Thursday, March 6, 2014
Not With The Eyes But With The Mind
SWITCH starring Ellen Barkin as a male chauvinist turned into a gorgeous blonde. While it’s easy to imagine that the worldwide success of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the time helped to get VICTOR/VICTORIA green lit, the film (based on the 1934 German film VIKTOR AND VIKTORIA written by Reinhold Schunzel—Edwards wrote the screenplay for his version by himself) feels like the director’s own ultimate examination of sexual identity and just about every shot, every line of dialogue, seems to address the thesis somehow. One musical number in particular speaks to this, a line of four dancers at the Chez Louise nightclub, all appearing as men on one side and women on the other with every other dancer the ‘real’ male or female version. The music changes tempo continually through the routine, fast to slow, manic to serene, in a way that makes it an encapsulation of the very film it’s a part of, complimenting the farce in just the right way. Coming immediately off of S.O.B., which even now plays as one of Edwards’ most bitter films (in all the best ways, of course), VICTOR/VICTORIA is one of his most completely endearing, displaying a true love for the characters who are involved in their own version of this nightclub dance routine. Even with the continual appearances of physical humor that are fully expected from this director (“That stool is broken.” “It is?”) it has a true lyricism not often found in his films, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S aside. Warner Archive) features Blake Edwards as writer and director at his very best. Upon release it was one of the most acclaimed films of his career and the seven Oscar nominations included one for his screenplay, the only one he ever received in his career. Julie Andrews was also nominated as were Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren but in the end the only Oscar it won went to Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse for the song score. One of the other films that year of course was Sydney Pollack’s TOOTSIE, a very different cross-dressing farce made by a director not exactly known for comedy but in some ways on both a thematic and dramatic level it does stick the landing that VICTOR/VICTORIA doesn’t quite nail. Again, I suppose this is a minor issue considering how much joy VICTOR/VICTORIA continues to provide to this day. In his beyond ecstatic rave in the New York Times Vincent Canby stated that the film is “so good, so exhilarating, that the only depressing thing about it is the suspicion that Mr. Edwards is going to have a terrible time trying to top it.” His immediate followups were both TRAIL and CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER, so, well, yeah, and nothing else over the following decade approached the level of acclaim that this film received (this also included directing a stage version of VICTOR/VICTORIA on Broadway starring Andrews which opened in 1995) although I am on record already as liking a few of them, maybe more than the rest of the world does. So while the likes of S.O.B. might be the sort of Blake Edwards-infused whiskey that I prefer downing on more occasions than not and while everything in VICTOR/VICTORIA isn’t as good as its best moments it has still aged absolutely beautifully which stands as a testament to the talents of its director, talents which maybe still aren’t as appreciated as they should be. But I suppose that’s the way it sometimes is in such a crazy world.