"In Paris I can do no wrong, they love me there." - Maria Montez.
a few years later:"Elle ne desert pas le nom d'actrice." - A Paris paper reviewing a film she made there.
At least in America a Maria Montez could believe she was the Cobra woman, the Siren of Atlantis, Scheherazade, etc. She believed and thereby made the people who went to her movies believe. Those who could believe, did. Those who saw the World's Worst Actress just couldn't and they missed the magic. Too bad - their loss. Their magic comes from the most inevitable execution of the conventional pattern of acting. What they can appreciate is what most people agree upon - GOOD Perfs. Therefore you can have GOOD PERFS & no real belief. GOOD PERFS that give you no magic - oh I guess a sort of magic, a magic of sustained efficient operation (Like the wonder that the car motor held out so well after a long trip).
But I tell you Maria Montez Moldy Movie Queen, Shoulder pad, gold platform wedge Siren, Determined, dreambound, Spanish, Irish, Negro?, Indian girl who went to Hollywood from the Dominican Rep. Wretch actress - pathetic as actress, why insist upon her being an actress - why limit her? Don't slander her beautiful womanliness that took joy in her own beauty and all beauty - or whatever in her that turned plaster cornball sets to beauty. Her eye saw not just beauty but incredible, delirious, drug-like hallucinatory beauty.
The vast machinery of a movie company worked overtime to make her vision into sets. They achieved only inept approximations. But one of her atrocious acting sighs suffused a thousand tons of dead plaster with imaginative life and truth.
Woman and yet imaginator/believer/child/simple pathetically believing with no defenses - a beautiful woman who could fantasy - do you know of a woman like that? There aren't any. Never before, never since - this was an extraordinary unique person. Women - people - don't come in combinations that can/can't happen again:
fantasy - beauty
child - siren
creature - straight etc. because each is all these plus its opposite - and to dig one woman is to mysteriously evoke all others and not from watching actresses give PERFS does one feel anything real about woman, about films, about the world, various as it is for all of us, about men. But to see one person - OK if only by some weird accident - exposing herself - having fun, believing in moldiness (still moldy, but if it can be true for her and produces delight - the delight of technicolor movies - then it would be wonderful if it could be true for us).
And in a crazy way it is all true for us because she is one of us. Is it invalid of her to be the way she is? If so, none of us are valid - a position each one of us feels a violation of oneself if taken by another person (whatever our private thoughts may be). If you think you are invalid you may be the person who redicules Montez movies. To admit of Maria Montez validities would be to turn on to moldiness, Glamorous Rapture, schizophrenic delight, hopeless naivete, and glittering technicolored trash!
"Geef me that Coparah chewel!"
"Geef me that Coparah chewel!"
- line of dialogue from Cobra Woman, possibly the greatest line of dialogue in any American flic.
- Jess Zunser, N.Y.Reviewer.
Juvenile does not equal shameful and trash is the material of creators. It exists whether one approves or not. You may not approve of the Orient but it's half of the world and it's where spaghetti came from. Trash is true of Maria Montez flix but so are jewels, Cobra jewels and so is wondrous refinement -
Night - villain/high priest enters the bedroom of the old queen (good) and stabs her in her bed. Seen thru a carved screen in bkgrnd - at that moment - the sacred volcano erupts (orange light flashes) Old queen stares balefully (say something?) and dies. Now the cobra priestess (the evil sister) and the high priest can seize Jon Hall betrothed to/and the good sister (rightful ruler) and imprison them with no opposition. Persecution of Cobra Island - Crushing offerings demanded for King Cobra -
(Chunk of scenario synopsized)
There is a (unsophisticated, certainly) validity there - also theatrical drama (the best kind) - also interesting symbolism, delirious hokey, glamour - unattainable (because once possessed) and juvenile at its most passionate.
If you scorn Montez-land (now gone anyway so you are safe from its contamination) you are safely out of something you were involved in once and you resent (in direct ratio to your scorn, even to rage) not being able to go back - resent the closed, rainbow colored gates, resent not being wanted there, being a drag on the industry.
Well, it's gone with the war years (when you know that your flic is going to make money you indulge in hokey - at these times when investments must be certain you must strictly follow banker0logic), Universal probably demolished the permanent Montez-land sets. Vera West committed suicide in her blackmail swimming pool. Montez dead in her bathtub from too much reducing salts. The colors are faded. Reel-Art Co. sold all her flix to T.V.
Montez-land (create of one woman’s belief – not an actrss’) was made manifest on this earth, changed the world – 15 to 20 flix they made around her – OK – vehicles (the idea of vehicles shouldn’t be condemned because it has been abused), vehicles that were medium for her belif therefore necessary, a justice, a need felt – Real – as investment, as lots of work for extras, hilarious to serious persons, beloved to Puerto-Ricans, magic for me, beauty for many, a camp to homos, Fauve American unconsciousness to Europeans etc.
Can’t happen again. Fantasies now feature weight lifters who think now how lucky and clever they were to get into the movies & the fabulous pay…, think something like that on camera – it’s contagious & you share those thots (which is a magical fantasy too but another article on “The Industry”). All are now safe from Maria Montez outrages! I suppose the color prints are destroyed now. Still, up until about 5 yrs. Ago (when they were bought up by T.V.), Montez reissues cropped up at tiny rabes – every week one or another of them played somewhere in N.Y.C. at that time they were 12 to 17 years old. When they are shown now on T.V. they are badly chopped up, with large chunks missing. The pattern being repeated – their irresistibility resulting in their being cut & stabbed & punished. All are now safe from Montez embarrassment – the tiny nabes are torn down, didn’t even make supermarkets – the big nabes have to get back investments so can’t be asked (who’d ask) to show them. The art houses are committed to seriousness and importance, essays on celluloid (once it was sermons on celluloid), food for thought imported from THE CONTINENT. No more scoldings from critics…
At this moment in movie history there is a feeling of movies being approved of. There is an enveloping cloud of critical happiness – it’s OK to love movies now. General approval (nobody knowing who starts it – but it’s OK for you and everybody else). It’s a pretty diffuse and general thing. Maria Montez flix were particular – you went for your particular reasons – had specific feelings from them & about them. It was a peculiarly idiosyncratic experience and heartily despised by critics. Critics are writers. They like writing – and written characters. Maria Montez’s appeal was on a purely intuitive level. She was the bane of critics – that person whose effect cannot be known by words, described in words, flaunts words (her image spoke). Film critics are writers and they are hostile and uneasy in the presence of a visual phenomenon. They are most delighted by bare images that through visual barrenness call thought into play to fill the visual gap. Their bare delights are “purity and evocative.” A spectacular, flaming image – since it threatens their critichood need to be able to write – is bad and they attack it throwing in moral extensions and hinting at idiocy in whoever is capable of visually appreciating a visual medium. Montez-land is truly torn down and contemporary sports-car Italians follow diagrams to fortunes, conquests, & murders to universal approbation.
Maria Montez was a particular person:
Off screen she was:
A large, large boned woman
Oily Skin dark
& gave impression of being
Wore Shalimar perfume
It is a reminder of one’s own individuality to value a particular screen personality. It is also a nuttiness (because gratuitous). But you will have nuttiness without Maria Montez – want more – need all you can get – need what evr you don’t have - & need it badly – Need what you don’t need – need what you hate – need what you have stood against all through the years. Having a favorite star has very human ramifications – not star-like entirely. Stars are not stars, they are people, and what they believe is written on their foreheads (a property of the camera). Having a favorite star is considered ludicrous but it is nothing but non verbal communication the darling of the very person who doesn’t believe anything real can exist between a star and a real person. Being a star was an important part of the Montez style. Having Maria Montez as a favorite star has not being gratuitous (tho it was in 1945) since it has left a residue of notions, interesting to me as a filmmaker and general film aesthete. No affection can remain gratuitous. Stars who believe nothing are believable in a variety of roles, not to me tho, who has abandoned myself to personal tweakiness.
Those who still underrate Maria Montez, should see that the truth of Montez flix is only the truth of them as it exists for those who like them and the fact that others get anything out of them is only important because it is something they could miss and important because it is enjoyment missed. No one wants to miss an enjoyment and it is important to enjoy because it is important to think and enjoying is simply thinking – not hedonism, not voluptuousness – simply thought. I could go on to justify thought but I’m sure that wouldn’t be necessary to readers of magazines. There is a world in Montez movies which reacting against turns to void. I can explain their interest for me but I can’t turn them into good filmtechnique. Good film technique is a classical attribute. Zero de Conduite – perfect film technique, form, length, etc., a classical work – Montez flix are none of these. They are romantic expressions. They came about because (as in the case of Von Sternberg) an inflexible person committed to an obsession was given his way thru some circumstance. Results of this sort of thing TRANSCEND FILM TECHNIQUE. Not barely – but resoundingly, meaningfully, with magnificence, with the vigor that one exposed human being always has – and with failure. We cause their downfall (after we have enjoyed them) because they embarrass us grown up as we are and post adolescent / post war / post graduate / post-toasties etc. The movies that were secret (I felt I had to sneak away to see M.M. flix) remain secret somehow and a nation forgets its pleasures, trash.