Tag Archives: Elizabeth Taylor

Thinking Aloud About Film: The Driver’s Seat/ Identikit (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, 1974)

Based on the 1970 novella by Muriel Spark, with Elizabeth Taylor playing a woman in the middle of a nervous breakdown, constantly deflecting the attention of brutish men who mistake her for a prostitute whilst  cruising for a man more ‘her type’ to do something …. darker; a fragmentary film, a big-budget experiment in narration, with a now middle-aged but still  astonishingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor giving one of her greatest and most under-rated performances. In this podcast we discuss Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat,  Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, the appearance of Andy Warhol as a badly-dubbed British aristocrat; Elizabeth Taylor’s career in the late sixties/ early 70s and to what extent its reception has been coloured by sexism (in contrast to say Dirk Bogarde’s) and American cultural imperialism (popular european cinema doesn’t matter). We also mention Bruce La Bruce’s appreciation of the film in an essay that accompanies the BFI blu-ray release and speculate on whether the film has a ‘gay gaze’. An exploratory discussion of a film that deserves much more attention.

The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast may  also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

A sign of Taylor’s involvement with editing (and of her power at that period):

A note to Spark:

José Arroyo

My Life With Cleopatra: The Making of a Hollywood Classic by Walter Wanger and Joe Hyams



An Oxfam find. I think I first read this forty years ago or so. This editions was re-published to coincide with the 50th anniversary blu-ray release in 2013. It’s a book that’s useful for many reasons, the first being that it’s a producer’s account so one’s allowed in from the very first stages of planning, casting decisions (Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Joan Collins, Noel Coward — all were discussed seriously), the hiring of key personnel and the production planning. We get to see why it was decided to film in the UK (the Edy plan) and Egypt (free use of military as extras) and why the eventual move to Rome and Cinecittà. We eventually understand why Rouben Mamoulian was hired and why he was eventually replaced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. There are lots of pages about getting Sidney Guilaroff to do Taylor’s hair, how the British unions were against this, and the bribes involved to get them to aquiesce. Taylor comes across as supremely sane, intelligent, and helpful. Wanger, married to Joan Bennet for many years, and a distinguished independent producer since the thirties knew how to deal with stars, what to expect, how to make things comfortable. It’s the other producers who come off badly here, power-hungry, indecisive, incompetent. In a line that’s become a commonplace recently, ‘I don’t care what the facts and figures say, just make it happen’. Well something did happen: the most expensive film ever to that time. We get a complete budget breakdown of the final version, and we’re also told — that contrary to its legend — the film went into profit in 1966 with its $5 million dollar sale to ABC. According to Kenneth Turan in the afterword, ‘Cleopatra became one of the highest grossing films of 1963, ended up playing in New York for sixty three weeks, and went into profit in 1966′ (p.224) .

Turan writes, ‘On one level the limited success Cleopatra achieved in the face of ungodly obstacles can be seen as a triumph of the system, the victory of industry worker bees over snarky gossipistas. But from another point of view the lesson of this film fifty years down the road is how little remembered that triumph is and the recognition of how often perception becomes reality in this town ‘(224-225).

An entertaining and useful read.

José Arroyo

Brando: cruising, masculinity and queer desire in Reflections in a Golden Eye


The cruising, the relation between performativity and masculinity, the longing and frustration, the contortions of queer desire in the closet —  I hope this all  comes out in the edit itself.  I’ll eventually put some text in it but not much. I feel the video below speaks for itself.

José Arroyo

Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA, 1959)


Suddenly Last Summer is another of those films i seem to have been aware of my whole life but had never seen until now. It’s an extraordinary work, like three extended arias, a medium one by Hepburn at the beginning, a long one by Taylor through most of the middle, and then a coda by Hepburn once again as she goes up the lift and into madness. Taylor throws herself into the role and is quite extraordinary. But it’s Hepburn who is thrilling, an acting lesson for anyone interested in the subject, her line readings a work of art on their own. Mankiewicz films most of it in clever long takes that have a rhythm and find increasing intensity in extraordinary close-ups. Clift is sad to see, like a distorted dissolve of his previous self, and is there mainly as ‘straight man’ to set the context and feed the lines so that two great actresses can soar. The dialogue is self-consciously poetic, beautifully stylised, and yet one is lulled into…cannibalism, rape, madness, exploitation, cruelty. It’s quite something.

The film is almost incantatory, like a hallucinogenic.; the language is extraordinary; Mankiewicz’ direction is under-rated. And Hepburn is really in a league of her own. I can’t imagine even Bette Davis doing something so fine.

As for Taylor, can anyone think of another box-office queen who at the peak of her stardom performed Shakespeare, Williams, Albee, Rattigan, Marlowe and Dylan Thomas in major motion pictures?

The image in this Indicator edition is lovely, rich, deep black and whites with a whole array of greys in between. A wonderful ‘print’.

José Arroyo

Beyond the Forest (King Vidor, USA, 1949)


Almost universally derided as lurid, overwrought, excessive: I liked it very much. The title at the intro warns us that the film is a story of evil. In Beyond the Forest, evil is personified by a woman, Rosa Moline (Bette Davis), married to the too-nice local doctor (Joseph Cotton) but desperate to get out of that one-horse town and into the nearest big city – Chicago – for the sophistication and excitement she craves. Why is she evil? Because she’s a slattern – the house is full of dust —  because she cheats on her husband, because she’s killed a man. But the worst bit – the bit that got cut out of prints in several US cities – is because she’s willing to jump off a hill to abort the child that’s keeping her from the bright lights of the big city. At the beginning, she says that life in Loyalton is like waiting for a funeral to start. The film shows us just how true that is, as she collapses and dies just as she’s about to make the last train outta there.

The film is probably best remembered for Davis’ speaking of the one line ‘What a dump!’, a camp classic made respectable when re-deployed by Edward Albee in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and even more famous when Elizabeth Taylor spat it out in the film version. But the fame of the line obscures what surrounds it and makes it potent: Rosa’s refusal of the constraining and defining options for women in Loyalton.

‘I don’t want people to like me. Nothing pleases me more than when they don’t like me. It means I don’t belong.’ When her dull milksop of a husband — shown drinking a glass of milk in case you didn’t get it —  tells her he just saved a woman’s life, her retort is ‘Saved her for what?’ Hating everyone makes her feel alive, keeps her from accepting the conditions of the existence she didn’t choose, keeps her in revolt. ‘I’m going to bed,’ says the husband. ‘That’s big news. Where else could you go?’ Gay audiences of the time might have laughed at the line but surely the feeling that if they didn’t get out of their small towns and into a big city, they’d die, that towns like Loyalton would kill them, is a situation they could connect to, one that spoke them and dramatised their plight?



Beyond the Forest has many great scenes but one worth lingering over is the one where she leaves the husband and runs off to Chicago only to find Neill Latimer (David Brian), her lover, doesn’t want to marry her (see above). He offends her by offering her money. But even as she refuses, she’s interpellated by everything  that surrounds her as laughinstock and a whore: she’s kicked out of a bar for being a single woman, a drunk thinks her a prostitute, the police have their eye on her, even the newspaper boy seems to detect her plight. It’s a fantastic scene. Some might think it too much. But too much for what? King Vidor directs this is as if it were an opera, all is emotion and he’s finding the right pitch to convey it, with situation, camera, setting and angles, even the tone of a stranger’s laughter. Everything here symbolises, creates, evokes and conveys feeling. Clearly.


Ruth Roman is in the movie merely as an ideal of womanhood, everything Davis’ Rosa Moline isn’t. Max Steiner’s score is so unimaginative he has to rely on underscoring Fred Fisher’s ‘Chicago’ over everything. And yet, Beyond the Forest is lurid, is excessive, is overwrought. It is also great. The film achieves the latter through, not in spite of, the former.


José Arroyo