DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: EVERY ACT OF LIFE (Jeff Kaufman, 2018)
333 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Monday, October 29, 6:00
Festival runs October 24-30
Screening at NewFest on October 29, Jeff Kaufman’s Every Act of Life is a lovely and loving look at playwright and activist Terrence McNally, a compelling film about chasing one’s hopes and dreams, refusing to back down, and fighting for what’s right personally and professionally, onstage and off. Director, producer, and writer Kaufman speaks extensively with McNally, who is forthcoming about his career and his sexuality, which included relationships with Edward Albee and Wendy Wasserstein and several men who died during the height of the AIDS crisis. “Terrence is able to get to the core of the human condition in so many different ways. I defy you to name another playwright who can do this,” six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald says. Kaufman traces the life of four-time Tony winner McNally, from his dysfunctional childhood in Florida and Texas and his world travels as tutor to John Steinbeck’s children (“Don’t write for the theater; it will break your heart,” Steinbeck told him) to his first Broadway flop, his alcoholism, his championing of same-sex marriage, his battle against lung cancer, and the success of such (often controversial) shows as The Ritz; Corpus Christi; Master Class; A Perfect Ganesh; Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Kiss of the Spiderwoman; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; and Love! Valour! Compassion!
The film includes wonderful clips from many productions in addition to scenes of pairs of actors talking about McNally, most entertainingly Edie Falco with F. Murray Abraham and McNally himself with Larry Kramer. McNally also goes through some old scrapbooks with his husband, Tom Kirdahy; they were previously featured in Kaufman’s The State of Marriage. “Terrence was way ahead of his time,” Abraham posits. Among the many other theater stalwarts offering their carefully considered thoughts on McNally are Angela Lansbury, Bryan Cranston, Rita Moreno, Nathan Lane, Meryl Streep, Patrick Wilson, Marin Mazzie, Jon Robin Baitz, Zoe Caldwell, Billy Porter, Chita Rivera, John Kander, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty, along with behind-the-scenes footage, theater memorabilia, archival photographs, and a lot of fascinating memories. “I’d have no career if it wasn’t for Terrence McNally,” Lane says. On the film’s KickStarter page, Kaufman (The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America, Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman) and producer Marcia Ross explain about McNally, “We thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done a documentary about this man?’ Then we said, ‘Well, we should.’” It’s simply grand that they did, and such a fine documentary to boot. Every Act of Life is screening at 6:00 on October 29 at the SVA Theatre and will be followed by a Q&A with McNally, who is still at work on several new plays as his eightieth birthday approaches.
CLOSING NIGHT GALA: MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT (Robert Clift & Hillary Demmon, 2018)
333 West 23rd St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday, October 30, 7:30
At the beginning of Making Montgomery Clift, Robert Clift, Montgomery Clift’s youngest nephew, explains, “This isn’t really a story about a man. It’s about what his life was allowed to mean. Remember that.” What is revealed will be hard to forget, even with Robert later admitting, “The idea of Monty’s brokenness has persisted all these years, and I don’t know if it could ever change.” But with the documentary, making its New York premiere on October 30 as the closing-night selection of the thirtieth annual NewFest, Robert strives to set the record straight about the uncle he never met, a four-time Oscar nominee who is perhaps best known as a drug-addicted, self-destructive drunk unable to deal with his homosexuality and whose career went downhill following a car accident that marred his beautiful face. Directed, produced, and written by Robert Clift and Hillary Demmon and photographed by Clift, Making Montgomery Clift instead shows the actor to be a man dedicated to his craft, from his teenage years in the theater to his ascent to Hollywood stardom, as well as a caring human being who did not suffer deeply because of his sexuality. “He was really not that closeted!” Clift’s companion, Lorenzo James, declares. “He didn’t hate himself!”
Robert is continuing his father’s legacy; Brooks Clift, Montgomery’s brother, spent many years trying to correct the public misunderstandings and damaging lies about his sibling, pointing out the critical errors in major biographies by Patricia Bosworth and Robert LaGuardia — Bosworth herself is featured prominently in the film — as well as newspaper and magazine articles and news reports that focused on supposed scandals. It turns out that Brooks, an information gatherer during WWII, was a persistent audio taper, recording every conversation he possibly could, giving his son a treasure trove of material to sift through and now share alongside film clips, archival media footage, home movies, and yet more tapes, secretly recorded by Montgomery himself. Together they give Robert, who also interviews his brothers Eddie and Woody, Jimmy Olsen portrayer and producer Jack Larson, and other friends, colleagues, and relatives, compelling evidence that many of the gossip-heavy stories about Montgomery are sensationalistic if not outright fabricated. “I guess I always felt he was a little bit like Sisyphus battling the myth-making apparatus” of the media, Eddie says.
The film follows Montgomery’s career trajectory, including his decision-making process when it came to choosing roles, turning down East of Eden and On the Watefront while accepting Red River, I Confess, From Here to Eternity, and Judgment at Nuremberg. It also explores his penchant for rewriting scripts, his refusal to become part of the studio system, and his problems working with John Huston on Freud: The Secret Passion. Montgomery Clift died in 1966 at the age of forty-five; his nephew Robert has done a terrific job of resurrecting his uncle’s influential legacy, taking it back from the tabloids and redefining it for generations to come. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and an after-party at Plunge Rooftop Lounge. NewFest continues through October 30 with such other films as Ondi Timoner’s Mapplethorpe, Jonah Greenstein’s Daddy, Michael Fisher’s Cherry Grove Stories, and a twentieth anniversary screening of Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art.