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Uh, oh! Who's gonna get that hot dish... All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981

Uh, oh! Who’s gonna get that hot dish…
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

Somewhere in Film History, Jean-Claude Tramont’s little adult comedy, All Night Long, holds a place of infamy. The background on how and why this film got made are far more interesting than the movie itself. I find this backstory very interesting. Even if you are unaware or have no interest regarding this film or the players involved, stick with me for a few paragraphs and see if you don’t find it to be the same.

Tramount was a Belgian-born filmmaker of seemingly mediocre talent. His work was largely limited to American television until he met the infamous Hollywood Super Agent, Sue Mengers. Menger’s rule in Hollywood is truly legendary. She began her epic career as a secretary at William Morris Agency in the early 1960’s and was quickly snatched-up and in collaboration with Freddie Fields. Before long she became THE Agent Power-Broker of the 1970’s. Her list of clients and the way in which she successfully managed their careers and deals are the stuff of legend. Added to the fact that she was smart, merciless and cruelly hilarious. In other words, she was intelligent, funny and filled with bone-crushing wit. This is not a “mythic” statement. This is simple truth.  A one-liner response or comment from Sue Mengers would catch fire and be forever seated in the industry’s collective brain.

Faye Dunaway, Sue Mengers and Robert Evans playing nice in 1975. Photograph by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

Faye Dunaway, Sue Mengers and Robert Evans playing nice in 1975.
Photograph by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

One of her more famous bits of “advice” that pretty much sums up her style and humor was offered to her key client, Barbra Streisand, who was very worried for the safety of her family, friends and self. This was 1968 and The Manson Family Murders and rumors of a Kill List pushed The Hollywood Elite into a state of terror. Like many Southern California celebrities of the day, Streisand was more than a little panicked. Rolling her eyes and puffing on a cigarette, Sue Mengers reportedly told her, “Don’t worry, honey, stars aren’t being murdered. Only featured players.

Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent by Brian Kellow Viking, 2015

Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent
by Brian Kellow
Viking, 2015

Recently Vanity Fair featured a and excerpt from Brian Kellow’s new book, Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First SuperAgent. The article begins with one of Ms. Mengers more infamous stories. In 1979 her flight from LA to NYC was hijacked. As the terrorist caused heart-stopping fear, Mengers is remembered as having been more annoyed than frightened. She advised her immediate co-passengers, “If anything happens to me, take care of my mink coat.” The terrorist was over-taken and the plane landed safely. Later that evening while enjoying a drink at NYC’s once famous celebrity hangout, Elaine’s, she pointed out that the fear of death had not been as disturbing as the fact that the terrorist was demanding that Charlton Heston be made to read a prepared statement on national television. This seemed to disturb the notorious PowerAgent. Why would the terrorist want an old movie star in a wig when she could have made one call and gotten her Barbra Streisand?!?!

Christopher Walken, Sue Mengers, Paul Newman and David Brown circa 1977 Photograph by Ron Galella

Christopher Walken, Sue Mengers, Paul Newman and David Brown circa 1977
Photograph by Ron Galella

I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers was a successful 2013 one-woman show staring Bette Midler as Mengers.  Written by John Logan, Midler expressed some worries about the “gossip” elements of the play’s 80 minute monologue.  Midler had known Sue Mengers, but had never been represented by her. Many of the facts, stories and outrageousness of the woman were put on the stage. By all accounts both Logan and Midler captured one of The Hollywood Dream Machine Operators so closely that for more than a few it was as is if Midler had somehow become possessed by Mengers. The play’s producers had braced themselves for many angry elderly A-Listers. None were. Those who had been involved in 1970’s to mid 1980’s Hollywood knew all there was to really know about Mengers. She was nothing if not clear with her opinion and actions. Very little was hidden from public view. When Jane Fonda requested that an untruth involving her be corrected, the producers latched on to this as if the play was generating controversy.

Bette Midler returns to the theatre of the bawdy and profane as Sue Mengers in "I'll Eat You Last" by John Logan. Booth Theatre, 2013 Photograph by Richard Termine

Bette Midler returns to the theatre of the bawdy and profane as Sue Mengers in “I’ll Eat You Last” by John Logan.
Booth Theatre, 2013
Photograph by Richard Termine

Fonda’s request became fodder for what backers quickly called the play’s controversy.

When word got our that Viking was going to publish Brian Kellow’s biography, Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent, the publishing company prepared for a storm themselves of controversy.  However, while Kellow brought forward an insightful and entertaining read, there was very little there that wasn’t already known. The piece in Vanity Fair was designed to help promote the book.  It speaks volumes that the story and legend of Sue Mengers can still stike a chord of concern when one considers that Mengers essentially fell off the Hollywood Power List shortly after Streisand fired her. The cause of which was most likely far different than many thought.

Both Brian Kellow’s book and John Logan’s play are highly entertaining. And while both fall into the genre of gossip, each offers insight into not only the agent herself but the business in which she thrived to the highest levels of success. She was fascinating and her memory lives on some five years after her death at the age of 79. Logan’s play and Kellow’s book serve more as tainted memorial than for gossip. If there is an after-life, rest assured that Sue Mengers’ spirit has had a great satisfying laugh.

If unfamiliar with who she was, just do a quick “Google” and you’ll learn a great deal within seconds. It is doubtful that any other woman has achieved so much power within the confines of 1960’s to 1980’s Patriarchal American Movie Industry. Is there really any other business that more acutely functions on Sexism, Racism and Elitism? No. There is no business as dirty as that of “Show.”

Even Jack Nicholson could be sent running in fear when his sense of humor or pranks pissed off Sue Mengers. Together at a function circa 1974. Photographer unknown to me.

Even Jack Nicholson could be sent running in fear when his sense of humor or pranks pissed off Sue Mengers.
Together at a function circa 1974.
Photographer unknown to me.

As Kellow’s book so exceptionally states, this was a woman who refused to subordinate herself into the patriarchal culture. Tragically this culture not only continues to thrive — if anything, the Sexism and Racism has only gotten worse today. Female-centric film projects are few and far between. While Mengers’ drive and success is inspiring, it is also problematic. Sue Mengers was a Feminist Trailblazer, but she usually blazed outside the lines of Feminism. This was a woman who did whatever it took to succeed. Female Unity was not a concern. Nor was the use of sexuality as a tool. Nothing mattered more than success, money and fame. Or at least that is what she wanted the players she controlled and their respective worlds to think. Sue Mengers was the dame version of Robert Evans. Both pushed forward with little regard as to what others thought of them. And they both got away with it. No need to fact check — they were well acquainted.

During her span in Hollywood she represented almost all of the major players both in front and behind the movie camera. Ever wonder how how or why Ryan O’Neal become household name and managed to obtain the leading role in a Stanley Kubrick film? Blame Sue Mengers. Cher, Joan Collins, Brian De Palma, Faye Dunaway, Bob Fosse, Gene Hackman, Sidney Lumet, Ali MacGraw, Steve McQueen, Mike Nichols, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier, Dick Cavett, Nick Nolte and many others owe more than a little to her abrasive and successful techniques. Bawdy, wisecracking, rebel, blunt and always honest — no one was safe from her public cruelty save for one person. Insight into The Myth, The Legend and The Truth that was Sue Mengers is best summed up by her relationship with her most-prized client, Barbra Streisand.

Friends, Kindred Spirits, Business Partners and Dysfunctional Sisters. Barbra Streisand and Sue Mengers circa 1978 Photographer unknown to me.

Friends, Kindred Spirits, Business Partners and Dysfunctional Sisters.
Barbra Streisand and Sue Mengers circa 1978
Photographer unknown to me.

How did Streisand manage to transform from Broadway Misfit to Cinematic Powerhouse? Sue Mengers.

And while she was never officially involved with Streisand’s legendary recording career, who played crucial role in convincing Streisand to let go of “standards” and move into rock and a surprisingly successful stint in the world of disco music? Sue Mengers.

Forever taunted for extreme need for both control and perfection, what two people unintentionally pushed Streisand to finally take full control of her career and destiny?  Sue Mengers.

Barbra Streisand appeared on Menger’s radar in the very early 1960’s thanks to another infamous agent, Freddie Fields. Mengers did not initially think Streisand had what it took to make it in an industry so rigidly confined to the predictable when it came to leading ladies. There can be no denying that Mengers saw Streisand through a different sort of lens she applied to the film industry. Both women were very different in terms of personality, but both shared similar backgrounds: Both were marginalized Jewish women who had grown up without fathers. Mengers was born and raised in The Bronx. Streisand in Brooklyn. Both had never received praise or any positive reinforcement from their mothers. Both were ambitious, intelligent, funny and intellectually-inclined. They became friends first.

Barbra Streisand and Sue Mengers joking with each other. circa 1973 Photographer unknown to me.

Barbra Streisand and Sue Mengers joking with each other.
circa 1973
Photographer unknown to me.

It was after their friendship was established that they became business partners. This was not typical for Mengers. In fact it was uncharacteristic. They were pals with very different moral compasses. This being stated, both shared similar end goals. Similar, but not the same. Brian Kellow’s book points out that their friendship was closer to that of sisters. Streisand was often uncomfortable with Meneger’s manner of behavior and back-stabbing nature.

From a business perspective, both friends benefited from the other. Streisand’s power in the 1970’s through to the mid 1980’s is unparalleled. She was the closest any female had come to a level success and power that challenges Sinatra, Brando or Elvis. And thanks to Streisand’s success, Menger’s power and worth only rose higher.

Safe bet that only Barbra Streisand could get away with this intimate level of teasing Sue Mengers. circa 1973 Photographer unknown to me.

Safe bet that only Barbra Streisand could get away with this intimate level of teasing Sue Mengers.
circa 1973
Photographer unknown to me.

The major misunderstanding between them seems to boil down to the fact that Streisand trusted and relied upon Mengers as a friend above that of an agent. As Kellow’s book establishes, Menger’s did not fully own or even have a true self-understanding that she was just as much in need of Streisand’s friendship and trust. It is not really clear if she ever realized it. When Mengers’ failed to put “friendship” over “profit” regarding her key client’s career-long artistic pursuit, Streisand felt betrayed. She had been Menger’s bridesmaid at her wedding. This was an intimate friendship. She had put up with Menger’s unsupportive view of Streisand’s love and support for once famous hairdresser, Jon Peters. A known womanizer and highly ambitious self-made hair stylist, Streisand fell for him. But like her agent, she was no one’s dummy. She saw some potential in Peters that many did not see. Streisand had to fight with Mengers to get Jon Peters in the producer’s chair for 1976’s A Star Is Born.

This was one of the few misses of Menger’s career.

She had no faith in Jon Peters. However, it is very easy to understand Menger’s point of view.  But Jon Peters’ success as a film producer proves Streisand the wiser of the two. Despite Mengers’ protests, a major studio’s concerns, a full-on media assault and what could have potentially been a Streisand career-ender — Jon Peter’s idea of taking on a long delayed remake of A Star Is Born would become Streisand’s biggest commercial success up to that point. The success was not just limited to box office and record sales, it established Streisand as a full-fledged producer (and rumored director.) The film’s credited directer, Frank Pierson, openly and viscously attacked his own film in a notorious piece for New West Magazine. He actually timed his article, My Battles with Barbra and Jon, to be published so that it coincided with A Star Is Born‘s release. If one watches the film, it is clear that Streisand has taken over the camera from her over-whelmed director. The film’s production was difficult. Even as the director ranted against the Superstar and her boyfriend turned producer, the movie’s success could not be slowed.

Jon Peters, Streisand and Kris Kristofferson A Star Is Born Premier, 1976 Photographer unknown to me.

Jon Peters, Streisand and Kris Kristofferson
A Star Is Born Premier, 1976
Photographer unknown to me.

Peters followed up as a solo producer with two films. One of the two did quite well at the box office. Eyes of Laura Mars was based on an idea and script from horror filmmaker, John Carpenter. Streisand had no interest in the film which she felt was too violent. Mengers got Faye Dunaway on board. Streisand agreed to record a straight-ahead rock ballad as the film’s theme song. Long after Streisand ended her ten year romantic relationship with Peters, his success would continue. Jon Peters would go on to become one of the most influential producers for more than two decades. It would be Peters (along with his producing partner, Peter Guber,) who would champion such varied hit films as  CaddyshackGorillas in the MistFlashdance and The Witches of Eastwick.  Most importantly he would play a major role in bringing Tim Burton to the forefront with 1989’s Batman.

The couple that defied Hollywood Logic. Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters, circa 1975 Photographer unknown to me

The couple that defied Hollywood Logic.
Barbra Streisand and Jon Peters, circa 1975
Photographer unknown to me

As a culture, we seem to love our celebrities as much we love to see them stumble or fail. It is very easy to saddle-up an opinion based on information that has festered from gossip to legendary “fact.” No matter how successful, wealthy, powerful or famous, celebrities are human beings. Despite what might be lodged into our collective consciousness, these are just people. Like all of us, they are flawed. While it would be too simplistic to blame one singular aspect to a life-changing decision, there is more than a little merit to the fact that Streisand “fired” Mengers and ultimately ended her decade long romantic partnership with Peters due to the failure to find support and belief in a project which she had been thinking about since she was 24 years old. Streisand certainly had benefited from from Sue Mengers and, to a lesser extent, Jon Peters — both benefited as much if not more than she.

But before all of that went down one movie and a strike caused more ground-shaking in Hollywood than any earthquake: Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and the 1980 Writers Guild Strike. Both changed the economic playground and the way in which major studios would approach the art of filmmaking forever. A great number of films in production were caught off-guard and victim to Cimino’s failure and that strike, but one happened to feature Sue Menger’s main client, her husband and her best friend. It was called All Night Long.

Before we go there, it is worth mentioning that Streisand’s 1979 film, The Main Event. The movie had been a huge hit despite going head to head with the iconic masterpiece, Alien. Ridley Scott’s film won the box office, but The Main Event was still a major win for Warner Brothers. With hindsight it is curious to fathom why.

A glove story... The Main Event Howard Zieff, 1979

A glove story…
The Main Event
Howard Zieff, 1979

Streisand did not want to make The Main Event. Mengers engineered the plan to get her back on screen opposite her one-time boyfriend, Ryan O’Neal. As an incentive, she knew the script about a boxer would appeal to Jon Peters. As both pushed Streisand to do the movie for which Menegers had also secured the hit-making film director, Howard Zieff. Despite Streisand’s logical dislike for the script, she relented and agreed to do the movie. During filming Streisand would bring up concerns about the film illogical plot structure. Zieff was not used to his leading ladies questioning him once production had started. It is not rumor, but fact that Streisand became so annoyed by the lack of any level of intelligent examination of the male/female power dynamic being captured for the slight movie, she rebelled and took control of the camera.

Streisand quickly wrote out a scene to take place after she and the boxer finally consummate their relationship. Zieff had very mixed feelings about his leading lady, but his crew did not. Contrary to popular opinion, Streisand is well liked by crew members. She and a several key crew personnel commandeered Ryan O’Neal and the film equipment to shot her self-penned scene. The boxer has assumed that sex now secured his role as “boss” and “owner.” The character feels that “his woman” will now do all of his bidding because she had “given in” to his sexual advances. . The reality is his female “conquest” has no intention of any such thing. Sure, she enjoyed the sex and likes him. But she is her own person. The boxer has a brief identity crisis in which the woman shifts into the traditional male role of attempting to convince him that he is not cheap or easy. This role reversal scene is genuinely funny and smart. The problem is that it’s tone does not match the rest of the movie. It tested well and remained in the film.

Barbra Streisand The Main Event Howard Zieff, 1979 Cinematography | Mario Tosi

Barbra Streisand
The Main Event
Howard Zieff, 1979
Cinematography | Mario Tosi

Both Mengers and Peters pushed Streisand to record a disco theme song for The Main Event. Based on a couple of solid sources, it was not so much their pushing as her pre-teen son’s love of Donna Summer, The Bee Gees and disco music that actually got Streisand into the recording studio. Streisand recorded a disco song she didn’t particularly like. It would turn out that “Fight Fight Fight” would be a massive hit single. This would lead her into the recording studio with Donna Summer for their famous disco power duet, Enough is Enough. Another major hit for both singers and their respective labels. Not too much time passed before she agreed to record her biggest selling album, Guilty, co-written and produced by The Bee Gee’s Barry Gibb. Streisand found herself a success in the disco genre. Sue Mengers could not be credited for these recording hits, but she played a role and was ecstatic. The 1979 comedy benefited greatly from the disco anthem Streisand had recored.

Barbra Streisand, Sue Mengers and Ryan O'Neal on the set of The Main Event. 1978 Photographer unknown to me.

Barbra Streisand, Sue Mengers and Ryan O’Neal on the set of The Main Event.
1978
Photographer unknown to me.

After the success of The Main Event, Streisand was truly at the height of her Box Office Power. She began to seriously pursue development of her dream film. A musical based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s curiously short story, Yentl The Yeshiva Boy. Barbra Streisand never really viewed herself as a “mainstream” artist. Yet she was and is. However if any film concept works against the idea of “mainstream” it would be a musical epic based on a tiny story about a 17 year old Eastern European woman who must disguise herself as man so that she is allowed to study The Talmud. In addition, Singer’s economical short story takes the young woman’s adventure as far as entering marriage to another woman while still disguised as a woman. Never explained, Yentl finds a way to consummate this marriage. The story has been interpreted correctly as an early series study of a transgender person. While Singer never fully commits, it does seem that Yentl might be lesbian or at the very least confused about her sexuality. On her own and with her own money, Barbra Streisand got the music and lyrics written, co-wrote the screenplay and started recording demos. Working against the grain of an industry still deeply wounded by Heaven’s Gate, Streisand conceded on several original core ideas. The question of Yentl’s sexuality is almost completely erased. Though Streisand did retain the idea that the character feels love for her “wife.” Streisand was most likely uninterested in pursuing the theme of sexuality. He main concern was telling the story of a woman’s journey to self-awareness and empowerment.

Looking back again to All Night Long — How did a fairly pedestrian talent like Jean-Claude Tramont manage to write/direct a movie staring Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand in a supporting role?  Obviously, credit goes to his wife, Sue Mengers. For a brief moment, the cinematic world appeared to be his.

George and Cheryl Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand All Night Long Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981 Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

George and Cheryl
Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981
Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Jean-Claude Tremont had an idea for film to be called Night People.  The concept was to make a film focused on an individual who works in a 24 hour store in which he would discover a whole new kind of culture as he interacts and forms relationships with co-workers and shoppers who populate the after hours environment.  W.D. Richter was hired to create the screenplay. Richter was a talented writer who had penned Howard Zief’s sleeper hit, Slither. He had also just re-imagined Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the Philip Kaufman’s remake. Mengers negotiated and secured the entire production for her husband. The idea of Night People shifted focus to a middle-aged man at a cross-roads in his life.

The central idea here was to craft a role for Menegers’ still under-rated, Gene Hackman. This would be the cinematic vehicle that would serve to finally break Hackman to the level of movie star his talent deserved. Despite racking up a number of amazing performances in classic films, Hackman was not yet perceived as a movie star or a leading man. However, before Night People went into production, Hackman achieved movie stardom in the first Superman movie. W.D. Richter’s script was retitled All Night Long. Universal executives liked the script, But even with his recent movie star escalation, they worried that Gene Hackman didn’t have the movie star appeal to “sell” the movie. Supporting actor, Lisa Eichhorn, was not getting along with Hackman. A young actress with a limited resume, it was said that she was clashing with the often difficult leading man. Truth be known, the central issue most likely lay with the fact that she was much younger and more attractive than Hackman. The curmudgeonly leading man was most likely insecure playing a love interest to the beautiful young woman. Sue Mengers had Eichborn fired.

Barbra Streisand All Night Long Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981 Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Barbra Streisand
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981
Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

She then turned to key client and close friend, Streisand, with an offer that she felt the superstar could not refuse. Mengers negotiated a deal with Universal that would pay a then record-breaking salary for a supporting role performance. Most especially since it was to be paid to a female actor. Two years earlier Marlon Brando had been paid $3,700, 000 plus a profit percentage to appear on screen for just under ten minutes in Richard Donner’s Superman. But Superman was a mega-budget film. All Night Long was a mid-budget film that soon went very much over-budget. All the same, Universal agreed to pay Barbra Streisand $4,000,000 plus profit percentage for a supporting role. To fully understand the enormity of these salaries, that translates to approximately $12, 500, 000 in 2015 US dollars. This was before Heaven’s Gate or the guild strike. This was still 1979. Streisand became the highest paid supporting actress in history. Streisand understood the power and statement that salary made, but she disliked the script. The truth is Barbra Streisand didn’t appear in All Night Long for the money. She appeared in the movie because her best friend’s husband’s film was in trouble and that friend asked her to take the role.

Diane Ladd All Night Long Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981 Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Diane Ladd
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981
Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Universal was now focused on this little movie. Re-writes were demanded to highlight as much of Streisand’s presence as possible. This shifted attention to the storyline involving the lead character’s wife and son. Although it didn’t seem to concern any at the time, the two actors with shrinking roles were Diane Ladd and a very young Dennis Quaid. This was a poor choice. Another challenge concerning Universal was that they wanted to secure a PG-Rating. While not a crude or explicit film, the profanity and the plot’s adult-oriented dynamics were considered R-Rated at the time. This was a significant worry for Universal.

Could the sexuality of the piece be amped-up? No this was not an option.

By this time the film’s production had already been delayed and pushed over-budget. The film was once again stalled as Richter rushed to make script changes under pressure from Universal as well as Sue Mengers and her husband. Gene Hackman had also refused to return to the set until Universal raised his salary to match Streisand’s. In a corner, Universal had no choice but to do just that. Just as filming resumed the infamous 1980 Writer’s Guild Strike happened. Production for all of film and television productions was shut down. By the time shooting re-stared the film’s budget was bloated and the anticipated release date was pushed out to the summer of 1981.

Gene Hackman and Dennis Quaid All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981 Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Gene Hackman and Dennis Quaid
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981
Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

All Night Long is actually not a bad film.

It is a quiet little character study of a nice guy, Hackman’s “George,” who finally reaches his limit with all the frustrations of an upper-mid-management corporate career, his dull marriage and his loser son. George throws a tantrum and his corporate bosses demote him to Night Manager at one of their Walgreens-like Southern California stores. While George attempts to accept his fate as Night Manager, he discovers his seemingly limited son, a young Dennis Quaid in an early role,  is having an affair with his wife’s brother’s wife, “Cheryl” played by Streisand. He attempts to stop his son’s affair, but it becomes obvious that his wife’s cousin now wants to pursue George himself.

Bad Marketing 101 All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981

Bad Marketing 101
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

When the son finds out that his lover has the hots for his father, he assumes his dad is also having an affair with her. George’s wife, played with deflated realism by Diane Ladd, kicks George out of the house and files for divorce. His son hates him for “stealing his girl.” George hates the job so he quits. His wife has taken up with her divorce lawyer. He decides to pursue his dream of becoming an inventor. Newly freed with nothing but his odd inventions and his even odder new “girlfriend.” Cheryl offers George love, understanding and acceptance.

Hackman delivers a top notch performance. Nuanced and quietly comical, but never at the expense of realism. He also manages to play George as a sexually attractive man. Diane Ladd is equally great in her role as George’s wife. Dennis Quaid is clearly a star about to happen. And Barbra Streisand plays a character who is completely unlike any she has played before or since. The comedy is more focused on securing chuckles than laugh out-loud moments. There are no cheap jokes. There are no snappy one-liners. It is most definitely an adult film, but it has no crass jokes or sex. This is a simple and surprisingly entertaining bit of light comedy. The entire cast brings forward solid work.

I know! Let's put that shot of her with the motor helmet!  All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981

I know! Let’s put that shot of her with the motor helmet!
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

Marketing Executives had no idea how to promote and package the quiet adult film that while comical, was not a straight-ahead comedy. They had not a clue as to what to do. As mild as the film was, there was no escaping the R-Rating. They came up with the “ill-advised” idea to market the movie as another “zany” Streisand movie.  Universal attempted to cash in on Streisand’s brief run as a “sexy late ’70’s chick.” The poster features a strange image of cartoon’d Streisand sliding down a fireman pole with skirt twirling up to create a “peek-a-boo” view for the film’s three male characters who were looking up her skirt in a state of awe. Each man seems to be competing to catch her. The tagline, “She has a way with men and she’s getting away with it…All Night Long. The poster made no sense to the movie and almost seems to be spoofing itself. Worse yet, it offered a movie that did not exist.

The film opened the same weekend as Paramount’s Damien: Omen II. All Night Long died upon arrival to the cineplex. In the end it made just over $4,000,000.00 at the box office. This was a huge flop for Universal.

At the time of the film’s release in 1981, Streisand had made only one cinematic flop, but many critics had liked it. And while Up The Sandbox did fail at the Box Office is was not as much of profit loss for Warner Brothers as All Night Long was for Universal. All Night Long became Streisand’s cinematic flop. She was blamed. The entire industry was still reeling from the destruction of 1980’s epic fail, Heaven’s Gate. In true Hollywood form, the industry was quick to turn judgement on the supporting overpaid supporting female player.

This film would probably be well-remembered if it had been promoted as a quiet art house comedy with emphasis on Hackman as it’s star. Instead it opened “big” and flopped even bigger. Years later while sitting in with a Film Studies Group, this film came up. A person pointed out that if the exact same film had been shot in Paris featuring a French cast it would now be remembered as a great little film. That might be pushing it, but that theory is possible.

Infidelity and emotional abuse... Kevin Dobson and Barbra Streisand All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981 Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

Infidelity and emotional abuse…
Kevin Dobson and Barbra Streisand
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981
Cinematography | Philip H. Lathrop

The main issue with All Night Long lies not only in the way it was marketed, but in the way it was edited. Universal pushed to get as much Streisand as they could. What could have been an interesting scene between a very under-stated Streisand and Hackman sharing a middle of the night snack it turned into an unintentional bit of awkward disconnect. A number of odd out-of-sync shots of Streisand in close-up are cut into the scene. These are clearly coverage shots and they do not match the scene. The film stock appears to even be of lesser quality. Later as George and Cheryl return to George’s store and his graveyard shift, Universal’s editing team saw fit to enter in unneeded shots of Streisand putting on her moped helmut and zooming off into the night. These shots are presented after we’ve already seen the logical and more effective closing moment for the scene. A shot in which a befuddled George walks back into his dismal store seems the actual ending moment.

Despite these sort of forced glitches, the film has some great moments for Hackman, Ladd and Quaid. Streisand also has a few solid moments. Dressed in an unflattering wig and tacky clothing her character mistakes as “sexy” — Streisand’s Cheryl often feels rooted in a stunted realism. In her best scene we discover that Cheryl has desire to be a country and western singer. She sits at one of those once popular Fun Machine organs and performs Cheryl’s self-pinned country song. Streisand seeing badly offers some fun. And she succeeds at singing off-key. The feat of intentionally singing badly is not as easy as one might think.

If you enjoy intelligent and casually insightful comedies, you might enjoy it. All Night Long was never meant to be a box office “hit” — this is a somewhat complicatedly simple story of a middle-aged man pursuing his dreams. From that vantage point the movie works.

Wait. That shot actually captures the spirt of the movie!  All Night Long Jean-Claude Tremont, 1981

Wait. That shot actually captures the spirt of the movie!
All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

The rumor for years was that Streisand fired Sue Mengers because the movie flopped. This explanation made little sense. Brian Kellow manages to offer insight gained from Streisand herself. Sue Mengers stood her ground and refused to assist Streisand in her pursuit of bringing Yentl to the screen. Streisand explained to Mengers that they their taste in projects had become too different. She assured Mengers that her friendship meant a great deal to her and this would not change, but it was time for them to end their professional relationship. Like an angry child, Sue Mengers made it clear that she would not be Streisand’s friend if she was not her agent. And that was that.

Interestingly, Streisand would soon end her relationship with Jon Peters. There were rumors of infidelity, but it seems the “love” began to wither when she felt he didn’t have her back while she always had his. Like Mengers, Peters was extremely unsupportive of her pursuit of Yentl. It would seem that two of the most important people in her life failed to return the support she gave them. Unlike Mengers, Peters and Streisand parted as friends. Their friendship remains solid several decades later. Streisand serves as God Mother to two of Peter’s children from a later marriage. For years after their break-up, Jon Peters had a large picture of Barbra Streisand hanging in his office. Despite public teasing, the producer never took it down.

Career-long dream fulfilled... Yentl Barbra Streisand, 1983 Cinematography | David Watkin

Career-long dream fulfilled…
Yentl
Barbra Streisand, 1983
Cinematography | David Watkin

Much like A Star Is Born, the world seemed against her. But Streisand made Yentl as her director and co-writing debut.  Unlike A Star Is Born, the critics generally liked Yentl. Most importantly, so did audiences. The gamble of Yentl paid off. It was a hit. Two years later, she turned away from radio pop songs. Against almost all advice, she returned to the musical standards that she loved. The Broadway Album was a huge hit. Without Mengers’ guidance, she did make some errors. Nuts or The Mirror Has Two Faces anyone? But in 1991 she directed and co-stared in an adaptation of The Prince of Tides. Another major commercial hit and received a great deal of praise. Recently she became the first living artist to hit the music charts with a number 1 in 5 consecutive decades.

Streisand’s firing of Sue Mengers would end up as the first true sign that her reign over Hollywood was coming to an end. Professionally, Tramont would never be heard from again. Mengers remained married to him until his death in 1996. Eventually, she tried to assimilate back into friendship with Streisand. Unfortunately, Menger’s ego was never able to let the issue of the termination go. Sue Mengers pretty much retired to her home where she enjoyed smoking her cigarettes and weed. She did venture briefly back into the business, but her energy was gone.

Mrs. Focker gives Mr. Byrnes a massage... Robert De Niro and Barbra Streisand  Meet The Fockers Jay Roach, 2004 Cinematography | John Schwartzman

Mrs. Focker gives Mr. Byrnes a massage…
Robert De Niro and Barbra Streisand
Meet The Fockers
Jay Roach, 2004
Cinematography | John Schwartzman

Her last major coup was her ability to gather Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand together and secure their agreement to play supporting roles in Ben Stiller’s silly ensemble sequel, Meet The Fockers. Mengers was unable to revel in the glory and Streisand crafted a story that she agreed to do the film because Stiller called her on the phone. But Sue Mengers was correct: Audiences flocked to see the 3 Iconic Heavyweights share the screen with each other as well as Ben Stiller. Looking at that film now, it seems odd that the mediocre film was such a huge hit. But it was.

The story of Sue Mengers and Barbra Streisand is a footnote in American Entertainment History, but it is an interesting one.

A successful marriage.  Jean-Claude Tremont and Sue Mengers circa 1981 Photographer unknown to me.

A successful marriage.
Jean-Claude Tramont and Sue Mengers
circa 1981
Photographer unknown to me.

The ideas of “celebrity” are odd but very human. For some reason, we seem to take a great deal of joy in seeing a talented artist succeed and achieve major success. But for a much deeper and problematic reason, we seem to enjoy seeing our “celebrities” slip, fall and fail. It is strange. And all too often we forget that these mythic stars and power players are, in the end, simply people. Brian Kellow’s study of Sue Mengers presents a number of ideas about this complicated woman, but above all his book presents a strong-willed woman who was very human.

All Night Long Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

All Night Long
Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981

In the end, Jean-Claude Tremont’s film, All Night Long, is also a study of something we all too-often discount: The Human Condition and the ways of it’s heart.

Matty Stanfield, 11.11.15

 

 

 

 

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