Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let's Decide Finally.

There have been many instances, especially recently when an actor gets to reprise a roll that has already been someone else. Whether it is a remake, or a new angle on the initial material, let's put to rest once and for all the 'who did it better' debate, by asking a more interesting question; 'who did it naughtier?' Why you ask? Because from Chaplin, to Rivera, to Lolita herself, their naughtiness is what makes them memorable, the portrayal should be that which is not eclipsing but definitely significantly deviant. I am of course focusing on representation of characters who's deviance is a significant part of their existence, not like Gary Oldman in JFK or James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...So here we go...


Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin (1992)

Eddie Izzard in The Cat's Meow (2002)
Eddie Izzard.
Sorry Robby, but your portrayal of the biggest icon of the first half of the 20th century in Richard Attenburrough's latest attempt to kiss the Academy's ass, just didn't do it for me. Even your love scene with an 18 year old Milla Jovovich (something pretty hard to fuck up) seemed contrived and awkward. Epic fail.


Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998) 

Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Cate Blanchett. 
Despite the Oscars disagreeing with me on this, I didn't pick Catie just because she plays the Queen at 25 while JuJu plays her 65. I thought of maybe including the Helen Mirren one in this argument, but I decided against it. I just have to give the angle to Blanchett, as I think that her Elizabeth was just much more of a naughty girl, though of course she had more room to be comparatively to Juju's 8 minutes. 


Ruben Blades in Cradle Will Rock (1999)

Alfed Molina in Frida (2002)

Ruben Blades. 
Now, I know most haven't seen "Cradle Will Rock" or have heard of Ruben Blades, but he was a revelation. He managed to steal the spotlight from the so-called 'multi-protagonist' film in his character's plight to be able to paint a socialist allegory in Rockefeller Center back in the 1930's. Alfred Molina's Rivera is very beautiful in it's ability to capture the profound guilt of not being able to help cheating on Friday Khalo, but none of the eccentricities, madness, and whimsy of Rivera. Remember, Rivera was a man who wasn't just a cheating husband (as "Frida" portrays him) he was one of the most profound painters of the 20th century. Blades plays him as such; a genius incapable of compromise. 


David Bowie in Basquiat (1996)

Jared Harris in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

David Bowie. 
This should be an obvious one. First, Bowie knew Warhol and was very much influenced by him. Also, though Warhol, within the context of 'Basquiat' is portrayed as an aloof accidental genius without layers, this is actually how Warhol always was to the media. Even people closest to Warhol always wished they could 'get close' to him, on some kind of personal level, but very few actually acheived this. I think the only person that really knew Warhol was his mother. He said he didn't read; he read all the time, he said that art doesn't inspire him, he was very much influenced by Lichtenstein, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. His self contradictions go on and on. He frustrated all of us be being consistently dishonest and thereby mysterious. Bowie is the winner. In both films, the dynamic of Warhol's relationship with his 'friends' is examined, in 'Basquiat' it is with painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 'I Shot Andy Warhol', it is with psychopath Valeria Solanas. But in the former, is the frustration of the other by not being able to acutally formulate any kind of human contact is it really striking. 


Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson (1928)


Joan Crawford in Rain (1932) 
Joan Crawford.
I've already posted an entry on this comparison, but it's still fun to talk about. If you look at each of their aesthetic, it's almost identical; thick lipstick, eye-liner, fur, the works. But Crawford wins this one, because you really do believe that she was one hell of a hooker before her trip to Pago Pago. Yes, she is more camp than Swanson, but she is also much more serious about her deviance. I admit, this might be a little bias as I worship at the alter of Crawford. I can't help it.


Eva Mendes in The Women (2009)

Joan Crawford in The Women (1939)
Joan Crawford. 
It's really as simple as giving the bitch of the film sympathy. Crystal Allen is the main antagonist. She steals the husband, and she has no problem with how it affects his long suffering wife, in fact, tells her that it was her own fault for not pleasing him enough. Joanie is the villain, and yet her exit when she finally gets what's coming to her is rather touching, and you kind of understand how it is that she got to be so heartless, and you actually feel for the woman. A+.


Sue Lyon in Lolita (Kubrick, 1962)

Dominique Swain in Lolita (Adrien Lyne, 1997)

WINNER: Dominique Swain 

To round these arguments off, I thought I'd go with the quintessential cinema deviant. Here's the thing, if you've read the book you understand that Humbert Humbert is actually not the big disgusting pedophile pervert. It is his traumatic sexual experiences in childhood that make him pine for 'nymphets'. In the book, Lolita is actually not the world's greatest beauty. Humbert says that a normal man given a picture of school girls will not necessarily choose the nyphet among them. He would rather go for the most beautiful. Lolita in the novel is an underdeveloped, brunette, 12 year old with a heavy voice. She does not mean to seduce him, it just so happens that she falls into his sexual nature. She is not so much beautiful, as she is lovely, not so much a deviant as she is whimsical, not so much promiscuous as she is curious. It is the filmmaker's job to make us see Dolores Hayes, Lo, Dolly, Lolita as something so profoundly special that we understand Humbert's complete sacrifice to drive himself into utter and absolute madness. Granted, Lyne had more to work with considering he didn't have to worry about the censorship code breathing down his neck like an angry nun in Sunday school, and considering his filmography, we are meant to expect some deep deviance. Kubrick famously stated that if he knew the limitations and subsequent stress and headaches that came from making such a controversial film from such a controversial book, which was at that time still banned in certain countries, he would have never made it in the first place. Alas, what is of absolute importance is that the Kubrick 'Lolita' is a film about Humbert Humbert, the Lyne 'Lolita' is about Lolita. Granted, the book is about Humbert as well, but Lyne's way of expressing the utmost of primal sexual yearning is very sincere. Sue Lyon, bless her, as pretty as she was, seemed no more than an up-and-coming pin up girl. Even with Kubrick's direction, there was not much more to that mysterious character, and I was always felt wondering why Humbert sacrificed everything just to be able to smell her hair. Lyne pulled what I liked to call a "Zeffirelli", where he had permission to actually hire an actress that was almost the same age as the character in the original story, (Zeffirelli caused a lot of controversy by casting actual teenagers in his version of "Romeo and Juliet" rather than using 30-year-olds as had been done before). Swain was 14 when she took on this role, which was originally intended of 13-year-old Natalie Portman, and I am still taken aback by her ability to find the underbelly of Lolita. She was very mature for an actress of her age, and I still don't think anyone else could have done it better. Lyne portrays the story as a sexual melodrama, thereby Kubrick was more correct in his adaptation when he treated it as a dark comedy, which is how the book reads. And yet, there is the undertone of the worst kind of suffering of personal experience. The reason for this suffering is this little girl with ginger braids, lovingly nicknamed Lolita. And that's what it comes down to. We have to believe that this suffering is genuine, and that's what I believe Swain accomplished. 

No comments: