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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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Cleopatra, part 1

26 May

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Ever since the beginning of the 20th century the story of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile has appealed to cinematographers and audiences alike. Her story of love, passion, ambition and drama had more than enough substance to successfully launch any film, and it became a proper vehicle for many stars more than a few times in cinema history. Even though today is generally known that Cleopatra was not really beautiful, she has been famous to us, the non-history buffs as a woman so beautiful that even the mighty Caesar fell for her. Even more so if we talk about the past: Cleopatra was a woman of passions always associated with sex; and why present a movie that is historically accurate but that does not agree with what the audience knows or believes? After all, they are the great majority that will drop their pennies for the movie, not the history-buffs. I am also sure that the movie producers were more interested in producing a good piece of entertainment rather than a documentary, having said that, it is worth mentioning that of all the Cleopatras filmed up to that time Taylor´s was the most accurate.

Many different facts came together at the exact point to make Taylor´s Cleopatra one of Hollywood most infamous and costliest films. It was to be the twilight of the old glorious Hollywood which was trying – desperately – not to die as it could not adapt itself to the social changes that were going on and that would boom in the 60s. The Star System would not survive Television and the change in public´s taste. Once the old Studio System broke down, Hollywood died.

Sadly, too much publicity has been given to the Taylor-Burton affair and that has overshadowed the film´s artistic achievements and its importance in shaping show-business ever since. Perhaps, Cleopatra has been analyzed too much from the wrong perspective. Perhaps, we should give it a chance.

Elizabeth Taylor was the greatest Studio System creation, and was precisely her the one who destroyed Hollywood; Elizabeth not only bit the hand that fed her, she ate it!

Taylor incarnated what today would be considered to be a cliché of what being a superstar is: beauty, wealth, love, sex, excesses, jewels, scandals, successes, failures, exposure, etc. Elizabeth possessed all of that, and in plenty. She defied the studio moguls and hated them, especially Louis B. Mayer and became a freelancer with such success that many other stars would follow her steps. But her rejection of the Studio System and what it meant, brought some troubles, like the lack of protection. In the “good old days” if a tragedy occurred, it was the studio Boss who would be there before the police, to clean up, re-arrange of bribe the police in order to cover up what could potentially damage their stars, who were bringing so much money in that it was worth keeping them safe and happy. They were the studio´s investments.

 Elizabeth´s single movie contract did not provide the protection she enjoyed some years before, and she would offer plenty of material to be photographed or written about. Stars´ lack of protection was very welcomed by freelance photographers, a new kind of aggressive photographer that would sell their material to the best buyer. The prices varied according to the current status of the star or the subject of the photo. They were called “Paparazzi” a word coined by director Fellini on his film “La dolce Vita”. They would expose celebrities to the hungry public (The feeding already started with the gossip magazines that appeared in the 50s) and showing just how real they actually were. This was a terrible blow to many glamorous stars that panicked at the mere idea of seeing unflattering pictures of themselves inundating the papers. (A good example would be Joan Crawford, whom after seeing some “terrible” shots of herself decided never to appear publicly again, because she “no longer looked like Joan Crawford”)

Cleopatra would offer as much entertainment on the screen as well as off and it would be the last attempt to show the magic and power of the Old Hollywood. To watch this movie is to witness a period in history that is no longer existent and which stumbled violently and died with a bittersweet swansong.

Elizabeth Taylor devoured the system that created her and The Silver Age of Hollywood would begin.