Becoming Cary Grant is a beautiful title for an inside Hollywood documentary. It suggests that the person who ultimately became Cary Grant really did need to become him, for the same reason that anyone else would. Namely, that Cary Grant wasn’t quite of planet earth, he was larger than life. But in fact, he was born in 1904 as Archie Leach, a child from a modest background in Bristol, England.
David Thomson, a film critic who speaks throughout the film as an expert on Grant, suggests that the actor could never be placed as being from the UK nor the USA, but rather as a one off unique individual. Even his accent, so utterly distinctive, was unplaceable. The film quotes Grant as saying: ‘Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant’ – which tells you what a remarkable achievement his persona was. It shows him as the classical Hollywood leading man, with A list appeal. As an actor myself, I was excited by the opportunity to gain an insight from this film, as people’s perceptions of acting can be very different from the reality.
Becoming Cary Grant draws on the actor’s unpublished memoir, using his own words, thoughts and feelings, voiced by Jonathan Pryce. And it is using this technique that Kidel discusses Grant’s experiments with LSD in the 1950s. When you first hear that Grant took LSD, the fact stands in such dramatic contrast to his impeccable image – with not a hair out of place. It suggests he had a wild side, that his on-screen persona might have merely been a cover.
However, Grant’s LSD experiences were part of a rigorously supervised experiment in cutting edge psychotherapy in southern California. Grant would take a tab once a week in his therapist’s office, lie on the couch with a cover over him, and hallucinate his way to his subconscious self. He picked his favourite music and lay down for five hours. He found the experience to be frightening, liberating, but ultimately healing, showing how valuable therapy and talking and exploring thoughts and feelings is for mental health, wellbeing and psychotherapy.
The film also traces Grant’s development as an actor, from when he seemed to have no idea what he was doing, to his experiences on the set of The Awful Truth (1937) – where director Leo McCarey used his own persona as a ladies’ man to bring out the essence of the Cary Grant we know today – to his performance in Bringing Up Baby (1938), where Howard Hawks recognised the universal appeal of Grant’s personality. Although it doesn’t explore His Girl Friday (1940), the comedy that saw Grant reach his perfection as a leading man, it is spot-on in recognising that the films he made with Alfred Hitchcock – Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959) – were the making of him as an actor. Hitchcock cast him as a murderer in Suspicion, showing his range as an actor, while, in, Notorious, Grant’s crisp ardour was shot through with haunted longing.
Becoming Cary Grant argues that the emotions he explores in these roles, to some degree, brought him closer to the “real” Cary Grant. But over and above that, it reveals that he was even more of an actor – both in life and in the movies – than we might otherwise have thought. Explorations into his difficult childhood and relationships with his mother and father show the extent to which adversity played a prominent role in helping him become one of Hollywood’s most successful and talented stars – and an actor that is still admired to this day.
Placing the emphasis on Grant’s therapy also shows how important it is for people to talk about their feelings, no matter what their situation. At one point, he says: ‘If I had paid more attention I might have found contentment in marriage’, an insight that is all the sadder when considered alongside his high-profile struggles with women and love. Living in an era when men sadly did not talk about emotional issues, Grant eventually found relief in his chosen form of therapy – whether we agree with it or not.
Becoming Cary Grant may inspire a new generation of young actors to seek fame and fortune, but it can be hoped that it will encourage men to seek mental health support when they have issues they need to talk about. Later in life, the film shows that Grant is healed through having a daughter of his own to love and care for, something that helped him grow and develop emotionally. Ultimately, it strikes the balance between showcasing his great success, and giving an honest account of who he truly was – or became – in his own words.
by Shirley Hellyar
Shirley is a writer, actor and model, currently writing her first screenplay, and acting as full-time carer for her disabled dad. She has dyslexia, anxiety and depression. She wants to show that with the right help and support anything is possible, and being honest about mental health difficulties is so important in reclaiming who you are.
Book now for Becoming Cary Grant, showing as part of Men's Mental Health Day at CCA, Glasgow on Sat 14 Oct at 7.30pm. Director Mark Kidel will be in attendance to take part in a Q&A discussion after the screening. Winner of Best Feature Documentary in our International Film Competition.
It was snowing the day my brother died. The world was silent. The air thick with fading memories that drifted upwards – cruelly inverting the brittle flakes braiding downwards.
We are told grief is a journey. Each year that passes marks another step towards the goal of being less entrenched in sadness. Yet each year, the snow returns and brings with it that silence.
My understanding of grief is deeply connected to my relationship with nature. This is something I found myself reflecting on when watching the Vivian, Vivian and Waterfall, screening together at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
Vivian, Vivian is a striking film poem written and directed by Ingrid Kamerling. It journeys from clouded, mesmerising dreamscapes to the urban arena of nighttime Utrecht. In doing so it maps the previously untouched path laid by the suicide of Kamerling’s sister. At its core, this film is about a woman’s journey through grief.
However, when watching it I kept thinking about the ways in which memory and setting become intertwined. As archive footage of Kamerling’s sister transitions into stilled waterways and then back to urban hinterlands, it is clear than even these apparent journeys into understanding are punctuated and confused by the jolts of human memory. What we’re presented with is a series of the filmmaker’s emotional coordinates.
At the film’s climax, the mental state of its subject is described as a ‘maelstrom’, a naturally occurring but violent whirlpool. Its appearance disrupts the journey, giving new meaning to the repeated use of water imagery throughout. This is not a straightforward narrative. Grief is never straightforward.
While Vivian, Vivian takes the viewer on a journey into the whirlpools of grief, Waterfall plunges us deep into its mires. Winner of Best Experimental Film at this year’s festival, Tom Lock Griffiths’s journey through the landscapes of loss reiterates the central theme of Vivian, Vivian, as the filmmaker attempts to understand his own mother’s suicide.
Reflecting on the ways in which landscape holds memory, the film offers the illusion of sequence, punctuated by the narrator’s use of numerical titles for each segment. However, this is merely an illusion, and the film focuses on a scattering of meaningful sites and memories. By ‘listening’ to the world around him, Griffiths delves deep into the archeology of his own loss, offering a poignant alternative to traditional linear journeys through grief.
A trickle of water outside a London flat takes us to a reservoir in Wales, built only on the purposeful destruction and clearing of two villages. A walk with an old girlfriend allows us to think for a moment about an archaic landscape of timber walkways and remnant footprints. Landscapes absorb these moments in time and lay them bare.
Towards the film’s conclusion, Griffiths dwells for a moment on the ‘vast psychological landscapes’ of the human brain. The temporally conflicted landscapes on screen are now only projections of human synapses. Memory is not linear, but reveals itself to us in the conflicts between place and time.
The landscapes of my own grief are snow-covered and silent. Snow melts and becomes water. Water evaporates and is recycled into rain. Rain falls on our cities. For anybody who’s ever experienced grief, this seems a much more poignant metaphor than that of a journey. The cyclical process echo the ways in which memories recede, return and recede again in ways we cannot control. But I find great comfort in this. Watching these films is a reminder to return to places where memories dwell.
by Kirsty Strang-Roy
At rise, four men lie on the stage. Sleeping, resting, relaxed, peaceful. One Mississippi holds this calm for several minutes at its start before they cycle quickly into speech, beginning their stories, of their upbringings and their tribulations. The pace does not let up from there, making for a dynamic, unforgettable and surprisingly funny show.
Drawn from interviews with men across Scotland, Mariem Omari, writer and co-director of Bijli Productions, has created four distinctive voices discussing how they got to the present points in their lives. They come from different backgrounds yet each of them have so much in common: fear of alcoholic fathers, pressure from parents, ostracising by peers, unable to shake their otherness or their perceived faults. The consequences of these being anxiety, self-harming, drug abuse. Some of these experiences are harrowing but it is testament to the men themselves that so much of it is also funny. That humour is indicative of a self-awareness that has been hard fought for, and the four actors embody it brilliantly.
No costume changes, no props - bar a piece of chalk that marks the floor with signs and symbols from the stories - but a rotating cast of supporting, and not-so-supporting, characters are brought to life by the cast of four. They run circles round each other, dance, mirror their parents and abusers and lovers. It is credit to the actors and director, co-director of Bijli Productions, Umar Ahmed, that the physicality of the show is, at times, breathtaking but doesn’t veer into something too slick or over choreographed, making for an immediate and visceral experience.
The structure is bold and does not offer any easy solutions to the specific challenges facing men’s mental health but it is not without hope, clearly laying out its character’s desires, obstacles and frustrations. Not an easy watch but definitely rewarding, One Mississippi is a must-see portrait of contemporary masculinity in Scotland.
by Emily Benita
Talking Heads reporter Emily Benita is a writer and performer who lives in Glasgow with her cat called Malcolm Tucker. She manages her depression and anxiety through a combination of medication, counselling and art, liberally applied. Tweets at @BenitaEmily.
Book now for One Mississippi, showing at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until Thu 12 Oct, before moving to the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow on 13-14 Oct.
The Dutch Gable House is a small but beautifully fascinating treasure at the heart of Greenock. I’ve visited many times and never wanted to escape! However, people are now being invited to attempt exactly that at the museum’s Escape Room Experience, developed for SMHAF 2017 by Trust Volunteering’s Catriona MacLeod and Valerie Campbell, along with a team of volunteers.
The event is based around the historical scenario of people wishing to emigrate from Greenock to Nova Scotia, but finding themselves trapped within the room. Due to its size, it seems hard to imagine it would take anyone as much as 60 minutes to escape the town’s oldest building. Yet, to do so, participants must first work together to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in order to find the various items necessary to escape to Canada.
The Escape Room Experience – which has already been trialled successfully at the Dutch Gable House earlier this month – will provide a thrilling adventure for those who dare to try and beat the clock!
This free event is being offered to both individuals and organisations. Three sessions take place daily on Tue 17 & Wed 18 Oct. Booking is required, and any donations will be given to the Mental Health Foundation.
by Mark Jones
Set under the Tuscany sun, Like Crazy is an award-winning vibrant comedy drama directed by Paolo Virzì that tells the story of two women from different backgrounds who become friends on their journey to freedom.
Villa Biondi is an alternative psychiatric hospital for women, where Valeria Bruni Tedeschi plays the role of Beatrice, a pathological liar and chatterbox whose aristocratic background and manners make her the ‘queen’ of the hospital. However, by treating the rest of the patients as her servants, Beatrice is not the most popular figure among the residents until she meets her complete opposite – Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti). Thin and covered in tattoos, Donatella arrives as a complete mess, whose silence and self-isolation attract Beatrice’s attention.
It does not take long before the unexpected duo escapes the hospital rather by accident, without any plan or direction. The friendship develops further as Beatrice and Donatella jump from fortune tellers to expensive restaurants and nightclubs, revealing to each other their past lives. The contrast between the two become even more apparent when their journeys separate for a while, as if to underline that despite the differences the desire for love and freedom is what guides them.
Running from one escape to another, Beatrice’ and Donatella’s journey becomes not only a story of friendship but also of reclaiming identity, something that will change them both. Coloured with ridiculously funny scenes and deeply emotional moments, Like Crazy sets the scene for important questions such as what is freedom?, what is happiness? and what does crazy mean in the society we live in?. Maybe there is no such thing as ‘crazy’ and some of us, as they say in the film, are “just late bloomers”.
by Katerina Gospodinova
Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness.