Roy Cohn/Jack Smith

"Weak"

Roy Cohn/Jack Smith Review


Roy Cohn/Jack Smith executive producer Jonathan Demme is no stranger to the monologue on film. Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia (which he directed) is one of the best of the genre.

You'd think Demme would know what he's doing. At best, Roy Cohn/Jack Smith is a cinematic oddity, rambling and barely coherent -- a common problem with films in which there are few diversions aside from moving lips (see The Designated Mourner for a prime example of this).

Performer Ron Vawter presents two monologues, each about 40 minutes long, one imagining a speech made by Joseph McCarthy's lawyer, Roy Cohn, one performing a monologue by Jack Smith, a flamboyant-yet-morose "entertainer" of the high camp variety.

The two men, Cohn and Smith, had absolutely nothing in common, except they were both gay (Cohn secretly) and they both died of AIDS in the late 1980s. In his red velvet tuxedo, Vawter-as-Cohn is a smarmy gladhander, speaking of the need for modern morality while disguising his talk with thinly-veiled allusions of nastiness. The Cohn scenes are memorable and funny at times, thanks to Vawter's oozing portrayal of a relatively hateful man.

But in his scenes as Jack Smith, we are presented with a man in a pharaoh getup, playing with costume jewelry he keeps in a toilet onstage. Vawter-as-Smith has plenty to say, but I didn't understand a word of it. Lowering his voice ridiculously, he mush-mouths his way through 40 minutes of nonsense, incomprehensible except when he is preening over his outfit. (See What's Underground About Marshmallows? for a better cut of this performance.)

To make matters worse, director Jill Godmilow is not content to let the performance stand as two distinct parts. Instead, she meddles and the two segments are cut together such that we switch back and forth between the two. As such, any sense of narrative of what Cohn is saying is lost among the nonsense of Smith. But I'm not sure that it would have mattered much: Frequent shots of the live audience with perplexed or stunned looks on their faces would portend that it wouldn't have mattered either way.

Vawter died four months after the taping of this performance. It's too bad his legacy is as unmemorable as this.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Friday 4th August 1995

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 6.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jill Godmilow

Starring: as Roy Cohn, as Jack Smith, as Chica

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