Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

When someone hugely famous dies, social media explodes, and the Siren’s mind in turn goes into some sort of over-linked shock. The flood of tributes can be too much to process along with your own sadness.

One good place to start reading about Elizabeth Taylor, who died yesterday age 79, is as always The Daily Mubi. From there, the Siren always progresses to Dan Callahan. He focuses a great deal on the latter-day Taylor, post-Richard Burton, and does so without a trace of condescension. Dan has a deep appreciation for actors, for how bloody hard it is to do what they do, and that is how he approaches writing about them.

Sheila O’Malley reminds us of "one of Taylor's greatest legacies."

The Siren loved Sunset Gun first for Kim Morgan’s passionate, witty, unapologetically personal style, every line informed by a deep knowledge of film history. But this post really shows a particular talent Kim has, for grappling with the difficult. By that, the Siren doesn’t mean merely dark or depressing, although god knows Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is both. She means that Kim will take whatever aspect of a movie causes the most discomfort--whether it’s campiness, violence, experimentation, datedness, it doesn’t matter--and go straight after it. And you finish reading, and you see virtues in the work that you never spotted before, and you realize you need to see the movie--even if you already did.

Finally, M.A. Peel has a lovely post about her love for The Sandpiper. The Sandpiper is, it must be acknowledged, the Siren’s least favorite Vincente Minnelli film, but she loved the post anyway.

The Siren’s own tribute to Elizabeth Taylor will be in Nomad Widescreen next week.


john_burke100 said...

I always thought "The Sandpiper" belonged in the category of movies in which the studio system tried, and failed, to be culturally "daring." ("The Moon is Blue," even "All That Heaven Allows" with Rock Hudson's carefree boho friends who have beards and drink Chianti from a straw-covered bottle.) But Taylor herself always struck me as genuinely hip. One night in the 60's I saw her on a talk show--maybe Dick Cavett?--where the host asked if there was tension between her and Burton because she had an Oscar and he didn't. "Oh, yes," she answered, "we really want to have one each, so we can breed them." She made some pretty meretricious pictures--she was quoted as calling "Butterfield 8" "a piece of shit"--but she didn't take the hype seriously, which is always a joy.

Trish said...

I'm usually a harsh critic of Ms. Taylor's acting abilities. But not today. I just want to watch Butterfield 8 and The VIPs.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I wrote a tribute to her yesterday. But there's one thing I forgot to mention.

In Decemeber 0f 1997 I had a stroke. It was an anuerism. Luckily a "discrete event" brought about by undiagnosed high blood pressure. I was basically unconscious for two months -- shipped out to a rehab center in Downey. When I finally "came out of it" I was fine, and resumed work on my book (Open Secret: Gay Hollywood) In the Spring of 1998 my brain surgeon ordered an angiogram -- a procedure in which a colored liquid is pumped through my veins so my brain in order that any problems can be "read" by machines deisgned to do so. He wasn't present the day the procudure was done on me. Not that he had to be there, as it was executed by a technician. The thing was he couldn't be there because that day he was on the other side of town removing a tumor from Elizabeth Taylor's brain.

Yes Elizabeth taylor and I shared a brain surgeon.

My angeogram was thus my all-time greatest moment of Hollywood Glamour.

Mapeel said...

Siren, thanks for separating the dancer from the dance, so to speak.

Any life that inspires so much wonderful writing across genders and ages and tastes is a life well lived in my book. (Can't imagine any of today's "stars" inspiring anything like this 50 years hence.)

Also thanks for articulating Vincente Minnelli's name--I had all sorts of typos in it, now fixed!

Yojimboen said...

Guy Lodge in The Guardian comes closest for me:

“Taylor's filmography ranges from the imperiously accomplished to the gobsmackingly inept, yet she never seemed entirely uninvested in the outcome of her own performance."

Personally, I just wish she’d worked more often with Geo Stevens, and less often with Joe Mankiewicz.
(The less said about The Sandpiper, the better.)

X. Trapnel said...

Mankiewicz or Stevens/shooting or hanging. By the fifties Stevens was a well advance case of cinematic elephantiasis

Yojimboen said...

I dunno, X, she was never bonnier (outside of the jailbait roles) than in A Place in the Sun, and I can watch Giant (yeah, yeah, and listen to Dimitri’s bombast) once a year or so but Cleopatra is heavy lifting on a good day, and not much of Suddenly Last Summer comes close to passing the giggle test.

I just never had the feeling Stevens was trying to impress me, but it’s hard to think of a moment when Mankiewicz wasn’t.

Liz had about 15 sporadically productive years from APITS onwards. But with my closely-held-and-treasured position as the house curmudgeon, I like least what people like most and wicky-wersa: e.g. Kate the Shrew is magnificent, but Maggie the Cat is just embarrassing.

Her Oscar for Butterfield 8 was kind of a pity-prize, she had almost died the year before and it was Jimmy Stewart’s Philadephia Story consolation prize all over again.

Finally, 100 years ago in London somebody who claimed to know told me that Albee had originally wanted to write Virginia Woolf for four male characters and had to be seriously talked out of it. True or not, I’ve never been able to watch Nichols’s movie without imagining a completely different – and much more interesting – play.

DavidEhrenstein said...

That's not at all true, Yojim. George and Marth were inspired by a married couple -- Williard Maas and Maire Menken. Both were filmmakers and both were gay, but they not only had a relationship like George and Martha it was verbally identical. Andy Warhol made a film of them but never had it shown publically becuase, he told me "It would embarass Edward."

The notion that Goerge and Martha "had" to be gay men springs from resentment that a Big Ol' Gay Homosexual like Albee had created such a rbilliant play about married life among the academic intelligensia. Read it carefully. No way would Virgina Woolf work with an all-male cast.

And be sure to see the new documentary Making The Boys about the play and film The Boys in the Band. Albee's in it (as am I0 he says he hated the play, but knew right away it was going to be a big hit. His producer, Richard Barr, stepped in ot produce it and made a mint.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As for Taylor, outside of the usual classics, I quite adore her in such outre items as Ash Wednesday, The Only Game in Town (aka. The Second Greatest Story Ever Told) and above all The Driver's Seat

X. Trapnel said...

Is this the right moment to remind a fickle and faithless world of X,Y, and Zee? To wit: "Get back here, YOU; I haven't dismissed YOU yet!"

X. Trapnel said...

Y, I don't think Stevens was pretentious; I think he was terribly sincere and that his postwar work was in the spirit of fifties gigantism, puffed up until it finally blew up in his face with The Greatest Story Ever Sold.

Yojimboen said...

I’ll gladly take your word for it, David (BTW I love Marie Menken; happily a lot of her work is on Youtube); and of course the finished script would not have worked with an all-male cast. My point was and is when that particular dead elephant was tossed into my living room, it made it impossible for me to see around it and objectively enjoy the Nichols’s version. Annoying, because by and large I’m fond of Nichols.

I saw TBITB early in its first run at the Theater Four (55th between 9th & 10th [?] I wonder if it’s still there) on a hot summer night in 1969. The thing I remember most is the self-congratulatory air of the proto-yuppie audience: “Look at us, going to see a play about homos – aren’t we tolerant?”

Then the late lamented Cliff Gorman and Leonard Frey cranked it up to eleven and changed their yuppie lives forever.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Leonard Frey was a genius and harold as the role of his life. Thoughtless critics prattles on and on and on about "sef-hatred" in the play. That's certainly true of Michael (Kenneth Nelson). But Harold is really the play's key character and Frey takes a hold of the part and knocks the whole show clear out of the ballpark from the moment of his first diabolical laugh right through to his climactic 11 O'Clock Number of a speech -- where he reads Michael like the telephone directory and exits, taking Cowboy home with him.

justjoan123 said...

So many people have spoken about ET's bravery in speaking and acting up for AIDS when everyone else was hiding and looking the other way. I think she was always brave. I remember how, pregnant with her first child by Michael Wilding, she saved Montgomergy Clift's life -- literally -- when he drove home (probably drunk) from a party at their house in the Hollywood hills. How she ran down the hill, cradled his ruined face in her arms and pulled his broken teeth out of his windpipe until the ambulance came. That is friendship, and that is bravery. Whatta dame.

gmoke said...

Truth be told, I never got Elizabeth Taylor. She was beautiful but never moved me. I could see the appeal but couldn't feel it.

In certain ways, her AIDS work, Monty Clift, her health, she was definitely brave. In other ways, extremely self-indulgent and sorta kinda tacky. At least, that's my view from a distance and looking through the media's filters.

She may have been an icon and a star of the highest magnitude but she left me cold.

May she rest in peace and in the hearts and memories of her family and fans.

Yojimboen said...

Vaguely on topic:

(A man of the cloth sexually molesting a child? I am shocked… shocked.)

Trish said...

gmoke - truer words were never spoken.

Buttermilk Sky said...

TV writer Ken Levine has a lovely reminiscence of meeting Elizabeth Taylor here: