HPPUB MOVIE REVIEWs of Down with Love, Die Mommie Die


Title:  Down with Love

Release Date:  2003

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 94 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  20th Century Fox and Regency

Director; Writer: Peyton Reeds


Cast:   Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulsen


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This film blends 50s-style situation comedy and satire. In fact, it is a satire of both the social values that preceded the Civil Rights movement, and of the overly glitzy entertainment style of that area, and it works. But it probably wouldn’t work if repeated or cloned. I don’t think this is a renewal of an old film genre. But this film sharpens the discussion that so much preoccupies investors of publicly traded media companies. Must movies first entertain, or should they deliver social messages. It is not easy to do both, as screenwriters often fall into manipulation. This film does deliver its message through pure satire, although the stereotyped delivery tends to make the viewer feel that the message doesn’t really matter.


In fact, the film opens with the 20th Century Fox fanfare (and I don’t know why Warner Brothers, Columbia and Universal don’t use their musical corporate trademarks consistently today) followed by the second page, “A CinemaScope picture.” The end credits say “filmed in Panavision,” and I cannot say definitively if a CinemaScope lens was used. (Readers can email me on this.)


Fox, remember, had originated CinemaScope in 1953 with The Robe and it was used with other spectacles. In time, the process got to be used with musicals and particularly glitzy comedies like Three Coins in the Fountain. So this film brings (supposedly set in 1962) brings back the look of entertainment in that era, with the snazzy jazz music background that seems rather cold today, and the rich palette of studio hues and shades, that can be manipulated even further by directors with the various stocks of commercial film.


But Petyon Reed’s point is that a gaudy situation comedy really can make fun of the social values of the time in a way not possible during that era. Pseudonymed Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) writes  a best seller book “Down with Love,” in which she argues that women can start a social revelation of the Betty Friedan type, including equality with men in the workplace and, moreover, enjoy sex without commitment the way men supposedly do. With a little tweaking by a publicist it becomes an overnight best seller. The plot unfolds as a scheme for Barbara to get her man (publishing editor Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) at her old employer MacManus, owned by Peter MacManus (David Hyde Pierce). It turns into typical operatic situation comedy (about “down with love girls”) with mistaken identities and oversized, exchanged penthouse apartments with Frank Lloyd Wright décor. In one scene, a record collection is torn to shreds by a record changer as the 1812 Overture concludes. Late in the script, editor Vikki (Sarah Paulsen), trying to figure out the apartment switching and gender bending, accuses Peter of being “a homosexual” with the hots for Catcher (whose hairy chest shows often enough), but the film (unlike the 50s drama Far from Heaven) doesn’t stay with that point for long. In an early confrontation between MacManus and Catcher there is a comical and odd discussion of workplace stocking garters and male prudishness about showing their legs, indeed “shiny shins” that give away the idea that men go downhill rather quickly physically (especially when they smoke).


As an author of a socially sharp edged book “Do Ask, Do Tell” I rather chuckled that a lonely person could, in fiction, change the world so suddenly (though reversibly) with an overnight best seller about gender roles.


Here is a reaction from a reader well versed in film technology:



   I enjoyed your review of the film.  I saw it projected and it somewhat simulated
the look of Eastmancolor at the time although it did not and could not simulate
Technicolor since the dye transfer process was revived and shut down again
between the years 197-2001.  The ultra saturated and vibrant hues of Technicolor
cannot be replicated on today's Eastmancolor print stock.

Regarding your question about CinemaScope, those old Bausch and Lomb lenses
have not been used in the
US since 1957. 

Here's a brief history of that process and the lenses:

    After the success of "This is Cinerama", all the studios scrambled to find their
own widescreen system.  In my opinion, the best of them was the "Todd-AO"
(70mm) format which generated a wide frame/widescreen image without distortion.
It lasted through 1997 which was the last year that a new film was released in
the system although it was a blow up from 35mm ("Titanic").
    Anamorphic widescreen was Fox's answer to Cinerama and it's the only format
that has survived from the fifties.  As you're probably aware, the way the process works was to add an optical distortion to the image (squeezed) and then unsqueeze
it to widescreen proportions during projection. It wasn't as wide as Cinerama but did generate a peripheral illusion on a slightly curved screen.  "How to Marry a Millionaire" was the first film shot in the process but they held off the release for a while and decided to
switch formats on "The Robe" which was a bigger production.  "The Robe" had begun filming as a standard 'flat' (1.33 square ratio) feature then they switched to CinemaScope.  Actually, the film was shot twice in both flat and scope formats.
"The Robe" was a smash hit (although it's very dated now) at the time and CinemaScope was established as a less expensive and cumbersome method of making a widescreen movie.  Universal, Warners,
MGM, UA and other studios licensed the lenses from Fox after 1953.  The CinemaScope logo was established
as a marketing tool.  Audiences especially responded to Fox's fanfare logo in the process.
    There were some serious problems with the format however.  The Bausch and Lomb anamorphic lenses severely distorted close ups.  Whenever an actor's face
filled the frame they seemed stretched out of shape and distorted.  Some female
actresses objected to the process since it undermined their image of beauty.
Ava Gardner was among those that didn't want to be photographed with the lenses.
In fact, in one of her films they photographed her with standard 'flat' 35mm lenses
then cropped off the tops and bottoms and added an anamorphic compression after the fact so it could be used in the rest of the CinemaScope production.  Her close ups were grainy of course because of the optical enlargement but at least she didn't look stretched out of shape.
     While Bausch and Lomb tried to upgrade their lenses and reduce the distortion,
they never completely eliminated it.  Fortunately, another company did which was PanavisionPanavision was introduced in 1957 and producers immediately saw the improvements.  It was the same ratio and squeezed image but they were able to optically compensate for close ups.   You could now photograph a close up without streching the person's features out of proportion. 
MGM and others began to use Panavision lenses in a number of their features (i.e. "Bad Day at Black Rock") although they continued to use the CinemaScope logo since it had been established as a marketing tool.
It became a bit confusing since Fox still used the distorted Bausch and Lomb lenses. 
     Finally in 1966, even Fox abandoned those units when Robert Wise insisted on using the superior Panavision lenses for "The Sand Pebbles".  The last feature to use the Bausch and Lomb scope lenses was "In Like Flynt".  Afterwards they were abandoned.
      "Down with Love" is a clever satire and I did enjoy the old CinemaScope logo and fanfare.  However, like the
MGM pictures of the late fifties, it was shot with modern
Panavision lenses and just used the CinemaScope logo as a gimmick and cultural

Richard W. Haines
author, "Technicolor Movies", "The Moviegoing Experience 1968-2001"



See also his comments on motion picture technology at this link.




If you want a gay or gender-bending spoof of garish 50’s Technicolor movie making, try Sundance’s Die, Mommie Die, directed by Charles Busch, who plays in the movie as drag queen Angela Arden himself. There is a nice convoluted plot like Arsenic and Old Lace, or perhaps The Trouble With Harry, with a bit of Baby Jane. Stark Sands plays the stereotyped mommie’s boy Lance, nice and tall and thin with no hair on his chest, of course, especially when he seduces the policeman played by Jason Priestly. France Conroy plays the old maid Bootsie Carp, and Philip Baker Hall plays the Jewish movie mogul who needs to get out of the way. Were this not headed for so many DVD players on smaller sets, this would have made a good CinemaScope picture, too.  And you sit there waiting for Hitchcock to make a cameo appearance. But there is trouble with him.



Related reviews:  War of the Worlds


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