Monday, October 05, 2009

Okay, Anita, Take Five

I could get a better-quality version of this picture if I bought it off Ebay, but I'm not a very good memorabilia-buyer. Still, this promotional still from Artists and Models appears to be the only one from the film that features the director, Frank Tashlin. He's talking to Anita Ekberg, in one of only three scenes she has in the movie. And the other two times she appears, I originally wasn't aware it was her. But there's no mistaking her in this scene.

Ekberg was apparently thrown into the movie at the last minute when Hal Wallis, feeling that she was going to be the next big sex symbol, decided he wanted her in the film even though there wasn't really a role for her. Luckily, Artists and Models is a movie that doesn't really have to make sense (as I've said before, it starts out semi-normal and gets more surreal as it goes on, and that progression was a big influence on the French directors who loved it, like Rivette and Godard). So the fact that Ekberg is billed fairly prominently, but doesn't actually have a character to play (she literally plays "Anita"), is not a problem.

It becomes a bit more of a problem for me in Hollywood Or Bust the year after, where the whole plot is built around Ekberg (though she still doesn't have much screen time). Unlike Jayne Mansfield, she didn't really lend herself to Tashlin's mockery -- he didn't seem to find the foreign-goddess stereotype as funny as the Marilyn Monroe stereotype -- and despite the constant promotion, she was not a truly major cinema sex symbol, not by Monroe/Loren standards. (She achieved international sex-symbol status for about a year, thanks to Fellini. But as I've said before, most of her film career consists of being somehow less sexy than some other woman in the picture.) Which is one of the reasons I prefer Artists and Models to Hollywood Or Bust; because of the subject matter and the slowly-increasing surrealism, it takes all the things that sometimes drag down Hal Wallis's Paramount movies -- in this case, Wallis's tendency to try and find a part for any starlet who caught his eye -- and turns them into advantages.

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