While this probably doesn't qualify as a "cult" movie (and I wasn't sure whether to post it here or in Movies, Movies, Movies! in the Versailles Room), it is one of my obsessions so I decided to post it here in Hopelessly Devoted.
Long derided as "the most expensive movie ever made", I have always loved CLEOPATRA, starring Elizabeth Taylor and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The sheer over-the-top grandiosity of this film is the very reason I LOVE it and why it remains one of my favorite movies. Filmed with panoramic views, colossal sets and thousands of extras, it is good old-fashioned Hollywood spectacle in the tradition of Cecil B. DeMille, and I much prefer it to the computer-generated kind of effects featured in today's "blockbuster" films. Like Rosalind Russell's Auntie Mame, Elizabeth Taylor in the title role is a drag queen, fake and expensively dressed, with over 60 costume and wig changes throughout. In fact, the film IS a four-hour-long drag pageant, and Taylor as Cleopatra looks gorgeous in virtually EVERY scene, parading around in gowns designed by the incomparable Irene Sharaff with a beat face painted to perfection and featuring flawless kohl-laden eye makeup. Keeping up with her Vivienne Zavitz wigs is like watching a tennis match: one minute she's in a plated bob, the next minute in a cascading 60s fall, and still the next minute crowned in some elaborate jewel-encrusted head piece or crown. Ancient Alexandria is instantly transformed into a Beverly Hills resort as Taylor carries on full diva theatrics, declaring her Divinity and ordering the hapless Marc Antony to his knees before her throne. The scene where Cleopatra enters Rome is reason enough to see it – I've watched it so many times that there are little grooves worn into the videotape!! After the Roman elite and commoners are treated to a seemingly endless and spectacular parade, Queen Cleopatra, crowned and dressed in gold, is pulled in by hundreds of slaves atop an enormous black sphinx and later carried down on a gold-fringed platform by a team of well-oiled muscular Nubian bearers to the spot where the entire Roman Senate, their Roman matrons and even Julius Caesar himself are all standing to pay homage to the Ultimate Queen. Fierce!
Later our Queen travels the seas aboard an extravagant gold barge, first posing for the peasants as she passes the shoreline and then later presiding over a midnight orgy on deck. Taylor muses non-chalantly, "one is so limited when traveling by ship" before retiring to her sumptuous silk-draped and white fur-carpeted inner chamber. Snap!
Also of note is the beautiful symphonic soundtrack by Alex North and Rex Harrison as a handsome and charismatic Caesar – though I detest Richard Burton. (I only liked him in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "Anne of a Thousand Days" in which he played Henry the VIII. Otherwise I find him belligerent and ugly). And Taylor's life-long friend Roddy McDowell is great as Octavian, the effeminate Roman leader who proves to be Cleopatra's greatest nemesis.
Many people, including myself, have criticized the historical inaccuracy and cowardice on the part of Hollywood in casting a white, non-African woman as Egypt's most famous Queen. I must further admit that never at any moment while watching Taylor do I ever see the historical character of Cleopatra – I always see Elizabeth Taylor. True also is the observation by some critics that as an actress she is, at times, overwhelmed by the material, though I personally admire her natural acting technique. But on some level the casting of Taylor makes sense. Just as the real Cleopatra was a walking natural wonder/natural disaster who toppled conquering men and their empires, Elizabeth Taylor did much of the same in her own reign as Queen of Hollywood. Taylor's home wrecking shenanigans are legendary, particularly in the case of the once greatly popular Eddie Fisher whom she turned into a pariah by stealing from Debbie Reynolds, then later unceremoniously kicking him to the curb when he proved too sensitive under the blade of her battle ax. Other husbands were squashed under her heels as she tired of them and marched out of the house in search of greater pleasures and bigger cocks. The grandiose scale of the film was often seen as a reflection of Taylor's personal taste and lavish lifestyle. (Hollywood legend has it that at "Casa Taylor", the house Twentieth Century Fox rented for her outside Rome during production, there was a separate large room that served only to store her wigs alone, and another room allocated exclusively for her to dress in – work, bitch!) Joseph L. Mankiewicz, until that time a much-celebrated director who brought the world two of my other favorite films, ALL ABOUT EVE and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (also starring Taylor), had doors slammed in his face all over Hollywood and rarely worked again afterward. Twentieth Century Fox nearly went bankrupt on the making of CLEOPATRA while Taylor squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars daily by showing up hours late (and in some instances not at all) and keeping expensive production crews waiting. Her $1 million salary, a first ever for Hollywood in those days, was noted by many Tinsel town historians as the single factor that led to the end of the old studio system, allowing the stars to take the reigns of power from the studio heads.
Filmed during the Camelot era when Americans were clearly far more obsessed with their Queen (Jackie Kennedy) than they were with their King (John F. Kennedy), CLEOPATRA on one level can be seen as a woman-hating misogynist fantasy of what supposedly happens when a woman rules: Total Catastrophe. But on another level the film also shows the downfall of traditional male hierarchies and seems to suggest that the world was ready for the strong yet loving arms of a matriarch and a higher, feminine order of leadership.
Mankiewicz was also director and screenwriter of "All About Eve" and responsible for that immortal campy line, "Fasten your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy night." And true, he never bounced back until "Sleuth." I agree, Lex, Cleopatra is definitely the camp apex of filmmaking. Imagine a time when every newpaper headline in the world, for months and months began with one little three letter word: LIZ. That was how besotted everyone was with Ms. Taylor during the filming of Cleopatra. But you should see her and Burton's followup, "Boom!"
Cleopatra IS fabulous; no-one does slightly bored/you're-stepping-on-my-dress hauteur like La Liz..she did Grace Jones before Grace.
But then we all have a quiet, introspective moments, don't we?, where we crave the quietly hysterical camp of Ash Wednesday. My personal fave. After getting the jilt from a psychopathically cold Henry Ford, a hagged-out Liz gets a facelift in Zurich or whatever as an act of revenge (oh my!), and, voila, is gorgeous again. So, eyebrows & cleavage intact, she then proceeds to have this sort of tragic "affair" with a blonde german/swiss aesthete several decades her junior, who just happens to be at the spa as well (I forget why). Anyways, he's an idiot, but finds her irresistable.
For Liz fans, it's feast. Full diamonds, full face, turbans. Loving close-ups of her violet eyes. There's this great shot of her in an illegal- fur muff hat, just kind of glowering at no-one in particular. Actually, there are lots of shots like that, sort of staring into space. She turns it on when the men treat her like shit, but you can tell she's heavily sedated. And just like Cleopatra, it also echoes her (un)real life. Which is amazing, really, since she's pretty much denied ever having any work done. Uh-huh.
Some fun Liz facts - a) She has unparalleled star power in Asia, such that when she vists Japan, she's treated as though she were a member of certified royalty - like, the embassy handles her schedule, she gets to stay at some imperial palace, and the protocol places her higher than visiting foreign politicians (ie., the president). I read this in Time a few years ago.
b) When she visited Toronto a while back, the Four Seasons Hotel blew out all the windows on the 14th floor, the one she booked, because she hates sealed windows, and might have wanted to enjoy "the breeze". There is no breeze in Toronto.
c) She's raised like half-a-billion dollars for AIDS research. That's $500,000,000.00. If you've never seen clips of her blasting congress, in congress (like '85, or something), for their neglect of the AIDS epidemic, you should. Wow.
Too bad about those Liza-wedding pics(ugh), though..
We've got a GREAT Liz story. It's about Liz and one of our very own daughters/sons. It concerns a dentist. Can we tell it Hatches? It's going to be hard to hide her identity though. It's such a great story and TRUE! Can we tell it Hatch, can we tell it, can we?
I've known about the Dee F. story for some time actually, heard it through the grapevine. And what a story! Can you imagine, you're in a homeless shelter, on crack laying on a stretcher and from out of nowhere LIZ TAYLOR looks down at you and comments on your teeth? How surreal! Hon, if that's not enough to scare you straight nothing is.
Though there are other actresses I love, I've always felt Elizabeth Taylor was the Ultimate Movie Star from the standpoint that she embodies all that Hollywood represents: the glamour, the beauty, and the artistry, but also the excess, the drug abuse & rehabs, the waste and the multiple marriages. Liz can be a fiere thespian at times (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Suddenly Last Summer) and also be totally bad too. She was a product of the old Hollywood studio system but lived through its downfall and aftermath.
Other Liz fave flicks:
THE VIPs - the first film Burton & Taylor made post-Cleopatra, but I think it was actually released before Cleopatra because Cleo took so long to edit. Taylor WORKS the early 60s glamour in Givenchy traveling suits and elaborate upsweep hairdos. Part of my inspiration for starting the Mile High Club, it's a Grand Hotel kind of deal where all the action takes place in a London airport with an all-star cast of characters who must get out of the country for their own reasons. Taylor plays the wife of billionaire Burton who is running away with aging gigolo Louis Jourdan.
REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE - based on the eerie Carson McCullers novel about lust at an isolated Southern army base. Taylor, in Pucci prints and fall wigs, plays the wife of a deeply closeted homosexual Captain played by - - Marlon Brando! Brando is obsessed with a young studly Private who rides a horse totally nude. The Private in turn is obsessed with Taylor and sneaks into her bedroom at night to watch her sleep. Next door live Brian Keith (who's having an affair with Taylor) and his sickly wife, Julie Harris and their flaming queen Filipino houseboy. Shocking ending and just wierd throughout.
SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER - of course. Also directed by Mankiewicz and features ultra-fierce Katherine Hepburn and post-accident Monty Clift who barely got through production because he was so strung out on drugs and alcohol (Hollywood legend has it he only got the part through Liz's intervention). Based on the Tennessee Williams play and scripted by Williams and Gore Vidal, the dialogue crackles and it works as real drama while being campy at the same time. Liz gives a great performance and is RAVISHING in her swimsuit scenes.
X, Y AND ZEE - in which Liz plays the raving, out-of-control Machiavellian battle ax wife of Michael Caine, who's doing it with Susannah York on the side. Watch for the scene where Liz confronts York.
Liz looks her "natural" best in Butterfield 8, you know, where she plays the Unhappy Hooker?
In the first scene she wakes-up(some bedroom), has a swig of scotch, suddenly remembers she's a sex-trade worker (she sees the money left on the vanity), and, in a rage, tags a mirror with her (very) red lipstick. Then, she throws on the obligatory fur coat - nothing underneath - and stumbles outdoors to catch a cab.
We've all been there, right?
Later on, in one of the more bitchglam scenes of her career, she slowly but surely pierces Laurence Harevy's foot with her stilletto, whilst levelling one of those, uh,stares at him - you know, that look she gets, it's all "Ya, I'm liz, big deal. WTF are you?"
Anyways, this was the movie she "had" to make like 3 weeks after Mr. Todd died in that plane crash - she is reported explaining that all she did was learn her lines, show-up on the set and repeat them, because she was too depressed (read=medicated) to actually try to act.
And then she won the Oscar for it.
She looks her worst in "The Mirror Crack'd". Actually, a lot of people had to have been on crack to make that movie. Lens filters and plenty of muu-muus couldn't disguise the fact that La Liz was really fat. And, like, nothing happens(Ok, a few minutes of cat-ish banter between her and Kim Novak).
She's done some extraordinary TV interviews - but not in the states. I saw one on the BBC @ 3years ago. Unedited, she swears a blue streak. (Explained, in graphic detail, how she discovered Mongomery Clift right after he plowed into some tree, and held his brains in his skull 'til help arrived. A la Jackie & JFK.)She has this really irritating cackle, must have been partly why she was married so many times ("Liz, please!!!- stop laughing!").
I never made it to one of her fragrance launches - they always looked hysterical, what with Sugar et al.
oh my god - yes! How could I have forgotten Butterfield 8????? I own that one, hon. "Face it, Momma ... I was the slut of all time!" That opening sequence is all too familiar indeed, and did you catch how she unapologetically orders more french fries in the diner scene?!! Word has it the costume designers worked round the clock to make make her look good because she was beginning to balloon.
However, I think the trivia is a bit off here. The movie she made just 3 weeks after Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) with Liz as Maggie the Cat, co-starring Paul Newman and Burl Ives. I'm fairly certain of this. I do remember her saying how she just learned her lines and showed up and working on the film was what helped her cope with his death. Also it accounts for her more high-strung moments on screen as the affection-hungry Maggie. By the way, Maggie the Cat was another example of BRILLIANT acting on her part - I thought she sizzled in the role and in fact I thought ALL the actors were great. I think "Cat" is one of Tennessee Williams' best plays also. But I have a hard time with the movie version overall because the screenwriters totally castrated the gay element out of the script and totally whitewashed the story to the point that the "big revelation" made no sense and they added mumbo jumbo about Big Daddy (Burl Ives) not loving his kids, blah, blah. A pity because otherwise it's a great movie.
Butterfield 8 however, came just after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (in 1959) and it was the movie she was forced to make as her last film obligation under her MGM contract. By this time Liz was carrying on with Mike Todd's close friend Eddie Fisher quite publicly, and the country was scandalized by his leaving Debbie Reynolds over it. Liz told friends how she loved Eddie's huge dick. Liz tried every trick in the book to get out of making Butterfield 8 supposedly but couldn't. To appease her the studio gave Eddie Fisher a part in the movie, which he didn't really want to do and he was terrible anyway. But I remember Liz complained that she felt the script writers deliberately put in lines like "slut of all time" in order to punish her and judge her for her scandalous private life.
Immediately afterward in the same year she made Suddenly Last Summer (1959), and by the time Cleopatra started production (1960) she became seriously ill and had her throat surgery and almost died. The world and press watched anxiously while she recovered, and in her coronation scene in Cleopatra you can actually see the scar. She won the Oscar for Butterfield 8 that same year, a film she hated, and to this day maintains that it was a "sympathy Oscar". Her marriage to Fisher fell apart during the filming of Cleopatra, wherein she took up with Richard Burton.
Ok it's 1975 and I am an art director at an upper eastside hair salon for like two minutes BUT I come to work one afternoon and am told that a certain "star" wanted an appointment with the Art Director only I would have to make a personal trip to The Plaza Hotel to do her in her room. I ask who it is and the Cyndy Lauper-like receptionist sez " Think silk slip in Butterfield 8" I gag and run to The Plaza Hotel as fast as my little fag legs will carry me.
I arrive and find La Liz in white floor-length terry cloth bathrobe and white terry turban to match AND huge black sunglasses , sitting in a white brocaded victorian chaise-lounge fully painted and waiting patiently. I found her a real swell, funny, flirty and fag-haggy to go. She refrenced her hair style to Butterfiled 8 and asked that I work with the large grey/white streak she had just begun to work at that time ( The Diamonds ads came much later) She loved her hair when I finished. I like to think that I encouraged her towards letting her white hair grow out and that it was just about time to give up dyed black hair ( it works your last nerve after 40, even with surgery ) I loved it when she laterwent natural.
Elizabeth Taylor is one of a kind. And I LOVE the Dee F. story, she told it to me herself.It is just Liz' style. May she live to be a hundred and ever radient!
Yes - she really can act when she has to, it's funny - all these actresses complaining about not being offered "vehicles" to showcase their acting talents, and Liz, well, she sorta acts when the mood (or marriage) hits her, doesn't she?
She had great skin in C.O.A.H.T.R, and THAT DRESS!
And Paul N. waslucious....I think it's sort of sexier because the straight pretext is so pathetic - like, he's a confused basher, or something. Actually, all bashers are confused.
Liz is great because she's all about never ever being bored - no matter the cost.
uh, except maybe the John Warner episode. That was bizarre. And best forgotten.
WAS strange indeed. What was she doing shacking up with a Republican? Best forgotten, as you say.
Cat: Loved Taylor in that hot white dress, so saucy and vixen-like, and the technicolor look of the movie make her and Paul Newman look even more gorgey than normal. Liz seems so perfect for anything Tennessee Williams.
Another Liz fave film: A PLACE IN THE SUN with pre-accident Monty Clift and the whiny-as-hell Shelley Winters, whom I was glad to see hit with an oar and drowned in the lake.
Years later I thought she looked great when she let her white/silver/gray hair come out. It looks hot with her kind of skin and dark eye brows.
one of favorites....has been freaks by todd browning and chained for life with the hilton sisters. and hellraiser by clive barker and nightbreed lots of great fashion ....like being a porcupine lady....yummmy
Okay, okay I know. This may be a worn-out subject, like talking about Studio 54. But I watched this for the first time in years yesterday. Afterward I was shocked that I don't actually own it on video. I had forgotten (duh!) how really, really good it is. I enjoyed it so much!
Many people dismiss it as just some stupid disco movie, as a joke period piece or whatever, but I found in many respects the disco sequences were peripheral to the story, which is really about a bunch of loser guidos with no future and the talented but not-so-bright anti-hero who wants to escape it. Tony (John Travolta) is basically a nobody pining away at a minimum wage job in a paint store, living at home with his parents who rag on him all the time, but at the nightclub he is a celebrity, a God, and the crowds part when he walks through. The girls all want to do him, people want to wipe off his forehead when he finishes dancing, he is the King. That whole ability of the nightclub to transform someone like that and make them a star, make them SOMEBODY, even if it's just for one night or after dark. And the timeless ritual of spending hours primping and getting your look together in order to go out with your buddies and get laid. Tony is so concerned with his look that he wears a towel over his shirt during dinner, then becomes enraged when his father hits his hair.
I thought the acting was REALLY good and I loved Donna Pescow as Annette, who can't decide if she wants to be the archetype "nice girl" or "pig", so in need of love and not sure how to handle her sexuality. The music remains GREAT. And my favorite scene is the disco sequence in which everyone at the club is dancing to "Night Fever" with the great shots of the crowd in all their finery and slick dance moves, then we fade into a long shot of Tony in bed the next morning in his undies, sleeping off the disco fever of the night before, with the club soundtrack still softly playing somewhere in the background, the sounds of the club still echoing in the brain. How many nights/mornings have I had that! We've all been there. I think the movie captured that so well. I really love it.
[This message was edited by Luxury Lex on 09-02-02 at 06:21 PM.]
I never get sick of this movie. The hair, clothes everything in this movie is great, especially the dialogue. All About Eve is another one I can watch continuously without hating it. Just about any Bette Davis movie- Jezebel, The letter, Marked Women. I love all of those movies with very strong leading female roles.
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