Saturday, June 16, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion

Truth to tell, this week's SSCE entry isn't so much an explosion as an implosion.  For the second week running, quite by chance, we find ourselves down in the depths of terrible '70s cinema.

It's natural enough, once a star becomes established and can claim a certain proven box-office appeal, for him or her (or his or her management) to want to stretch a little, try something different.  Sometimes it works - Heartburn, for example, while not a huge hit, showed audiences that Meryl Streep was more than a Solemn Accent, setting the stage for Death Becomes Her and Postcards from the Edge later on.  Sometimes it doesn't (here's my nightmare triple feature:  Kay Francis in The White Angel, Joan Crawford in The Gorgeous Hussy, and Ginger Rogers in The Magnificent Doll.  There seems to have been something about period drama that both drew and proved totally beyond some of the Great Ladies).

Well, the picture above is one of the latter.  Somehow, after the success of Nashville and The Late Show (the latter a too-little-seen gem), Lily Tomlin, or Jane Wagner, or both of them, became inexplicably convinced that what Hollywood really needed was another earnest Clayburghesque leading lady, and that Lily was just the dame to take on that yoke.  The lamentable result was 1978's Moment by Moment, a Rather Different May-December drama that, if nothing else, proved definitively that if both leads in a romance are going to have Kinsey scores above 3, they both better be the same gender.

Actually, had Wagner-Tomlin had the courage of their convictions and just gone ahead and cast, say, Margaux Hemingway (or maybe even baby sister Mariel) in place of John Travolta, the picture could have been a real trailblazer.  The hot-tub scene, particularly, looks more or less exactly what late-seventies big-budget lesbian porn could have looked like (slap a moustache on Lily and it's a dead ringer for a Falcon loop).  As it is, despite sporting a superb and apparently all-Qiana late-'70s wardrobe, Lily looks about as much at ease as - well, as Ginger Rogers in Dolley Madison drag.  As for Travolta, if there's one thing he can play well, it's vacant, so despite a level of discomfort visible from space, he doesn't come off so badly.

Unless you're willing to commit piracy, this may be as close to seeing MbyM as you get (although there is, if you're feeling truly masochistic, a 10-minute version of this shorter tribute available on YouTube, courtesy of user momentbymoment78, no less.  That doughty soul also authored this digest of what he/she boldly claims is "my all-time favorite film").  The movie has never been released for the home market, although bootlegs do circulate.  There is, I suppose, a distant possibility that it's actually a misunderstood masterpiece, someday to resurface to universal acclaim.  I'll believe that about that same time I believe in the possibility of a watchable Cybil Shepherd musical.


  1. This was streaming on Netflix last summer (of course I jumped at the chance to see it; I'm not the brightest bulb in the box) and, honey, a misunderstood masterpiece it ain't. Campy in parts, it's mostly just terrible.

    Thought Travolta does look so much like a lesbian that maybe someday it will be marketed as a cult gay love story.

  2. Your tagging of this post is sublime.

  3. A truly dreadful movie as I recall. I also seem to remember him being interviewed saying it was based upon his own relationship with Diana Hyland - which was about as believable as his being seduced by Lily Tomlin, for heaven's sake. Jx

  4. Sadly I have never seen The White Angel but I remember tuning in to The Magnificent Doll with much anticipation being a history buff and in particular always being fascinated with Dolley Madison. After suffering through the whole thing I was speechless at how really dreadful Ginger was and what was worse was that she gives off the impression she thinks she's great. Dolley must have been spinning in her grave! I thought that it would be hard to top the wretchedness of that until I ran across the horror that is The Gorgeous Hussy. By the time it was over I was in awe of just how miscast an actress could be and though No! No! No! what is that most modern of actresses, at least for her time period, doing in ringlets and hoop skirts? Making a complete ass of herself that's what, at least it's good for a laugh.

    Moment by Moment was one of the first movies I saw in the theatre without an adult along, I wasn't even in my teens yet but had a family friend who worked in the theatre and let me sneak in, but even as a nascent cinephile I recognized it for the pile of crap that it was. As I remember there was maybe 10 people in the theatre and it was an evening show back when movie attendance was much higher than it is now. My clearest memory is that Travolta's character had been given the stupid name of Strip so every time Lily, love her but she was terrible here, had any interaction with him she was calling Strip! Strip! like it was a command. Hilarious and really the only worth of the entire misconceived mess.

  5. now lily was the male lead in this & john the bottom, right?