Before the landmark SALESMAN (1969) and GIMME SHELTER (1970), Albert and David Maysles made SHOWMAN, a rarely screened 1962 documentary about movie mogul Joseph E. Levine. For movie buffs, this inside look at the business offers true value.
SHOWMAN tracks Levine's busy excursions during his promotion for TWO WOMEN (1960), a Vittorio De Sica drama starring Sophia Loren. Despite the refined nature of TWO WOMEN, Levine publicizes the film with the same fanfare he used to make HERCULES (1957), another Italian-financed production, into a
huge worldwide hit. Levine is also seen making deals and holding budget meetings in Hollywood. Next, Levine travels to Cannes, where he meets with a group of distributors before the showing of TWO WOMEN. In New York, Levine tries to seal a deal on a sequel to HERCULES, and argues with his
associates about securing Kim Novak for a remake of OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1964).
On Oscar night, Levine watches the ceremony on television, and hears Burt Lancaster tell the world that Sophia Loren, who is in Italy, has won the Best Actress Academy Award for TWO WOMEN. Levine steps up his publicity machine and is interviewed by David Susskind on radio. Before traveling to
Italy to give Loren the statuette, Levine greets Kim Novak and makes plans with her for the future. In Italy, Levine finally reunites with Loren, as the press covers the event. On his way back to Los Angeles, Levine stops in Boston to visit his hometown friends. He talks about his future publicity
campaigns, then boards a plane.
Made originally for public television broadcast, SHOWMAN has not been seen in many years, but New York's Film Forum theatre unearthed the 53-minute production for an extensive and ambitious film series titled, "60's Verite." Unlike the later Maysles Brothers profiles, "Meet Marlon Brando" (1965)
and "A Visit with Truman Capote"(1966), SHOWMAN looks not so much at a person--producer Levine--but his operation. Indeed, the portly, bespectacled Levine is neither a colorful nor memorable personality, but the work he does is fascinating. It's also a rare treat to gain access behind the curtain,
so to speak, at least without the intermediating hype Levine was accused of using on his own promotion.
By employing the then-novel and liberating hand-held verite style, the Maysles Brothers cover Levine's daily schedule with care and dedication. Naturally, some sequences are more entertaining than others. The best include Levine's argument with Susskind about pop culture and the relative
difference between TWO WOMEN (which Susskind likes) and HERCULES (which he despises). Other highlights include the cameos by Sophia Loren and Kim Novak (smiling quite more than usual), with both screen icons at the peak of their charms. The various business meetings might have been more
interesting if one could better understand what the negotiations are about, but then it is the nature of the "direct cinema" form not to fully explain everything. Finally, the hometown Boston visit ends SHOWMAN on an unexpectedly poignant note. Up to that point, the film creates a real-life
dramatic portrait by witnessing an old-time Hollywood animal foraging through the tricky labyrinth of the new, internationalized film scene.
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- Review: Before the landmark SALESMAN (1969) and GIMME SHELTER (1970), Albert and David Maysles made SHOWMAN, a rarely screened 1962 documentary about movie mogul Joseph E. Levine. For movie buffs, this inside look at the business offers true value. SHOWMAN tracks… (more)