saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Waiting for Liz by Claire-Monique Martin
Bad Pony Media
24th September 2013
In the last few months, there's been a double whammy of films regarding the life of Elizabeth Taylor. They're easy to tell apart in almost every way. There's Liz and Dick - the coarse, low-budget crudfest starring everyone's favourite troubled walking pharmacy, Lindsay Lohan, sure to become a cult classic for its unremitting awfulness á la The Room. And there's the elegant, refined Richard Laxton film Burton and Taylor, which stars actual actors in the shape of Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West. The titles should really be the giveaway as to quality. Coupled with the fact ol' Liz was never far away from the public eye in all of her 79 years, it begs the question "Do we really need another piece about the superstar?"
Arguably (although we'd disagree), you fundamentally don't need any art to survive - so in that respect, not really. But Claire-Monique Martin's labour of love sets itself apart immediately by not retreading the old ground of Tricky Dicky and Liz's tumultuous romance, instead focusing on the relationship of her and third husband Mike Todd. The stage and screen producer was about 21 years her senior, described along with Burton as one of her only true loves, and (spoiler alert) was the only one of her marriages that didn't end in divorce thanks to Mike's tragic death in a plane crash. But you're not here for a history lesson. Suffice to say that, in my view, their time together is ripe for exploration and immediately makes me predisposed to liking the short piece.
Martin's script, at first glance, seems rather superficial. The couple reminisce about their first time meeting without actually saying much. But after rewatching some old interviews and showreels, their voices feel authentic and there's a true affection there. But behind the mundanity, this nostalgic piece is quite astute, peeling back and taking on a few aspects of their personalities in a short time. The dialogue might not be as spiky and feisty as we've come to expect from films about Liz and Burton, but this is a different relationship that shows Elizabeth in a very different light and Martin respects that. Its success also hinges on Martin's sensual but troubled portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor - it's not a second-rate impersonation, rather she captures Liz's essence and runs it through her own filter in the way some of the best actors do. Henry Douthwaite also captures the character of Mike in an era where men were real men, smooth, fast-talking and charming with a glint in their eye.
The whole thing is bolstered and enhanced by director Phillip Walker and DP Cheryl Howarth. The pair do a stylish job of framing the entire piece - flitting nicely between the rule of thirds and creating a literal framing device in Liz's mirror, with Mike out of focus and looming large. The sepia tones invoke the bygone age of Hollywood and provide a stark contrast to the intentionally jarring final scene and invoke Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland or George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck. They get into Liz's head just as much as the script, adding a sense of weight to her relationships and her apparent need to be anchored to a man - throughout her life, there would always be one just out of sight behind her, waiting to step into the spotlight. But the ghost of both Burton and, in this case, Mike, was never far away. Editor Frank McGowan, though, does like his sharp cuts and there's a little issue with the sound levels around Mike's voice.
The main issue with Waiting for Liz is simply its format. Both Liz and Mike were complex people and this seems like it needs to be a scene from a longer biopic rather than a stand-alone piece. It does have a story arc, but because we've not watched a full relationship blossom and bloom, despite the emotion on show, the ending, which should be powerful, falls a tad flat. That's no one's fault, of course, it's a limitation of a short film and with subjects such as these, there's a lot of rightly assumed knowledge.
But for what it is, Bad Pony Media/Maximus Pictures' flick shows a huge amount of skill, consideration and style. And one that hints at bigger and better things to come from all involved. As a short about tragic, doomed love, it is strong. As a statement of intent, it's even better.
Waiting for Liz was showcased on 5th September 2013 at the Horse Hospital and is currently being submitted to film festivals. We don't have any details of further screenings at present, but you can watch the film on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGSwP2sV_WY