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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • 318

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Los Angeles, California
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318
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

CALENDAR MOVIES IT T- -J 71 'MOMMIE DEAREST' A Paramount presentation produced by Frank Yablans in association with Dunaway O'Neill Associates. Director Frank Perry. Screenplay Yablans, Perry, Tracy Hotchner, Robert Getchell. Based upon the book by Christina Crawford. Exec, producers David Koontz, Terence O'Neill.

Camera Paul Lohmann. Music Henry Mancini. Production designer Bill Halley. Costumes Irene Sharaff. Assoc.

producer Neil A. Machlis. Art director Harold Michelson. Dunaway's makeup artist Lee C. Harman.

Dunaway's hair stylist Kathryn L. Blondell. Film editor Peter E. Berger. Featuring Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva, Mara Hobel, Rutanya Alda, Harry Goz, Michael Edwards, Jocelyn Brando, Priscilla Pointer, Joe Abdullah, Gary Allen, Selma Archerd.

Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes. MPAA-ratei PG (some parental guidance DUNAWAY AS CRAWFORD IN 'MOMMIE' By KEVIN THOMAS Faye Dunaway is a terrific Joan Crawford, but "Mommie Dearest" (selected theaters Friday) plays like a limp parody of a bad Crawford movie. When Dunaway's Crawford, who's a seething volcano of emotions, finally erupts, the effect is laughable rather than terrifying or pathetic, so trite and pallid is the picture. "Mommie Dearest" is at best campy, and at worst, merely plodding. Crawford deserves better lots, lots better.

She was the ultimate movie star, a figure of mythical proportions who embodied the All-American success story for several generations of moviegoers. So vivid was her personality that at times it tended to obscure her gifts as an actress. Offscreen she was volatile, domineering, tough, intense, warm, hearty, trusting, fiercely loyal and often quite funny. And, she probably was the rotten mother that her daughter Christina says she was. Since Crawford was larger than life, it would take a highly imaginative approach on the screen to reach some truth about her, her era, her image and their interrelationships.

Since "Mommie Dearest" plays something like a remake of "Queen Bee," Crawford's bitchiest picture, they might as well have let Ken Russell have a go at it. What the heck. Or they might simply have filmed "Mommie Dearest" as Christina Crawford wrote it. To begin with, "Mommie Dearest" is the Christina Crawford story, not the Joan Crawford story, and its key point was to reveal the utter helplessness of a child at the mercy of an abusive parent, a plight intensified mightily when the child is adopted, knows it and is supposed to be grateful accordingly doubly so when the parent is a powerful celebrity. The strength of Christina Crawford's story is its point of view: We never knew when or why her Mommie Dearest would strike out at her next.

At least Christina trusted us to understand how her mother, plagued by career troubles and fearing middle age, could make scapegoats of her kids. But in bringing "Mommie Dearest" to the screen a raft of writers have frac- Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in the film version' of "Mommie Dearest." tured that point of view and supplied highly specific motivations for each and every awful act perpetrated by Dunaway's Crawford in a bid for sympathy so heavily obvious that it backfires. What's more, such literalness makes for ludi-crousness: We laugh instead of cringe when Dunaway screams "No wire having found one of the loathsome objects in littje Christina's closet and thus commencing a rampage, and we have the same reaction when Dunaway screams "Get me an ax!" and thus proceeds to chop down a tree, having laid waste to the rose garden at her lush Brentwood estate. What was terrifying to read on the printed page simply looks silly on the screen. Dunaway, fine and daring actress that she is, does have a good go at Crawford, capturing her paradoxical essence, which was that she could seem formidable and vulnerable simultaneously.

Irene Sharaff 50 gowns, Lee C. Harman's makeup and Kathryn L. Blondell's hair styles help Dunaway immensely in suggesting Crawford's physical appearance, but Dunaway's Crawford, as it must, comes from within. Dunaway gives us the Crawford of "Mommie Dearest" and also glimpses of the woman many people knew and loved. Director Frank Perry surely deserves some credit for giving Dunaway the courage to go to extremes, and under his guidance Diana Scarwid is credible as the teen-age and adult Christina, determined to live her own life but still craving her mother's love.

But once Scarwid has taken over from Mara Hobel as the little Christina and this is 75 minutes into the picture the film itself becomes flat and perfunctory. Indeed, much of the film is simply a ticking off of events as Christina recalls them but with very little of the meaning they held for her. "Mommie Dearest" opens in 1939, the year of Christina's birth and adoption by Crawford, and concludes with the reading of Crawford's will, which disinherited both Christina and her brother Christopher, in 1977. There's much emphasis on Crawford's obsession with cleanliness, her profound respect for her fans and her increasing fondness for 100-proof vodka. A bland Steve Forrest is apprently meant to be a composite of Crawford's third husband, Philip Terry, and another important man in her life in the '40s, attorney Gregson Bautzer.

You would never know from this film that, after winning her Oscar for "Mildred Pierce," Crawford went on to make such important pictures as "Sudden Fear," "Autumn Leaves," "The Story of Esther Costello" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" For all its uninspired glossiness, "Mommie Dearest" (rated PG for its adult themes and depiction of child abuse) does attempt to see Crawford in the round, and this allows for its single virtue, Dunaway's compassionate portrayal. Needless to say, Joan Crawford would have hated "Mommie Dearest," yet she might have been gratified that it was Dunaway who portrayed her. Not long before her death she told interviewer Roy Newquist that of all the younger ac- tresses "only Faye Dunaway has the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star." again questioned the role of the media in our lives. The festival dazzler was Louis Malle's "My Dinner With Andre." Actor-playwright Wallace Shawn and theater director Andre Gregory collaborated on a script based on their own experiences and feelings and took it to Malle. In the film Shawn and Gregory meet for dinner at a quietly elegant Manhattan restaurant and talk about themselves and how they feel about life.

In time we see ourselves in them. This is a funny, highly civilized film that actually attempts to go beyond neurosis in coming to grips with life in contemporary society. Francesco Rosi's "Three Brothers" in the emotion-charged, sadly lyrical style of "Christ Stopped at Eboli." It tells of three sons (Philippe Noiret, Vittorio Mezzogiorno and Michele Placido) who return to Sicily for their mother's funeral. Though their differing lives we can perceive the unrest that marks contemporary Italy. Noiret is a prominent judge whose life is threatened because he's considering accepting a trial involving terrorists; Mezzogiorno is a dedicated teacher at a reform school who has a dream in which the children sweep up all the weapons, drugs and money and burn them; and Placido has gone to Turin to find work only to become embroiled in a labor struggle.

Meanwhile, their father (Charles Va-nel), a small farmer, represents an ancient way of life rapidly vanishing. "Three Brothers" is a strongly affecting film that grapples with complex contemporary issues and eternal emotions with classic simplicity. Two festival honorees, Carlos Diegues and Dusan Makavejev, both like to mix sex and politics in provocative ways. In Diegues' "Xica da Silva" a gorgeous slave (sizzling Zeze Mattas) in 18th-century Brazil uses her formidable charms to snag the newly appointed royal diamond contractor Walmor Chagas); in "Montenegro or Pigs and Pearls," Makavejev's first film in English, the bored American wife (Susan Anspach, in one of her strongest portrayals) of a rich Stockholm businessman (Erland Joseph-son) becomes involved with a sexy young Yugoslav (Svetozar) and his volatile friends. In their different ways and with differing consequences both women are attempting to liberate themselves.

Film historian Annette Insdorf, the festival's astute moderator, noted that all the key films of the festival this year dealt with personal rather than collective liberation, thus launching the directors' panel held as a part of a Labor Day picnic at the top of Telluride's ski lift. French director Nelly Kaplan, whose delightful "A Very Curious Girl," about a young Gypsy's revenge on a smug provincial town, was shown as part of the festival's retrospective offerings, said, "I only believe in personal liberation. We are arriving at a civilization of 'body We can only be free when we all think for ourselves." "The only thing I'm interested in is how to get along in the world," said Volker Schloendorff. "How can I get along with others? The question becomes more urgent as the world falls apart. How can we reconcile our personal urges with the needs of society? The idea of the individual is the only idea our Western culture ever produced, but soon there will be no place for the individual." It seems inevitable that every time you get a group of independent film makers documentarians, experimentalists, whoever on a panel the dominant subject becomes money.

Stan Brakhage, one of the giants of the experimental film, protested this tendency early on but not before his fellow independent, Jonas Mekas, made the crucial remark that "cinema is indivisible." To Jean-Pierre Gorin, longtime Godard associate and the maker of "Poto and Cabengo," an extraordinary study of twin sisters who developed their own language, cinema is also indivisible from money. When Errol Morris, a provocative young documen-tarian whose study of a small Southern town, "Vernon, Florida," was shown in the festival, stated flatly that "the first eon were pleasantly inevitable. Margaret Hamilton was urged to recite her famous line from "The Wizard of Oz," "I'll get you and your little dog, too," and to reveal in detail how she narrowly escaped fatal burns when, as the Wicked Witch of the West, she was supposed to disappear in a puff of smoke. Expressing contentment with her career, she said she considers herself lucky because there are not the opportunities for char- acter women today. "There used to be lots of homey pictures with housekeepers and mothers," she said.

Film historian William Everson pointed to the decline of the studio system with its contract players as the reason t) why there are so few solidly established character actors nowadays. Balding, be- Please Turn to Page 29 3 principle of film making is that you take money where you can get it." Gorin added, "If you want to talk to me seriously about film, talk to me about money." "If you'll do anything for money, I don't want to meet you in a dark alley!" shot back Brakhage. (While calling commercial film making and television "intrinsically evil," Brakhage neglected to mention that his most seen work has got to be a bottle of Downy fabric softener falling into a pile of towels.) A panel on character actors held in the 94-year-old San Miguel County Courthouse, as was the independent's panel promised to be instant nostalgia but was incisive as well as anecdotal. (Woody Strode, John Carradine and Elisha Cook had all worked for John Ford, so stories of the beloved curmudg-.

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