Friday, February 24, 2012

Hooray for Hollygab!

Werth: It's time, Wise!

Wise: It's time, Werth!

Werth: For the annual celebration of Hollywood—the Oscars!

Wise: And this year's celebration of Hollywood is actually a celebration of Hollywood. With nominated movies like Hugo, My Week with Marilyn and The Artist plumbing movie history to tell their stories and move the audience—

Werth: And Oscar-nominated classic Hollywood-folk like Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick and Meryl Streep (yes, she's been around long enough to fall into the Classic category) on the bill, this year's Oscars promises to be a hat-tipping frenzy to good ol' Tinseltown.

Wise: No town does self-adulation like Hollywood does, but if there's anything La La Land likes better than a salute to its own grandeur, it's a sordid examination of its seamy underbelly.  And no film better captures the glory and the gutter of the film capital than L.A. Confidential (1997).  Based on James Ellroy's 1990 novel, the film depicts the intersection of silver screen dreams gone bust, organized crime and police corruption.  

Werth: Wasn't Peter Lawford's house at that intersection?

Wise: While on a liquor run for the precinct Christmas party, tough guy LAPD Detective Bud White (Russell Crowe) encounters glamorous Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) who bears a striking resemblance to Hollywood noir moll Veronica Lake, and later discovers that she's part of a ring of high class hookers dolled up to look like stars.  Meanwhile, smarmy Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), who acts as technical adviser to the square cop drama Badge of Honor (obviously a burlesque of Dragnet), gets a tip from gossip rag publisher Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) and busts a starlet and her beau for pot possession amid a blaze of flashbulbs. 
Back at the precinct, by-the-books sergeant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) rats on his fellow cops against the advice of his Captain (James Cromwell) in a bid to advance his career.  

Werth: So many juicy plot threads—so many fine character actors.  

Wise: The three men eventually discover they're all following the same trail of corruption and reluctantly join forces.  Together they uncover a web of dirty dealings and backroom alliances that threatens both the Hollywood mythos and the good standing of the LAPD.  

Werth: It's enough dirt to fill even the tawdriest celeb-news rag.

Wise: Hollywood obviously loved this lurid self portrait because L.A. Confidential garnered nine Oscar noms—Basinger took the prize for Best Supporting Actress while director Curtis Hanson and his collaborator Brian Helgeland won Best Adapted Screenplay.  That adulation, I think, comes from Hanson's carefully calibrated balance of trash and tinsel, where even the worst offenders look great in close-up. 

Werth: When I think of tinsel-y trash in Hollywood only one movie comes to mind. When it was released in 1967, Valley of the Dolls was one of the most anticipated films of the year. Based on the hugely popular Jacqueline Susann book, Dolls tells the story of three young actresses who climb the ladder of fame and fortune only to find booze, pills, egos and the occasional unfaithful gay husband.

Wise: At least they look fabulous throughout the histrionics. 

Werth: With stunts like holding the premiere on a cruise ship, Twentieth Century Fox expected a massive hit. Bomb enthusiasts would have you believe that Dolls sank faster than the Costa Concordia, but when you look at the box office receipts for 1967, it ranked right behind The Dirty Dozen at 6th with $20 million, which was plenty of scratch in that era.

Wise: Enough to buy dolls and a wig for Susan Hayward.

Werth: But critics savaged its sleazy soap opera storyline and hammy performances. So Dolls has become one of those camp classics that is more famous for its over-the-top scenes of mod hair-spray adverts, booze-filled pools and wig flushing. But with all that—or more accurately, because of it—the performances are a real treat to watch with or without your red dolls.
Patty Duke as starry-eyed performer Neely O'Hara gets to go from ambitious, hard-working singer to drug-addicted bitch and back again with real verve.
Susan Hayward as old school Broadway belter Helen Lawson almost makes you forget that Judy Garland was originally supposed to play the role.

Wise: Unfortunately, poor Judy was living Valley of the Dolls at the time, plus, at least according to Duke, she was tortured by the director Mark Robson. 

Werth: Lee Grant gives teeth to protective manager Miriam Polar and knowing poor Sharon Tate's sad real-life ending gives her portrayal of tragic, well-busted Jennifer North an un-planned layer of sorrow. The music by Andre and recently passed Dore Previn earned John Williams his first arranging Oscar nomination. I'll be watching on Sunday to see if he wins his sixth Oscar for War Horse or The Adventures of Tintin. Wise, are you coming over to watch the show in your tux?

Wise: If you're going to wear your strapless gown.

Werth: I need to find a matching stole.

Wise: Filmgabbers, make sure you wear the appropriate attire when you join us next week as we do our 2nd Annual Oscar Losers Film Gab! 

Werth: Top hats and low gowns please!

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