Friday, February 19, 2016

Big Eyes, Trumbo

I was in Frisco in June 1962 visiting Jan and Alan in Oakland when the Walter Keane big eyes “art” was the buzz up and down Market Street.
“Big Eyes” is a gaze at ‘60s sexism, co-dependent relationships and old fashioned American hucksterism.  Amy Adams is quite convincing as the Stepford wife Margaret married to Walter Keane who is a clownish charlatan as played by Chris Waltz.
In the interviews on the DVD, director Tim Burton discusses good vs bad art and compares the Keanes to goofy movie director Ed Wood who is immortalized in an earlier Burton film that I adore.  In a revealing aside, Burton reveals that he cast Kristen Ritter in a supporting role because she looks like Barbara Steele, who was the “queen of gothic horror” in Mario Bava and Roger Corman ‘60s AIP movies.  Burton can’t help himself.  He must have been influenced by the horror kings on late night TV as a kid like we all were.

Like a Frank Capra story, the little guy stands up to the power elite and reclaims his good name before the curtain drops.  And the crowd at Minneapolis’ Riverview Theater applauded last night as the credits rolled.  The movie was appropriate for today’s events that feature billionaires, big banks and a seriously diminished middle class.
The hero is Dalton Trumbo who was uncooperative with the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the late 1940s so he was put behind bars.  The villains include the venomous Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper brilliantly portrayed by Helen Mirren as an anti semitic snake out to destroy the pinko/red script writers.  
Other heroes include actor Kirk Douglas, director Otto Preminger and B movie producer Franklin King played by John Goodman who threatens a Congressional investigator with a baseball bat.  The movie short changes the accolades that should be showered on Trumbo’s script for the King Brothers’ Monogram film noir “Gun Crazy” and the Kings’ “The Brave One” that earned Trumbo an Oscar under a pseudonym.

These melodramas where we can cheer for the downtrodden and boo the villains are best seen communally by the like-minded in a mid century modern setting like the historic Riverview.  I am glad I could have been there for the fun.

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