Monday, 23 May 2011

Encore’s Birthday Marathon: Day 6

It's all about Cukor today in another string of random vignettes of movie memories coming from yours truly as I count down the days to my birthday.
The placement is all random, really, but I can’t have a movie blogging marathon without paying some sort of tribute to the brilliance that is George Cukor. I happened to re-watch The Philadelphia Story this past weekend. Truth be told, I’ve probably rewatched that one more times than I needed to – it’s a great option for relieving stress and it’s that same lightness in tone which George Cukor is usually remembered for. That’s a disservice to Cukor right there, though, by fêting this lone title of his eschewing all the other great work that he’s done.
I am vicariously offended, on his Cukor’s behalf, because he does not have as estimable a reputation as most of his peers. I’ll admit that in terms of being prolific William Wyler is probably at the zenith of pre-60 directors but when it comes to actually quality I’m firmly in the camp of Cukor and Kazan. Kazan gets shafted because of that “naming of names” scandal and Cukor gets shafted because he’s a woman’s director. The thing is, I’m still not sure what precisely comprises a woman’s director. I immediately recall that revelatory post Jose did after the Academy awards’ where he pointed out one of Oscar’s more disturbing trends and I suppose a “woman’s” director is one who focuses on women’s issues. If that’s what constitutes the term, there’s no shame in such a director but it seems silly to relegate Cukor’s work to just that, still. I’d be more inclined to call him a director who focuses on societal issues, not women specifically.
In terms of superficial longevity most probably remember Cukor for My Fair Lady. Incidentally, as big a fan of Cukor as I am I’m not especially fond of My Fair Lady (admittedly, I’m biased against Rex Harrison as it is). Even if I didn’t have that bias, I’m sure I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d call it Cukor’s apex. Of course, that’s just the typical Oscar fashion where the best and the rewarded are not always immediately reconcilable.

My first immediate interest in Cukor was, of course, instigated by Katharine Hepburn. She devotes a number of pages to him in her biography and together they’ve done some brilliant pieces. For me the trio of The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rub and Little Women is most prominent. It took me some time to warm up to Holiday (I’m not a fan of Barrie’s play) but those three are the height of that comedic cadence he does so well, which is buoyed by an interest in more serious issues. Still, Cukor’s talent isn’t even consigned that trinity. Just watch how he moves from breakneck pace hilarity with Tracy Lords and C. K. Dexter Haven to claustrophobic tension with Gregory Anton and Paula Alquist. There are some scenes in Gaslight that might even recall some of Hitchcock’s work. It’s an obtrusively far cry from the lighter fare that immediately comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Then, measure that against the poignant melodrama of A Star is Born or the tenacity (occasionally mired by confusion in Wild is the Wind). The man is diverse.

And yet, so many have supreme tunnel vision when it comes to him. If there’s any one thing which Cukor maintains as he switches from genre to genre it’s that delightful bit of irreverence with which he marks his films. That’s probably the reason why Sylvia Scarlett seems so bathetic. It’s arbitrarily rewarding, but its strangeness is probably a bit too garish for the fainthearted. Still, I love Cukor – on his good days and his bad days, he always has something to say.
What I’ve Seen of Him
Adam's Rib A/A-
A Bill of Divorcement B
Born Yesterday B+
Holiday B+
Gaslight A-
Pat & Mike B/B+
The Philadelphia Story A
A Star is Born A-
Sylvia Scarlett B
My Fair Lady B/B+
What Price Hollywood? B
Wild is the Wind B
The Women B+
Is there any love lost between you and Cukor?


TomS said...

I loved Cukor's films. He was a reliable and competent director of actors, and knew how to tell a story. His films are incredibly diverse, but they seemed to get the label "women's pictures" for their reliance on emotion, rather than action.
If it is difficult to categorize a George Cukor film, the problem probably rests with the assignements he was given rather than his ability to put his "stamp" on a project. Maybe it is to his credit that he was never pigeon-hold into one genre.
I agree with you about "My Fair Lady", mainly because of its subject matter.
A nice post to your birthday lead-in!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tom his filmography is sure diverse. i wish he'd get some more love, though.