Daily | “The Discreet Charm of George Cukor”

George Cukor

George Cukor

“Perhaps the most astute assessment of George Cukor‘s moviemaking career, which spanned 51 years (1930–1981), was delivered by the auteur himself,” suggests Melissa Anderson in the Voice: “‘There are lots of creative directors who can seize a script and make it part of their world—like Lubitsch, or Ford, or Hitchcock,’ Cukor told Kenneth Tynan in a 1961 profile of the filmmaker. ‘And there are others who try to become part of the script’s world. Like me.’ … Even 30 years after his death, Cukor is sometimes condescendingly referred to as a ‘women’s director’ (a term that was also used to show contempt for his homosexuality, an open secret for five decades), as if eliciting some of the greatest performances from Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Judy Garland were no extraordinary accomplishment. The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s complete, 50-title Cukor retrospective proves the foolishness of such dismissals, showcasing the gifts of a director as deft in noirs (see 1941’s A Woman’s Face) as in comedies.”

The Notebook is running an excerpt from George Cukor. On/Off Hollywood, an essay by David Phelps: “Within the mystery of Cukor’s whole career, [Edward, My Son, 1949] can serve as a kind of litmus test of just what it is that Cukor’s up to. Cuts are few in Edward, an apparent piece of filmed theater in which the camera pulls forward and away from the characters as if trying to edge as close to them as possible without ever quite approximating their perspectives. Here, ten minute scenes are played out in two or three shots, and Cukor’s career-long deferral of close-ups becomes a near-absence of them, sustained by an almost total elision of shot-reverse-shots…. The characters decamp to chairs in the mid-ground when they find their moral self-possession under siege; they rise slowly from the chairs when a counter-plot coheres in their mind; and in the most escalated moments of hysteria, one chases the other into the foreground, both facing forward as if trapped against the screen, their despair assured by the comprehension that, this close to the camera, there’s nowhere to go, and frequently nowhere to sit.”

In his overview of the series in the New Yorker, Richard Brody notes that Cukor won only one Oscar, for Best Director, for My Fair Lady (1964). But “he had been directing versions of the Pygmalion story—most of them based on the lives and passions of actors—since the start of his movie career, in the early thirties…. One of his best discoveries was the squawk-voiced, faux-dumb blonde Judy Holliday, who displays an astonishing comic virtuosity—both verbal and physical—in Born Yesterday, from 1950, as a gangster’s moll who gets an education from a scholarly journalist. (It was her first leading role, and she won an Oscar for it.) In 1954, Cukor cast her with [Jack] Lemmon in It Should Happen to You, a New York street comedy about a struggling model who, craving celebrity, puts her name on a Columbus Circle billboard and learns the price of fame—Cukor’s other great theme.”

“Is the filmography of George Cukor a queer filmography, or a bunch of films directed by a man who happened to be gay?” Daniel Walber addresses the question at

Peter Bogdanovich has been reopening another batch of files, “going through the George Cukor-directed pictures in my 1952-1970 card-file of ratings and comments on the movies I saw during that very formative 19-year period.” Parts 1 and 2.

The Discreet Charm of George Cukor opens today and runs through January 7.

Update, 12/15: More from Richard Brody: “Though he never had a screenwriting credit, he exerted a thoroughgoing and substantial creative power over his movie’s scripts, and very early on he developed a conspicuous, distinctive, and aesthetically sophisticated style, which doesn’t merely convey his ideas but arises from them, too…. For Cukor, the creation of a star entails the birth of a public persona, yielding three overlapping identities: the work of art, the figure of celebrity, and the private person. Cukor’s artistry is centered on the intricate relations and inherent clashes of those three spheres.”

Updates, 12/22: Nicholas Elliott for Bomb: “Made in 1938, wedged between the Great Depression and the economic boom brought by the Second World War, Holiday dares to go against American dogma and proclaim that the goal in life is not to amass a fortune. It goes further still by suggesting that hard work is not all it’s cracked up to be. You know from the first shot of Cary Grant entering the movie ass-first, his derrière coming out of a New York taxi cab, that something contrarian is afoot.”

In the New York Times, Stephen Holden recommends spending Christmas Day at the Walter Reade Theater, starting with My Fair Lady (1964) at one in the afternoon. “At 4:30, a showing of the 1960 film Let’s Make Love, in which Marilyn Monroe slithers onto the screen singing Cole Porter’s ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy.’ Monroe’s co-star is Yves Montand, with whom she had an affair during the film’s making, and their chemistry is palpable. Finally, at 7 p.m., there is the 1954 musical remake of A Star Is Born, starring Judy Garland in her greatest screen performance and James Mason at his peak.”

Peter Bogdanovich opens a third batch from his Cukor File.

Lukas Foerster posts a series of stills from A Bill of Divorcement (1932), focusing on stairways.

“A constant workhorse, Cukor directed films in six different decades,” writes Erik Luers. “With so much to choose from, which ones stood the test of time? FilmLinc Daily recently decided to ask some of the nation’s top critics, filmmakers, curators and Cukor fanatics to help us with this question, surveying them on which of the director’s films were the absolute best.”

Update, 12/27: In the NYT, Stephen Farber suggests that “perhaps the best way to appreciate Cukor’s skill is to look not at the famous, award-winning movies like The Philadelphia Story or My Fair Lady, but at the more obscure and half-forgotten titles, which are fortunately well represented in the Lincoln Center program.” And he previews a string of titles yet to screen: It Should Happen to You, The Royal Family of Broadway, What Price Hollywood?, Heller in Pink Tights, The Model and the Marriage Broker, and Love Among the Ruins.”

Update, 1/7: Peter Bogdanovich has opened up a fourth batch of notes from his Cukor File.

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