Coming to PBS’s American Masters tomorrow, Tuesday, June 16:
MAE WEST: DIRTY BLONDE
Sally Rosenthal and Julia Marchesi
PBS broadcast (June 2020)
A portrait of the trailblazing film icon.
While Mae West long ago became part of the Hollywood pantheon that makes her unforgettable, over time she’s been reduced to something of a caricature, remembered more for a catchphrase than for specific roles. Surprisingly, Sally Rosenthal and Julia Marchesi’s PBS documentary corrective is the first notable documentary about the controversial entertainment powerhouse, who ruled pre-Code Hollywood. They spruce up a conventional biography format with fantastic archival footage and numerous clips from her films, as well as commentary from historians, friends, and celebrity admirers. What emerges is an intriguing profile of a self-assured woman who insisted on controlling her own image and career, and who was particularly savvy about using controversy to her benefit. While some of the arguments presented about her films’ intersection with race and class matters are perhaps overstated, the documentary succeeds in reclaiming West’s revolutionary appeal and will inspire viewers to seek out her body of work.