Fifty years ago, late on August 4 or in the early hours of August 5—so little can be said of her with certainty—Marilyn Monroe died, and began her life in legend. This was only 50 years ago, in Los Angeles, when she was a very important if vague person who may have known even more important persons. There were doctors in attendance, and then coroners; there were police investigations. The world decided it was shocked and stricken by the sudden departure of the 36-year-old, yet not surprised.
One of the puzzles facing the film historian (amateur or professional) occurs when a child climbs upon the parental knee and asks, “Well, Dad, what was the black list?” The parent struggles to explain that, once upon a nervous time, the Hollywood movie was said to be rife with un-American suggestions and the energetic insinuation of socialist alternatives. The child blinks, and says, “Father, isn’t that preposterous?
How startling to see the speed with which the film business can respond to audience taste. Within hours of the massacre at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, (far quicker than the removal of the Joe Paterno statue), Warner Brothers were in action. Premieres in Paris and Tokyo were cancelled. Most of the players in the movie—writer-director Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Anne Hathaway—issued statements of sorrow.
Did you see Robert Blake on the “Piers Morgan Show” last week? You can catch up with it on the CNN website, even if it’s now become a series of bites or takes, with bleeps here and there. It was the movie of the week, where you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen and didn’t know what to believe. What more can you ask for? First, the contestants: Piers Morgan is 47, six-feet-one and barely shy of 200 pounds, I’d guess. He has a plush, self-satisfied poker face, not too far from David Cameron.
Savages is trashy, vulgar, preposterous, cruel—and maybe the most interesting and entertaining film Oliver Stone has made since Nixon. What more do you want when the country is burning, gridlocked, and practicing ballet on the brink? Don’t say the movies lack instincts about where we’re headed.
We think we know what an “anchor” is—that quaint tri-form hunk of heavy metal that vessels throw overboard when they want to stop. That action and the word promise stability and security. So “anchor” has passed into the collected metaphors of our survival: A sentence is anchored to its main verb; a country is kept steady by its constitution; Citizen Kane holds the cause of film history in place. Your family is what keeps you where you should be in the rising swell and cross-currents of life. Aaron Sorkin is a mainstay of old-fashioned adult optimism.
I know it’s not customary, but the customary is fading like spit in the sun. So I want to review two trailers for Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film, The Master, which will be released in October. The second trailer appeared online in June, the first a month earlier. They accompany the limited announcement that the film, set around 1950, is about one man who starts a new religion, and another who becomes his follower. It remains to be seen whether this description is accurate or sufficient. I want to approach the trailers as two films, each about ninety seconds long.
Mothers and fathers can breathe again, and leave their children of a certain age to the liberty of their own devices, and parental innocence. What age? Well, I’d suggest that it’s the under-26s, that being the new limit at which “kids” or fully grown adults, subject to STDs and other menacing acronyms, can remain on their parents’ health insurance.
The cinema has always done hostility better than history. Perhaps that is a characteristic it shares with most of us. So, 33 years ago, the spaceship Nostromo was a beaten-up heap ready to be retired, but the engine of its story and the stealthy uncovering of its ultimate confrontation of raw hostility and Sigourney Weaver in her underwear might have been handled by a trio of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Ben Hecht (the latter a pro screenwriter, the first two theorists on larger matters of story).