ET TU, FRANKIE?

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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The Ides of March. The notorious date when Julius Caesar was betrayed by one of his closest friends, Marcus Junius Brutus, stabbed 23 times, and – if you believe William Shakespeare – then uttered the immortal Latin barb: “Et tu, Brute?”

This week we at The Thread spin out our tangled web starting from House of Cards and its Shakespearean power couple Frank and Claire Underwood. Who, like Brutus, betray even their nearest friends.

House is sort of Julius Caesar meets Macbeth, as performed by Richard III, with villainous soliloquies and labyrinthine plotlines that The Bard would’ve loved.

Frank

HOUSE OF CARDS (2015)

As Beau Willimon’s political thriller returns this week for its third season, the debate is on: tragedy or melodrama? Either way, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright make one of the most deliciously psychopathic couples this side of Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.

This match-made-in-hell pair don’t lift a finger unless it inches them closer to the ultimate prize: the Presidential throne.

So… Are we actually going to compare Willimon to Shakespeare? Well, all we’ll say on that subject is that most of Big Willy’s tragedies would play as soap operas too, if the writing wasn’t so damn good.

Netflix

 

Julius-Caesar-marlon-brando

JULIUS CAESAR (1953) 

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Marlon Brando, John Gielgud, James Mason, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr, and Louis Calhern. In a desperate attempt to restore the Republic, Brutus and Cassius lead a conspiracy to kill Caesar, only to be outmaneuvered by Mark Antony.

In ’53, the big question was whether the actor who so memorably bellowed “Hey, Stella!!” could do justice to The Bard’s language. With Anthony’s “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” speech, Brando proved he was indeed a contender, a year before his iconic line in On The Waterfront.

Brando gives the big speech his usual intensity, but adds a verbal precision not demonstrated in his previous performances. He even gives Marc Anthony an amazing little hint of English accent by broadening his American “ay’s” to British “ah’s”.

The result was the third Best Actor nom in a row for Brando, who would win the next year for Waterfront.

iTunes Google Play Vudu  Amazon

BTW All the big speeches from films mentioned in this post are excerpted on YouTube. Fun to watch.

 

macbeth

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (1971)

This is a frightening vision of Shakespeare’s tragedy about lust for power, directed by Roman Polanski soon after his wife was murdered by Charles Manson and gang. The resulting film is even bleaker and more violent than your typical Polanski.

This is our favorite screen version of “the Scottish play”, even though the stars – Jon Finch and Francesca Annis — are not that well known in America.

Critics at the time were split. Many felt the over-the-top violence and nudity (the witches are naked and Annis performs the sleepwalking scene nude) detracted from the nuances of the play. But for us, the meta-drama of Polanski re-enacting his wife’s murder via Shakespeare only deepens the resonance of the film.

Shot on gloomy location in Wales and Northumberland.

And trivia note on Francesca Annis’ considerable allure: she would later be Ralph Fiennes’ girlfriend for 11 years.

iTunes  Google Play  Amazon

 

3.psd

RICHARD III (1955)

We wavered a couple of minutes before including two Olivier films – but just look at the difference between his face here as Richard and below as Hamlet. You don’t usually think of Olivier as someone who transformed himself physically for roles like a method actor. But he really did.

This was the third Shakespearean film that Olivier made as producer, director, and star. When it came out it was a flop — at least compared to the earlier Henry V and Hamlet. Mixed reviews, no Oscar noms. For some reason it made much more of a splash when it was re-released in ’66.

This mesmerizing incarnation of unscrupulous villainy comes closer than any of the others here to Frank Underwood. Even though he hides it better than Kevin Spacey, you can tell how much fun Olivier is having.

The supporting cast of British nobility includes Ralph Richardson, Gielgud, and Claire Bloom. Sixty years later, a lot of critics like this performance even better than Hamlet. And even though the Oscars snubbed him, Richard did win Olivier two BAFTA’s (Best Actor, Best Film).

Amazon  iTunes  Criterion Collection

 

hamlet 

HAMLET (1948) 

You can keep your Branagh and Burton. Forget about Mel. And, Ethan…interesting, but weird.

For us, Olivier’s Hamlet is still the one to beat. Sir Larry’s second film as director/producer went on to win four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

The whole film is very much of its era – music, cinematography, effects are all a little over-the-top. But this is theatre after all, and the artificiality of the production just serves to frame the heightened language. The “To be, or not to be” soliloquy alone is worth the price of admission. Olivier is the only Hamlet who’s made us feel like he actually gets suicide.

And just for the record — we will be scrambling for tickets when the National Theater Live theatrical simulcast of Cumberbatch’s Hamlet goes on sale next month.

Amazon  Criterion Collection  Netflix  iTunes

 

coriolanus

CORIOLANUS (2012)

Coriolanus is not one of the big ones. The play doesn’t have any famous speeches or even famous stage directions (a la Titus Andronicus). But the Roman general does have a lot in common with Frank Underwood. For instance, hatred and contempt for the plebians of the world.

Coriolanus is pushed by his ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to become Consul. But he soon shows his true colors and is expelled from Rome. Driven by a lust for vengeance against the city, he allies himself with former enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). As you might imagine, it doesn’t all go exactly as planned.

There are two especially good things about Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut. First, how commanding Fiennes himself is as the revered and feared general at odds with Rome and her citizens. Second, how relevant he makes this offbeat choice of play to the modern world. War, famine, riots. Ego, betrayal, blood lust. Exchange breastplates and skirts for army fatigues, and voila!

Gotta say we also love the promo image of Fiennes — half Frank Underwood, half Colonel Kurtz. It’s amazing how the blood makes his eyes pop.

iTunes  Google Play  Vudu  Amazon

 

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Watch it!

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 “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” 

We could do a whole post on actress Butterfly McQueen, who went on to get a degree in political science and become a vocal public advocate for atheism. 

 Her 1939 performance as Prissy in Gone with the Wind was incredible – for us, even better than Hattie McDaniel who that year won the first Oscar ever for a black actor. 

The crime was that those two slave maids summed up the whole range of roles black actors could hope for. 

Some things change, but some things never will.  Like the fact that the Oscars are always going to get a certain number of things wrong.

 

Selma

SELMA (2014)

We always tear up at the moment when the underdog triumphs over injustice, and the second march over the bridge in Selma was no exception.

There are several remarkable achievements here – for instance, the fact that director Duvernay and writer Paul Webb actually made you feel like you were hearing King speak.  The MLK estate retain the rights to all of his speeches and have licensed them to Steven Spielberg for a bio-pic.

And we were truly amazed that David Oyelowo didn’t get a Best Actor nomination for his stellar performance.

iTunes  Google Play

 

 

Carmen Jones 

CARMEN JONES (1954)

Carmen Jones is kind of a mess and kind of amazing – exactly the sort of thing we love.  It’s Otto Preminger’s adaptation of an all-black Broadway Carmen.

Dorothy Dandridge sizzles opposite Harry Belafonte in what would be her only significant screen role – but one that nailed her a shot at the Best Actress Oscar.

What doesn’t sizzle is the dubbing.  Even though Dandridge was a singer, Preminger dubbed her with a very young pre-stardom Marilyn Horne.  And even more jarring, Belafonte is dubbed too!

Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for Best Actress.  She lost to a dirtied up Grace Kelly in a surprise upset – that year everybody expected Judy Garland to win for A Star is Born.

Dandridge was a showbiz vet long before she got to Carmen, and her life after Carmen was a Hollywood tale of missed opportunities and squandered potential – a lot of it due to still pervasive racism.

iTunes  Google Play Amazon

 

 

Dandridge  For more on Dandridge herself, check out Halle Berry in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, the excellent 2000 HBO film that won a slew of well-deserved Emmys and Golden Globes.  We could only find it on DVD.

Amazon  Netflix

 

 

Claudine

CLAUDINE (1974)

The amazing Diahann Carroll made her film debut in Carmen Jones.  By the time she got an Oscar Best Actress nom for the title role in Claudine, she had already won a Tony, a Golden Globe, and been nominated for an Emmy.

The movie is about the struggles of a Harlem welfare mother (Carroll) and her romance with a garbage man (Jones).  It was the rare black drama produced in the heyday of Blaxploitation.

1974 was an incredibly competitive year for Oscar movies – Chinatown, Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Lenny, A Woman Under the Influence, Day for Night.  But it’s still surprising that neither Jones (instead of Albert Finney as Poirot) nor the movie (instead of Towering Inferno) got nominations.

The Golden Globes made room for it by categorizing Claudine as a comedy, and gave both Carroll and Jones nominations.  He went on to win a slew of Emmys.  But although he’d already been nominated in 1970 (Best Actor, Great White Hope), the Oscars didn’t recognize him again until he got his Honorary Oscar in 2011.

Amazon  Netflix

 

 

 Beloved

BELOVED (1998)

This pick isn’t about missed awards, it’s about an underappreciated masterpiece. Of course, the book won the Pulitzer Prize.  And critical reception of the film was warm.    But despite the heavy promotion from Oprah and the fact that it was Demme’s first film after Philadelphia, Beloved was a flop, and only garnered a handful of nominations.

For Oprah, it was an intense labor of love, and the film’s failure hit her hard.  It would be 15 years before she would take another on-camera role in a feature.

But we loved it anyway, and can’t recommend it enough – Thandy Newton, Oprah, Danny Glover, Kimberly Elise are all powerful and riveting.

Amazingly, we’ve seen it categorized as a horror movie.  Yes there are ghosts and haunting, but there is also lyrical mysticism, social commentary, and moral complexity.

And, by the way, kudos to Oprah.  May she make another flop this good some day.  But don’t cry for me, Oprah Winfrey.  She bounced back and in the 15 years she wasn’t making movies she became the first black woman billionaire in the world.

Netflix  Google Play  iTunes  Amazon

 

 

Heat of the Night

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967)

The 40th Academy Awards were scheduled for Monday, April 8.  But Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, setting off riots in Washington, D.C. and other cities across the country.  Because the funeral was scheduled for April 9, the Awards were postponed until April 10.

Just like ’74, 1967 was a spectacular year for prestige movies – The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Wait Until Dark.  But the night was dominated by two movies starring Sidney Poitier: In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  Together, the two films were nominated for 17 Oscars and won 7, including Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress.

But Sidney Poitier didn’t even get nominated.  Even though he had a third huge movie that year – Lilies of the Field.

Could be he cancelled himself out.  But really?  That one line reading alone would have guaranteed most actors the Oscar: “They call me Mister Tibbs!”

Great movie, fantastic performance.  And has to be the biggest Oscar snub of all time.

Google Play  Netflix  iTunes  Amazon

 

 

 4 Little Girls

4 LITTLE GIRLS (1998)

Spike Lee’s first documentary is a bit of a different situation.

Because of the way HBO released it – a theatrical run that went beyond mere four-walling, and then a TV run on HBO – it got nominated twice.  Once for an Oscar, once for an Emmy.  Two honors and it lost both times.

It’s impossible to say definitively that 4 Little Girls is better than the Oscar winner, The Long Way Home, an arduous story of Jewish refugees making their way to Israel after WWII.  Or than Vietnam POWs: A Story of Survival (full disclosure: we have a personal connection here).

But it is a brutally moving and important film.  And especially in this year of Selma, if you haven’t seen it, brace yourself and do.

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