dialogue.

In Arthur (and while we’re at it, Arthur 2: On the Rocks), Dudley Moore surmounts the challenge by speaking his lines not to declaim the joke, but as if to entertain himself. And only himself. Watching Moore, we understand that Arthur, who laughs sometimes just to laugh, is an unyielding, almost compulsive hedonist of humor. He even finds his own laughter funny, which is funny. In fact, Arthur gets such a kick out of Arthur, he doesn’t seem to care that no one else does. That makes him a kind of stand-up deposed, and creates a pathos lacking in most contemporary interpretations of Coward, or Wilde, or even Preston Sturges, who often hurries his jokes on through without stopping for a moment to ask why.

It means that Moore’s Arthur, for all of his frivolous whimsy, is absolutely real. Chaplin had that too.

The first twenty minutes of Arthur are among the funniest twenty minutes of film ever shot. Then Steve Gordon lets it get sentimental, he pushes Moore to mush, and before our very eyes, Liza Minnelli (oh yes, she’s in it too) seems to shove a pluck-filled hypodermic needled into her best vein and overdose for two hours. It’s a shame. But that makes it good fodder for a remake.

If there is one thing in Arthur that never flags, it’s John Gielgud. As Arthur’s butler/nanny, Gielgud is unspeakably gud. Like all brilliant actors, Sir John had the rare ability to fuse one attitude with its opposite, and linger, somehow, in the gulf. To observe him negotiate irritation and devotion is to witness a lifetime’s accumulation of skill distilled into a single performance. And as a former Cowardian, and onetime muse to Coward himself, Gielgud knows his way around a bon mot. Tynan described the actor’s technique as a feat of nimble grace. In 1953, he wrote, “Gielgud, seizing a parasol, crosses by tightrope.”

As I write this, I see that Meryl Streep is rumored to take on the Gielgud part. I’ll alert the media.

A Perfect Day for Bogdanofish

On Monday The Hollywood Reporter announced Peter Bogdanovich will write and direct an adaptation of Kurt Andersen’s monolithic novel Turn of the Century. What lovely news.

It’s been a white since we’ve had a big-screen feature from Bogdanovich, and it’s about time. The Cat’s Meow, his reimagining of the Ince yachting incident, was released in 2001, almost a decade ago. Since then, he’s been busy with everything from Sopranos to Tom Petty, and though many may not know it, Bogdanovich has used the time to turn out some terrific work. Directed by John Ford, televised by Turner Classic Movies in 2006, will surely become one of the most essential studies of John Ford in either book or film form, and will gain in importance as Ford’s legacy becomes more and more wound up in the past. While Ford’s contemporaries, giants like Hawks and Cukor, will have an easier time reaching audiences of the future – their sensibilities being so sharp and forever modern – visitors to Ford Country, I’m sure, will need more of a roadmap. Directed by John Ford will be just that.

Bogdanovich would be the first to admit that he learned landscapes from John Ford. Films like The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and Nickelodeon are full of expansive vistas, the sort of evocative, mythic terrains we think of when we think of Fort Apache or The Searchers. Even They All Laughed, Bogdanovich’s dazzling New York comedy, contains a Fordian fascination with topography. Some of those low-angle shots of John Ritter framed against shining skyscrapers bring to mind Ford’s famous depictions of John Wayne beaming against the desert sky. Monument Valley has been usurped by Times Square, but the effect is the same: setting is emotion.

This is all to say that a bit of Ford, a touch of Hawks, and a generous helping of Bogdanovich could – if the Movie Gods decree it – fuse to make Turn of the Century a very good thing. Peter Bogdanovich is at home in a crowd, and a rollicking, expansive satire like Turn of the Century, with its cast of thousands and epic scope, may very well provide him with the sort of omnibus ingredients that have buttressed his handful of masterworks.

At least I hope it does. Bogdanovich certainly deserves another terrific piece of time. “An’ that’s the thing,” Jimmy Stewart said to him, “that’s the great thing about the movies…After you learn – and you’re good and Gawd helps ya and you’re lucky to have a personality that comes across – then what you’re doing is – you’re giving people little…little, tiny pieces of time…that they never forget.”

Turn of the Century is scheduled to begin shooting next spring in New York.

Hawks on Lombard

Bogdanovich: The scene [from Twentieth Century] in the train compartment with Lombard trying to kick Barrymore looks particularly impromptu.

Hawks: That was the first scene we shot in the picture. Lombard had never done that kind of comedy before, but I cast her because I’d seen her at a party with a couple of drinks in her and she was hilarious and uninhibited and just what the part needed. When she came on the set, though, she was emoting all over the place – she was trying very hard and it was just dreadful. Barrymore was very patient and we tried it a few times and she was just so stilted and stiff. Then I said to her, “Come on, let’s take a walk,” and we went outside and I asked her how much money she was getting for the picture. She told me and I said, “What would you say if I told you you earned your whole salary this morning and didn’t have to act anymore?” And she was stunned. So I said, “Now forget about the scene. What would you do if someone said such and such to you?” And she said, “I’d kick him in the balls.” And I said, “Well, he said something like that to you – why don’t you kick him?” She said, “Are you kidding?” And I said, “No.” So we went back on the set and I gave her sometime to think it over, and then we tried that scene and we did one take and that was it. And when I said, “Print,” Barrymore yelled out. “That was fabulous!” And she burst into tears and ran off the set. Well, she never began a picture after that without sending me a telegram that said, “I’m gonna start kicking him.”