LOVE, CECIL – movie review

LOVE, CECIL

Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Screenwriter:  Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Cast:  Rupert Everett, (narrator). Cecil Beaton, Hamish Bowles, Leslie Caron, David Hockney, Isaac Mizrahi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NY, 6/15/18
Opens: June 29, 2018
Love, Cecil Poster
“I’m an ordinary man,” explains Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” to his best friend Col. Pickering, “Who desires nothing more than just an ordinary chance to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants. An average man am I, of no eccentric whim, who likes to live his life free of strife, doing whatever he thinks is best for him. Just an ordinary man.”  Of course Higgins was not what he claimed.  Now imagine a person who really does fit the bill as “an ordinary man.” You would be imagining the very opposite of Cecil Beaton, who won Oscars in both production design and costume design for “My Fair Lady” helping to make that musical one of the Broadway icons of the last century.

In Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s love letter to Cecil Beaton, she affords us a look at the career and inner life of an extraordinary man, a man who has created color, imagination, and fantasy; in short a vivid look at all that is beautiful about life.  A Renaissance person who could not sit still and focus on a single career, Beaton was above all a photographer, but exceptional as well as a theatre set designer, a creator of costumes, a lighting designer, and even an actor who appeared in Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermeer’s Fan.”  Not mentioned by this film which, after all, limits itself to a mere 99 minutes, he designed the sets and costumes for a production of Puccini’s “Turandot.”

Vreeland, in her métier as a person who made documentaries on Diana Vreeland and Peggy Guggenheim, is obviously a great supporter of the artist, who died in 1980.  She might be accused of being in love with Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton CBE, though she does point out an unfortunate incident in which Beaton, who published six volumes of diaries, used the word “kike” on one page of Vogue magazine, perhaps the most obscene term used by anti-Semites to describe the Jewish people.  Beaton tells the camera that he has no idea why he wrote this, that he is not anti-Jewish (never mind that a good segment of the British upper classes at the time were indeed), and that he regrets that Vogue had to shred thousands of copies and fire him.

We become privy to vast array of Beaton’s portraits in black-and-white and color and to a few segments of the colorful “My Fair Lady” and “Gigi.”  In the former musical, the song “Ascot Gavotte,” which portraits the British upper class at a racetrack saying how positively ecstatic they are when the horses are running, though with the stiffness and lack of emotion that have become stereotypies of the upper orders.

Of his loves, he cites Greta Garbo, who surprised Beaton by allowing him to photograph the woman who “vant[s] to be left alone.” As the official photographer of the Queen mother,  he is overcome with emotion as he is invited to photograph Queen Elizabeth II in a series of shots that went way over the time limit he is granted.  He left behind photographs of his two male lovers, and cautiously tells us that he did not get along with George Cukor, who directed “My Fair Lady,” and for some reason hated Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

See this on the big screen where you can best revel in the gorgeous costumes, vivid set designs, dramatic sketches and portraits, and snippets from two of the all-time great Broadway musicals.

Unrated.  99 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

LA LA LAND – movie review

  • LA LA LAND

    Summit Entertainment (A division of Lionsgate Films)
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Damien Chazelle
    Written by: Damien Chazelle
    Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons
    Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 11/16/16
    Opens: December 9, 2016
    La La Land Movie Poster
    If you’re of a certain age or simply catch up on movies made before you were born, you are likely to say “They don’t write musicals the way they used to.”  You’re thinking of the oeuvre of George M. Cohan, George and Ira Gershwin, Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.  Some of their traditional musicals are revived on Broadway, and deservedly so.  Consider “My Fair Lady,” the perfect musical; South Pacific with its outdated(?) theme of racial tension, “Yankee Doodle Dandy, which features a stirring performance by the great James Cagney.  The splashy modern musicals are no slouches: think of the ones still playing on Broadway like “Chicago,” “Les Misérables,” “The Phantom of the Opera.”  The distinction between the old and the new is more a line drawn on sand than on stone.  Capitalizing on the idea of doing a traditional musical, Damien Chazelle, whose “Whiplash” shows him as a man who understands and loves jazz, knocks out “La La Land” (a slang term for Los Angeles) with an opening and closing that will look familiar to any who have taken in the lavish spectacles of the forties and fifties.  “La La Land” opens with a small screen logo of the company, Summit Entertainment, then surprises the audience with an expanded screen and a mention that this is a Cinemascope production.  At the conclusion, we see the letters “The End.” Now that’s something you don’t see at movie endings any more.

    “La La Land” is the sort of musical that might find a better environment off-Broadway than in the big ones, with one exception, the spectacular opening number, a single take, choreographed with brilliance and sung with abandon but a diversified group of Los Angeles drivers and passengers in one of those daily, tortuous jams.  When one driver in a convertible, Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) honks and passes the auto driven by Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), Mia gives him the finger, which is not the best way to start a romantic relationship, but in this case, absent the bird, there would be no coupling off.

    Hearing music back on land Mia enters a crowded restaurant to find Sebastian, who at first conforms to the manager’s demand that he play Christmas clichés but then takes off with the kind of jazz piano he knows and loves.  This gets him fired by the boss (J.K. Simmons), so, teed off, he knocks Mia on the shoulder as he passes Mia—which qualifies as a meet-cute.  For Mia, this is love at first sight; never mind that she doesn’t like him.

    They get together, they talk, they dance, they click. They find out that they’re not simply drivers: they are human beings young enough to hold onto dreams.  Sebastian likes jazz, but only the kind that he considers pure.  He tries to influence Mia to share his affection for the music.  In the planetarium they dance, literally rising through the air like a modern Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, gazing at the stars above, sharing their fantasies.  He wants to stop playing what the band leaders want and to start his own club.  She wants to be an actress, and takes off from her job as barista in the Warner lot whenever her smartphone informs her of an audition.

    Mimicking the splashy colors favored by Jacques Demy in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”—which featured the stunning Catherine Deneuve as a 17-year-old in the French town of Cherbourg—and Demy’s use of saturated colors in “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, Chazelle alternates dazzlers like the opening scene, with fast-moving jazz compositions, Gosling on the keyboard, and slow, moody, lyrical songs.  Unlike “South Pacific,” “My Fair Lady,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Music Man” and scores of other musicals, there are no memorable songs in “La La Land,” nor are the lyrics that clear to make out.  The dancing cannot match that of the pros like the aforementioned Astaire and Charisse and the singing is not on the level of South Pacific’s Ezio Pinza.  Nor does it have to be.  Though many critics will rave and gush, ultimately this is a middling musical measured against the gold standard works of the forties and fifties but is well worth a visit for setting a romantic mood, enjoying the jazz, and feeling as good as you can after the recent political debacle in the U.S.

    Rated PG-13.  128 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online