I'm not picking on Bette/Helen Mirren is the next best thing

I'm sure that the diehard Davis fans were seething over the All About Eve post from earlier this week. (That, of course, assumes anyone is reading this at all; sometimes I'm dubious about the whole blog thing, but I know that some folks are out there 'cause I hear from them.) The target of that little arsenic valentine wasn't Ms. Davis, of course, but Joe L. If there was ever any doubt in my mind about ol' Bette, I got a vivid reminder this evening of why she has the rep she's got when the b.w. and I watched The Letter on TCM. Turner's print is a gorgeous reminder of how good a DP Tony Gaudio was -- sometimes I think we take the Warners cameramen for granted, but Edeson, Polito and Gaudio are responsible for some of the most glorious black-and-white cinematography in America.

It's also a splendid aide-memoire to Davis, whose performance is even more nuanced than I had remembered. She gets more mileage out of the play of the "moonlight" on those huge eyes than any dozen young actresses today could wring out of a multi-volume set of great monologues. Indeed the best moments in the film are the quietest ones, those moments when Max Steiner's score shuts the fuck up and Davis just sits and mulls her duplicities and mistakes.
I'm not engaging in mere Ira-esque partisanship when I tell you that I can't wait for Ed Sikov's biography of Davis -- a perfect choice of subject for Ed's insightful pen.

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I've been delinquent in both viewing and reviewing the NY Film Festival. I spent almost all of this week cooped up in the apartment with a variety of ailments -- okay, I slept late and watched playoff baseball -- sue me -- and deadlines. I will, however, venture this much comment for now. Watching the festival's opening night film, Stephen Frears's skillful The Queen, one is struck by how much Helen Mirren has become our modern equivalent of Bette Davis, a woman who can handle royalty without invoking unintentional laughter, unflappable and poised, alternately chilly and volcanic. Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II is one of the most complex female characters in a film this year, not because of Peter Morgan's script, which is clever and workmanlike but a trifle cartoonish (albeit by design), but because Mirren's combination of compassion and sang-froid makes her a richly realized, multi-faceted human being. Although the rest of the cast are excellent and Frears handles the whole project with a deft hand and light touch, it's Mirren that makes it worth watching, regardless of how you felt after Princess Diana's death or what you think of the Royals.

(I think the Royals were much better after the All-Star Game than I expected them to be, but I still figure they're five years away from being a contending team.)

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