Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Elizabeth TaylorIt’s almost impossible to write about Dame Elizabeth Taylor without mentioning her oft-quoted love of jewellery and her eight marriages, two of which were to legendary hellraiser Richard Burton. But there was a lot more to her than a propensity for wedding vows and diamonds.

Rising through the ranks from child actress to glamourous starlet and then genuine box office dynamite, Taylor cemented her reputation as a movie icon when she became the very first actress to command a fee of $1 million for her eponymous role in 20th Century Fox’s 1963 epic Cleopatra.

Up until that point, actresses had largely played second fiddle to their male co-stars in terms of billing and cold hard cash. Taylor was the first who had the smarts, and the talent, to compete with the boys. She did, however, remain modest over her trailblazing fee when she quipped: “If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down”.

Taylor won her first Oscar in 1960 for her role as part-time call-girl in BUtterfield 8. However, the award was widely considered to be the result of a sympathy vote following a near-fatal bout of pneumonia – a illness which redeemed her in the eyes of public after she ran off with Eddie Fisher, the husband of American sweetheart Debbie Reynolds. Even Taylor herself acknowledged that the film was one of her worst.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

In 1966, she won a much more deserved Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This time she starred as aging lush Martha alongside real-life husband Richard Burton as her long-suffering spouse George in what would prove to be her most critically acclaimed film. The famous couple starred in several other films together, ranging from glamourous star-studded flick The VIPs to the entirely forgettable nonsense that was The Comedians.

As well as making her mark in the world of film, and building a business empire based on perfume and jewellery, Taylor also devoted much of her time to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS, as well as raising a great deal of money for the cause. Following the death of her friend and Giant co-star Rock Hudson from an AIDS-related illness in 1985, she became one of the first major celebrities to talk openly on a subject that had previously been taboo and widely misunderstood.

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundationAlways one for taking in waifs and strays, Taylor was a loyal pal to Montgomery Clift and James Dean, both promising young actors who struggled with their sexuality. She was also a vocal, if somewhat misguided, friend to pop superstar Michael Jackson when he was accused of sexually abusing a child in 1993.

As a mouthy dame, Taylor always came across as a significantly more ballsy character than many of her contemporaries such as the doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn, glacial Grace Kelly or tragic Marilyn Monroe and kept up with the times by tweeting under the name @DameElizabeth. Even towards the end, Taylor proved that she still marched to the beat of her own drum by insisting that when she was laid to rest, the service should start 15 minutes later than planned so that she could be late for her own funeral. A classy final act.

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation

Top 13 horror films on Blu-ray

Best 13 horror films on Blu-rayThis is a seasonal Blu-ray round-up that I wrote for Pocket-lint.com.

If you hadn’t already realised, it’s Halloween on 31 October, making this the perfect season for getting re-acquainted with the best horror films ever made. We’ve hunted down the top 13 horror films available on Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure. Of course, to get the best out of the spooky tales, you really need to see them in high definition. Not only will the picture be more defined, but Blu-ray’s excellent performance on dark scenes means that you won’t er, be left in the dark when it comes to the nocturnal nuances that actually make up the vast majority of these films. Grab yourself some popcorn, a slice of pumpkin pie and sit back and prepare to be scared…

Halloween

FIRST RELEASED:
1978
PRICE:
£5.49
FEAR FACTOR:
10/10

John Carpenter’s 1970s cult classic is a masterclass in how to make a really terrifying film on a shoestring budget. Set in the fictional suburban town of Haddonfield, Illinois, the film begins with 6-year old Michael Myres brutally murdering his older sister on Halloween night. Fast forward 15 years and the grown-up Myres escapes from a psychiatric hospital and returns to the town to terrorise teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her pals. The only person with any hope of stopping his killing spree is his psychiatrist Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence).

The film is packed with carefully paced set pieces that have you jumping out of your skin at regular intervals, while the haunting score, penned by the director himself, will also keep you on the edge of your seat. As the knife-happy Myres spends much of the time lurking in the shadows, this is a good one to watch on Blu-ray as the details in even the darkest scenes won’t descend into inky blackness. This is horror cinema at its best, but we would advise you to avoid the 2007 remake like the plague.

Night of the living dead

FIRST RELEASED:
1968
PRICE:
£6.99
FEAR FACTOR:
8/10

This independent film from the late 60s was also made on a tiny budget, but that didn’t stop it cementing director George A. Romero’s reputation as a horror movie legend. The film tells the story of a bunch of survivors who hole up in a remote farmhouse to try and escape the horde of flesh-eating zombies outside. Shot in black and white, the film manages to get away with a fair bit of visceral gore that probably would’ve looked a bit over the top in colour. The Blu-ray treatment has certainly worked wonders with the film, adding a distinct sharpness to the ageing monochrome visuals.

As well as being applauded as being one of the first mainstream films to star an African-Amercian actor as the lead character, the film is also famously said to be an allegory of 1960s America, referencing Vietnam, Cold War politics and the civil rights movement. Crikey. And there you were thinking it was all just about a load of zombies…

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 28/10/10).