A Vincente Minnelli season opens at BFI Southbank in London today and it is no small thing. When The Complete Vincente Minnelli ran at the BAMcinématek in New York last September, I opened a roundup and spent a month updating it (and followed up in December with another roundup on 1944's Meet Me in St Louis). With the BFI's season on through May 31, this one may be another marathon runner.
For now, the spotlight's on The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), which, as Michael Wood notes in his piece for the London Review of Books, will soon be playing in theaters throughout the UK:
The plot itself is too nifty by half, a sort of lesson in how to overdo the flashback. We see and hear three phone calls in the narrative present. A man called Jonathan Shields [Kirk Douglas] is trying to reach three Hollywood figures, a director (Barry Sullivan), an actress (Lana Turner) and a writer (Dick Powell), in that order. The first two refuse to take the call, the third takes it and tells Shields to drop dead….
We can if we like think especially of Selznick as the model for the producer here [Walter Pidgeon], and of Faulkner as the model for the writer. There are plenty of real-life candidates for the director role (there are also glances through other characters at Hitchcock and von Stroheim), and for the Lana Turner part there is, why not, Lana Turner. But this is not really a movie à clef, or rather the key doesn't have to do with persons, but with stereotypes. Minnelli and his writer Charles Schnee have carefully anticipated not what we might know about Hollywood filmmaking but what we may imagine Hollywood figures ought to be like. This is all very intelligent and knowing, but also a little chaotic, because our imaginations foster various different myths at the same time.
At the Arts Desk, Ronald Bergan surveys the oeuvre and, approaching the later years, writes:
Exactly 10 years after The Bad and the Beautiful, Minnelli made its companion piece, Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), an even more jaundiced look at Hollywood filmmaking. Shot at Cinecittà in Rome, it was influenced by La Dolce Vita (1960), and included a wild orgy scene. This was cut from the film, as were other sequences which the Production Code found "full of blatant adultery and casual fornication." The movie still remains one of his better late films, including as it does a scene in which Minnelli, with staggering chutzpah, pays homage to himself. The actor (Kirk Douglas) and director (Edward G Robinson) of the film-within-the-film watch a sequence from The Bad and the Beautiful, and comment on how great the film was and how they would never recapture such perfection.
Two Weeks in Another Town was admired by Jean-Luc Godard who made Contempt (1963), his own movie of filmmaking in Italy, a year later. It included a homage to one of Minnelli's best melodramas, where Michel Piccoli, wearing a stetson and smoking a cigar in the bath, says, "I'm just imitating Dean Martin in Some Came Running."