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BOOM! (1968)

20 Aug

 

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In the early 60s, Elizabeth Taylor achieved mega-stardom with the tumultuous production of “Cleopatra”, her record-breaking million dollar salary, a nearly fatal pneumonia and her scandalous, public affair with Richard Burton- with whom she would marry twice, the first time in 1964 and second time 10 years later after a brief divorce. Adding to her successful professional life was her even richer private life, which would be the subject of tabloids for decades to come.

After filming of Cleopatra was completed in 1963 (after almost 3 years!) the hottest new couple was literally thrown into their next vehicle, “The V.I.Ps”, in order to take advantage of the public affair that was shattering the puritanical morale of North America and Eurasia, but that was also selling tickets; “The V.I.Ps” broke box-office records in quite a few places, capitalizing on the “first modern love story of Taylor and Burton”.

For the next five years, the Burtons were to make films, either bad or good, that were pure gold. Audiences couldn’t get enough of them, and their pictures inundated the magazines and newspapers of every corner of the world. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were, without a shadow of doubt, the most celebrated, glamorous, tempestuous and famous couple of the 60s and perhaps of the 20th century.

Well known are the riots they caused wherever they went and the spell of fascination in which they held the world (especially Elizabeth) for years; but something happened after the incredible success of “Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966. The year 1967, in which Elizabeth Taylor got her second and well deserved Oscar for her interpretation of the alcoholic and sadistic Martha in Edward Albee´s “Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” marked the pinnacle of her career, and from then on, everything went downhill (Only career wise. Elizabeth remained a legend till death)

During the second half of the sixties Elizabeth Taylor became a very serious actress, and under the tutelage of the gifted Burton, she managed to handle the Shakespearian “The taming of the Shrew” (1967), the grim “Reflections in a gold eye” (1967) and the extravagant Oxford production of “Doctor Faustus” (1968). Each of these films did fairly well or just well at the box-office, but that was about to end…

Tennessee Williams play “The Milk train doesn’t stop here anymore” flopped in Broadway in 1963(closing after 69 performances) and a later attempt in 1964 to revive the play now starring Tallulah Bankhead flopped even worse (closing after only 4 performances), did not discourage Taylor to use it as a base for her next vehicle, and thought that the combination Taylor-Williams was a sure win. After such classics like “Cat on a hot tin roof” (1958) and “Suddenly, last summer” (1959) no one doubted about it. Richard Burton didn’t. Noel Coward neither.

"Boom" of Joseph Losey In United States In 1968-

The Play tells the story of Flora “Sissy” Goforth; and extravagant and ill millionaires who outlived 6 husbands and receives as a visitor the mysterious and young poet Chris Flanders, whom was known to visit people just when they were about to die. Flanders was nicknamed “Angelo de la morte” or The Angel of death, because of his particular talent to perceive, to smell death.

Even though terribly miscast, both Taylor and Burton decided to film an adapted version of the play and renamed it Boom! like the onomatopoeic boom of the waves against the shore. Joseph Losey was to direct and Elizabeth got her usual million per picture.

The movie was to be filmed in Sardinia, in an impossibly beautiful Mediterranean Mansion on an island, and the campiest film ever made by Elizabeth Taylor started.

Everything in the picture is over the top and excessive, almost a joke. Taylor was to play a middle aged hypochondriac, but instead she was her beautiful and young self, wearing a mammoth diamond ring (the legendary “Mike Todd ice skating ring”) Mrs. Goforth is a millionaires and the excessive vulgarity with which she exhibits her money is extravagant and disturbing. She has 4 servants: A secretary, who takes the dictations of Sissy´s autobiography; an Indian servant, who speaks little English; an Italian maid, who speaks no English and a dwarf who is in charge of the security of Madame and the ferocious dogs that keep people away. She yells throughout the picture and coughs incessantly.

Richard Burton, then forty-something years old was to play the twenty-something years old poet who visits Mrs. Goforth and is attacked by the dogs. Chris Flanders, The Angel of Death, decides to stay as a guest and is given a samurai costume and a samurai sword to wear, just because. He sleeps in a bright pink room, with pink sheets and pink pillows.

Noel Coward plays “The Witch of Capri”, a role originally created for a woman. He is the bitchy guest, who comes for a fancy dinner and enlightens Sissy about the poet´s reputation as a human vulture.
Richard Burton mentioned that Elizabeth was very moody while filming, because she was remembering Mike Todd and the plane crash. He felt that there was a distance between them during the filming.

All the characters in the movie seem to be disturbed in some way, and the atmosphere of the movie is almost surreal. Mrs. Goforth passes the time swearing at her servants and dictating. Flanders is just there. The Witch of Capri is also there, howling every once in a while. The movie in general is bad. Nothing really happens. The film boomed at the box-office and was the first commercial disaster of the Burtons. Both Elizabeth and Richard were slaughtered by the critics and they didn’t know that it was just the beginning of a row of flops that was to end their careers. (Of course they kept on working for years after this, but they were not the box-office draws that they used to be. The public was getting tired of the Battling Burtons)

Even though the movie stopped the Midas Touch of Elizabeth and Richard, it has become a cult classic that is appreciated by its extravagance and weirdness, and is also a gay favorite. Elizabeth Taylor is at one of her most beautiful appearances and the scenes are beautifully made. The scene in which Flanders and Goforth kiss, and behind them the sunset spreading sheds of orange over the Mediterranean Sea…. Perfection!

Elizabeth Taylor wears magnificent outfits, one of them the most extravagant Kabuki costume ever designed and besides modeling in the film; she also manages to get a solid performance as Flora Goforth.

To finish, it is worth to mention that even though this movie isn’t precisely great, it is visually stunning and its highly stylized decoration might appeal to more than a few nowadays.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at their campiest! BOOM!

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