A Royal Wedding Connection in Nothing Sacred

Last night I found myself at my old stomping ground – the public library.  Back in the day, I introduced films at the library’s weekly classic film night. (I still do it sometimes but that’s a different story.) When I saw that Nothing Sacred, a 1937 screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard was the classic film night’s selection, I had to check it out. I had never seen this movie before and curiosity got the best of me. Nothing Sacred is not only the first screwball comedy filmed in color, but also Lombard’s only Technicolor film.

Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a woman who is misdiagnosed with radium poisoning and has never left her small hometown. Fredric March is Wally Cook, a New York City journalist for the Morning Star. When his credibility is jeopardized (you should always “fact check that shit” people), Wally is demoted to the obituary editor. Wally comes across a story about Hazel’s illness and convinces her to come spend her last weeks in New York on the newspaper’s dime. Little does he know that Hazel doesn’t have radium poisoning at all and she fakes her illness for the free trip to NYC. Hazel quickly becomes the subject of endless media coverage. Hilarity and romance ensues. (Hey, it’s a 30s screwball comedy after all!)

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A Black Swan of a Controversy

Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan has come under fire recently. How much of the complicated dance sequences did she really perform herself? How much was performed by a dancing double? Sarah Lane, the double, came forward and said that Portman only performed about five person of the dance numbers. Fox Searchlight, director Darren Arnofsky, and Mila Kunis have all defended Portman’s performance.

Lane has written a compelling post about the rigorous demands of ballet and what a film like Black Swan means for the ballet world in the Wall Street Journal. She writes: “My only wish is that Natalie, Darren and certain others who worked closely on the movie, could have grasped the beauty and the heart of true ballet. If they had, they would have advocated for this art more and given the real dancers the credit that they deserve.”

Is Lane justified to bring her concerns to the media?  To an extent, yes. She obviously feels as though she has been cast aside by the film’s producers in favor of Portman, the star who went on to win the industry’s biggest award. Lane feels that the media is the only place she can turn to justify her concerns and gain any sort credit.

But there is an oversight in Lane’s commentary. She seems to have seen a different version of Black Swan than I did. Yes, Black Swan is about the beauty and heart of true ballet; there is no doubt that the film captures and respects this notion.  But it is also a highly nuanced and intricate film about, for instance, the decaying female body, mental instability, sexual repression, and personal desire. Ballet serves, in many ways, a metaphor for all of this. On top of all this, Black Swan is a feast of special effects and visual creativity.

Natalie Portman’s performance is about more than whether or not she  dances en pointe. Her strongest scenes are not these dance sequence that become inundated by these special effects, including the use a double. It is in the scene early on in the film when Nina seeks out Vincent Cassel’s Thomas Leroy to convince him that she deserves the part of the Swan Queen. Until this moment, Nina had been a mostly silent character, shown to be meticulously dedicated to her craft and overwhelmingly quiet. It is Portman’s first scene with extended dialogue. During it you see how Nina, the character, attempts to morph into something she wants to be for the part she desire most. She wears her hair down, she wears bright red lipstick, and she attempts to really use her voice. Scenes like this are the reason why Portman won an Oscar for acting.

This is why when Lane came forward with her grievances, I thought “So?”. Lane has unintentionally exposed her naiveté about how movies are made. Yes, movies are an art form, but they are also apart of an industry. Lane, unfortunately, just became a sort of pawn in that industry. Lane has a right to express her opinion on the matter. But there is a considerable difference between what Natalie Portman did in Black Swan and what Lane did.

What are your thoughts on this controversy? Does it affect your perception of Black Swan? And, perhaps the more pressing question, how long did you wait before purchasing your copy of Black Swan?

The Dilemma’s Dilemma

Today is National Coming Out Day.

For that reason, it is appropriate to discuss a controversy that has rocked Hollywood, but not nearly hard enough as I believe it should have.

In a teaser trailer for Ron Howard’s 2011 comedy, The Dilemma, starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, a scene was included of Vaughn’s character insulting an electric car by calling it “gay”. The trailer offended Anderson Cooper. It offended Ellen Degeneres. It offended me.

When I first saw the trailer, I was immediately turned off from seeing The Dilemma. Just like when someone uses the word “gay” as a derogatory statement in real life and I then consider them to be immature and tactless people.

In response to these growing claims of insensitivity on the part of the studio, especially at a time when the issue of LGBT teen suicides has (finally) become major news, Universal has pulled the trailer and replaced it with this one:

In a statement Universal said: “The teaser trailer for The Dilemma was not intended to cause anyone discomfort. In light of growing claims that the introduction to the trailer is insensitive, it is being replaced.”

So the trailer has been reedited (although the scene is still in the movie) and the controversy has been put aside. But not because of the claims of insensitivity. Universal recognized the liability of promoting a Ron Howard movie during Oscar season. No doubt The Dilemma will be pushed in some way as an award-worthy film.

The studio might have acted in one way but it is not the most appropriate way. Universal made no move to address why using the word “gay” as a derogatory term is not acceptable by any means. Instead of promoting an open dialogue about this issue, Universal left it at, “We’re sorry. We fixed it. (Temporarily.) But you should still see this movie.” While this does make sense from a marketing perspective, what is comes down to is this issue should not be passed over and just edited away so a movie can be successful.

I realize that it is not the studio’s job to do anything beyond release new marketing materials and protect their financial investment. They are, after all, a corporation with a certain agenda. For this reason, either the filmmakers or the actors should address why the sequence is inappropriate and not just let it wither away. By making the use of the word “gay” a non-issue, it remains a non-issue. Homophobia is not held to the same standards as other forms of bigotry in the United States. The discussion needs to start now and whenever possible, even if it is just a movie trailer, before it becomes too late.

What do you think? Did the studio do the right thing by reediting the trailer and leaving it at that? Or is this just a non-issue that has been blown up for no reason at all?

A Treasure Trove of American Silents

“It’s one of the rare cases where the tyranny of distance has worked in our and the films’ favor.” — Steve Russell, the New Zealand archive’s manager of corporate services

In the New Zealand Film Archive, some 75 American silents have been discovered and are in the process of being returned to the United States. The New York Times has a slide show of images from these films, which include Upstream (1927) directed by John Ford and Maytime (1923) starring Clara Bow.

The films discovered have a highly significant place in American silent film history. The backstage drama Upstream, for instance, reflects the influence that German director F.W. Murnau had on Ford’s naturalistic  style. Other significant films include Dolly of the Dallies starring Mary Fuller; little survives of her work.

The discovery of the films has been monumental but shipping the films, which were printed on highly flammable nitrate stock, and funding the restoration has proven to be difficult. Read the NY Times article for those details.

The preserved films will be made public through archival screenings and as streaming video on the National Film Preservation Foundation website.

Is Skins the Movie Ready to go?

The movie version of Skins initially made me skeptical. How could this possibly live up to the exceptional series? After all, we have all seen what happened to the Sex and the City franchise. And would the actors, especially Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel who have achieved a huge degree of stardom since their Skins days, willingly reprise their roles?

The answer to that question is yes, according to this report. Hoult and Patel are reportedly ready to revisit their roles as Tony and Anwar respectively. There is no word if the other cast members are on board yet.

With Hoult and Patel on board, and if the writing is up to season 1 and 2 quality, and if the story is as mischievous as ever…

This is a lot of ifs. I’ll just have to wait and see what unfolds.

Is a Newsweek boycott in Order?

In an April 26 web exclusive, entitled “Straight Jacket”, for Newsweek, Ramin Setoodeh writes about openly gay actors playing straight characters on television and in movies. Here is an excerpt:

The reviews for the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room. The leading man of this musical-romantic comedy is supposed to be a single advertising peon named Chuck who is madly in love with a co-worker (Kristin Chenoweth). When the play opened on Broadway in 1968, Jerry Orbach, an actor with enough macho swagger to later fuel years and years of Law and Order, was the star. The revival hands the lead over to Sean Hayes, best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace. Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm. (The fact that he only came out of the closet just before Promises was another one of those Ricky Martin-duh moments.) But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

It is worth noting that Hayes has been nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Promises, Promises.

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Damn you, Slumdog Millionaire

Here is yet another reason for me to despise Slumdog Millionaire. NY Times columnist David Carr has handed over his Carpetbagger column to culture reporter Melena Ryzik. Why?

Carr told Variety that: “Last year was a really hard year. Slumdog went out front and stayed there, and I had four months to swan about nothing.” He added: “I love my fake friends. Penelope Cruz air-kissing you, even when she’s not exactly sure who you are, has to have an effect on you.”

I’m going to miss David Carr! The Carpetbagger, which returns Dec. 1, just won’t be the same. But I look forward to reading it just the same. (And, if you have haven’t read Carr’s memoir The Night of the Gun, I highly recommend it.) (And no, I don’t actually hate Slumdog Millionaire. I’m not that soulless.)