Thursday, June 29, 2017

Becoming Cary Grant (introduced by the director Mark Kidel)

Director: Mark Kidel. Year: 2017. Country: Francia. English version with French subtitles.
    Section: Documents and Documentaries.
    Scen.: Mark Kidel, Nick Ware. F.: Jean-Marie Delorme. M.: Cyril Leuthy. Mus.: Adrian Utley, The Insects. Int.: Jonathan Pryce (voce narrante), Judy Balaban, Mark Glancy, Barbara Jaynes, David Thomson. Prod.: Christian J. Popp per Yuzu Productions. DCP. D.: 85’. Bn e Col.
    From: Yuzu Productions.
    Introduce: il regista Mark Kidel.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Sala Auditorium, 29 June 2017.

Paola Cristalli (Il Cinema Ritrovato): “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant”. As Mark Kidel’s biofilm confirms, at least for the Office of Vital Records Archie Leach from Bristol became Cary Grant in 1942, when he gave up his British citizenship and his new passport bore just the name that would earn him the unconditional admiration of the whole world.

However, as Kidel argues in his evident psychological take, Grant couldn’t free himself of Archie Leach with just an eraser. So poor Archie with his suffering, the trauma of being abandoned by his mother and his problems with women continued to percolate under the unrivalled elegance, the sartorial suits, the cosmopolitan ease and the smile of the man who “carries the holiday in his eye” (Stanley Cavell) and who made us believe life could be the most exquisite exercise in style; and so to finally come to terms with Archie Leach, Cary Grant underwent therapy with LSD, which he took during weekly sessions for three years under medical supervision and without breaking the law (in the mid-1950s it was an experimental treatment authorized by the government and quite appreciated by the Malibu community).

The film focuses on the psychotropic rebirth of a depressed and divided Cary Grant. The issue has been well documented by biographies of the actor, starting with Graham McCann’s classic A Class Apart (1996); Grant himself spoke about it extensively, sharing his enthusiasm for the experiment’s results with “Ladies’ Home Journal” in a long interview-confession in 1963, which later was incorporated in a long but never published autobiography.

The first person voice over draws principally from this source, whereas the images alternate the melted colours of home movies from the 1930s, used as an entryway in to Cary’s mental trips (vacations, boats, female bodies and faces), with the shining sharpness of film sequences, with a preference for ones with a darker emotional and photographic tone (from Notorious to the supernatural comedy Topper to the dysphoric None but the Lonely Heart); movies with characters bordering on or consumed by an anxiety which echoes Kydel’s vision and in which Cary Grant is more clearly, to use the words of Franco La Polla, “a comedian who cannot respond to the drama of reality with comedy” (by the way, had the immersions in lysergic acid made us forget it, critic David Thomson reminds us that we’re talking about “the best and most important actor in film history”).

Speaking of shininess: judging by the sequences in the documentary, Cary Grant’s filmography looks in excellent shape, but Bringing Up Baby cries out for a new restoration."
Paola Cristalli (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: Introduced by the director Mark Kidel himself.

Based on Cary Grant's personal papers, including his unpublished autobiography, letters and home movies, in collaboration with his daughter Jennifer Grant and his widow Barbara Jaynes (Barbara Harris), Becoming Cary Grant is as close to an authorized film biography as can get. Which does not prevent it from being candid and deeply moving.

The screening was the most highly emotional of the ones I attended at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Audience members were crying out loud after the show.

I was surprised to agree so completely with Mark Kidel's view about Grant's film career. At first Grant was just a boy toy to the formidable Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. His real quality, the gentleman / cockney dialectics, was discovered by George Cukor in Sylvia Scarlett, and his comic genius was unleashed by Leo McCarey in The Awful Truth. Howard Hawks was the one who first understood his full complex and mysterious range from drama to comedy. Alfred Hitchcock went even darker and deeper. A wonderful selection of clips illustrates this. In addition are key glimpses from Penny Serenade (George Stevens), None But the Lonely Heart (Clifford Odets), and Father Goose (Ralph Nelson; "that's who I am").

New to me was the personal story. In the 1950s Grant experienced an existential crisis. "All my life I've been searching for a peace of mind". He visited LSD therapy for ten years, virtually a day every week, and confronted the "void in my life", the "sadness that never left me". His father had abandoned his family when Cary was 11, having confined his mother to a mental hospital, claiming that she had escaped. First 20 years later Cary learned the truth and released his mother from the Bristol lunatic asylum.

Real affection and a sense of belonging Cary found at the Pender acrobatic troupe which he joined at the age of 14, and for 14 years he was performing on stage, including on Broadway, until screen tests for Paramount led to a movie contract.

"In life there is no end in getting well", says Cary Grant. Thank you Mark Kidel, Jennifer Grant, and Barbara Jaynes, for sharing these intimate confessions.

The film balances the public and the private successfully. The result is a precious documentary about Archie Leach the Bristol lad, Cary Grant the film star, and the retired actor who became a devoted father to his daughter.

Excellent visual quality in the clips.

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