By Valerie Milano
Three times nominated for an Oscar, once the highest paid actor in Hollywood, widely lauded as the handsomest man on the silver screen, Montgomery Clift was an iconic star of 1950's. It was him, James Dean and Marlon Brando -- in fact, Clift turned down both Dean's part in East of Eden and Brando's in
On The Waterfront. Yet we rarely see Clift's face painted on the sides of buildings like we do Dean's and Brando's. Is it because James Dean "lived fast, died young and left a beautiful corpse," while Marlon Brando lived long enough to become an "actor's actor"? Clift died unceremoniously of a heart attack at the age of 45, and somehow his legend became only that of a sad, closeted bisexual whose personal demons led to an early demise.
The documentary Making Montgomery Clift sets out to correct that legend and put Monty back in the Hollywood pantheon where his fans - and family -- think he belongs. It is one of a dozen films nominated for Best Documentary at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival, now in progress at ArcLight Theaters around town.
The Sunday night LAFF premiere included a Q&A with co-directors Robert Clift (a nephew of the actor) and Hillary Demmon, and was attended by many family members. Most of them had not even seen the film, which was assembled largely from family archives kept by Robert's father, Monty's older brother Brooks.
Youngest nephew Dr. Robert Clift is a cinema studies scholar, assistant professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Yet it was only in the past few years that he decided, with editor-wife Hillary Demmon, to unearth his own family's film history. Brooks Clift, it turned out, saved
. Home movies, annotated scripts, reel-to-reel taped conversations, articles, correspondence... there is an entire library of information on Montgomery Clift, some of it only now seeing the light of day. It paints a very different picture of Monty than the "self-loathing closeted alcoholic whose repressed sexuality lead him to the slowest suicide in Hollywood history," as the gossipmongers have it.
Monty, in fact, was well known to be bisexual and quite comfortable with it. Those who knew him spoke of his playfulness and humor, which the film demonstrates with tapes of phone conversations (most made without Monty's knowledge) and home movies. There are interviews with former lovers Jack Larsen and Lorenzo James, both of whom passed away during the 5 years it took to complete the movie. There are also detailed interviews with Clift's biographers, and herein lies the film's main problem.
There is enough archival here to make a majestic, accurate, in-depth biography of Montgomery Clift. There's amazing footage of him as a child actor, there are his own notations on his own scripts, interviews with directors and co-stars, remarkable behind-the-scenes video of Hollywood history. Yet we spend screentime reading Brooks Clift's correspondence arguing with biographers about minor details. If you didn't know very much about Clift when you walked into the movie, you won't know much more when you leave. You will learn that the only thing you probably did know about Montogomery Clift - that he was a self-hating gay man - isn't true.
But you will see plenty of evidence that this was one of the most breathtaking faces (and talents) the world didn't appreciate enough while he was around. It will at least make you run out and watch Judgment at Nuremburg, or
The Misfits, or
A Place in the Sun.