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It’s 1924 and wealthy media mogul William Randolph Hearst –WR to his friends – (Edward Hermann) opens his handsome cruising yacht to a handful of guests to celebrate the birthday of film producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), who is trying to get Hearst to back him in a big way. Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) uses the occasion to try and prise WR’s mistress, the adorable actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst) away from Hearst. But he’s not the only one on board with a secret agenda; other guests include society novelist Elinor Glynn (Joanna Lumley), New York based gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and actress Margaret Livingston (Claudia Harrison) who is the secret mistress of the married Ince. By the end of the trip, one person will be dead and a couple of relationships shattered. Inspired by real events that have never been fully explained.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I enjoyed the film immensely on its theatrical release, and it has haunted me ever since with its mood - a cocktail of power, sex, wealth and love. 

The trick is to make the film not merely titillating but meaningful, and Peter Bogdanovich does just that by skinning his characters until we glimpse the complex tissue beneath: the vanity, the frailty, the desperation – and the reality of wealth power. 

Strikingly evocative production design and genuine music of the period captures the time and place superbly, and the performances are all magnificent, with Kirsten Dunst a shimmering and complete Marion in the key role. Eddie Izzard, avoiding any attempt at impersonation, finds a nice characterisation for Chaplin which develops as the film goes on, and Ed Herrmann brings both grit and vulnerability to WR, making the character accessible and readily understood – which is crucial to the film’s success. Joanna Lumley, whose character has the task of telling this ‘whisper’ of a story, manages to make Elinor Glynn both imperiously amusing and strangely compelling. 

Fine work by all, for what feels like a glimpse inside a hidden society of the famous and fortunate, who are not always that happy. 

The DVD package is welcome on my shelf, offering some insights and additions to the film. The 15 minute Making of featurette by Sashy Bogdanovich is by far the best of the docos; it’s genuine fly on the wall moments on the set – and location - are more compelling than the formal, EPK-originated interviews. These are stored by subject (like getting Started, The Characters, On Location in Greece, etc) and are notable at least for the sight of Eddie Izzard as a modern blond, bearded, leather jacketed actor, after seeing him as the black haired, period Chaplin.

As a cute extra, the DVD includes an appropriately filmic restored Chaplin short, Behind the Screen, as well as a 1919 newsreel of film star Claire Windsor, which is not particularly riveting.

The biggest extra, of course, is the director’s commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, which displays his extensive and detailed knowledge of showbiz of the era, his love of filmmaking, his attention to detail and his reason for some of the crucial choices in making the film.

Published December 26, 2002

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CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrman, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Claudia Harrison, Ronan Vibert, Victor Slezak

DIRECTOR: Peter Bogdanovich

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen 16:9; Dolby 5.1; subtitles: English HOH

SPECIAL FEATURES: Director’s commentary; Making of featurette; Restored Chaplin short, Behind the Screen; 1919 Newsreel footage; Director/cast interviews; trailer; closed captioned subtitles; Madman propaganda.


DVD RELEASE: December 31, 2002

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