Saturday started out with a great movie, but one that was not a hit when released. His Girl Friday is a send-up of the newspaperman by making him, a her, Rosalind Russell. Read my review here.
After that, we headed to Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel to listen to Gillian Armstrong. This is the bio of provided by TCM:
Award-winning director Gillian Armstrong will discuss her prolific career in this one-hour conversation. Recognized for her breakout feature-length film My Brilliant Career (1979), Armstrong has since earned the title of being Australia’s most recognized female director. She began her career in the early 1970s directing shorts and documentaries before pivoting into feature length films. She continued directing documentaries and made a name for herself with titles like Starstruck (1982), Mrs. Soffel (1984), Little Women (1994) and Charlotte Gray (2001).
For reasons I don't understand, Armstrong's best movie, Last Days of Chez Nous (link to Netflix where it is available now) was left out of her bio. Chez Nous has a bevy of Australian actresses, Lisa Harrow, Kerry Fox, Mirando Otto and Kiri Paramore, plus the incredible Bruno Ganz.
Armstrong said that she didn't watch Aussi films while growing up because there were none. The market was dominated by English and American movies. Enter the Australian government. It poured in a ton of money to kickstart Australian-made movies and by the time the 1980s rolled around, they had succeeded.
Still, Armstrong's movie, My Brilliant Career had a rough road to final completion. At first, Armstrong resisted making the movie since many male directors with more experience were being considered, until her boyfriend at the time said something that changed her mind. He said about the protagonist that it is going to be difficult to find an actress to play the role because the character is always talking about how ugly she is. Armstrong said that was the moment she knew she had to direct it because men will never understand how most 14 y.o. girls think they are unattractive. Casting Judy Davis was also a near-miss. They had an actresses lined up to play the part, but the producers insisted on doing a filmed audition of her. Looking at that actress' audition on the big screen made Armstrong realize that the actress couldn't do it. Armstrong said that although it is a cliche, real stars of the silver screen do project a star power on the big screen, while others do not. They had to let the actress go; she didn't have it. As Armstrong said, 'The camera sees into your soul and the big screen magnifies it 100x.'
Regarding Little Women, she said that it was Winona Ryder who make that film possible by wanting to do it (at that time Ryder was very in demand and could have made any movie she wanted to make). Armstrong said that she found the corporations that control American movie-making are much more conservative than anything she had seen before. After the success of My Brilliant Career, she said that studios in Hollywood would send producers to pitch projects to her - they were always men. And the funny thing is, none of them could look her in the eye will talking to her; they were all embarrassed at having to pitch to a woman. When Little Women got the greenlight, the studio told her she had to fire her female production manager because they were uncomfortable with two women controlling the purse strings on a film. And there we have the sexual harassment that has nothing to do with casting couches, but was and is more prevalent and more difficult to fight.
After that, I spent the afternoon with Joe, Norma and Max - Sunset Boulevard. A still lovely at 90 y.o. Nancy Olsen introduced the movie. She was interviewed by Michael Feinstein who said that Olsen's first husband was the lyricist Alan Jay Lerner who was married eight times. Feinstein quipped that it was said of Lerner that getting married was his way of saying goodbye. Feinstein also showed us a song that was cut from the movie and sung by its writers, Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (you will see them listed in the cast credits although, in the final cut, they were in it for exactly five seconds when Joe comes in to the party at Artie Green's apartment). The song is a look at the studio system from the bottom and very funny, but they were right to cut it since it would slow down the narrative drive without adding anything.
At the end of SB, when Norma has gone mad and 'was enveloped in her dreams,' the power of the movies is evident. I have seen this movie a 100 times, but never felt the power of its closing until I sat there in a true movie palace, Grauman's Chinese, packed to the rafters with a 1000 people and watched a dream turn into a nightmare as Norma looks straight at all of us - take a look: