Magazine article The Spectator

A Certain Look

Magazine article The Spectator

A Certain Look

Article excerpt

A Hundred or More Hidden Things

by Mark Griffin

Da Capo Press, £9.99, pp. 330,

ISBN 9780786720996

Just as there are people who are their own worst enemies, so there are books that are their own worst reviews. Mark Griffin's A Hundred or More Hidden Things, a new biography of the Hollywood film maker Vincente Minnelli, is one such. No review could possibly be as damning as a verbatim reproduction of its irresistibly putrid pages.

Minnelli's achievement certainly does merit attention. In fact, for the auteurist critics of Cahiers du Cinema, who argued that a film's distinction derived primarily, even exclusively, from the degree to which it reflected its director's own personal visual and thematic preoccupations, his was practically an open and-shut case. At least to the initiated, a Minnelli film is instantly identifiable not only by the poise with which the unfailing gorgeousness of its 'look' is held in equilibrium between the routinely heightened, glamourised naturalism of a typical Hollywood product and the flagrant stylisation of a stage musical (it was from the Broadway theatre that MGM initially recruited him), but also by his recurring theme of the alienated outsider seeking solace in a more hospitable dream-world.

'Onirique' - or, in the little-used English, 'oneiric', meaning dreamlike, semi surreal - was the word to which the auteurists almost automatically had recourse when defining work, musicals, melodramas and comedies alike (Meet Me in St Louis, The Band Wagon, Lust for Life, Some Came Running, Gigi). He was, in a sense, the quintessential Hollywood director, since his characters' unarticulated cravings for myth, colour, fantasy and wit could be said to exemplify the universal appeal, the very raison d'etre, of the entire postwar American cinema.

But he was equally a quintessential Hollywood auteur, because the ambiguity of his filmic sensibility has frequently been interpreted as mirroring his own troubled sense of self as a screamingly obvious homosexual who wore green eye-liner from his adolescence on, yet also married four times and fathered two daughters, the more famous one being Liza. Like that of virtually every comparable Hollywood director, his career was uneven. But if the failures (Brigadoon, Kismet, The Reluctant Debutante) resembled boxes of chocolates with too many soft centres and no second layers, the finest were masterpieces.

Now (groan) back to the book under review. …

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