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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Colorful and glamorous disaster...a very guilty pleasure., May 28, 2006
This review is from: Myra Breckinridge (DVD)
"I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess..." So began our literary introduction to one of the most remarkable characters ever invented. Gore Vidal's dark and twisted tale of a Hollywood-inspired beauty and her plan to upset the patriarchy, realign the sexes and restore the balance of power was spiritual nourishment of divine order to the sexual revolution of the late nineteen-sixties. Vidal's Myra revealed her personal thoughts and wry observations about society and sex in such an intimate manner on the page that she was soon inside the reader's head and taking us on the wildest of rides.

In the late sixties when news of the filming began, fans of the book wondered how such an outrageous story would translate to film. Foremost in people's minds was the lengthy and very graphic scene of Myra's sexual exploration and rape of a handsome young man.

The advance publicity for Myra the film heralded a glamorous Hollywood treatment with pop casting of the highest and somewhat surreal order. Raquel Welch, the leading sex symbol of the day would portray Myra. The ever provocative Mae West, the goddess of sex herself was signed to play Leticia Van Allen, a talent agent for men and Myra's newfound buddy. Oddly, real life film critic Rex Reed would portray [...] film critic Myron. Filming was troubled; the main problem was director Mike Sarne. Vidal has suggested that the director of a film is almost unnecessary when everyone else does their job, and one can imagine Myra a far better film had Sarne been fired and the actors and cameraman carried on without him.

For the uninitiated this film can only be confusing and hard to follow. Entire chunks of the script were not filmed, or left on the cutting room floor leaving the viewer to guess what happened. If there is real pleasure to be gained from watching this film it may be best enjoyed after reading Vidal's book so you might imagine what the film should contain, or considering the script by David Giler, who loved Vidal's original work and provided everything needed to make Myra Breckinridge a unique film classic. In the 1972 book, The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter by William Froug, screenwriter David Giler revealed a great deal about the dynamics behind the filming of Myra.

The double sided DVD present two versions of the film a "Special Edition" and a "Theatrical Version." Accompanying the "Special Edition" is a commentary by Michael Sarne, which proves (as Vidal himself said) that Sarne was the very worst possible choice as director for this film. Sarne is so full of himself and so full of nonsense that is next to impossible to listen to the full commentary. He repeatedly expresses his contempt for the material and the actors. Sarne attempts to take credit for the use of film clips interspersing the film but David Giler said they were in the script before Sarne got his hands on it. The two "editions" are almost identical; one difference being the film clips that replaced the notorious use of a clip of Shirley Temple (being squirted in the face while milking a goat in "Heidi") inserted into a gratuitous scene of fellatio. In one version we now see a canon go off, in the other a champagne bottle erupts. The only other difference is the last scene in the "Special Edition" is now in black and white with Sarne going to some length to explain his "artistic" reason for this.

Raquel Welch obviously took her role very seriously; her interpretation of Myra is earnest and impassioned. Considering Sarne's inept direction what Welch manages to get across here is a tribute to her talent. Theodora VanRunkle's fabulous costumes convey a great deal of style and contribute to some of the most sublime images of Raquel Welch on film. Welch's commentary on the DVD is interesting; it would have been good to hear more on her interpretation of the role. Her scenes with John Huston are very sharp and conjure the spirit of the book.

Mae West holds her own as Leticia Van Allen, though it would have been amazing to see her play the character as written. West looks beautiful at 76 years old, its unfortunate that she and Welch didn't get along. In the book their characters' friendship helps carry the plot. One wonders what happened to the scene between them at Leticia's beach house. Production stills from it survive, as does a witty line by Mae, included on one of the trailers. It would have been satisfying for film buffs to see these deleted scenes or other outtakes as extras on this DVD.

There is an interesting documentary included, Backstory: Myra Breckinridge. In many ways this half-hour film is better than the feature.

Apparently Mike Nichols was initially discussed as director, with Anne Bancroft as Myra. That would certainly have yielded a very different result from what we have here. Although Hollywood rarely if ever attempts to remake a flop and try for a success it would be very interesting to see this story re-filmed by someone sensitive to the original and unique message of Vidal.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 21, 2008 5:09:19 PM PDT
James Loewen says:
In my review I included the following line, "Oddly, real life film critic Rex Reed would portray homosexual film critic Myron." For some reason Amazon chose to censor my use of the word "homosexual". Why? It is rather frustrating to be censored in such a way, and for what purpose? ~ James Loewen
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