RETRO REVIEW: Get Scandalous as the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema Screens Matt Tyrnauer’s Expose on Legendary Procurer, Scotty Bowers, SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD, Opening August 31

Posted on: Aug 31st, 2018 By:

by Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017); Dir. Matt Tyrnauer; Opens Friday, August 31 at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

Director Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) is many things. It is a romp through the most sordid tales of Hollywood’s past; it is an in-depth observation of LGBTQ culture during the repressive studio era; and it is the curious and complex story of one Scotty Bowers, Hollywood’s most notable pimp. It is important to mention that both Scotty and his former employees do not consider him to be a pimp, insisting that he never took money from those working for him. Regardless of the terminology used to describe him, the fact is that Scotty Bowers spent the postwar years in Hollywood setting up Tinseltown’s best and brightest with one of a gaggle of young men that hung around Scotty’s gas station on Hollywood Boulevard. In an era when being outed as gay would at the very least cost you your career and reputation, and in some cases put you in a mental institution or behind bars, the secretive services provided by Scotty proved to be an invaluable outlet for many stars to pursue their lifestyle behind closed doors, away from the paparazzi and the adoring fans that would be devastated to learn that their idols were anything less than the ideal straight laced, heterosexual figureheads of the Postwar era.

At 91 years old, one would assume that Scotty Bowers would choose to slow down in his twilight years, long withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. This assumption could not be farther from the truth, as we see in film. Bright-eyed and talkative, Bowers has the enthusiasm of a man decades younger than his ninety-plus years. He and his wife Louise putter about their Los Angeles home and maintain active social lives that transcend their age (Scotty goes to publishing parties and meets up with his old employees; Louise sings at various nightclubs in full black-tie regalia).

The film captures Scotty’s most recent endeavor: the publication of his 2012 book FULL SERVICE, wherein he recounts his dealings with the stars. The book claims that countless celebrities thought to be heterosexual were in fact bisexual and gay, as evidenced by Scotty hooking them up with one of the many young men (and even a few women) under his employ. Scotty rattles names off like it’s nobody’s business (Cary Grant, George Cukor, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh among others). Many readers are concerned whether outing celebrities that presented as straight while alive is disrespectful, considering the fact that they had no chance to consent to being outed. Bowers vehemently denies any disrespect on his part, claiming that because he chose to wait until every star mentioned in the book had passed away, he is abstaining from causing damage that could have destroyed their reputation in life. Whether or not this is a morally-sound decision is up to the viewer, but Scotty brushes any accusations of libel off his shoulder.

As the film progresses, another less ribald and optimistic side of Scotty begins to be unearthed. He and his wife live in a hoarding hellscape. Scotty unwilling or unable to part with the trinkets he’s collected over the decades filling both his home, a second home, and multiple garages. He does not seem to consider this to be much of an issue, but his wife mentions in passing that his refusal to see a therapist plays a large part in his dysfunction. Scotty slowly begins to open up about his past and it is befallen with personal tragedies, from the deaths of his brother in WWII and his daughter when she was only 23. The onset of the AIDS crisis took the lives of many of his friends and colleagues and led to Scotty’s decision to retire from his career as a pimp. His unwavering work ethic and commitment to “show up and get the job done” left him emotionally disconnected, unable to cope with the scale of his heartbreak. The years spent bottling up the pain came to a head when Scotty began to come apart at the seams on camera, finally acknowledging and coming to terms with his pain in the most emotionally intimate moment in the film.

While it is true that SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD takes a more serious turn when delving into Scotty’s past, it is by and large a fun and witty film, chock full of off the wall stories about celebrity sexcapades straight from the source itself. While Scotty’s story is not one that is well-known by the general movie-going audience, it is a story worthy of being told, warts and all. Be sure to catch Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary exclusively at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema opening Friday, August 31.

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Retro Review: Darkness in Daylight: The Plaza Theatre Descends into Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2012 By:

VERTIGO (1958); Dir: Alfred Hitchcock; Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes; Fri. Nov. 23 – Sun. Nov. 25; Plaza Theatre (visit Plaza Theatre Website for showtimes and ticket prices); Trailer here.

If the film noir is defined by its most typical set-up—that of a doomed man swept up in events outside his control, often by a manipulative female figure—then Alfred Hitchcock’s towering VERTIGO is that most rare of films noir. It trades the genre’s high-contrast black-and-white for rich Technicolor. It places its characters not in the dimly-lit nightshade world of seedy bars, backrooms and private dicks’ offices; but in art museums, redwoods forests and the sunny streets of San Francisco. In the world of VERTIGO, the shadows of night may still hold mysterious threats, but the stark light of day reveals their constant presence all too clearly. There is, truly, no escape.

In this film, James Stewart paired with Hitchcock for their final collaboration. Stewart had long been one of Hitch’s archetypal actors. Whereas Cary Grant represented the Idealized Man in his cinematic world, Stewart was the Everyman. Grant was the go-to guy when Hitch needed a lead that viewers would either want to be or want to bed. Stewart was the guy next door, bringing a down-to-earth sensibility to his roles, and much of the attraction of him as a lead in Hitch’s films was in seeing this average Joe rise above his limitations to triumph at the end.

In VERTIGO, however, Stewart’s average Joe is taken far away from next door; his obsessions and fears exposed as he is broken beyond repair.

Stewart stars as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, whose vertigo and fear of heights manifest in a rooftop police chase and result in the death of a fellow officer. Stricken by depression, he has retired from the force and struggles to overcome his fears. He is enlisted by an old college acquaintance, Gavin Elster, to trail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), whom he claims has been possessed by the spirit of the long-dead suicide victim Carlotta Valdes. Scottie witnesses Madeleine attempt to kill herself by jumping into San Francisco Bay and rescues her. They then become ensnared in an obsessive and doomed romance that can only result in death, a break with sanity, or both…

James Stewart and Kim Novak in VERTIGO. Paramount Pictures, 1958.

Kim Novak perfectly essays the role of a most unusual femme fatale: manipulative without being forceful, cool and reserved yet with a barely-concealed sexuality, strong yet fragile. However, Barbara Bel Geddes (whom viewers would later come to know as “Miss Ellie” Ewing on the TV series DALLAS) is perhaps the most overlooked character in the film: Scottie’s long-suffering ex-girlfriend Midge, a bohemian clothing designer, who represents the polar opposite of Madeleine. Where Madeleine is cool, Midge is warm. Where Madeleine is perfectly poised and elegant, Midge is natural and almost frumpily grounded. And where Madeleine represents everything that will tear down Scottie, Midge represents that lost potential for true happiness. Madeleine may be an impossible ideal, but Midge is real, there, now. And her love and devotion to Scottie may be the only path for his salvation, but how can he see that path with the dream that is Madeleine beckoning him from just beyond his reach?

The film was a critical and commercial failure upon release. Some felt it was too long and too complicated for a simple psychological mystery. Hitchcock believed that James Stewart’s age was a factor in the film’s failure, and replaced him with Cary Grant in the following year’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (four years older than Stewart, true, but eternally youthful). Many, however, were disappointed that this movie was not another romantic mystery along the lines of 1956’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. In fact, the mystery is practically subservient to the film’s depiction of obsession—it’s solved two thirds of the way through the movie. Hitchcock often referenced the term “MacGuffin”: the mechanical element that sets a story into motion, yet which is ultimately unimportant to the plot’s progression. In John Huston’s 1941 film THE MALTESE FALCON, for instance, it’s the titular sculpture. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST, it’s a cache of microfilm. In the case of VERTIGO, it’s the mystery itself. The whys and wherefores of how Scottie has become obsessed with Madeleine are not important; his fears and obsessions are, instead, the focal point, and how they emerge and re-emerge during the course of the story are what carries us along the inevitable path to the film’s particularly noir conclusion.

However it was dismissed in the past, in more recent years VERTIGO has been reevaluated. Beginning with Robin Wood’s seminal 1965 work HITCHCOCK’S FILMS, critics have paid closer attention to the film and what it attempts to accomplish. Many have come to regard the film in retrospect as Hitch’s most personal work: a fully-realized exploration of his own obsession with a particular “type” of woman, embodied in Grace Kelly, and his need to craft the images of his actresses to fit this particular model. This was an obsession, as depicted in Donald Spoto’s THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS and the HBO original film THE GIRL, which would be ultimately destructive to his professional relationships with women. But despite the speculative personal aspect of VERTIGO, most have come to realize that as a film on its own merits, that it stands as a masterpiece. Indeed, it has topped the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll as the greatest film ever made.

VERTIGO’s relative failure at the time meant that preservation wasn’t as much of an issue. Thankfully, the film was meticulously restored by film historian Robert A. Harris and his team, using materials ranging from the original camera negatives (which Harris notes “looked hideous”), to damaged black-and-white color separation masters, to fuzzy film prints as many as eight generations removed from the original negatives. Using all of the materials at their disposal (including a preserved green paint sample from a model of car featured in the film which was utilized for color timing), Harris and company worked miracles, producing an almost immaculate presentation of what many consider Hitchcock’s true masterpiece.

To see such an important film, preserved and restored so well, presented on the big screen is a treat to be savored by any film fan, whether casual or hardcore. And this treat is available at the Plaza Theatre for one weekend only. Some things simply should not be missed. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 29: Vintage Vertigo That’s Not Just for the Birds: Hitchcock Takes Atlanta by Storm at The Plaza and the Strand This November!

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2012 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

With November upon us and the gusts of the coming winter already chilling our bones, what better time than now to pay tribute to the king of spine-tingling thrillers, Sir Alfred Hitchcock? Thanks to the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta and Marietta’s Earl Smith Strand Theatre, you can spend some quality time this month with the Master of Suspense in his preferred setting: on the big screen and even better – remastered and in high definition!

Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre’s series promises special guests and vintage Hitchcock interview footage before each screening (show times TBA). They kick off the month with 1948’s James Stewart-starring ROPE, showing November 2-4. Hitchcock’s first color film, ROPE was based on the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb “perfect murder” scandal and seemingly unfolds in one continuous take. (Actually, it was shot in 10 shorter segments, with editing trickery covering up the fact that the cameraman would have to change the film magazine every 10 minutes.)

Up next is the film that ushered in what is now considered Hitch’s golden age—1951’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, showing November 16-18. The tense story of two men—played by Farley Granger and Robert Walker—who agree (the former, however, unwittingly) to “swap” targets of murder, the film contains some of Hitch’s most inventive and still-studied optical effects.

The Plaza follows this with a weekend of VERTIGO, showing November 23-25. Frequent Hitch collaborator James Stewart returns to star with Kim Novak in this 1958 tale of madness and obsession. A critical and commercial flop at the time of its release, the movie today is acknowledged as one of Hitchcock’s most personal films and topped the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll as the greatest film ever made.

The Plaza closes out the month as THE BIRDS attack the coastal city of Bodega Bay from November 30 to December 2. The 1963 film stars Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, and was based both on a Daphne du Maurier short story and an actual case of birds infesting a California town. Though it was scored by Hitch’s frequent composer Bernard Herrmann, you’ll note that no actual music (aside from schoolchildren singing unaccompanied) is heard. Instead, Herrmann layers the soundtrack with electronically-created bird noises.

The Earl Smith Strand Theatre opens this month’s continuation of its series (all events begin at 8 p.m.) with a November 2 screening of THE BIRDS (tickets here). The pre-show entertainment starts with organist Misha Stefanuk (of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, or ACATOS) accompanying vocalists Kennedy Bastow and Cierra Ollis.

On November 16, the Strand brings us what is perhaps Hitchcock’s best-known film, 1960’s PSYCHO (tickets here). The story of a boy (Anthony Perkins), his mother and the girl who threatens to come between them (Janet Leigh), the film was shot at the studios used for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and was independently produced by Hitchcock on a small budget. The famous “shower scene” took an entire week to shoot and contains 77 different camera angles.

The Strand closes its Hitchcock series with 1959’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (tickets here). Cary Grant comes as close to playing James Bond as he ever got in the role of Roger O. Thornhill, one of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue’s advertising world, who finds himself mistaken for a secret agent and pursued across the country. Besides the film being recognized as one of Hitch’s best (and on a personal note, I’d say it’s also his most fun), GQ magazine voted Cary Grant’s gray suit (which he wears almost throughout the entire film) as the best suit in film history.

So escape the frosty autumn air this November for some big-screen chills and thrills with these Hitchcock classics. And keep your eyes peeled for Hitch’s cameos!

Editor’s Note: Remember every time you shell out a few bucks to see a classic movie on the big screen, you are keeping the theatrical experience alive in vintage independent cinemas that are Atlanta-area historic treasures. ATLRetro will be running separate reviews/essays on some of these films. 

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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