Thursday, January 15, 2015

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Vincente Minnelli's follow-up to his 1952 Hollywood insider tale THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is a stylish, colorful melodrama that dissects the poisonous and mercenary underbelly of the film business, set against the glamorous, jet-setting world of early '60s Rome. Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas) is a self-destructive Hollywood star whose bad behavior has practically destroyed his career and alienated everyone around him. He is summoned to Rome by Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), a director and mentor with whom Jack had once been close but eventually had a falling out. With their association rekindled, Jack believes he is to star in Kruger's new film, but learns that instead he will be helping to oversee the dubbing process. The production is plagued by problems, including a tight-fisted producer who doesn't care if the film is any good or not since he gets paid either way, and a wild and unpredictable young star (George Hamilton) whose erratic behavior threatens to bring the production to a halt. Amid the chaos, Jack falls back into his own bad behavior -- drinking, womanizing, and fighting with those close to him. However, Jack has a rude awakening when Kruger suffers a heart attack, but he sees a chance for redemption by taking the reins and bringing his old mentor's film to fruition -- an act of dedication and commitment that nearly ends with tragic consequences.

Whereas Minnelli's earlier film was set in the final days of the old Hollywood studio system, TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN confronts the changes that had taken place in the industry over the intervening decade. Kruger's battles with his producer, for example, indicate the problems of independent financing, and the often unreasonable demands that come along with it. Even the technical process of filmmaking has become fraught with challenges resulting from the language barrier, from the difficulties in communicating with the Italian cinematographer, down to the long-drawn, laborious dubbing process necessitated by the multi-national cast. There is a wry comment on the differences between Hollywood and Italian attitudes toward filmmaking when Jack, stuck for an idea on how to photograph a scene, asks for a suggestion from the cinematographer, who replies that Jack is the first American director to ever ask him for his opinion.

In depicting the decadence and debauchery of the international jet-set in Rome, Minnelli wisely does not try to undercut its glamor and appeal, instead allowing the viewers to become seduced by it themselves, which makes the exposition of the ugliness, cruelty and superficiality beneath the surface all the more effective. It's a stunningly photographed film, too, lensed by Milton Krasner with bright, vibrant, at times almost hallucinatory colors that perfectly express the delirious, fantastic atmosphere of that milieu.

When Minnelli made THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL in 1952, the studio system -- a system headed by ruthless, practical men with extravagant visions -- had already started to crumble. A decade later, that system is in its death throes, straddling a new world in which the act of making the film seems to be secondary to the extravagance that continues long after the cameras have stopped rolling. Art, Minnelli seems to be saying, has no place in this world.

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