Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Herrat pitävät vaaleaverisistä / Gli uomini preferiscono le bionde. US © 1953 Twentieth Century-Fox. D: Howard Hawks. Based on a musical comedy by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos and the novel by Anita Loos; SC: Charles Lederer; DP: Harry J. Wild; ED: Hugh S. Fowler; PD: Lyle R. Wheeler, Joseph C. Wright, Claude E. Carpenter; Cost: Charles Le Maire, Travilla; FX: Ray Kellogg; M: Leigh Harline (non accred.), Lionel Newman (non accred.), Hal Schaefer (non accred.), Herbert W. Spencer (non accred.); S: Roger Heman Sr., E. Clayton Ward; Ass. D: Paul Helmick, Don Torpin; Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Lorelei Lee), Jane Russell (Dorothy Shaw), Charles Coburn (Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman), Elliott Reid (Ernie Malone), Tommy Noonan (Gus Edmond Jr.), George Winslow (Henry Spofford III), Marcel Dalio (il magistrato), Taylor Holmes (Esmond Sr.), Norma Varden (Lady Beekman), Howard Wendell (Watson), Steven Geray (direttore dell’hotel), Harry Carey Jr. (Winslow), Harry Letondal (Grotier), Leo Mostovoy (Philippe); P: Sol C. Siegel. Pri. pro.: 1 luglio 1953. 35 mm. 91’. Col. English version. From: Twentieth Century Fox. Tuesday, 28 June 2011 at 22.00, Piazza Maggiore (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Presenta Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Precedono due cortometraggi accompagnati alla fisarmonica da Marc Perrone [wheelchair bound]:
LES BORDS DE LA TAMISE D'OXFORD À WINDSOR (Sul Tamigi, FR 1914). 6'. Did. italiane. - AA: Beautiful.
LE DUE INNAMORATE DI CRETINETTI. [Title on the print: (De Vereening van Gribouille)]. (IT 1911). 9'. Did. olandesi. - AA: Funny (repeated from the Cento anni fa shows).

Catalogue: "In other movies, you have two men who go out looking for pretty girls to have fun with. We pulled a switch by taking two girls who went out looking for men to amuse them: a perfectly modern story. It delighted me. It was funny. The two girls, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, were so good together that any time I had trouble figuring out business, I simply had them walk back and forth, and the audiences adored it. I had a staircase built so that they could go up and down, and since they are all well built… This type of movie lets you sleep at night without a care in the world; five or six weeks were all we needed to shoot the musical numbers, the dances and the rest." Howard Hawks, from Entretien avec Howard Hawks, by Jacques Becker, Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut, “Cahiers du Cinéma”, n. 56, February 1956.

"The second and last musical comedy by Hawks after A Song Is Born. Some of the film’s stylistic elements are part of the aesthetic of the American style animation film. To note especially is the marked caricaturization in the plot’s adventures, the gestures, tones, desires and behavior of the characters. As far as rhythm is concerned, it is calm and sober like in most films by Hawks, whatever genre they may be. Hawks is not the only American director with comedies influenced by animation. (…) In comedy – and the musical comedy here to Hawks is a comedy enlivened by constant intervals in which characters comment on their desires and obsessions with more than a little detachment – Hawks saw the opportunity to satirize some of the most mechanical and widespread tics and defects of society. They are lined up like in a drawer. Dorothy’s subdued nymphomania and Lorelei’s rationalized greed do not create conflict between the two friends because as the true maniacs that they are they are exclusively interested in one specific thing and absolutely ignore everything else. Like butterflies in a painting, Hawks transfixes on the screen the monstrosity of each one with luminous clarity and simplicity. The curt Hawksian tone is just as alien to expressing contempt as it is to expressing compassion and connivance towards the characters. This curtness, which to Hawks is the search for the right distance for stigmatizing a mania, an obsession or a vice without being indignant or dirtying its prey, has never been more classic, serene and expressive than in this film. And he never demanded more art and talent from his actors." Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma. Les films, Laffont, Paris 1992.

AA: Jonathan Rosenbaum gave the best introduction during the Festival, short and to the point. (Synopsis): He commented on the contradiction of the artificial and the documentary aspects of the performances. The film is based on the Marilyn Monroe / Jane Russell relationship. Jane Russell still got top billing, and she regarded it the favourite movie in her career. It is a broad satire of U.S. prosperity, almost like an animated cartoon. Lorelei is unreal, Dorothy is real. Lorelei is very intelligent and very stupid at the same time, which is possible only in a performance of an actor. Please notice the way they look at each other in the beginning and in the end. (End of synopsis).

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is my favourite Marilyn Monroe film, and this Piazza Maggiore screening was for me the best ever Marilyn Monroe experience. The punchlines worked like in a dream, and the audience was living the film. When a comedy works, it is the best possible cinema experience. The piazza was full, and people were sitting on the warm stones where there were no chairs.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a farce, the characters are caricatures, and the structure is stark and simple. It is a perfect Piazza film. Yet, like in a Charles Chaplin film, there is more beyond the strong outline. Lorelei Lee is a cartoon figure like Jonathan Rosenbaum said. She is as interesting and complex as Donald Duck.

Howard Hawks the capitalist laughs at capitalists. Marilyn and Jane the sex bombs laugh at sex bombs. The surprising thing is the tenderness and warmth just below the surface. And the camaraderie, the highest value in the Howard Hawks universe. There is a difference between the Hawks comedies of the 1930s and of the 1950s. Hawks in the 1930s is thoroughly cynical. In the 1950s his cynicism is on the surface only.

The last time I saw Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was in our 2006 Marilyn Monroe retrospective, and we screened a brilliant Twentieth Century Fox studio print which in my understanding was all photochemical. The print screened now was also a 35 mm Twentieth Century Fox studio print and the bright, bold colour looked right, but I also felt a digital video look / or a look that comes from one generation of duplication too many. Or maybe the Piazza circumstances are impossible for assessing the visual quality of a print. I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the film at close range, from the middle distance and from far away. I wanted to sample the screening just for 15 minutes, but the audience reaction was so mesmerizing and the film so captivating that it was hard to leave.

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