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Jackie Ode: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 1929–1994

Jackie Ode
May 31, 1994

Other First Ladies — Pat Nixon — have passed with little fanfare. So have enigmatic and glamorous icons like Garbo. No pull­out sections of the paper or CNN specials for them. It dawned on me as I ingested the ubiquitous Jackie coverage over the week­end: the media was playing this as if a national leader had died. Because she had.

I imagine that makes no sense to anyone under 35 or even 40. But trust me. The team coverage, the people keeping vigil out­side the apartment building, lumps in the throat among people who thought them­selves above it all — this goes beyond the usual celebrity psychosis.

Everything depends on whether you lived through that horrific assassination in 1963. I was just a kid then, but I can assure you that no one was looking to Lyndon Johnson to get us through the trauma. It was Jackie who led us through days of national mourn­ing. Instinctively, she understood the im­portance of confronting the horror head-on. She began by refusing to wash JFK’s blood from her pink suit. And it was Jackie who planned the funeral, a critical public ritual. She had the casket placed on an open cais­son where all could see it, directed her three-year-old son to salute it, asked that there be a riderless horse with boots turned backward in the stirrups, and then that there be an eternal flame lit at the grave. She knew the images we needed, those that were solemn enough and true enough to meet the crisis. But then she always did have this sense of public appropriateness. Later it allowed her to maintain a public self, even as she remained completely pri­vate.

For those of us who lived through the assassination, though, Jackie remained something of a tragic figure forever after, the classically veiled widow leading a nation down Pennsylvania Avenue behind its mur­dered president. She was our chief of state then, if only for a few days. Naturally, there can be no other resting place for her but Arlington. — C. CARR

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Part of me was going around all Friday humming: I want to be Jackie Onassis, I want to wear a pair of dark sunglasses, oh yeah. I couldn’t help it.

But the rest of me was sitting on the subway, looking at the Times, at the picture of her at the funeral, the kids who don’t know what’s happened (they were the same age I was when my father died); and her teary face, and her perfect legs in her black heels…

I wasn’t born yet in November 1963; I knew her only by her later, gossip-rag im­age, the sunglasses and perilous chic. I certainly never thought l’d be sitting on the subway tearing up over the passing of Jack­ie O.

But she seems to me now to have had an extraordinary strength and grace; and poise, an outdated female quality but per­haps an underrated one. She did what was required of her — what we asked of her­ — very well, and gave us what we wanted and kept something for herself behind her shades. Instead of merely giving in to girl clothes and girl roles, she used them and made them serve her purposes. She was running the White House at age 31, an age when most people I know still hoard news­papers and get their furniture off the street. And, no small accomplishment, she raised good kids.

You’d imagine her money would help, but I suspect even that only raised the stakes. It meant that even in her worst hell she had to be impeccably turned out, in a black suit and black heels. I’d like to think there’s some strength to be drawn from those fe­male clothes, and from living as the woman we expected her to be. — JULIE PHILLIPS

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The Jackie I long to see clutches a large, unwieldy camera as she stands ankle-deep in water to grab a shot during her stint as an inquiring photographer for The Wash­ington Times-Herald in 1952. She reclines on the hood of a car in 1989, intently read­ing a book, perhaps for her job as an editor at Doubleday. These images suggest an ac­tive Jackie, the career woman Jackie that framed the professional-wife-and-widow Jackie. But even here there’s just too much grace: in the former photo, she bends deco­rously at the knee in her simple white dress; in the latter, her lean, bare legs are tightly pressed together, her head wrapped in a towel with casual élan.

These are the words that always attend Jackie: “taste,” “grace,” “dignity.” These words repel me, much as I admire Jackie the survivor, the fashion maven, the savior of historical buildings, the devoted single mom. But the canonization of poise sur­rounding Jackie’s death seems to me a cruel perpetuation of the containment that dog­ged this woman her whole life. Smile, please. Speak softly. Curtsy. Now stand up straight. Stay slim. And for god’s sake, be proper, whether you’re mourning a hus­band who cheated on you or being stalked by paparazzi who only strive to capture that millisecond when you stumble, drool, or flip them the bird. Only of course you never do.

Have you noticed how much Hillary’s gradually been molding herself into Jackie­ness, what with those controlled coiffures and tight little suits? Hillary has, of course, been routinely slapped for being less than first-ladylike (too opinionated, too crunchy), so maybe it’s understandable she’d take her cues from the exemplary, cool Jackie O. But does the glow of Jackie’s halo — not to mention her sheer starpower — ­blind us to the fact that she wore a straight­jacket in the name of seemliness? Do we mourn the passing of her impeccable stan­dard, or, in mourning, do we tacitly concede that womanhood is still too often defined thus: the right outfit, the correct pose, and just enough self-sublimation to serve a com­mon good? — KATHERINE DIECKMANN

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The history of the feminine speaks in images, like someone else’s photo album. We try to fill in the captions that might go beneath Mona Lisa’s sexy grin, Elizabeth’s hairline, the sway of Madame X’s shoulder line, the smoke veiling Dietrich’s face. How such women moved through the world reg­isters less distinctly than the way they’ve been captured and stilled. And so, for me, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis will never es­cape her photographs. Her mastery of the pose, her perfection at balancing vitality and calm, make her seem unfleshly, unreal. Now, bombarded by snaps and portraits of Jackie, I feel my mind’s eye straying to other women’s pictures. There’s Marilyn, the obvious doppelgänger, spilling over her dress, looking like she could momentarily break into tears. Marilyn’s problematic al­lure precisely opposes that of Jackie’s: while the First Lady’s every recorded move (even the most casual or tragic) fits, the movie star disrupts the frame, or lets confining presence discomfit her. Marilyn seemed to want to walk out of her photos, toward you. Jackie, even when gazing into the lens, seemed to be turning away.

That turning away was her triumph, and it’s so divergent from feminism’s passion to dig up and confront that I can’t help but wonder about its worth. Jackie’s success at managing a life that could have easily de­feated her makes me callow for questioning her legacy, and certainly Marilyn’s self-sac­rifice offers less. But revered images de­mand obeisance, and iconoclasm seems in order when the ideal costs most women so much. So my mind turns to another snap­shot, of a figure as iconic for this women’s studies-bred baby as Jackie seems to be for the women a generation older than me. It’s of another ’50s daughter, trying to stay in the frame: Sylvia Plath, neat as a pin, her darkness only seeping through in the inten­sity of her gaze. Plath let what she saw as her failure in those roles that Jackie perfect­ed — socialite, wife — bury her spirit. But in her poems, at least, she confronted what confined her and raged against it.

“The woman is perfected,” Plath wrote, and she meant the woman is dead. Jackie survived perfection, even flourished under its rule. Let’s hope that someday women won’t have to wrestle with such a goal. — ANN POWERS

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“She-e-eee was a friend of mine.”

The trumpeter, very tuneless, bicycled several yards along the park drive, stopped, played a long note, sang his plaint, and then moved on. Across Fifth Avenue, outside the building where she lived and died: police barricades, gawkers, and, a subtle sign of respect, senior officers working crowd con­trol. At the curb: an armada of television vans with transmitter masts erect; foreign tourists; many of those peculiar people who attach themselves freakishly to public events, to tragedies, perhaps merely for the attention, perhaps out of some atavistic will, perhaps even because they feel com­passion. But how can that be?

Two men jog past on their way to the park. “I cried when I heard this morning,” says one. “Yeah, classy lady,” replies his friend. I also cried, or felt an urge to cry, but not because Jacqueline Kennedy Onas­sis meant something to me, which would be untrue, but because her death reminded me of other deaths.

I’m encouraged by the press to feel some­thing about her: she was the “symbol of an era,” a “courageous lady,” an iron will, a fiercely guarded privacy, a model First Lady, whatever that may mean. (Actually, it means Eleanor Roosevelt, in my book.) She was certifiably a good New Yorker, born and named here, a resident, and actively engaged with preserving the texture of the place (viz: Grand Central Terminal). People I know took pleasure in Jackie sightings. And, although I myself never laid eyes on her, in the week before her death I noticed two photographers laying for Jackie in Cen­tral Park, near a path where she might, with her lover’s assistance, take a brief walk. I experienced a chill of repugnance then and when I saw in the newspapers that the photographers had got her, bloated (and with that hard, awful bulge that people with abdominal tumors get), and tottering, with only a week left of life. Contemplating how grotesque, in some ways, that kind of fame must have been, how imprisoning and full of anguish, I remembered that she had han­dled it with “dignity.” The eulogists echoed the word so often that it became a kind of tic, a joke, almost, as though she were impervious, a public edifice. Maybe this was so. Jackie “achieved a level of privacy that, well, it is impossible, but she did it any­way,” Frank Mankiewicz, Robert F. Kenne­dy’s former press aide, said recently. I imag­ine that what people mean by dignity was refusal. “Minimum information given with maximum politeness” was how she herself once described her policy with the press, at a time when the White House received 10 daily requests for the size of her shoes.

The spring moon the evening after her death was a fragment of mica, not quite full, but waxing: it was still light at eight. I’d taken my dog along with me to check out the voyeurs; that way, I reasoned, I wouldn’t seem so much like a voyeur my­self. What was I expecting? “We’ve been here two hours and haven’t seen nothing,” complained a Staten Island woman who’d come with her toy poodle. I stood awhile, staring at a limestone facade, a green cano­py, some cops, and a doorman, then walked into the park and up the bridle path. Two people on horseback cantered past. Again, unaccountably, I felt a twinge of grief. Lat­er, on board a plane to California, I read an article that claimed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had “added to our portfolio of iconic imagery,” which seemed awfully silly to me until I considered my own odd reaction and that of the man on the bicycle blowing his horn: “She-e-eee was a friend of mine.” I would never have said that. And yet here I am calling up her ghost. — GUY TREBAY

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Jonas Mekas and Saint Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe, the Saint of Nevada Desert. When everything has been said about “THE MISFITS,” how bad the film is and all that, she still remains there, a new screen character, MM, the saint. And she haunts you, you’ll not forget her.

It is MM that is the film. A woman that has known love, has known life, has known men, has been betrayed by all three, but has retained her dream of man, and love, and life.

She meets these tough men, Gable, Clift, Wallach, in her search for love and life; and she finds love everywhere, and she cries for everyone, when everybody is so tough, when toughness is everything. It’s MM that is the only beautiful thing in the whole ugly desert, in the whole world, in this whole dump of toughness, atom bomb, death.

Everybody has given up their dreams, all the tough men of the world have become cynics, except MM. And she fights for her dream, for the beautiful, innocent, and free. It is she who fights for love in the world, when the men fight only wars and act tough. Men gave up the world. It is MM that tells the truth in this movie, who accuses, judges, reveals. And it is MM who runs into the middle of the desert and in her helplessness shouts: “You are all dead, you are all dead!” — in the most powerful image of the film — and one doesn’t know if she is saying those words to Gable and Wallach or to the whole loveless world.

Is MM playing herself or creating a part? Did Miller and Huston create a character or simply recreate MM? Maybe she is even talking her own thoughts, her own life? Doesn’t matter much. There is such a truth in her little details, in her reactions to cruelty, to false manliness, nature, life, death — everything — that is overpowering, that makes her one of the most tragic and contemporary characters of modern cinema, and another contribution to The Woman as a Modern Hero in Search of Love (see “Another Sky,” “The Lovers,” “Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” “The Savage Eye,” etc., etc.).

It’s strange how cinema, bit by bit, can piece together a character. Cinema is not only beautiful compositions or well-knit stories; cinema is not only visual patterns or play of light. Cinema also creates human characters.

We are always looking for “art,” or for good stories, drama, ideas, content in movies — as we are accustomed to in books. Why don’t we forget literature, and drama, and Aristotle! Let’s watch the face of man on the screen, the face of MM, as it changes, reacts. No drama, no ideas, but a human face in all its nakedness — something that no other art can do. Let’s watch this face, its movements, its shades; it is this face, the face of MM that is the content and story and idea of the film, that is the whole world, in fact — if you know what I mean.

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HBO’s “Arthur Miller: Writer” Parses the Life of One of America’s Definitive Playwrights

Does every playwright eventually become akin to his or her characters? Tennessee Williams never penned a pill-popping drunk who choked to death on a nasal-spray bottle cap. Nor did any of Eugene O’Neill’s creations ever expire on the line, “Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.” But it feels like they might have. And that’s how both those legends died, at least. To see eightyish Arthur Miller potter about in the woodshed in his daughter Rebecca’s new HBO documentary, Arthur Miller: Writer, one might muse that America’s great social dramatist ended up lost, forgotten — Willy Loman-like. The culture used him and cast him aside, evoking Willy’s pathetic orange peel metaphor: “A man is not a piece of fruit!” Tempting analogy, right?

Best to resist the temptation. It’s true that Miller’s success was woefully lopsided, but he had a joyful, long life (1915–2005) that was full of planting — plays as much as trees. (He seeded a pine forest of six thousand trunks at his sprawling estate in rural Connecticut.) If the last four-plus decades of Miller’s industry never fructified into the literary redwoods for which he’s famous, he kept watering and tending the garden, anyway.

Theater buffs know the general outline. Following the failure of The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), a rookie flop that nearly drove him from the stage, Miller bounced back to enjoy an astonishing run: All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View From the Bridge (in eight miraculous years), up to the beginning of the end, 1964’s After the Fall. Faced with the explosion of the youth counterculture, Vietnam protests, and theater’s growing irrelevance, Miller retreated to 350 acres in Roxbury, Connecticut, with his third wife and three kids (a fourth, a son with Down syndrome, was institutionalized). There, he cranked out twenty-odd more works that met with critical dismissal or outright hostility. A more hyperbolic assessment would say he was canonized and crucified simultaneously.

What happened? For some, the flashy answer might be: Marilyn Monroe. Miller’s five-year marriage to the Hollywood icon was a creatively fallow period during which he looked after the emotionally fragile actress and dodged paparazzi. Her death the year after their divorce never stopped haunting him. He returns to it in his last play, Finishing the Picture (2004), inspired by the making of the John Huston–directed The Misfits (1961), whose script he wrote for Monroe. But let’s say the screen legend is not to blame. Maybe Miller’s decline is simply what happens to a writer who generates so many masterpieces, and garners such national acclaim, in so short a time. As interviewee Mike Nichols asks, in the doc, vis-à-vis Death of a Salesman: “Did he or did he not feel that he burned something out when he wrote it? I think anyone who wrote Salesman, something would have burned out, because it’s so close to the target. It’s so…alive.”

In the years following his prime, Arthur Miller had the curious distinction of being canonized and crucified simultaneously.

So, there are plenty of theories. Rather than pick one, Rebecca Miller chronicles her father’s life in six affectionate but fairly unflinching chapters from childhood to Broadway breakthrough and the decades out of fashion. She pieces together the story through cozy, at-home interviews; scores of archival photos and video clips; and voice-overs of Miller reading from his memoir, Timebends. Tony Kushner pops up a couple of times to remind us how radical it was, two years after the Second World War, to condemn wartime profiteering at the expense of soldiers’ safety (All My Sons).

Rebecca makes clear that her father lived many lives. He was a teenager during the Great Depression (which wiped out his father’s garment business and robbed the family of its affluent lifestyle), a red-hot playwright alongside Odets and Williams, and an eloquent, serious writer when the nation still looked to Broadway for elevating discourse. And then there’s the not-quite-retiree. Chatting with his daughter, Miller comes across as a grandfatherly mensch: a relaxed, confident, incorrigible optimist. He seems to have been a decent father and dependable husband in his third marriage, to Austrian photographer Inge Morath. Miller never gave up the stage, even if he never caught lightning in a bottle again — that nexus of personal failing and social tragedy that could capture a nation’s imagination. Unless the filmmaker took pains to sanitize this portrait of the artist in senior citizenship, Miller grew into a reasonably happy man, at peace with himself and his legacy.

On the downside, we get only a cursory view of the theater industry of the Forties and Fifties. There’s time devoted to Miller’s intense friendship and collaboration with director Elia Kazan, and each of the great plays gets a little background about inspiration, plotline, and reception. But greater context and quotes from his contemporaries might have shed light on how dramaturgical fashions moved on — or how Miller’s influence is evident today in, say, the works of Kushner, J.T. Rogers, and Lynn Nottage.

It’s a funny subgenre, the playwright doc. You can find decent ones on O’Neill (from Ric Burns), Kushner, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, and others. But they’re inherently incomplete. On the one hand, playwriting seems a less romantic occupation than the godlike and isolated novelist. Playwrights have to be social creatures. They may write in solitude, but they realize their visions in mini-communities of actors, directors, and designers. That sense of letting strangers into the room and taking the camera backstage where the art finds expression should, ideally, lead to an expansive portrait on film. But Rebecca Miller keeps the focus on the dogged, lifelong working man who built his own writing shed and hammered out a series of world-shaking dramas. It’s a great story, and partly true, but there’s more to it. Otherwise, the ironic takeaway would be: Arthur Miller wrote of society, even as he shut it out.

Arthur Miller: Writer is available to stream on HBO, and also airs Sunday, April 8, at 9:30 a.m.

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New York Plays Itself: Touring the City’s Celluloid History

If you squint hard enough at the Museum of Arts and Design, you can almost make out the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lumbering up Broadway, across Columbus Circle, toward Central Park West. At least, that’s how it felt on the TCM Classic Film Tour. Over three hours, across a route spanning the Upper West Side through the park to the East River, this journey by bus past the cinematic landmarks of New York City references more than a hundred movies (Ghostbusters among them), dating from 1898 to 1998.

New York City, the birthplace of the American film industry (OK, along with New Jersey), is a massive, if unintentional, pop culture time capsule. Location scout Nick Carr’s blog Scouting New York appraises every nook and cranny and bodega of the city with an artist’s eye, documenting in photographs how famous film locations have changed throughout the years. And, unsurprisingly, there’s a thriving breed of tourism specifically devoted to pilgrimages to TV and movie sites, whatever your taste: Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Seinfeld, superheroes, Real Housewives, or — if you don’t mind traveling beyond the Lincoln Tunnel, to the hinterlands of the Garden State — The Sopranos. This TCM-flavored expedition, offered through On Location Tours, specifically limits its purview to classic films shot in Manhattan.

TCM bus tour
John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow outside the Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Actor and producer Sarah Louise Lilley served as tour guide on a recent Sunday morning. Lilley, who moved to the United States from England as a teenager, speaks with the slightest glimmer of a British accent — which, as she enthusiastically expounds on movie legends of yore, it’s easy to reimagine as a Katherine Hepburn mid-Atlantic lilt. (I’m not sure if this effect would hold true on On Location’s Sex and the City Hotspots tour, which Lilley has also hosted.) At times, there was an almost virtual reality–like quality to the experience, when Lilley’s commentary and film clips, cued up to play on overhead monitors when we passed the real-life locations within them, transformed the present-day city seen from the bus windows into a long-lost version of itself. As we passed through Columbus Circle, we saw a tour bus packed with bumbling out-of-towners in 1950’s Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, the political rally in Taxi Driver where Travis Bickle plots to assassinate a senator, and the apartment building where Lois Lane resides in Superman. A little farther north, the Dakota’s facade had recently been cleaned, looking much less dark and foreboding than it did in Rosemary’s Baby. Had Lilley not pointed it out, the subway grate at 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue where Marilyn Monroe famously posed in The Seven Year Itch could have been any one of the city’s thousands and thousands more just like it, unglamorously trod on every day by locals and visitors alike. I wasn’t the only New Yorker on my particular tour, which also hosted a family of tourists from South Africa. Lilley and her fellow TCM guide Jason Silverman report attracting movie fans of all ages, from newborns up to Lilley’s own grandmother, then ninety-six. “I’ve had kids who were ten years old completely clean up in the trivia contest,” says Silverman.

TCM bus tour
Marilyn on 52nd and Lexington, in Billy Wilder;s The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Lilley and Silverman, residents of Washington Heights and Spanish Harlem, respectively, have been guides for TCM since this tour was first offered in 2013. (The tour’s blueprint has largely remained the same in that time, although movie-related news and anniversaries bring certain films and their associated landmarks to the forefront.) On January 30 at 8 p.m., they’ll appear on the Turner Classic Movies network to introduce four perennial New York–centric favorites: King Kong, The Producers, On the Town, and North by Northwest. As a lifelong movie buff, Lilley calls the experience of shooting with host Ben Mankiewicz a “dream come true.” Lilley, whose acting credits include The Mysteries of Laura, was “indoctrinated” into loving classic film by her father. She suffered from colic as an infant, and he discovered that the only way to stop her screaming was to pace back and forth with his daughter on his shoulder, old movies playing on the television. “He said by the time I was three months old, I’d seen Casablanca hundreds of times,” Lilley recalls. Silverman’s cinematic education began only a little later. “At the age of six, instead of watching whatever the latest cartoon was, my family was like, ‘Great, it’s time to watch Gone With the Wind,’ ” says the Chicago-native actor, seen in The Wolf of Wall Street as a quaalude-buying teenager. “I remember distinctly at the age of ten, on holiday break in Florida, my father sat me down and showed me The Godfather.”

The Ansonia (Three Days of the Condor, The Sunshine Boys, and Single White Female), once an opulent residential hotel that kept dairy cows on its roof to provide fresh milk for guests, casts its regal gaze onto Verdi Square, a triangle of green space bound by 72nd and 73rd streets, Broadway, and Amsterdam Avenue. This was once known as Needle Park, the title location for the Joan Didion–scripted, Al Pacino–starring heroin drama The Panic in Needle Park. “All those movies in the Seventies showed a really dark, dangerous side of New York City, and that’s so different than the happy little farmers’ market area that is there now. I love those stops that really give you windows back in time and spark your imagination,” Lilley says.

TCM bus tour
Al Pacino (center) in The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

We took in Lincoln Center’s Revson Fountain, immortalized by The Producers and Moonstruck. Then the TVs on the bus played a dancing sequence from West Side Story (soon to be remade by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner), set among the soon-to-be-demolished tenements of San Juan Hill, the neighborhood that stood on the site of Lincoln Center’s campus until Robert Moses had other ideas. In most locations, the particular businesses that populated films’ famous shots are long gone, made ghosts by Manhattan’s breakneck pace of renovation and gentrification. You can still recognize the buildings by their bones, even if the Vitamin Shoppe and the now-shuttered Rita’s Italian Ice that currently stand at Broadway and 92nd Street didn’t themselves make cameos in Hannah and Her Sisters. The most recent movie featured on the tour is You’ve Got Mail, most of which was shot within several blocks of the Upper West Side. The children’s book store owned by Meg Ryan’s character was then Maya Schaper Cheese and Antiques on West 69th Street but is today a humble dry cleaner. The owner only learned his business had a Hollywood pedigree when the tour bus began stopping outside. Now, Lilley reports, he sells You’ve Got Mail DVDs on site. The tour doesn’t go south of the Empire State Building, or else Katz’s Deli, the site of Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally…, would surely make an appearance too.

Silverman typically takes charge of the Saturday tours and Lilley the Thursday ones, during which the streets are generally far most congested than on weekends. “When we hit traffic, it’s like a double-edged sword for me,” Lilley says. “I feel bad we’re running behind, but at the same time, now I can really talk at length about all these movies.” On any day, the most likely logistical challenge the duo faces is the city’s unpredictable road closures, but they can always adapt. “The worst possible circumstance for a classic movie tour is if the DVD player doesn’t work, and that’s only happened to me, knock on wood, once,” Silverman explains. (It made for a “unique” tour.)

Both Lilley and Silverman cited Sutton Place Park as their favorite movie landmark on the tour, a tiny, peaceful lookout onto the East River with a stunning view of the Queensboro Bridge. “We’ve taken so many New Yorkers on the tour that have never been there before. It’s so cinematic. I feel like I’ve taken numerous people’s holiday card photos there,” Lilley says. She isn’t kidding — nearly every person on my bus waited patiently for her to snap their picture.

TCM bus tour
Manhattan (1979) with Diane Keaton and Woody Allen

Sutton Place is the swanky, townhouse-lined neighborhood that lies just south of the bridge. “The history of New York and the history of film is beautifully interwoven there,” Lilley says. In the early-twentieth century, the same stretch of East River waterfront was home to not only luxurious apartments with views to match, but poverty-stricken tenements and the gangs who inhabited them, as depicted onscreen in 1937’s Dead End. By 1953, Sutton Place had become the must-have address for the trio of enterprising husband-seekers — Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall — in How to Marry a Millionaire. But Sutton Place’s most memorable contribution to film history is as the setting of the most iconic image from Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Allen and Diane Keaton take in the early-morning view from a bench in the very park where we’d climbed off the bus to stand.

Woody Allen’s legacy, of course, is a deeply controversial subject. In general, Lilley and Silverman explain, they try to relate Woody Allen films to their physical locations without engaging any deeper with the subject matter of those movies. “I can’t imagine doing the tour and not making the Sutton Place stop, because it’s so iconically shot in Manhattan,” Silverman says. “But the content of the movie — especially what’s come out in the news over the past couple of years about the making of the movie [Allen’s then-sixteen-year-old costar Mariel Hemingway has said that he tried to seduce her] — I don’t really, can’t really watch Manhattan anymore. But I can appreciate how they filmed and shot this particular scene.”

For those who’ve never visited New York, iconic movie locations have likely done more to inform their conceptions of the city than any guidebook or exhaustively annotated history ever could. Silverman, for one, grew up “obsessed” with King Kong. “For me, King Kong and the Empire State Building are synonymous,” he says. “I went to NYU, and in my freshman-year dorm, if I poked my head out the window, I got a view of the Empire State Building. Being in the city ten years, doing this tour hundreds of times, every time I pass by the Empire State Building, this is New York to me.”

But there is also a singular pleasure to be found in discovering, or rediscovering, film landmarks lying in plain sight. “I really love having New Yorkers on the tour, because they’re always running around, head down,” Lilley says. “To give yourself permission to stop and take a look at a block you’ve been on maybe a hundred times and really see it for the first time, I think it’s magical.”

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IDOL WORSHIP

Her face is so recognizable, her image so much a staple of the public domain that it’s hard to believe there are photographs of her the world has still never seen. But Tribeca’s SUMO Gallery has them. This weekend Marilyn: The Lost Photos opens in New York, showcasing rare pictures of Marilyn Monroe taken between 1952 and 1956. Five photographers contributed to the collection, some of them Monroe’s intimate acquaintances such as her former makeup artist Milton Greene and her close friend Mischa Pelz. Shortly before her death in 1962, the ultimate American It-girl expressed anxiety about not being able to live up to her own larger-than-life reputation as a sex symbol: “My men…expect bells to ring and whistles to whistle, but my anatomy is the same as any other woman’s.” These images capture that humanity, catching Monroe with chin doubled up or hunched over mid-laugh. Consequently, they’re some of the most charming we’ve seen.

Tue., July 22, 10 a.m.; Wed., July 23, 10 a.m.; Thu., July 24, 10 a.m., 2014

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Poisoned Roses: Marilyn (and Others) Dazzle Us Deadly at Femmes Noir

There are at least 26 good reasons to straighten your stocking seams, touch up your lip rouge, and queue up for Film Forum’s Femmes Noir series, running from July 18 through August 7. Here are just three: Joan Crawford’s long-suffering, pie-making matriarch in Mildred Pierce (July 18, 19 and 31); Gene Tierney’s ravishing, murderous schemer — one possessed of the most stunning overbite known to man — in Leave Her to Heaven (July 20 and 21); and Jane Greer’s predatory faux angel, who comes shimmering along in a saucer-shaped halo of a hat, in one of the most unsparing and bleakly beautiful of all films noir, Out of the Past (also July 20 and 21).

But of all the femmes vying for our attention here, perhaps the most willful and terrifying is played by an actress whom we associate with innocence and vulnerability: In Henry Hathaway’s 1953 Niagara (July 22), Marilyn Monroe plays Rose Loomis, the bored wife of Joseph Cotten’s emotionally damaged war vet, George. Her beauty is resplendent, but you wouldn’t call it fragile. Rose is a hip-swaying bombshell with murder in her heart; her lips, gleaming red, are an invitation to a poison kiss.

This isn’t a Marilyn you want to embrace and protect. As Rose, she’s alert and defiant, a woman who has defined exactly what she wants and has forged a plan to help her get it. This performance, among the star’s finest, gives the lie to the idea that she couldn’t really act. What it suggests, instead, is that Marilyn was a natural: Her desire to be taken seriously as an actor, and her subsequent serious study of the craft, may have made her more self-conscious, constraining her gifts rather than opening a conduit for them. In Niagara, Marilyn’s Rose is self-determined, boldly sexual, almost impossibly cruel. And still, you feel for her: Mincing along in high-heeled sandals and a suit the color of a brazen afternoon sky, on the way to meet her lover — a wily operator who’s as slick as Cotten’s George is rumpled — Rose is everything that good girls have been taught not to be. But there’s also a gorgeous futility radiating from her soul: Sometimes there’s just no cure for the nagging malady of wanting something more.

Niagara is set, and was filmed, in the area around the rushing natural phenomenon that was once the stereotypical go-to spot for honeymooners. It’s also the perfect setting for a honeymoon nightmare: George and Rose have been holed up in the cabin with the best view of the falls, but it turns out to be no place for lovebirds. Long past the honeymoon stage, they’ve been married for years, and now they’re just drifting, quite literally. Somehow they’ve landed in a place that celebrates romance, but for them, it’s the setting for disintegration. The mood inside their cabin is oppressive, airless. When George isn’t crouched over a small table, building balsa-wood model cars, he’s wandering around the falls late into the night, returning to find Rose only pretending to be asleep. Seconds earlier, we’ve seen her awake, smoking a cigarette, staring into the blank space of the damned — when she hears the click of the door as George approaches, she rolls over. It’s a moment of fake innocence that represents the ultimate contempt.

Rose has had it with George and has taken a lover. The great tragedy is that you can understand why: Formerly a successful sheep farmer, George has had a run of bad luck, including emerging from the war with “battle fatigue.” Rose likes parties and fun, and George represents neither of those things: He has a face like a slept-in bed.

When carefree honeymoon couple Ray and Polly Cutler show up at the cabin complex — they’re played by Jean Peters and Max Showalter (who at that point went by the name Casey Adams) — they immediately know something is wrong. Polly, in particular, tries to help. When Rose defiantly requests a specific song at a party with the Cutlers — a song that has romantic significance to her, relating to her extracurricular activities — George seizes the record as it spins and breaks it to pieces, cutting his hand. He retreats to his cabin. Polly follows, intending to bandage him up, and she finds him standing in the dark, holding his wounded hand in front of him. “I suppose she sent you in here to find out if I cut it off,” he snaps, and we don’t have to wonder what it is.

But Rose only thinks she holds all the cards here. In a later scene, she lies in a hospital bed, restless with a purely emotional fever, a shivery foreshadowing of the direction Marilyn’s own life would eventually take. You can imagine that any filmmaker who had the chance to work with her would fall under the spell of her beauty. Hathaway, with his exquisite framing skills, pays tribute in the most respectful way. When she walks away from the camera, and from us, her womanly wriggle is exaggerated. Yet the sight of it isn’t prurient; it’s simply the semaphore of a desperate woman on the move. (It’s also, of course, sexy as hell.) In the movie’s most stunning sequence — one that points the way forward five years to Vertigo — Rose is pursued on the stairway leading up to a bell tower, terror in her heart and in her eyes. She can’t possibly get away with all she’s done, and yet, of course, you want her to.

Poor George, her biggest victim, feels the same rankled tenderness for her that we do, and the most deeply moving moment in Niagara is a tribute to her that doesn’t even show her face. George picks up a jeweled lipstick case she’s dropped, opening it to reveal the tube of crimson inside, maybe the last thing to touch her lips. Does he think, at that moment, the same thing Romeo was thinking when he implored Juliet, “Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.” The Marilyn of Niagara is his sin, and ours, too. No wonder we want her again and again.

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Megan Hilty

When they were getting Bombshell ready for Broadway on the two seasons of NBC’s Smash, wasn’t the idea that an actual production would ultimately show up on the actual Broadway? If so, mightn’t this in-the-flesh bombshell, who played Ivy Lynn, be the one impersonating Marilyn Monroe? Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but here’s the consolation prize. At her first outing in this swanky uptown boite, she’ll sing some of the series songs, most of them written by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, as well as other hot numbers.

Tue., May 27, 8:45 p.m.; Wed., May 28, 8:45 p.m.; Thu., May 29, 8:45 p.m.; Fri., May 30, 8:45 & 10:45 p.m.; Sat., May 31, 8:45 & 10:45 p.m.; Tue., June 3, 8:45 p.m.; Wed., June 4, 8:45 p.m.; Thu., June 5, 8:45 p.m.; Fri., June 6, 8:45 p.m.; Sat., June 7, 8:45 & 10:45 p.m., 2014

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NAKED AMBITION

When Deep Throat was released in 1972, it attracted celebrities, such as Jackie O and Jack Nicholson, to screenings, and the movie’s star, Linda Lovelace, quickly rose from little-known porn actress to household name. The following year, photographer Milton H. Greene, best known for the “Black Sitting” of Marilyn Monroe, 
arranged a photo shoot with Lovelace. Never before exhibited, his artistic photos of the porn pioneer are the highlight of the Museum of Sex’s exhibition “The Eve of Porn: Linda Lovelace,” which also includes various artifacts and early pornographic photos taken of her with her husband and manager, Chuck Traynor, whom Lovelace later accused of coercing her into porn and prostitution in her 1980 memoir, 
Ordeal.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: Jan. 8. Continues through July 1, 2014

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia Screens at BAM

A few years ago, a lit-mag editor treated me and other dinner guests to the story—almost certainly apocryphal—of another lit-mag editor who had read, in just one day, two separate poems, submitted by two separate poets, each describing some desperate swimmer crossing some storm-tossed channel with a lit candle held just above the water. That candle mustn’t go out, of course, or something profound—hope, poetry, Lady Di/Marilyn Monroe—would die with it.

The usual slush-pile rejection notes would seem inadequate in a case like this. So how should that editor—surely hypothetical—have responded to the dueling iterations of that simple, somewhat vainglorious metaphor? By mailing each poet the other’s work, perhaps—and by demanding each immediately find a way to view Nostalghia, the late masterpiece from Andrei Tarkovsky, by 1983 himself a guttering presence far removed from his element.

Sick of being harried by the censors in his native Soviet Union, Tarkovsky had come to Italy for freedom and financing—and, after this film, he never again returned home. Nostalghia is steeped in some of the stiffest ennui of Tarkovsky’s career, even as he conjures images of surpassing beauty.

Set in the ruins of a great civilization, the film presents Oleg Yankovsky as the heartsick writer Gorchakov, another Soviet exile trying to craft meaning from a life removed from his homeland. Researching a Russian composer, yet another artist alienated from the country of his birth, Gorchakov tours a hot spring and a Tuscan convent, meets a troubled street philosopher, and never gets around to seducing his bombshell interpreter (Domiziana Giordano), who comes to resent this oversight.

Not much happens, and everything does, all in Tarkovsky’s stately, long-take style, where each shot gives the shadows time to spread and deepen. You know when you’re a few minutes early to meet someone, and you don’t have a phone or magazine to fuss with, and you for once take in the world around you through what’s left of your animal senses? That’s what Tarkovsky forces from us, again and again.

There are visions, memories, riddles, curious encounters, and a slow crescendo of spiritual longing. There’s much sublimity and—possibly, depending on how comfortable you are leaving the house without your phone—some boredom. (I heard some snoring a recent press screening of BAM’s sharp new 35mm print.)

But stick with it. There are shocking acts that rupture the stillness, and then there’s one of cinema’s great endings, a wrenching, rapturous scene that would set both of those poets into embarrassed rewrites. If the pleasures of a great work of art can be “spoiled,” I’m about to do so: In the final moments, Gorchakov, inspired by the madness of that philosopher he met, attempts to cross from one side of a dried-up pool to another—without his lit candle going out. In one long shot, he lights the candle, shuffles out into stones and puddles, shielding the flame from the wind. That wind perseveres, though, and snuffs the candle. Then, it all happens again. Hungry for meaning, Gorchakov keeps trying, even as his body begins to break down. Will he die? Will he make it? Why is he bothering? And why does it stir so deeply?

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Addicted to Fame Squeezes One Last Buck From Anna Nicole

Deep into Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’s bouillon-dense fever dream of a novel, Marilyn Monroe at last manages to make it to the set of Some Like It Hot. There, both hopped up and sedated, she sings and strums her ukulele for a cast and crew she suspects hate her for having kept them waiting, for a Hollywood she worries will think she has gone fat, for movie-going men she knows only want to fuck her, for a world that she believes—in an Oatesian phrase if ever there was one—desires only “to jam itself to the bloody hilt like a tumescent sword” inside her.

She sings her song, take after take after take. But it’s not the director, “W,” forcing all this work. It’s Marilyn, the frazzled perfectionist, insisting that she can do it better.

David Giancola’s cheap-o, disingenuous doc Addicted to Fame also contributes an urgent, painful scene to the collective understanding of what it must feel like to be a drug-addled tabloid bombshell trying to give the camera and the world something more than the one thing it already wants—and, thanks to Playboy, has pretty much already enjoyed. On the set of the dispiritingly unambitious T&A sci-fi comedy Illegal Aliens, Anna Nicole Smith, the film’s star and one of its producers, fights to get through a speech that she herself wrote. Her idea—approved by Giancola, who directed both Illegal Aliens and Addicted to Fame—is for her to break character and launch into a fit of comic rage about the sloppy script, an explosion that builds to her shouting, “Who do I have to fuck to get out of this movie?”

In response, male crew members will raise their hands into the shot.

It’s a dark joke and the film’s best. And it demonstrates that Smith had much of the self-awareness that Oates attributes to Monroe and even a bleak wit about the transactional nature of her celebrity: Sex had gotten her into the will of that oil tycoon and into Playboy and into that wretched Naked Gun sequel and into the tabloids and onto her own E! series—maybe it could get her out of a go-nowhere indie, too.

But as Marilyn knew, in movies sex isn’t enough. Where Monroe could bubble like a bottle uncorked and spin blithe, charming comedy from her every line, Smith can’t get the words out. They come in a shouty gush, slurred and singsong and incomprehensible. Or they come with baffled pauses, all shrieks and silence. Or they don’t come at all. Director Giancola—who unlike Oates’s W is no Billy Wilder—accepts that Smith can’t remember two lines at a time, so he works up tricks: cue cards that she squints at and then just shooting around her and dubbing in an impersonator.

Later, he tells us that working with Smith was like working with a two- or a three-year-old.

Illegal Aliens never found an audience, of course. Now Addicted to Fame is getting its shot, its artistic goals even further removed from Wilder’s: Giancola isn’t trying to create a setting in which Smith can shine; he’s seeing if there’s profit in subjecting her to one last round of public humiliation. Because no insurance company would work with Giancola and producer John James (yes, from Dynasty!) on Illegal Aliens, due to its star’s rep for erratic behavior, Giancola arranged to have a second film crew shadow Smith around the set, guaranteeing that if the fiction movie proved a train wreck, at least he’d have train-wreck footage to peddle. (He sounds unduly proud of this arrangement.)

Smith didn’t even give him the satisfaction. Other than her wrenching failed scene, that stab at meta-fictional truth telling, there’s little in Giancola’s footage worth noting. She mostly just doesn’t show up, and when she does, she’s no worse than we’ve seen her before: spaced-out, sullen, childlike, mean. She thinks it would be hilarious for her to call her co-star Chyna a “manwich”; she also thinks up a fart joke. (Her lawyer/manager/life partner Howard K. Stern likewise pitches a nose-picking gag.)

There’s so little interesting footage that Illegal Aliens wraps production only 45 minutes into Addicted to Fame‘s 90. What follows is an unilluminating recounting of Smith’s public unraveling wrapped up in the even less interesting story of Giancola’s attempts to land a distribution deal for Illegal Aliens. When he’s not subjecting us to shrill Access Hollywood clips, he’s showing us his own appearances on tabloid shows or bragging that relentless Smith coverage bumped his film up to number 67 on IMDb’s most anticipated movies list. Later, shamelessly, he complains that he had become a character in the media soap opera, and here’s his reaction to the news of the unexpected death of Smith’s 20-year-old son: “The Anna train that we had jumped on so eagerly before now seemed to be headed in the wrong direction.” Just a heartbeat after that, his insensitivity proves more shocking than any of the Smith behavior his film crew managed to capture: “The real question,” he says, is “‘Is this a flesh wound to our film or had we just been shot dead?'”

Smith herself would die five months after her son, killed by the drug habit that fueled the behavior Giancola considered something of an insurance policy.

Addicted to Fame is the story of a failed attempt to exploit the sad, dumb, tragic life of a woman famous only because she liked drugs and married rich and seemed dumb and enough men liked to masturbate to her. That it is bound to fail is some consolation.