Some films really stick, and THE BEATLES GET BACK, the three-part “event” directed by Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings”) now streaming on Disney+ has seeped into my bones and will stay there forever. Cameras everywhere capture EVERYTHING. In the days and weeks leading up to their final fantastic and at times absurdly funny last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios, we are there witnessing never-before-seen/heard conversations and quips, as well as the fab four actually writing these songs. Couldn’t believe I was watching the creative process in progress, John and Paul working out the melodies, words, and arrangements for classics we know inside out. All of them multi-instrumentalists; Ringo’s remarkable focus, dead on drumming, and unflagging cool no matter the tension in the room. George’s simmering frustration? Who knew.
There was something very touching about seeing everyone in Carnaby Street-colored, psychedelic print shirts in lime green, yellow, pink, and topped with fuzzy coats. Billy Preston pops in like a bolt of energy on keyboards while the lovely, late Linda Eastman curls up next to Paul, and Yoko sits softly supportive by John’s side; for a millisecond, there’s heartbreaker Patti Boyd Harrison. Always there, the tall elegant George Martin wafting through the studio as they all chow down– on tea and toast!!
At the heart of it, is the clear and present love between John and Paul, their joy in each other palpable as they continue to generate that breathtaking output. To be sure, I have been a Beatlemaniac ever since my 11 year-old self sat glued to their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan show. I was struck by lightning then– and now, almost 60 years later as I sat glued to all 468 minutes (7.8 hours) in three installments, dreaming back to that simpler time. I couldn’t help but notice that all four of them gave each other a lot of room and respect, and how in the middle of intense global fame, drove their own cars to the studio, parked out front (a meter maid– Rita?– is actually seen writing up a ticket!) then simply strolled in with no bodyguards, while maybe one or two, very polite fans stood quietly outside just to catch a glimpse. I still have an ache– for the boys and the times. Please Please see this. Oh Yeah.
Then watch SPENCER starring Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer– “Princess Diana”– set during one Christmas at Sandringham Palace with “The Family.” At first, I thought odd casting choice; the hair is wrong; she’s too short; I can’t understand her clipped, muffled accent– the use of captions crossed my mind. Then, after about a quarter of the way through this initially tedious effort, I caught up with what the filmmaker was doing, and what Stewart was inhabiting from the inside out: Diana’s loneliness, frustration, anger, longing, and hurt as she attempts to mother her children, and herself. The externals of this tragic tale have been dramatized to a fare thee well, from the bulimia to the ball gowns, but director Pablo Larrain, who did the same in JACKIE, has made overt the woman’s turbulent emotional and psychic landscape, brilliantly orchestrated by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s original music.
Stewart’s performance is astonishing. The lurching line readings, furtive demeanor, the fragility and fragmentation of Diana’s persona as she attempts to hold it all together while clearly and painfully deconstructing before our very eyes is nothing short of brilliant. The role is uniquely suited to Stewart’s gift for conveying the tension between being “one’s self” and being “self-conscious” under hyper-intense scrutiny. Stick with this one– it’s worth the effort.
Finally, we enter the HOUSE OF GUCCI which is “Spencer” inside out. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film is damaged by a weak screenplay which skips essential emotional beats, and concentrates on an entertaining surface of fancy Italian villas and a glitzy scene-chewing (“al dente”) cast. Lady Gaga is undeniably magnetic as Patrizia Reggiani the in-law who became the outlaw who hired someone to kill the heir to the Gucci fashion house fortune: her husband Maurizio played by Adam Driver. From that accent she’s dug up from the Roman ruins, and no doubt many a “Germanotta” (Gaga’s real surname) family dinner, to her too-tight designer suits which make even a Gucci wardrobe look trashy (brilliant touch), I ate her up. When Patrizia mistakes a Klimt for a Picasso in the presence of Maurizio’s ultra-refined father Rodolfo, played with impeccable snootiness by Jeremy Irons, I was screaming.
Al Pacino as Uncle Aldo actually tempers what might have been the Mount Vesuvius of performances, a designation that goes instead to an inflated and unrecognizable Jared Leto as Aldo’s son Paolo, a nincompoop (“stupido” in Italian) who delivers the movie’s most insane lines. An operatic coda involves Salma Hayek as a fortune-hunting fortune teller/TV Psychic named “Pina.” You can’t make this stuff up– and don’t have to; it’s all based on the true story as told in Sara Gay Forden’s eponymous book. Though the screenplay makes the characters incomprehensible, and renowned filmmaker Ridley Scott is a few cannoli short of a dozen here, the glamorous cast and locations, from Rome to Lake Como, make House of Gucci my guilty cinematic dessert of the season– I want that villa. My Italian is showing. Now in theaters.