Review and Recap of Judy: Beyond the Rainbow

This is yet another documentary that I repeatedly watched and re-watched on YouTube. The A&E (from the days before they aired Duck Dynasty and before they completely abandoned their original purpose, but I digress) documentary from 1997, as a part of their Biography series, tells the story of the incomparable singer and actress, Judy Garland. The documentary is told through narration, archive photos and footage, and interviews from numerous people who knew Garland.

Judy: Beyond the Rainbow focuses Garland’s life from shortly before her birth, to her death.

It begins with Garland’s upbringing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and focuses on her beginnings of stardom.  Her family moved to California when she was four, and she began performing publicly with her two older sisters.

Garland eventually auditioned with MGM at the age of 12, and she captivated the studio with her singing voice, which was much, much, much, much more mature than would be expected for a girl her age.

MGM struggled to figure out what to do with Garland because she was too old to be a child star, but too young to be an adult performer.  At a height of four feet and eleven-and-a-half inches, she was did not have the look of other tall, slender actresses at MGM, such as Lana Turner.  She was a “girl next door.”

Eventually, Garland was cast in her signature role, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  This film included her signature song “Over the Rainbow” which she would sing for the rest of her life.

Throughour the 1940s Garland became a big star; she also got married to Vincente Minnelli, and had her first child, Liza Minnelli, but there were lots of problems in her professional life.  Her dependency on drugs made it more and more difficult to keep up with the demands that MGM made of her.  She was fired from three films, and left MGM.

Despite this, she found renewed success on stage including, most notably on the Palace on Broadway.

Garland married again to Sid Luft, who, as her manager, was a big part in her success singing on stage.  They later had two children, Lorna and Joey Luft

Garland and Luft tried to make a comeback with the film A Star Is Born for Warner Bros., but the production was troubled.  Despite this, the film was very good and premiered to universally positive reviews.  Then Warner Bros. decided to cut about 30 minutes from the film, which caused outrage.  The film failed to make a profit, but Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.  She was expected to win.  Since she had recently given birth, a camera crew was set up in her room to broadcast her acceptance speech.  However, Grace Kelly won for her role in The Country Girl.  The crew immediately packed up their equipment and left, without saying another word.

Through the rest of the 1950s, Garland performed on stage and on TV.  In the early 1960s she had her own show on CBS, The Judy Garland Show, but it lasted for only one season.

In 1969, Garland married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans in London, and they lived in the Chelsea neighborhood.  On June 22, 1969, Deans found Garland dead on the bathroom floor.  This ended the life of an incomparable singer, actress, and entertainer.

The documentary is one of my favorites because of the subject.  Garland was very talented.  But her talent was equally matched by the troubles of her life.  It was easy to see the triumphs and struggles of Garland’s life, and this was helped by the numerous amounts of archival footage, narration, and interviews with several the actors, musicians, and filmmakers that worked with Garland.  I really recommend this documentary to fans of Garland and fans of classic cinema.

 

 

 

Recap and Review of Boys (Original Title: Jongens)

Boys (originally called Jongens) is a Dutch film.  It was released on TV in the Netherlands in February of 2014.  It was so popular that it was re-released in theaters (that would never happen in America, where most TV movies are considered to be average at best, if they’re not on HBO).  It was later sold to other countries.  I saw it on Netflix.

The film is about a fifteen-year-old boy named Sieger who lives with his widowed father, Theo, and his rebellious older brother, Eddy.

Sieger and his best friend, Stef, are on the track team.  They both perform so well that they are chosen to join two other teammates, Marc and Tom, in an important relay race.  Sieger begins to form a bond with Marc who is free-spirited and quirky.

One day after practice, the four boys are riding their bikes when they decide to swim in a nearby river.  They decide to race to see who gets in the water first.  Marc rides his bike into the water while fully clothed.  The others find it hilarious.

After spending some time swimming, Sieger, Stef, and Tom, decide to leave to go home.  Marc begs Sieger to stay, but Sieger declines.  While riding his bike with Stef, Sieger waits until Stef is out of sight, and he return to the river.  Sieger and Marc spend time skipping rocks and swimming; all of this culminates with Marc kissing Sieger, and Sieger kissing Marc back.

Confused, Sieger denies being gay, to which Marc says, “Of course you’re not.”

Over time, the two boys begin spending more time together.  Sieger meets Marc’s family, and they grow very close.

But there is a hitch.

Sieger and Stef begin dating two girls, and Marc starts to feel jealous, especially when Sieger tries to ignore Marc in public.

One day, Sieger and Marc make plans to swim one evening so that they can catch up with each other.  However, the plans are interrupted when Theo informs Sieger that Eddy is nowhere to be found (Eddy clashed with Theo over various issues such as Theo taking away Eddy’s moped for punishment of Eddy’s various indiscretions), and so Sieger searches for his brother.

Sieger finds Eddy.  Eddy refuses to return home, but he gives Sieger a ride home which is interrupted when Eddy almost runs over Marc.  Sieger gets out of the car to confront Marc who demands to know Sieger never showed up to swim.  Sieger pushes Marc, out of fear of their relationship being exposed, and he gets back in the car.  Feeling guilty, Sieger, gets out of the car after Eddy refuses to stop.

The next day, Sieger meets Marc at the relay race; he tries to apologize, but Marc refuses to listen.  The team, nonetheless, wins the race.

Back at home, Sieger and Stef celebrate with Theo, who reconciles with Eddy and returns to him his moped.  Sieger, however, feels that something is missing.  He takes the moped, and the film ends with Seiger and giving Marc a ride on the moped, as they ride into the distance.

I thought that this movie was rather sweet.  It had beautiful cinematography.  And it shared a sweet story of how a type of relationship unfolded.  I really like movies that are somewhat intimate and are primarily about two people who get close with each other.  Whether the relationship is between lovers, family members, or friends, I am drawn to depictions of a type of intimate relationship being played out on screen.  What I want most of all is feeling close to somebody.

Sieger was an engaging character.  It was easy to empathize with him.  Lots of people struggle with self-discovery and an evolving sense of self, and of learning to be open about who they are.

Marc was also a great character.  He is one of those characters who shows you how to embrace all of the things that make you unique, all without making a big deal about it.

 

Review and Recap of Valley of the Dolls

In the summer of 2012, I discovered Valley of the Dolls on Netflix (I am sad to say that it not available on Netflix anymore, as of this writing; I found that out yesterday when trying to re-watch it for the umpteenth time.). I watched it, and enjoyed it greatly. This movie has been popular for nearly fifty years, and it considered to be one of the great cult camp classics.

The film was based on the novel of the same name by Jaqueline Susann. Susann wanted to become a famous actress, although her mother predicted that because of her high score on an IQ test, she would become a famous writer. Ever since Susann graduated from high school, she tried to become an actress, but never was successful, only getting small roles. She did have her own talk show on the now defunct and mostly forgotten early TV network, DuMont, called Jacqueline Susann’s Open Door, but it was short-lived.

In the 1960s, Susann drew upon her experiences in Hollywood, and she wrote her very first novel, Valley of the Dolls.  It became a huge hit, and in 1967, Twentieth Century Fox made it into a movie.  The movie was one of the top-grossing films of the year.  But it was universally panned by critics who called it poorly-written and acted and trashy.  Nonetheless, it has endured as a so-bad-it’s-good cult classic.

Valley of the Dolls tells the stories of three women dealing with the professional and personal struggles of stardom.

Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) is a ingenue from the small New England town of Lawrenceville who moves to New York City to start a new life and gain new experiences; she wants most of all to find out who she is what she wants from life.  Anne begins working as a secretary in a law firm for singers and actors.  While delivering contracts to egotistical Broadway veteran Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), who is preparing for a new musical, she meets and befriends Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), an up and coming actress and singer with a small role and single musical number in the show, and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), a showgirl who is quite sexy, but has no real talent and who is a backup dancer in the production.  In addition, in the office, she meets and begins a romance with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke), the nephew of one of the firm’s founders.  Their relationships run into trouble due to Lyon’s unwillingness to ever get married. Lyon leaves Anne to go to England to research a book he plans to write.  After this, Anne is offered a chance to be the face of a line of beauty products called Gillian’s by the company’s head, Kevin Gillmore (Charles Drake), due to her refined, natural, relatable, and elegant beauty.  Anne becomes a nation-wide celebrity known as the Gillian Girl and eventually becomes engaged to Kevin.  At the height of her fame, Anne has a chance encounter with Lyon and reunites with him, ending her engagement to Kevin.  In meantime, she attempts to support Neely and Jennifer throughout their struggles.  After learning that Lyon is cheating with Neely, she begins using dolls to cope, but soon she gives them up, leaves him, and returns home to Lawrenceville, realizing that it’s the only place where she can thrive.  Lyon begs her for forgiveness and asks her to marry him, but she turns him down, while suggesting that she might change her mind in the future.

Neely O’Hara is a talented young singer with a single number in a musical on Broadway, but Helen Lawson, the star of the show demands that her one song be cut from the show, as she fears being upstaged by Neely.  Despite this setback, and with the help of Lyon, Neely sings in a telethon, gains prominence, and decides to make it big in Hollywood.  With the support of boyfriend-turned husband, Mel (Martin Milner) and dolls—amphetamines to be alert throughout the day barbiturates to sleep at night—Neely becomes the biggest star in Hollywood, but Hollywood changes Neely for the worse, making her abrasive and egotistical.  Mel realizes that Neely is no longer the woman he married and leaves her; after their divorce, Neely marries Ted Casablanca, a fashion designer, but, the dolls and the pressures of stardom become too much to handle.  Ted leaves her for another woman due to her drug dependency and workload making her too tired to have sex.   Neely’s addictions cause her to become unreliable, and she is replaced by another actress on her latest movie.  To get away from everything, Neely travels to San Francisco.  While in a bar she plays one of her songs on a jukebox, and while singing along to it, a man insults her.  Angry, Neely throws her drink in face; he tries to attack her, but he is restrained, and Neely leaves the bar.   She walks among the city’s strip clubs and adult entertainment and sees a theater marquee advertising a pornographic film that Jennifer appeared in.  The next morning, Neely wakes up in a motel to a strange man stealing her money; distraught, she overdoses and wakes up to Anne and Lyon who checked her into a sanitarium.   Neely recovers and attempts to find new success on Broadway.  However, her egotistical behavior causes Lyon to quit being her manager.   Shortly before the premiere of her new musical, Neely takes dolls and drinks alcohol, leaving her in no condition to perform. Her understudy is sent to go on in her place.  The understudy is a sensation, and Neely walks around an alley and breaks down, realizing that she has lost everybody and everything in her life.

Jennifer North is a showgirl who despite having considerable sex appeal, is rather untalented.  Her jobs in the show business world consist of showing off her body.  She meets Tony Polar (Tony Scotti), a nightclub singer and begins an affair with him; despite the objections of his half-sister and manager Miriam (Lee Grant), Jennifer and Tony get married.  They move to Hollywood so that Tony can begin acting, but his success is limited.  Shortly after a studio drops his option, Tony suddenly has difficulty walking and forgets who Jennifer is; Miriam tells Jennifer that he has a  genetically-inherited disorder called Huntington’s chorea (now called Huntington’s disease) which is incurable and causes a person’s muscular and mental functions to gradually decrease.  Miriam explains that she and Tony had different fathers, that Tony’s father had the disease, and that she didn’t tell Tony because she was uncertain if would ever happen to him, and she knew it would distress him; the disease was the reason why Miriam objected to him getting married and why she put Tony and Jennifer on a strict budget because she needed to save as much money as possible for when he inevitably has to be committed.  Jennifer who is pregnant with Tony’s baby decides to have an abortion out of fear that the child will inherit the disorder.  Tony is committed in a sanitarium (which would now be called a psychiatric hospital) and to support him, Jennifer decides to appear in “art films,” which are actually soft-core pornographic films, in France; she hates the entire ordeal because when she married Tony she gave up doing jobs that require the exploitation of her body.  After making the films, Jennifer returns to America and finds that Tony’s disease has progressed to the point that he doesn’t remember who she is.  Shortly afterwards, Jennifer is diagnosed with breast cancer and must have a mastectomy, which distresses her because she has no talent and would no longer be able to use her only asset, her body, to earn a living and keep Tony in the sanitarium.  Feeling as though she has lost everything in the world that she has ever had, she commits suicide by taking an overdose of dolls.

Valley of the Dolls is a favorite of mine.

I do find it watchable, and I do not think it’s too bad.  But it has some major flaws.

One of them is hammy and forced and stilted acting.  Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara does not act some dramatic scenes well enough, and they come across as almost comical.

Bad dialogue.  My favorite line in the film is the scene where Jennifer North is attending a screening of an erotic film she starred in, and her character’s husband says in French after she reaches orgasm and knocks over a bottle of wine and two glasses on the floor, “Gabrielle, the wine almost fell in my shoes.”  Nobody says stuff like that.  Another gem in that scene is this exchange:

Jennifer’s character Gabrielle: If you were not my husband, I would be crazy about you.

Gabrielle’s husband: I will get a divorce tomorrow.

Undeveloped storylines: Late in the film, after Lyon Burke, Anne Welles’s boyfriend accompanies Neely back to New York for her planned comeback on Broadway, they begin an affair.  Anne is devastated and begins using sleeping pills to cope.  But she realizes that she is going on the same path of destruction that Neely and Jennifer (who by that point in the movie had taken her own life), and she gives up the pills and returns to her New England hometown.  The Neely/Lyon affair comes out of nowhere.  I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched the film.

Regardless, I enjoy the film because the story and characters always remain interesting.  What draws me to the film is its depiction of Hollywood and stardom.  It is not all fun and glamour.  People try to destroy you in order to avoid being replaced by you.  You are exploited just because you are sexy, and not because of any talent.  People make impossible demands of you, and they forget that you are a human being and not invincible.  Film shoots often do not go as planned.  While the film did not do the best at addressing these issues, due to how disjointed it is, it was fascinating to watch she challenges unfold on the screen.

Review and Recap of the Documentary, Marilyn: The Final Days and the Film, Something’s Got to Give

Multiple times on YouTube, I have watched and re-watched the documentary Marilyn: The Finals Days.  It focused on the final days in the life of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe, and they were as tumultuous as many of the other moments in her life.

Monroe signed on the do the film Something’s Got to Give for 20th Century Fox.  It was directed by George Cukor, and it co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse.  The plot of the film was as follows: Ellen Arden has been lost as sea for five years.  Her husband, Nick Arden, has her declared legally dead, and he marries his second wife Bianca Steele Arden.  The same day, Ellen is rescued and returns home.  This leads to complications as Nick must tell Bianca the truth of Ellen’s rescue, but he becomes jealous when he learns that Ellen was stranded on an island with a man.

The production of the film was very troubled.  Cukor was reluctant to work with Monroe after her unreliable behavior on the set of Let’s Make Love.  In fact, Monroe was very difficult to work with.  Nearly every film she did was over budget and behind schedule.  She often was absent and late on the set due to mental conditions, physical aliments, emotional issues, among other struggles.  And Fox had even bigger worries, their film Cleopatra was even more behind schedule and even more over budget.  Something’s Got to Give was intended to be released by October 1962 so as to help raise desperately needed money for the studio.

In addition to the the studio’s financial woes and Monroe’s reputation for unreliability, the film had no finished script, and constant re-writes put the film over budget before any footage had been shot.

Filming was scheduled to begin on April 16, 1962, but Cukor chose to delay filming by a week to April 23, 1926, and Monroe traveled from Los Angeles to New York City, to go over her role with the help of acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg at The Actors Studio; Monroe had been studying there and with the Strasbergs for several years in order to improve her acting skills, so that she could show the world that she is more than just a dumb blonde sex object.  When she returned, Monroe became ill; she had caught a cold from Paula, which developed into something far worse.

On the day filming was to begin, Monroe called in sick, and the studio doctor said that she has sinusitis; it was recommended that filming be delayed by one month so that Monroe could fully recover, but the studio refused.  Cukor re-organized the schedule to shoot scenes without Monroe.

Monroe reported for work for the first time on April 30, 1962.

Monroe was frequently absent from work because of her illnesses which included sinusitis, bronchitis, fevers, and headaches.  This pushed the film behind scheduled and even more over budget. but soon, the cast and crew were getting tired of her.   Many felt that she was not really sick at all.  They so no evidence of her being unwell.  The film fell ten days behind schedule. When time came for her to sing at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala in New York, the studio did not want her to go although she had been given permission to attend before filming started.

Monroe went anyway, and this was an iconic moment in her life, when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

Fox was furious.  But Monroe attended work regularly during  the next several days.  And she filmed her iconic nude scene which helped give the film more publicity, and it put the her back in the studio’s good graces.

On June 1, 1962, Monroe turned 36.  The crew wanted to celebrate as soon as she arrived on set, but Cukor insisted that they wait until the end of the working day.  After a simple celebration, Monroe attended a Muscular Dystrophy benefit at Dodger Stadium.

The following Monday, Monroe called in sick yet again.  The cold weather on the night of the benefit caused her to get a fever.  Fox had enough.  They fired her for breach of contract.  All of the cast and crew were suspended.

There were plans to replace Monroe, but Martin refused to do the film without Monroe.  Monroe and Fox came to a new deal.  Monroe would be paid one million dollars to do two films for Fox, and Fox agreed to replace Cukor with Jean Negulesco whom she had worked with on How to Marry a Millionaire  Monroe also agreed to not have her acting coach, Paula Strasberg on the set.  Strasberg was unpopular because many of Monroe’s directors felt that they had less control over Monroe than Strasberg did.  The contract was signed on August 1, 1962.  The film was to resume production in October.

On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead of an overdose.  The film was shut down.

The documentary then mentioned Monroe’s unforgettable legacy, and the impact she has had on countless people since her death.

(It is mentioned that eventually Fox, started over from scratch and remade the film as Move Over, Darling, starring, Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen.)

What I found fascinating about the documentary was the struggles that were depicted.  The struggles that Monroe had personally, and the struggles of the studio were very clear discussed.  There were numerous talking head interviews from several people who knew Monroe, such as Cyd Chrassise, producer Henry T. Weinstein, the Strasbergs’ daughter Susan Strasberg, Monroe’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, among others, who gave their own insight about Monroe and the film’s troubled production.   And there was plenty of archival footage and photographs

The next part of the documentary is a reconstruction of Something’s Got to Give.  Most of the footage was unseen for many decades until for the documentary, it was restored and edited into a 37-minute segment, which served to give people an example of what it may have looked like, had it been released as planned.

It’s hard to review the film.  On the one hand, it feels unfair to criticize a movie that was never finished.  However, with all things being considered, it was not very bad.  With what few scenes were completed and edited together, it seems very interesting.  There are funny moments.  And despite there being many gaps in the narrative, everything is coherent, and it ends with a resolution of a kind.

The documentary can be seen here, with the film immediately following:

The film can bee seen by itself here:

And you can see some raw-unedited footage here.