Saturday, October 27, 2018

NewFest ’18: Making Montgomery Clift

Montgomery Clift maintained his independence during the height of the Hollywood studio system, but he still worked with legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Howard Hawks, William Wyler, and Elia Kazan. Unfortunately, he has been poorly served by his biographers. Hillary Demmon and Robert Anderson Clift, the nephew who never had the chance to meet his Academy Award-nominated uncle, dispel much of the misinformation found throughout those scandal-mongering biographies in their compelling documentary, Making Montgomery Clift (trailer here), which screens as the closing night film at this year’s NewFest in New York.

Clift was good-looking and talented. Studios wanted to sign him, but he refused. He stayed independent and he was good enough to still get hired for some of the highest-profile pictures of his day. Although often lumped-in with Marlon Brando and James Dean, he was not the big method-acting proponent media accounts made him out to be. Popular misperceptions abound when it comes to Clift, but at least that one is relatively benign.

You would think that would be more than enough for an interesting book, but Clift’s two best known biographers preferred to traffic in ersatz Freudian analysis, focusing on his homosexuality, his allegedly unhealthy relationship with his mother, and the resulting guilt and shame that supposedly plagued him. The truth was rather more complicated, starting with the fact Clift was bi-sexual and had healthy, committed relationships with women, as well as men. Based on the Clift presented here, his allegedly all-consuming guilt looks decidedly exaggerated—and we often hear directly from the actor himself, who, like Robert Clifton’s father Brooks, had a habit of recording his telephone conversations. The nephew readily admits that was a weird family thing, but it left him a bonanza of primary source materials.

Watching Making will instill fresh contempt for the media in viewers, but in this case the focus will be book publishing, which usually gets off easy during media-bashing sessions (you have to wonder how depraved people have to be to work in that industry). Even though Robert LaGuardia is considered the less responsible of the lift two major life-chroniclers, he arguably comes off better in Robert Clift’s film, because he is seen in an archival television interview correcting the notion Clift went out cruising for “boys,” whereas Patricia Bosworth let that misinformation stand in her bio.

Frankly, classic Hollywood buffs will probably be disappointed movies like I Confess, the Canadian Hitchcock film, are only mentioned in passing. In a way, Robert Clift falls into the trap of covering the same junk found in the problematic biographies, for the sake of debunking them—but he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

Fortunately, the nephew still conveys a strong sense of his “Uncle Monty” to viewers, particularly his goofy sense of humor. It is also endearing to hear about his lifelong friendship with actor-producer Jack Larson, best known for playing Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s Superman TV Show. Demmon and Clift definitely prove there is plenty to “Monty’s” story after scraping off the angst and scandal, which is a genuine public service. Apparently, Bosworth’s “bio” has been optioned by film producers many times, but it is hard to see anyone letting their names be attached to it now that Making Montgomery Clift is in the public sphere. It is a decisive rebuke of media sensationalism, yet it is still an acutely personal film. Very highly recommended, Making Montgomery Clift screens this Tuesday (10/30) as part of the 2018 NewFest.