Still holds up.
From its opening scene — set to the strains of “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle — to its tragic conclusion, Excalibur offers one terrific set piece after another in its version of the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Thirty-four years after its initial release, the movie remains the unrivaled cinematic treatment of the Arthurian legend. The film, by director John Boorman, is part of The Screen’s Films to See Before You Die series and of a mini Boorman fest that includes Hope and Glory (1987) and his latest work, Queen and Country (2014), both of which open on March 6.
Excalibur is set, of course, in the Dark Ages, and we learn from its title sequence that the land is divided and without a king. The script never names the factions vying for power: To do so would consign the tale to a specific historical setting, when it lies squarely in the timeless realm of myth. For the screenplay, Rospo Pallenberg and Boorman adapted Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century Le Morte D’Arthur, condensing a daunting amount of material. We are given 20 minutes’ worth of back story at the movie’s start before we’re swept up into the saga of Arthur’s rise to kinghood, his reign in the golden age of Camelot, and his eventual downfall.
The back story involves Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne), who has secured an uneasy alliance with Cornwall (Corin Redgrave) but then fractures that peace by lusting after Cornwall’s wife, Igrayne (Katrine Boorman), thereby reigniting the feud. Pendragon appeals to Merlin (Nicol Williamson) for help in stealing Igrayne away from her husband. Merlin grants Uther his wish — but on the condition that he gives the magician any children that result from their union. In a cruel trick, Merlin then uses magic to disguise Uther as Cornwall. The sequence contains the first of many great scenes as Uther, at Merlin’s command, rides horseback across a mist-shrouded sea to Cornwall’s castle. The equivocal Merlin has secured the fulfillment of prophecy by helping Uther impregnate Igrayne, but the treachery used to carry it out also plants the seeds for Camelot’s ultimate demise. The scenes showing Igrayne’s rape were considered controversial when the movie was released because the role was given to Boorman’s daughter, who was about twenty-two during filming.
Nicol Williamson was already a noted stage and screen actor in Britain when he was cast as Merlin, but of the five actors playing the other main characters — Morgana, Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, and Perceval — only Helen Mirren, as the bewitching Morgana, went on to even greater cinematic fame after Excalibur. However, this isn’t true of some of the actors cast as minor characters. Liam Neeson (Gawain), Ciarán Hinds (Lot), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance), and Byrne are all quite well known to American moviegoers now. Nigel Terry (Arthur) and Cherie Lunghi (Guenevere) still work as actors but aren’t household names in the U.S. Williamson died at seventy-three in 2011; Nicholas Clay, who epitomizes the conflicted character Lancelot, died in 2000 at the age of fifty-three.
Paul Geoffrey, who plays Perceval, took a break from acting in 1999, after a minor role in The Thomas Crown Affair, and only recently returned to it as Oliver in 2012’s Spells. Geoffrey never achieved star status even though he carries most of the last third of the film, emerging as its true hero. “He’s the fearless, reproachless knight,” Geoffrey, who now lives in Santa Fe, told Pasatiempo. “He never gives up. For him, there was this perseverance. No matter how many times he fell over or got knocked down, he’d get up and try again.” After living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, Geoffrey moved to Santa Fe, working as the director of the Allene Lapides Gallery before starting a career in real estate. He introduces the film at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27.
Geoffrey originally auditioned for the role of Arthur, but was told he was too young for the part and accepted the role of Perceval instead. The rehearsals began at a hotel in England. “I went and threw up in the bathroom before the first meeting, I was so nervous,” he said. “We had to go and get fitted for the armor, and it was made by these three brothers, and they had, probably, three teeth between them and lived in the middle of this forest in the woods. They were farriers; they did horseshoes and things like that. The armor, although it was made of aluminum, was very complicated and very detailed. I was the guinea pig for introducing a man in armor to a horse. I goofed up the first day. They were holding the horse, and I got up, and it immediately threw me. But, having the armor on, I was protected. I got thrown off four or five times. Then the horse got used to it.”
A schedule was set for five months of filming. “We arrived in Ireland — myself, Nigel Terry, and Nicol Williamson — on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. For me, that was a very interesting meet of Irish hospitality and modest nonstop drinking.” Once filming began, the crew was beset by almost constant rainfall. “I did a lot of second-unit filming for the quest scenes out in the Wicklow Mountains. It was pouring rain, and I couldn’t see through the visor. It doesn’t really register on film, except in close-up.” According to Geoffrey, the actors had Saturdays off and would go into Dublin for the day, where they spent hours in the upstairs dining room of a local pub. “We became like a family.”
The movie opened to mixed reviews but has since enjoyed a growing reputation, thanks to a generation that caught it on cable TV throughout the 1980s. “When it came out, it was looked upon as an interesting period film but didn’t have the same attraction of Chariots of Fire, which was huge,” said Geoffrey, who turned down a part in the much-loved film about British runners in the 1924 Olympics in order to play Perceval. “The first time I came here, I was in Kaune’s, and I turned around and walked up the aisle, and there was this young woman who came down opposite. She just stopped and said, ‘Perceval!’ So a certain group of kids saw it over and over, and I think that did a lot to make people remember it. Maybe, if I had done Chariots of Fire, I would have made more money. But, at the end of the day, I was much happier with Excalibur. It was an amazing film to be a part of, especially being where we were: this magical land in one of the only medieval oak forests left in the world.”
Excalibur — named for the magic sword that, Merlin says, was “forged when the world was young and bird and beast and flower were one with man” — preserves many of the legend’s key elements: the sword in the stone, which is destined to be lifted free by the one true king who can unite the land; the formation of the Knights of the Round Table; the doomed love affair between Guenevere, Arthur’s queen, and Lancelot, his champion; the cryptic romance-cum-rivalry between Merlin and Morgana, daughter of Cornwall and Igrayne and Arthur’s half sister; the quest for the Holy Grail, which plays out in a suitably dark and apocalyptic sequence; and, finally, the tragedy of Arthur and his illegitimate son Mordred (Robert Addie, who died at the age of forty-three in 2003), who are fated to meet on a bloody, muddy, and fog-cloaked battlefield.
Boorman’s film is gorgeous to look at, even if it occasionally indulges in such obvious visual elements as the very-fake red sun that appears for the closing moments. It was filmed almost entirely in the forests of Ireland, in the counties of Kerry, Tipperary, and Wicklow. Green filters were placed over the lights to lend an eerie, otherworldly cast to many of the scenes, flashing off of armor and shimmering on the surfaces of lakes. Alex Thomson’s lush cinematography got him an Oscar nomination, and Boorman was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes (he won Best Artistic Contribution). Meadows are carpeted in larkspur, knights fight duels to the death while crashing through ferns and mossy woods and ride through orchards heavy with falling blossoms to the strains of “O Fortuna,” from the opening movement of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The film’s aesthetics were inspired by Pre-Raphaelite depictions of the legend, which were popular in the 19th century after Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King was published. But Boorman and Pallenberg’s script goes even deeper than Malory and Tennyson, mining such antique material as Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century The History of the Kings of Britain (which the film uses especially in its introductory back story) and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century Parzival, a text in which the hero was the Grail knight (Excalibur retains this motif) before the French Vulgate texts gave that honor to Galahad.
One of the film’s major themes is the clash between polytheism and monotheism. This is expressed most beautifully in the forest wedding of Arthur and Guenevere, which combines Christian imagery and pagan forms of nature worship. At the wedding, Merlin says, “The one god comes to drive out the many gods. The spirits of wood and stream grow silent.” His most powerful incantation, composed in Old Irish, is the “Charm of Making” — a spell of transformation. Wanting revenge, Morgana eventually uses this magic to beguile Merlin for his earlier deceit. It’s an evil turn for Mirren: She and Williamson were rumored to have disliked each another, only adding to the tension between their characters. Why Merlin is in service to the king is never clearly explained here, but some literary sources hold that the magician was a demon sworn to serve the Pendragon line, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King portrays him as a powerful mentor to the young Arthur.
During the nightmarish sequences showing the quest for the Grail, when the country is beset by famine and plague, Excalibur’s focus shifts from the story of Arthur to the adventures of Perceval. Having almost succumbed to the wiles of Mordred and Morgana, Perceval wanders about aimlessly, certain he has failed in his quest. In these scenes, Geoffrey delivers some of the film’s most affecting lines. After he’s nearly drowned by a mob of angry peasants, led by Lancelot (a madman since his fall from grace as Queen Guenevere’s lover), Perceval tells him, “I can’t give up hope, Lancelot. It’s all I have.” The movie’s dark tone shifts.
When Arthur, old and wasted, is roused to fight in the final struggle, all we could hope to have come into play does — and with surging moments of glory and the return of characters who, for Arthur, had long ago become distant memories. The epic battle isn’t fought over territory or politics, but, as Arthur tells Guenevere, “to defend what was and the dream of what could be.”
Original article: Excalibur Film Review
Very, very fun.
The Inspector General’s 500-page report has been released.
Even now, as I write this, all the pro-Clinton/anti-Trump disciples of the Far Left are spinning the details of the report, minimizing them in fact, to preserve the legacy of their disgraced champion Hillary Clinton.
Read the report for yourself.
There really is nothing left to say that hasn’t been said a hundred times before here on this blog, and tens of thousands of times on the Internet.
This is a culture war between Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Christians, free and fair market proponents, patriots, people of faith…
and the zombified, brain-eating Regressive Left.
I have never seen (or even heard of) a U.S. President who has been so ruthlessly demonized by the media as Donald Trump.
It is all CNN does these days: 24/7 unceasing Trump-loathing — and they are not alone.
The report reveals many FBI agents were effectively bribed by journalists (themselves fawning groupies of the Democratic National Convention and Hillary Clinton) with entertainment, tickets to sports events, and expensive dinners.
The IG report proves the FBI has been infiltrated by lawless political hacks who did and continue to warp the FBI into political engine that can decide the fate of presidential elections.
And so far, not a single apology from anyone caught in these machinations.
Remember all those leaks that were just flooding the airwaves over a year ago? Well, guess what? They came from the FBI. The agency’s own officers were leaking classified intelligence and privileged communications at the behest of media activists.
Remember when Wikileaks revealed that exhaustive list of journalists from MSNBC and CNN and other media outlets who were invited to secret dinners sponsored by John Podesta?
Well, now you know why.
I really can’t fathom what existential threat Trump represents to the cannibalistic Far Left, or the century-long rape party called Hollywood, or to the Marxist drone-media, or to the century-long old white schemer’s club called Washington D.C…
But this feels very much like a spiritual conflict… like witches dancing at midnight on Halloween, or some equally repulsive political coup that almost succeeded.
The people mentioned in the Inspector General’s report are so ideologically possessed, they don’t even think they did anything wrong. The devil has them on a string, has all along it seems.
The current Director of the FBI came out and said (paraphrasing) that the IG report didn’t say their was any political bias on the part of the FBI.
Dear god, the entire report was nothing but political bias.
So, I am not sure the FBI or the DOJ can be returned to fair play, justice, or its former glory.
If you want to know why ancient kings regularly cut the heads off those lingering bootlickers loyal to whatever tyrant they just replaced…
Now you know.
Bureaucrats and ideologues who are not artists, writers, or talented storytellers always somehow find their way to the front of the ship where they promptly run it aground.
Despite what many cinema pundits are claiming, such wild disrespect and outright hostility to old, established and cherished icons is purely ideological.
I know, I know.
Here we go again.
So far, we have seen Star Trek‘s James T. Kirk and Star Wars‘ Han Solo unceremoniously killed off after incompetent directors invalidated everything for which they stood.
This is a common tactic used by misguided Social Justice Warmongers (SJWs) and their historical predecessors within the Far Left who have performed these same character assassinations on fictional heroes like Sherlock Holmes, John Carter and Tarzan, as well as beloved historical heroes such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus Christ.
Read any communist source material from the late 19th century and this subversive strategy of separating people from their heroes, their heritage, their faith, and even their language is laid out in chilling, step-by-step detail.
The regimes of China and Russia didn’t happen by accident. They were precisely laid out, plumb and line, according to extant Marxist dogma.
The Far Left — and yes, it’s always the same people, so much so it long ago moved from impulse to pathology…. If you don’t know this you are either completely blind, indifferent, or a card-carrying member of the Far Left (or some cult within it) — despises the ongoing influence and inspiration these characters (real or imaginary) have on their audience, the American population.
The Far Left is militantly committed to warping what these and other characters stood or stand for (past or present) by re-branding them to their own scaly, ultra-damaged half-image.
Re-imagining. Re-invention. Reboot. Deconstruction. Creative License. These are the terms used when bad guys want to destroy what someone or something really stood for… right before they are “re-imagined” into the exact opposite of what they were on the page, or in real life.
These frequent characters assassinations are carried out under the auspice of “art”.
And golly, who doesn’t love art, right?
Leftists, regressives, and subversives do this so that when they get caught — and they always get caught — they can shrug their shoulders and claim “You are reading too much into this piece of artwork,” or “You are overreacting.” The blame is then transferred from the artist who actually deformed the icon or personage to the person offended that they did it. It is a common but clever tactic used by unstable people who cannot outright overthrow you trying to get you to overthrow yourselves. And, given about a one hundred years, it works very well.
And naturally, if you reject the artwork as insensitive, misleading, false, defaming, libelous, disrespectful, or even sacrilegious, it is you who are called “intolerant” or “inflexible” or a “bigot”. All standard practice for Leftists.
Sin always wants in.
To use a Biblical example: the snake always wants in the garden, and it always goes after the innocent and inexperienced.
And any logic, reasoning, book, or spiritual safeguard that identifies the Far Left (and others) for what they really are, is always mocked, marginalized, and when possible, outlawed. Spirituality is always stripped from children — for who are the most innocent and inexperienced among us if not our children?
This is why the Far Left stalks children.
Just like in the third chapter of Genesis, anything demonic will always the use the Law to strip any debate or discussion about God or Grace from schools, colleges, campuses, corporations — anywhere someone can be rescued. And we know anyone trapped within the Law, dies by the Law.
Another ruse is scientific progress: “We don’t need to think that way any more!”
Brought to us by television series like Star Trek or any hundred science fiction movies, fantasies are rolled out to replace real life. I will get to this particular point in a subsequent post.
Even in mere fiction, Tolkien reminds us the orcs of his Middle Earth were once lovely elves who were mutilated, maimed away from conscience, and destroyed from beauty. The Nazgul too, were former “kings” who fell under the “delusions of Sauron” — one baby step to the left followed by another; one degree to the left followed by another…
Until they became damned Ring-Wraiths. These kings, like Isha (female Man) failed to stand in the very wisdom — God’s wisdom — they already had.
We find “No” is far away the better answer to Life’s dangers than “Yes”.
Have you ever noticed people who deny Scripture are the angriest? Most depressed? Always marching, blaming, burning things down? Where is this vaunted peace they claim they found outside the Prince of Peace Himself?
Is it in the bricks they throw? Hiding in their howls?
Joseph Campbell famously titled one of his books The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
If heroism has a thousand faces, then evil has a million. After all, there are infinitely more ways to do something wrong than to do something right.
The formula 2+2 only has one answer: 4.
There is one right answer for 2+2 and an infinitude of wrong answers. Again, there are way, way more wrong answers than right ones to any given situation.
But evil always seduces, whispering in your ear about the inferiority of one race or another, the unlawful equality of women, the inconvenience of unborn children, the silliness of beautiful symbols, the joy of language, the exclusivity of intimacy, the privilege of faith, the power of reason, the over-hyped bonds of family, the obsolescence of what people believed before you graced the Earth with your birth…
and other lies.
Sauron. Satan. National Democratic Socialism. Stalinism. Relativism. Sexual perversion. ISIS. All arrows shot from the same quiver only with slightly different fletching. These, and many more, are all darts tempting us to step into the shadows for a break from the highly disciplined Life in the Light.
This is how the Far Left has operated for over a century. Under other names and aliases, this has been going on for millennia. It is nothing new. I mean, heck, I saw these tactics back when I was in Junior High School — they aren’t exactly subtle about their dreams of conquest. These fools have menaced Man since the earliest civilizations.
And for the record, there really is no such thing as the “Far Left” and/or the “Far Right”.
They are all totalitarians in the image of their angelic overlord.
They are same: one simply uses the left boot to stand on your throat, the others use the right. Politically it may satisfy some pretentious sociopolitical hair-splitting, but morally they are distinctions without a difference.
There are not enough books in the world to explain the inhuman motivations of the Far Left. Traumatized, molested, and betrayed, the hordes of the Far Left believe everyone else is just as scarred as they are — we’re not.
No, we’re not.
We never were.
Nor were we responsible for your injuries.
Those are just two lies of many no one else falls for but you (if you belong to sickly Far Left).
Dear zealot, do you know who is responsible? You are. Those of your own ranks:
- Those among you who reject “thou shalt not kill” as Stone Age drivel actually killed your mother or your father or your brother;
- Those among you who ridicule “fathers (and mothers), do not provoke your children” as religious gibberish are the ones who terrorized your childhood;
- Those among you who deny “thou shalt not steal” as superstitious babble stole your car, your money, or whatever;
- Those among you who abhor “God made Man in His image” and conned you into believing you exist in a cold, loveless, indifferent, kill-or-be-killed cosmos are the ones who decimated your hope and self-worth down to alienation and suicidal despair;
- Those among you who mock “the love of money is the root of all evil” and “do not seek only to be rich” are the very financial shysters and banksters (whom you are always mistaking as capitalists) who have distorted economics, oppressed the poor, destroyed the middle class, raided your savings, and plundered their way to illegitimate prosperity;
- Those among you who think pedophilia (oh, sorry: “inter-generational” or “trans-age” intimacy) is permissible are the ones who molested you as a child;
- Those among you who scoff at “live in peace with all men” are those who sent you to a far-flung war zone on a whim for profit where you were injured or maimed;
- Those among you who burn books and sneer at Biblical commands like “be not menstealers” (because they are going to Hell) enslaved your ancestors;
- Those among you who hiss and spit at the very words “love they neighbor as thyself” put your people in ovens;
- and on and on…
So if you really want to know who is to blame—
Look in the mirror.
Unable to accept their own role in their depravity they blame others — and anyone will do.
Their scapegoats include: those legitimate liberals of antiquity and true conservatives; Christians and Constitutionalists; inventors and capitalists; saints and sages and noble soldiers; people who believe people have the right to defend themselves; people who honor their country; people who pay taxes; people who believe in right and wrong; people who believe the law should be proportional, applied to all evenly, and obeyed; people who demand science actually be scientific; people who defend fair and free markets; people who oppose slavery; people who oppose totalitarianism…
Basically the best of humanity are their perpetual enemies.
These people will leave nothing untouched.
And if they cannot kill you, they will kill your heroes.
You may add to this list the mutilated corpse of the fictional Jedi savior Luke Skywalker.
What Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and all the cold ambitions of the Dark Side of the Force could not accomplish…
Rian Johnson and Disney did for them.
I submit to you that if you are on the Far Left, or within a stone’s throw of it, you will never find peace. You are trapped in a Forever War against the very One who can free you of your chains.
Be free for the first time in your life.
From the earliest days of Hollywood, women were stage managed and manipulated by older men in powerful positions. And it’s clear that, although Harvey Weinstein has been outed, little has changed
In the Hollywood dream factory, trauma surfaces as light entertainment. In 2013, introducing the list of best supporting actress nominees at a pre-Oscars event, comedian Seth MacFarlane quipped: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” What was chilling about this was not just that MacFarlane followed it up at the Oscars with a stream of “edgy” jokes, including the line that nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis had “16 years before she’s too old for Clooney” and the nauseating We Saw Your Boobs song. What is really disturbing is that everyone – even people who had no idea of what has now emerged about Weinstein’s behaviour – got the joke. The idea that female stars and aspiring stars are required to accept the attentions, at the very least, of older male studio executives and producers, is as old as the Hollywood hills.
Why are those of us who don’t attend breakfast meetings in Beverly Hills familiar with the phrase “the casting couch”? Why is there even a euphemism for this extreme form of sexual harassment? The power imbalance between female stars and older male executives is so well broadcast that it features in Hollywood films and awards ceremonies, as a plot device or as a joke, and nobody takes the trouble to hide it.
In this weighted system, historic horror stories abound of executives taking advantage of starlets. Shirley Temple recalled that Arthur Freed, a producer at MGM, exposed himself to her when she was 12 years old. Louis B Mayer insisted that his protege Judy Garland sit on his lap – she was one of a number of “juvenile stars” at the MGM studio, whose punishing schedule, she said, required amphetamines to get through the day, and sleeping pills to rest at night. Ginger Rogers said that Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, chased her around a desk making passes. Marilyn Monroe compared Hollywood to an “overcrowded brothel”. Joan Collins, who was warned about “wolves” by Monroe, says she missed out on the lead in Cleopatra because she refused to be “nice” to the head of 20th Century Fox, Buddy Adler, who also reportedly harassed a 19-year-old Rita Moreno.
Once upon a time, before the US film industry moved to California, there were no stars, and studios could be democratic startup outfits where cast and crew mucked in together. The familiar faces that appeared on nickelodeon screens were known only by their studio’s brand: The Vitagraph Girl, The Biograph Girl. But in 1909, Carl Laemmle, head of the Independent Moving Pictures (IMP) studio, who later founded Universal Pictures, wanted a real star, and decided he had to kill one first.
Having hired Florence Lawrence from Biograph, he spread a false story to the papers that she had died in a streetcar collision. After the public expressed their dismay at never seeing their beloved “Biograph Girl” again, Laemmle put adverts in the papers declaiming, “We nail a lie”, dismissing Lawrence’s death as what we would now call fake news, and announcing her appearance, under her own name, in forthcoming IMP movies. Lawrence’s very existence had been stage managed and manipulated by the studio boss. It heralded the start of a new power relationship between producers and their female stars.
Where Lawrence led, many others followed. As the film business settled in a Californian orange grove, thousands of young American women made their way to Hollywood hoping to become stars. Once inside the film colony, they were more likely to end up as waitresses or sex workers than get a screen test – the numbers weren’t on their side. Actor Louise Brooks wrote that screen tests and movie contracts were handed out not to wide-eyed hopefuls at the studio gates, but, via the casting couch, to women at intimate parties who gave sexual favours to influential men. She described seeing a dancer enter a hotel room with Lord Beaverbrook and “a few days later she told me that she had a contract at MGM”.
It was a corrupt system fraught with dangers, which were becoming visible to the public. One of the biggest scandals in Hollywood history occurred in 1921 when actor Virginia Rappe died a few days after a party in a San Francisco hotel room. The cause of death was her ruptured bladder, and the comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was accused of raping her at the party – the implication being that his excess weight caused her bladder to burst. Arbuckle was eventually cleared. He hadn’t raped Rappe, and the damage to her internal organs had been caused elsewhere, by venereal disease or backstreet abortions or both. Despite his exoneration, Arbuckle was scapegoated for the crime and blacklisted from Hollywood, so as not to remind people of the scandal.
However, the public had now glimpsed the sordid side of the film business – the scandal concentrated the full glare of the world’s attention on Hollywood’s young, desperate and sometimes tragic starlets. The industry’s solution was Will Hays, who, in 1922, was appointed president of the newly formed Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. Hays is now best known for his notorious film censorship “production code”, but his methods for scouring the business clean went beyond what appeared on-screen. He found a new, larger home for the Girls’ Studio Club, for instance, a chaperoned dormitory-cum-sorority house for young women starting out in Hollywood. It had been founded in 1916 by a group of Hollywood women, but this 1926 incarnation (which stayed open until 1975) benefited from the donations of studios and film stars, and aimed to replace the image of the preyed-on “extra girl” with the smart and well-mannered “studio girl”. That is to say, making over the potential victims of the problem rather than addressing the root cause.
In much the same way, stars such as Gloria Swanson and Clara Bow were faced with morality clauses in their contracts. Sign, and your personal life becomes the property of the studio you work for. Don’t sign and you are looking for a new job.
As fast as Hays, and other “uplifters” of Hollywood, could work, the power of the studios, and their executives, was perversely growing. Cinema had become a vastly lucrative business, but it was star names, not studio brands that sold tickets. In the 1920s, as Brooks describes it, when the producers realised that female stars were a threat to their dominance, they waged “a concerted war on the star system”, abusing the power they had to make or break an actor’s career. Female writers and producers such as Frances Marion and June Mathis, who had held senior positions in the silent-era industry, were squeezed out by the 30s, and soon the business was being run by a group of male executives, many of whom obsessively controlled the films they produced and the women who starred in them.
It was standard form for starlets to be made over by studio bosses, with their name, appearance and ethnic identity altered. Margarita Cansino became Rita Hayworth with the help of a dye-job and electrolysis to raise her hairline. Lucille LeSueur became Joan Crawford after an MGM publicity man said her last name reminded him of a sewer. Inauspiciously, Louis B Mayer named Hedy Lamarr after tragic silent star Barbara La Marr who had died young after struggling with drug addiction. Given a new name and image, a morality clause to conform to, and publicity stunts including staged romances with studio stablemates, the star’s persona began and ended with the inventions of the front office. The star was a creation of the executive’s imagination, and his corporate asset, to be discarded as soon as she was tagged “box-office poison”.
Early in the Golden Age of Hollywood, in 1937, two events underlined how tyrannically moguls would exercise authority over starlets. One was the release of A Star is Born. This Technicolor romantic drama featured Janet Gaynor as a Hollywood hopeful who becomes a big star after a chance encounter at a party where she is waitressing. Rustic Esther Blodgett is remodelled as chic Vicki Lester by studio exec Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou) and mentored by her new lover Norman Maine (Fredric March), an alcoholic actor on the slide. Despite the story’s darker moments, it is a relatively palatable presentation of the star-and-studio system. (It is also perennially popular and has been remade three times, with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. The latest remake features Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga) with Bradley Cooper, and will be released next year.)
Also in 1937, behind very closed doors, 20-year-old dancer Patricia Douglas took a job hostessing at a Hollywood party. To be strictly accurate, the party was in Culver City, but it was the climax of MGM’s annual sales convention, and was hosted by comedy producer Hal Roach at his “Rancho Roachero”. The party was trailed to the delegates as: “a stag affair, out in the wild and woolly west where ‘men are men’.” Douglas didn’t know it was a party. After answering a casting call, she was bussed out to the desert location with more than 120 other young women, in skimpy western outfits. It only became clear that they were to be hostesses at a studio party rather than extras on a film when they arrived at the banquet hall, and 300 sales delegates burst in. The women danced and the men eyed them up, in between eating and drinking their way through MGM’s largesse. The party soon became as wild as promised, and David Ross, a 36-year-old sales executive, had Douglas in his sights. He found another man to help him force booze down her throat, then he dragged her to a car outside and raped her. “I’m going to destroy you,” he told her during the assault.
When Douglas pressed charges, Ross’s threat took on a new meaning. Fearing another shock on the level of the Rappe/Arbuckle scandal, MGM, and its thuggish fixer Eddie Mannix, mobilised against Douglas, destroying her character and seeing to it that the studio was not named in the news reports. Douglas’s crime report disappeared and party attendees testified that Douglas had been drinking. Mannix joked: “We had her killed.”
While cinemagoers were basking in the story of how a paternal Hollywood studio had transformed Esther the hopeful into Vicki the star, MGM was using its influence to shatter a young woman’s life. Douglas’s story was belatedly uncovered by film historian David Stenn and featured in the 2007 documentary Girl 27. Last year, the Coen Brothers released Hail, Caesar!, a lighthearted musical comedy about Mannix, which substantially sanitised his work covering up this and many more studio scandals.
The hit movie and the sidestepped scandal of 1937 demonstrate how efficiently Hollywood studios could weave myths out of its own banal production-line processes and how much clout they wielded in the world of law enforcement, medicine, courts and the news media. Effectively, the Hollywood myth becomes more powerful than the truth. If rumours about what happened to Douglas got out, it only served to keep other women in line, or at least in fear for their careers.
After the studio system fell into decline in the 50s, there were still mighty producers pulling the strings on Hollywood sets, but directors assumed more importance than before, and some played up to the old system. Directors of Hollywood films are still overwhelmingly male: 96% of the directors of last year’s top grossing films were men.
Woody Allen, who has been the subject of serious sexual allegations (all denied) in his private life, capped his 1966 directorial debut What’s Up, Tiger Lily? with a casting couch gag, in which he poses as an old-school sleazy executive exercising his petty power over a wannabe. Playboy playmate China Lee performs a gratuitous striptease over the film’s end credits. Allen, reclining on a sofa, jokes: “I had promised to put her in the movie … somewhere!”
Another revered director, Alfred Hitchcock, was well known for having a “type”. “Blondes make the best victims,” he said. “They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” The blond star of The Birds and Marnie, Tippi Hedren, wrote in her memoir that Hitchcock truly victimised her: throwing himself on top of her and groping her, then punishing her on set for resisting his advances.
Maria Schneider who starred alongside Marlon Brando in 1972’s Last Tango in Paris, has described feeling “humiliated and ‘a little raped’” by director Bernardo Bertolucci’s handling of a key scene. The director has admitted that he and Brando kept Schneider in the dark about the use of butter in “that scene”: “I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react humiliated.” Molly Ringwald has written in the New Yorker about several incidents of sexual harassment and abuse in her career, including a “married film director” assaulting her on set. Reese Witherspoon revealed in a recent speech that she was assaulted by a director when she was 16, and that after the incident agents and producers “made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment”.
More recently, since the Weinstein allegations have gathered pace, the Icelandic musician Björk wrote that when she worked with a “Danish director” her “humiliation and role as a lesser sexually harassed being was the norm … it is a universal thing that a director can touch and harass his actresses at will and the institution of film allows it.” Many assumed she was referring to Lars von Trier, who directed Dancer in the Dark, the only feature film in which she has starred. Von Trier has denied her allegations.
The model of the mogul and the starlet makes Hollywood production a fundamentally sexist system, and it skews what appears on screen, too; most obviously, it helps explain why Hollywood films are so enamoured of May-to-December affairs, in which young women are helplessly drawn to much older men. As Lillian Gish once said of an actor 15 years older than her: “Lionel Barrymore first played my grandfather, later my father, and finally, he played my husband. If he’d lived, I’m sure I would have played his mother. That’s the way it is in Hollywood.”
There have always been egregious examples of age-gap romances on the big screen, most notoriously, in Allen’s films, and recent analyses of Hollywood films have found that female leads are still consistently younger than their male love interests. A machine-learning study by Google.org and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media also found that in the 100 highest-grossing live-action films of 2014 and 2015, men appeared on screen for twice as long as women and spoke for twice as long. If the dynamic of older men and younger, submissive women that greases the wheels of Hollywood production offices repeats itself on screen, it is not an accident, but the desires of the producers and directors who create these films played out on the biggest stage of all: Hollywood cinema, the world’s most effective propaganda machine. Who is Hollywood trying to kid? The 52% female cinema audience, or executives who stalk starlets in their bathrobes, while threatening to demolish their careers?
Original article: One Hundred Years of Sexual Predation in Hollywood
Hollywood’s track record on racism, ageism, and outright political partisanship is every bit as black and foul as their track record on the sexual predation of men, woman, and children.