By Liz Smith, Tribune Media Services
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
"I WILL have to ask you to mind what you say. I am Isis. I am worshipped by millions who believe it."
So snapped Elizabeth Taylor to Rex Harrison in "Cleopatra," a movie that pretended to chronicle the life of Egypt's ancient queen, but was really "All About Liz."
"Cleopatra," directed in stately style by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is the film that all but bankrupted 20th Century Fox. (So hot was Fox to have Taylor, they mounted two productions of the film. After La Liz fell critically ill in London, they began all over again in Rome a year later and even sold part of the studio's back lot.)
The movie cost a then-astronomical $40 million. (About $400 million today!) It is always referred to as a "bomb," but in fact, the public flocked to "Cleopatra" making it one of the top grossers of 1963. It simply could never make back its cost. In time, after being sold to television, it inched into the black.
Now, a restored, pristine version of "Cleopatra" will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, partnering with one of Taylor's favorite jewelers, Bulgari. (Elizabeth's opulent Bulgari pieces will be on display at the reception following the screening.) Alas, the movie will probably never be fully restored. Mank shot at least six hours and wanted to break the film in two -- the first part centering on Cleo and Caesar, the second on Cleo and Antony (Richard Burton) But Darryl Zanuck had had enough, and cut the movie to 243 minutes, cutting it again during its road-show run. Elizabeth said: "They cut the heart out of the movie -- and so many of Richard's great scenes." It's possible the footage is still around, rotting in the Fox vaults, but unlikely at this point.
Still, it is fascinating to watch, because Mank was clearly writing his script to emulate the ups and downs of Elizabeth and Richard's romance -- doomed by too much passion, too much drink, egos and power plays. "I want to be free of you, of wanting you!" Richard/Antony announces at one point. And Liz/Cleo weeps, "What I feel I should have felt long ago when I was very young, to know what love is." It's romantic and tragic and shiver-inducing.
I'm USUALLY telling you about big Broadway shows, with major stars and (hopefully) long runs. But once in a while I like to promote something that seems special and is very "New York-ish." On Monday, May 20, for one night only, The Gingold Theatrical Group's Project Shaw presents George Bernard Shaw's once-shocking play, "Mrs. Warren's Profession."
It's about a genial brothel owner who becomes acquainted with her daughter, fresh from college. This one has it all -- sex, women's rights, religion, the relationships between parent and child. David Staller directs and the play stars Matt Doyle, Richard Easton, Harriet Harris, Amelia Pedlow, Tony Sheldon, Lenny Wolpe and Roma Torre. Call 212-352-3101 for tickets. Come on, get yourself some culture on a Monday night.
PLAYWRIGHT, author and activist Larry Kramer will receive The Isabelle Stevenson Award at this year's Tony Awards on Sunday, June 9.
Kramer has been one of the most controversial and remarkably persistent (and prescient) figures in the arts. His great play, "The Normal Heart" about the early days of the AIDS crisis, still rings true and breaks your heart. (The 2011 version of this wrenching work received a Tony for best revival of a play.) In the face of extreme criticism, he was one of the few who stood up to suggest that perhaps the gay community should begin to take some measures to save themselves from unprotected sex. (I can only imagine his thoughts and remarks these days as AIDS statistics rise again, and a new generation shrugs off the disease as something "manageable" with the proper "cocktail" of medication.)
Larry, he of the eternal farmer's overalls, will be the subject of a cable documentary. This coincides with "The Normal Heart" finally making its way to the screen next year. In the time honored manner of Hollywood, it will not come to the big screen, but rather HBO.
Look, HBO is as big as any studio these days. (The years-long saga of attempting to film "The Normal Heart" would make a movie in itself!)
Anyway, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, Mark Ruffalo and Joe Mantello are onboard, as well as my old pal, Alec Baldwin.
OUR LESS-THAN-POSITIVE review of Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" caused us to receive quite a bit of mail, with most people saying, "Thanks, Liz, I knew it wouldn't be good."
Well, as I mentioned several times in my "Gatsby" remarks, my opinion was only my opinion. Many might love it, as they did "Les Miserables" -- another movie with which I was less-than-enthralled. I'm no film critic. I write what I feel in the moment. I think people should make up their own minds and not take the word of anybody else. (Unless it's a slasher movie or "torture porn," I don't wish failure on any film, certainly not one as ambitious as "Gatsby.")
You know, a few years back, I went to see Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." I didn't care for it. But recently it has been on cable a great deal, and I've come to appreciate what Ms. Coppola was trying to do with her tale of the tragic Queen of France. I still have some issues with the movie, but I like it much more than I did when I first saw it. (Perhaps the lush old black-and-white version with Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power is still rattling around in my head.)
So, maybe in a few years, I'll understand what Mr. Luhrmann was up to with "Gatsby"? And if I do, I'll be the first to say so!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
Copyright © 2014, Tribune Media Services