‘Making Montgomery Clift’: Takes Down of Tortured Artist Trope✮✮✮

It might be easy to dismiss Robert Clift’s documentary on his famous uncle that he never knew, but co-director Robert Clift has his father’s horde of recorded phone calls, photo albums and home movies and a mission. Robert Clift and Hillary Demmon provide a convincing argument against the accepted view of a beautiful man, tortured by his homosexuality who committed slow suicide.

Montgomery Clift died at age 45 and even as late as 2014 was characterized as drinking himself to an early death (Excerpt of Anne Helen Petersen’s “Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift”). Yet the real tragedy may have been a posthumously diagnosed thyroid condition that might have made him appear intoxicated when he was not.

Robert Clift was born eight years after his famous uncle’s 1966 death and he’s upfront about that. In his voiceover, he soothes all of our doubts and presents a very different picture of his uncle through photos, phone calls and a wonderful interview with Jack Larson (1928-2015). Larson is best remembered for his role of Jimmy Olsen on the TV series “Adventures of Superman” (1952-1958). Larson recalls a lustful kiss from Clift and for a while they were companions. The exact duration of their liaison is hazy. Eventually Larson would become the life partner of director James Bridges (1958 until Bridges’ death in 1993).

A bit more hazy is the exact relationship between Montgomery Clift and the man he was living with at the time of his death, Lorenzo James. James isn’t one of the talking heads, but Robert Clift calls him “my uncle through Monty” so you can draw your own conclusions–was James just a “nurse” or something more.

Those particulars aren’t particularly important. What Robert Clift and Demmon convincingly present to us is a Monty mistakenly portrayed a tortured genius artist. Patricia Bosworth, the author of the 1978 biography of Montgomery, comes under fire and the weight of Brooks’ guilt for having cooperated is explained. According to this documentary, the truth has been overshadowed by a story that was a better fit into the accepted stereotypes of the time and, in some ways, the legend was a better means of boosting a biographer’s career.

We see Montgomery Clift as a joyous man, in touch with his sexuality, and who refused to conform to the studio system and turned down many films (“Bridge on the River Kwai” and “East of Eden”) because he knew the value of his beauty and talent. “Making Montgomery Clift” is about a rebel with a cause–freedom. And it’s also about family–an older brother determined to record and preserve the legacy of his younger brother and a son determined to continue his father’s Sisphus-like battle against the Bosworth biography’s myth-making.

“Making Montgomery Clift” is actually about re-making our image of a beautiful and talented artist, thanks to his big brother and his nephew. “Making Montgomery Clift” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in September. The documentary is scheduled to screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center on 2-3 (Friday) November 2018. This is a must-see for biographers and fans of biographies and Montgomery Clift.


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