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On Cukor: An American Masters Special.

One of the great Hollywood directors, George Cukor gets his moment in the spotlight

On Cukor: An American Masters Special * Written, directed, and produced by Robert Trachtenberg * PBS, premieres November 22 (check local listings)

Finally there's a television documentary on George Cukor, one of Hollywood's most respected but least examined directors from the classic era, and a gay man at that. Abounding with entertainment value, "On Cukor," part of PBS's American Masters series, strikes a tenuous balance between the genres of biography and "appreciation" but reminds audiences that there's plenty in Cukor's career to appreciate.

As sheer entertainment, it's a no-brainer that "On Cukor' would be a mouthwatering delight, providing clips from such beloved classics as The Women, The Philadelphia Story, and My Fair Lady. As a life stow, the program, created by photographer and American Film Institute grad Robert Trachtenberg, is somewhat hazier. Simulating the roughly chronological structure of Gavin Lambert's fascinating book of conversations with the director (also titled On Cukor), the documentary uses film clips and interviews with Cukor's friends and colleagues (including director Peter Bogdanovich, critic Richard Schickel, and Lambert himself as well as actors Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Claire Bloom) to provide a picture of the director's unique accomplishments and to trace the arc of his career. But Cukor the man remains an enigma, tough to label or analyze. Sharp and articulate in archival interview clips, he yields none of the neuroses or "genius against the system" hubris that make the careers of Hitchcock and Orson Welles such fun to deconstruct. As for his private life, the discreet director remains silent, and despite the film's references to rollicking gay poolside parties at his Hollywood home, intimate friends and colleagues fail to recall anything about his sexuality that sheds light on his work.

But it's precisely the work that makes Cukor so fascinating and so ultimately compelling as a gay artist. His shrouded persona seems almost like a triumph of his career, and his self-proclaimed standards included supreme respect for the text and for actors. One glance at Ingrid Bergman's freaky performance in Gaslight or Judy Garland's shattering turn in A Star Is Born is proof of what Cukor could do even for established stars, especially women. (The film rejects Cukor's reputation as a "women's director," but it's hard to name another director who so consistently inspired women to greatness--never mind his excellent work with male performers.)

Lambert's delightful book--recently republished by Rizzoli with a wealth of rare pictures added by Trachtenberg, who edited the new edition--darts around the career in a rambling and free-associative style, suggesting that Cukor was a more interesting conversationalist than biography subject, at least given his discretion and the available material. But a biography loaded with so many fascinating works merits celebration, and this documentary is a worthy appreciation of a neglected career.

Find more on George Cukor as well as the book On Cukor at www.advocate.com

Kelley is director of programming for Outfest, the Los Angeles gay and lesbian film festival.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Kelley, Shannon
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Nov 21, 2000
Words:504
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