2018 LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL: Montgomery Clift was a rare movie star. His beauty was only eclipsed by his talent. The actor received four Oscar nominations over his illustrious career, including “From Here to Eternity,” the Best Picture winner of 1953. Despite these well-known performances, Clift is almost best known for his tragic death. Enter his nephew, Robert Clift, and Robert’s wife, Hillary Demmon. With the documentary “Making Montgomery Clift,” the two set out to change the narrative. There’s a lot that’s tragic about Monty’s life. However, there’s also a lot that’s noteworthy and glossed over by previous biographies and accounts.
The star’s death was wrapped up in his identity as a homosexual during a time that was extremely unfriendly to the LGBTQ+ community. We are not strangers to the tragic gay narrative. The documentary wisely focuses on what gay life was like back then. Clift appears to have been more open about his sexuality, less closeted or guarded when around friends. The interview subjects all remark about Monty’s charm and sense of humor, particularly the men who were involved with him. His sexuality was part of who he was and what made him an endearing classic star. The confines of society and its faux morality were what led to Monty’s downfall and death.
It would be an easy trap for the documentary to focus solely on Monty’s sexuality. His status as a queer icon comes mostly from biographies that only concentrate on that aspect of him. The documentary looks at other parts of his status as a movie star. It looks at the roles he famously turned down as he operated outside of the studio system. It’s interesting to see how his business practices as an actor challenged the norms of the day and forced him to fight upstream battles for the roles he eventually got. Additionally, there’s a excellent exploration of how a tragic car crash birthed a new age of Montgomery Clift performances.
The documentary finds some exciting subjects to piece together this portrait of the real Monty. Robert’s Dad, Brooks Clift, cooperated with some of the biographers that contributed to the tragic narrative around Monty. Out of guilt and his desire to right the wrongs of this image, Brooks became obsessed with chronicling everything. Between Brooks and Monty, Robert and Hillary were blessed with a wealth of recordings of the brothers. This makes for fascinating exchanges that bring Monty back to life.
Much like the recent documentary “Listen to Me Marlon,” the documentary makes excellent use of the wealth of audio footage. The more mundane day to day records gives us a fuller picture of the star beyond the tragic end. In fact, it turns out Monty Clift is quite funny. His dark, biting humor and goofiness present us with a new version of the movie star that’s very different from the prevailing narrative around him.
At its best, “Making Montgomery Clift” serves as a new, fresh take on the famously tragic queer icon Montgomery Clift. It’s a showbiz documentary through and through that leads with a very earnest heart. Robert A. Clift and Hillary Demmon poured both financial and emotional currency into the project, and it shows. Upon finishing the film, the images of a smiling, handsome Montgomery Clift stay in one’s mind. For a man, so tormented, he seems so full of life. This central dichotomy represents the sadness behind the stifling error Clift serves. However, it also shows the enormous capacity for happiness and joy we can unlock.