On first glance, Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot is a light and silly affair built on cross-dressing gags and peak sex bomb Marilyn Monroe.
But 60 years from its debut, this subversive black-and-white classic seems more topical than ever. No wonder, two years ago, a BBC poll of critics around the world ranked it the best comedy of all time.
The film is as groundbreakingly fluid about its genre as it is about gender—opening as a mafia chase movie before Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon go undercover as women to hide with an all-female jazz orchestra led by Sugar Kane (Marilyn herself).
And now audiences get a chance to see it in an even newer light, with even more gender twists, at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Feminist Live Reads finds women reading all the parts in a fundraiser for the rape crisis centre WAVAW.
“Some Like It Hot is one of my favourite movies, actually,” says Vancouver actor Katie Findlay (best-known for the ABC series How to Get Away With Murder), speaking to the Straight over the phone from her Vancouver home. “My dad only watches movies made before 1960.
“I’ve always wanted to be handsome and dashing and morally questionable,” she enthuses about reading the part of Tony Curtis, who essentially plays three parts: Joe, the jazz musician who witnesses a mafia shootout with his buddy; Josephine, a female jazz musician in disguise; and Junior, a faux millionaire who woos Sugar and sounds an awful lot like Cary Grant. “People seem to have trouble with women being more than one thing. And I get to do a Cary Grant impression!”
It helps that her bestie Kacey Rohl (who stars in VIFF 2019 movie White Lie) is reading Jack Lemmon’s role; they’ve watched Some Like It Hot many times together.
In this era of #MeToo and talk of consent, Findlay sees the ongoing relevance of Wilder’s film. When Curtis and Lemmon become women, they’re suddenly the target of a lot of unwanted attention. “As a movie I think it has female consciousness; it’s aware of how a woman feels,” Findlay observes of the male characters facing constant harrassment once they take on female personas.
Filmmaker and critic Chandler Levack found out immediately that having women read traditional male scripts could raise fascinating questions when she launched Feminist Live Reads in Toronto in 2015, with a charity presentation of an Entourage script. Since then she’s organized readings of everything from Almost Famous to Reservoir Dogs.
“It was really fascinating to see women read a script never intended for them to play,” she tells the Straight over the phone from Toronto. “It was funny and ironic and kind of really uncomfortable. And it raised the question, ‘Why couldn’t women have played those roles before?’”
Adding to the experience, Levack reads stage directions on-stage while local songstress Jill Barber brings to life some of Monroe’s iconic songs from Some Like It Hot ( “I Wanna Be Loved By You” ).
“It’s a really cool way to engage with a movie you love,” says Levack.