Playing Sun Sept 25 at 2, 4:30, 6:50, 9:15 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
We’ve got Minnelli fever over here at Alt Screen, with a feature coming soon. His two corrosive showbiz spectaculars play this weekend at BAM in “The Complete Vincente Minnelli” (thru November 2 – a whopper of a retrospective).
Today’s pick is less well-known and regarded than Saturday’s The Bad and The Beautiful, and is marred by studio hackwork – remarks Minnelli in his memoir, “I liked my orgy better” – but remains an exciting, fascinating movie-movie. Jean-Luc Godard pronounced Contempt, a year later, the sequel to Minnelli’s film.
As Glenn Kenny notes, “The conventional wisdom in certain circles is that this quasi-sequel/companion piece to 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful is both a weak and weird sister to the prior film. I won’t deny the ‘weird’ part; in fact I revel in it. ‘Weak’ I of course take issue with.’
And Kenny is not alone. Richard Brody for the New Yorker:
Any classic studio director had enough experience to make an inside-Hollywood expose. Minnelli made two, both starring Kirk Douglas, and they’re among the greatest: The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks In Another Town. Douglad plays Jack Andrus, an Oscar-winning movie star who, after a crack-up, is a long-term patient in a Connecticut clinic and hasn’t acted in years. The director with whom he did his best work, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), invites him to Rome for a supporting role he’s shooting at the Cinecitta studio. There, Andrus gets caught in the crossfire of Kruger’s intrigues, which involve a spoiled young actor (George Hamilton), the starlet Kruger is bedding, a snarky journalist, and the mercenary Italian producer, whose constraints induce Kruger to hire Andrus as his right-hand man and get him a start at work behind the camera.
A private screening, for Kruger’s cast and crew, of “The Bad and the Beautiful” – which is indentified as starring Andrus and directed by Krugar – suggests that Minnelli is offering up a sort of self-portrait, and it’s not a pretty one. Kruger, a crusty martinet and a womanizer (whose affair with Andrus’s former lover, played by Cyd Charisse, drove Andrus over the edge), is a once-great filmmaker, not facing financial ruin and artistic insecturity, and the vitriolic harridan (Claire Trevor) with whom he’s locked in a mutually flaying marriage is his only source of solace and unconditional defense. Minnelli’s flamboyantly expressive flourishes highlight the tormented extremes of movie people, which, he shows, both threaten their work and fuel it with the passions that give it lasting value.
Peter Bogdanovich in Film Culture (Winter 1962):
Based on an undistinguished novel, Minnelli’s film transforms it into a kind of kaleidoscopic tour of an offbeat underworld. Set in Rome’s movie world, it is the story of some has-been American film people making one of those silly period spectacles that appear all the time now as the lower half of neighborhood double bills. This bizarre group gets together in Minnelli’s gaudy, flashy, cynical and debauched Roman world – a picture of perversion and glittering decay that in a few precise and strikingly effective strokes makes Fellini’s Dolce Vita look pedestrian, arty and hopelessly social conscious. Just compare Fellini’s tiresome, vapid orgy sequences with Minnelli’s sexy, colorful ones; Fellini’s (like all psuedo-moralists) are slanted so as to appear boring, but Minnelli’s look like fun. In an hour and a half, Minnelli implies more than Fellini spelled out in there[…]
Rather like a companion piece to the Bad and the Beautiful, Two Weeks is filled with fascinating incident and sharply sophisticated relationships. Minnelli’s flair for melodrama and heightened characterization has never been more apparent. Charisse, beautiful, sleekly corrupt, has never been more appealingly evil. It could be said that all the characters are two-dimensional, but it is such an obvious remark that only an idiot could imagine Minnelli didn’t know exactly what he was doing: a grand melodrama, filled with passion, lust, hate and venom, surely the ballsiest, most vibrant picture he has signed.
Daniel Kasman in his screening log:
An exceedingly strange movie, a lot of which was shot in location in Italy, full of arid, anonymous hotel interiors and focusing on the existential crises of dying men consumed with narcissism. The men are a legendary Hollywood actor and an equally legendary Hollywood director. Is this perhaps the best example of, and simultaneous envisioning of, the death of Hollywood? Either way, a far more interesting film than The Bad and the Beautiful; however, that film provides an amazing scene in this one, where E.G. Robison stands in for Minnelli and watches that film with Douglas and the two are so full of nostalgic love it is practically a four way homosexual love scene (that is, Robison as Minnelli, the film (or era), and Douglas the actor).
Jonathan Rosenbaum for the Chicago Reader:
Though crippled by studio recutting that tried to adjust this neurotic 1962 melodrama for the family market, Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s novel is one of his last great pictures, reversing the Henry James model of innocent Americans encountering corruption abroad—it’s the Americans who are decadent here. The costumes, decor, and ‘Scope compositions show Minnelli at his most expressive, and the gaudy intensity—as well as the inside detail about the movie business—makes this compulsively watchable.
Pauline Kael in 5001 Nights:
The producer, John Houseman; the director, Vincente Minnelli; the screenwriter, Charles Schnee; the composer, David Raksin; and the star, Kirk Douglas, had all worked together 10 years before on THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, a flashy hit movie about Hollywood moviemaking. This time they give us an oversophisticated, overheated view of Hollywood has-beens gathered in Rome, trying to make a comeback. Gnashing his teeth and twitching, Kirk Douglas plays a self-destructive former star who cracked up and was institutionalized for three years; Cyd Charisse (spangled by Pierre Balmain) is his nymphomaniac ex-wife; Edward G. Robinson is the cynical famous director he used to work with-now the director is down on his luck, too. All the characters are seen at a time of extreme strain and extravagant disorder. They drive maniacally and do mean things to each other; they also take part in orgies designed to outdo LA DOLCE VITA. And at one point they run excerpts from THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, which is discussed as a model of creative moviemaking; the scenes show Lana Turner having hysterics and her performance is described-with awe-as an example of great screen acting. Hysteria is predominant in TWO WEEKS, and it takes a peculiarly pictorial form-the stylized compositions, the sumptuous gorgeousness, the decorator delights run away with the movie. The dialogue has its own foolish swank: on a beach where, presumably, people speak the truth, the young “fresh” heroine (Daliah Lavi) asks Douglas what he was like when he was a star. “Lonely,” he answers. “So famous and alone?” she queries. He replies, “Everybody’s alone. Actors more so.” And she asks, “Why would anyone want to be an actor?” Douglas responds with a straight face, “That’s a good question. To hide from the world. What’s the audience doing there but hiding … trading their problems for mine on the screen.” And how do we know that this girl is really as sweet and sympathetic as she looks? When Douglas kisses her, she touches the scar on his face, thus demonstrating that it is the hurt man rather than the famous man that she cares about. In the circumstances, Douglas and Robinson do surprisingly good work.
Bruce Bennett on a quartet of Minnelli melodramas that played in an Anthology series a few years back, for the NY Sun :
“Life isn’t usually characterized by the piling of one profound experience after the other,”the director Vincente Minnelli (1903–86) wrote in his 1974 memoir, “I Remember It Well.” “When a momentous occasion presents itself, it often comes in the most improbable way, the coincidences implausible and inexplicable. How many times has a friend prefaced his retelling of an experience in this way, ‘You wouldn’t believe what just happened. It’s like a B-movie.’ To take these moments and present them so they don’t look like a B-picture — that’s the challenge I relish.” Minnelli had a gift for elevating the improbable, implausible, and inexplicable into something wholly original and sublime.
In the four non-singing, non-dancing potboilers Anthology returns to the big screen — the only place Minnelli’s visual extravagance truly belongs — the director’s relentlessly declarative camera bridges an otherwise unfathomable distance between perfectly decorated MGM dream-factory interiors and the neurotic, broken, dissipated, manipulative, and narcissistic characters that these films place against them. Minnelli’s genius for camera movement was inspired by the Viennese master of the mobile movie frame, Max Ophuls. But the crazed camera excesses and even crazier characters that have become the stock-in-trade of Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese bear thicker smudges of the Minnelli melodrama’s rouge and sawdust stylistic touch than Ophuls’s white-gloved restraint.
“My work in the final analysis is the story of my life,” Minnelli said a few years after his career was over and a decade before his life followed suit. With four unhappy marriages yielding only two children on one side of the life vs. art fence, and more than 30 extravagantly beautiful feature films on the other side, it would seem that Minnelli put work ahead of life for most of his 83 years. Anthology’s compendium of four of the most marvelously off-kilter mainstream films opens his creative family album in a particularly compelling place.
Armond White gets frisky over the importance of the Anthology compendium, for the NY Press:
The Melodramas of Vincente Minnelli may be the most important retrospective of the summer. By highlighting Minnelli’s other career—not that of a movie-musical master but the most visually astonishing melodramatist of American cinema—Anthology helps to rectify movie history.
This retro also redefines the melodrama as a rich and complex narrative form. Minnelli’s constant theme of the outsider who attempts adjustment to society’s norms is present in The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town as much as in his great musicals. Without singing and dancing, Minnelli focused on his protagonists’ strict, daily struggle. His melodramas are not a fantastical dream of utopia, but the difficult—sometimes tragic—reality of people coping and striving.
Bookended by his movie-movies, The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town, the series features Minnelli’s view of the filmmaking cult. Indie enthusiasts may not approve of the conspicuous consumption on view, but it’s hard to resist the gloss and glamour. (Robert Surtees’ b&w photography makes Bad and the Beautiful the most sumptuous Hollywood movie since Von Sternberg, an Anthology favorite.) Some essential part of the Hollywood myth is preserved in Minnelli’s clear-eyed view of industry corruption. It’s possible that if Anthology can get the indie-art crowd to appreciate Minnelli’s complexity along with his luxe, much will be done to rescue the truths dealt with in these films that are so much more than Hollywood product. Minnelli is one of the finest yet misunderstood filmmakers. Enlightenment starts here.
James Sheffen with some background, for TCM:
In adapting it for the screen, screenwriter Charles Schnee and Minnelli made a number of significant changes to the novel, which is somewhat more loosely structured and rich with peripheral incidents and characters. The novel opens with Jack Andrus at the Orly airport in Paris with his French wife Helen and their children. In the film, Andrus’ family has been removed altogether. In the novel, Andrus’ acting career has been cut short due to a disfiguring accident during the war, but in the film it is due to a psychological breakdown. Also, in the novel Veronica’s jealous lover is an American screenwriter and not an actor. In Shaw’s story confronting the demons of his past allows Andrus to repair his relationship with his wife and children; in the film the overall thrust of the story has been shifted in the film to focus more on Jack Andrus’ journey to emotional and creative self-sufficiency.
Not surprisingly, the adult subject matter of the film ran into problems with the MPAA and the conservative studio executives at MGM. Among the controversial elements were Andrus’ affair with Veronica and an extended orgy sequence featuring off-screen lovemaking before a group of drunken onlookers. The new studio head, Joseph Vogel, wanted to transform the project into a “family film” and had it drastically re-edited. John Houseman, the film’s producer, threatened to remove his name from the credits unless he had more control over what kinds of cuts were made and the overall shape of the film. While the finished product is hardly the “family film” that Vogel wanted, its impact was undeniably muted. Kirk Douglas writes: “I felt this was such an injustice to Vincente Minnelli, who’d done such a wonderful job with the film. And an injustice to the paying public, who could have had the experience of watching a very dramatic, meaningful film. They released it that way, emasculated.” Two Weeks in Another Town was not well received by the critics or the public. Still, thanks to strong central performances by Kirk Douglas and Edward G. Robinson and Minnelli’s stylish direction, the film is very much worth watching today. Look for a cameo by Leslie Uggams as a nightclub singer.
Ronnie Schieb for Film Comment (Jan/Feb 1981):
Two Weeks in Another Town is [screenwriter] Schnee’s Winter’s Tale of death, decadence, destruction, and rebirth, played out against the larger-than-Hollywood panorama of Rome. It’s not sixteen years but six that have separated once-great director Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) from his once-great star and collaborator Jack (Kirk Douglas), back from the dead. And now they are together again, rerunning their love-hate eternal triangles within triangles in a last-ditch cheapo extravaganza that fades in and out of the cacophonous spectacle that is Rome. Last chance saloon-make it here and be recalled to the glories of Hollywood or on to the glue factory.
Two Weeks is still carting around the Oscar that Schnee won ten years before for The Bad and the Beautiful, and should anyone doubt that it was B&B he won it for there’s an extended clip from the movie in Two Weeks. By 1962, the producer cum creative consultant has been blown out of the picture. Witness the pointyshoed international commodity-peddler Tortelli, whose only link to the production, other than the to-the-penny budget, is a cold-blooded sharing with the director of the star’s favors: big-bazoomed Barzelli, hands equitably distributed on each of their thighs in the darkened screening room. Meanwhile, the ambivalent creative aspects of the Bad and the Beautiful producer figure have been split up in a double director figure: Douglas, actor turning director, and Robinson, director turning sour.
Amid attempted knifings, suicide attempts, infidelities, wild parties, and heart attacks, a cockeyed principle of reincarnation works itself out: Douglas, whose infidelity in The Bad and The Beautiful nearly caused Lana Turner a fatal car crash, makes up for it in his new, Two Weeks life as victim of a car crash caused by Cyd Charisse’s infidelity. For Douglas’s Jack Andrus takes the curious predilection of Schnee’s characters for driving toward walls or washedout bridges at death-defying or -encouraging speeds, and goes them one better. After taking six years to recuperate from one smash-up, Andrus decides to run it through again to resolve the ageold question: “did he or didn’t he?” (want to kill himself), and discovers-three stone walls and a quarter-inch later-that he didn’t.
Sean Axmaker for his eponymous blog:
This bright, colorful production, set within the tawdry glamour of a film production beset by budget limitations and the real beauty of Italy, goes for a coarser, more flamboyant brand of melodrama (Cyd Charisse as a spider woman of a socialite vampire, Claire Trevor as a spiteful harpy of a neglected wife) and a more conventional lesson of triumph, thanks to source material from Irwin Shaw. But the filmmakers understand that and go with it, turning the film into an entertaining freak show of gargoyles created by the dream machine, led by the bullying misanthrope Kruger himself, once an artist and now simply an ego looking for a place to reign. “You know, I’ve been faking so long, I don’t know what feels real anymore,” he remarks to Andrus after a heart attack, a rare candid admission of the emptiness of his life but perhaps also a realization of his decline from screen artist to ringmaster of the film set.
The bitterness behind marriages and affairs, held together by mutual dysfunction, have a “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” cruelty mixed with showbiz phoniness and social gamesmanship. In this cutthroat world of booze and betrayal the once mighty Andus, now a recovering alcoholic trying to rebuild his self-esteem in decidedly human dimensions, is the fragile victim, which perhaps is why he relates to the young American star, James Dean-by-way-of Warren Beatty young actor played by George Hamilton as an arrogant jerk busy sabotaging his career in tantrums and sneering attitude as a way to cover his own fragility and fear of failure. Both intimate and outsized, it’s a strange product of the era, a Hollywood white elephant of a movie straddling self-awareness and self-parody, the fifties and the sixties, reveling in the fake textures of its conventions but also enjoying the actorly tear that Douglas goes on in the third act. He gives the spectacle all he’s got like a Hollywood pro before winding back to reclaim his dignity.
Glenn Kenny practically issues a call to arms, at Some Came Running:
If Bad/Beautiful was a kind of bittersweet poison pen envoi to Old Hollywood, an attempt to make the best of the attendant hangover after taking stock of the note of the last meeting, so to speak, Two Weeks is a meet-the-new-boss suicide note that only steps back from the ledge because…well, wait a minute, does it really step back from the ledge? Is the film’s rushed (literally) happy end really putting the film’s protagonist “back” in “business?” That’s a tantalizing question, but in any event it’s the journey to that question that gives the film its rush.
The connective tissue between Two Weeks and Bad/Beautiful could not be stronger. Two Weeks has the same producer (John Houseman), same music composer (David Raksin), same screenwriter (Charles Schnee), same leading man (Kirk Douglas), and, finally and crucially, same director (Vincente Minnelli) as the earlier film. And of course the same theme: the lunatic three-ring circus of movie-making. But rather than speaking with the droll confidence of talents who were up-and-coming tyros when the models for Bad/Beautiful were making their brilliant mistakes, Two Weeks barrels ahead with the near-lunatic desperation of the potentially soon-to-be-washed up. The Hollywood that Minnelli and Houseman grew up in is dying or dead, replaced by the exotica and ruthless accounting of Cinecitta and international co-production. Without any reference to the politique des auteurs, Edward G. Robinson’s despotic, neurotic director boasts of the “Kruger touch” in reference to his own artistic signature. Countering him is an Italian anti-showman producer who lays out a ruthless bottom line to Kruger with not even a hint of apology for being so vulgar as to care about money. Lured into this web is the cracked actor Jack Andrus, who’s been keeping himself on ice in a tony nuthouse (in a sense, this is also a kind of sequel to Minnelli’s great 1955 The Cobweb). Here we find another crucial point of departure from Bad/Beautiful: whereas that film was about the various interactions and reactions of its characters to the brilliant and ruthless producer Shields, Two Weeks, even in scenes that stray from its lead character, is all about the interiority of Jack Andrus, just as Godard’s soon-to-come answer film to Two Weeks, Contempt, would be all about the (empty) interiority of its screenwriter protagonist. (Contempt also responds to Two Weeks‘ two-bit Carlo Ponti with and Ugly American vulgarian producer played by Jack Palance.) Shields and Andrus are both, of course, portrayed by Kirk Douglas, and at the same precise emotional temperature at that. But while Shields is a force of nature, Andrus is, until the very end, fate’s chump. The demons that torment Jack are deliberately ridiculous, which is one reason those who call this film a “camp” classic miss the point; the heightening here is more Breughel-by-way-of-Al-Hirschfeld. Cyd Charisse’s impossible ex-wife of Jack is a cross between Jessica Rabbit and Baby Jane Hudson, or something; in any event it’s the most peculiar performance Charisse had ever given, or more to the point, been asked to give. Any doubt that Minnelli knew exactly what he was doing as he upped the film’s ante into ever-more absurdist realms need only check out the Three-Faces-of-Claire-Trevor shot, in which the actress, playing Kruger’s appalling harridan wife, is multiplied into a veritable chorus of harpies.
The better you know the films that surround this one—The Bad and the Beautiful, Contempt, even 8 1/2 and La Ricotta—the better you’ll get this. But it is still awfully striking even on its own. There’s more I could say about this film—it really is very deep, and an old favorite of mine, and Daliah Lavi, seen at top with Douglas, is both beautiful and sensitive enough in the film to inspire a good number of prose poems—but the main thing I want to convey at the moment is that you need to see it, so please do.