In the series of documentaries directed by Richard Schickel following classic film directors, this episode interviews the creative mind behind "My Fair Lady", "The Philadelphia Story", "...
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In the series of documentaries directed by Richard Schickel following classic film directors, this episode interviews the creative mind behind "My Fair Lady", "The Philadelphia Story", "Born Yesterday" among other classics. The great George Cukor reveals details about the production of several of his movies, the actors he directed and also shares his personal views about films.Written by
This biographic documentary about Hollywood director George Cukor is anything but a biography. That's too bad, because one expects such a film to give considerable background on the subject. Instead, this mostly is a collection of vignettes of Cukor's working with various big name stars on his most successful films. There is absolutely nothing about the man himself – his parents, birth, boyhood, family, personal life or other background. After all, aren't those some of the things – if not the crucial things, that shape a person?
After some film clips, this documentary opens with Cukor walking toward the camera in a garden. The sparsely used narrator, Sydney Pollack says, over this scene, "Cukor arrived in Hollywood the same time as the talkies." Period! That's it! We learn nothing of the background of the man, or how it would shape the character of George Cukor, who would go on to direct some of Hollywood's best actors and movies.
The setting with the director sitting and discussing actors and films resembles movie reviewers and similar programs when critics show such clips. Very little new is learned and the viewer gains no insights into the director's character and vision. Even in his description of the director's job, Cukor seems abstract or elusive. See how he describes the job of the director: "It's a very fine point about how to handle actors," he says. "By and large, you give the tone of the whole thing. You give the vitality. If a director sits down, everybody else sits down. That is among his other duties – to keep it going." These make nice little sound bites, but is there anyone who doesn't know this? By instinct, one knows that the director is the boss, in charge of the goings-on.
The one bit of information I found interesting was something Cukor said of Katherine Hepburn and her mother. "She is a great believer in women's rights. Her mother was. Her mother was a birth control friend of Margaret Sanger, and she was brought up in this absolutely liberal tradition." As far as I know, this 1973 documentary is the first mention of that background.
The narrator says that Cukor was fired early as director of "Gone With the Wind," and that the studio made many changes in his finished film of "A Star is Born." But, Cukor didn't make a row about these instances. The narrator sounds a note of sympathy for Cukor, that he just took these things in stride and went on with his life of film directing. But, considering the rumors and different versions of stories that still circulate about that time, one can imagine why Cukor wouldn't make a big fuss. He had a reputation for a sharp tongue, and was known to hold some of the best parties in Hollywood. Who knows what scandals and skeletons might come out of the closet if one were to protest too much?
It would have been nice to learn more about the man behind the name – halos, warts and all. Without that, this documentary is just a so- so look at one man's experiences with some movies and their stars. This 1973 documentary was made for TV. It now comes as a bonus on some DVDs.
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