MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

DVD Geek: Design for Living

Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful 1933 tale of a woman who is shared by two men but marries a third, Design for Living, has been released on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.  Sexy as all get out as she stretches across a bed in the film’s La Boheme-style Parisian garret where the two men live, Miriam Hopkins stars with Gary Cooper, Frederic March and Edward Everett Horton.  Ostensibly, the film is staged in an artificial manner, with performances to match, and has an erratic narrative jumping not only from character to character, but from country to country; yet it consistently and joyfully seems about as perfect as a movie can be.  Made before the Production Code cleaned up his innuendos and flagrant sexual metaphors, Lubitsch constantly teases the viewer with his balancing act of sharing and hiding what the characters are thinking and doing.  Almost as an afterthought, each man’s fortunes rise because of his association with Hopkins’ character, and yet, for each, it is a downward trajectory of spirit when she turns her attentions elsewhere.  Running 91 minutes, the film achieves density through the masterful precision of Lubitsch’s style, so that while it seems like a lighthearted romantic comedy, there are so many resonances to each image and sound—all of which are greatly solidified with the Blu-ray’s delivery—that its intrigues and pleasures endure timelessly.

The full screen black-and-white picture has an age-related softness but is otherwise in excellent condition.  The monophonic sound also has age-related limitations of range, but is fully functional.  There are optional English subtitles.  As a treat, Lubitsch’s 3-minute segment from the 1932 If I Had a Million, featuring Charles Laughton, is offered in the supplements.

Criterion has also included a valuable 1964 black-and-white broadcast of a soundstage performances of the original Noël Coward play, running 74 minutes and starring John Wood, Daniel Massey and Jill Bennett, with an introduction by Coward in the flesh.  The play sort of works like a sequel to the film, since the three characters already have a strong relationship with one another at the opening, although they then proceed, as in the film, to pair off and break up, in Paris and London, before coming back together in New York to thumb their noses at convention.  On the strength of its visual approach alone, the Lubitsch film is a great deal more appealing, and its dialog is also wittier, but there is an inherent attractiveness to the basic free-spirited nature of the characters, which are all well played in the telefilm, and the program is interesting as a point of reference to the inspired improvements Lubitsch and his team brought to the property.  In an elaboration of that point, there is also a good 22-minute comparison of the play to the film, a history of the script’s development, and an analysis of its themes by Joseph McBride, which dovetails quite effectively with a more elaborate 36-minute analysis of the film’s artistry and its similarities to Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise by film historian William Paul.  ‘Irony’ is always a difficult concept to communicate and Paul does a very good job of explaining why the many ironies in Lubitsch’s works are so effective and so enriching.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon