Cybill’s Defining Role: Daisy Miller

DATELINE: Top-Notch Henry James

cybill Perfectly Cybill!

As mentor to the star, director, creative  force, and whiz kid, young Peter Bogdonavich took dry Henry James and made a fast-moving, emotionally-moving film of a famous novella, Daisy Miller.

You could not find a more perfect American girl than Cybill Shepherd as Daisy: unspoiled, direct, and completely at odds with social conventions in 19th century Europe.

Caught between women like her scatter-brained mother (Cloris Leachman) and an American social doyen Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan), Daisy does not stand a chance if she ignores or simply teases Frederick Winterbourne (brilliant young Barry Brown, too soon gone to a premature grave), an American who is a permanent resident of Europe.

Whether it’s going on a tourist trip to Byron’s famous castle without chaperone, or worse, going to the place of the viral Roman fever at the Colosseum, Daisy is hell-bent on living her way. Extraordinary location filming makes this a treat.

Winterbourne resists the notion that her scandalous behavior is anything bad. Yet, he cannot convince others in his social set—and crumbles in their heavy pressure.

Rich Americans policed themselves to try to avoid any ugly American image. Fast-talking Daisy, flirtatious and coy, breaks all the rules in her nouveau riche niche.

If Daisy learns there is a social convention, she is hell-bent on testing its merits. What she does not expect is that she will be shunned by the Americans living abroad. To a social butterfly, as Cybill Shepherd delineates to a T, this is far more damaging than she expects.

Perhaps this quintessential American girl could bear all if only Winterbourne remained on her side. He is sorely tested, and ultimately as the laconic Barry Brown narrates, he has lived too long in foreign places.

Alas, it is Brown, the actor, who is gone too soon, based on the promise of this extraordinary film performance.

 

 

 

Windy Conditions for Orson Welles

DATELINE: Citizen Kane’s Bookend

Orson's Last

It’s disorienting to see a new movie that is 35-years old with stars long dead: John Huston, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, Paul Stewart, and all the usual Orson Welles friends. He also included new discoveries in his films like Bob Random and Rich Little. Orson called it The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie is a mockumentary of a movie made on the last day of the life of a legendary film director named Jack Hannaford.

Huston is Hannaford, playing God again, or the devil to Welles as observed by Susan Strasberg (daughter of James Dean’s acting tutor Lee Strasberg) as she plays a carbon copy of film maven Pauline Kael.

As the insider look at Hollywood develops, those in the know will begin to recognize that Johnny Dale is Jimmy Dean, and that the director appears to be a combo of Nick Ray and George Stevens, the men behind the films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Indeed, two of Dean’s co-stars have roles in the film: Dennis Hopper and Mercedes McCambridge. Our money is on Nick Ray—whose ambiguous sexual relationship with stars seems to be at the heart of the Welles picture. He is giving us the ultimate insider look.

Welles never used nudity in his films until this final movie: he plays to the times, psychedelic sex, which now seems dated. The film made by Johnny Dale is sandwiched within and around the life of Hannaford who dies in Dale’s Porsche Spyder, a copy of Dean’s death car.

All the usual Orson touches and themes are present: betrayal of people, rather than principle. There are no principles in Hollywood. He also has a field day ridiculing all those New Wave European directors.

Movie magic is everywhere because Welles could do so much with so little—and scenes seem seamless, even if shot with body doubles three years later.

Critics claimed he never wanted to finish the picture because it was his raison d’etre. It was also his Swan Song and his testament to Hollywood. It’s brilliant and fascinating with every step of the much-sought divine accident that Welles believed essential to film inspiration. Highly recommended.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead!

DATELINE: New Orson Welles Documentary

 3 amigos Three Amigos, More or Less!

If Orson Welles spoke this epitaph, then he was prescient. However, when Peter Bogdanovich reports this at the documentary’s start, his long-time girlfriend Oja Kodar refutes it. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is so on target. Alan Cumming narrates among the powerful voices.

Who knows? It is a juicy start to the recent Netflix restoration and premiere of Orson’s last film:  The Other Side of the Wind.

Since the final masterpiece of the Master is a mockumentary, years ahead of its time, it seems only fair that this documentary on the making of the film over 15 years is different than most.

You may be surprised at how many illustrious people, now aged, are still with us with fond and not-so-fond memories of Welles, who was bossy and a tyrant as well as an auteur genius.

He shot what he pictured in his mind. His philosophy in the end was one of “divine accidents” during filming as sources of inspiration that makes a monumental motion picture.

Welles suffered for his art. Money was the bugaboo and taking it from the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law was a desperately bad move. He lost all control of the movie when the country went Islamic extremist. And, the French courts also tried to keep him from the one movie that kept him alive and creative.

Is it autobiographical? Perhaps, but Welles cast his friend director John Huston as Jack Hannaford—who could be John Ford or Ernest Hemingway or even Welles himself. It could be Huston was playing Huston. It is likely another famous director of their era: Nick Ray.

Scenes were filmed in fragments, often years between takes. Yet, it flows like some insane chorus of dissonant singers.

Netflix produced the documentary and has completed the last film of Welles (reviewed separately). If you need your appetite whet, this documentary will prime your pump.