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> Myra Breckinridge, is one of those rare films that establis
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Praise for the film was absolutely nonexistent, even from the people involved in making it. This film was loathed from day one. While every now and then one will come across some maverick who will praise the film on philosophical grounds (aggressive feminism or the courage to tackle the issue of transgenderism), the film has not developed a cult following like some notorious flops do. It's not hailed as a misunderstood masterpiece like SCARFACE, or trotted out to be ridiculed as a camp classic like SHOWGIRLS.

Undoubtedly the reason is that the film, though outrageously awful, is not lovable, or even likable. MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is just plain mean. As a Hollywood satire it is cold-blooded and mean-spirited, but in a hollow pointless way. MYRA takes for granted that Hollywood is a corrupt town, but goes further to attack such beloved icons as Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Gary Cooper. The film seems to imply that everything about Hollywood is by its very nature vile. It seems to think that there is something inherently courageous about mocking sacred cows, but doesn't supply a rationale for doing the mocking in the first place. The film is also viscously anti-American and anti-establishment and anti-this and anti-that, but all in a superficial, late-1960's, trendy way. Like CASINO ROYALE; SKI-DOO; I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS and other would-be hip epics, MYRA is a middle-aged vision of the hippy-dippy youth culture. It tries to embrace the very attitude that it belittles. But instead of being cheerfully self-mocking, MYRA makes no attempt to conceal its contempt for everything that comes within its grasp. MYRA BRECKINRIDGE has the humor of a bully; there's not a single moment of innocence in it. Its intentions aren't honorable. TIME magazine aptly described it as being "about as funny as a child molester," but it's not nearly as sympathetic.

For instance, poor Mae West bore the brunt of so much of the criticism aimed at the film, being described as looking like everything from an aging drag queen to a reanimated walking corpse. The octogenarian star obviously didn't know just how ridiculous she looked playing a lecherous talent agent lusting after men young enough to be her grandsons or even her great-grandsons. But, director Michael Sarne had to know, but he used her anyway. Why? Because, she apparently was the joke. Just like John Huston, John Carradine, Grady Sutton, Andy Devine and other veteran performers in the film, they are there only so the film can mock their age and use them to trash their film images. They are cast as smarmy self-parodies, as is Rex Reed, the arrogant, fey film critic, who is cast as just that in the film. But the real Reed, the celebrity hound, jet-setting, talk show gossip, can be charming in an obnoxiously funny way; but as Myron, Myra's alter ego, he is just obnoxious. Again, apparently for Sarne, Reed is the joke.

You watch MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and you don't see actors, you see victims. None more so than Raquel Welch. No one will ever accuse Welch of being a great actress, but it is a testament to her tenacity and her appeal that she survived this film and her career prospered. Being in almost every scene, Welch was front and center as a target for abuse aimed at the film, but to her credit, she gives a remarkably nuanced performance. Though, of course, centered between the scenery chewing Huston and the almost catatonic West, Welch doesn't have to do much to strike a good balance. Even so, she renders her horribly unfunny dialogue with a deadpan smirk, with just the hint of self-righteous glee that would do any James Bond villain proud. Legend has it that Welch was snubbed by a condescending West and subjected to repeated verbal abuse on the set by bumbling director Sarne, not to mention being featured in one degrading scene after another, making it all the more remarkable that she was able to give such a cool and collected performance.

The film's only intriguing element is trying to figure out just what the film's agenda is. The whole story is a fantasy fable, which should indicate that it has a moral to deliver, but what that might be is anybody's guess. With all of its talk about destroying "the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood from the race," it would seem to have a feminist axe to grind. But as a feminist, Myra is a monstrous figure, a sexual predator. Besides, Myra isn't a woman, rather she is a delusion of Myron, who presumably is a gay male. That might explain the male rape scene as well as the character's love/hate attitude toward the macho, seemingly straight, deadhead Rusty, but it doesn't explain his/her obsession for and the supposedly lesbian tryst with Farrah Fawcett's Mary Ann. The film is obsessed with sex, but can hardly be accused of being in favor of the sexual revolution; all the sex is treated as being, if not dirty, than at least perverse and degrading. Turning to Gore Vidal's original novel isn't of any help, because it is as confused and pointless as the movie.

And this is a rare movie that actually seems to hate movies. Not just movies as a business, but movies as part of the culture as well. The film itself is wall-to-wall arcane references to old movies, all of which director-screenwriter Sarne approaches with a seething disdain. He has raided the film vaults of 20th Century-Fox and peppered the film with snippets of old films, not as an homage or to provide a social commentary, but to mock the innocence of old Hollywood. How can an artist -- if you generously want to call Sarne that -- make a work of art if he already hates the very medium he is working in? The very effort is totally self-defeating.

MYRA BRECKINRIDGE doesn't seem to be in favor of anything other than being just nasty. It hates Hollywood, it hates America, it hates sex, it hates gays and straights and women and men and old people and young people and Laurel and Hardy and, well, you name it and it probably has a scene showing contempt for it. In a very sad and sorry way, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE may be the first punk manifesto, a celebration of pop culture nihilism.
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