Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Myra Breckinridge: A Review


There is something to be said about a film where after watching for about an hour, one still has absolutely no idea of what the plot actually is. Myra Breckinridge, when released, became not only a financial but critical disaster. After seeing Myra Breckinridge, what I can say about the film is that it is stupid, insulting, crass, grotesque, and flat-out bad.

A plot summary is a bit difficult given how chaotic and convoluted Myra Breckinridge is. Nevertheless, I'll give it as good a try as possible. 

Myron Breckinridge (film critic Rex Reed) gets a sex change operation and become Myra Breckinridge (Raquel Welch). Myra goes to Hollywood to the acting school of Buck Loner (John Huston) and presents herself as Myron's widow so as to get half of the school which belongs to their shared family. Loner, who lusts after Myra, won't give it to her (no pun intended). 

Myra meets acting students Rusty Godowski (Roger Herren) and his girlfriend, Mary Anne (Farah Fawcett), whom she has developed fixations on (debatable if they're strictly sexual). Somewhere in this mix, we have talent agent/"big-time recording artist" Leticia Van Allen (Mae West), who uses her agency as a virtual male harem for her own pleasures (and among her stable of studs is future Magnum, P.I. Tom Selleck). 

Actually, I can't move on because somehow this story gets tangled up in itself. We have plot elements that involve Myra dropping her drawers to prove she's Myron and a female-to-male rape scene. Ultimately, we find that "it was all a dream".

Maybe everyone involved in this endeavor, starting from Vidal down to director/co-writer Michael Sarne (co-writing with David Giler) all the way through to Welch, Reed, and Huston thought they were all being so clever and daring.  What they were en masse was clueless about how all this was coming together because Myra Breckinridge really falls apart almost from the get-go and never fully recovers. It isn't satire, it isn't witty, it isn't fun. What it is, is, well, awful. 

As a side note, I image the 76-year-old West was just thrilled about being in her first film in 26 years and didn't care what was going on.

With Myra Breckinridge and Caligula, it's amazing to me that Gore Vidal is considered one of the great intellectuals of all time. Now, in fairness to Vidal, I've never read any of his works, and he has condemned both Myra Breckinridge and Caligula, but judging from these two, I might change my views on book burning. 

So many times every person's acting was so broad you think they were either untalented or not trying to act but giving parodies of acting. How could Huston, an experienced actor/director, have thought that Myra Breckinridge was a serious movie when he was required to speak in a super-broad Southern/Texan accent, a gigantic cowboy hat like the ones you get at state fairs, and spurs. Literal spurs. 

He walked around in spurs! 

You can't take that kind of character seriously, and while that might have been the case even in a comedy you have to have some element of reality. There is an endless cutting between scenes that have little to no relation to each other, as when Myra and Buck are discussing the future of the acting school between scenes of what's going on outside in the school's garden, including a gardener getting shot by an arrow. It gives Myra Breckinridge this schizophrenic feeling that makes the whole thing crumble into chaos.

There were so many things that were dumb and pointless throughout the film. In fact, the words "dumb" and "pointless" appeared often in my notes for Myra Breckinridge. Throughout the film, the personas of Myron and Myra switch on screen, sometimes sharing the screen, sometimes not, but it makes it confusing at times, especially when there is a strong suggestion of masturbation: one isn't sure if it's Myra or Myron who is masturbating, and frankly, the idea of seeing Rex Reed get it on with himself is almost as grotesque as seeing Mae West belt out Hard to Handle while with a cavalcade of men dubbed "The Van Allen Dancers". 

What does any of this have to do with whatever Myra Breckinridge is about? In fairness, as Myra Breckinridge has no actual plot, perhaps it was decided to throw everything and anything up on the screen so as to do something. 

I also have several questions about the story or what passes for a story. Why does Myron go through all these machinations of trying to convince Buck that he is really Myra, Myron's widow? Will his/her rights to inherit change when he/she changed sexes? If Myra went through a complete sex change operation, why will dropping her panties on Uncle Buck's desk prove she's really Myron Breckinridge? How will attempting to seduce Mary Ann and Rusty prove Myra's gotten revenge on both sexes?

Seduce is too gentle a word for it. One of the things Myra Breckinridge is known for is for Myra raping Rusty. It isn't funny. It isn't clever. It is sick. Sick, Sick, Sick. Rape committed by a man on a woman has never, to my knowledge, been a source of comedy. I doubt it's funnier when a woman does it. 

Another famous aspect of the film is the inclusion of film clips to punch up the visual jokes, but by including Laurel and Hardy appearing to comment or make light of forced anal sexual penetration of a man who has been tied up not only takes their work completely out of context, but is a smear on their work and their own reputations.

When one thinks on things, Myra Breckinridge doesn't make any real sense. At the end, we see Myron run Myra down with his car, but when we go to see the victim, we see it's Myron. Does this mean Myron ran over Myron? Where's the logic? Well, when you start and end your film with Myron and Myra doing a little soft-shoe I guess logic isn't what one looks for in Myra Breckinridge.

In the end, Myra Breckinridge reminds me of people who think they are clever and witty but who are really tasteless and don't know when they are being crass. Gore Vidal at work indeed. Huston's reputation survived it, but it took Raquel Welch decades to overcome this debacle. As for Rex Reed, maybe he got some good material out of it. I know I didn't. However, I do wonder if sometimes, in the dead of night, both Rex Reed and/or Gore Vidal ask themselves, "Where are my tits?".

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