Edinburgh Fringe 2021
The inner lives of famous Hollywood personalities are cleverly imagined through the many interactions that took place all in the same Los Angeles house over many decades.
Ever wonder who lived in your house before you took up residence? If those walls could talk, what would they reveal? British-born documentary filmmaker Charlotte Lubert followed her curiosity after discovering that several Hollywood stars had lived in her Los Angeles home. Her production, My House, is based on her imaginings of the conversations and activities that took place under her roof over that past many decades. The resulting production was rehearsed, performed and filmed on location in her home over a five-day period last month by a semi-professional cast and crew, in front of a live audience that followed the film crew from room to room, with COVID restrictions in place.
The concept is fascinating. For most of us, the previous occupants of our homes were likely ordinary people likely with fairly pedantic lives. But for Lubert, the spirits come alive through the telling of the stories of actors who we only know from their screen and stage profiles, not necessarily through daily living. Lubert humanizes these screen idols, placing them in common settings and challenges. There is an overriding theme of women in Hollywood couples who are expected to be subservient to their leading-men husbands, and the conflicts that result.
We follow their stories and the commonalities of conflicts in the marriages through short scenes that seamlessly transition back and forth through the decades, panning through the rooms of this sprawling home.
The film opens with Charlie Chaplin in 1926 returning home to his wife, actress Lita Grey, after a long day of filming. Lita was considered an exotic beauty who began acting with Chaplin when she was just 12 years old. By 15, she was pregnant with their son, and at 16 married Chaplin. It was known to be a difficult relationship, with Chaplin purportedly abusive to Lita and a womanizer outside of the home.
We meet American actress Carole Lombard in 1937 as a new occupant to the house. We see her in her marriage to William Powell, a versatile movie and stage actor who played both villains and handsome leading men. Lombard was adored by her fans for her energetic, off-beat roles in screwball comedies and for her indomitable spirit. Again, we gain insight into their not-so-perfect marriage. The two eventually divorced, and Lombard married Clark Gable. She tragically died at age 33.
Fast forward to 1967 and we’re in the kitchen of British composer Leslie Bricusse, known for scoring Dr. Doolittle, and English horror-film actress Yvonne Romain. They have hosted a fancy dinner party. What should have been a happy ending to a lovely evening becomes a session of questioning trust.
The final celebrity we meet is Patricia Barry, who, coincidentally, was a graduate from this reviewer’s university! Barry made 100 appearances in film, TV and theatre. She was best known for her characters in daytime TV dramas. It’s 1988, and is she too old to keep acting? Not in her mind, because she believes that acting keeps her young.
History seems to repeat itself in 2020 as Lubert reveals her own failed marriage – during the pandemic.
Audiences may not know some or all of the Hollywood personalities. Although it is helpful to be able relate to their individual stories by their reputations, the overarching themes of suppressed wives, challenged celebrity marriages, difficult family entanglements and financial issues apply to all generations and demographics. The summation at the end neatly ties up the many pieces.
Lubert’s careful attention to detail makes the stories and their settings seem plausible. The vignettes are underscored effectively with music from each time period. The early time frames are shot in black and white. Colour is introduced and home décor is updated as the film moves through the years. The costuming is appropriate for the time periods and the actors mostly resemble the historical characters that they are portraying. Kudos to the hair and makeup team that transformed the actors into convincing historical figures. There are even gremlins and ghosts introduced as remnants of previous occupants. A special shout out to Kate Enngren, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Patricia Barry. The film is well-cast, with notable performances by Erica Everitt as Lita Grey and Marilyn Foley as Carole Lombard. At times the story moves slowly. The film could be edited to pick up the pace a bit.
The film definitely captivates your interest, as many want a look into the private lives of public figures. Lubert has produced a very imaginative piece that offers insights into celebrity life while keeping us entertained and engaged.
My House is available online, but there will also be screenings with audience at the Edinburgh Fringe at 3pm, now until 20 August, at the Hilton Hotel Carlton, where Lubert will be present to answer questions from the audience.