photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
the MYTH-making power of HOLLYWOOD is impressive. for all intents and purposes its almost an UNSTOPPABLE force given the INSATIABILITY and speed by which the public consumes information about celebrities. the accessibility of the internet and modern social media have only exponentially compounded the situation.
in essence, the recent MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT (LIMBIC, 2018) documentary is an effort by the family of MONTGOMERY CLIFT to set the record straight on their famous thespian kin against longstanding rumors, bolstered by two notorious biographies, that his death at 45 was not the result of a heart attack, but the end result of a spiral into ALCOHOLISM and SELF-DESTRUCTION rooted in his supposed SELF-LOATHING over being a HOMOSEXUAL. the popular myth is that he was deeply conflicted and troubled over his SEXUALITY and that such ruined his career and led to his downfall.
in other words the reality was more COMPLEX.
namely CLIFT was famously INDEPENDENT. a highly IN-DEMAND theater actor, his first film came in his late 20s after more than a decade of declining starring roles in such iconic pictures as EAST OF EDEN (WARNER BROS, 1955), which went to JAMES DEAN, ON THE WATERFRONT (COLUMBIA, 1954), which went to MARLON BRANDO, and SUNSET BOULEVARD (PARAMOUNT, 1950), which went to WILLIAM HOLDEN. his holding out was a way of using leverage to free himself of the STUDIO SYSTEM, essentially becoming a free agent who could choose projects and directors instead of being dictated such as the rest of his peers were. it was a absolutely UNIQUE situation that garnered him much POWER and in turn ILL-WILL amongst the HOLLYWOOD elite. as for his SEXUALITY, this film through interviews attests that he was OPEN about such to his peers, collaborators and bosses. he was never in a closet in terms of how he went about his personal life in private.
like all stars of the period, identifiers such as RACE and SEXUALITY were all similarly WHITEWASHED in order to cater to a national audience that was SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE and uniformly UNFORGIVING regarding such. case in point is MARGARITE CANSINO whose SPANISH heritage was deliberately obfuscated to better sell her to audiences that would come to recognize her as RITA HAYWORTH. same goes on today with countless actors who change their name to avoid association with their ETHNICITY such as MARTIN SHEEN (SPANISH), CHLOE BENNET (CHINESE), HELEN MIRREN (RUSSIAN), RAQUEL WELCH (BOLIVIAN), NATALIE WOOD (RUSSIAN) and FRED ASTAIRE (GERMAN) among countless others. manufacturing stage names with the intent to obfuscate from one's ETHNIC or RELIGIOUS origins is practically a tradition in HOLLYWOOD with the intent being MARKETABILITY to an unsophisticated AMERICAN audience. CLIFT was not alone in living his personal life privately as a HOMOSEXUAL, as other prominent GAY and BISEXUAL male actors such as ANTHONY PERKINS, ROCK HUDSON, SPENCER TRACY, FARLEY GRANGER and TYRONE POWER all lived to varying levels of success amidst their falsely projected public personas. this is all a long-winded way of stating that his predicament wasnt UNIQUE in HOLLYWOOD and not a source of private consternation. the fact that such falsities were weaponized towards the end of his life seems emblematic of a HOLLYWOOD power structure that sought to kick him when he was down, as director JOHN HUSTON did with his SALACIOUS lawsuit that effectively isolated CLIFT from working in films at the end of his life.
this narrative of the CONFLICTED, REPRESSED, SELF-LOATHING HOMOSEXUAL is a TIRED and PAINFULLY VICIOUS trope that has been utilized in films seemingly forever as exhaustively researched and examined in the documentary THE CELLULOID CLOSET (SONY PICTURES, 1996), as well as the VITO RUSSO book (review linked HERE) of which it is based upon. it is a NASTY narrative trope that seeks to identify and perpetuate GAY characters as being INCOMPLETE, MORALLY COMPROMISED and ultimately UNWORTHY recipients of LOVE, DIGNITY or EMPATHY. that such bullshit was placed on such a prominent figure as CLIFT makes sense in this light. but its not the truth.
MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT is very much the seemingly SISYPHEAN attempt by the CLIFT family to provide archival audio recordings to showcase the EMOTIONAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL state of mind the famous actor was in shortly before his unexpected natural passing from a heart attack. the longstanding narrative is so culturally entrenched in our COLLECTIVE PSYCHE that its unlikely to be dislodged. but reality isnt a fantasy. sometimes people just die. end stop. no greater meaning and no attendant feel good moral victory.
the fact that this narrative has perpetuated itself for so long is likely due to the INFANTILIZATION of the AMERICAN public and its need for answers, when none exist. JFK, SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY and 9/11 are all susceptible to this lapse in rational judgement and the need to manufacture answers and meaning in a void. to create a MYTHOLOGY.
cant we just leave MONTY alone and let his memory be enough? MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT is an incredibly POIGNANT documentary whose questions regarding privacy and the INSATIABLE appetite of the public towards our CELEBRITY CULTURE as it intersects with FALSE NORMATIVE ATTITUDES towards MINORITY GROUPS is VALID and very much of this moment. definitely recommend this THOUGHTFUL film to anyone interested in those issues.
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