The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith ranks up there as one of the most overly adapted authors, and yet many of her films never get the critical or commercial cache, and that could be because of her subject matter. Highsmith was an author whose characters’ questionable sexuality had to turn a few heads in the 1950s when they were originally published. Her past works, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, have focused on male same sex lust and love, but The Price of Salt is a different story. Turned into a film, Carol, by Todd Haynes, the film and novel seem on similar trajectories. Both tell of the relationship between shop girl, Therese (Rooney Mara) and wealthy divorcee Carol (Cate Blanchett). Much of Highsmith’s writing is implicit, specifically where plot is concerned. Much of the 1950s involved secrecy, especially in marriage where airing one’s dirty laundry was social suicide. Therese is never fully clued in to Carol’s problems outside her getting divorced and being estranged from her daughter. Much of Highsmith’s mastery comes in individual criticisms regarding gender. There’s a brilliant moment where Therese secretly resents her boyfriend for his belief she’s committed to him purely because they’ve had sex. Highsmith never shies away from bashing societal double standards and that blisters throughout The Price of Salt. We may never know how characters lived, but we know how they felt. This may not be the most narratively exciting of Highsmith’s works, but it’s her most unique, and I expect nothing less from the film.
NOW ON SHELVES
Oft-considered the world’s greatest filmmaker, director/actor/screenwriter Orson Welles is also just as well-known for the films he left uncompleted or failed to bring to fruition. Author Josh Karp focuses on one such Wellesian project, Welles’s final film, The Other Side of the Wind. Not a year goes by that there isn’t talk of The Other Side of the Wind being thisclose to screening for audiences, and Karp seeks to disentangle the various threads preventing the project’s release, including Welles’s obsessive need for artistic control, and how the Shah of Iran’s downfall has created a morass of right’s holders. Welles’s final months highlight Welles at his most eccentric and the fact that is this a journey that started in the early 1970s and is still unresolved in mindboggling. The exploration of the film’s creation and abandonment is intriguing and would make for a great documentary. It’s one of those projects, as mentioned by Karp at the conclusion, that we want to see because of its mystery. Think of Jerry Lewis’s The Day the Clown Cried; it’s probably garbage, but who doesn’t want to see it? Karp does pad the pages by concurrently detailing director Peter Bogdanovich’s rise and fall. The man who was once Welles’s biggest fan, friend, and acolyte eventually found himself on the outs, both with Welles and professionally. Bogdanovich’s rise and fall has been documented better in actual books about the director, so rereading this plays like a distraction not helped by the fact that the Bogdanovich sections start and stop with no seguing or connecting back to Welles. Overall, though, if you’re interested in reading about unfinished masterpieces, this is certainly worth your time and leaves you yearning to visit The Other Side of the Wind.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show proclaimed, “God bless Lili St. Cyr” and Leslie Zemeckis answers why we should be saying the same thing. Zemeckis has explored the world of burlesque before, in her amazing documentary Behind the Burly Q, and Goddess of Love Incarnate explores the brightest star in the burlesque circuit. St. Cyr was glamorous, intimidating, domineering, using all of these elements to become one of the most famous (and infamous) strippers in history. Turning burlesque into an art form, St. Cyr controlled every element of her act, but arrests, failed marriages, and eventual drug addiction added complications to St. Cyr’s career. Zemeckis shows that St. Cyr hasn’t garnered the respect she deserves, certainly not compared to the male announcers and jokesters who worked alongside her. The saddest part of St. Cyr’s life is Zemeckis’ exploration of St. Cyr’s inability to control one thing: age. The ravages of time turned the one-time love goddess into a recluse, content to let people remember her the way she was. While Zemeckis’s writing style takes some getting used to, her in-depth interviews with associates, friends, and family of the “stripteuse” create a compelling narrative worthy of the Hollywood treatment (with someone like Jessica Chastain or Malin Akerman as St. Cyr).
“She had the balls, and she had the taste,” a line that sums up Sue Mengers perfectly. Author Brian Kellow takes us into the world of the Hollywood agent, detailing the life of the influential hellion, Sue Mengers. Agent to stars like Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, Mengers was loud and acerbic, unafraid of making enemies, and she unwittingly blazed a trail for women agents during a time that truly was a boy’s club. Kellow details the rise of superstar agencies like CAA and ICM, and how the 1970s saw star salaries rise into the millionaire stratosphere; it’s hard believing stars weren’t receiving million dollar paychecks until the 1970s. (And, as Kellow details, women were still being underpaid compared to their male costars.) Mengers kept things close to the vest, and you are left in the position of deciding whether you like her or not, but there’s a great sense of time. I’m a fan of books detailing the hedonistic world of 1970s America and Mengers certainly embraced it. Her decision to walk away from the business, when it became a world of corporations and money as opposed to schmoozing, left her a broken woman, struggling to remain relevant like a female Michael Keaton in Birdman. Fans of Hollywood’s inner machinations will definitely want to pick this up. The books explains attempts to produce a documentary on Mengers, and while I doubt a feature-length biopic of her life is warranted, a documentary has merit!