BFI Flare presents Making Montgomery Clift.
On the 23rd of July, 1966, Montgomery Clift died of heart failure at his New York apartment, aged 45, leaving us a treasure trove of world-class films and theatre. In the years following Clift’s death, a picture formed of a man struggling with his sexuality, drink and drugs, a tragic character who never fit the mould of the Hollywood system. However, now Clift’s nephew dispels the rumours and whispers with a beautiful and honest exploration of Montgomery’s life and career.
Montgomery Clift began his career as a child actor in theatre, building a diverse portfolio of roles by his late teens. Throughout his youth and early twenties, his passion for theatre would lead him to turn down many early offers from Hollywood, with his first foray into a film not coming until the age of 25 in the western Red River – cementing his potential as a leading man. His gentle and expressive performance as a young Matt Garth challenged the 1940s view of masculinity on screen as he played against the archetype Western male, John Wayne.
Clift’s ability to cut through masculine stereotypes of the period would become a defining trait of his career, challenging age-old stereotypes of Hollywood masculinity with layers of emotion and sensitivity. Here his pioneering approach would dovetail with Marlon Brando and James Dean in creating a new vision of the Hollywood leading man, born out of a need to represent the male experience in a post-war society.
However, his role in challenging masculine stereotypes on screen was not enough for Clift, as he took square aim at the studio system that embodied dated values. It was here that Clift’s passion for change and evolution led him to refuse single studio contracts, something unheard of in a Hollywood culture where studios reigned supreme. Clift’s rebellion would lead to individual film contracts, rewriting the relationship between actors and studios. Alongside this, Clift insisted on involvement in the screenwriting process, allowing him to mould his characters based on his vision. This would ultimately challenge screenwriters and directors, leading many to avoid Clift’s company.
However, Clift’s challenge of the system would lay the foundation stones of a fresh approach to filmmaking that by the 1960s had become the norm. But despite his revolutionary role and sublime performances, Clift remains an actor whose name is linked to personal tragedy rather than artistic excellence. Using an extensive collection of tapes, home videos and written materials collected by Clift’s brother, Making Montgomery Clift finally celebrates the bravery of a man who refused to become a victim of the Hollywood system.
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Dispelling age-old media speculation, Making Montgomery Clift offers us a portrait of a man comfortable with his sexual orientation and his decision to shun the trappings of fame and celebrity. Here we find a man who never attempted to cover up his relationships with both men and women over the years, unlike many of his contemporaries. However, it’s clear Clift was also profoundly affected by the rumour, speculation, and intrusive analysis – a near-fatal car accident leading him to use alcohol and prescription drugs to manage his pain.
However, Clift and Demmon’s documentary balances the darkness with light, celebrating a man who helped change Hollywood through a steadfast belief in diversity, art and performance. Here Making Montgomery Clift offers us a beautiful exploration of a true Hollywood giant and a fresh and welcome examination of his passion, drive and determination to change the studio system.