Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dorothy Stratten, "Death of a Playmate"

I read Teresa Carpenter's article, "Death of a Playmate", about the murder of Dorothy Stratten, published in The Village Voice in 1980. The article was the basis for Bob Fosse's movie, Star 80.

You can read it here.

"Dorothy Stratten was focus of the dreams and ambitions of three men," it said. "One killed her."

Hugh Hefner got no respect ftom Hollywood. None of his models managed to go on to any sort of acting career. Until Dorothy Stratten. She seemed to be on her way to stardom.

Then there was Peter Bogdanovich who started sleeping with her while directing her in They All Laughed. He had a history of this. He had dumped his wife and started sleeping with 19-year-old model-turned-actress Cybill Sheppard while filming The Last Picture Show.

And, of course, there was her husband, Paul Snider, a former pimp from Vancouver, BC. He was the one who discovered Dorothy and got her into Playboy in the first place. This was going to be his big score, but she was being lured away from him.

Carpenter noted, by the way, that the cast of They All Laughed found Bogdanovich charming. The crew, however, thought he was a "selfish megalomaniac".

There was something screwed up about him. Bogdanovich had been married to Polly Platt, a producer, production designer and screenwriter. She was extremely well-regarded in Hollywood. Her career was ultimately more impressive than Bogdanovich's and she was apparently the reason for his early success. He dumped her for Cybill Sheppard, a teenage model-turned-actress.

Star 80

I saw the movie Star 80 when I was probably about 20. I watched it with a friend. I was impressed by it, but my friend had a hard time watching it because he found himself identifying with Snider. I generally took movies more seriously than he did, but he was more affected by them. He became more emotional watching them and refused to watch certain movies because of that.

I guess I identified with Snider to a point. He discovered Dorothy Stratten bought her the dresses, coaxed her into modeling and acting and introduced her to the world. But there he was, a Canadian from the lower classes trying to hang around with the wealthy celebrities in the Playboy mansion, out of place in his bad suit. He was excited to meet TV stars and they looked at him like he was an idiot, like he had revealed something shameful about himself by admitting that he even watched TV.

Bodganovich, the auteur theory

Pauline Kael had written some crap about the movie Citizen Kane. It would be her only original work, not a review of someone else's work, and she really failed. She used it to attack what has come to be called "the auteur theory". She claimed very stupidly that Orson Welles had little to do with the making of Citizen Kane and that the cinematographer, Greg Toland, was the real genius behind it.

Charles Foster Kane went bald as he got older. Pauline Kael claimed that it must have been Greg Toland's idea, because Peter Lorre was bald in a movie he photographed a few years earlier.

Peter Bogdanovich wrote a response to Kael's idiocy pointing out her stupidity. Even if Orson Welles wasn't the "auteur", how did she justify not interviewing him for her book? He starred in the movie. He was the director. Even if you don't think a director is an "auteur", don't you think he would have some useful information?

So, anyway, there is an attack on Peter Bogdanovich posted in It's a biography of him, and was in large part an attack on the auteur theory. Bogdanovich made three highly successful films at the beginning of his career. If the auteur theory was correct, the person argued, he would have continued making successful movies.

Of course, if they stay at it long enough, all directors, auteurs or not, will go into decline. Look at Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s. Look what happened to Billy Wilder.

You can look at the careers of writers, novelists, who are literally and undeniably "auteurs". Raymond Chandler went into decline with his last few novels. Charles Bukowski wrote about his fans writing to him as he got older and telling him he was in decline----he said he had noticed other writers over the years losing their edge as they got older, but it never occurred to him to write them letters to tell them this. There was F. Scott Fitzgerald's sad decline.

The auteur theory may be all wrong, but Pauline Kael didn't disprove it and neither did the polemic against Bogdanovich.

I thought Gore Vidal made a much better case against the auteur theory. He argued that the author of the film was the actual author. The screenwriter.

Vidal discussed the movie Ben Hur which he had worked on as a writer. 

Writing the script to Ben Hur, Vidal had a problem. The plot made no sense. Ben Hur, a Jew, meets his old Roman friend played by Stephen Boyd. They knew each other as teenagers. They have a two minute argument over politics and Stephen Boyd spends the next twenty years persecuting Ben Hur and his family.

Vidal came up with an explanation for Boyd's behavior: He and Ben Hur had been lovers when they were teenagers. When they meet again as adults, Boyd wants to continue the relationship, but Ben Hur isn't interested.

Vidal told Stephen Boyd this interpretation, and that's how Boyd played the scene. Charleton Heston was not told, and the director didn't know about it either. So who should get credit for this aspect of the film? Auteur theorists would give the director credit, even though he had nothing to do with it.

As Timothy Bottoms said in the documentary about the making of The Last Picture Show, making a movie is too much for one person. It's a collaborative process .Bottoms----I think I mentioned this in an earlier entry----referred to his what he had learned working with Dalton Trumbo in Johnny Got His Gun. He was complaining about Bogdanoich's manner of directing actors, which was to act out each actor's role and have them imitate it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article. Frank Perry, Stanley Donen, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby, William Wyler also disprove the "auteur theory" and many others. What happened to them? I never actually read Kael's book on "Citizen Kane" but just took it on reputation of what an important book it was.

Did you read the Timothy Bottoms' interview where talks about Bogdanovish and Dorothy Stratten? The Stratten story is shocking, given the timeline he's talking about.

Uncanny how "Star 80" has the effect of making the viewer identify with the Snider character, as well as Dorothy who we're in total sympathy with and whose journey in the story is heartbreaking. I think "Star 80" is an important film, and an electrifying experience, in spite of the grim material.