In the still-vital book Hitchcock/Truffaut, made up mostly (and in the first edition, pretty much entirely) of interviews between the former critic and filmmaker François Truffaut and the director Alfred Hitchcock conducted in the summer of 1962—over fifty years ago, now—the older director discusses his 1957 1958 film Vertigo mostly in terms of disappointment. While the filmmaker who at the time was known as the "Master of Suspense" seems pleased with the daring of the movie's scenario—"To put it plainly, the man wants to go to bed with a woman who's dead; he is indulging in a form of necrophilia"—and is understandably proud of the way he pulled off an ostensibly impossible track-out/forward zoom shot—"it only cost us nineteen thousand dollars"—for most of his exchange with Truffaut he plays the skeptic while the younger filmmaker tries to reassure him of the movie's strength. It's hard to remember, reading this book now, just how much its very existence was an argument for what few in the mainstream of movie culture at the time believed, e.g., that Hitchcock was a great artist. While the through-line of the perception of the greatness of Citizen Kane has been a largely consistent one, the world in which Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock is one that's a rather long way from a world in which Vertigo is proclaimed the greatest film of all time, or any such thing.
Hitchcock had originally planned to put Vera Miles in the lead role of Vertigo, and the details of their relationship and falling out are, as they've been revealed over the years, pretty unpleasant, and don't reflect well on Hitchcock. Hitchcock's account to Truffaut is both plain and enigmatic: "[S]he became pregnant just before the part that was going to turn her into a star. After that I lost interest; I couldn't get the rhythm going with her again."
Truffaut moves on: "I take it, from some of your interviews, that you weren't too happy with Kim Novak, but I thought she was perfect for the picture. There was a passive, animal quality about her that was exactly right for the part."
As it happens, one is now able to hear the actual tapes of the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews through the agency of various archives, online and off. I have not audited the discussion of Vertigo, but I can't help imagining Hitchcock emitting a long exhalation, if not an outright sigh, before saying: "Miss Novak arrived on the set with all sorts of preconceived notions that I couldn't possibly go along with. You know, I don't like to argue with a performer on the set; there's no reason to bring the electricians in on our troubles. I went to Kim Novak's dressing room and told her about the dressed and hairdos that I had been planning for several months. I also explained that the story was of less importance to me than the over-all visual impact on the screen, once the picture is completed."
Truffaut counters with a "there, there" variant: "It seems to me these unpleasant formalities make you unfair in assessing the whole picture. I can assure you that those who admire Vertigo like Kim Novak in it. Very few American actresses are quite as carnal on the screen. When you see Judy walking on the street, the tawny hair and make-up convey an animal-like sensuality. That quality is accentuated, I suppose, by the fact that she wears no brassiere."
While his erotic predilictions, both those that were obvious fifty years ago and have since been gone into in further detail, do not suggest that Hitchcock was much of what we call "a breast man," he does perk up here, and responds, "That's right, she doesn't wear a brassiere. As a matter of fact, she's particularly proud of that."
Animal-like sensuality? Hell, for the whole exchange Hitchcock and Truffaut do sound as if they're discussing some exotic zoo exhibit. And Truffaut's demural concerning "unpleasant formalities?" It's called directing, guys. While his routing condemnation on account of that "cattle" quip is indeed unfair, it's kind of undeniable that Hitchcock didn't have much patience with fussy performers. Not just the females—Paul Newman drove him up the wall. And when he wanted to play Pygmalion, watch out. It's also revealing to see the ostensibly more "progressive" Truffaut so naturally sliding into the alienated patriarchal mode of perception. In the event you were ever wondering why The Feminine Mystique needed to be written, it's all here in a nutshell. (It came out in 1963.) And yet, who would argue, if we look at the work by itself, that both Hitchcock and Truffaut were among the greatest directors of women, and among the most consistent providers of substantial roles for women. (Even at their most ornamental, Hitchcock women are never cardboard cutouts.)
Do directors talk about actresses as if they're objects because they (the directors) are men, or because they are directors, people whose job is, in a sense, to make subjects out of objects? In a 1960 interview with the journalist Archer Winsten, the director Richard Quine, talking about his latest film, Strangers When We Meet, said of Novak, the female lead in that film, "She's tremendously sensitive." He was quick to add a caveat: "If she doesn't know what she's doing, she draws a blank. Like in Pal Joey, she's innocuous." "Innocuous" is maybe the worst word you can apply to a performer. Perhaps Quine had a special investment in trying to sound professional, objective, in charge; he and Novak were romantically involved at the time of Strangers' making.
My friend Farran Smith Nehme recently posted, on her blog, a short essay about the largely lacking-in-compassion, and, to my mind and hardly incidentally, anti-feminist reaction to Novak's appearance at last Sunday's Oscar ceremony, and in that piece she examines the boorish, opportunistic treatment of Novak by Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn. If Novak had anything like a knight in shining armor at the studio, it was Quine, a one-time comic actor who had a number of B-pictures to his name as a director when Cohn assigned him to handle Novak's first starring vehicle, 1954's Pushover. If one of Pushover's most special features is just how prominent Novak's bralessness registers in a film girdled by the Production Code (honestly, not since Sign of the Cross has their been a more jarringly out-of-its-time reveal), Quine's overall treatment of Novak signals an appreciation of the depths that lurk beneath the breathtakingly alabaster surface. And in fact that is the theme of his next two films with Novak. In Bell, Book and Candle, Novak plays a character who can be rendered impotent by revealing her vulnerability. In Strangers When We Meet she plays a woman whose gorgeous looks back her into a neighborhood-sexpot corner that her gentle true nature inhibits her from clawing her way out of; all of her subsequent actions in the movie are determined by her impossible position. Of his four films with Novak, it's the final one, 1962's The Notorious Landlady, made after their romantic involvement ended, that iterates this dilemma as farce (Novak's character is suspected of a murder that of course she did not commit).
This, I think, adds up to a cinematic paradox that is both glorious and tragic. That Harry Cohn's best/worst efforts notwithstanding, Kim Novak became a great screen actress, and that at her greatest, the subject of her work was the difficulty of being "Kim Novak." See also Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid, the most frenetic and confused and strangely exhilarating of meta-movie farces, and Aldrich's The Legend of Lylah Clare, the most vicious of meta-movie expressions of self-loathing.
So. Here's where the gravy whose making I chronicled on Friday ended up, mostly. Turned out pretty well all told. (I did not take the picture; an appreciative guest did.)
What happened was, a couple of friends of My Lovely Wife and mine are talking about a move to the West Coast and Claire thought it would be nice to have them and another couple over for dinner before they flew the coop. So Claire offered a few potential dates and the consensus acceptances were for March 2. Once that was established we realized that March 2 was the night of the Oscars. Ooops! Our friends like movies but they're not big awards mavens so we weren't gonna suddenly morph the event into an Oscar party.
Anyway, missing the Oscars was not without precedent: last year we didn't see the Oscars either, because we were vacationing in Iceland. The ceremonies were taking place the night before we were to fly home, I think. Because I write, professionally even, about movies and, to a lesser extent, the industry that produces them, watching the Oscars isn't something I frown upon, and in past years I've had fun (I think) watching and live-tweeting and all that. But, you know, I'm not DRIVEN to watch the Oscars. On our last night in Rekjavik I wondered idly if there wasn't some all-night bar or something where Icelanders were watching the Oscars—maybe that Big Lebowski-themed bar on the main drag?—with the five-hour time difference and all...and after a desultory exploration of my options, I just decided to sleep.
Last night's dinner was awfully pleasant. I was particularly happy with the way I'd smoothed out the gravy, and the lasagna itself was as close to perfect as I've gotten it—moist but not wet, held together really well, and was super-tasty. I reiterated to my guests how my lasagna-baking is related to the bell-casting episode that ends Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, and that went over well. Eventually the conversation got around to music, and one of our guests asked another what he made of Bob Dylan's Chrysler commercial. After the does-he-really-need-the-money question was batted around a bit, I attempted to wax philosophical. I shrugged and said, "Dylan's in show business. Always has been. Show business people do commercials." To say that show business and art-making aren't mutually exclusive activities/endeavors is a huge understatement, and although it's an occupational hazard that one's show-business activities could have a deleterious effect on one's art, I'm not one to think that Dylan's Chrysler commercial destroys or even substantially recontextualizes "My Back Pages" or "Masters of War."
So anyway, we missed the first couple of hours of the ceremony and once we tuned in I thought, I'm not gonna join the Twitter commentators, because why start in the middle. I know that I've gone through patches during which I've come off like The Angriest Man and/or The Biggest Asshole on Twitter, but I think I've straightened out my act over the past year and a half or so, which still might be too soon for me to say this, but still: Man, people sure are cranky about this stuff. I mean, I understand why, I suppose, but I can't quite grasp how some people can build up a head of righteous indignation and/or feigned boredom with genuinely pissed-off undertone year after year over an event that is pure show business, and represents the most bullshit-suffused aspects of show business. Oh no, not "grotesque, runaway narcissism," right, because there's nothing at all "look at me" about live-tweeting the Oscars in and of itself. Jesus. Try coming up with some material, maybe. Or, like the guy in the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross says, "You don't like it? LEAVE."
See what I did there? No, I don't either, actually. But, as I've learned, the thing is, one needn't watch, and if one watches, one needn't say anything. As for myself, I won fifty bucks on a bet I was pretty stupid to make in the first place, so I can count myself as lucky. And I thought it was pretty goddamn delightful when 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture, because if there was any real justice that action alone would put the "Oscar blogging" cottage industry out of business. (If you weren't following, the conventional wisdom was that Slave was award-doomed because old, out-of-touch, Going My Way-preferring Academy members were too a-scared to even watch it, let alone vote it an award or three. Ooops. Also: Eat It, Toby Young!) And there are two sides to every story, as an exchange between two critics I greatly admire and also personally like a great deal, Richard Brody and Dave Kehr, demonstrated this morning. Linking to his own Oscar post-mortem (which is well worth reading despite its unfortunate reiteration of a Wolf of Wall Street four-hour-director's-cut myth) , Richard tweeted, "I hate to be a recapper of bad news, but the Oscars had a chillingly tamped-down and neutralized uniformity." To which Dave replied "Oscars may be bland but they do support an important archive and library." So there's that. Which isn't nothing.
It was beautiful, for a while, to glory in the fact that one of the greats, not just of French cinema, or of "New Wave" cinema but of Cinema, period, still walked among us and was still making films—his Life of Riley, in fact, just premiered at the Berlinale last month!—but this state could not last forever. On the other hand, the fact that Resnais still was active and engaged and productive gives the news of his death a "too soon" stab that, let's be frank, one rarely feels so sharply when it's about someone who's been fortunate enough to reach ninety-one years of age. But a sharp stab it is.
I have loved Resnais' films since, I think, I was old enough to know they existed. As a young movie junkie eager to do nothing but immerse myself in exotic screen environments—any world that I'm welcome to, as the saying goes—the very IDEA of Last Year At Marienbad intoxicated and terrified me. The reality of the film still does the same thing to this day. As an indirect, or maybe not so indirect, result, my defenses of the man's films could range toward the intemperate, as this complaint about certain aspects of the New York Film Festival reception of You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, which harps on the perspective of a critic with whom I've since become friendly. My separate account of Nothin' is more on the rapturous side, as are my notes on the delightful Wild Grass, which played the NYFF a couple of years prior. The Eureka!/Masters of Cinema video release of the amazing Muriel occasioned some aspect-ratio musings, and more, for MUBI, or as it was known then, The Auteurs. I examined Marienbad's debt to Gilda here, and took a brief whack at examining Groundhog Day's affinity with Marienbad here. The interview I wrote up for the blog I had at Premiere, back in 2007, has gone down the Hachette rabbit hole; that it exists so vividly in my memory as both a professional and personal highlight is something I imagine Resnais would have appreciated on a number of levels.
UPDATE: A very kind reader, Fabian Wolff, located the April 2007 interview that I thought lost. I reproduce it below, with the illustration I used for the post.
April 12, 2007
"Hello, Glenn. I am Alain."
The interview was supposed to take place in person, in New York, during last fall's New York Film Festival, which would be screening his latest feature Private Fears in Public Places. But the 84-year-old director Alain Resnais, the constantly inventive creator of such cinematic landmarks as Night and Fog, Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel, and many others (the great Dave Kehr’s piece on Resnais in April 8's New York Times is a superb primer/update on the master’s career), found himself unable to travel. And so the interview became a phoner.
And as it happens, while Resnais’ English was once such that he was able to collaborate with Marvel comics legend Stan Lee on a never-produced screenplay, and direct English-language films written by David Mercer (1977's Providence, with John Gielgud, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner) and Jules Feiffer (1989’s I Want to Go Home, which co-starred songwriter Adolph Green, whose own last words 13 years later were that movie’s title), he now considers it a bit rusty. So he was going to be using an interpreter.
I had seen Marienbad and Hiroshima and many more in crappy prints all through my cinephilic teens, and I had read and re-read James Monaco’s 1978 book on Resnais too many times to mention. Anyone who knows me even a little will tell you that I’m one of those peculiar sorts who is only starstruck by directors. I leave it to you to imagine my elation when, before turning things over to his interpreter (whose name now escapes me—many apologies), Resnais took the receiver in Paris and said, in English, “Hello, Glenn. I am Alain.”
I returned the greeting, with a lot of “sirs.” He went on in English: “I am trying to be ready to answer to your questions. But I have to tell you that it's first time in my life that I will do that kind of interview, so be indulgent and patient.” I believe he meant phone interview. I responded, “Absolutely. Thank you, sir.” He said: “Thank you, sir, too.”
He turned the phone over to his interpreter, who put it on speaker. How it went from there was this: I would ask a question, wordier than it should have been more often than not, given my nervous state; the interpreter would pose the question to Resnais in French; he would answer in French; and the interpreter would translate the answer into English. She would also put the answer in the third person, all the way through. A lot of processing.
I began by asking the standard-issue question of how Private Fears came into being. The answer was standard issue, at least at first; Resnais had been working on another project, and the financing fell through, even though the cast was in place. “And they had to make the changes very quickly in order to keep the actors that he was working with. So he was looking for a film that could be shot immediately in order to keep these actors.” Resnais turned to Alan Ayckbourn, the British playwright whose play Intimate Exchanges Resnais had adapted as Smoking/No Smoking in 1993. Ayckbourn had a new play, Private Fears in Public Places. “As is the case with all 44 plays that Alan Ayckbourn has written, none of their titles wrote, translates literally into a French title, so they all need to be transposed,” Resnais' interpreter explained as Resnais paused after a substantial discursion. “So Alain suggested 104 alternate titles to his producer for a French title. And Coeurs, which means hearts, plural, was the one that was chosen.”
Ayckbourn is a very different writer from the putatively difficult French litterateurs—Raymond Queneau, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras—that Resnais worked with earlier in his career. The fact is Resnais has turned to all sorts of writers for inspiration (his 1980 film Mon Oncle d’Amerique, featuring some startling people-as-lab-rats imagery, was based on the work of physician/philosopher Henri Laborit), Mouse_dameriquebut I was curious about how he got involved with Ayckbourn.
“He started to see Ackbourn’s plays in London in the 70's. Then he read an interview in a magazine in which Ayckbourn said that he preferred directing his own plays in Scarborough where there was a square theater.”
At this point Resnais switched to English: “So I was intrigued by this.”
“And decided,” his interpreter soon continued, “that he wanted to go see how things were played there in Scarborough. [further response] So he says that he was completely convinced when he saw the skill and the cleverness of Alan Ayckbourn, how he could direct in a theater with 4 sides to it.” As it happens, the Scarborough theater is a square, and the theater is in the round, with the audience on all four sides looking in—the same scheme as New York’s Circle in the Square Theater. Resnais was so knocked out by what Ayckbourn did there that he made a pilgrimage there every season for ten years before asking Ayckbourn if he could make a movie of Intimate Exchanges. “Which had,” the interpreter explained, “the particularity of having 9 characters but only 2 actors.”
Here Resnais broke into English again. “Alan said, ‘I am mad, and I think you are even madder, but do you think you will find producers that are even madder than us to produce this movie?
“So we became good friends.”
The structure of Ayckbourn’s piece sees six interlinked characters in a series of “two-handed” exchanges, and Resnais films the piece in a decidedly studio-bound but hardly theatrical fashion. “He wanted to conserve the…what he calls the unity of what was being said and it needed to be done in sort of a plastic way…what he calls a plastic way, which would mean on screen. And if he had tried to do it outside in [real] exteriors, he feels that the scenes and the feelings…would not have been linked together properly. In order for things to continue, or to be opposed, from one scene to the next, he needed to have that plastic unity of the interior.”
Moving on from Private Fears/Couers, I mentioned that during an interview with contemporary wunderkind Michel Gondry, Gondry had acknowledged Resnais’ 1968 time-travel/tragedy/romance Je t’aime, je t’aime as a direct influence on his terrific Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Resnais said he had not seen the film, but was “flattered that [Gondry] knows even the title” of the picture, which is appallingly difficult to see today. He was similarly diplomatic when I brought up how, in his more recent films, he’s less preoccupied in the manipulation of time than he was in earlier works. “He says that the manipulation of time in films today has been so well explored by so many talented directors that he's less preoccupied to put that forward.” Would he care to name some examples? “He says if you name one person, then you have 100 enemies.” He owned up to being a DVD booster: “It’s a different way to consume films and it's also a way to voyage through 100 years of film making and for him it's a great pleasure, it's intoxicating.”
He became, not quite suspicious, but a little, perhaps, concerned, when I brought up his abortive collaboration with Stan Lee on the script The Monster Maker and with his own once-professed admiration for what used to be called comic books. I can’t really blame him, given that what united comic books and cinema in the ‘60s, when the likes of Resnais and Fellini were citing comics’ influence on visual storytelling, is an entirely different thing than what unites them today (e.g.: $).
“He says he's not an expert on comic strips or graphic novels. But he's always taken this genre very seriously. And writers such as Jules Feiffer and Stan Lee are important…He says that if theater is close to cinema, then comic strips are also close to cinema.” He waxed enthusiastic for a bit on comic books’ influences on cutting techniques, ways of “manipulating space in Milton Caniff’s work” and a bit more…and backed off. “I'm afraid of speaking too much about that,” he said, sheepishly, in English. In a bit the interpreter picked up again: “He wants to make one thing clear, OK, he wants to make clear that the two projects that he was working on with Stan Lee, the two screenplays…” I didn’t know there were two… “…had no characters like Marvel Comic characters. There were no Spider-Man kind of people, it was taking a new direction.” I felt chastised, for some reason, and decided not to follow up on that “two” thing.
I wondered if, at age 84, he still feels the same about filmmaking as he did at the beginning of his career (he made his first short as an adult in 1947). “Yes, he has the same pleasure making films today,” his interpreter happily averred, “and it's also his way of making a living. It's the only way he can make a living. And by the way…all of his films were requests by producers and the tricky thing was finding requests that were interesting for him to work on. Or that he had the artistic and physical capacity to direct. For example, he had a proposal to make a movie on a meeting of Americans and Eskimos that needed to be shot either in the North or the South Pole and of course that was something that he couldn't do.” But Resnais reflects that pleasure and difficulty go hand in hand with filmmaking, and that there’s never been a shortage of the latter either. “They're as difficult today to make as they were from day one, the first film, second film, and today's films, not much has changed in that respect.” But the master does not choose to dwell on that aspect. For his past few films he’s relied on a group of actors who’ve become a sort-of rep company, including the actress Sabine Azema, who’s also Resnais’ real-world companion. “It's a great joy to make a film with friends and be reunited with them in the hectic Paris life where it's difficult to see people and it's a pleasure to have dinner with them and maybe that all of this attracts him unconsciously, this pleasure of being with friends.”
I asked him about the humor in his films, particularly the cardboard-cutout of Alfred Hitchcock that makes a cameo early on in Marienbad, which is still misinterpreted by many as one of the most lugubrious, deliberately humorless films ever.
“Without comparing himself to Samuel Beckett—and [Marienbad writer] Alain Robbe-Grillet, who has also made similar complaints—Becket complained that people didn't laugh enough in their plays. And yes, there are some very funny jokes in Marienbad. But that he hopes it doesn't take away from the tragedy and some of the other passages. And he hopes that in Coeurs this mixing of tragic and humor will also be found.”
Having been brought back to Coeurs, I recalled a particularly moving image near the end, of a pair of hands holding onto each other at a kitchen table lit by a single spot.
“First,” the interpreter said after a spell, “he's very touched by the fact that you keep this souvenir, this precise souvenir of this moment of the film. And the first time he read through it with the actors, there was no conscious idea to do it that way. But Alain says he has always he was very impressed by the 30's movements, such as surrealism--[further response] and something of his approach has lasted from that, stemmed from that. He says imagination is so important in our daily life that if it can be transposed into a film, it's almost natural, it's almost like a documentary!”
With that, it was time to wrap up. The maestro got back on the line and thanked me, in English, for my patience. I told him it had been an absolute pleasure...for it had.
8:30 a.m: First curve ball of the day: my preferred butcher doesn’t have pork neck bones for the gravy. Suggests spare ribs instead. What the hell.
8:45—9:15 a.m.: Get list of all Best Picture winners, paste into Word document, open other word document, re-figure-out how to work with two document windows simultaneously, rank Best Picture Winners according to both personal preference and secret rule book issued to Old School (as in “non-Vulgar”) Auteurists, as if I even know the difference any more. Who can tell the dancer from the dance, yo.
9:18 a.m.: Go out for more supplies. Tally up my total of Oscar Best Picture Winners. Second curve ball of the day: I realize I have 89 Best Picture whereas that Buzzfeed piece everyone’s so agitated about only ranked 85. Da fuh? Did I repeat some? I guess we’ll find out as the day progresses.
10:00 a.m.: Put my Rolling Stones albums in the disc changer—for some reason, early-middle Stones, starting with or around the UK Aftermath, is my default gravy-making music—and start slicing up the garlic in, yes, the Goodfellas razor blade style. I really AM in the tank for Scorsese.
10:10 a.m.: Another curveball: As a grateful recovering alcoholic, I forgot to get wine for the gravy. And the corner licka store isn’t open. So I have to schlep over to Scotto’s. While I’m there I might as well get a big-ass Tupperware thingie, as today I’m going to do what I’ve never actually done in all my years of making gravy: I’m gonna strain it before I put it in the fridge. An experiment. Good thing I have nothing to do all day, except make gravy, and rank all the Best Picture Oscar winners.
12 noon: Okay. The onion and garlic are in, the wine is in, the spare ribs are in, I went out and bought a spoon holder, there’s nothing to do but stand, sit, simmer and stir for three hours. Let’s get this Oscar assessment party started.
That’s right, Argo. My list, I can do whatever I want with it. Eat it, 2012!
But seriously: obviously it is ridiculous to assert that this is the WORST Best Picture winner ever. It is, however, entirely arguable that it is the least deserving. Start with the smarmy Hollywood self-congratulation, add the give-with-one-hand/take-away-with-the-other politics, fold in the Jack Kirby snub…”And that’s just for starters,” as Telly Savalas used to say.
“Cimarron’s not that bad,” my friend Ed Hulse (Portly And Distinguished Film Historian, we used to call him at Video Review) likes to say. Ed REALLY likes Westerns. Anyway, I did due diligence and watched this for a Premiere magazine “Worst Oscar Winners” piece and to tell you the truth I don’t remember a thing about it.
87: The Broadway Melody
In the high eighties the distinctions aren’t all that cost effective, so now that I think about it, this early talkie musical snoozer might be WORSE than Cimarron! Sorry Cimarron.
Now this one’s DEFINITELY worse than Cimarron. Whereas I don’t remember much of Cimarron, I definitely remember starting to lose the will to live about twenty minutes into watching this, again doing the due diligence thing. Not recommended. (God, I sure am inputting “Cimarron” a lot.)
85: Around the World In Eighty Days
Okay, now we’re out of the ‘30s and into the ‘50s. This white elephant, a particular bete noir of Sarris’ if I recall correctly, is the sort of thing that made people think the Eisenhower administration was dumb. S.J. Perelman admirers feel as bummed out to be reminded of this as Joan Didion fans are to be reminded of Up Close And Personal. Makes It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World look like Love And Death.
84: The Greatest Show On Earth
This ill-advised foray into circus life for Cecil B. DeMille has a lot of attractive-seeming elements—great train crash scene, a really weird Jimmy Stewart performance—that one is apt to approach it from a “how bad can it be?” attitude. It’s bad.
83: The Great Ziegfeld
I love William Powell more than the next guy but Jesus H. [lapses into coma]
Man, we watched this the other night and it HAS NOT AGED WELL. And the shot with the Iranian guy with the gun and the American flag subtly secreted in the background oh lord. My wife and I blame it for ruining our weekend. And we dare you to…no, we don’t dare you, that’s hostile, we implore you, for your own safety, keep away from this mess. All that goodwill Paul Haggis built up with me in that Scientology book, shot.
12:20 p.m.: The gravy’s lookin’ pretty good. Sounding good, too—nice steady simmer.
Last couple of years I used a slow cooker to make gravy and while it turned out fine this year, in prepping a Sunday lasagna dinner, I felt that using the slow cooker would mean I wasn’t working hard enough. So I thought I’d go the whole watched-pot hog, do the San Marzano tomatoes. I’ve got to say that there’s something viscerally/spiritually satisfying about closely watching over the whole process.
81: You Can’t Take It With You
Cast and director and source material and all that notwithstanding, this one’s kind of a frantic mess, huh?
80: The Artist
Cloying, winsome, kinda dumb, technically slack. Other than that, fine.
79: The King’s Speech
When I initially reviewed this, I actually wrote that Hooper’s wide-angle excesses helped keep the movie interesting. I can really be a cockeyed optimist some times.
78: Slumdog Millionaire
Hmm. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen this.
Rob Marshall is a very talented choreographer.
76: The Greatest Show On Earth
Ah! See! I did repeat one. See #84.
75: The Life of Emile Zola
The apogee of the “distinguished” studio biopic back in the day, this day being 1937. I liked Paul Muni better in I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. Everybody else does too.
74: Mutiny on the Bounty
Legendary Laughton performance aside (Gable’s good too but bear with me) this thing’s got Thalberg Prestige written all over it, a particularly bad thing with this kinda story line if you ask me.
73: Chariots of Fire
A remarkably decrepit “distinguished” film, all attempts to contemporize the subgenre notwithstanding.
The movie that introduced the world to Ben Kingsley while also showcasing maybe about one-tenth of his range. Watchable.
71: A Man For All Seasons
This movie also infuriated Andrew Sarris: Oh wait, now that I’ve gone and gotten out my copy of The American Cinema (leaving the kitchen for a minute) it’s worse than I thought: “It is the payoff films—High Noon, From Here To Eternity, The Nun’s Story and A Man For All Seasons—that most vividly reveal the superficiality of Zinnemann’s personal commitment. At its best, his direction is inoffensive; at its worst it is downright dull.” That’s Fred Zinnemann, by the way. Andrew’s just warming up: “his true vocation remains the making of antimovies for antimoviegoers.” Whoa. Anyway there’s some people who’ll react to a dis of this movie by insisting that Paul Scofield gives the greatest performance ever given by anyone ever, and he is pretty good. What are you gonna do. The script is pretty highly regarded by some, too.
Man, this gravy is reducing a lot faster than I thought it would. I better go out and get some more tomato puree.
1:00 p.m.: Moving along nicely. The smell of the pork flavor is starting to emerge. Soon the wine will have cooked off and I’ll be able to taste it.
70: Out of Africa
Very pretty, weirdly dramatically moribund. And this seemed to be almost universally acknowledged at the time it got its Oscar. Awards sure are strange.
69: American Beauty
Speaking of movies I fulsomely and egregiously overrated on their initial release, this. I’m still fond of it on some levels but its honors bespeak of the fact that it’s exactly the sort of thing an academy would deem “edgy.”
68: Dances With Wolves
No, don’t slink away. Not EVERYBODY was embarrassed by this movie, it made a shit-ton of money. The screenwriter gets a point or two in my book for the shout-out to Exene Cervenka in his acceptance speech.
Carol Reed: What Happened?
66: All The King’s Men
Who’d have known that the only useful thing about the utterly misbegotten Steve Zaillian remake or re-adaptation of the novel or whatever you want to call it would be making this blustery mostly-mess look so much better?
65: Rain Man
“Interesting” story, good star power, moves right along, but a little opportunistic, no?
64: Forrest Gump
Hating on this movie has gotten so common, so conventional-wisdom, that I’m ALMOST ready for unreconstructed Robert Zemeckis lover Dave Kehr’s R.Z.-as-Voltaire read of the movie. It will go down easier, I bet, if I don’t watch the movie again first.
63: The English Patient
I’ve recently concluded that The Good German is a much, much better refutation of Casablanca than this movie. So there.
62: A Beautiful Mind
Russell Crowe is really good in this. In every other respect, though, this might be the most “Huh?” Best Picture Winner of all.
Really great battle scenes—it’s pretty clear Mel studied Kurosawa for real before laying this out. Little heavy on the gay-bashing and masochism though. Was there a Scottish lobby working the voters or something?
I was entertained.
59: Shakespeare In Love
The moving story of a pedigreed starlet willing to do nudity and her fateful affair with a Prince look alike in Elizabethan dress. Hence, a film for the ages.
58: Driving Miss Daisy
The good liberal movie good liberals love to hate. On the other hand, the legit theater isn’t exactly brimming with opportunities for senior-age white women and middle-aged African American males, so go right ahead and picket the next live production you find. As for the movie, it really IS well-performed, and Bruce Beresford’s an extremely able director who does not falter here.
57: My Fair Lady
Great songs, appealing performers (unless you know a lot about Rex Harrison’s personal life and have taken it to heart), absolutely leaden direction.
I watched this a few years ago with the “Milos Forman: What Happened” idea in mind, and was surprised and relieved to discover, lack of surreal touches and New Wave fragmentation aside, it wasn’t at all an “out of character” film for him. It’s just not in the top echelon of his work, I guess. But if you look at it without quailing at its length or thematic emphasis on Stupid Classical Music, it’s good stuff.
55: Terms of Endearment
Come on. James L. Brooks, Larry McMurtry, all of that. If American cinema had a domestic De Sica (albeit one without the wartime sensibility), Brooks was it for this picture.
54: Ordinary People
Like everyone else I’m terribly upset that it beat Raging Bull, whose immortality this loss did not affect a whit, and also yeah middlebrow bourgeois psychotherapeutic clichés but there are some career-high performances here, so let’s just take a deep breath. Wanna rap about it?
53: The Sound of Music
I played Captain Von Trapp in Seltzer School’s 1972 production of this musical, and Max Detweiler in Jefferson Township High School’s 1977 production of same. I love this movie. If you have a Sound of Music problem I feel bad for you, son. I’ve got 80-something Oscar problems but The Sound of Music ain’t one.
Good speeches, looks pretty spooky. Hinges on an absolute misinterpretation—“could not make up his mind” my foot—but it gives good Shakespeare for the most part.
51: Silence of the Lambs
Long after there are no more Oscars any more, this will be cited as the only motion picture featuring a Fall song on its soundtrack to ever win the Big One.
50: In The Heat of the Night
Pioneered the “look at all these people sweating” genre that A Time To Kill so adroitly picked up on.
A silent picture, as you may have heard. Production value, a good tough directorial signature courtesy of William Wellman, great action scenes. Don’t let anybody tell you different.
48 Mrs. Miniver
Its utility value has, yes, been decreased by the fact that World War II isn’t going on anymore, but give yourself over to this picture and it will have its way with you.
47: Going My Way
Robin Wood would tell you The Bells of St. Mary’s, the sequel, is the better film, and he’s not wrong, but in my book a Leo McCarey/Bing Crosby collaboration has nothing to not recommend it.
46: The Lost Weekend
Kate Aurthur, who wrote the Buzzfeed piece that indirectly inspired this one, is taking a lot of heat for it in the comments and in the Twittersphere and elsewhere, and as someone who reveres or just likes a lot of the movies that come in for her disdain in the piece, I understand the pain of the howlers. But Ms. Aurthur and I have some mutual friends, and I’m assured that she’s a good egg, and I believe those assurances, even as I recognize, whenever I happen to read her writing, that we don’t have a whole lot in common in terms of taste and sensibility. And as a grateful recovering alcoholic, I do wince as the “you will laugh watching it” assurance in her entry on this film—it seems a little presumptuous. I haven’t had much patience to the “alienating to contemporary sensibilities” condemnation critics so readily tar movies with, for one thing. Still. This is a Buzzfeed article we’re talking about here. We are not, for better or worse, Buzzfeed people here, so why get so bothered. Also: Nick Tosches hates this movie, too, partially because he’s very much higher on Charles Jackson’s book, and then because he thinks the movie’s an egregious piece of Hollywood hackwork. So go tell HIM he’s full of shit. And finally, the bat really IS bad. That said, I’m pretty fond of the picture.
45: Gentleman’s Agreement
Sure it’s dated, but thanks to Kazan’s commitment—and Peck’s—it’s got more sting than you’d expect.
The Academy’s perfunctory bow to the “small film.”
43: Tom Jones
The Academy’s perfunctory bow to the New Wave film. That’s just how much the actual New Wave confused the Academy.
42: West Side Story
There’s a lot wrong with this movie. For instance, Natalie Wood playing a Puerto Rican girl. But—she’s Natalie Wood! All of your other complaints have pretty much the same kind of answer. Live with it.
MINNELLI POWER MISE EN SCÈNE POWER CHEVALIER POWER FUCK THE HATERS
40: Midnight Cowboy
Still quite the actors’ showcase. In other respects almost as dated as that Zola movie.
39: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
The Academy’s perfunctory bow to the AICN/Badass Digest film.
38: West Side Story
Aha! ANOTHER redundancy. What an idiot I am.
The Academy’s not-at-all perfunctory bow to the “Remember When We Knew What The Hell We Were Doing Militarily” film.
36: The Sting
A last gasp of love for studio cinemacraft, amiable diversion division.
All right, enough of this nonsense, I’m starting to look bad. (“Starting?”) See #52.
Marty, with boxing.
ESPN’s answer to Apocalypse Now.
32: Million Dollar Baby
As implicitly promised, here’s where my shameless auteurist bias really waves its freak flag.
31: The Last Emperor
Poetic, tragic, ravishingly beautiful. A little self-infatuated. Not really that long.
30: Ben Hur
Cheesy and self-important, yes, but also a remarkably assured and technically breathtaking mega-production.
29: From Here To Eternity
What matters here is less direction or even story than a cast that’s almost literally a collection of icons, each signifying a different mode of anxiety (Lancaster, Kerr, Clift, Sinatra, Borgnine, Reed). A magnificent cinematic encapsulation of sorts.
28: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
The not-even-incidental sexism in this ode to anarchy rankles like crazy—it did then, too. But Forman’s choreography of the boy’s club is just undeniable.
OK. Gravy is pretty much ready. Now for the strain and to check out the yield. Fingers crossed.
3:00 p.m.: Well as you can see the strain yielded a pretty smooth and colorful result and I’ve got to say it’s pretty tasty too. Largely out of frame is a tomato-splatter mess I've got to mop up ASAP.
As some of you might have inferred, I’m making lasagna again. For Sunday dinner. And no, it isn’t an Oscar party. My Lovely Wife and I wanted to have a few friends for dinner, and we gave them some optional dates and the consensus was this Sunday. These friends aren’t Oscar people, so it’s likely Claire and I will be tuning in late, if at all. Last year we didn’t see the ceremony because we were vacationing in Iceland. My thing is, if you really aren’t overly concerned about Oscar ceremonies, telling the world this over and over seems a counterintuitive action. Anyhow. I haven’t eaten all day, except for nibbles at the pork ribs I used to flavor the sauce, so let’s get the top 27 over and done with, okay?
27: The Departed
Oh the incredible irony that a movie its director, one of our greatest living filmmakers, had so relatively little personal investment in, would gain him these industry honors.
26: The Deer Hunter
I may be overrating this, I know. I just can’t ever shake the majesty of its first hour.
25: Kramer Vs. Kramer
I read how this movie is now unacceptable because sexism and I’m not going there, not here. My high esteem for it comes from its being the one Best Picture winner that most resembles a Truffaut film, stylistically.
Love it or hate it, it’s Cinema, as I learned watching it in a theater with a 90-year-old woman who didn’t speak a word of English, and no smart remarks about my dating proclivities.
The last title that I accidentally reproduced when making this list. Don’t make me beg you, people, how many times can I say I’m sorry for my sloppy work?
22: The Hurt Locker
21: Schindler’s List
While I agree with Kubrick’s caveat, I can’t see how American culture could have handled this subject better.
I cannot tell a lie: Like Crash, it features of a shot in which a character is framed within portentous distance of a hanging American flag. Unlike Crash, it is a very good movie.
19: Gone With The Wind
Also Because Cinema, and the art White America has earned, and the unusual result of that intersection.
18: An American In Paris
Complaining about the characterizations in this is about as useful as complaining about the characterizations in The Gang’s All Here. Or Un Chien Andalou even.
17: Grand Hotel
Watched this on the new Blu-ray and was pleasantly surprised at how sprightly it remains. Will always be a sentimental favorite because it’s the only movie I ever saw screened at Paris’ Cinema MacMahon. Suck it!
Because Curt Bois plays the pickpocket.
15: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Because without it, no The Geisha Boy.
14: All Quiet on the Western Front
Because it’s not that stodgy.
12: It Happened One Night
Because Claudette Colbert.
11: The Apartment
Yeah, I’m getting pretty tired of the “because” device too.
10: Annie Hall
Not just a great romantic comedy but still a pretty damn sturdy metamovie.
9: No Country For Old Men
Not just a great thriller but still a pretty damn sturdy metamovie. Oh crap, you see what’s starting to happen.
8: Lawrence of Arabia
7: The French Connection
6: All About Eve
5: How Green Was My Valley
4: The Best Years of Our Lives
Eat it, Raymond Chandler!
3: The Godfather
2: On The Waterfront
1: The Godfather, Part II
You have been reading “Ranking Best Picture Winners While Making Gravy.” Thanks and have a great weekend.
I understand that both cinematic and televisual archives offer far better, or maybe more "distinguished" Ramis clips than this one—in which Ramis doesn't really start showing his stuff until about halfway through—but this is my sentimental favorite because, at the time I saw it, it really cemented my identification with the guy, or at least with the guy he's playing. Who DIDN'T want to be the genial smart-ass, especially at my age back then. All of the performers with ties to SCTV were maestros of the comic possibilities inherent in the portrayal of glibness, smarmy or know-somethingish or actually knowing or otherwise. Sorry about all the ad-schmutz surrounding the clip. But that's just how much I love it, and want to share it.
Here's some stuff Ramis said in an interview with The Believer in 2006:
I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “When I go to the movies, I don’t want to think.”
BLVR: Does that offend you as a filmmaker?
HR: It offends me as a human being. Why wouldn’t you want to think? What does that mean? Why not just shoot yourself in the fucking head? Or people’ll say that they don’t want to see any negative emotions. They don’t want to see unpleasantness. I did a comedy with Al Franken about his character Stuart Smalley, which was really about alcoholism and addiction and codependency. It had some painful stuff in it. When we showed it to focus groups, some of them actually said, “If I want to see a dysfunctional family, I’ll stay home.”
So I feel an affinity with that, too. There was always a sense with him—as a performer and a writer and a director, as everything—of a guy who "got it." Even with a project as ostensibly retrograde/vulgar as Caddyshack. At the heart of that movie there's an intense, but never self-righteous, hatred of injustice, and a slight but definiite distrust of the fuck-it-all hedonism it poses as a counter to the class problem depicted therein. The thread of his intelligence, his sensibility, his sensitivity, runs through that film and into such an unlikely-seeming object as Analyze This and the refreshingly mordant passion project The Ice Harvest. He was unique, irreplaceable.
I suspect that even people who were very, very far from having been alive in 1963 reacted with some suspicion at the narrative recited by Don Cheadle at last September's Emmy Awards show, the gist of which was that John F. Kennedy's assassination in late-ish November of 1963 cast a pall over the United States that was only lifted when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964. While I think that lay people and historians can certainly agree about some of the pop culture ramifications of the Kennedy assassination—Phil Spector's Christmas album definitely, irrefutably took a hit, likely rendering what was already a dubious mental health picture that much shakier (in an alternate universe in which Kennedy hadn't been shot, would Spector be a free man today? I bet "yes!")—that "Beatles saved America" claim is a real reach. It wasn't until I started researching this post, which I'd merely intended to be about an idea and an emotional resonance, that I put together that this movie, directed by Stanley Kramer and recently released by the Criterion Collection in a remarkable dual-format home video package, happens to land smack-dab in the middle of the fall 1963 timeline of tragedy.
I don't remember ever having seen It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in a theater, although I reckon my parents had, maybe without their two kids—I had turned four in the summer of '63, and my sister Kathleen had turned three, and while my parents frequently took us on their drive-in jaunts, I reckon by November of that year it had gotten a little nippy for outdoor movie viewing and in any event it's possible that World didn't even hit the drive-ins on its initial theatrical run. The only reason I suspect my parents saw it was because it was an immensely popular picture that became the third-biggest box office hit of the year, this in spite of having been released almost at year's end and being three hours long. I remember the Kennedy assassination, or, more specifically, I remember the sense of urgency and upset that gripped all the adults in my world when the Kennedy assassination happened. As for World, as I grew older and grew up and grew into movie-obsessiveness, World was something that was always there: something that the generation before mine had identified as an instant classic, and which I came to look at as a not-particularly peculiar white elephant, as well as an emblem of everything that was "square" in cinema. But it's entirely probable (and maybe this is the seed of an idea that I ought to be pitching to a book publisher or something) that World was the nation's gloom cure rather than Beatlemania. Because aside from featuring a boatload of talents that Young Adult America had grown to love from the television (Sid Caesar, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers, etc., etc.), the movie was also a soak of Old Hollywood comforts ranging from its other leading cast members (Spencer Tracy, Andy Devine, a pre-My Three Sons William Demarest , also etc. etc.) to its production value to its hypertrophied madcapness and so on.
Indeed, as someone who claimed to have never cared for the movie for much of his adult life, and who sincerely believed in that claim without ever feeling the need to subject it to much examination, I was slightly surprised when, watching the Blu-ray disc of the movie for the first time back in January, to find it enveloping me in a warmth that was virtually amniotic. Again, I had no memory of ever having seen it whole (I had caught bits and pieces of it on television over the years, my initial reflexive eye-rolling mutating into a snarkily ironic tolerance mutating into an aghast respect for it as a Unique Cinematic Artifact); nor could I really put my finger on the idea of its having held a truly special place in the consciousnesses of the people dearest to me in my childhood. And yet the movie embraced me in the way that has always made me feel the safest and the happiest. This particular emotional state is located in a pre-sleep state in childhood, tucked into my bed, lying maybe on my side, my hands balled up in little non-threatening fists holding tight to the blanket, the sound of the adults downstairs puttering about, chatting and maybe laughing a bit, the "all is well" place that led me gently into a dream state.
Regardless of the actual "statement" that World aspires to make, in spite of its eccentric cinematic inappositeness (widescreen is only good for shooting snakes and funerals, Fritz Lang said something like that in Contempt; and he obviously had not seen World, else he would have added "car windshields;" Kramer's camera looks into moving car windshields more so than Bela Tarr's camera looks out of them in Satantango, and Tarr's film is twice as long and change), the extradiegetic world it inadvertently presents to the contemporary viewer with enough background to appreciate its signifiers is one in which All Is Right. Spencer Tracy, despite his character's descent into lawlessness, still functions as Spencer Tracy, the gruff but benign face of patriarchy. Buzzing in his periphery (he doesn't actually meet the band until the film's climax) are the kings and queens of comedy of this era, very few of whom made their most significant impacts in the movie realm. But their television fame renders them a little cozier. It scarcely matters if their contributions to the movie are genuinely funny; their presences alone suffice to constitute an axiom, if one is himself or herself in the context to receive it.
The movie bore me into an innocuous past: a past of giant movie palaces, of Cinerama itself, of the Times Square my mother used to speak of where she and some work colleagues could wander into a picture show and stay in there until midnight and then catch the A to the George Washington Bridge for the bus home. A past I not only had no direct experience of but which I had conceptually rejected with extreme prejudice well before I had even heard my first Velvet Underground LP. I was so beguiled that I watched the entire reconstructed 197-minute roadshow version of the movie less than five days later, this time listening to the commentary from Michael Schlesinger, Mark Evanier, and Paul Scrabo. Full disclosure: Michael is an old and dear friend. He is also, not to tell tales out of school, a few years older than me, and hence at least a little more clearly keyed in to World's cultural moment. I have to say, objectively speaking, the commentary is one of the best I've ever heard, affectionate without being fulsome, and incredibly informative. But it is also suffused with a subtextual yearning for an ostensibly less complicated time, and the kind of movie-love expressed by these fine fellows is very much tied to notions of both show business and showmanship that have less and less purchase in the ever-digitizing landscape.
My new-found appreciation for It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World does not, as far as I know at the moment, signal some kind of move toward an aesthetic reactionaryism. It's not like I'm selling all of my Sonic Youth records or anything, although, wait a minute, the first Sonic Youth record came out, like, 33 years ago. It probably means nothing, besides signalling the fact that I'm a human being who's aging, and who, as is not unusual, experiences a certain softening of attitude in the face of encroaching mortality, and in the realization that one's hardened attitude didn't really end up accomplishing a whole lot of good, or of significance. And a few other even less flattering things, maybe.
While I mull over whether to compose and post an essay titled "The Woody Allen Plank" (it's not likely, I gotta say), I ask you to check out the movie website To Be (Cont'd), wherein I am engaged in a simulated prose conversation with Matthew Zurcher, a smart young critic, about the use of music in the films of Stanley Kubrick. Matt's first volley is here, my response is here, and two more installments are in the pipeline. Enjoy, I hope.
On Thursday and Friday of this week, February 13 and 14, the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan hosts a unique event: a mini-retrospective of the work of director Martin Scorsese and actor (and sometime co-producer) Leonardo DiCaprio. Thursday's screenings will be The Aviator, The Departed, and the new The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf screening will be preceded by a conversation, moderated by Kent Jones, with DiCaprio, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and screenwriter Terence Winter. On Friday the films are Shutter Island, Gangs of New York, and again, Wolf. Information and ticket purchase options can be found here.
I recently completed a book on Robert De Niro that treats his career via ten discrete essays on ten movies; four of the essays are on De Niro/Scorsese collaborations. Certainly were Cahiers du Cinema, my publishers, to commission a similar book on DiCaprio, well, I can't think of one of the five above that I'd leave off of a list of ten. Alfred Hitchcock hit several career highs with Cary Grant and James Stewart, and vice versa, but what's unique about the Scorsese collaborations has something to do with the sequence. De Niro did not begin his work with Scorsese in the position of the director's surrogate: In Mean Streets that role went to Harvey Keitel, as Charlie. Johnny Boy, the De Niro character, was of course Charlie's secret sharer in a sense. With Taxi Driver, New York, New York, and Raging Bull the sense of De Niro speaking through and as Scorsese, or particular aspects of Scorsese, could be palpable; with King of Comedy, Scorsese's most intellectual film up to that point, a mode of detachment/examination sets in. It's only in the got-what-he-wanted-but-lost-what-he-had register of Casino that Scorsese and De Niro found that particular kind of tandem.
With DiCaprio the synergy can be equally strong but it's used for different ends, and it functions differently. DiCaprio is not Scorsese's surrogate but his instrument. In a sense the character of Amsterdam (as in "new") in Gangs of New York is almost a "My Back Pages" rumination for Scorsese, a young perspective on the old problems he's ever grappled with as an artist. One of the great misunderstandings of Shutter Island is the insistence on reading it as a (failed or successful) puzzle movie, when it's really an emotional exploration as acute and horrific and effective as Raging Bull or the short The Big Shave. If you're lucky enough to be able to see all five of the movies over the two days, what I think will be revealed about Wolf of Wall Street is its semi-perverse expansiveness; the tragic anti-heroes DiCaprio plays in The Aviator and Shutter Island replaced here by an unreliable narrator of bodacious braggadocio and decidedly shallow emotional affect. It's a virtuoso performance from DiCaprio that's also arguably a minefield of alienation effects.
With Henry Fonda in Fort Apache, John Ford, 1948. Of course I'm going to pick the most obviously auteurist option. (Although I would be remiss to not mention Temple was also a great favorite of Allan Dwan, who directed her in Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in the late '30s, and that the feeling was mutual.)
Some wag once remarked that had she never existed, Graham Greene would not have written The Power and the Glory. (Look it up.) Western and particularly North American culture still goes into regular conniption fits over the ostensible sexualization of the child performer; and it is arguable also that had Temple never existed, Toddlers and Tiaras would not, either. She was an exceptional performer and by all accounts a bright and sane person, and she may have been her most on-the-mark critic when she put herself in the category of Rin-Tin-Tin, not by way of diminishing her own gifts, but in recognizing her precocious persona as a shiny object that could bring cheer to fed-up, downtrodden folks seeking distraction.