On Monday night, “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon received the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Montecito Award for his skills as both a director and a screenplay author. By his side were two stars of the “Dreamgirls” threesome, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose.
Despite the obvious emphasis on his recent hit, the award was presented to Condon based on his career as a whole and not just on “Dreamgirls.” Condon has an impressive filmography under his belt, including “Chicago,” “Kinsey,” “Gods and Monsters,” and “Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh.” The red carpet award show honored a career distinguished by progressive films that deal with controversy, sex, horror and musical theater.
The panel discussion with Condon gave an intimate understanding of how a kid raised in an Irish Catholic home came to conquer the cutthroat Los Angles film industry. After entering Columbia University at the tender age of 16, he gradated with a degree in philosophy. Condon moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, but he never made it to the university. To make cash, Condom wrote a movie think piece for a magazine; a reader impressed by his film knowledge offered him a job making horror flicks.
The panel discussion was moderated by Pete Hammond, movie historian and film critic for Maxim magazine – he gave “Dreamgirls” four and a half stars. A Maxim author may seem like an odd choice for the event, but sex and media is a comfortable arena for Condon. He was awarded an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Gods and Monsters,” a film about the final days of “Frankenstein director,” James Whale (Sir Ian McKellen), and the relationship he forms with his young gardener (Brendan Fraser).
In the same vein, “Kinsey” chronicles the highly controversial story of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey during the 1950s. For his honest portrayal of the lives and trials of homosexuals, Condon was awarded the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) media award. During the panel discussion, Condon reminiscences about how, as a child, he listened to the Supremes on the radio and was given a taste of a world outside of his conservative home. He even attended the opening night of “Dreamgirls,” the musical. Thus, by writing the screenplay for “Dreamgirls” and directing the movie, his career was brought full circle.
Basically, Bill Condon is a master translator, capable of dramatizing the biographies of sensational men, and he is one of the only screenplay writers to have successfully adapted two Broadway musicals into hit movies. When asked how he manages to transcribe the excitement and experience of viewing a Broadway musical onto film, Condon did not elaborate on cinematic special effects and lighting aesthetics. Instead he stated, “Just keep it theatrical.” And, by staying true to the theater, Condon makes stage drama accessible to those of us who cannot grab dinner and a Broadway musical on a Friday night.
Bill Condon unassumingly attributes much of his film success to lady luck. All polite modesty aside, Bill Condon walked away Monday night with a Montecito award in his hand because of his dynamic talent as a director, film adaptor and screenplay writer. Luck or no luck, that’s pretty impressive.