Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Rita Moreno at the British Film Institute

Last Sunday I was privileged to see the wonderful Rita Moreno in conversation before a screening of 'Summer and Smoke'.

Rita was interviewed by Matthew Sweet and, right up front, she pointed out that she gave long answers, and so she did. She's looking good at 81 and gave very thoughtful and, sometimes, brutally honest, responses that were more like monologues than interview answers. She laughingly told us that all the studios had a 'Rita Moreno kit' that comprised open toed sandals, hooped ear-rings and make-up type Egyptian Number 1. She spoke about being in the Hollywood studio system when the PR department sent their young starlets out to get publicity and, on occasion, put them at risk. She spoke about the casual racism of the time, casting her again and again as the dusky maiden or Latino of easy virtue and about how even after winning an Oscar for 'West Side Story' she didn't do another film for seven years.

We were shown film clips during the talk and my favourite was the rooftop scene from 'West Side Story' with Rita leading the 'America' sequence. After winning the Oscar (and other awards) for the film she said she was offered three other 'gang' films but that was it.  Not quite what you expect really.

There was time for some audience Q&A after the main interview and there were some good questions (including one from David McAlmont who was in the audience). Rita was a delight to listen to, name checking everyone from Gene Kelly to Marlon Brando (I didn't know they had an eight year affair), raising laughter and silence with her reminiscences. 

After a short break it was time for 'Summer And Smoke' a film from 1961 in which Rita had a part. She said a few words at the start - and it obviously isn't one of her favourites - before taking her seat in the row in front of us. It was a poor print of the film  and, unfortunately, a poor film based on a Tennessee Williams play. It seemed to go on and on, trying to build the stunted suffocating atmosphere that features in so much of his work but failing. The age difference between the two leads was unfortunate and so were the relative acting abilities. Still, Rita looked good.

PS: I also learned how to pronounce her name properly. She's Moreno (ren) not Moreeno (reen).

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