Cuddlies Meet Mankiewicz

I bought this All About Eve Bluray at Laser Blazer about two hours ago. And as I was leaving I remembered, of course, that it won the Best Picture Oscar for 1950. And this led me to wonder what today’s cuddly-bear Academy voters would think of this Joseph L. Mankiewicz classic if they were transported back 60 years.

Cuddly-bear voters are the ones who are drawn to movies that provide the kind of warm, reassuring comfort-blanket emotions that are found in The King’s Speech and who therefore aren’t voting for The Social Network because it’s too chilly and arcane and there’s no one likable to root for.

So if the Cuddlies were to be transported one by one in Rod Taylor‘s time machine back to February 4, 1951, their general sentiments about All About Eve would probably go as follows:

“It’s a very good film, but I just didn’t care about anyone, and it’s all happening within this narrow little world of theatre people. Yeah, great dialogue, but witty banter only goes so far. Where’s the heart? And nobody seems to learn anything. Everyone in this film except for Thelma Ritter, Celeste Holm and Gary Merrill is unstable or scheming or generally unpleasant. Bette Davis is a bitter insecure meltdown case and screeching all the time, Anne Baxter is positively reptilian and George Sanders is one of those poison-pen critics with ice water in his veins. And what happens at the end? Okay, just desserts — Baxter is going to get hers. But emotionally I just felt…I don’t know. It didn’t reach me.

“I’m not putting All About Eve down, mind. It’s fine, it’s a good film, very well directed. But I like Father of the Bride better. I can’t help it but I love it. You don’t watch that film — you feel it. Poor, stressed out, economically suffering Spencer Tracy! Losing his daughter and also gaining a son, and going through hell the whole time. You just feel for him.”

  • bobbyperu

    Except that All About Eve has had lasting power for a half century, and one wonders if The Social Network can do the same. The different in All About Eve is tha the characters themselves are fascinating to watch, even as the plot machinations are turning, which may have seemed novel at the time; I don’t know. It also has great stars, which The Social Network does not, and the star system counted for much back in ’51. It also was about the entertainment business and must have seemed knowing, witty and smart, albeit bitchy.

    Back to The Social Network, great films work on the head and the heart. Sorry to repeat what is now an awards season ’10 cliche, but The Social Network only works for the head. It’s not a matter of feeling warm, fuzzy, cuddly or otherwise (and I’m not in the The King’s Speech camp), it’s a matter of engagement. For all the gee-whiz of Sorkin’s dialogue and all the “timlieness” of the story and all of its classical themes of success, friendship and betrayal, I felt very little engagement to anyone involved in any of those themes. The Social Network is a movie about ideas, not ideals, and that is why it is losing the Oscar.

  • bobbyperu

    Black Swan, on the other hand, isn’t warm and cuddly and fuzzy either. But it is engaging and ruthlessly entertaining and gripping, and people have responded to that, whether you want to call them the eloi who went and bought tickets and put a little 13 million dollar movie at nearly 100 million or whatever, it shows that you don’t need the character to be cuddly to connect with people. But you need to find a way to connect.

  • bobbyperu

    Sorry for the multiple posts, which I should have condensed. But in thinking more about All About Eve, the payoff at the end is that Eve Harrington will get her comeuppance — this much is clear. While we’ve enjoyed seeing her scheme and lie and claw her way to the top, we know that she’s about to have the same done to her. Audiences approve.

    Flash forward to Mark Zuckerberg and no such comeuppance is on the horizon. He has schemed, lied and clawed, but that’s deemed OK in the eyes of The Social Network — a necessary portfolio of resume skills to make a billion dollars. Audiences don’t appove.

    There’s a difference here, and a critical one.

  • YND

    Personally, I’d say a better comparison for this “lack of comeuppance” would be RAGING BULL: somebody achieves amazing things but only in exchange for his soul. LaMotta trying to reconcile with his brother = Zuckerberg hitting refresh. And I think a lot of the reasons ORDINARY PEOPLE took Best Pic over RAGING BULL are also in evidence this year.

  • lazarus

    Isn’t Zuckerberg’s comeuppance (at least in this fictional account) that despite all his money and power, he’s still pining after The One That Got Away? And that he’s given her the power to reject him again on the very website he created?

    It’s left open-ended but it’s hard to call him the big winner at the end.

  • bobbyperu

    Pining after the one that got away is compeuppance? Really? Come one. The relationship between them has been so overstated by the press. They have two scenes and there’s no indication on anyone’s part that there were deep feelings or any semblance of a real relationship between them. Not for one minute.

  • YND

    You also have to keep in mind that ALL ABOUT EVE beat SUNSET BLVD that year, which warm fuzzy viewers were probably even less enamored with.

  • Rashad

    So true Bobby. It also doesn’t make sense to me, that people think Zuckerberg is socially inept when he’s capable of pulling and banging a chick as good looking as Rooney Mara.

    Anton Chigurh never got his comeuppance though. Yeah he got in a car accident, but got away clean

  • YND

    And yes, though the last scene is specifically about the girl, the main relationship that gets thrown under the wheels of ambition is obviously Mark & Eduardo. Same net effect, though.

  • bobbyperu

    Exactly YND, exactly. “The one that got away” is Eduardo Saverin, and that’s the one that Zuckerberg should be pining about — the death of his bromance, not a girl who calls him an asshole. But he doesn’t seem to mind that he screwed over Eduardo, one bit. No apology, no call, no association, nothing. Not even a disingenuos “I didn’t know what they were doing, let me fix it” mea culpa. The guy is cold, period.

  • LexG

    Eduardo would have cost him billions of dollars with his low-rent schemes and lack of vision.

    Shit, I lived in campus for ONE SEMESTER back in 1992, and I don’t even remember my roommate’s name. I wouldn’t have loaned the guy my Van Halen cassettes, let alone wanted to give him half a company that was ENTIRELY MY DEAL that he tried to fuck over by adding adds for the Brazier on the masthead. Seriously, the guy was his FRESHMAN ROOMMATE he barely knew; They weren’t fucking Siamese twins.

  • Bix B-Roll

    Wells, PLEASE, stop! No Country won all of *three years* ago, as “cold” and alienating a movie as most audiences can handle. The Hurt Locker was basically as hard and rough as nails… A much more difficult film to embrace, for any number of reasons, than Social Network. And I didn’t believe either of those films were the best of their year, just as I don’t think either King’s Speech or Social Network are the best of this year. More to the point, who cares?!?

    Why are you so torn up about this? What does it really matter? Who reading this blog even thinks of the Oscars as being all that historically relevant (to say nothing of their artistic relevance)? The awards are just kind of a fun little goof, something to do to keep the idea of ‘cinema as art’ afloat in the minds of normal working people. What serious film fan puts any stock in them anymore? Did anybody ever? Why does it matter so much to you– a genuinely educated, opinionated, individualistic movie fan– that you’d put all this constant energy into FREAKING OUT about it?

    Social Network did great! It made lots of money! Lots of people saw it and enjoyed it! It’s place is safe!

    Is this all seriously just a page hits thing??

  • York “Budd” Durden

    Glad to see a Lex post that’s not so vanilla. Find the caps key again, dude.

  • Glenn Kenny

    Jesus Christ, Jeff.

    What was the line from “Annie Hall,” about being “one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about ‘The Social Network'”? Yeah, that one.

    Also, you’re ripping me off. I was doing the “All About Eve” riff back in September. From my NYFF writeup of “Network:” “proclaiming ‘I’m not interested in this movie because I couldn’t care less about Facebook’ is like announcing ‘I’m not interested in All About Eve because self-absorbed theater people really turn me off.'”

    Get some rest out in L.A., willya?

  • Jeffrey Wells

    George Harrison didn’t realize he was ripping off “She’s So Fine” when he wrote “My Sweet Lord,” and the notion that I might be ripping you off, Glenn, didn’t even blow a slight breeze upon my brain. The idea just came to me today, like a bluebird flying out of a tree and landing on my wrist, when I bought the All About Eve Bluray. By the way, where’s the link to underscore your claim?

  • Glenn Kenny

    Why, right here:

    http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2010/09/nyff-2010-a-couple-things-about-the-social-network.html

    Like Billy Batts says in “Goodfellas,” “Hey, I’m breakin’ your balls a little bit, that’s all.”

  • Rod32303

    Old Joseph L. also directed “Letter to Three Wives” which is worse than “The Kings Speech” as far as comfort cinema…and he won Best Director for that.

    I’m with BIx B Roll. Be careful, my friend Jeff. You have influence and a voice…YOU might be the reason for backlash if you don’t chill. You like to take credit (and probably deserved) for things like Bardem’s nomination, the success of No Country and even Brokeback as far as nominations go…if you ain’t careful, you can take the blame for TSN losing any kind of “comeback” momentum it has.

  • Mr. Palmer

    Great movie. UGLY cover art.

  • scooterzz

    i got these (‘all about eve’, ‘an affair to remember’) a few weeks ago and have exhausted all the material on them…supplemental stuff was pretty great (if not entirely original) and the hd/blu presentation is brilliant…. i’ve no issue with the cover art but since the original ‘all about eve’ one-sheet is among my all-time faves, i wish they’d gone with that….

    wells’ dismissal of ‘all about eve’ is not surprising and i’m guessing is a main topic of discussion at spanky and alfalfa’s ‘he-man women haters club’…..

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    Black Swan, on the other hand, isn’t warm and cuddly and fuzzy either. But it is engaging and ruthlessly entertaining and gripping, and people have responded to that, whether you want to call them the eloi who went and bought tickets and put a little 13 million dollar movie at nearly 100 million or whatever, it shows that you don’t need the character to be cuddly to connect with people. But you need to find a way to connect.

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  • jeromejohn

    Bobbyperu’s second comment is spot on. Oscars Shmoscars. Nobody will think of the Social Network as a great film in 10 years. Nobody will even think about the utterly pedestrian Kings Speech at all. Black swan, on the other hand, everyone will gave seen and respected. 2 or 3 generations worth of Americans, especially girls, from high school through their 40s. Best movie of the year hands down. The pulp fiction of 2011.

  • berg

    “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

    “Don’t fish eat other fish? The marlins and the trout.”

  • raquelswell

    If the current batch of Oscar voters are transported back in time to 1951, they will arrive at a time when there were limited media outlets. Fewer number of magazines. No cable. No internet. No bloggers. Thus, much less conversation on the gay subtext of the movie. And nothing scares Oscar voters more than gay themes or subtext. So that would mean they will vote for All About Eve. It’s a totally different scenario if the movie is transported to 2011. God I can’t believe I thought through this shit. Time machines don’t exist! Jeff, shut up!

  • raquelswell

    Fincher crafted a better movie. TKS probably needed a bit more editing.

    It’s hard for me to care about the protagonist of either movies. King George stutters. So what? He was royalty. No matter what happened, he would have been fine. Zuckerberg is from an upper middle class background. Without Facebook his life would have been ok as well.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    “It’s hard for me to care about the protagonist of either movies. King George stutters. So what? He was royalty. No matter what happened, he would have been fine.”

    Talk about missing the point.

    No, actually he and his brother were dysfunctional fuckups desperate for love and approval from a cold domineering father, who everybody assumed had fabulous lives because they were royalty.

    Was that really that hard a message to sort out from that movie?

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    Well, what about the gay subtext of TKS? (only half-joking, but to be fair, the same can probably be said — albeit to a lesser degree — of TSN).

  • CitizenKaned4Life

    “who everybody assumed had fabulous lives because they were royalty.”

    Well, relatively-speaking, that is the correct assumption. He wasn’t happy? Boo-fucking-hoo, I have an infinite more amount of sympathy for someone who wasn’t happy because of lack of water, food, shelter, proper medical care, etc.

    “Desperate for love” is pretty fucking high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That’s something no one is ever guaranteed.

  • bobbyperu

    I agree with le corbeau. I’m not entirely sure why George VI or Mark Zuckerberg areinteresting in any ways beyond the rather narrow confines of their plots.

    On the other hand, Lionel Logue as played by Rush is infinitely interesting as a failed actor, family guy, particular station in life, suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation — if The King’s Speech had been about HIS story, then it might have really soared. As it is, it’s a totally vanilla experience that, sure, has some affecting scenes, but most movies do, don’t they?

    On The King’s Speech, I’ve only seen it once, but I can’t recall a single shot, movement of the score, moment of real cinematic inspiration (not even Beethoven’s 7 really got me, though I do understand it’s slow and methodical rhythms, got it, check), or even a moment of spontaneity in Firth’s work. The performance, to me is immaculate and technically superb. This side of Firth I don’t love, really, and his more naturalistic work in A Single Man was far superior. I’ll even go out on limb and say his performance in Love Actually affected me more than his performance in The King’s Speech.

    By the same token, Black Swan positively reeks with cinematic invention and style and who can’t name a half a dozen moments in that movie that really soared? Who can’t talk about cinematography? Who can’t see the invention in Mansell’s score, woven in with progressions from Swan Lake? Who can’t discuss the performances? And the directorial risks that could have been foolish but were sublime?

    The Social Network and The King’s Speech are leading an unfortunate two-horse race, and neither of them is inventive or particularly memorable.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    I’m not a big defender of either movies as therapy (which is what ALL movies are these days; has more money and effort ever been spent to help a guy get over losing his wife than Inception?) or of movies about royalty, which is what Masterpiece Theater is for.

    That said, it’s the worst kind of socialist-realist thinking about the arts to say that a movie would be better if only the characters were proles. Yeah, Notorious could have been a great movie if only Hitchcock had gotten ugly people instead of Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman and it had been set in a tenement in Miami and they spent all the time scratching themselves and talking in screechy voices.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    Shit. Ingrid.

  • Gaydos

    So glad you brought up Wilder and Mankiewicz. If you can’t see the difference between “Eve,”Sunset” and “TSN,” there’s nothing to discuss or debate.

    We can now move on to compare the works of David Lean and Michael Bay. Both operate in the sphere of action epics, both make movies that are shown in buildings with seats…

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