Archive for April, 2009


The Unsinkable Downey

robert-downey-jr-photos-034Born in 1965 to an underground film director, Robert Downey, Jr., is only now starting to be known more for his film work and talent than for his past drug addictions and destructive behavior. The star of Iron Man (2008), Tropic Thunder (2008), The Soloist (2009), and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes, Downey is finally having his day. Aside from being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Chaplin (1992), he also has a solo CD, a short-lived stint on Saturday Night Live in the mid-eighties with Anthony Michael Hall, and a long-lived relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker until 1991. But it’s Downey’s known reckless spontaneity, formerly from drugs and now from a controlled youthful playfulness that forms the foundations of his onscreen (and offscreen) persona.

1. The Pick-Up Artist (1987) – This strange, imperfect little film, directed by James Toback and co-starring Dennis Hopper, Harvey Keitel, and Danny Aiello, showcases Downey as an impulsive Casanova who finally meets his match in Molly Ringwald. Great use of New York City. Downey would go on to star in other Toback films, such as Black and White (1999) and Two Girls and a Guy (1997).

2. The Last Party (1993) – This documentary follows a newly sober Downey, still in his twenties, as he attends the 1992 Republican and Democratic conventions. It also gives an intimate look at his family life: the new wife he met in rehab, along with his father and stepmother. In four short years, Downey would go on an even steeper downward spiral, but for now, he is very aware and articulate about his flaws, fears, and idealism in relation to himself and to the country as a whole, which would soon be electing a new president, who would have quite a roller coaster journey of his own.

3. Only You (1994) – I like this underappreciated little film for the cast (which includes Marisa Tomei), the location (Italy), and the romantically optimistic plot (although unlikely, still hopeful). Downey plays a shoe salesman who falls in love with a teacher (Tomei), who is dead-set on fulfilling her destiny with someone else.

4. Zodiac (2007) – So, the three other films listed here seem to revolve around the themes of hope and optimism. Zodiac seems the odd man out. Upon its release, much was made of the parallels between a once-again sober Downey’s past drug use and his character’s addictions. By the end of the film, his character has to use an oxygen mask due to the toil his body has taken. A chilling reminder of what Downey could have become had he not turned his life around.


Vertigo’s Alternate Ending

Vertigo original ending's last shot

Vertigo original ending's last shot

“Vertigo” (1958) is quite possibly Hitchcock’s masterpiece, although my personal favorite is “Notorious” (1946). However, my favorite scene in all of Hitchcock is when Kim Novak (as Judy playing a fake Madeline for the hero’s pleasure, walks out of the bathroom toward Scottie (James Stewart) in that green light. I had always had “Vertigo” on tape, so was not familiar with the DVD version, which includes an alternate ending that Hitchcock supposedly made for European censors. Apparently, the original ending of Scottie looking down from the tower after Judy has just fallen to her death left too much moral ambiguity about the murderer Elster’s whereabouts. Also, censoring for the Europeans seems strange because they’ve always had a better track record for ambiguous and provocative film content than Hollywood ever did.

In the alternate ending, Scottie’s “safe” ex-fiancé Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), whom we haven’t seen since the film’s halfway mark, listens to the radio as an announcer lets us know that the police are close to catching Elster, who has left the country (the villain will be caught, giving us a morally tied-up ending). The announcer then transitions to a story about a frat prank involving a cow (?) when Scottie enters Midge’s dark apartment, and Midge switches off the radio. The announcer’s voice has just spoken the film’s last words. Midge pours Scottie a drink, and the pair stands in silence, never looking at or moving toward each other. The film fades to black after several uncomfortable seconds of this.

Overall, the original ending is much better in its ambiguity toward Scottie’s future and its focus on his character. The alternate ending, although it doesn’t compromise the film with a romantic reunion and/or embrace between Midge and Scottie (Scottie accepting the safe choice: marriage and family with the stable yet boring girl), is awkward in that it brings Midge and Elster back into the picture after a long absence, taking away from the focus on Scottie. It also gives us an ending reminiscent of “Psycho” (everything seems alright, but it’s not really) or “The Graduate” (what have we done? where do we go from here?)