Wednesday, May 27, 2020

TV: Catherine The Great's story it always our story

Watching THE GREAT, it's easy to conclude that nothing's much changed since the time of Catherine The Great.  But the reality is that THE GREAT, like every other production about Catherine The Great, is less about her and more about the time the production is staged in  and/or the filmmakers themselves.


That's most obvious with Josef von Sternberg's THE SCARLETT EMPRESS -- a huge failure upon release in 1934.  Sex as sin, that's what von Sternberg trafficked in.  And that might have worked -- even the allusion at the end to the lie that Catherine had sex with horses -- had he not made the film so opulent -- not a good look for a film released during the Great Depression.  Marlene Dietrich walks through the role of the virginal Catherine and only comes to life once her character discovers sex.  While it turns her wicked, the lack of it among the nobility leads them to be rigid and lifeless.  Josef von Sternberg's obsession with sex is in all of his films -- as are his fetishes.

Others may not have been as upfront, but their films say a great deal as well.  For example, 1968's GREAT CATHERINE cast the great Jeanne Moreau as Catherine but, this being 1968 (and a script by Hugh Leonard), Catherine was shoved to the side.  Though George Bernard Shaw wrote the 1913 play to showcase Gertrude Kingston  and though Gertrude Lawrence starred in the 1947 TV production (NBC), the film stars Peter O'Toole and Zero Mostel with Jeanne Moreau receiving third billing.  1968, for those who don't know, was not a good year for women in film.  Only one film in the top five for the year starred a woman -- Barbra Streisand in her film debut, FUNNY GIRL (FUNNY GIRL was the top grossing film of the year).

WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL is outside of the official top ten though it did outgross John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS which is number ten on the official money maker list.  The confusion may have to do with rentals versus ticket sales or with adjusting for inflation.  However, Doris Day's final film did outgross John Wayne's military nonsense at the box office.  Doris had been a consistent money maker, from 1959 through 1966, she had been a top ten box office success each year.  1968, however, found her moving to TV to start her long running THE DORIS DAY SHOW.

Doris Day was a female star of the sixties.  She wasn't the only one.  There was also Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie and Julie Andrews.  PENELOPE is a perfect example of how revisionary history eradicates women.  The Natalie Wood film was pushed as a bomb for years.  It was never a bomb.  It debuted at number one and made over four million in rentals  That was more than enough to allow it to be listed in VARIETY's January 4, 1967 article "Big Rental Pictures of 1966."  It was a hit film.  The other lie that revisionary history loves to offer is that the film was a bomb and Natalie didn't work for years because of it.  No.  It was a hit, Natalie didn't work because she didn't want to.  She turned down BONNIE & CLYDE and many other films because she was focused on her analysis.


You will notice, though, that most of Jane's successes were prior to 1967.  As the sixties matured, women were less and less the focus.  They barely exist, for example, in EASY RIDER.  In 1969's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, Paul Newman and Robert Redford make a pretense of being interested in Katharine Ross' supporting character Etta; however, the real romance is between the boys and the most unintentionally telling line (or is it intentional?) is when Paul talks to Robert about his desire to "go straight."  THE ODD COUPLE, BULLITT and MIDNIGHT COWBOY were a little more honest about the love between two male leads and about the disinterest in actresses.  Time and again, women were buried.  By 1977, it would be revolutionary, as Jane Fonda would note, for her to be playing scenes with Vanessa Redgrave (JULIA) and for Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft to be playing opposite one another in THE TURNING POINT.  Equally true, in this period, Julie Andrews goes hitless (THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE was a hit in 1967 but she wouldn't have another hit until 1974's THE TAMARIND SEED) while Audrey Hepburn just disappears from the screen from 1967 (TWO FOR THE ROAD and WAIT UNTIL DARK) until 1976 (ROBIN AND MARIAN).

Only in that era from 1968 through 1976 could you make a film about Catherine The Great entitled THE GREAT CATHERINE and make the actress playing her the third billed in the case and provide a script by a noted sexist which rendered Catherine a supporting player.

It's worth noting two productions made in the mid-forties.  First up, Otto Preminger's embarrassing A ROYAL SCANDAL (1945).  Yes, it should have been directed by Ernst Lubitsch and should have starred Greta Garbo -- as was planned.  But it didn't have to be the fiasco Preminger and Tallulah Bankhead turned it into.  Sex is corrupting and women are just awful -- that appears to be the major theme.  Around the same time, CATHERINE WAS GREAT debuted on Broadway (August 2, 1944 -- it ran on Broadway through January 13, 1945).  Mae West starred and wrote the play, Mike Todd produced.  Being a Mae West offering, sex was a large part of it but sex wasn't corrupting and, equally true, the emancipation of women was also a strong part of the story (also a concern of Mae's).  Mae's production was never turned into a film.  In the post-war aftermath, women were not valued for strength onscreen and Otto's version -- or even Sternberg's where a strong woman was a cold bitch (Mae had serious problems with Dietrich's portrayal which she felt stripped all warmth from Catherine), so there was no place for Mae's version.

Today's version?

Elle Fanning plays Catherine and is wonderful in the role.  Nicholas Hoult plays her royal husband Peter the III and is amusing in what could easily be a one-note role.  Gwilym Lee and Phoebe Fox also deserve strong praise.

HULU seems to succeed best when they're doing a series set in another period or place:  HARLOTS, 11.22.63, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, FUTURE MAN and now THE GREAT.

Though set many centuries in the past, THE GREAT is created for today and reflects the times we live in currently.  In that regard, it gets a great deal correct.  The women of the noble class sneer at Catherine, most of the men do as well.  She's a fighter and there are many who want to destroy her just for that reason.

Yes, you can draw parallels to Tara Reade, the woman who has accused Joe Biden of assault.

Instead of addressing the accusation, the corporate media -- the same media in the tank with Joe Biden for the Democratic Party's primary -- ignored Joe and his history of lying and his history of groping women and sniffing women to instead rip apart Tara.

If you doubt what went down, Rose McGowan has posted some of the questions that 'journalist' Lisa Lerer asked Tara.  They include:

Can you tell us about your time as a downhill skier, and your training, contests won, etc?

In court records, your ex husband Ted says that your mother hit you during a fight over her drinking, back when you were living with her during your pregnancy.  Was his description of that fight in court papers accurate?

We heard that after your car was repossessed friends sold you their vehicle and let you pay it with a no interest loan but that you struggled to make those payments and they took it back.  Is that true?

Also, several people told me you were dating a Russian man online in the spring of 2019.  Is that true?  How did you meet and can you tell me about the relationship?

On Quora, you followed three Russian individuals -- Andrey Davydov, Dima Vorobiev and Alex Korolev.  How was it that you came to know them and follow them?

None of the questions above -- or the rest of them posted -- have anything to do with assault.

Nor did they result from any work that Lerer herself did.

They're part of the Biden campaign.  Anita Dunn oversaw the list of questions and she saw to it that they were distributed to the press.

This is why Joe kept saying that Tara needed to be 'vetted' in interview after interview.  He and his campaign had the smears they wanted and they had already provided them to the so-called press.

In THE GREAT, Catherine endures similar attacks.  We all get the story that best fits our timeline.

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