A Sunday with Dame Judi Dench

We have a special episode this week, a companion to our discussion last week of Notes on a Scandal. We visit with the Dame, Judi Dench. We discuss her film career, with deep dives into an early entry A Room With a View (1986) and the film that launched her film stardom Mrs. Brown (1997). Returning for this conversation with our host Murtada Elfadl is writer and critic Teo Bugbee.

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Topics Discussed:

  • General impression of the Dame, which performances do we enjoy, what does she bring to screen?
  • Our first time watching Judi Dench at the movies – Shakespeare in Love (1998). She won an Oscar playing Elizabeth I the same year Cate did in Elizabeth.
Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in A Room with a View (1986)
  • The duet with another Dame, Maggie Smith in A Room with a View.
  • Mrs. Brown (1997) was her big breakout film. It was originally intended as a TV movie until a certain producer was impressed and bought it for theaters.
Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Dench, Smith and Bill Nighy in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
  • Other notable screen roles include Iris, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Philomena, Skyfall.
  • We play a game: Who said it, Cate or Judi?
  • Briefly touch ob other career highlights from her early theater work – her Lady Macbeth (1976) is considered the standard, to the current iteration; tik tok sensation.

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Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in ‘Notes on a Scandal’

A scandalous affair with an underage boy is the entry into this melodrama about the friendship between two teachers in North London. Murtada Elfadl welcomes back Teo Bugbee to discuss the juicy and delicious Notes on a Scandal, its lineage to hagsploitation flicks like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the trope of the predatory lesbian, and why this film remains highly rewatchable.

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Follow along, stream the film on Amazon prime.

What is the film about?

From imdb: A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her fifteen-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new “friend” also go well beyond a platonic friendship. Adapted by Patrick Marber from Zoe heller’s novel, directed by Richard Eyre.

What year did it come out?

2006 

Who does Cate play?

Sheba Hart – a “bourgeoisie bohemia” teacher who embarks on a friendship with a fellow teacher and a disastrous affair with a student.

How is Cate introduced?

3 minutes in. The outsider coming in as the new art teacher in school, a “hard to read wispy novice.” Flustered and a bit late. 

Box Office: Domestic = $17.5MM, Int’l = $32.3MM.

Metacritic: 73 RT:  87

Blanchett and Dench deliciously going toe to toe in Notes on a Scandal

Topics Discussed::

  • Judi’s voice over is delicious, cuts like a sharp knife. I want to quote ALL of it. A gold star performance.
  • Sheba is unlike the characters that Cate usually plays. Many of those are “exceptional” people, Sheba is messy and foolish. The vagueness in the performance fits the character, she’d even described as someone without substance “a sort of absent person.”
  •  The trope of the repressed predatory lesbian – does the film interogate it? And the differing reactions to it from the hosts; a gay man and a lesbian.
  • There a mineage to the the tradition of hagsploitation pictures like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • Barbara Covett vs. Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley. Why we identify with one as queer people and not the other?
  • We dissect three scenes:
    1. The main confrontation later in the film “Do you want to fuck me Barbara?” – so many delicious lines as they go toe to toe. A scene I rewatch a lot. 
    2. By the car when Barbara’s cat dies. 
    3. The lunch visit which sets up the class conflict that the film is trying to depict, also sets up the vast difference between how Barbara (makes an effort, gets dressed up) and Sheba (no effort at all, casual, doesn’t think about it) see their friendship.
  • Other scenes discussed:
  1. ”Dordogne” post the big confrontation.
  2. Bill Nighy wonderful when asking Sheba why she didn’t ask him for help after the affair’s reveal.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Released the same year as The Good German and Babel

Awards:  Cate was nominated for Oscar, Golden Globes, and SAG losing to Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. So was Judi + Bafta losing to Helen Mirren in The Queen. The Oscars also nominated Patrick Marber’s script and Philip Glass’ score. 

Press:

New Yorker profile by John Lahr includes this two anecdotes about the making of Notes:

“In a pre production discussion for last year’s “Notes on a Scandal,” Richard Eyre says he got off to “a slightly sticky start with Cate.” He told me, “She’d had one session with a dialect coach, and was she going to have another? I was worried about whether she’d be class-specific. Her character is kind of upper-middle bohemian. I wanted the distinction between her and Judi Dench’s character, who is petit bourgeois, to be clear.” Eyre continued, “I think she thought I was over concerned with the externals instead of the psychology.” “He was really worried about the issue of class,” Blanchett explained. “ ‘Richard,’ I said, ‘I need to work on it because I’m not a mimic. I need to sit down and work on it.’ So the accent became an issue, when I didn’t want to focus on the accent but on the meat of things.” No sooner were Eyre’s words out of his mouth than he realized that he’d made a mistake. “I was sitting in my kitchen and talking. She said, ‘Don’t you think I can do this?’ ‘ Eyre said. “She was upset. I must have been eroding her self-confidence. I felt as bad as I’ve ever felt. I apologized. She didn’t extract revenge.”

Marber recalls, “I put this line in it, ‘Where did you get my hair? Did you pluck it from the bath with some special fucking tweezers?’ She said, ‘I don’t want to say that line. It’s too funny. It will corrupt the tone of where Sheba’s at.’ We hammer-and-tonged it for about ten minutes. Eventually, I said, ‘Oh, please, just please.’ I think she felt compelled to concede to the writer, even if he was a bloody idiot. I think that’s because she’s come from the theatre.”

Blanchett / Dench lovefest in pictures:

Dench and Blanchett on set
Blanchett and Dench at the ‘Women in Hollywood’ event October 2006

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Cate Blanchett in ‘The Good German’

For this episode we visit with Cate Blanchett among the ruins of 1945 Berlin in Steven Soderbergh’s re-creation of a 1940s melodrama, The Good German. A film and performance we consider to be Blanchett’s most underrated. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Megan McGurk, host of Sass Mouth Dames podcast.

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Logo - TGG

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Follow along, The Good German is available on Vudu.

What is the film about?

While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. They knew each other before the war, and now she is his driver’s mistress. What a coincidence or is it? There’s a murder investigation, deep secrets about what happened during the war that the characters carry with a great deal of shame.

Who does Cate play?

Lena Brandt, a German “stringer” caught in the chaos of post WW2 Berlin, holding a deep mystery about what she went through during the war.

How is Cate introduced?

6 minutes in, out of the shadows and into the light center screen. Great intro reminiscent of how 40s stars were introduced. Though just before that she’s shown body, no face in bed with Maguire.

What year did it come out?

2006.

Box Office: Domestic = $1.3MM     Int’l = $4.6MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 49    RT: 33 

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Blanchett and Clooney in Berlin, built on a soundstage in LA

Topics discussed:

  • Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. The baton is passed from Tobey Maguire who opens the film to Clooney and finally to Blanchett revealing the story as hers.
  • Soderbegh set out to make a film that looked and sounded like an old studio picture, but without the old studio prohibitions so sex and profanity. Using period camera lenses and sets, attempting to mimic the classic studio style, through deliberate editing patterns and fairly restrained camerawork.
  • The film is notorious for how it completely failed; both with critics and audiences. We examine why. Was it because it was in black and white? The high stylization and deliberate pace? The not-so-happy ending?
  • Cate leans into exaggerated gestures and fluid theatrical body movements. 
  • Cate’s look, dark hair, red lipstick against the period black and white cinematography might be the best she’s ever looked on screen.
  • Obvious homage to Casablanca (1942), particularly the ending set similarly at an airport. Even the poster was a direct recreation.
  • Because of the obvious allusions to Casablanca (1942) this performance was compared to Ingrid Bergman’s, other critics mentioned Marlene Dietrich, citing Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948). We also talk about Dietrich in Dishonored (1931) and Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). Cate acknowledged screening many 40s movies.
  • Her chemistry with George Clooney. Playing illicit doomed lovers, the screen must smolder if the bond is to be believed. 
  • George Clooney – he loves Cate but their luck in movies is bad. See also The Monuments Men (2013), another WW2 story. His performance is anti-leading man since he’s being constantly beaten up.
  • Our excitement about Cate in Nightmare Alley and how well suited she’s to the part of Lilith Ritter.

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Clooney, Blanchett and that blue dress

Scenes we liked:

  • “I survived,” gives Cate the chance to play a range of emotions. 
  • “You can never really get out of Berlin,” romance and longing.  

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Two years from her first Oscar win for The Aviator (2004), Cate was busier  than ever in 2006. She also had Babel and Notes on a Scandal released within weeks of this film. In an interview with NPR she apologized for “being very present at the moment.” 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“a vamping Cate Blanchett, recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s postwar heroine Veronika Voss by way of Carol Burnett.”- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.

“With dead dark eyes, a dramatic slash of a mouth and a sullenness that encases whatever is left of her heart and soul, Lena is a vivid, if not exactly unique, creation, and Blanchett soon all but disappears into the forlorn, desperate character. She summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure, but brings Lena fully to life, at least to the extent she has life left in her.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

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Clooney, Blanchett, Maguire and Soderbergh at the LA premiere December 2006

Promotional work:

Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said of the film: “It’s quite Brechtian, and the emotions are handled in that Forties way. There’s no introspection in Forties films unless it’s expressed externally, and that was really challenging. It’s not melodramatic, it’s what people do. Often, George [Clooney] and I would say, ‘Whoa, that felt eggy’ – it felt like you’ve got egg on your face – and Steven said, ‘If it doesn’t feel eggy, you’re not there.’ We just had to go for it.

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