I've been watching some movies lately, along with going to recitals. There's about one every day this week and next, it seems.
So I added Robert Z. Leonard's The Divorcee with Norma Shearer to my queue recently. It's packaged as a "pre-code" Hollywood film, but it's from 1930 so, of course, it's incredibly tame by today's standards. The film follows Norma Shearer as she gets married and then divorces her husband because he's a philandering jackass. Well, first she cheats on him to settle the score and then he divorces her because he can't deal with his manhood being impugned. The film had me at this point. Norma Shearer calls her husband on his sexist double standards and then divorces his ass. Then she goes about town with numerous other men and tries to have a little fun. The movie winds down with her realizing that her life is empty (all that partying: so exhausting!) and meeting an old flame who still pines for her. She is planning on marrying him and moving to J-pan, but then his wife (who was tragically disfigured in act one) comes into the scene and Norma Shearer realizes what she really wants to do is not to marry the man who could make her happy, but find her husband (now living in Paris) and try to make a go of it with him again. The film ends happily (of course) with the sanctity of marriage being upheld, etc, etc. It's a lot like The Love Parade in this way--and similarly disappointing. Still, Norma Shearer is fabulous. If you've never seen her in anything, you're missing out. She won an Oscar for The Divorcee and it's because she played against type with this role and she's superb in it.
Today I continued my 1984 kick by watching Francis Ford Coppola's gangster-flick-slash-musical-revue film The Cotton Club. The movie stars Richard Gere, Gregory Hines and Diane Lane. As I said, it's a gangster film about the Cotton Club, so interspersed with the Godfather-style murders and meetings and kidnappings are musical numbers starring very light-skinned black people. It's a weird movie anyway, but it's treatment of race is a little odd, to say the least. Gregory Hines is second-billed in the movie, but the Hines plot and the Gere plot intersect only very rarely, and I began to wonder why we were following his story at all. Obviously, the film means to follow a white man and a black man as they navigate the politics and seamy underbelly of the Cotton Club, but the film is only truly committed to its white lead, and whenever the film turns its focus to its black lead it feels like an afterthought. This is so pronounced that The Cotton Club is really two movies, and because it divides its time between the two, the film never really gets off the ground. There is at least one really good scene in the picture, but it's mostly eye candy. The period is beautiful to look at and Milena Canonero's costumes are gorgeous. But that is pretty much all The Cotton Club has going for it.