Tony Curtis talked like he looked: oily, with remnants of Bernard Schwartz of the Bronx never far off. I don’t want to know what went on in the Hollywood Babylon days; a man married six times certainly has more anecdotes than one has lives to listen to them. Although I haven’t seen even half of his (vast) filmography, his most famous roles projected intelligence and the instinct to live, as The Sweet Smell of Success‘ Sydney Falco puts it, “avidly, avidly.” Watch the posted clip and notice, at the 1: 04 mark, a very rare instance of a Hollywood film from the fifties having the patience to show an actor thinking in character.
After a dozen viewings I still can’t find another performance like Curtis’ in Success — only Tom Cruise in Magnolia proved he had the shrewdness to understand how one can fuse good looks, ambition, and a monstrous ego into the kind of villainy that’s intensely sympathetic. Both performances have this in common too: their respective movies disappoint them with cornball reconciliations. If Curtis never topped it, what other Hollywood actor with an ice cream face could have? So give him credit for accepting another role which exploited audience perceptions. Curtis exuded sexual ambivalence. His Dorothy in Some Like It Hot is femme-y, curvy, and sensuous in ways that Lemmon, who’s obviously having a great time, can’t match. On the other side, the somberness of expression lets us know that his otherwise ridiculous slave boy Antoninus in Spartacus understands the differences between snails and oysters. I’ve read rumors about his sexuality for years; to his immense credit, he seems to have recognized it and gotten downright campy in the last twenty years: eyeliner, powder, great scarves.
An enterprising director might have given Curtis the great late career roles in which co-star Burt Lancaster basked. They weren’t equals: Lancaster’s roles read like a career in self-education, a way of testing his limits and ways to integrate his intense physicality and intelligence. Whether we should blame Curtis’ publicized drug problems or simple disinterest, it shows how much of his career was comprised of missed chances.
No biopic of the New York Dolls exists, but if a writer-director needed casting suggestions, let me point him or her in the direction of Michael Shannon. As producer/svengali Kim Fowley in The Runaways, he hisses orders through clenched teeth and allows himself the faintest of chuckles, as if delighted by what he’s getting away with. He’s also a dead ringer for David Johansen, the Dolls’ long-faced and polymorphous lead singer. The way he orders Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) around, actually, reminds me of certain poses Johansen struck performing “Trash,” “Bad Girl,” or some other Dolls classic: there’s wit and swagger to the strutting.
The Runaways needs him more than it’s got time for. This lugubrious thing has more affinities with an Afterschool Special than a teen pic. Too timid to realize it’s really the story of Jett, a young woman accepting (deliciously) her sexuality and affinity for rock and roll, the movie aligns itself, however unwittingly, with the Fowley character, whose real talent was for sucking every dollar from his girls. That the Runaways weren’t all that good is a fact the movie doesn’t even contend with; as it rushes towards its pre-determined conclusion, it will not pause to consider how Currie and Jett eked out a temporary space in a situation they never accepted.
On a final note, dig around for Light of Day, Paul Schrader’s stilted 1987 psychodrama starring Michael J. Fox (with a mullet and earring) and Jett as siblings who can’t wait for Mom (Gena Rowlands) to just die already so that they can earn a living as Huey Lewis wannabes. Here is proof of Jett’s ability to hold the screen. The Springteen-penned title number is one of her best anthems.
A beautiful performance: hammy, bombastic, and sincere as hell. One hopes Coldplay agree. “That’s when I ruled the world,” Tennant sings, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Pet Shop Boys still did, judging from the crowd response starting at the 1:45 mark and his huge smile. Now read Tom Ewing’s column.
Only one scene in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, which is not named after a Rick Ross album, generates suspense: the moment when Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) dons a pinstriped shirt with perfect cuffs and slicks his hair back like the Gekko of yore. It’s like the helmet attaching itself like a lamprey to the maimed Anakin Skywalker’s face in Revenge of the Sith: it lent gravitas to an irrelevant sequel by exploiting our collective memories. The theater audience chuckled at the close-ups of falling dominoes and flashbacks to the suicide of Shia TheBeef’s mentor (an overwrought Frank Langella). I got the same enthusiasm for a scene in which the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary, a dead ringer for Hank Paulson, huddle beneath Rodrigo Prieto’s clammy half light and squirm in leather chairs as they realize that to save the world they have to save plutocracy. The audience knew it were watching an Oliver Stone movie, maybe the first one they’ve seen since Natural Born Killers; they know he has a fetish for men in shirttails plotting dastardly things across a conference table (Eli Wallach’s bird impersonations were no match for Tommy Lee Jones’ faggot mince in JFK though). I even felt a discernible lift whenever Stone used one of the tunes from David Byrne-Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
No one however was fooled by the offensive ending. As much as Americans pretend Wall Street is all that stands between socialism and death, they’re prepared to accept any fantasy except one in which greed poisons the heterosexual family unit — no, that sin is worth flinging yourself into a moving train for.
The strangled sincerity of “Back For Good” sounded interesting in 1995, but otherwise I don’t care for the travails of Take That, and I’ve had less time for the well-meaning career of Robbie Williams. A great taste in chums and collaborators (e.g. Neil Tennant) has not resulted in ticker tape parades down the Avenue of the Americas. But I’m a total sucker for “Shame,” their first song since Oasis stole their Yank mojo. My first thought was The Libertines’ “Can’t Stand Me Now,” a pained mess of a song in which two men realize how much their bad habits have sullied their deep love for each other. How can Nelly and Ne-Yo match’em?
Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow – Shame (7)
Nelly – Just a Dream (7)
Ne-Yo – Champagne Life (6)
Nas and Damian Marley – My Generation (6)
Mark Ronson & The Business Int’l ft. Kyle Falconer and Spank Rock – The Bike Song (5)
Justin Bieber – U Smile (3)
Soulja Boy – Pretty Boy Swag (2)
McFly – Party Girl (2)
Bret Easton Ellis – Imperial Bedrooms. A quasi-sequel to Less Than Zero (the “quasi” is part of the not very funny joke with which the novel begins), Ellis shovels more of the same: well-dressed anomie, with intimations of dread to burnish his literary credentials. Pulling the strings is LTZ villain Rip, the victim of terrible plastic surgery but still squeezing terse remarks through a sneer. Actually, when I found out how integral Rip is to the plot, I lost all interest in the story; for a while, Ellis’ sharper narrative drive evokes the first half of Lost Highway, David Lynch’s 1996 movie in which Bill Pullman also endures mysterious phone calls and Can’t Connect With Anyone.
Ellis’ books for some reason get serious reviews, despite offering none of the pleasures one wants from novels: characters are victims waiting to get carved, literally; he has no talent for comedy, desire, or even the sensuously delineated aside that signals to his readers his interest in other things besides the matter at hand; pain exists as a condition needing treatment, like a migraine or diabetes. Most of his sentences run like this: “I’m walking through the Grove to have lunch with Julian, who texts me that he’s at a table next in the Pinkberry in the Farmers Market.” Or, demotic Chandler with a pop culture tag at the end.
Why I’m reviewing this is anyone’s guess; like Clay, I’m bored, except it’s just tonight not, like, all the time.