DID YOU READ

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (photo)

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The “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” of the silver screen is a neutered one. The characters, scenario, and rough plot of this 1958 film are all identical to the 1955 Tennessee Williams play it is based on, but many of the finer details have been smudged, obscured, or removed altogether because of the restrictions of the Motion Picture Production Code of the time. Thus, the “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” we can watch today (it’s currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly) starring Paul Newman, Burl Ives, and Elizabeth Taylor at the absolute apex of her beauty, is certainly not the one Williams’ would have preferred we watch. But while the omissions and changes make “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” a less authentic reflection of the author’s vision, they also make it a more authentic reflection of the author’s times and that, in turn, gives the film a kind of an unusual power. You know the expression “a love that dare not speak its name.” This film works so hard not to speak its name, that it reveals it anyway through the desperateness of its evasions.

Let’s begin with Taylor herself, who deserves a good deal of the credit for the film’s success despite the fact that her role is supplementary to the ones played by Newman and Ives. She plays “Maggie the Cat” of the title, a woman who came from nothing to marry Newman’s Brick, the favored but disillusioned and alcoholic son of an extremely wealthy Southern family. Brick and Maggie have travelled to his family’s plantation on the eve of his father Big Daddy’s (Ives) 65th birthday, fearfully awaiting the test results from his trip to a clinic. Even after Big Daddy returns home with a clean bill of health, Brick, who’s broken his foot in a drunken attempt to recreate his past athletic glories, refuses to participate in the birthday party. Maggie, worried that Brick’s greedy brother Gooper (Jack Carson) will steal their inheritance, desperately tries to coax him from boozy stupor, but Brick rejects all her entreaties.

I don’t think it is an understatement to say that Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is one of the most stunningly beautiful women ever photographed by a movie camera. A few scenes into the film, she peels off her already sexy outfit and saunters around in a cleavage-bearing white slip. The only word my vocabulary contains to accurately describe the sight of Taylor in this ensemble is one I learned from Tex Avery cartoons: “AwOOOOOOga.” Men throughout history have fought wars just for a glimpse of a woman like this but Brick barely notices her. Which is how we immediately know there is more to his depression than frustration over his bum foot. It’s how we also know, despite the screenplay’s frantic attempts to suggest to the contrary, that Brick is — or has at least contemplated life as — a homosexual.

This is the material from Williams’ play that the Production Code could not abide. As Big Daddy eventually confronts his wayward son about his drinking and his depression, the truth — or rather a truth — comes out. Brick recently lost a friend named Skipper, and that loss has, for some reason, sent Brick into his drunken tailspin. But why? Brick seems more emotionally invested in Skipper’s death than anyone would be for a simple friend, even a good one. Williams’ play never fully detailed the extent of Skipper and Brick’s relationship, but it strongly hinted at homosexuality on the part of one, or perhaps both. The film version is scrubbed clean of any direct references, but there some rather obvious allusions, always in lines of dialogue that are quickly silenced, like this evocative exchange between Brick and Big Daddy:

Brick: Skipper and I were friends. Can you understand that?

Big Daddy: Gooper and Mae said that Skipper —

Brick: Skipper is the only thing that I’ve got left to believe in. And you are draggin’ it through the gutter!

Big Daddy: Now just a minute!

Brick: You are making it shameful and filthy, you!

Censorship demanded many more changes to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”‘s text and subtext, particularly to its ending. But whether intentionally or not, the changes to Williams’ play by screenwriters James Poe and Richard Brooks (who also directed the film), turn “Cat” into an example of the exact thing that Brick rails against in his drunken argument with Big Daddy: mendacity. He drinks, he claims, to numb himself to the lies and liars of the world around him. It might have been nice to have all of the play’s original homosexual content transferred to the film. But the reality of 1958 America was not a kind one to gay men and women, who often had to live unhappy heterosexual lives against their will. Hiding Brick’s truth, relegating it to innuendos and entendres, reflects the sad world Brick lived in. In some ways, it makes it even sadder.

Though Taylor doesn’t provide the film’s best performance — that would be Ives’ in my opinion, as the boisterous, menacing, charming, obsessive, and extraordinarily complex Big Daddy — she more than earns her Academy Award nomination in the role (she ultimately lost to Susan Hayward for “I Want to Live!”). Even as its treatment of Brick’s possibly homosexuality date the film to the conservative 1950s, its treatment of Maggie belongs to a later, freer era. Or maybe an earlier one; in many ways, Taylor reminds me here of her character in 1944’s “National Velvet.” Once again, Taylor plays a self-made woman, willful and determined to carve out a place for herself over the objections of skeptical men. After watching just a few of her starring roles, it’s quickly becoming very easy to see what generations of American women saw in her (my grandmother was a huge fan). She was simultaneously strong and feminine during a time when those words were too often considered mutually exclusive.

Those words certainly describe Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” But while the film’s title suggests Maggie as some sort prowling beast, the movie ultimately shows Maggie’s sexuality in a positive light. Note the way Maggie is always dressed in white, even while wearing some of the luckiest lingerie in movie history. Notice too how often Brooks lights her more brightly than her co-stars, particularly during the climactic scenes between Big Daddy and the rest of the family, where Maggie who provides the potential olive branch that will help repair Brick and Big Daddy’s broken relationship. Maggie isn’t a predator; she is a beacon and a healer, for Brick and for the entire family. Her ultimate effect on her husband may not be a realistic solution to Brick’s emotional turmoil, but in a mendacious film about mendacious times, it feels like a hopeful one.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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