PODCAST | Matt Micucci interviews Mark Kidel, director of the film Becoming Cary Grant.
To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture
Director Mark Kidel talks about his documentary Becoming Cary Grant, which he presented at the 2017 Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy. The documentary talks about Cary Grant, one of the greatest and most iconic Hollywood actors of all time. But far from being a typical biographical documentary, Becoming Cary Grant not only reveals personal details of Grant’s life but is also quite creative and attempts to get inside Grant’s head. Thus, we find that Cary Grant was born Archie Leach in Britain, and had a personal life that was quite different from the famous Cary Grant persona. Kidel talks to us about working on this film, about why he made the movie and how his awareness of and opinion of Cary Grant evolved while making the movie, about how he was able to gain access to some greta primary source material and expand on it creatively, and more.
Becoming Cary Grant: “everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant”. As Mark Kidel’s biofilm confirms, at least for the Office of Vital Records Archie Leach from Bristol became Cary Grant in 1942, when he gave up his British citizenship and his new passport bore just the name that would earn him the unconditional admiration of the whole world. However, as Kidel argues in his evident psychological take, Grant couldn’t free himself of Archie Leach with just an eraser. So poor Archie with his suffering, the trauma of being abandoned by his mother and his problems with women continued to percolate under the unrivalled elegance, the sartorial suits, the cosmopolitan ease and the smile of the man who “carries the holiday in his eye” (Stanley Cavell) and who made us believe life could be the most exquisite exercise in style; and so to finally come to terms with Archie Leach, Cary Grant underwent therapy with LSD, which he took during weekly sessions for three years under medical supervision and without breaking the law (in the mid-1950s it was an experimental treatment authorized by the government and quite appreciated by the Malibu community). The film focuses on the psychotropic rebirth of a depressed and divided Cary Grant. The issue has been well documented by biographies of the actor, starting with Graham McCann’s classic A Class Apart (1996); Grant himself spoke about it extensively, sharing his enthusiasm for the experiment’s results with “Ladies’ Home Journal” in a long interview-confession in 1963, which later was incorporated in a long but never published autobiography. The first person voiceover draws principally from this source, whereas the images alternate the melted colours of home movies from the 1930s, used as an entryway into Cary’s mental trips (vacations, boats, female bodies and faces), with the shining sharpness of film sequences, with a preference for ones with a darker emotional and photographic tone (from Notorious to the supernatural comedy Topper to the dysphoric None but the Lonely Heart); movies with characters bordering on or consumed by an anxiety which echoes Kidel’s vision and in which Cary Grant is more clearly, to use the words of Franco La Polla, “a comedian who cannot respond to the drama of reality with comedy” (by the way, had the immersions in lysergic acid made us forget it, critic David Thomson reminds us that we’re talking about “the best and most important actor in film history”). Speaking of shininess: judging by the sequences in the documentary, Cary Grant’s filmography looks in excellent shape, but Bringing Up Baby cries out for a new restoration.
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