The Eighth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon: The Heart Of Go West (1925)

[Go West] may also have struck too personal a note with [Buster Keaton], something very private in his character that he didn’t want revealed.

I was so startled to read that in James Curtis’ newly released biography Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life. Of course it’s speculation, and Curtis doesn’t elaborate beyond the accumulated inference that our supremely reticent Keaton avoided sentiment in his work. We don’t know if this particular film did indeed reveal something uncomfortable for Keaton. At this point with all we have of his words, we can’t know.

And it doesn’t really matter because the personal reading aside – the biographical fallacy, wahey – there is so much to love about Go West. The plotting is pretty much flawless – look how the iconic traveller’s red handkerchief is set up and then used in two different ways through the film, and how its absence leads to a whole new costume and gag sequence. What gets me is how the shaving set is established from such an early point and becomes significant much much later, used in another delightfully clever way.

The sly depiction of the capitalist chain of money in Cops is here crueller and more concentrated in the general store scene. Our protagonist Friendless isn’t so much innocent or bewildered as resigned to the outrageous stupidity of having to buy a few of his own possessions back. It speaks to such a Twenties cynicism about money.

Then there are the gags galore, wresting so much humour from the various situations in a cowboy life. Not to mention the fact that Keaton’s beautiful muscular bottom is on full (clothed) display in this film, framed ever so well by the chaps. And the little easter egg glimpses of Joe Keaton perched on a hatstand, and Roscoe Arbuckle in full drag as a teenage girl with mum in a department store. I fully admit I try to work out on every watch if the leading thread is visible from Keaton to Brown Eyes. (I’ve only seen it once.) Just like I always wonder whether the hat catch was planned or totally spontaneous because Keaton has perfect spatial awareness.

It’s my favourite of the features but I can see why he wouldn’t have been satisfied with it. Yes, the climactic cattle sequence is nowhere as high-octane as possible. But it’s still hilarious and so very entertaining. There’s a sublime wickedness in watching Keaton and Brown Eyes calmly leading a thousand head of cattle through the streets of 1920s Los Angeles while people panic and run screaming from them. Despite all his panic and scrambling earlier in the film, quite a lot of the comedy in Go West comes from Keaton waiting or staying calm while things go wrong around him or flat out don’t happen.

For me, the editing isn’t as flawless and seamless as the other features, and I never know whether that’s just what’s available to us here and now or whether that’s what he saw onscreen too. I always wonder if he winced at the bits that don’t match perfectly. But there are so many bits of perfect formalist framing of Keaton alone in the landscape or the frame.

Likewise, more than once in the climactic sequence, a room crowded with things and people and steer is emptied of everyone but Keaton. And some of the camerawork is positively thrilling, particularly the bull pov where it’s obviously a fake bull head mounted before the moving camera but still so effective to see going right for him and thwarted at the last moment or Keaton himself moving serenely out of the way.

I love how Friendless goes from being scared by every critter around, terrified by this hostile landscape, to being completely unruffled by cattle stampedes and shooing them on with a matter-of-fact impatience. He adapts to his environment, even taking on the trappings of masculinity with the cowboy accoutrements and exaggerated walk. But he retains his own qualities with the hat, the little gun obviously made for a woman, and that aching loneliness.

Friendless is quite similar to Ronald from College in that quality – alone in the desert and alone on the track and field while the cowboys and athletes congregate elsewhere. Every time Friendless attempts a connection, he’s rejected, whether it’s the dog outside the general store, the riderless horse, or the foreman’s daughter at the well. He can’t even time his meals to the rest of the ranchhands, and none of them wait for him or even notice him at the table.

I remember the first time I watched this, I was really quite shocked at how hard Keaton went on that characterisation. And maybe that’s why this is my favourite, the emotional heart of the film. To me at least, it doesn’t feel like treacly sentiment. It’s brutal and unvarnished solitude that isn’t chosen but forced upon this forlorn little guy in an indifferent landscape. Not that different to those of us alone in an indifferent city or town.

No wonder my heart melts and overflows when Brown Eyes licks his hand. That emotional response after so much rejection is hard to resist, such relief for both us watching him and us for ourselves, buying into the concept of human-animal sympathy and the desperate conviction that there has to be some requited connection somewhere for the lonely ones. It’s also such a long moment, his reaction and then his approach and his stroking of her that turns oddly pensive, like he’s fully feeling the preciousness of this long-awaited connection. There’s a deep almost grim poignancy that is so recognisable to those of us who struggle to form connections and don’t ever take our meaningful relationships for granted.

No wonder his affection for her is so automatic and so fierce. He thinks nothing of her following him into the sleeping quarters, of course he wants her in there with him. Of course he’s so cross at the other cattle crowding her in the car, I love how he smacks them away and yells. I love how he runs full pelt to her rescue. (As if Keaton has any other mode of running.) I love how stricken he looks when she’s ordered to the slaughterhouse, and that the same horror goes through me. The emotional gravitas has been well and truly earned by then. And of course my soppy heart melts all over again when he attempts to guard her all night with a rifle against the coyotes. It’s ridiculous and I love it.

It isn’t enough in their meet-cute that he removes the stone and throws it away. He goes that extra step of burying it so there’s no further danger to her, and he tips his hat and walks away, the perfect courtly gentleman in the midst of the desertscape. And then he gets so bossy and possessive of her, telling her off for tussling with the other cattle and inspecting her for possible injury. He watches her go, back straight, hands on hips, every bit the authoritative owner-husband. It’s so very amusing and a little bit arousing.

I also wonder if he fights harder for Brown Eyes than he does for any of his other leading ladies, or if the stakes (sorry) are that much higher for their love. Even with all the violent and waterlogged shenanigans of Our Hospitality, Friendless is much more visibly passionate and distressed than Willie McKay. Notably, it’s only after he develops a strong relationship with Brown Eyes that the actual girl in the story takes particular notice of him and then develops a sympathy for him. But of course that ending is the perfect blend of hilarious and sweet. No human girl will usurp Brown Eyes in the heart of our hero.

They cast her so well. With her big lustrous eyes and angular face, she’s a perfect match for Keaton and the perfect height too. Naturally she’s my favourite of his leading ladies, sorry Sybil Seely I still love you. But Friendless + Brown Eyes 4 eva.

Check out The Eighth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon here.

Monty Clift @ 100: 18/18: Making Montgomery Clift (2018)

The final film in my Monty Clift @ 100 celebration because yes.

Today: Making Montgomery Clift (2018)

I wonder if the day will come when watching this won’t leave me heavy and sad and longing for impossible things. There’s an exquisite agony in watching a deeply personal documentary about a person who has deep personal meaning to you — an agony of pleasure and then the inevitable agony of loss. And in Montgomery’s case, there’s a rage and an indignation that still hasn’t found resolution, that — as Robert says — may never be resolved.

The first time around, I found myself questioning my own complicity in perpetuating those myths about him.

This time around, I found myself thinking about my activity in the fandom. Over the past seventeen days, I’ve made a fuckload of gifs of him. Every time there was a closeup of those eyes, I twitched with the impulse to capture that moment. Which is all very well and good because yes, he has beautiful eyes and they are hugely expressive and a major part of his appeal and presentation.

But then I started to worry that I was focusing on the superficial rather than the moments of actual acting … or Actoring, as I like to say with varying degrees of affectionate teasing, depending on how much I like the actor in question. And in doing that, was I minimising his craft? Or just flat out ignoring it in favour of the visual?

Worse, was I perpetuating that myth that Montgomery Clift was only beautiful pre-accident?

Well, I worried about that latter bit until I got to The Defector. The last movie he made which also happened to be the last movie I had left to watch. I had tried once before to watch an awful grainy copy on YouTube and bailed almost instantly because of the terrible dubbing, incomprehensible plot, and yes because I was so horrified at how changed he looked.

Now that I have watched it all the way through? I might have developed a slight giggly fascination. Because he is beautiful in it, and the copy I have is such unexpectedly good quality that it’s pure pleasure to look at him in clear cool colour that isn’t as muddily colour-graded as Wild River or unrestored as Raintree County. And the essence of him hasn’t changed. All his mannerisms are still there, the way he engages with people, the way he listens is exactly the same. And it’s fascinating to see all he does with this character in an admittedly terrible story.

Now I’m slightly peeved that people are sleeping on just how lovely and stylish and clever he is in The Defector. The only time I see mention of it is in the tragic breath of “Montgomery Clift’s last film.” Yes, but look at what he does in it! May not be the heights of Actoring like Nuremberg or Young Lions but he’s fucken cool!

I suppose, like his actual family, this is something a Montgomery Clift fan has to grapple with over and over again at almost every juncture: how we view his work compared to how it’s configured in popular and film culture. It’s exhausting. And if I allow myself to think about it, it’s emotionally draining too. Literally because it dims the joy that I experience when watching the actual film.

When I’m watching him, I’m fully engaged with all the aspects of his performance — the voice, the emotion, the pauses, the function of his character in the story. Everything that I should be. And I’m delighted, I’m energised, joyful in his craft and the life of him.

Then I step back and make the mistake of looking at what other people say about the movie, either on Letterboxd or even randomly looking up some production detail on the intarwebz. And there’ll be some tragic phrase that instantly reconfigures my whole previously joyous experience.


Most times I roll my eyes and ignore it, arrogant enough in my fannishness to prefer my love over the sentiments of others. And that’s especially been the case over the past seventeen days, in this feat of fannish effort and total immersion in the artistry of him. But the doco has rightly reminded me that the disconnect is pervasive.

I can only reassure myself that the existence of it and my small writing is some effort towards correcting Montgomery Clift’s legacy as a serious artist instead of a tragedy reliving his trauma onscreen, as a warm lovely playful profane joker rather than a tormented cliche, as a bisexual man confident in his own sexuality without the need to proclaim it or hide it or label it.

It’s enough that we exist, isn’t it? The writing and the doco and the gifs exist. We keep his craft alive.

I thought I’d make gifs of this too, possibly the home videos. But I couldn’t bring myself to, after all. Because even though the doco is technically a public document, the home videos and his own photography feel so personal and private that I felt I would be committing some sort of violation, that it’s not my place to put that stuff out there.

After my very detailed bloodthirsty threats against John Huston over the past few reviews, I was somewhat relieved to find my violence and hatred was entirely justified. I had forgotten the detail of what he said my god that vile fucker.

What shocked me to the core this time around was the discovery of a fairly bizarre coincidence. See, the first time I watched it was also the first time I had properly seen into the Quaker cemetery where Montgomery’s buried. I try not to be morbid about these things and mostly I don’t care about the final resting places of Classic Hollywood stars because that’s a little creepy even for me.

But I care about Montgomery like he’s family. When I visited Brooklyn for the first time a few years ago, I really wanted to at least go past the cemetery and send a few thoughts to that spot. Even though I know he’s not there anymore, that he’s out there in the universe and has been for decades now. I was talked out of it once my family realised we couldn’t go into the cemetery itself. And I’ve regretted that ever since.

So that footage made my breath catch in my chest, and of course at the time I only saw Montgomery’s stone and felt the significance of it. We’ve had a lot of death in my family just in my lifetime, I know how important the visual of a stone and a name is.

But this second time, I looked at the whole image and realised that was Brooks beside him. At first I was like “Aww, that’s so lovely. They’re together…” And then dear god, I noticed the dates of Brooks’ life. Brooks who has been so instrumental in the decades after his brother’s death, Brooks who is such a fascinating figure in his own right, Brooks without whom we wouldn’t have Robert and the documentary, Brooks who offers this eerie image of how Montgomery would have aged.

His birthday is my birthday.

His death anniversary is my grandmother’s anniversary. The same grandmother who introduced me to Classic Hollywood and Montgomery Clift.

My brain is still reeling from this ridiculous unthinkable coincidence who’s writing this shit I demand to speak to the author.

I’m five years younger than Montgomery was when he died. Forty-five years doesn’t seem so old now that I’m close enough to it.

Still I’m reminded of a slightly strange but wonderful thought from about a week ago: I would love to be in the parallel dimension where Montgomery Clift drove home safely that night and eventually overcame his substance issues.

But no, that’s buying into the tragic narrative too, isn’t it? Fuck that.

A parallel dimension where he woke on the morning of 23 July 1966 and went down to have breakfast with Lorenzo. Where he lived through the Seventies, saw the Stonewall riots, maybe even became an activist — though I seriously doubt he would have been that much of a joiner — and totally been recruited by Liz and Rock Hudson into the AIDS awareness and fundraising campaigns. Maybe he would have written novels, definitely held photography exhibitions. Went back to the theatre for insanely sold out runs and done all the great American classics on Broadway.

Made more and more interesting movies that would have changed the cultural landscape so much more in terms of masculinity and sexuality onscreen. He would have made movies with Sidney Poitier and Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda and Paul Newman and Dirk Bogarde and IDA LUPINO — thorny family drama, quirky roadtrip comedies, and tense political thrillers — and then with the younger generations like Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn.

There’d be the inevitable De Niro/Pacino collab in a Scorsese flick that would gain the nostalgic favour of all the old white males of the Academy and win him enough Oscars to finally fucking eclipse that egregious fucker as the greatest actor of his and several generations. (Why no, I’m not bitter at all.)

I like to think he would have grown even more progressive with age and not retreated into bigoted conservatism like so many of our erstwhile icons. And if Olivia de Havilland could live past the age of 100, so could he!

In that other dimension, he’s still alive and prolly crochety as all hell. He would have seen marriage equality become a reality in America, voted for and seen the first Black president. Gotten married, either to Lorenzo after fifty years, or god forbid to a woman decades ago, and had kids in either scenario.

I feel like he would have written pieces about Hollywood and acting and jazz and the blues but not memoirs as such, more like popular journalism like James Baldwin and Dirk Bogarde. Maybe he’d have gone into total reclusion and moved to somewhere else in the world — Paris or somewhere inscrutable from where we’d hear publicly from him every now and then. He wouldn’t be on Twitter like Carl Reiner was … or at least not officially. But like Jane Fonda would totally recruit him to her New Green Deal movement and get him to do at least one Fire Drill Friday. Or at least try. He’d prolly refuse to come out of reclusion, the contrarian.

I picture him older just like Brooks — white-haired and dapper af and still beautiful and eloquent and so charismatic. Refusing to work for decades until some very persistent talented young person persuades him to appear in their film. And then doing the publicity to help out, either having to be persuaded into it or doing it because he believes so hard in this film and wants it to succeed.

And oh lord, imagine that: swearing effortlessly in print interviews and on television, judging at Cannes, presenting awards at the Oscars, appearing grudgingly at classic film festivals or refusing outright, flirting with everyone and confusing them about their sexuality, smoking in gorgeous stylish photoshoots — can’t you just see it? — spilling tea about costars and directors, spouting off opinions that no doubt will make me laugh and groan cos fucken Librans. (I don’t know why I said that, I tend to agree with all the Librans I know but yes, we air signs are mouthy bastards. No, really?)

Maybe Robert and Hillary would have made an entirely different documentary: following his legendary dork of an uncle through this third act journey, filming backstage and around sets, hanging out in hotel rooms and poolside. Montgomery bitching about not being able to smoke and smoking anyway, being super ironic about the state of music these days and television and god forbid Netflix. Does he like The Crown? Did he watch Feud? Imagine Ryan Murphy imploring him to be in a show or writing a whole thing for him, bahaha.

I like to think he would have been embraced as a queer icon of Classic Hollywood and subsequent generations, that he would have in his turn — either with reluctance or enthusiasm — embraced that status as mentor and role model for young queer kids and actors. That yes, he is living proof that you can be queer and successful without any accompanying tragedy.

I like to think that as times changed and technology and cultural conversations evolved, he would have engaged more and more in the public sphere, being as sarcastic and sweet and as honest as ever. That Hy Gardner interview in a thousand different forms, talking about masculinity and sexuality and relationships and managing addiction, about film and family and generational differences, talking and listening to the kids too.

In some other dimension, all of that is totally happening.

In this dimension, I’m gunna go make some more gifs of the Defector black turtleneck lewk and refuse to feel fucking dismal.

Because I don’t want to be sad today. I want to be grateful and love that we’ve had a whole hundred years of Edward Montgomery Clift, beautiful serious artist and lovable dork.

Monty Clift @ 100: 17/18: The Heiress (1949)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a day until his birthday on 17 October. Which is today! (I’m Australian, okay.)

And today was a Criterion watch party too, my very first, yay!

Today: The Heiress (1949)

Took me about fifteen minutes to realise I have zero chill about this film. Not just because I adore Olivia de Havilland and not because this may or may not have been the very first time I saw the bae. (Either this or From Here To Eternity, they were very close together.)

No, because like most people of the female persuasion, of course this story speaks straight to the rage and shame about the ways we are bullied for not living up to whatever current mode of femininity, from looks to behaviour. Even if we eventually learn how to don the armour and wear the paint and conduct ourselves in the world, the shame and inadequacy remains stained on the soul. So of course I feel fiercely protective of Catherine, to the point of yelling at my screen when Austin says those breathtakingly cruel things no parent should ever say.

The first time I was entirely charmed by Morris’ openness and passion, I was so happy Catherine finally had someone to give her the appreciation and affection she deserved. Now thirty or so years later, I’m glaring at him from the word go, that slimy no-good charmer, so forward and over-familiar that he’s constantly invading her personal space. That that that fortune-hunter!

And how clever that Wyler and co delay both our first and second view of Morris and Montgomery, first filming him from behind so we hear him first and then there is that preternaturally beautiful face, already performing. The second time both we and Catherine hear him from the hall. Ugh I love that device so much, as if I wasn’t already fully identifying with Catherine from like the first fucken scene. To hear his voice and feel her hope despite herself, that longing and despair, the agony of hatred and pleasure.

I don’t know what the hell the bae meant when he said Liv was giving him nothing to react to, to work with, when every emotion and every thought is painfully vivid on Liv’s face in this role at least in the first half of the film. And she’s not meant to give him anything in that last act, he deserves nothing, the scummy — um, Morris. But then again I’m not an actor so I don’t know what he needs from a scene partner and also bloody Librans and their insanely high standards. (she said as an Aquarian with even more insanely high standards, wait this isn’t about me.)

For my part, I love how Liv leans back every time he comes too close. In the first half, it’s a kind of virginal shock which amuses me even as I totally relate. But in that last act, god the revulsion, I can feel my skin crawl in sympathy with her.

This time around, I was horrified to find myself agreeing with Austin about all the signs that indicate Morris would totally mismanage Catherine’s money and endanger her. And no doubt no doubt his love would peel away to contempt and/or indifference.

Lord, that moment when the horse clops by and they both look past the camera. I swear that’s the first time we start to see Morris’ performance slip. And Liv’s got her face turned away so Catherine never sees it. But we do. It’s the first moment their bond is ruptured, you know then that they’ll never be together, they’re not meant to be.

And then holy god, that we get to actually see the moment he decides to abandon her, how the camera cuts to a close-up and lingers on his cold gaze that examines her faces and drops in realisation.

It reminds me that this film is technically flawless. The craft of it is perfect in every way, and those performances are so rich I don’t see how people can possibly dislike it.

But of course I am exactly the target audience, aren’t I? Cos lord knows I’m fucken roaring with triumph at that final glorious scene. Chills of delight when Liv delivers that iconic line with such beautiful precision and pause, “I have been taught … by masters.” And then cackling with feminist vindication as she climbs those stairs and he pounds on the door, forever locked out. Ngl, I prolly would have fucked him first and then told him to go get his stuff. Because why not.

This time around I realised that expression on Liv’s face as she ascends the stairs for the final time is not vicious or triumphant or any kind of hardness. It’s this soft wondrous sense of freedom. She’ll embroider no more, she’s slammed the door on that awful trauma of father and fortune-hunter, she can go anywhere in the world and do whatever she wants with her money and with her heart. She’s free.

There are so many fascinating nuances to Morris as a character, enough that I’m prolly going to finally read Henry James soon. The film makes such a point of how he savours the wealth of the Sloper home, all the trappings of male success like the smokes and sherry and all that gorgeous decor. Morris likes that life, he wants it like George Eastman wants it. But whereas George has that innocence and genuinely loves whatshername Liz character Angela right, Morris has no illusions about himself or the way people, namely Austin, see through him. That devious charming outrageous honesty of him.

And I love the lil touches of humour Montgomery gets to inject into this romantic swain role — the teasing of Catherine, that playful puppydog look he gives her from the edge of the dancefloor. He gets to have a little fun before everything becomes heavy and serious and then awful.

Weirdly, I find myself fixating on the slight upturn of his lip as a slight sneer and indicator of fakeness. I mean, I know it’s not, I know that’s just how his mouth is and how his upper lip tilts up when he smiles. He does it in almost every film pre-accident, it never bothers me, that particularly all-American smile of a pretty boy who knows his allure. But here it comes across as this wrong note in a perfect presentation. I’m prolly reading too much into it … or am I? Ahaha.

I really should read Washington Square. If only to see if Henry James tells us what Morris really felt. I suspect he convinced himself at least on the second go that he really was in love with Catherine.

Still got what he deserved. Mwahaha.

Monty Clift @ 100: 16/18: The Big Lift (1950)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a night until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Tonight: The Big Lift (1950)

Y’know, there is actually a good movie in there. In fact, it’s quite close to entirely my kind of post-war movie. A story about the emotional and economic fallout, about life in the occupied ruined country where the power dynamic of wartime has suddenly switched and the former hated people are now to be pitied and helped, where both sides have to remember their own humanity and that of the other side. A story about two kinds of masculinities learning to evolve and deal with the world in better ways.

Pity then that this version is so fucken clumsy, awfully filmed for the most part except that glorious landing. The important speeches go on for way too long, there’s way too much emphasis on technicalities, the comedy bits either go on for too long or are dashed off too fast to really land.

Paul Douglas takes up way too much oxygen and I hate saying that cos I rather love him from the two Judy Holliday films I’ve seen that feature him right up front. But his story is just too loud and takes up way too much time when it could have worked so much better in sparser traumatised hinting terms with a few scathing lines here and there.

And unfortunately in this case, the bae’s utter naturalism makes everyone else look horribly artificial, highlighting the fact that they’re Actoring while he’s Being.

I loved what he did with Danny, how he played him as this sunny cocky flyboy who’s open and artless and lovely and has to learn that not everyone else is, who has to see the suffering in the world, not just blithely fly in and fly out. I particularly enjoyed the mockery and jokes and asides he got to engage in as part of all that male camaraderie rather than be on the outside, excluded from all that.

It’s also really uncanny recognising more than one mannerism from A Place In The Sun until I remember that he went straight from this shoot to that so no wonder a few moments overlapped directly. Ha, he would not like that I noticed that.

I couldn’t believe that was Otto from I Confess playing an entirely different role with his future priest confessor. How utterly marvelous. Once I realised I wasn’t having some sleep-deprived hallucination as a result of watching way too many Montgomery Clift films in a row.

I wish for his sake and mine that it had been a better film. And restored to pristine quality.

Monty Clift @ 100: 15/18: Wild River (1960)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a night until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Tonight: Wild River (1960)

See, the problem with putting Montgomery Clift in the lead role in colour is it takes me like six hours to watch a two and a half hour movie because I want to gif nearly every scene.

This is my second watch and I have decided I love this fillum.

Just everything about it. The delicious meandering pace and yet that overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and inevitability. The creepy hillbilly Southern Gothic vibes of the old dilapidated house and all that dried up nonarable land. That weirdly feudal pseudo-plantation relationship between the lazy white landowners and the Black workers with their families, all of whom are living in barely differing degrees of poverty. The increasingly overt antiracist agenda of the film that still complicates the relationship of the Black underling who can’t bring himself to leave the white old lady who allies herself with him to make a point to the white interloper. (And holy shit, I can’t believe that’s James Earl Jones’ dad.)

The love story, the eroticism, the fierce longing intensity of Lee Remick who impresses me more and more with every performance. The strange lovely rivalry between the two men that turns into a friendship of principles despite themselves.

And oh, Chuck Glover. He’s such a wonderful character, endearing and playful and gently ironic, the urbane sophisticated city man in his immaculate three-piece suit come to the backwaters with this complicated agenda of progress for the sake of the country, sacrifice of individual property for the lives of many. He’s so focused on the big picture he can even identify the ruling trait of the American people in his very first conversation onscreen.

And god I love him, the film, and the writers for that observation I have never forgotten since my first viewing not that long ago. It’s a phrase that repeats in my head every time I’m watching some Murrican drama unfold online or onscreen. “Rugged individualism.” It’s funny cos it’s TRUE.

Chuck’s really clever and intuitive about people, and he keeps insisting that everyone has humanity, that everyone will respond to an exchange of ideas. Holy fuck, he’s your typical liberal who really earnestly believes that talking will connect people to their humanity. Oh you sweet summer child.

Which is why I’m quite puzzled when he’s told he’s finally finding his humanity, or he criticises himself for a lack. I’m like “But he’s been so warm and compassionate all along! What are you people talking about?!” I can see that criticism being levelled at someone like Henry Fonda or Dana Andrews or Robert Mitchum, men who come into a story all cold and ruthless and have to find their heart along the way.

Montgomery Clift plays him kind right from the beginning. Which is like not even a criticism cos I love that he does! I love how his antiracism is so matter of fact with no hint of white saviourism at all. I love how he treats the Black workers with unflinching equanimity and gets so furious with the good ole boys that he has to fold his arms tighter and tighter. That moment, my god. The play of emotions in that unblinking gaze, how he goes from outrage to the faintest hint of amused irony that turns to disgust and right back to rage.

God, that’s fucken great writing, directing, editing, and acting right there.

And I love his version of masculinity, that typically Clift quiet defiance that borders on masochism because he insists on not dodging the confrontation, he wilfully faces the guy who’s going to beat the shit out of him. I don’t know if I find that adorable, infuriating, or fucked up, but there is a bit of a pattern happening there across his films. Which is why I want to giggle madly when Montgomery Clift as Chuck says, “You know, just once I’d like to win a fight.”

I love that Chuck allows himself to get sucked into this family drama, I love that he recognises the dignity in the stubborness of the old lady, I love that he insists she has to have not just any house but a house with a porch. I love that he allows himself to shag and then fall in love with the trapped young widow, allows himself to take on the love and affection of the kids. (Look, girlie, I too would hang on his neck and wrap my legs around his hips at every opportunity. Especially if he tilts his head to talk to me.)

And this time around I found myself totally relating to both of them in that struggle between permanency and transience. Of course she wants him forever, to take her out of that life and land. For that era, I don’t blame her at all. And of course he has misgivings about making this new relationship permanent, about taking on the responsibility of a wife and two small children. We know nothing about his life before he arrived in town, we don’t know his financial situation or what debts and dependants he has back home, wherever it is. We don’t even know if he’s left some woman back there.

The unabashedly happy ending to the love story is so refreshing. For a film that seems to revel in complicating every theme and every relationship, that’s a wonderful surprise. And sure, I can see plenty of people calling it contrived and saccharine but I don’t fucken care. Yes, please give me Montgomery Clift flying into a happy ever after with a gorgeous spouse and two adorable kidlets.

I still don’t know whether the film wants us to believe progress is a good thing or a bad thing. What I do know is it wants us to acknowledge the complexity of that concept, the cost in human dignity and connection to the land. And I want to roar with laughter at that shot Kazan gives us of the billowing Murrican flag while the homestead goes up in flames. Like go off, king. I love him for East of Eden and I love him for this.

One day I’m totally gunna rewatch it from an ecocritical viewpoint. Right now I’m too caught up in the human stories about themselves and can only feebly grasp at the obvious stories about the land/waterscape.

Chuck Glover is definitely my second favourite Clift character. First Noah Ackerman, then Chuck, yes please. I love him.

Monty Clift @ 100: 14/18: The Misfits (1961)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a day until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Today: The Misfits (1961)

This film enrages me.

To the point where I couldn’t bear the thought of rewatching the whole thing all over again, especially as my second Huston film in a row. I couldn’t stand seeing Marilyn being ridiculed and objectified all over again, knowing there was more emotional brutality to come. So I skipped ahead to 46 minutes in when Montgomery appears.

Honestly, I’m a little mystified by all the admiration for that phone call scene. Maybe I take him for granted, maybe I take that calibre of acting for granted, but he does exactly what I expect him to do, what I would expect from any other actor. What’s the big fucken deal? His character is having a phone conversation and he’s making it real like he’s meant to. Why on earth do people go on about it?

I do find myself somewhat disappointed with Perce. He’s not that interesting a character, nowhere as complex as Gay or Roslyn. And it’s not Montgomery’s fault, he does the best he can with what he’s got on the page. And I’m assuming his pages changed as daily as Marilyn’s though I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t, Miller that shitty excuse for a human being.

What irks me most about his character though is that he’s really just there to reflect back Roslyn’s emotions, of which Miller makes sure there are plenty. While Gay and Pilot stare at her in bewildered confusion, Perce gets it, Perce has understood her moral outrage way before the other two.

If Miller reduces Marilyn to this parodic hyper-sensitive hyper-feminine mess of emotions and the stereotypical voice of human morality for the damaged macho mens, Huston and Miller reduce Montgomery to a receiver of other people’s emotions and then literally a woman’s knight — because she can’t physically do the things herself?

Ugh, I hate the gender dynamics in this film so much. It’s so toxic and so fucked up and cruel on so many levels.

Which is why it astonished me on this rewatch to realise that yeah, we do have a dismantling of toxic masculinity by the end. The alpha male hero of yesteryears realises he has to find a new way of being, of being articulate and humane to all creatures, of trying to be a better partner and father and man. While the guy who pretended to be sensitive for the chance to dip his wick retreats into fullblown misogyny. The film clearly wants us to follow Gay and reject Pilot but it doesn’t escape me that Pilot gets to voice all the things the worst men believe about women.

And the man who was never toxic to begin with gets what? The realisation that he can go back home again? That he doesn’t need to keep hurting himself to prove what? I don’t fucken know. I don’t understand the point of Perce other than to support Roslyn.

And sure, there is the very clear reading that the romantic myth of outsider outback heroes no longer works, that yeah, maybe even they will join the mundane corporate rat race, the drone workforce of “wages”. Do Miller and Huston want us to mourn that or accept it? I don’t fucken know and also I don’t fucken care. There are different ways of maintaining outsider status even within the cogs and machinery of capitalism, or at least that’s the comforting lie I tell myself with my “wages” and my bank account and my electronic bill payments.

I wish Thelma Ritter wasn’t so unceremoniously banished from the story. I wish she had been there with them in the desert, holding Marilyn and yelling at the stupid macho mens, and maybe having some lovely little talk with Perce around the campfire about his mother and going back home. What a waste of my beloved fellow Aquarian.

Those midpoint scenes are pretty startling though in terms of just how crowded the frame is with so many faces coming in and out, how the camera moves and swings. It’s remarkably effective chaos and all our main actors are in there, acting and reacting. I was so taken aback, impressed, and grudgingly thrilled. I may hate Huston with a murderous vengeful fury but I can’t deny the technical craft of the man and his crew.


Even if I will happily beat him half to death in a dark alley for all he did to my bae.

I wonder how it would have been if we had followed Perce home. It annoys me so much that the film just leaves him out there in the desert with the toxic fuck who will presumably fly him back to the nearest town. I’d much rather he get in the truck with Gay and Roslyn and they all go return him to his mother and have a nice meal cooked by the mens not the wimmins, and then the film ends on cosy domesticity under the stars.

But nooo, we get this nauseating saccharine scene of Classic Hollywood heteronormativity with the reformed alpha male agreeing to have a child with a woman who has to be at least twenty years younger than him. Just so we get the image of these two Classic Hollywood legends driving off into the literal stars. Ugh.

Clearly having Montgomery Clift in the truck with them would be too much queerness threatening that revolting happy ending for the straights.

Poor Perce. He deserved better. And so did Montgomery Clift the actor capable of so much more.

Monty Clift @ 100: 13/18: Freud – The Secret Passion (1962)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a night until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Tonight: Freud – The Secret Passion (1961)

It’s a curious experience to watch a biopic of Freud that was made in a era that obviously revered the man and his ideas from a distant point in time when his views have fallen out of favour and his methods regarded as exploitative but there is still the grudging acknowledgement of how much we owe to his influence, good or bad.

Nevertheless, I was puzzled for a good long while as to why this movie was thought necessary. I mean, weren’t all his ideas fully accepted by the time this was made? Surely there was nothing new or revelatory for Sixties audiences, all of whom would have been in psychoanalysis or at least those who could afford it.

Of course I was overthinking it, wasn’t I? There was no reason for this movie other than adulation. Unless there was some nuance of criticism that I missed. No, there was, wasn’t there? All the accusations of his own biases and neuroticism. But still all of that rang of small-minded contemporaries who didn’t appreciate this noble great man who deserved and would get his due glory. Or at least it seemed that way to me, the criticism subsumed in reverence.

And I loathe John Huston too much to bother looking up what he might have said or intended. (death to the auteur) Between the (now dubious) Bosworth bio and the Clift-Demmon doco, I feel fully justified in my unflinching hatred of that queerphobic bullying fucker. You can’t hear the utter anguish in Montgomery’s voice talking about the lawsuit and the shit Huston etc put him through to not hate the fucker.

I will cut him.

That said, I realise I was pretty lucky to get the chance to see this on the big screen a few years ago. Even if I had to cross the bridge to the dark side. I don’t remember anything of the experience except feeling overwhelmed gazing up at that beautiful beloved face so big and detailed on the screen in a proper classic cinema.

But my god, it’s a tedious fucken film. Susannah York is mostly awful. I adored Susan Kohner but the dialogue was horribly self-conscious. I was utterly delighted to discover Eric Portman was in it — how did I not realise the first time around? — and then was a lil startled at his vocal delivery and hamminess until I realised he was the same in The 49th Parallel but there it worked for the character. Here it was a bit much even for such a pompous character. But I still love him.

The film itself is so embarrassing on so many levels. Not just all the psychoanalytic content with which I’m quite familiar from all my litcrit but the cringe of just how hackneyed it all sounds from this point in time.

At the end of the semester, a few of us in my Critical Reading class asked our tutor why there had been no psychoanalytic criticism on the course. I’ll never forget his answer. This utterly lovely clever man whom I adored for his openness and enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge looked very troubled and said with his typical seriousness, “I don’t like it. I think it’s very dangerous, actually.”

That might have been the first time I realised that all the psychoanalysis I had devoured nearly fifteen years ago during my undergrad which had been written some twenty years before was now quite out of favour. It really shook me. And yeah, after a whole semester of differing critical approaches and re-examining my own assumptions and framework of reference week to week, I totally saw what he meant about dangerous.

Through the first fifteen minutes of this, I kept thinking “Matthew would so not like this movie. Matthew would deeply disapprove.” And when Freud started talking in terms of such hidebound gender binary and heterofuckingnormativity I was instantly furious and then started to cringe on behalf of that beautiful bisexual man onscreen. I wanted so badly to be able to stop the film and demand, “Babe, do you believe any of that? Really real? Do you?”

Biographical fallacy. Piss on that noise.

For most of the film, I thought it was a thankless fucken role, that Montgomery wasn’t allowed to do much more than widen those clear eyes to reflect the light and listen to the other characters. There was only one scene of humour, a little tenderness. All the depth was cerebral or the trappings and suits of trauma instead of actual heart.

But then he got to do that big speech and my god, the quiet power and all the emotions flickering across his face and through his voice had me riveted. Even though I hated and rejected every word coming out of his mouth, I wanted to laugh and cheer at the glorious irony of his closing lines. God, I was so glad my darling got to work that scene for all it was worth, playing it to perfection.

Some clever bits of cinematography. All the textures and prints surprised me initially until I realised it was deliberately Jewish, right? I particularly loved the use of lamps and their light even if the shadows and darkness were a little too heavy for my liking, too fucken on the nose with the oppression and repression okay. The dream sequences which I now remember delighted me in the cinema here made my eyes roll a bit, especially in terms of the racial imagery. An Arab boy and an Egyptian woman? O rly?

Still I got rather a thrill out of watching Montgomery handle that pretty little snake. Shut up, sometimes a snake is just a snake.

I wonder what a Jung biopic would be like, if there is one or several.

I will still cut Huston.

Monty Clift @ 100: 12/18: The Defector (1966)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a night until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Tonight: The Defector (1966)

Lord, that was dreadful. And interminable. Though I suppose I didn’t mind the interminable so much cos the longer the movie went, the more I still had of Montgomery Clift In Colouuuurrrrrrr.

And not souped up unreal nostalgic unrestored Technicolor with specks but surprisingly pristine naturalistic cool-toned Sixties colour. For that, I’ll ignore the horrific dubbing, tolerate the terrible dialogue, endure the Cold War plot that bores me to DEATH.

I’ll suffer all of that to see the grey green colour of Montgomery Clift’s eyes with that yellow starburst around the pupil. The paleness of his skin, all those lovely creases and lines of his face that I can tell myself for the duration of the film are simply the ravages of age and a lot of hard drinking, never mind what they say, you’re still beautiful, baby.

It was much more difficult to ignore the fluctuations in his voice but also I reckon that’s because this was my first all the way through viewing. I bet it’ll matter less and less on subsequent watches.

Bower’s such a clever character, though. That was quite a pleasant surprise and delighted me quite a lot in the first half of the film when Montgomery was evading direct questions and surveillance with that ironic cool amusement. For about half a minute, I entertained the thought of him being super cool and glam in a proper gritty glitzy spy movie like say, ha, Atomic Blonde.

But nope, we’re going for the complete opposite here. I wish Roddy McDowall had like twenty times more screentime than the three scenes he got. Give me a buddy spy movie with the two of them schmoozing and seducing their way through Europe or wherever.

I greatly enjoyed the navy blazer in the first half of the film and the black turtleneck in the second half, even if it did emphasise how painfully thin he was. I mean, I know he was skinny as hell in The Search but suddenly I was flashing back to the buffness of From Here To Eternity and wanting to cry for about a second before I mentally slapped myself out of it and focused back on what he was actually doing onscreen.

As too the unshavenness and so much ruffled hair with that rather hot hint of silver. He would have totally gone silverfox, wouldn’t he? Eventually.

The last act featured so much more physical action than I expected, enough that I was slightly alarmed for his safety and rather impressed too. And to my surprise, that final reveal before the denouement blew my mind enough to realise I had been paying attention after all. Ha. Not entirely sure what to make of the final scene, whether it was state-sanctioned execution or a sort of suicide or actual ironic accident. But also I don’t care. And honestly, I was just relieved that it wasn’t Bower.

How weirdly wonderful that a Montgomery Clift character survives his last film.

Monty Clift @ 100: 11/18: A Place In The Sun (1951)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a night until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Tonight: A Place In The Sun (1951)

You know when you start a movie determined to not get sucked into its emotions because you’d like to maintain some distance for once and you’re doing pretty well for most of it but then the last ten minutes punch you right in the throat and you spend the last five minutes choked up, heartsore and teary-eyed, thinking you’re a damned fool for ever thinking you could maintain distance?


I spent most of this trying to work out what the actual American tragedy of the story was. Social climbing? The divide between the haves and have-nots? The need for contraception and non-judgemental access to abortion services? The terrible moral cowardice of young people whose brains are still developing? Sex? Is it sex? It’s sex, isn’t it?

But no, it really comes home in the final act and my god, it is unbelievably cruel. I felt it like a blow to the chest, like I was watching the movie for the first time. The American tragedy is asinine juries convicting you for what they think you did and not actually admissible proof of what you did. Actus reus rather than mens rea. 

I wonder if the monumental unfairness of that would work if it were any actor other than Montgomery. (Probably Robert Walker in his pretty boy phase. Or Henry Fonda my second bae.) We the audience need to be fully convinced that George is telling the truth even though the film has spent a damned long time setting up his motivation and then neatly denying us the actual moment of death. That way, the verdict lands with the most power.

In a lot of ways, Montgomery plays so much younger here than he did in say The Search. He plays George with such initial awkwardness I was flashing forward to bloody Jimmy Dean in the red windbreaker, seeing all the same mannerisms and posture, hearing the same mumble and blurting speech rhythms, the same mix of painful selfconsciousness and mischief. Even his voice seems younger. And you know, I don’t think I would have realised if I hadn’t watched ten movies of his immediately preceding this.

Seeing all three as very young adults puts the film in a very different context, their naivete and ignorance of what to do, who to ask for help. I kept thinking “Why don’t you just tell Uncle Charles? He’ll pay Alice to be quiet, set her up with a monthly allowance for herself and the kid, and you can go and marry Angela and everything will be fine. This is a problem rich people can solve, you bloody ninny!”

But see, then it wouldn’t be a tragedy. It would be real life. 

And not to sound prurient but George’s ultra-religious ultra-sheltered childhood made me suddenly wonder if he was still a virgin when he hooked up with Alice. Was that why he fixated so quick on her? Sure he was lonely and desperately seeking some connection since he was denied entry into the Eastman social circle. But also, now he’s freed from his mother’s stifling influence, a young redblooded guy ready to have some fun and indulge himself, to experience the world. Surely that’s why he looked so stricken at the lil choir. Maybe that’s why he needed to be told exactly why she was so upset and what “in trouble” meant. Like, mate, what did you think it freaking meant?

Faintly annoys me that the film is very careful to make it clear that he never sleeps with Angela. Especially since they’re making out in almost every scene and those early scenes are so hellishly erotic. But I suppose that would have been impossible for that era. Brave enough that Liz was doing her first adult role, the studio certainly couldn’t let it be thought that she’s shagging onscreen. No, not even with the most beautiful man since Buster Keaton. 

And the whore/maiden divide must be preserved. Even if the maiden makes all the moves and picks the man up in her car. Ngl, I love her for that. 

I got slightly fixated myself on George’s leather jacket. Aside from its great straight cut design and lovely collar. In that iconic turn to the camera, he’s suddenly such a modern male figure, so thrilling that it’s frankly a disappointment when he changes into tweeds. Also, I hate tweeds. But the leather jacket isn’t just modern and cool to my 2020s sensibility, right? It’s a marker of social class, especially when paired with that white tee hallo. 

Gradually I started to notice the leather jacket tended to appear when he was with Alice the working class girl. But then oh my god, once everything implodes and his other life spills into his place in the sun life, the leather jacket comes with it. Oof the symbolism in this film.

As if that thrice repeated device of the radio isn’t enough, it’s so fucken clever it makes me so happy. The symbolism is unabashedly direct and relentless and I love it. The jacket and the police siren when he’s on the phone to Alice and the Ophelia painting and so many white dresses for Angela the dream girl. 

I have to admit at one point I wondered whether George Eastman was in fact a manic pixie dream boy. But nah, he’s not that up. He really is the blue boy Angela calls him, our iconic angsty young man, all tormented and pretty, Byron the cliche rather than Byron the incestuous ironic idk. Teenage me would be all over that blue boy. Adult me wants him to grow a spine and work out a financial arrangement if not shared custody, christ. 

But oh god, I do love that final revelation of “Then, George, there was murder in your heart.” Because yessss, we would. I would. For Liz or Montgomery. Well, maybe not Liz since I lived through more of her shenanigans. But defs the bae. The film has me totally understanding that yearning, that soul connection, god I love it so much.

Monty Clift @ 100: 10/18: Raintree County (1957)

So to celebrate the 100th birthday of Montgomery Clift — the bae of baes — as part of Monty Clift @ 100, I’m going to watch a movie a day until his birthday on 17 October. Because I loves him and why not.

Today: Raintree County (1957)

God, I love this movie. It’s a filthy tawdry love that is faintly bored at the beginning and at certain points in the final act but my god, when the marriage kicks in and we start to realise the Gothic depths of Susanna along with poor John, then I’m practically wreathed in glee. Then I’m in my fucken element and all the hair-raising stuff about race and miscegenation and childhood trauma and pregnancy horror are like all my favourite awful themes. And it’s Liz and Montgomery dealing with all of that onscreen!

The only thing that could make it better is if they were all English or something idk.

Otherwise, yeah, I’m faintly bored at the start with the stupid love triangle and macho shenanigans. Also, Flash’s death scene towards the end takes too fucken long, man. I don’t care enough about him to appreciate that time spent away from Montgomery and the kid.

I do wish the parents were in it more, actually living in the house with them so we can see Agnes actually grappling with Liz in her psychosis instead of delicately hinting at it outside the mansion.

But I adore how John changes through the film and how beautifully Montgomery plays that evolution from hopeful youth to battered but upright family man. This time around I was really appreciating how the hair and wardrobe augmented that evolution — how the colours of his clothes change, when they match Eva Marie Saint’s gown in that particular scene to signal endgame, the glorious beard, the tache that still baffles me by being actually attractive.

And those lovely glasses that make me melt with nerdy lust. Literally everything about that moment of him poring over student papers in his white shirt and suspenders, flicking a pen in one hand, the lamplight catching the gold rims of his glasses. Yes, please god, send me one of those.

The whimper killed me. I was so focused on his broken body language which I remembered from my first watch that I was wholly unprepared for that small broken anguished sound. Totally sprang tears to my eyes.

Even though Susanna was the interloper, even though she totally lied to trap him into marriage — a move which would have had me on the first train outta there — John really loved her. That amazes me every time. He could have abandoned her at so many points, and in that era would be fully justified — looking at you, Thackeray — but he stands by her and supports her and sticks to his vows. Montgomery sells that so well, that John really does want to make a go of the marriage even after seeing his wife in a mental asylum. For the simple reason that he loves her. And because he loves her, I want her to be okay.

Yeah, it didn’t escape me this is the second time in a Liz/Montgomery film that she spends time in a psychiatric institution. But it’s a nice reversal that this time he survives the movie and is given the promise of a happy ever after while she’s the one to exit with a sort of grace.

God, I love that. It breaks my heart but I love her decision. For once, she puts him ahead of her own interests. She sees that in order for him to fully live up to his potential, she needs to get out of his way, that she is the only thing holding him back from both success and love. How can I not respond to that? It’s so gloriously empowering in the most fucked up way and I love it.

It’s still a bloody slog of a movie and I’m surprised when I find myself fully engaged and delighting in parts of the story. But how funny, I didn’t realise that it was directed by Edward Dmytryk too. Did I read somewhere that that was deliberate? Because the accident happened during this filmshoot, they committed to making the next film together? I may have made that up, I’m not sure.

And yes, it does fucken piss me off that pop culture interest in this movie centres entirely on the ruination of Montgomery’s beauty. I hate that for the first quarter I find myself scrutinising every scene for changes and sometimes even differing shots within the one scene. But then the story pulls me in and by that beautiful so emotional exhausted ending, I’ve forgotten that he ever looked anything different.

Having said that, I did find myself looking at Liz at one point and remembering that she quite literally saved his life and it would have happened a relatively short time before they filmed that particular scene.

This time I noticed three similarities to A Place In The Sun that had to be deliberate: him laying his head in her lap, her in that white gown, and her saying “Is there someone watching us?” Those couldn’t be coincidental, they had to be conscious decisions to reward the fans who come to see the same gorgeous couple they loved in that story.

I still can’t believe we got a Montgomery Clift film in Technicolor even if it is long overdue for a restoration and a blu-ray release. The lighting is so beautiful in the bedroom scenes, that soft golden glow, the colours all the way through so rich and dense. I need all that in crystal high definition, plskthnx.