Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs


Bob Mackie called this afternoon. My new and thoroughly redesigned Grizabella costume is done. Gone are all that tatty fur and rumpled ears. I shall be one glamorous pussycat when I shoot my new Meow Mix commercial tomorrow. I toured the set this morning in order to review the blocking with the director. I’ll be standing on an enormous Firestone tire singing those wondrous ‘Meow Meow’ lyrics; the tire then suddenly blows a hole and I shoot on up to heaven while the stars spell 'Meow Mix' and a bunch of extras, dressed as Himalayans and Siamese applaud loudly while sitting in the mezzanine. I can smell the Clio award now.

Bob’s version of the Grizabella dress is in black lame with a sequined bustier and a Blackglama mink and sable overlay. It's about time the television public had a true star in a truly magnificent gown to look at. The current crop of so-called celebrities seems to have been dressed by a blind Wal-Mart greeter. I made the mistake of tuning into the Oscar show the other night. What were some of those women thinking? I was not asked to be a presenter this year or I would have been backstage fixing some of those fashion don’ts before they could have seen the light of day. One famous actress seems to have worn her hotel shower curtain by mistake. And another one was seemingly wearing her gym clothes.

Speaking of the Oscars, Norman and I opted to put the last movie to sweep all the top awards, The Silence of the Lambs into the home theater system this week. The DVD was in the bargain bin at the local K-mart which means, of course, that it had no extras, just the movie. For those of you unfamiliar with films of the 90s, this is the celebrated 1991 adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel and marked the second appearance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the incarcerated cannibal psychiatrist (after Michael Mann's 1986 Manhunter , an adaptation of the novel Red Dragon ).

The Silence of the Lambs deals with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), an orphan from West Virginia, who picks herself up by her bootstraps and works hard to get into the FBI academy at Quantico where she is noticed by Jack Crawford (an underplaying Scott Glenn), the head of the behavioral science section. Behavioral science is the section of the FBI that profiles serial killers and other interesting criminals. Crawford decides she just might be the person to acquire information from Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) about a perverse new killer on the loose. This one’s into skinning large young women, and is therefore nicknamed 'Buffalo Bill' by the cops. The stakes are raised for the FBI when 'Buffalo Bill' kidnaps a new victim, the daughter of a US Senator.

The heart of the movie is the four scenes between Clarice and Lecter. In these, Clarice attempts to get the information she needs to catch the killer; he responds by toying with her and decides only to cooperate if he can probe his malicious intellect deep into her tortured psyche. While it's only four scenes of a few minutes each, the performances are so brilliant and the emotions raised so harrowing that they are amongst the finest moments of screen acting ever-captured on film. Hopkins is both monstrous and oddly sympathetic as the psychiatrist with a taste for human liver and fava beans. His choices of absolute quiet and blandness of demeanor show the power of stillness in performance. It’s far scarier than the neurotic tics most actors rely upon. Foster, for her part, slowly reveals the complex nature of a wounded, but determined young woman whose hidden motives and drives are eventually explained (as well as clarifying the somewhat ambiguous and unusual title).

There is no false performance moment in the film. Foster brilliantly shows how what she has learned as an FBI trainee makes her a better detective and stronger person, allowing her to survive the final confrontation in a secluded basement six times larger than the house above. The small parts are filled with strong character actors such as Tracey Walter, Diane Baker and Charles Napier. Ted Tally’s script adapts Thomas Harris’s complex novel into a coherent story, clarifying psychological themes and simplifying characters and plot moments without creating plot holes or confusion. Jonathan Demme, as director blends all the elements together into a seamless whole. The man should work more although I hear he's spending much of his time these days giving classes on public speaking.

Endurance courses. Flying seminal fluid. Psychiatrists with bad teeth. Drawings of Florence. Gratuitous lamb chop dinner. Exotic moths and butterflies. Outré leather fashions. Ugly fruit print blouse slitting. Gratuitous Kasi Lemmons. Perfect last line.

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