Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise

Year 8, Day 235 - 8/22/16 - Movie #2,430

BEFORE: I'm doubling down today, watching a second film on a similar topic, because I can - this one's a documentary short, only 36 minutes long.  Hey, it counts if I say it counts, I never promised that every film I set out to watch would be 90 minutes or longer.  I was going to just watch this before "Very Semi-Serious" as a sort of a preface, but since I realized my chain was two films too short for the remainder of the year, it makes sense to just count this one, add another film tomorrow which is available on iTunes, and then everything will be right on schedule again.

THE PLOT: This portrait of Hilary Knight, the artist behind the iconic Eloise books, sees him reflecting on his life as an illustrator and his relationship to his most successful work.

AFTER: A look at another illustrator tonight, they're really wonderful people once you get to know them, but they do have a tendency to look at life in a different way.  If you're familiar with the book "Eloise" or any of its sequels, you might wonder why there were four books published in the late 1950's, and then the next book appeared in 2002.  Yep, there's a story there, as author Kay Thompson, an actress with a larger-than-life persona created the character and had very strong ideas about how she should be portrayed - and while the illustrator was key to the success of the first book, apparently Ms. Thompson took umbrage at sharing the credit, and gradually tried to steamroll her collaborator out of the process.  

Talk about holding grudges - Thompson lived another 40 years after dissolving her creative partnership with Hilary Knight, and would not allow another Eloise book to be released to the press, so the next one came posthumously, with the agreement of her estate.  The race is not always to the swift, sometimes life demands a great deal of patience.  

Even though this film is only 36 minutes long, it managed to run out of things to say about Kay Thompson and the original books after about 10 minutes, and then focuses on Lena Dunham meeting the illustrator of one of her favorite childhood books, and then we learn a little about his amateur filmmaking, which isn't nearly as interesting.  At some point, Knight found a new muse - performance artist, B-movie actress and amateur accordion player Phoebe Legere, and has been inspired to make a number of awful-looking home movies with her as the star.  

It's not that I hate Lena Dunham, she might be a terrific person for all I know, but I hate everything she represents as a symbol of her generation.  Somehow she feels that having an Eloise tattoo on her lower back and having a gay uncle makes her the perfect person to host this documentary, instead of mentioning why she liked the book as a child, or how she identifies with Eloise.  I suppose it might have been too close to the mark to say, "Oh, you know, we're both spoiled little rich white girls who complain when things don't go our way!"  Hey, I've got a mole on my shoulder that kind of looks like Alfred Hitchcock in profile, I guess that makes me an expert on his films?

She just gives off that hipster vibe of being both self-righteous and self-entitled at the same time, the kind of person who would knock a drink out of your hand at the coffee shop if you accidentally ordered regular milk instead of cruelty-free soy, or will take you to task if you forgot to pledge yourself toward ending sexism, racism and body-shaming last week, or if you're acting all white-male important or something.  Yeah, feminists would do better if they could promote themselves without cutting men down, they just haven't figured out how to do that yet, or shown any interest in it.  

But back to Mr. Knight - he seems rather well-adjusted, aside from the terribly misguided notion that Phoebe Legere has any actual talent.  But isn't that a tired old stereotype, that gay men are most comfortable around flamboyant, domineering women?  I admire that he chose to not allow this portrait to focus on his orientation, I think there's entirely too much "in your face" activism when it comes to gay rights these days.  I long for a simpler time, when people just happened to be gay, and didn't all make a big THING out of it. I mean, sure, it's OK to be out and proud, but does it have to be the focus of everything that you do?  We don't have activists, poets and comedians anymore, we have gay activists, gay poets and gay comedians, as if that's part of the job.  No, seriously, the second word is your job, the first word is your orientation, and they should be two separate things.

I look forward to the inevitable documentary about Dr. Seuss, where we will no doubt learn a thing or two about his socialist leanings, or that he snuck a ton of dirty slang into his nonsense rhymes.  

Starring Hilary Knight, Lena Dunham (last seen in "This Is 40"), Phoebe Legere. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 unreturned phone calls   

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