Saturday, November 24, 2012

Anne Hathaway: Look Familiar?

National entertainment columnist Roger Friedman attended the first screening of Les Misérables, the film version of the long-running hit Broadway musical.  Friedman wrote that the afternoon preview yesterday met with "Cheers and a standing ovation" adding that "Anne Hathaway sings the heck out of the film's big numbers," "Hugh Jackman is a triumph" and "Russell Crowe makes a solid Javert."

I don't know about you, but I never miss a Russell Crowe musical.
Director Tom Hooper made The King's Speech get golden attention come Oscar time.  It received Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Picture of 2010.  If I could interview Tom Hooper, I'd ask him what classic films have influenced his work as a director.  Did Billy Wilder have an impact on him with his classic Sunset Blvd.?  You're familiar with that famous film, a modern-day Frankenstein story.  The monster made in a big house on a Hollywood hill is Norma Desmond, the faded silent film star played terrifically by real-life silent film star Gloria Swanson.  Max, her co-dependent and creepily devoted chauffer, is the Dr. Frankenstein in Wilder's original screenplay.  He's played by former acclaimed silent film director and actor, Erich von Stroheim.
Mr. von Stroheim actually did direct Swanson in a silent movie.  Or tried to.  Had 1929's Queen Kelly been completed with his vision realized, it would've run about 4 hours.  He was one of the top directors of that era, but he didn't get to complete the film because of his directorial excess which irritated producer/star Gloria Swanson.  The other producer was Joseph P. Kennedy.  Yes -- the rich, powerful family patriarch and father of the future political legend, President John F. Kennedy.  Swanson had Kennedy fire von Stroheim.
The film went over budget.  It had censorship problems because of its sexual content (like a violent, whoring older guy with syphilis) and Star/Producer clashed with Director.
Footage from Queen Kelly plays when predatory Norma Desmond makes broke screenwriter Joe Gillis sit through one of her movies again in her private screening room.  She vainly remarks about herself, "We didn't need dialogue.  We had faces!"
I didn't attend at preview screening of Tom Hooper's Les Misérables.  But I did see one photo of Anne Hathaway in it that caught my eye.  This shot of Hathaway....
...reminded me of this shot from 1929's Queen Kelly shown in 1950's Sunset Blvd.
See what I mean?  I think Tom Hooper got a little Wilder directing Les Misérables.  The reaction columnist Roger Friedman and others had to it could mean a Best Picture Oscar.  It could be 1968 all over again.  The Academy loves poor people in a period piece who sing and dance.  You think British director Carol Reed won his Oscar for his masterful 1949 thriller, The Third Man?
Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles starred in this beautifully, creatively photographed, scored and written feature that truly is an iconic must-see for classic film fans.
Did Carol Reed win his Oscar for that?  No.  Did it win Best Picture?  Not even nominated.  Reed won his Oscar for directing the film version of the Broadway musical, Oliver!  This period piece combined festive showtunes and fabulous choreography with abject poverty, child labor, kidnapping and murder.  Oliver! won for Best Picture of 1968.
Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Buñuel's Belle du Jour and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey weren't even nominated.  The Academy went with musical orphans in a work inspired by a Charles Dickens classic.  Annie in a 19th century workhouse, if you will.  Those starving kids hadn't had a decent meal in weeks but somehow they had enough energy to sing at the top of their lungs and do hitch kicks in a dance number.
Reed was influenced by a sequence from a silent film too.  Watch the opening "Food, Glorious, Food" number in Oliver!  It begins with an inspired and respectful nod to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) as the mistreated orphan workers march in for their meager portions of a bad meal.  Let's see if Academy history repeats itself when the Oscar nominations are announced early in the morning on Thursday, January 10th.  Les Misérables has socially oppressed people in a period piece singing out loud in a production inspired by a piece of classic literature.  The Academy loves that.




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