LAFF 2018 Review: Making Montgomery Clift

An engaging, informative documentary about the man, his craft, and show business.
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Co-created by Hillary Demmon and Robert Clift, the actor's youngest nephew and son of his brother Brooks, Making Montgomery Clift is an engaging, informative documentary about the man, his craft, and show business.

As a fan of classic film but not the gossip associated with it, I knew about Monty's work so was aware that he, along with Marlon Brando and James Dean, were at the forefront of an acting style that embraced sensitivity as a component of masculinity. However, I was unaware that rather than his movie performances, the documentary suggests Marty was better known for allegedly destroying himself because of his attraction to men. Robert, who also narrates, never met his uncle. He was born in 1974, eight years after Marty died, but through familial anecdotes and archives, he learns there was much more to the man and shares that story with viewers.

Monty became a stage actor as a teenager and eventually Hollywood came calling. Self assured at an early age, he was concerned about the long-term studio contracts that would limit him. He turned down roles he was unsatisfied with in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Mrs Miniver. He finally accepted Red River, clashing with co-star John Wayne on and off screen. He later Surely a thorn in the studio, he sought script and director approval before. When The Search went over its allotted shooting schedule, he blackmailed the studio for script changes, writing his own dialogue in some scenes. The film went on to earn Oscar nominations for his performance and its screenplay, though he was uncredited.

It's fun to learn he turned down roles in The Bridge on the River Kwai, East of Eden, On The Waterfront, and Sunset Blvd. What's not fun is learning about the seedy side of show business where his amazing performance in Judgment at Nuremberg and the troubled production of John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion were both used to degrade the man and damaged his career. Legend has it that the struggles seen on screen in Judgment were personal, but his script notes and audio of him talking about the role indicate an actor in control.

Even more troubling are the biographies written by Robert LaGuardia and Patricia Bosworth. Both published after his death, when he had no way to defend himself, the salacious suggestions and inaccurate reporting create a version of Monty, further distorted by readers projecting what they will onto his life. This happened especially in regards to his sexuality, which he didn't speak about publicly though it seems he was bisexual. The need for gay icons is understandable, but the presumptions made about his frame of mind seem more in line with the caricature of closeted gay rather than matching the man seen and heard in interviews. Towards the end of the documentary, a few people working on a movie about Monty are interviewed and they unfortunately talk like they'll be dealing with the caricature. Hope they see this film before moving forward with their project.

Highly recommend for his fans, Making Montgomery Clift offers great insight about a man who believed in himself and also suggests that printing the legend isn't always the best course of action.

MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT trailer from Hillary Demmon on Vimeo.

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