Alt Screen Presents! “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957)

by on July 25, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Tonight! Alt Screen presents! 7:30 at 92Y Tribeca [Program & Tix]
Today’s screening of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is brought to you by Alt Screen. (Yeah, us!)
Hear what the critics are saying about 1957’s most stylish and incisive cultural satire.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times:

A flimsy motion picture [made] from a flimsy stage play…
[Writer-director] Frank Tashlin has angled the whole thing to make sport of the advertising and television industries….He has spread an incredible story of coincidences and idiocies within an area of commercial endeavor that just can’t be so hopelessly insane; then he has spotted and smeared this story with a succession of reckless gags.
Miss [Jayne] Mansfield, with her frankly grotesque figure and her leadpipe travesty of Marilyn Monroe, is one of the lesser exaggerations. She is lurid but comparatively tame alongside the rubber-faced mugging of Tony Randall as the advertising man….
The jokes, we might add, are not always in the best of taste.

Incredible story! The jokes are [sometimes] in the best of taste!
“But wait,” you rudely interject. “Can’t I just Netflix the DVD and watch it at home?”
(Ha! ahem, cough.)
Well sure. You could. But what does Chris Wisniewski of Revere Shot have to say?

…miss the point entirely. His words not ours, folks.
“Alright,” you reluctantly concede, “It’s better on the big screen. But me, I’m an alcoholic. I can barely make it to closing time without sneaking a few nips, and this screening won’t get out until 9pm!”
Humain, trop humain. Not a problem, friend. The 92y Cafe serves beers from Brooklyn to Belgium.
“Still,” you stubbornly resist (why?). “I’m a cheap bastard. I aint convinced it’s worth the money.”
Well what if we were to sweeten the deal? With every ticket purchased you’ll be automatically entered in our pre-screening raffle! Just fill out the colorful little ticket (below-left) and you stand a very good chance of walking home with one of three fabulous prizes:
(1) a Jayne Mansfield DVD boxset that contains both of Mansfield and Tashlin’s seminal collaborations (nudge nudge) plus a film by Raoul Walsh!
(2) a classic Looney Tunes boxset featuring shorts directed by Tashlin and a supplemental documentary on his early career in animation!
(3) a $25 gift certificate to 92Y Tribeca! Bring a friend, or come alone and fill the emptiness inside with a king’s feast from the concession stand!

“Alright, alright,” you finally give in. “I’m definitely interested. Now pellet me with a rapid-fire onslaught of endorsements that will irreversibly seal the deal.”
J. Hoberman, Village Voice:

Tashlin is the original pop-culture Pop Artist!

Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Hell’s In It:

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [is] Tashlin’s best and least compromised film, a definitive picture of Madison Avenue vulgarity.

Glenn Kenny for Mubi:

I’ve seen it about 300 times, myself, and I always love it, and I always find something new to look at.

Here’s a video essay by Richard Brody, Film Editor of the New Yorker:

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Comment 1971:

In 1957, [Jean-Luc] Godard wrote a review praising [Jerry] Lewis’s mentor, Frank Tashlin, and optimistically predicted that “In fifteen years, people will realize that The Girl Can’t Help It served then- that is, today- as a fountain of youth from which the cinema now- that is, in the future- has drawn fresh inspiration.”
I don’t mean to suggest that Tashlin’s innovations in open form were superior to Godard’s, even if they came first. [Only that] the use of, say, color filters and advertising slogans in the cocktail-party sequence in Pierrot le Fou…derive from stylistic departures that are even wilder-and incidentally, more successful as satire-in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
IThe cavalier attitude often conveyed in a Tashlin film was that the director might interject whatever he wanted, at any given moment, for whatever reason: a rock number, a fantasy interlude, an editorial aside, a change in the size of the screen, an abrupt shift in the soundtrack. Such a capacity to bounce about a narrative at will was undoubtedly the principal lesson that Godard learned from Tashlin.



Above: Pierrot Le Fou (Godard, 1965); Below: Will Success Spoil Rock Hudson?
Chris Wiesnewski again for Reverse Shot:

It’s the film’s delirious sense of anxiety, born out of the confluence of faltering masculinity and powerful female sexuality, that propels its farce forward, and perhaps that’s why Rock Hunter is so interesting to watch today. While some of the satire feels dated (it’s too pointedly timely to be otherwise), there’s also a potent and prescient subtext about the futility of work and the elusiveness of happiness in a world of social prosperity, national wealth, and, yes, postindustrial capitalism. Fifty years after its release, Rock Hunter seems to anticipate a familiar angst, one that’s become increasingly familiar in millennial and postmillennial American pop culture. It’s as though Rock Hunter were the sophisticated, world-weary older cousin of Fight Club or American Beauty. Like those films, it’s ultimately concerned with nothing less than the specter of masculine impotence—the fear that the American male has succumbed to the overwhelming force of consumer culture—but while those more contemporary films respond to that threat with a shrill, adolescent howl, Tashlin’s nifty little farce, in all its grace and wisdom, just gives a wink and a shrug.

And here’s John Waters discussing his love for Tashlin and Mansfield via The Girl Can’t Help It:

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