Katharine Hepburn dies
June 29, 2003 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Katharine Hepburn dies
posted by feelinglistless (50 comments total)
 
She was an actress who just always seemed to be around even though you could only remember a couple of her performances. She will be missed.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:23 PM on June 29, 2003


...
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2003


Oh, no.
posted by Prospero at 4:28 PM on June 29, 2003


Very sad news. She was one of my favourite actresses. African Queen is one of my top ten films of all time.
posted by cbrody at 4:33 PM on June 29, 2003


I think this leaves Bob Hope as the last member of Hollywood's golden era who's still alive, doesn't it?

Him and Reagan, anyway.

I don't know who else is left.
posted by Tin Man at 4:36 PM on June 29, 2003


Thank you, Katharine Hepburn. "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."
posted by moonbird at 4:38 PM on June 29, 2003


Another of my childhood heroes (or heroine I suppose) gone, which has me thinking about my own age (mortality). I'm with cbrody, African Queen was awesome.
posted by Orb at 4:44 PM on June 29, 2003


She lived a long time.
posted by troutfishing at 4:59 PM on June 29, 2003


it's appalling that there's critics/media people out there who want us to remember her as a doddering old lady, like in the dreadful On Golden Pond, or even worse as the lead in bad (plus racist) movies like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

unless you think that the 1998 Rolling Stones are the best Stones ever, well, the _real_ Hepburn is the fantastic actress of very old gems like

Bringing Up Baby

Woman of the Year

Philadelphia Story
(where her character's name is Tracy Lords, 'nuff said)

Adam's Rib

I'm not interested in any Lion in Winter, Suddendly Last Summer Oscar stuff. with the possible exception of Long Day's Journey Into Night (not that hard, when the screenwriter is called Eugene O'Neill) the middle-aged/senior Hepburn never got the kind of legendary material she got in the Forties

and we need to be sincere, Spencer Tracy was so amazing that he managed to blow her away every time they acted together (State of the Union, anybody?

The African Queen really ruined her career -- she became the Queen of Prissy Wasp Ladies of a Certain Age, a real disgrace for an actress as ballsy and fearless as she once was
posted by matteo at 5:08 PM on June 29, 2003


I loved her in Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, and Adam's Rib. She's amazing!

RIP Katharine.
posted by riffola at 5:30 PM on June 29, 2003


why is Guess Who's Coming To Dinner racist? Wasn't the whole point of it to address racism?

and, is Katharine instead of Katherine a regular alt. spelling for the name?
posted by mdn at 5:36 PM on June 29, 2003


Gee, I had the opposite view of Hepburn and Tracy but then again my favorite film with them is Desk Set.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:36 PM on June 29, 2003


want us to remember her as a doddering old lady
dreadful On Golden Pond
bad (plus racist) movies like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
ruined her career -- she became the Queen of Prissy Wasp Ladies of a Certain Age


wow. what a collection of crapola! as to the first two: tellya what matteo - people age. and that ain't necessarily a bad thing. and this vigorous, passionate ACTRESS continued to practice her profession across every phase of her own development. yes, i said development. as to the third, well, i remain mystified as to your depiction of this movie as racist. it was damn courageous for its time. as to the last, she played a part, she did not "become" anything. perhaps you felt that her PART was that of a "prissy wasp lady of certain age" and i wouldn't bother to disagree, but your belief that by playing the part she somehow became one in either her own life or in the perception of her audience leads me to think you should perhaps be staying out of movie theaters until the line between screen and reality unblurs a little for you!
posted by quonsar at 5:52 PM on June 29, 2003


mdn
yes, it was the whole point, too bad that since the producers couldn't actually shock -- shock! -- their maybe-not-so-progressive audiences with the depiction of a somewhat realistic, human Negro, they had to dream up this strange creature who's got a college degree and a bright future and perfect manners and is totally, Greek-god handsome, and witty, and generous and sweet to children and small animals, as humane as Dr Schweitzer and as well-spoken as Socrates. this dream creature, by the way, has got this melanin problem and is actually Black.

the point being, not even fucking Archie Bunker could possibly be against this god, this perfect man marrying his (pretty lame) daughter. (inevitable sexual aside: the man is actually against fucking before marriage).
they managed to write the most perfect character ever, they cast one of the world's most handsome men at the time, Jesus, not even a klukker could be against that marriage.

what about inviting to dinner a realistic human being? maybe not a Chris Rock sarcastic little street-wise bastard, but come on...

so everybody feels good: the studio, the producers, the director, everybody so happy -- "we're so damn progressive, we're enlightened liberals, we had the white girl marry the Black man". yeah, right

question: what's paved with good intentions?

by the way, Julie Burchill wrote that
"When I read recently that the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming To Dinner was to be remade, "with a twist", I knew at once what it was going to be. "Oh nooo," I moaned to myself, "it's going to be a black family this time, and their daughter's going to bring home a white man!"

How did I figure that, you might wonder. Why didn't I think that the twist might be the young black son of a middle-class family bringing home a white girl, say? Well, for one very simple and extremely unwholesome reason: that currently in Cinemaland, white men are allowed to have sex with black women until the sacred cows come home, but white women certainly aren't allowed to have sex with black men - or even to indicate, by thought, word or deed, that they find them attractive. This isn't a unique situation - it's happened before. During slavery.

Think about it. Look at Halle Berry: when was the last time she had sex with a black man for the benefit of the paying public, despite having been married to two of them and never, so far as I know, been romantically linked to a white man in her (real) life? She just doesn't. She's there to show her breasts to John Travolta in Swordfish, her butt to Billy Bob Thornton (as the racist prison guard in Monster's Ball who killed her black husband, no less)..."


http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4454364,00.html

posted by matteo at 5:54 PM on June 29, 2003


Wow, KJS -- you're the only other person I've met who's even heard of "Desk Set." It's my favorite Hepburn/Tracy movie by far. I think I'll watch it tonight, even though I usually save it for Christmastime. (I was lucky enough to find a Chinese all-region DVD a few years ago.)

oh, and welcome back, q!
posted by Vidiot at 5:58 PM on June 29, 2003


- or even to indicate, by thought, word or deed, that they find them attractive

And a few months after the article was printed came Far from Heaven.
posted by raysmj at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2003


quonsar,

I meant "she became" as a screen presence, of course, please. type-casting, you know? like certain actors being typecast as the bad guy after a very strong bad guy performance (The Shining destroyed Jack Nicholson's career turning him -- his screen PERSONA, quonsar -- into a sneering, malevolent, evil presence -- Witches of Eastwick, Batman, and all that shit came after The Shining, amazing movie by the way). African Queen was Hepburn's Shining -- a life sentence to play half-crazy, pissed off, prissy WASP ladies -- such uninteresting parts for an actress as great as she was

ps I could give a fuck what she "became", if anything, in real life, as I find actors supremely uninteresting when they're not on a set (or a stage). I was of course talking about her roles.

btw try to deny that not even Strom Thurmond, RIP, could possibly refuse his daughter to that super-human fiancé, do it if you can

also, welcome back, q

vidiot,
very funny movie. I think Phoebe Ephron was Nora's mom, by the way
posted by matteo at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2003


I think Phoebe Ephron was Nora's mom, by the way

That's correct, matteo: she was Nora's, Delia's, and Amy's mom, and Henry's wife. (IMDb page)
posted by Vidiot at 6:23 PM on June 29, 2003


And a few months after the article was printed came Far from Heaven.

yes -- where there actually is hold-my-hand schoolboyish Platonic attraction BUT absolutely no fucking going on between Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert aka the Big Black Guy -- well, no straight fucking inj the whole film, but her hubby's at least having lots of fun with his cute boyfriend (the director's delicious joke is actually that white woman / black man straight sex was -- still is? -- even more unthinkable than white/white gay sex)

too bad that Haynes (whose "Safe" is a masterpiece, by the way) was too busy with his Douglas Sirk-1950's design fetish to actually realize that once again he (and Hollywood) gave us the old stereotype of the saintly, asexual black man, the only melanin-impaired kind of man good enough to even imagine an impossible coupling with the creamy-skinned damsel in distress. Guess Who's Coming to Mow the Lawn all over again, indeed

when will Hollywood actually learn? did any of you guys see Spike Lee's Jungle Fever by the way?
posted by matteo at 6:23 PM on June 29, 2003


...
posted by gd779 at 6:39 PM on June 29, 2003


...

I thought Jungle Fever was good, even if not many others did.

But hey, this thread is getting derailed into a racism-in-the-movies discussion. We're supposed to be mourning one of Hollywood's greatest actresses!
posted by cbrody at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2003


matteo: That's a good joke, actually. Anyhow, the guy was really handsome and kind black man, with an unbelievably good soul and all, but he wasn't saintly - that would've required staying in Hartford, and yelling about the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name, etc. I nevertheless thought it obvious that Julianne's character wanted to do him. (Julia Stiles is in two movies that feature romantic attachments to black men, by the way - O, a vaguely ridiculous, basektball-intensive teen remake of Othello, and Save the Last Dance.

Meantime, my favorite weird role for Hepburn: The southern matriarch of the wacky, mega-gothic (albeit censored for Hollywood) Suddenly, Last Summer who is planning to force late son's favorite cousin to get a lobotomy.
posted by raysmj at 7:06 PM on June 29, 2003


Greatest. Actress. Ever. And the original (IMO) "pinup girl" -- she was gorgeous. Her pairings with Grant are so perfect. Tough gal, too - she really did live it "her" way. RIP, The Great Kate.
posted by davidmsc at 7:35 PM on June 29, 2003


so matteo, what is your analysis of the Ann Magnuson/Samuel L. Jackson relationship in The Caveman's Valentine?

obKate: She rocked! (And her very small bit in Love Affair is worth a look, if only for the language she used.)
posted by gluechunk at 7:39 PM on June 29, 2003


Tin Man, Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall are still with us (both are Jewish, incidentally). Last night I was reading Miss Bacall's mini biography at imdb and discovered that Shimon Peres is her first cousin (they share the same original last name: Perske). Who knew?

Shame about Katherine Hepburn. I remember watching an interview with her a few years ago, and the interviewer asked how she felt about posing for nude pictures as a young woman and whether she regretted it now. She shrugged and replied that there is no shame in posing nude provided you are young and beautiful at the time. She will be missed.
posted by Devils Slide at 7:53 PM on June 29, 2003


Hey, I've seen Desk Set, too. Loved the room-sized late 1950's computer (with technical assistance from IBM, no less) with the requisite flashing lights. LOL

My favs, in no order: The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib, The African Queen, Desk Set, The Lion in Winter. I need to see more of the ones with Spencer Tracy; I don't count them if I haven't seen them all.
posted by pmurray63 at 7:58 PM on June 29, 2003


You all can snipe all you want. Ms. Hepburn was - and is - an Original, and she remained one until, I've no doubt whatsoever, her final breath. She lasted longer, aged better, performed more beautifully and remained more resolutely firm in her own convictions than any of her contemporaries.

Years and years ago, I attended a rare talk she gave in Boston; I remained after, simply to see her close up as she was walking to her car and to tell her personally how much I had enjoyed her many performances. I thought her uncommonly kind and gracious and that brief meeting has remained a happy memory ever since. I am deeply saddened to hear that she's gone.
posted by JollyWanker at 8:20 PM on June 29, 2003


the point being, not even fucking Archie Bunker could possibly be against this god, this perfect man marrying his (pretty lame) daughter....Jesus, not even a klukker could be against that marriage.

But you miss the point - he has to be perfect in order for the conversation to be about purely and completely about race - both Mr. Bunker and a 'klukker' could and would be against the marriage, despite the character being (as you say) "this god".

The only way to talk about race in that film was to cast everything else aside - every other objection, every other trap, every other derailment - he has to be the perfect suitor, otherwise Tracy's character is (possibly) free to hide behind the other objections and still pretend to be the liberal free-thinker that he's been (or tried to be) all the prior years. In order for the film to work, race has to be the only objection.

And if Matt Drayton were to be Archie Bunker, the film would not have hit its intended mark. Remember, its 1967 - Johnson is President and America is full of midlife, wealthy liberals who act as though they believe that race is not an issue. Were Matt Drayton (Tracy's character) to be anything other than the paragon of RFK-liberalism that he is, it would be far too easy for the audience to sit back and say "well, I would never behave in that way - I'm not that man".

As the film stands, both Matt Drayton and the RFK-liberals in the audience must look closely at their own fears, hopes and beliefs. They must ask themselves a hard question about whether - all else being equal (or superior, in John Prentice's case) - the words they've said - "he's just a man like any other man" - whether that statement is really true, or if its is a lie in their hearts.

That's the reason Prentice is written as a paragon - he must be the 'perfect man' in order to clear the slate of any other issue except race.

The real question in the film, in my opinion, is why Joey becomes so passionate about Prentice in the first place - after all, they've only known each other a few days. Is it really love at first sight? Or something more twisted... Is Joey (raised in a liberal home as she was) only interested in the 'shock value' of the relationship? Is she trying to get her father's attention? Was she actually raised mostly by Tillie and therefore feel closer to black family culture than her own? Does she just see the whole thing as a big adventure - kind of her own personal peace-corps mission? Its an interesting question and one that is raised, but not answered, by the performances in the film.
posted by anastasiav at 9:00 PM on June 29, 2003


excellent post, anastasiav.

r.i.p. k.h.
posted by dobbs at 9:14 PM on June 29, 2003


Very sad. Desk Set also one of my faves ... I thought they (Hepburn/Tracy) really fizzed together in that one. I liked the human-computer time-and-motion angle too ...
posted by carter at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2003


"It's quite easy Norman... you just bend down, and pick the strawberries."

(Said in a reassuring, but very shaky voice.)

My best impression will no longer get a laugh at parties.
She will be missed.
posted by Fofer at 9:43 PM on June 29, 2003


and, is Katharine instead of Katherine a regular alt. spelling for the name?

As far as I know, Katharine with an "a" was the way her name has always been spelled. Don't know of any other "Katharines", though.

--Katherine
posted by kayjay at 9:55 PM on June 29, 2003


Her Eleanor of Aquitaine matching wits with Peter O'Toole's Henry II in The Lion in Winter is just simply one of the reasons I love movies. Ahh well, so it goes.
posted by Hildago at 10:34 PM on June 29, 2003


If you need a Hepburn fix you always have Kate Mulgrew as 'Kathryn Janeway' on the 1st season of Voyger - Yup. Kathryn Hepburn-Starship captain.

Or this CNN blub:

'Kathryn Janeway' plays Katharine Hepburn

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) -- Kate Mulgrew is going where no actress has gone before in the world premiere of a play about Katharine Hepburn at the Hartford Stage Company.

Mulgrew, who as Capt. Kathryn Janeway led a crew through the far reaches of the galaxy in the "Star Trek: Voyager" series for several years, stars in the one person biographical play "Tea at Five."
posted by rough ashlar at 12:19 AM on June 30, 2003


anastasiav --

that's great analysis. but your argument is so subtle and "meta" that -- in my opinion -- it ends up looking more like a rationalization than a realistic asessment of a Stanley Kramer movie (we're talking about the least subtle and most heavy-handed film director ever. a good heart, alright, but a terrible, terrible touch

gluechunk
I haven't seen Cavemen Valentine -- but I will, it sounds interesting (I liked Eve's Bayou a lot, Kasi Lemmons is cool). thanks for the suggestion. I was only suggesting that it's very rare to see a realistic depiction of white woman / black man relationship in Hollywood movies (not even Tarantino, the alleged KIng Of Cool, could manage to show us just a little kiss between Marsellus and Mia Wallace, a cool but very nonsexual married couple, the wonderful Ving Rhames even mentioned that in interviews -- plus, Marsellus ends up raped by two rednecks, what an unlucky character).
I mentioned Jungle Fever because it looks to me like an honest, problematic depiction of an interracial relationship. but there obviously _is_ a taboo in America about that sort of relationship (even in x-rated movies white woman / black man interracial sex is often seen as problematic by producers and possibly damaging to video and dvd sales in many conservative areas, I'm not kidding. not to mention many A-list porn actresses refusal to work with African American actors)

Blair Underwood in Soderbergh's Full Frontal has a good speech about African American actors never filming love scenes with white actresses in Hollywood movies. my idea? there's probably more than a few dozen moviegoers out there who would just be uncomfortable (or even groseed out) watching, say, Denzel Washington kiss Uma Thurman, not to mention having to watch a sex scene
posted by matteo at 12:48 AM on June 30, 2003


In her time one of the world's most beautiful women and a brilliant actor. The African Queen is still one of my very favourite films. She will be missed.
posted by prentiz at 6:11 AM on June 30, 2003


I didn't want to add to the derailment, but now that the conversation is continuing anyway, I'll just respond to this...

your argument is so subtle and "meta" that -- in my opinion -- it ends up looking more like a rationalization than a realistic asessment of a Stanley Kramer movie

what do you think is so subtle? It's blatantly about race. The point was that the people were racist; you can't call the movie racist for depicting racist people, can you? Maybe it's hard to imagine in the modern world, but racism inherently means that someone is judged unacceptable purely by virtue of his race - no matter what other traits he may possess.

Imagine the same scenario except with a son who brings home another man, whom he intends to marry. Maybe the liberal family has no problem with gay people, but maybe they still flip out when it's their own son, no matter how perfect the mate might be. I think it's culturally too late for that movie to be made now, but at the time Philadelphia came out (not The Philadelphia Story - gay tom hanks) it was on the mark.
posted by mdn at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2003


mdn: You're missing the point. Matteo's got his mind made up and doesn't want to be confused by the facts. (I've heard a lot of nonsense talked over the years, but this is the first time I've heard GWCTD called racist. Bland, yes; well-meaning pablum, yes; ineffectual, yes—I'm not agreeing with any of this, just quoting it, I haven't seen the movie since it came out—but calling it racist is too loony for anyplace but MetaFilter.)

Oh, and I met KH once (I didn't say anything, but my mother told her how she'd seen her onstage in The Philadelphia Story); she was an exceedingly gracious lady.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on June 30, 2003


.
posted by whatnot at 7:42 AM on June 30, 2003


that's great analysis Thank you. but your argument is so subtle and "meta" that -- in my opinion -- it ends up looking more like a rationalization than a realistic assessment of a Stanley Kramer movie (we're talking about the least subtle and most heavy-handed film director ever. a good heart, alright, but a terrible, terrible touch

Well, I have a soft spot for Kramer (he directed a version of Cyrano that I love), but I agree that he kind of lays it on thick at times.

I don't think that's incomparable with my words above, however. The film is clearly a melodrama, peopled (in the script at least) by cardboard cutout stereotypes - the liberal father, the perfect son-in-law, the maid who only wants Prentice to "know his place", the struggle between the postman-father and the doctor-son, the kindly priest. What elevates these stereotypes to real people is clearly the quality of the performances, not the quality of the direction (as an aside, I think it might be the kind of flat quality of Katharine Houghton's portrayal of Joey that gives rise to background motivation questions in her character that simply don't arise in the portrayals by the older, more experienced (and talented) cast. But I digress.)

You seem to want to make the central relationship of the film about the relationship between Joey and John Prentice, when that isn't the central relationship at all. There is no conflict between them and they actually get very little screen-time (although they are, of course, talked about a great deal). They simply exist as a catalyst to force the true central relationship of the film - that between Matt Drayton and Matt Drayton.

Its quite clear from the direction that the central theme is the conflict inside one man (Matt Drayton) between what he says he believes in and what he finds he actually believes in when those beliefs are put to the test. This is the same conflict that turns up again and again in Kramer films - High Noon, Inherit the Wind, his Death of a Salesman, Judgment at Nuremberg, etc. - and although the other conflicts in the film (that of Prentice and his father in particular) can serve to act as a kind of a distraction, deflecting attention away from the central conflict for a moment, the multiple scenes between Tracy and other actors which exist only to show the conflict inside him (the scene where he is upstairs and dressing in particular) fairly clearly (and, might I add, heavyhandedly) make that case. Also, Kramer himself said so - "'What a sorry sight to see a front-line liberal come face to face with all his principles right in his own house". It might be subtle, but its not meta - its the explicit, stated text and theme of the film.
posted by anastasiav at 8:15 AM on June 30, 2003


desk set holds a special place in my heart and in the heart of my boyfriend, a librarian who lives in obsolescence every day. kh was a damned special lady and will be missed.

obderailment: once you get past the sidney poitier tribute in far from heaven, it was really about the sense of community that different "oppressed" groups of people have. at the end of the day the husband could retreat to the small gay community (portrayed in the bar, etc) and the gardener could spend time with his family in philadelphia. on the other hand, cathy whitaker's friends abandoned her at the time of her greatest need. also, given that hollywood's portrayal of a realistic black man would be something closer to (say) cedric the entertainer, isn't having a poitier type preferable?
posted by pxe2000 at 8:20 AM on June 30, 2003


anastasiav
excellent comment, I see what you mean. thank you.
I probably can't just get beyond the "Kramer touch", that's all.

mdn
you can't call the movie racist for depicting racist people, can you?
the movie does not "depict" racist people, the movie looks racist to me because it's the most patronizing Hollywood movie ever -- a wolf in sheep's clothing. No wait, the winner is Mississippi Burning, of course (liked that too?)

languagehat
please, feel free to confuse me with the facts. (anastasiav took the time to make a good convincing argument, twice, but I understand that it's easier to just be smug)
you admit that you haven't seen the movie in 36 years.
but enlighten me, what are the _facts_? you don't think that the Poitier character is so perfect as to become non-human, an abstraction safe for white America's consumption? don't you think that Kramer did it on purpose, because it was the only way to smuggle a Negro in that nice white family's house? the movie came out, when, a few months before May 1968? Less than a year before? Looks like a 1930's movie to me.

but to each his own (how a Chris Marker fan like you can possibly be able to tolerate Kramer's brand of film-making is beyond my admittedly limited imagination)

GWCTD is tailormade for not-so-liberal 1960's Whites eager to pat themselves on the back for how _progressive_ they are for actually enduring the _idea_ of the presence of a black man in the house. it's not a relevant movie anymore. just like Driving Miss Daisy (they're both Oscar winners, though, unlike, say, Do The Right Thing). do you like Driving Miss Daisy too, lh?
posted by matteo at 8:28 AM on June 30, 2003


matteo, there was no need for me to lay out a long, laborious argument because anastasiaslav had done it—twice—and it made no impression on you. Or rather, you were impressed but had no intention of rethinking your position. Hence my comment. I get the impression you don't understand the word "racist"; it does not mean "patronizing." If GWCTD is racist, so is every movie ever made in the history of cinema. Frankly, you're coming across as someone who has far more interest in a theoretical position on racism than in the actual movie under discussion, concerning which anastasiaslav's argument is both simple and irrefutable. If you like, I'll capsulize it for you: to focus on the race issue, all others had to be removed. Hence "perfect" Poitier. If you genuinely think not even Strom Thurmond or Archie Bunker could refuse his daughter to the character, you're an idiot, and I'm pretty sure you're not an idiot, so it's clear to me your agenda has trumped your ability to be rational about this.

how a Chris Marker fan like you can possibly be able to tolerate Kramer's brand of film-making is beyond my admittedly limited imagination

I don't in fact think much of Kramer's brand of film-making, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like the movie if I saw it again, which is why I haven't seen it in 36 years. I saw it then because I had a movie-nut brother who dragged me to every big movie that came out; I don't even remember whether I liked it or not, but the opinions of a callow teenager (as I was then) are of no interest anyway.

Oh, and Safe was indeed a great movie.
posted by languagehat at 8:44 AM on June 30, 2003


The last of the greats has passed on. She was written off early in her career, told by zootsuits that she couldn't act, but, in the end, she proved everyone wrong. Her work speaks for itself. And if you can't appreciate the range and subtlety of Hepburn's performance in Lion in Winter, if you can't marvel at the chemistry she had with Spencer Tracy (yes, even in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), then, as far as I'm concerned, you're a cinematic illiterate.

As for Kramer, he knew how to direct actors (Tony Perkins in On the Beach, Tracy in Inherit the Wind, Jonathan Winters in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Monty Clift in Nuremburg), but his lack of subtlety made him the Joel Schumacher of his day. Why he continues to be hailed as one of the great 1950s Hollywood directors when his didacticism runs amuck like a anarchist let loose in a Central Park West apartment with a baseball bat is one of the great mysteries I'll never fathom.

The politically correct thing to do is to praise GWCtD as one of the great movies of the 1960s. But even during its release, the mainstream film was dated in its politics. To acknowledge it as dated, to accept its treacly formula of archetypes as the genuine article, is not a racist assumption. It is a honest assessment, one that should be made more frequently. Yes, there was some small achievement in casting a black man in a major Hollywood role. But compare GWCtD with a film seen by hordes of people one year later, that featured an African-American in the lead, but did so without acknowledging his race so blatantly or with such a shameful stereotype. Night of the Living Dead did more to pave the way for African-American cinema than the "yessah" roles eked out to the Sidney Poitiers, Paul Robesons and Hattie McDonalds. Hell, Oscar Micheaux was making real movies about African-American life independently in the 1930s!

I'll take Poitier in A Patch of Blue (1965), Raisin' in the Sun (1961) or Lillies of the Field (1963), rather than the "Look, he's a spook!" Poitier of GWCtD. And I'll take John Huston, Howard Hawks or Frank Capra directing Hepburn over Stanley Kramer.

anastasiav: Kramer produced the 1951 version of Death of a Salesman. Lazlo Benedek, responsible for The Wild One and a few solid episodes of The Outer Limits, directed. Are we to implicate Kramer with the films he produced as well? That would cut out High Noon, 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, The Caine Mutiny and The Sniper -- all of them very good films and with nary a treacly moment to boot.
posted by ed at 9:51 AM on June 30, 2003


Hey, guys ... knock it off, ok. Just because we disagree about the topic doesn't mean we have to fall to name calling. No one is an idiot here.

matteo is right - black audiences and critics alike have been critical of the film since virtually the day it was released for its portrayal of the "perfect black man". matteo is not far off the mainstream voice of criticism and analysis about this film (and many others like it), and the issue of the portrayal (or non portrayal) of interracial relationships in film - both historical film and contemporary film - is an important one.

matteo says "Looks like a 1930's movie to me" and I have to beg to disagree here - in a '30's studio movie (note the caveat), the closest relationship allowed was Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson. I think (hope) we can all agree that the relationship - the implied sexual relationship, current or future - between Joey and John Prentice is a far cry from the sterile (Temple/Robinson), specialty entertainer (i.e. Nicholas Brothers), or subservient (too many to list) that were rampant in the films of the '30's and '40's. Evolution and adoption of new ideas comes slowly - sure, there might be landmark moments where change breaks through, but it takes time to change ideas in peoples minds, and let us not forget that the middle-aged adults of the '60's were the children (and the product) of the mindset of the '30's and '40's ... on both sides. Note that the attitudes of Tillie (the maid) and Mr. Prentice are as much a product of the time and the cultural environment as the attitudes of Mr. Drayton and the audience are. I view the so-called "achievement" of the film not to be the casting of Poitier, who had, after all, already made a large number of mainstream films at this point ('67 was a banner year for him - In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, with Love in addition to Dinner) but rather the way that it talked about not just race but the dissonance between our outward attitudes and our inner feelings about race.

Along with my questions about Joey's motivations, the attitudes and feelings of Mr. and Mrs Prentice have always been of interest to me, and they're left almost totally unexplored. After all, any children of this relationship are going to be labeled as "black" (or "Negro", in the parlance of the day) - the attitudes and behavior of their black grandparents are going to be, in many ways, far more important to them than the attitudes and behaviors of their white grandparents.

What is a more interesting - and pertinent - question is the one matteo has raised a number of times, and that we've all dodged... namely the portrayals (or lack of portrayals) of interracial romance, relationship, or plain ol' down and dirty sex in modern film. I agree that its a disturbing trend, and I'm not quite sure where to lay the 'blame' - after all, if audiences accept Bond sleeping with Halle Berry, why would they not accept Halle Berry sleeping with a white man (if you get the fine distinction there).

BTW, matteo, you might be interested to know that many film classes teach GWCTD and Jungle Fever as a "set" - the two films do complement each other nicely - I wonder if Mr. Lee intended that to be the case?

On Preview - ed, I'm aware that Kramer produced Death (as well as High Noon) but I am of the opinion (and there is documentation to bear this out) that his fingerprints are on the film as strongly as if he had actually been in the chair. With Death in particular, its a story that fits his favored theme - that of the inner struggle of a single man. In this case, I do "implicate" Kramer for all the films he brought to the screen ... not because of the style of the direction, but rather because of the common theme shared by so many of the films in which Kramer had a hand in the making.
posted by anastasiav at 10:18 AM on June 30, 2003


BTW, lest anyone think I've no appriciation for Ms. Hepburn, let me point out that Dinner would not have been made if not for her.

Also, Dinner is not my favorite Hepburn film. That would be Lion in Winter, by far.
"Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183 and we're barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we're the origins of war. Not history's forces nor the times nor justice nor the lack of it nor causes nor religions nor ideas nor kinds of government nor any other thing! We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, lke syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love each other just a little? That's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children; we could change the world. -- Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter
posted by anastasiav at 10:29 AM on June 30, 2003


Wesley Snipes on interracial relationships in Hollywood movies:
While Snipes has acted with black actresses, his roles, including "White Men Can't Jump" and "Jungle Fever," often have explored interracial relationships. "There are three ways of looking at it," Snipes says, smiling. "There are the Confederate-flag guys: 'Oh, that n___ is dating a white woman.' Then there are the people in the middle. They could care less. And then there's the ones who think, 'Oh, the brother is dating another white woman.' I'm most interested in the people in the middle." Still, Snipes, whose first movie as a producer opens in February, sees a reluctance by studios to portray black relationships. "I think some studio execs think if you have two black leading characters in it, it becomes quote-unquote, a 'black' film which they feel is not as marketable, and won't make as much money in the mainstream -- which means white. It'd be real interesting to get them all in a room one day and ask them what they really think. I'd like to sit in on that conversation myself!"

Old "Black Men Can't Kiss" story here

anastasiav,
the (admittedly unclear) 1930 reference is the remnant of a snarky aside I had originally thrown in there and decided (wisely) to remove, sorry.

ed, anastasiav:
speaking of Miller adaptations, what about Edward G Robinson/Burt Lancaster in All My Sons
posted by matteo at 11:14 AM on June 30, 2003


You're all crazy. Katharine Hepburn's greatest movie was David Lean's 'Summertime'.
posted by Ben Grimm at 11:46 AM on June 30, 2003


anastasiav: The primary "inner struggle of a single man" that I'm aware of is something I can't mention here. :)

To try and understand where you're coming from, I'm not really certain what Krameresque theme you're talking about in the 1951 Death version. In the case of the Kramer version of Death, it seemed a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Miller play, rather than mainstream film as flaacid political statment. Same goes for the other three I referenced above.

The objection I have with Kramer is the way that he pounded liberal sentiments into his work as if they were astounding news, when they were New Deal-era points that had long made the rounds. It was the kind of didactic condescension that I really object to in films: the kind of content devoid of outright polemicizing (which would be more honest) or risk-taking that, as others have mentioned above, out-of-touch liberal wannabes pat themselves on the back for without really comprehending.

However, just to settle the Death of a Salesman debate, this remains the definitive version. :)

The issue of interracial relationships isn't just limited to African-Americans (although Halle Berry did get it on with Warren in Bulworth, albeit awkwardly). Asian-American males, for example, aren't permitted to be sexy on screen. Hollywood has failed to understand the appeal of Chow Yun-Fat, which extends to both men and women in the same way that Bogart's charisma did. When it has placed Chow in the role of a possible romantic lead, it's been in films that reenforce a stereotype (Anna and the King of Siam) or have gone out of their way to avoid the possibility (The Replacement Killers, the buddy movie with Mina Sorvino).

Matteo: Haven't seen the film version of All My Sons (though I've seen two productions), but will check it out sometime.
posted by ed at 1:10 PM on June 30, 2003


I shouldn't prolong the derailing of this thread -- I come to praise Katherine Hepburn, not bury Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, which I haven't even seen -- but I cannot resist quoting today's Roger Ebert column: "The film [GWCTD] was considered a daring breakthrough."
posted by pmurray63 at 1:39 PM on June 30, 2003


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