Saturday, December 18, 2010
In Memoriam: Blake Edwards, 1922-2010
A handful of the Siren’s work colleagues read her blog, and she sits next to one, an economist who visits the site from time to time when he isn’t unraveling the mysteries of GDP and U6. Thursday afternoon as the Siren was stashing her pocketbook in her desk this gentleman greeted her with, “So, when can I expect a Blake Edwards tribute?”
The Siren stammered that she doesn’t, indeed she can’t write something for every great movie figure who dies. The Siren memorializes people when she has something to say, and contrary to what her longsuffering sister might tell you, she doesn’t always. Blake Edwards has a long, varied and important filmography, but many of the films that make his reputation--the Pink Panther series, 10, and even S.O.B.--are not to the Siren’s taste.
But her colleague’s question made the Siren think of an exchange on Glenn Kenny’s blog a while back, concerning Carol Reed, where the question came up: “How many great films does it take for someone to have auteur status?” Well, the Siren absolutely does not set herself up as an arbiter of such matters, but she pointed out that Reed has three great films, and others she loves, too. And Thursday, after telling the economist she wouldn’t post about Edwards, she afterthought that she should. Because Edwards made three films that are firmly ensconced in her personal pantheon.
The first is Days of Wine and Roses, a movie that belongs to that category of film that’s so harrowing it’s hard to analyze. In the Siren’s mind, it caps a whole cycle of alcoholic/AA films that begins, roughly, with The Lost Weekend and Smashup: The Story of a Woman and continues through I’ll Cry Tomorrow and other slide-into-the-bottle films such as The Joker Is Wild. Not one of those came close to the effect this movie had on the Siren. (Neither does Leaving Las Vegas, for that matter.) The other films either plunk you down in media boozus, or show alcoholism as something that’s triggered, essentially, by a run of bad luck. Days of Wine and Roses, with a skilled purveyor of slapstick at the helm, has the nerve to start when the drinking is still fun and the drunks are still charming--and not just because they’re the intensely lovable Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick--and then take them to where all smiles stop together. The Siren isn’t sure when or if she’ll watch it again, ever, because then she’d have to watch Lemmon smashing the greenhouse, or trying to persuade a breastfeeding Remick to have a drink with him. Frankly, just the opening bars of the credits kill her. But it’s a great movie.
The second is Victor/Victoria. The Siren loves everything about this film. What Dennis Cozzalio describes, perfectly, as its “expansive cabaret energy.” The fairy-tale Paris Edwards conjures, where sex is so delightfully pervasive you’re free at last to take the a la carte approach you’ve always dreamed of. Julie Andrews and the cockroach. James Garner getting hugged by Alex Karras. Lesley Ann Warren, each screech perfectly modulated in a dumb-blonde performance the Siren would rank right alongside Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain. And above all Robert Preston, a great actor who never got the long run of film parts he should have, capping the movie with one line: “You bitches.”
And then the Siren cycles around to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This film brings up a different question: Howard Hawks’ dictum aside, how many great scenes does it take for the movie itself to be called great? The Siren recuses herself from the bigger argument, again. But she knows how many great scenes it takes for her to overlook every single flaw in a movie, and love it anyway.
It takes exactly one.