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My Week with Marilyn (2011) Review

15 03 2012

Copyright 2011 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ ★ ★

Another new release to DVD – we are on a roll burning through 2011 movies!  This one is a nostalgic look at an iconic world figure based on the supposed true events during and around the time of filming the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the son of wealthy art historian Lord Clark, wants to leave his upper class aristocratic lifestyle and “join the circus” that is the movies.  In an attempt to get his foot in the door, he moves to London and relentlessly pursues employment at the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions.  Impressed with his insistence, Sir Laurence (Kenneth Branagh), the noted actor and director, offers him a position as third assistant director on his next picture which will star American screen icon, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  Clark readily accepts, and is awe struck with his new found position.  Monroe, who has recently married playwright Arthur Miller, arrives in the United Kingdom for filming with her entourage, which includes acting coach Paula Strasburg (Zoe Wanamaker) and management David Orton (Robert Portal).  Once filming begins, the evidence of Marilyn’s many personal troubles are brought to light and her and Olivier clash regularly on set.  In an effort to calm the tension and keep an eye on the turbulent Monroe, Clark strikes a relationship that blossoms into a brief romance.  His time with the actress and experiences on set were documented in his memoir, of which the film was based.

Production-wise, the film is quite solid.  This is likely director Simon Curtis’s biggest achievement to date, being that much of his previous work was television or smaller films, and he handles the cast of experienced British and American stars quite well.  The cinematography by Ben Smithard, a new name to me, is gracefully shot and evokes the hues and tone of the era in which it recaptures during the late 1950s.  The use of hard back light and classic Hollywood lighting during the set sequences is very much true to form to the era, and it contrasts quite nicely to the mood enhanced lighting during the real life scenes of Monroe’s struggles.

For me, however, where this film truly shone was in the script by Adrian Hodges, that was intriguing and never dull, and the acting by the all-star cast.  Redmayne gave a good leading performance as Clark, but even still was over shadowed by the tremendous performances by Williams as Monroe and Branagh as Olivier.  I’ve always been a Branagh fan and he is a perfect choice to play Olivier, being that if you look at both their careers, his has very closely mirrored and taken cue from Olivier’s.  His brilliant Shakespearean work, various stints directing other genres and solid characterizations in other films like Woody Allen’s Celebrity make Branagh, in my opinion, one of the UK’s most well-rounded working actors.  For this performance, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but lost out to fellow Brit Christopher Plummer for Beginners, a film I have not yet seen.

Now, for the real shining star of the film, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.  Whereas, Monroe was iconically beautiful, Williams is cute in a waifish sort of way.  Upon seeing the trailer for this film, I really didn’t buy Williams as looking that much like Monroe.  However, once seeing it, her ability to re-create the voice, mannerisms and minute details of the Monroe persona sold the part so well that it was brilliant.  Williams, likewise, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, for Best Actress, but lost to Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady.  Williams, however, at just 30 years old, I’m sure has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

In short, this was a well made and very worthwhile film.  I would highly recommend it to audiences of any demographic.

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Frederica Sagor Maas 1900-2012

16 01 2012

Usually when someone is a super-centenarian (110+), that is their biggest claim to fame.  However, for Frederica Sagor Maas, she was also a trail blazing female screenwriter in early Hollywood.

Born on July 6, 1900, Frederica Sagor obtained a degree in journalism from Columbia University before taking a position as a story editor for Universal Pictures, and then as a screenwriter for Preferred Pictures in 1924.  Two of her most prominent titles were the Clara Bow and Garbo vehicles The Plastic Age and Flesh and the Devil.  Following solid work in the industry for several years, like many in the silent era, her workload declined in the 1930s.  Her last credit was for The Shocking Miss Pilgrim was in 1947.

She married fellow screenwriter, Ernest Maas, in 1927; the couple would remain married until his death in 1986 at the age of 94.  After many rejections of both her and her husband’s screenplays, coupled with the stock market crash of 1929, Maas and her husband became disillusioned and impoverished.  Eventually, however, she started a second career as a stenographer for an insurance agency, in time moving to the role of adjuster due to “adjusting” her age by 10 years on her resume.

Never one particularly fond of the movie industry or how it treated its employees, she wrote her tell all memoir “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” in 1999 at the age of 99.  Perhaps her greatest feeling of satisfaction was being able to tell her story and knowing that all those that did her wrong or whom she despised were in the ground.  In an interview with Salon in 1999, she said, “I can get my payback now. I’m alive and thriving and, well, you S.O.B.’s are all below.”

It is with some personal sadness to hear of Frederica’s passing last week at the age of 111.  In 2008, I contacted her about the possibility of doing an extensive on camera interview about her life and times in Hollywood.  I was contacted back by her niece, Phoebe, who told me that, though Frederica’s mind was sharp many days, that would be a taxing thing for her and that some days were better than others.  Being 108 at the time, that is not a shocker at all and I completely understood.  I further found out that famed film historian Kevin Brownlow had beat me to the chase so to speak by doing a series of interviews with Maas in 1999, though I don’t know that any of the footage has been released or used as of this time.  I’m sure Mr. Brownlow is waiting for the most opportune medium to present the footage.

Though we didn’t end up doing an interview, Frederica’s niece Phoebe was extremely kind and said there were several boxes full of correspondence and other items from Maas’s time in Hollywood that she would be happy to look through if any of the information was helpful for any of my writing efforts.  Furthermore, nearly a year later, Phoebe sent me a wonderful article from the San Diego Times regarding Frederica’s solidification as one of the oldest inhabitants of California.  I sent a gracious “thank you” note and Christmas card that year.  According to Phoebe, Frederica was ready for her time to come; after a certain age, it becomes difficult to go on when all your friends, family and loved ones are gone and it’s hard to do the things you once loved.  Though it’s always tough to see someone go, I’m sure Frederica is at peace now with her husband and other friends and family with an eternally youthful mind and body.  We are so lucky, as a film historian community, to have had someone with her knowledge so willing to share her experiences and stories of that early time in cinema’s history.








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