Cary Grant, harsh South Africa, and leaking top secrets: My last day at the SFFilm Festival

Sunday was my last day at this year’s SFFilm Festival. It was also the day with the last big event: The Closing Night Show. The Festival will continue through Tuesday, but without me.

David Thomson Master Class: Thinking About Cary Grant

I started the day not with a movie, but with a lecture. Film historian David Thomson, who seems to write a new book every month, started out with a premise: That Cary Grant “was the most important actor in the history of the movies.” While such actors as Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando got the awards, “Grant understood the nature of movie better than anyone else.”

Some other comments, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • On his never getting an Oscar: The Oscar has been an albatross around the neck of the art of cinema.
  • Archie Leach – the future Cary Grant – was born in 1904. His mother disappeared when he was nine. He discovered, decades later, that his father had put her in an insane asylum.
  • When Archie became Cary, he had to work out a voice. He spoke like no one else.
  • Unlike most stars, he did not tie himself to a long-term studio contract. That gave him control of his career.
  • He was close with money, which may have been a measure of his insecurity.
  • He had five marriages and many other affairs with women. I think he wanted to marry a lot of people, in the most altruistic way.
  • He might have had gay relationships. The testimony isn’t reliable.

Thomson showed four clips to show Grant’s range: Bringing up Baby for physical comedy, His Girl Friday for comic dialog, Suspicion, where he plays an untrustworthy jerk, and in “the greatest love scene he ever made,” Notorious.

The Harvesters

Teenage boys suddenly become brothers, and struggle for their parents’ affections, and all set in a harsh land that feels like it could blow away with the next wind storm. Janno isn’t happy when his parents adopt the newly-adopted Pieter – a street kid and former male prostitute. The setting is a sparsely-populated and overwhelmingly white part of current South Africa. The parents are fanatically religious; the father literally beats God into Pieter.

I give The Harvesters a B+.

Writer/director Etienne Kallos answered questions after the screening. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • This is not my childhood. I’m from the theater.
  • I wanted to explore my country more. All Europeans in South Africa are fruit from an evil tree.
  • I knew the chemistry between the boys would be everything. It was stressful to get the right boys.
  • Many of the boys I tested didn’t have a problem playing a gay prostitute, but they didn’t want to swear.
  • It’s easier to work with kids if you cast them right because they’re truthful. Adults are always full of shit.

I saw the last SFFilm screening of The Harvesters. I don’t know if it will ever again be seen in the Bay Area.

Closing Night Film: Official Secrets

Remember when George W. Bush and Tony Blair dragged the US and the UK into a pointless war for no good reason whatsoever? Keira Knightley plays real-life Katharine Gun, a whistle blower who tried to stop the second Iraq war and had to face harsh government treatment for her “crime” of honesty. The theme is deeply important, and the movie is entertaining, but it’s not an exceptional film.

I give Official Secrets  a B. [Note, 4/24: When I originally posted this article, I failed to include this film’s grade. I have corrected that.]

There was a Q&A after the film, but I was not able to stay for it. The movie will open in the Bay Area in August.