Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can we hope?

After reading the New York Film Critic's Circle picks, it's fairly certain Penelope will win best supporting.

But can we hope for a MILK best picture win? This is the second, and Penn and Brolin's as well.

Looks like Sally Hawkins will get a nom, though I thought it was Kate Winslet's year perhaps. May still be.

But I'm hoping for

Hawkins (who really was quite remarkable)

I'd love to see Kate get it especially since she's got possibility for two noms, but they've actually been giving Oscars for specific performances lately. Who knew?

More will be clear with the Globe noms tomorrow AM.

This feels a little like horse-racing to write about, but I really would love to see MILK awarded. Really alot.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Movie List

So I was tagged for this meme by Stinkylulu for Blog Cabin's Alphabetical Movie Meme, so I'm doing it. Here are the rules, copied right off his blog. I am little scared how many people have linked to this meme, so wow.

Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. [As regards franchises and sequels,] movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgment to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people.

And here's my list:

All About My Mother
Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau & Disney)
Dark Victory
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Foul Play
The Gleaners
Hannah & Her Sisters
Ich Bin Meine Eigene Frau (I Am My Own Wife)
Judy Berlin
Kramer vs. Kramer
The Last Picture Show
Manchurian Candidate
Nights of Cabiria
The Orphanage
Private Benjamin
The Red Shoes
A Star is Born (54)
Torch Song Trilogy
Umbrellas of Cherbourg
The Vanishing (Dutch version)
The Way We Were
Yossi & Jagger
Zus & Zo

So I tag Manhatin, moroccomole , zombiestruckstop, Mattycub, and Buck


I saw Milk last night.

I am so glad it's happening now. I imagine I'd have issues with it as a movie if I were to think too long about it--pacing maybe, standard bio pic, etc--all things I've heard.

But I don't really care. Penn is amazing, amazing, and the story is the story that needs to be told right now. The screenwriter said he focussed on the politics, since there were so many stories about his life and relationships he could have focussed on, and that's 100% correct.

Milk is not perfect, as the man wasn't--he comes across as over-zealous, political, selfish at times, but funny, sweet, caring, and naive as well. But I can think of no film I have ever seen being released at exactly the right moment. Someone suggested in the audience that perhaps the film would've made a difference before the Prop 8 vote, but I think the opposite. I think the people who would have seen it then would've been a much smaller audience who would have left thinking the same as they came in. I think people in the streets and the fury directed at the vote will help more people to see it, and more people will be affected by this story of an ordinary man working in his community to make a difference--perhaps even change some minds (yes--I'm optomistic enough to believe people can change their minds). And that one voice, asking everyone to come out, is still resonating today. And 30 years later the entire landscape has changed.

I was thrilled sitting in the audience. Thrilled, and energized. I don't know what I thought of it as a film, per se, but it struck a deep chord. To me, seeing an oscar winning actor playing a real gay man, a gay man who has ideas, opinions, flaws, and complicated, nuanced relationships with other men with no apology is thrilling. As are Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch (who I couldn't place throughout the entire film he disappeared so much for me), James Franco, Denis O'Hare, Josh Brolin so many of the actors. I wouldn't be surprised if Penn, Brolin, and even possibly Luna (but that's a long shot) get noms. The design perfectly captures SF at the time--they actually filmed in the storefront that was Milk's camera store. And the inclusion of historical footage works perfectly.

I have heard some criticism from gay men that they felt the movie is made for straight people, like Philadelphia was. I can't disagree more. I didn't feel pandered to, instructed, or bored. I felt excited, emotional, and amazed. This man was all about equality. I feel like this film, for the first time in a mainstream HOllywood film, put gays on equal footing. Being gay isn't the issue in this film (see Brokeback Mountain, which is a great film), but rather what it takes to be yourself, and demand equality, the risks and the rewards.

So you'll excuse me if I don't write about it as a film as much as about it as a moment. That I could sit in a room full of all kinds of people, holding another man's hand, and see how far we've come--that's beautiful. That there were at least three out gay actors in it, a gay director, gay screenwriter, and producers--brilliant. I can't see it any other way.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Smackdown '76

Check out my opinions along with all the others at the Stinkylulu 1976 Supporting Actress Smackdown.

Jane Alexander in All the President's Men
Beatrice Straight in Network
Piper Laurie in Carrie
Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver
Lee Grant in Voyage of the Damned

I have some thoughts about the year in general, and have been thinking about politics, disillusionment (elections figure into two of these, and it's an interesting 70s theme) and discontent, but I have a cold today so any thoughts would be muddy. Or, muddier than usual. Interesting year, though......

Friday, October 17, 2008


I went to the Getty to see the beautiful Bernini show that was overwhelming and gorgeous. I hope to get a few secs to write about it this weekend, but in the meantime--

Getty, get your *$(&%(#*&$#ing thumb out of my view!!!

Muuuuch better....

Monday, October 06, 2008

Happiness is just a thing....

I watched Cabin in the Sky last night for Nathaniel's Musical of the Month over at Film Experience. Here are the major themes, not including all the race stuff, which could be a whole 'nother book, and probably is. There's even a disclaimer at the opening of the film, which, as Nathan Rabin points out, basically says"The racism in the film you are about to see is morally abhorrent and wholly unforgivable. Enjoy!" Anyhoo, most of the things I noticed only were amplified by some sadness that some of the performers were relegated to roles based on their ethnicity, and weren't given a chance to stretch out of that (of course, that could be said for many film actors). Like I said, for more keen and informed minds than mine to ponder further.

Ethel Waters rules this movie. She's not the protagonist, but she's his motivation. She's also the most reliably nuanced, interesting, and full characterization in the film. Not surprising, as the story doesn't require much beyond stereotype. It made me a little sad, watching Waters, that she wasn't able to play some grand matriarch of a powerful family on film. I was thinking this through much of the film, and then when she hands Butterfly McQueen the dice and sweepstakes ticket and says "Burn these, Lily", I was sure of it. That said, she's riveting in this, and I don't really want to watch anyone else on screen when she's in the picture. And she had quite a career, which is a testament to her talent.

Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe. I have loved this song forever, and didn't know this was the setting. I love, love, love this song. Her execution is great. It works perfectly as a motif, and justifies shy she does what she does. That said, if Iago is evil for no apparent reason, Petunia is the love version. It's no small credit that we believe the love for Joe on her part, because it's not like it makes any sense. This song does it for me (even though secretly it's Ella's version I love the best--even though this Sarah Vaughn version is pretty fab. And I do love the Carol Burnett version, too. So, I basically love this song, obviously).

Lena Horne's character, Gerogia Brown, doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, either. But once again, she can't help but be, well, Lena Horne. I was most fascinated by the shot of her being the last standing during the tornado. There was something beautiful and emotionally affecting about her staggering about in that beautiful dress, and suddenly accessing a life in this character that we hadn't seen before. Once again, great performer. I mean, she's Lena Horne, after all. The scene with the devil telling her what to do was fun. Much mugging, but a good way to establish the communications of conscience that they were establishing. And since I had Tennessee on the brain earlier, wouldn't she have been astounding as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

And then there are the devils. Apparently, jazz, trumpets, and smoking are all very evil, while good guys like to hang out in all -white band uniforms. I don't really have much to say about them (although it was fun seeing Louis Armstrong), except that if you're looking for a piece that combines Porgy and Bess and Damn Yankees, this one's for you.

As for the music, most of it felt weirdly incidental. As Stinkylulu pointed out the other day, it's really more of a play with music, and that makes it more understandable. Actually more of a parable with music. I did love that when for no apparent reason an entire chorus showed up for the "Cabin in the Sky" number, they sounded exactly like the back-up choruses for every musical in this period. Duke Ellington on screen is great, too.

And the whole thing can be excused, since it's only a dream.....

Glad I saw it. Great musical, no, but worth it for Waters and Horne and the chance to see them at the center. And to hear that great song by Harold Arlen, who is one of my faves of the period (Stormy Weather, The Man That Got Away, Acc-en-tuate the Positive, Over the Rainbow, A Sleepin' Bee, I never has seen snow, Right as Rain, I had myself a True Love, Anyplace I hang my hat is home, Get Happy, My Shining Hour), and also wrote several specifically all-black musicals. And also the to get to see the dancing and the Duke Ellington sequence. It doesn't move the story, but it's great to watch.

I suppose the disclaimer is right only insofar as the movie succeeds most for me as a time capsule--of attitudes, performance styles, and people. I'm glad Nathaniel picked it.


10 Things I Learned from Strait-Jacketfor Final Girl's film club.

1. Wishing you're 29, acting like you're 29, and being shot with a gauzy filter still does not make you 29

2. Wishing you're 49, acting like you're 49, and being shot with a gauzy filter still does not make you 49.

3. Wigs are in, mother.

4. Lucky for Carol that her mother conveniently blacks out for no apparent reason. Or maybe it's just when she drinks. Or there's a MURDER!

5. Someone on the "making of" suggested Crawford would have gotten an oscar nomination if this were a different film. Yes, and a different script, character, and director

6. Even if you are a sculptor, oh, I mean sculptress, of non-descript, unfired clay forest creatures, it's possible to bust out a full polished bronze bust, just cuz. Oh, and some bloody heads. And a latex mask.

7. I love jangly bracelets, because they say "gal"

8. How cute was Lee Majors in 1963?

9. Apparently, Lucy had money from her first husband, but still lived in a one room shack where her daughter slept in the living room. That's livin'! And Ohio looks a lot like central CA.

10. Apparently, right before you're head is chopped off, it turns to wood. It's bloodless, too.

Okay, 11. Horror movie or Scooby Doo episode; you decide.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

10 things I learned

I love learning. Truly, I just love knowing stuff. Not for the "look what I know" thing, but more for the shoving "isn't this AMAZING?" in unsuspecting person's faces, as well as my compulsive need to connect dots. Yes, the chaos of coming together and moving apart that is our lives is mirrored in the smallest atoms and all things in the universe, but I persist in pissing in the wind and calling it rain, searching for some sort of connection in seemingly random, unconnected events. It may be untrue, but learning and seeing similarities just makes me feel better. So, in that spirit, I can write a little criticism under the guise of bettering myself.

10 Things I Learned from 9 to 5, the musical

1. Dolly Parton's songs are particularly well suited to theatre. They're from a character's POV most of the time, and emotionally grounded. That said, when she's writing for her surrogate self, she's at her clearest, witness "Backwoods Barbie". Though there was a good second act ballad and Ros had a really fun number. But, after seeing this, Dolly can do anything you ask her to. I expect a symphony and retail park soon.

2. I forgot how much I loved this movie, which leads me to

3. Adapting a really well-known movie requires performances so great or different they erase the originals. You know it when you think to yourself while Allison Janney is being her great self on stage "Wasn't Lily Tomlin so funny in this?"

4. Allison Janney can sell anything. She doesn't have the best voice, but she's out there doing it, and she commands the attention

5. Office interiors and corporate clothing circa 1980 are not anything I would choose to watch on stage. Even having now seen them once. Not such a pretty time. And office interiors are wierd as entertainment spaces--I felt the same about the Back to the Future ride, since you feel like you're at work watching a show. That said, who knew so much could be done with a copier?

6. I know first acts are supposed to be longer, but we should really not notice it being so....much....longer.

7. Marc Kudish is sexy. I believe I was aware of this, but I have now learned it.

8. Stephanie Block is now queen of power ballads and Megan Hilty deserves a great career, after this and Wicked. She's got a lot going for her.

9. Sometimes, when the enormous set leaves, the stage can feel very, very empty. Especially filled with the dancers who, because of the aforementioned ugly clothing, can remind one of the Carol Burnett show. Not bad, in some instances, but not really useful here.

10. A show in previews is in previews. That means it's a work in progress. Nice to see the progress.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What's moving me

A list of things that are moving me of late, that I will hopefully get around to writing about.

1. Man on Wire Brilliant doc about Phillip Petit, who walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Centers. Unexpected meditation on friendship, drive, beauty, creativity, as well as the best heist movie I've seen in a while

2. Fun Home Allison Bechdel's brilliant memoir of her father's death which manages to be about sexuality, gender, literature, families and difference. I've read it before, and since there was a cut-rate hardcover at my local bookstore I'm reading it again. Taking my breath away. It's like watching a film and reading the criticism at the same time, a tightrope act of its own.

Monday, September 08, 2008

House of Blue Leaves

And I guess that’s what this play is about more than anything else: humiliation. Everyone in the play is constantly being humiliated by their dreams, their loves, their wants, their best parts. People have criticized the play for being cruel or unfeeling.

I don’t think any play from the Oresteia on down has ever reached the cruelty of the smallest moments in our lives, what we have done to others, what others have done to us. I’m not interested so much in how people survive as in how they avoid humiliation. Chekhov says we must never humiliate one another, and I think avoiding humiliation is the core of tragedy and comedy and probably of our lives.

--John Guare, from the original program notes for The House of Blue Leaves, 1971, reprinted in the current production program

Saturday I saw a production of House Of Blue Leaves at the Mark Taper Forum. I really love this play and this production somehow fails it for me. I’m feeling pushed to write a little about the play itself, and perhaps why I respond to it; I think it’s a great American tragedy, writ small and comic. After all, the image of the title is a tree made of birds that fly away at a moments notice; a shade giving tree under which, if you remain long enough, you’ll be shit on and the leaves fly away to leave you exposed.

**If you don’t know the play, then be aware there are some major spoilers coming.**

It is 1965. The play concerns Artie, a zookeeper and would-be songwriter. A prologue has Artie playing a few of his songs, all about hope and love, but written in clunky, work-a-day rhyming prose. His biggest hope is the song “Where’s the Devil in Evelyn” with the chorus “Where’s the Devil in Evelyn/What’s it doing in Angela’s Eyes?”, which manages to be not quite clever and not quite comprehensible at the same time. After the prologue, Artie is greeted by Bunny, a downstairs neighbor with whom he is having an affair, waking him at 5 AM to see the Pope drive through Jackson Heights Queens. A door opens and we realize that Artie is already married, to the aptly named Bananas. They have a son, and Artie, with his dreams of song writing and a supportive mistress, plans to escape to Los Angeles and rekindle his friendship with a classmate, Billy, who has become a world famous director.

The plot is complicated, as befits a farce, with the son coming home from basic training to blow up the Pope, three nuns arriving to warm up and watch the Pontiff on television, the actress/fiancĂ©e of the director stopping by on her way to an ear operation in Australia, and, finally, after the actress’ demise from the bomb, the famous director himself arriving on the scene. And, in a seeming left turn, Bunny leaves with the director, and Artie strangles Bananas once they’re left alone.

Guare writes that the impetus for finishing the play was mixing Strindberg’s Dance of Death and Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear, tragedy with farce. The play is full of farcical elements: doors slamming, chases, explosions, characters running in and out at top speed, people singing for no reason. Underneath lies tragedy—Banana’s loss of sanity, Artie’s feeling of failure, their son’s failure in the army, and earlier to charm Billy into giving him a role as Huck Finn, the starlet’s hearing loss, the anger of the nuns at missing the pope.

I was aware in this production, as sometimes becomes apparent when the seams show a little more, just how challenging it is to make this play work extraordinarily well ( I have a whole theory of playwrighting that big risks mean big payoffs—see Williams, Chekhov, O’Neill—but it means the can be not so great if not done well). It’s certainly entertaining, and even a mediocre production will be that, but it to make it stun as a tragedy it needs to be seamless. Bananas is tragedy, Bunny is farce (with a name like Bunny Flingus, what else could she be), but scratch either one and there is a little of the other underneath. Artie, on the other hand, needs to straddle both sides. He desperately wants to be in a farce—fun, silliness, happy endings, but he’s stuck in a tragedy. And for this play to work, I think, those moments need to pop up to remind us what’s simmering under it all. The text is full of them; Artie says to Bunny “sometimes I miss you so much” more than once, and it’s those moments that strike at the heart, and prepare for what’s coming. His story about the asylum where he wants to commit Bananas includes a tree with beautiful blue leaves where she can watch the birds and be in nature, but the act that causes him to call the hospital to commit her is one of absolute sanity: she calls him on his lack of talent as a songwriter. She asks him to play “I love you so I keep dreaming”, a song he wrote years ago, and then immediately to play “White Christmas”. It’s the same tune. It’s cruel of her to do, and he answers with the cruelty of committing her. It’s a devastating moment.

Jane Kaczmarek (who went to Yale with Kate Burton—who knew?) would seem to be a great Bunny. She’s physically tall, with a big presence. Unfortunately, she screams through the role. She’s one level, and that level is strident. A lot of the jokes are lost, which is surprising considering her comedy background. Mostly, my throat hurt a bit watching her, and I was aware of her working very hard. Some of the fail safe jokes landed “Orion. The Irish constellation” never fails to get a laugh. But there wasn’t a connection. Even though I never saw her, I can only imagine how great Anne Meara must have been in the original, as I’m sure Stockard Channing was in the last Broadway revival. What they have, though, as actresses, is access to a deep well of feeling that underscores desperation and a drive to survive. Looked at another way, a single, loose woman who has had as many jobs as boyfriends, living alone in Queens in 1965--she’s holding on to Artie as her last big chance. There is also a cruelty and selfishness in the role evident when encouraging Artie to commit Bananas, and screaming that Bananas has poison fumes coming out of her. Though I got some need to keep everything afloat, it mostly came across as screaming. The entire role was performed in capital letters with no punctuation, mostly apparent in the opening monologue, which is peppered with character jokes that didn’t quite land. I’m sure she’s very capable, and I think she could’ve knocked this out of the park, but it seems like she only got the direction “faster, louder, funnier” and I don’t think that served her here.
*Side note: the production of A Chorus Line here was super fast as well, and I’m wondering if the new vogue is to rush through plays as quickly as possible, as if we don’t have the patience to sit through them. I’m seeing it a lot. There certainly is slowness and wallowing to watch out for, but we’ll be with it if it’s real. Clunk, clunk, off soap box*

John Pankow, perhaps best known for “Mad about You”, plays Artie. I liked his performance but I didn’t love it. I think it’s a hard role, definitely, and he’s good. I got the sadness, and the drive, the anger and frustration, and was touched by his missing the relationship with Bananas. Certainly, that’s the most frustrating and tragic part of the role. While still running after his dream (several times he yells “I’m too old to be a young talent”), he has to pick up the pieces of a lost relationship with a woman who has completely snapped. I think perhaps here, too, I was thinking of John Mahoney (and what Harold Gould must have been before him), an actor who can smile, sell you something, but underneath there is always something—sadness, menace, fear. I missed that. I think Pankow is a good actor, and he did a creditable job—I guess I just missed that extra flash each time it sank in what was happening in his life. And not like I need it illustrated, it’s just that since the whole play leads to a horrible act of violence as well as a possible psychic snap, I think flashes of what he is capable of earlier would’ve made a difference. We even hear it from his son—how difficult he is to live with. Since he’s a charmer that’s not a side he shows to everyone, perhaps only to his family. And it’s that we need to see bits of—not maniacal, just the feeling that would drive the act at the end. Once again, I think he has it in him, but it just wasn’t quite there.

Kate Burton does well by Bananas, I think. She gets some good laughs, and does what the role calls for most—allow us to care for her, but also question if she is sane or not. Sometimes she’s the most sane person in the play, and we are questioning Artie’s decision to commit her, and we see her ferocity and clarity when she calls him on his lack of talent; the next moment we are hearing about her standing in the snow for 12 hours or stopping to pick up Cardinal Spellman, Bo Hope, LBJ, and Jackie O who are all standing on different corners of 42nd street, and who she tries to push into her car. She calls them her friends, and says she knows more about them than herself. Once again, I would’ve loved to have seen Katherine Helmond in the original production, since women on the edge of sanity who also seem like the smartest in the room were her specialty. I did see Swoosie Kurtz in the PBS production of the revival, who is no slouch in that character department, either, and thought she was brilliant. Perhaps I keep thinking of that, too.

Whether Bananas is sane or not, and ultimately the feeling of what it would look like to live with a great love who now is someone else, haunts this play. Even larger, the idea of self, and who we are if we’re not famous—Jackie O, the Pope, Bob Hope, President Johnson, Cardinal Spellman, even Sandra Dee—constantly nags at the characters. The idea of fame is one that pushes everyone, and it’s perhaps what makes the play feel still topical, since our particular moment is even more obsessed with fame and being seen than people were in 1965. Billy, the famous director, finally arrives on the scene in the third act (or second part of Act II), and delivers the nail in the coffin—that Artie is who he makes movies for, and therefore needs to stay in his apartment in Queens, a zookeeper, married to Bananas, for Billy to keep working. Billy is played in this revival by Diedrich Bader, of Drew Carey fame. He’s funny, and he’s got a warm presence. Unfortunately, every line was delivered with quotes around it. It wasn’t a character, really, but someone the actor was making fun of. He is kind of a boob, but he does take himself seriously, and that’s what would make him even more ridiculous.

There are more people—the son with his one monologue, and the three nuns, as well as the starlet, Corinna Stroller, and I thought for the most part they were funny and capable. The play just rests for the most part, on the three main characters.

The final moment is difficult to pull off. Bananas comes up to Artie, telling him they’re alone again now, and it will be just the two of them. Artie’s dreams of going to Los Angeles to live with Billy have been destroyed, and Bunny is leaving with Billy. Bananas pretends she’s a dog, on all fours, whimpering to Artie and nudging his leg. He kisses her, and then begins to strangle her. She dies. He walks over the body, and we’re in the club we were in at the beginning, in a blue spot. It’s a Mama Rose moment; we’re witnessing a psychic break. The moment didn’t work for me in this revival—I had kind of forgotten that it was happening before it did, and it felt out of left field. Once again, I think I’ll put this on the director. It felt like it needed a few more distinct moments. Artie kisses Bananas deeply, and then starts to strangle her. If I remember, the other versions I saw she realizes what he’s doing, grabs his hands, struggles and then dies. In this version it was muddy. The people behind us asked if he strangled her. I think by choosing to have the strangulation happen on the floor rather than with the two of them both on their knees, the tension dissipated. (And with the audience above at the Taper, seeing Burton’s white knee pads when she was laying on the floor didn’t help). Also, that moment of realization on her part makes it tragedy. I once had a professor say that the difference between tragedy and comedy is the realization-- if you get hit by a bus it’s pathetic; if you look up and say “oh my god, I’m going to get hit by a bus” it’s tragic. Bananas needs that moment. And we need to see Artie see it as well. By muddying it up, the payoff for the whole piece, the sadness and the loss, the reality of their marriage, his psychic break was obscured. I found myself reacting to an ending that didn’t happen. I found it emotionally devastating how it must have been for him to live with a woman who was gone. To have to say to her “I miss you so much” and not have her register. All Artie wanted was to be seen. The tragedy was the loss of the mind, and then his own killing, of the one woman who could.

I would still suggest seeing it. It’s a great play, and this production is certainly not bad. It’s worth seeing Kate Burton, and it’s worth seeing the show performed. And who knows? In theater things change. There will be some mellowing and growing, and by the beginning of October it could be a whole different play. I may have to go again.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Little Shop

So this month over at Film Experience the musical of the month is LIttle Shop of Horrors. I don't know what I have to add to what's already been said (I'm tardy here since I remembered only yesterday this was happening-oops), but a few observations on watching a wonderful musical that it was a please to revisit

I first saw this movie in High School (although below, it looks like college, actually), and loved it so much I actually dragged my collegiate self all the way over to Coors Blvd way on the other side of town (and trust me, in Albuquerque, this was a hike) to see this movie. And I remember loving every minute of it. I bought the cast album with the fold in the center and pictures, cherishing every production photo. And it was kinda big in the high school scene--perhaps with anticipation (see corrected timeline below), with one of the high schools actually doing a performance of the play immediately after the movie was released (more on that later). But safe to say I loved it, and was sad it was not as enormous a hit that my high school self was convinced it would be, if only everyone saw it. And here's what I noticed this time:

Frank Oz--what a perfect choice for a director. Not only did his puppet work prepare him, but his general muppet sensibility allowed him to straddle the line of seriousness and silliness that the piece requires. You're drawn in, wondering what will happen in a horror sense, all the while being entertained and surprised. My favorite touch are the muppet "pop-ins", odd people popping in from outside the frame to sing one line unexpectedly (most notable in "Downtown" and "Meek shall inherit"). "Downtown" itself I think is the only time an entire town sings the requisite "yearning" song about wanting a different life. Menken and Ashman perfected this with "Somewhere That's Green" and "Part of Your World" from Little Mermaid (which are the same song; hum the meoldy of those words. See?) His work is especially evident in his use of the urchins, who pop up in almost every number, giving a cohesion and through line while maintaining the light touch and the awareness that we're watching a story. I love the urchins, which brings me to

The Urchins--Truly, I love them. And I love that two of them have had major TV careers since the movie. But mostly I love that they don't get wet in the rain, they sparkle menacingly in "Suppertime" (which is brilliant in its build of suspense), they're great as dental assistants, Chinese flower girls, balcony singer, and West Side Story roof dancers. I love that Tisha Campbell throws in a little Diana Ross face in the opening. Basically, I would watch a movie about the Urchins. Maybe a high school musical. Hmmm....

Celebrity Cameos--Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell, there's Christopher Guest, Miriam Margolyes, John Candy, Vincent Gardenia (hardly a cameo, but wonderful to be reminded how much you loved a performer who's gone), Jim Belushi, and, of course, the brilliant Bill Murray in the role originated in the Roger Corman film by Jack Nicholson. He just cracked me up. And it's the only slightly homo moment in the film. Christopher Guest, too, was stiffly perfect and made me laugh. And he's not a cameo at all, but Levi Stubbs gives an astounding vocal performance in this. The puppet's great, but his voicing of it makes the movie work.

Ellen Greene--Nathaniel talks about what a brilliance it was to cast her, and I agree. Beyond that, she's put such a stamp on the role that I don't think she could be played much differently. For better or worse, sometimes film adaptations make different stage interpretations no longer possible (though it's negligible that this character has a very wide range of interpretations in the first place), but Greene's characterization is so strong you can't imagine caring about seeing anyone else in it. Ever. Kind of like an actress whose name rhymes with Schmarbra Schmeisand in a movie about a singing comedienne. You may remember that one. That HS production I mentioned earlier is a great example. Coming on the heels of the movie, each actor basically did what the on-screen version did. Not surprising really, but it does show what an impression films can make on further productions of the musical. Or even that there are future productions of the musical.

I had some other thoughts on race and the voicing of the plant, and possibly unintended implications that has, where it's set, and alternate readings of the whole story, but for the most part I just delighted in it. After all, it's supposed to be delightful, and it is. It was one of the first musicals that acknowledged it was a musical, (Jim Belushi's character asks Seymour and Audrey to stop singing and listen to him), and remains as smart as it was then in playing with genre while still telling a great story. What's not to love?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Calamity Jane

Here's my contribution to musical month over at the film experience:

Oh, Calamity Jane, you’re such a rascal. You make no sense at all, but you’re a rollicking good old time.

I was struck by a few things watching this piffle of a production, so there’s a lot to think about, mostly gender and the 1950s, but let’s face it: this entire proposition would sink to the bottom of an old metal tub faster than you can say “Annie Get your Gun” ripoff if it weren’t for the irresistible charms of Doris Day. About two-thirds of the way through, selling yet another inane song, I thought, “She just cannot help but be charming”. So thank you Doris, you’re the reason this movie works at all.

The plot, which you can see coming like a squawl on the South Dakota plains, goes something like this (along with some gratuitous asides by yours truly)—Calamity (or Calam as her friends inexplicably like to call her—mellifluously) Jane is a rascally man-dressing teller of tall tales. She’s tough, rough, and wields a mean shot. And she sings the opening song about where we are and who everyone is, straight atcha! Who is she singing to? Doesn’t everyone in town already know who everyone else is? (Here’s where you say to yourself, “It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”) Soon we figure out that she’s in love with a Lieutenant and will do anything for him, but her man-buddy/nemesis is Wild Bill Hickock (played by Howard Keel—doing basically the same thing he did in “Annie Get Your Gun”, though this time considerably less upstaged. Doris seems to be a more generous performer than Betty Hutton). Calam finds out that two geezers have been attacked by Indians, and have left the Lieutenant of Love for dead. Our heroine rides out alone, scaring the four Indians with a shot and stealing back her love. (“It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”) Then she comes back to the saloon and blows her tale out of proportion, again, noticed by Bill Hickock, of course.

Meanwhile, back stage, the owner of the saloon has employed an actor who he thinks is an actress (because his name is Francis-har har) to perform, and forces him to go on in cringeworthy drag, which, of course, he warms up to. Calam figures out he’s not a man, and the audience does as well, and as they all are upset and are all men they somehow politely just start to walk out—no one is getting hurt except the Saloon owner’s business, so Calam manages to rouse the crowd with her can-do attitude, gruff voice, and man-pants. She volunteers to bring the actress they’re all yearning for to Deadwood to perform. So she departs for “Chicaggy”—yes, Chicaggy – to find the famous Adelaid Adams and make her perform. And if she does, Bill will dress up as a squaw with a baby –harhar. Through a series of (surprise!) mishaps she engages the famous actress’ maid to perform. So the maid (Katie) comes to town, Bill dresses as a squaw (ouch--somehow with a crying child and entire native entourage) and the maid goes on, recognized by the actor previously engaged, and falters, singing and dancing badly. The men boo and she admits she isn’t Adelaide Adams. Apparently, though they seemingly wanted to see the famous actress from her picture, they are actually upset by the performance since they really wanted to hear her sing. That’s what men with virtually no women in their company stranded out on the plains wanted from a woman wearing barely any clothes: a song.( “It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”) They give the girl another try after Bill comes to Calam’s aid. She’s charming, she’s got a cute voice and she can suddenly sing and dance (!) , relieved of the burden of conscience. And plot.
Everyone loves her, Calam saves the day, and our heroine even invites the girl, (Katie Brown) to live with her in her cabin.

Cut to the cabin, which is so rough the raccoons would be packing their bags. Katie, though, helps Calam clean up with an inane song about “A Woman’s Touch”, which even includes the line “The pies and cakes/a woman bakes”. And of course, in true Hollywood style, there is paint on the walls, glass in the windows, and curtains, a fire, lamps, and even the two names on the door together, proclaiming in script “Calam and Katie’s place” by the end of the song. Calam even puts on a dress, and as soon as that happens, Day starts to sing in Lady Voice—the Doris Day we’re all used to, as opposed to the gruff chewing the scenery voice we’ve heard before. In fact, most of the movie the rule is man pants=gruff voice and dress=lady voice. After all, Calam has never seen a woman like Katie, or seemingly a woman at all (even though they pop up now and again in Deadwood, like dead wood, when they’re needed in dances). From the plot, you’d think Calamity had never seen a woman in her entire life, thought she does offer cloth to one at the beginning. Perhaps they are cloistered away to sew, only allowed out to buy cloth before retiring to their warrens. ( “It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”)

But all is not well in paradise. Both of the men want Katie. I’m not going to get into here, but basically Calam shows up at a dance (on the way to which everyone sings about The Black Hills—Indian country that I love), everyone is surprised, shocked, and thrilled. Then the lieutenant kisses Katie and it’s on! Calam shoots at Katie, using her gruff man voice while wearing a lady dress. The world is upside down! She is hurt, she is betrayed. She even goes throws Katie out, and threatens her on stage. Katie shoots at her, and Calam leaves. Bill follows, and of course, kisses her. And then they immediately are in love, since they supposedly were all the time. (“It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”) Day then gets to sing “Secret Love” in man pants and lady voice (though now her man-pants are form-fitting lady pants, so they make her feel silky, I guess, and sing like a woman). I thought about how different the song would’ve been if Mercedes McCambridge was singing it dressed like she was in Johnny Guitar, but that lesbian moment is not to be, even though the song is rife with homo-tones. Anyhow, Calam is so happy, but arrives to find Katie has left since the last thing she wanted to do was hurt Calam. Oh no! Calam gallops off, brings Katie back, and there’s a double wedding, where Calam wears a really silky white dress. But in the end, she gets her man, pants, a horse and a gun and her lady-voice all at once! And she gets to drive the stage while they all go off to ? ( “It doesn’t need to make sense, it’s a MUSICAL!”) All’s right with the world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Outfest part 1

Saw some movies this weekend at Outfest, and here are my thoughts:

Friday night I went to see Saturn in Opposition at the recommendation of a friend, and I really enjoyed it. In light of recent events, I don’t know that I would have seen it if I had known that one of the central characters has a freak brain hemorrhage as the inciting incident, but I’m glad I did. The actors were uniformly good, it was well shot, and it had that European way of having normal looking attractive people as the leads, rather than models from the planet SpaFinish who happened to alight on this planet with perfect hair at all times. And they live in a Roman apartment that seemed manageable. There was a summer house involved, so got some jollies on the real estate front. A little Big Chill-ish, but ultimately enjoyable and bittersweet with memorable performances. Wistful in the same way that Steam, his earlier feature, was with a strong sense of loss and place.

Saturday started off with a documentary on Samuel Delaney, the prolific black gay writer called The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delaney, Gentleman. He wrote Sci Fi for much of his career, but has also written a lot about sex, public sex and personal relations. I think the only thing I’ve read of his is “Blood and Wine” about his meeting a homeless man who eventually became (and still is) his partner. Being relatively unfamiliar with the rest of his story and his work left me open to experience this without preconceptions.
The filmmaker, Fred Barney Taylor, uses old movies, photographs, DV, and his own images to create a portrait of Delaney that is as tangential as his fiction supposedly is. Here was a great opportunity to talk to the filmmaker about his goals with the film (which he bristled at being called a documentary). Delaney is certainly an interesting subject, and as a companion piece with the Keith Haring doc I saw later in the day (which was much more conventional) this film was enlightening on gay sex in the pre-AIDS era, as well as two artists whose desires seem to be only to create and have sex. In fact, speaking later to some people who saw it they said the lesbians they’ve known who’ve seen it were turned off by Delaney’s frank sex talk, and that he had so much sex while married in the early sixties (according to him about 10 partners a day). This while writing and publishing 5 books in the space of 3 years. You certainly get an idea of his energy.
The filmmaker juxtaposed clips of the family (e.g. Father’s Day 1952) amongst talks of sex, the trucks in the village, and explanations of sex spaces in the 60s and 70s. I was actually a little put off, as I found none of the juxtapositions to be enlightening to any other clip around it. Usually, I prefer those kinds of moments to force me to look at something in a new light, but mostly this came off to me as jumbled and confusing. You definitely get a sense of his intelligence, curiosity and loquaciousness, and in some ways I was reminded of reading Before Night Falls, where you have the impression that all Arenas really wants to do is write and screw. And Delaney says as much in the beginning, I think calling himself a “boring old fag” who just sees himself as a vehicle for writing. You get a good deal of history, though, and some fascinating ideas. The two most interesting to me were his idea of the violence of transition, and the nature of reality as shifting brought up in an installation by a Scandinavian artist with text from his book Dahlgren. In it, the shifting space makes for a constantly changing landscape, calling to mind for me a production of Vanya that a friend of mine was in once where the walls of the house kept shifting so the characters never knew where they were.
I think the filmmaker was trying to be illustrative of this in his conctruction of the movie, but as I said, it felt to me more confusing than illuminating. That could just be my bias—I understand the idea of chaos as an end in and of itself, with any illumination an accident, but I don’t find it that compelling to watch. I think at base it’s an interesting movie, but the filmmaker felt like he was too close to the subject, and actually may have suffered by writing, directing, and editing it himself. I think an outside eye may have been helpful. He did say, though, that he wanted to make a piece of work rather than a doc, so in that sense that’s what he did. There are probably a few films that could’ve been made about this guy.

Later that afternoon I saw the Keith Haring documentary, the Universe of Keith Haring. This was much more of a standard bio pic. It was interesting, and apparent that he really was compelled to make art. There was certainly a joy in it and that’s obvious to watch. It also made me nostalgic for that 80’s time of creativity, while making me wonder if that’s the last time that people will do things like rent a space and have performance parties. It does feel like the internet has changed that. And certainly the lack of availability of space in NY means it’s much harder to just move there with a bunch of friends and start doing art. Aside from my nostalgia and cultural theorizing, it was a good doc, though full of strange gaps. Once he is diagnosed with AIDS, the interviews with his family kind of peter off, and there are a lot of threads started that are dropped-theomst glaring being a friend saying that Keith asked him to tell his family of his diagnosis for him, but no information (though they were all interviewed) on how that happened or was received. I did love the footage of him drawing on the subway walls spontaneously, bringing art just for the sake of it. And he seemed to only want to draw and have sex/fall in love with young latino men. That was interesting. Not so followed up, but fun to see, as was the footage of the Paradise Garage. And interesting to see his connection with Warhol, as he was certainly the most likely follow up to Pop Art, which was the name of his store.
And I did learn that Yoko Ono can talk to the dead, and Keith told her what to do with his ashes. I love that. Weird to remember all that performance stuff, that I came in on the way tail end of. Weird how much has changed in a short amount of time, if only in the way people gather and communicate

On Saturday night I saw Ma Saison Super 8, which was not so super. It concerns a group of students focusing on getting the first gay/lesbian/feminist student organizations started in France around the time of the May 68 protests and the time following. The revolutionaries (big surpise) don’t have much support for them, neither do the police. The story centers on one boy, his roommate and their assorted romances. Heterosexual normalcy and gay solitude win sway in the end, as they always do. Much typing in underwear as I guess the French love to do (see “Before I Forget”) I didn’t really have any issue with the story, it was more the actual film itself. The film starts out with Super 8 clips introducing each section, which, if I remember correctly, kind of goes away as the film goes on. The super 8 morphs into video, which was the distraction. The orange lighting and quality of the tape made me feel like I was watching a tele-play from 1974. So though the story might have held some interest aside from pacing issues, the actual tape made me feel like I was watching actors, so I never lost myself in it. I remember watching “Uncommon Woman and Others” taped circa 1977 for PBS. I knew it was a play, but otherwise credible actors like Swoosie Kurtz and Jill Eikenberry looked horribly “acty” and Meryl Streep was the only one to come off looking good—this was like that. So the whole thing felt like I was watching an episode of “Alice” or “Barney Miller” projected. The actors were fine I think, and both the young girl and young boy had compelling moments, but otherwise it was a bit of a slog. I thought it was about two hours long, only to emerge from the theatre and see that the movie was 75 minutes. But if you love May 1968 films, add this to your list.

On Sunday I started the day with Before I Forget. It concerns an aging 60 year old hustler who is a writer, waiting for his inheritance from his Sugar Daddy. The action concerns mostly his smoking a lot, and writing, once in a t-shirt with no briefs, smoking some more, intent on pages of writing we never see. Then he goes to friends and complains, has younger hustlers or grocery boys over for embarrassing scenes of commercial sex, and smokes some more. He meets another hustler who just got out for prison, talks about Roland Barthes and public toilets, and smokes some more. I was thinking perhaps the movie exists to inspire a sense of ennui in the viewer, which it certainly does. I had no idea that Nolot was actually a hustler/gigolo/kept in real life, knew Roland Barthes, and wrote and directed as well as starred in this. No one finds his own neurosis more interesting than a narcissist with a camera. I don't know if this is true, but the rumor makes the choice of making the film make more sense. So we get to see him in all his imagined/real decrepitude living his life and worrying about money and sex. And it’s the kind of film where an elderly lawyer wants to blow a client in exchange for services (no pun intended) while his wife waits in the next room. It’s a page out of Genet, but told by Edward Hopper. Maybe he’s like the Vincent Gallo of France or something, and the movie had a slight emotional impact, but to me it was a long anti-smoking PSA. There were a few moments of excitement and action, but just long stretches of boredom. I get that life can be like that, but I don’t need to watch it, really. On the other hand, it is nice to see something besides young characters coming out on screen, though I'm not sure this narrative is what I would've asked for under my tree at Christmas.

And on Sunday night Hamlet 2 just rocked. It’s offensive-ish, but just funny. Steve Coogan is great, and Catherine Keener is perfect, hysterical with underpinning of real feeling and character. Amy Poehler is great, the musical numbers cracked me up, and the kids are a hoot. I’ll see it again.

Yay film festivals!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1939

So, for the legendary year, we look at the Supporting Actresses from legendary (and not so legendary) pictures. I'll start with the not so first. SL's post goes up first thing Sunday....

Edna May Oliver in Drums Along the Mohawk

First let me say I am not a colonial history fan. This movie does not encourage me very much. It's a mess of tone, but what can be said of Oliver is that if anyone in the movie manages to find one, it's her. She's brash, she's bold. She's frontiersy. She's certainly the only interesting thing in the movie, but in this one that's not saying alot. Fonda is uninteresting--sounding still as if he came out of Nebraska 100 years before there was one to come out of, and Colbert doesn't do much, either, except whimper or shine. Oliver's performance, as a lot in this movie are, is broad. And even though I liked her the most, I really didn't care. But so glad there was an "hysterical house darkie" in this movie, too, for no apparent reason. Just goes to show we're watching movies from the '30s. Good times.

Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Affair

I was thoroughly charmed by this movie, and completely on the force of Irene Dunne, who I now realized the adjective "winning" must have been created for. She and Charles Boyer made me buy this thin little thread of a story. And they are helped along considerably by the warm presence of Ouspenskaya. Her relationship with Boyer feels real, as does her immediate understanding of the Dunne character. Is it the best thing ever? No, but it's a very capable, memorable performance in a movie that requires the plot hinge on it. I still remember her face falling as she says "I hate ships whistles". Warm, inviting performance in an old school charmer of a film

Geraldine Fitzgerald in Wuthering Heights

This movie is all about Olivier and Oberon, so anyone else just better get out of the way. Fitzgerald is servicable in a role that is there mostly to show how cruel Heathcliff and Cathy's love is. She's great in the one scene where she has to tell off Cathy, but it's a boomerang of a role, and for the most part unsurprising. I wasn't really interested in her trajectory, but probably because it was telegraphed before it happened

Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind

I do love this performance, if only for what Hattie McDaniel manages to do with a part that was written as comic relief. Every action she does is done out of care, and it's that grounding that keeps any humor honest, and adds the extra depth of feeling that is not immediately obvious at all. She's not on screen alot, but when she is she's a proxy for what we're thinking a lot of the time, cutting through Scarlett's BS to what is good (and bad) about what she's doing. A deft performance in a role that could've been completely ridiculous.

Olivia deHavilland in Gone With the Wind

I love this performance as well, and suprised that I did. deHavilland makes Melanie's goodness inviting and not cloying, which is no small feat. In a part that could've easily been a self-righteous goody goody, deHavilland shows us a woman who underneath is trying to be the best self she can possibly be, and give everyone else that same credit. It's not a showy performance, which it could've fallen into as well, and also succeeds in having us never question why Scarlett would keep Melanie around. She makes Scarlett better, too.

All in all, it was a suprising year in hindsight. My list would more than likely not have included Fitzgerald or Oliver, though possibly Ouspenskaya. It's interesting that these movies are all templates for those that would come after--historical costume drama, epic, romance. So even though these may not have been my pics, perhaps they are most representative. I may have included Butterfly McQueen, though that role is much more disturbing than Hattie McDaniel's, and probably one of the most frustrating/annoying characters on film--GWTW does nothing half way. I might have added one of the women--Russell, Crawford--there's many to choose from. And maybe Margaret Hamilton in Oz. It's interesting looking at the year that it has more memorable lead performances (Garbo in Ninotchka anyone?), but not so many supporting that stand out for me immediately. And I do have to say that Leigh is brilliant in Gone With the Wind. I was truly blown away. I really do think it's one of the most perfect marriages to actress and character I've seen on film. We can't let 1939 go without saying that. And I still have HOURS of DVD extras to watch. Yippee...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Madeline Kahn appreciation day

Madeline Kahn appreciation day on Stinkylulu. Unfortunately, today has not left me a huge amount of time to blog, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts.

I was thinking about which movie to write on, and remembered I have What’s Up, Doc, which I have seen so many times it feels almost uneccessary to watch again. Eunice Burns. Madeline Kahn’s debut was (and is) spectacular. She controls the screen as Eunic, against some real comic heavyweights playing bizarre characters, among them Austin Pendleton and Kenneth Mars. In the midst of this, it’s Eunice we remember. Her being dragged out of the ballroom, her next to the wig that is styled to look exactly as her own hair would look in that style, and favorite line readings like “Those are Howard’s rocks.” Eunice manages, and by the end of the movie finds someone perfect to manage. It’s Kahn’s comedic sense of purpose that keeps the role so laser sharp. That voice! And even more I was realizing thinking about favorite roles of hers, her body.
She is all angles as Eunice, a big square trying to make herself look rounded. But as Trixie in Paper Moon she is all curves. Once again, she is laser sharp in her character, and aware of what Trixie has to offer. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role, but I certainly can’t imagine another actress summing up an entire character, her pathos, self knowledge, and place in the world with “Let Miss Trixie sit up front with her big tits.” Hysterical and heartbreaking, which was her specialty.
Mel Brooks used her to great effect several times, most notably with the back to back whammy of “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles”. In one an uptight society matron that needs a surprise visit from a monster to bring her in touch with her sexuality, and in the other a sexual creature who thinks she knows it all and is surprised by love. Both of these roles are a hoot, but she brings a bit of class to the proceedings, using her voice and body to fill out, if you will, the characters. There are too many lines to quote here, but you probably know most of them yourself. Watching her hit Marty Feldman with her purse is worth the price of admission. I could go on and on if I had time, but for some many reasons, I think Madeline Kahn is one the top comedic film actresses ever.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1999

So tomorrow morning, Stinkylulu is doing the 1999 supporting actress smackdown. So here are my picks.

Overall, it's a strange experience where you're looking at actresses who are currently in the prime of their careers. We're still watching them, and now reviewing performances that are the crystallization of that thing they do in most cases, is wierdly offputting, meaning I felt I couldn't be as objective as this usually feels with a little more distance. This is also the first year where I still have memories of watching the majority of these films when they were released. Overall, it's a strong year, but I was kind of surprised at which performances fell flat a bit for me. So here goes

Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense. I loved this performance. I do love Toni Collette, even though I feel some of her earlier performances were a little "actory". This is the first performance I was really blown away by, feeling that she dropped doing to much and did just enough. And in that, delivers the scene that I remember most in the movie. I think the nomination is probably based on that scene, but watching it again makes me realize it's the woman she's set up, the one who cares for her son deeply, that makes it as resonant as it is. It's a great scene, but her more than solid work before that makes it even more brilliant. It's my favorite performance in the film by far. Even more than Mischa Barton as Linda Blair.

Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. She delivers what by now feels a standard Jolie performance--fascinating, energy sucking, combative, more than present. She takes any light in the room, and is fascinating on screen. The perf feels almost bigger than the movie, and it's one of the three in this year that verges on lead. She does great work, and pulls us into the character the way Ryder's character is. Strangely, though, I didn't quite believe the scene in the basement (perhaps because what came before it was so in your face it was challenging to believe this character would breakdown; perhaps because I have difficulty with any time I'm supposed to believe Ryder as assertive). I do think it's a great performance, and like Sevigny is the catalyst for most that happens, but it's second for me to Collette. And in the end, I was more emotionally interested in the scenes with Britanny Murphy--even to the point of feeling that hers is the most suprising performances of the film. And I love Ryder's mental istitution equivalent of the workout montage (I need to find the link from Stinkylulu, but he's written about it in most male/army films)

Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich. I love this movie. I kept watching it thinking "I can't believe this got made". Still. Against all odds, it would seem, it completely works. Diaz gives one of her best performances freed of having to be the most chipper and beautiful girl in the room, and there are some brilliant supporting performances from Mary Kay Place and Orson Bean. He's just excellent. Keener does almost a fantasia of her own tough cookie, smart and sassy broad roles she's known for, seemingly speaking only in lines that most actors would have as subtext for something much more polite. Her scenes have a great improv feel to them, and I can't imagine anyone else in the role. Like Jolie, though, I think it's almost another lead. I also don't quite think there is much of a transformation in the character. Maybe it's shortcoming of the script, but it feels that she's having such a great time being arch that the other stuff falls a bit away. And without that, I don't quite believe the ending.

Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown. I don't think she's helped at all by the script (though it must have been easy to learn her lines--haHA), but I was left a little confused by the character. I did leave wondering if she was slow, challenged, or just easily confused. Unfortunately, she's constructed as something for Penn's great characterization to bounce against. As such she does her job, and some of her luminous comes forward, but I was mostly confused about what she was thinking, or if she was thinking, and then equally confounded why the main character was so pulled to her. I saw her trying to bring the tenderness to the role and give us some hook into the relationship, but she ended up feeling like an incomplete thought from the director. I remember her moment with the tire, and caught some transendence there, as well as a the poignancy of the last scene, but the performance in the end was disappointing to me. And that's sad, because I really love her as an actress. And I love the director, and his choice of actresses. It's a wierd disappointment for me from both of them, mostly I think from him. It even makes me sad to write that. :(

Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry. How this movie was passed over for Best Picture in favor of Cider House Rules and The Green Mile is beyond me. It's brilliant. Even more considering she made it in thirty days. It's emotionally devastating, and driven by an astounding central performance. Hilary Swank more than deserved that Oscar, especially since I think she kind of pulls Sevigny along with her on some level.This is the third perf along with Jolie and Keener that's almost a second lead. Sevingy's native insousiance works for the bored teenager Lana, but she's unable to break through it later in the film. Though she's definitely present, she comes alive more in the intimacy of the relationship than when the sh** really starts to hit the fan. It's during the violence and the difficulties where she feels a little lost to me, losing the screen to what's happening around her. I just didn't believe that anything that awful was happening, and her breaks felt more like tantrums. Incomplete for me, but in no way diminishing Swank's accomplishment or the brilliance of the film.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

p123 meme

Stinkylulu just tagged me for the p123 meme. So here are the rules and here's my entry.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Locate the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.

That might be more damaging in the long run.
"Who is it?" he came right out at lunch once and asked her. "Who is it?"

From "Knights and Dragons", a novella by Elizabeth Spencer in the collection that includes "The Light in the Piazza". I'm still reading the first one, and I don't know if I will read "Knights and Dragons". I'm even more amazed at the musical now, by the way.

I'm tagging some live journal people over at LiveJournal, but who knows?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gay Film

Last night, at the Tuesday dinner I go to with a bunch of men to watch trashy television, I brought up the subject of gay film since I've been kind of wondering about Stinklylulu's questions he posed:

One: what's the most tedious trend in gay film? Two: what work does independent queer cinema have left to do? In short, what do you hate and what do you most yet hope to see?

There were some really interesting and enlightening answers. I was challenged for sure, and as always, that makes you hone your ideas into a more cogent cohesive form. For me, it was the above question that we ended up talking about. Here is a random report as I remember it, and then my thoughts as well.

Two men said that there was not a good gay film between Longtime Companion and Brokeback. We brought up that the current generation (those kids!) didn't really have AIDS as a motivator or looking at their sexuality as a disease to get over (to which Sean replied "Well, good!" which is very true). Someone said they didn't need to see specific gay content, and still others talked about gay actors. Someone brought up that actors should be able to play anything they'd like, and I said Tyler Perry wouldn't cast an all white cast in his film to pass them off as black, so why is it such a thing that straight actors play gay characters and gay actors aren't allowed? One person volunteered that he doesn't buy gay actors as straight once he knows they're gay. I asked why do we allow straight actors to play gay then? Wish fulfillment was his answer, which is probably true--we want to pretend straight actors are gay, but not the other way around. I have a feeling it may be something about emasculating them by coming out as well, though who knows. I think that's another interesting topic, but a side note. And there was a strong voice telling us he liked it when we were more secret, off the map, liminal--finding ourselves as thieves and drunks or on the edges of other stories.

I was asking why we need gay film at all, and I seem to keep coming to the fact that we need to see ourselves, and not just in the "swish'n'fetchit" roles that we seem to suddenly be relegated to. You know, we're the "fairy" godfathers who make sure the straight couples meet, fall in love, and have a tastefully appointed place to go to. That's when we get out of our narcissism or boy chasing. Though never having sex. And, of course, most of the images are completely body conscious. I think it's interesting that two of the most out of character gay men created recently are on "The Sarah Silverman" show, created by a straight woman. And Brokeback was written by a straight woman, adapted by a straight woman and straight man, and directed by a straight man starring two straight actors. My big question is, and still unanswered, why are we seeming to not be telling more nuanced stories? I don't think it's impossible, but I find myself going to European cinema for more interesting portrayals of gays (Adventures of Felix and Bearcub being two recent examples, though I've loved I am My Own Wife, My Beautiful Laundrette, Beautiful Thing). I know this gets into (as was pointed out last night) that I'm thinking there is a "correct" way for us to represent ourselves. I don't. But I do think we have this glut of images that are making us somehow see ourselves as homogenous. And it's fascinating to me that I hear people saying we don't really need gay film, representation, anything since we're everywhere now and people accept us. I don't think that's true. There is still much to be done. But the danger in this is a generation losing its voice and believing what its being marketed--I think there is a danger that by thinking we don't need to tell specifically gay stories that we will lose our voice altogether. There is a new stereotype being created, and we're buying into it. I know this is a problem with representation with any "minority." I also think there is so much homophobia out there, even with ourselves, that we find it challenging still to even see ourselves and our relationships in a serious light.

I also think we need to tell stories that deal with us as complex adults outside of a coming out or disease narrative. If there is anything that irks me about gay film it's that you have to be under thirty and have little body fat to be interesting--unless it's a comedy. I suppose this is just a microcosm of Hollywood, but still--I'd love to see it challenged. One of the most interesting things that was said last night was when I mentioned Robert Patrick's exhortation to younger gay writers to read what's out there already so they don't tell the same story. Someone said "Did he tell you also that he writes porn reviews for {I can't remember the name}? That's what he does to make money." And it's telling. I don't know his life, but I do know he wrote Kennedy's Children, and many specifically gay plays, and obviously doesn't make his living at it now. But for someone who has had a play on Broadway, and writes specifically gay material (like his Decades plays, which I really love), there is not a larger market. Perhaps it is all a question of the market. People have skin in their movies because it sells. Jeff Stryker sells out shows here because at the end he takes off his clothes. That's the world. If I have one wish for queer independent cinema, it's to tell real stories. I know money and sex are great motivators, but I'm hoping we can see more of things when it's not. I feel sometimes that there is a lot of gay content, and it's all the same.

Then again, so is most of Hollywood. So I guess my wish for queer cinema is my wish for all cinema: tell us a good story. Don't bore me.

And you know--this probably isn't even fair and slightly reductive, considering things like "Brothers and Sisters" and "Line of Beauty", but that's English. Anyhow, it's interesting to think about now that content in all media is increasing, and we are finding our place in it. And I don't even have logo, so I'm bad. Or just lucky? Hee hee. More further along.....

Thursday, March 27, 2008


It’s taken me a while to write about this. I’m unsure why; I perhaps thought the production would make more sense to me after a time away. Or maybe I thought I would like it more. But no, I just wasn’t as bowled over as I expected to be by the revival of Sweeney Todd directed by John Doyle currently at the Ahmanson. The reasons may have to do with the space, the nature of roadshows, or perhaps just the choices made. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed overall.
The production opens on a Cornell box of a stage—wooden slats lit from beneath and raked for a floor, with a back wall about twice as high. In the center of the back of the stage is a column of detritus—discarded, rusting odds and ends. At the base of this is a piano. Around the stage are chairs with performers. There is a coffin on sawhorses in the middle. Upstage left is a door. The door is frosted, possibly clinical looking. Some of the actors/musicians wear lab coats. Tobias, or the actor playing him, is in a straight jacket. As he starts to sing “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, attendants come and take off his jacket and hand him a violin.
Immediately, my mind goes to Marat/Sade. Great, I thought, we’ll have this whole extra-textual thing going on, where the inmates of the asylum play all the instruments while they enact out Sweeney Todd for some therapeutic purpose. Perhaps, even more interestingly, it’s all happening in Toby’s mind. Unfortunately for me, none of that seemed to be true. It revealed itself to be a clever and interesting visual trick, but no underlying sense to the world. This is, for some plays, not a really big deal. Godot could be set in space. Hamlet has been staged everywhere from a palace to a truck pull. Sweeney Todd, though, has a fairly specific vernacular, place, and trajectory that set it where it is. And if you move that setting, then I would hope it would be for some reason to illuminate what you have. If not, it’s theatrical, but missing bite. Now I can completely blame this on my being too literal, or wanting something that this revival was not interested in giving, but I do feel if you make a choice that’s this dramatic, why not go all the way? If it is a nightmare that Tobias is having, why is everyone so predictable? And if it is in an asylum, who are these people? Why are they telling this story? As it is, we have a story that references place and time constantly, but set in another. I really have no problem resetting this story, but when you make a strong visual choice it’s frustrating when there seems to be no follow through. Or just haphazard. There were suggestions of asylum, suggestions of nightmare, but everything was left amorphous. In a piece as ferocious as Sweeney Todd, I feel like things should not be a suggestion but an exclamation.
Like I said, perhaps it’s the space. The Ahmanson is large, and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t see this in a more intimate space in London when I had the chance. It could be that some of these choices were made, but I couldn’t see them in the enormity of the space. As it was, the production only raised questions for me. Why were these people in lab coats? Why are they playing instruments? If they are in an asylum, why is Sweeney allowed to have a razor blade? But even with those questions answered, I think the show took an interesting visual idea and went too far, but not far enough. I like the idea of a small, chamber, theatrical Sweeney. But for me, putting instruments in the hands of the actors makes them more than just the characters they play. So I want to know why they are playing the instruments. I want to know how the instruments are relating to each other, and why. And although there are a couple of interesting examples of this—Johanna and Antony both playing the cello; Mrs. Lovett with a tuba—for the most part the choices are more expedient.
It may have been, too, that casting actors who play instruments limits casting choices. The actor playing the judge was so wooden I had to make up his role in my head. He was almost actively bad. I liked Judy Kaye, but was not blown away, and I thought the guy who played Sweeney was fine. No one really captured my imagination. I guess in the end I just felt like there were interesting choices that just made me ask more questions than illuminate what was happening on stage. I spent much of the show thinking “wow, this would have been a great moment to illuminate this”, but seeing nothing there. Like I said, I could have just been too literal. I like my questions answered, and seeing things that surprise and shock me. I know it was bringing a new eye to something we’ve seen before, but it just didn’t quite hold together for me.
There was one wonderful moment, when the music stopped and the sound blood being poured from the bucket signifying one of the last killings was allowed to reverberate through the house. This was probably the most exciting, chilling moment of the show. And it was provided by a bucket.

Conversely, I loved the revival of Company starring Raul Esparza that I saw recently on PBS. Closeups, I admit, may have helped. Here, though, I loved the space, I loved the instruments, and the performances were spot on for me (except the one guy who was the judge in the LA Sweeney, who seems wooden close-up as well).
Company is an odd piece. I always feel like there are 5 or so people I remember—Bobby, Joanne, Amy, April, Marta, and the rest just kind of fade away into a haze. Who are those people again? What are their names? Why can’t I remember any of the other guys?
This production added two elements to solve that problem. The instruments meant that I could track people more, and their relationships continued after there one big scene and the incidentals. He plays a trumpet and she plays a flute? Ah, that makes perfect sense—he’s muting himself, and she’s wants to be heard above everything. She can be kind of shrill. And they’re competitive—you’re not sure if they belong together.
Also, keeping everyone on stage means that we see them in constant relationship to each other. And, best of all, they are constantly around and in Bobby’s life. This is something that I felt was missing from the other productions I’ve seen of this. All the couples went on and off stage. Bobby was on all the time. By having everyone on stage all the time, literally providing accompaniment to his life, we understand why Bobby needs to distance himself at the end. And when he finally is alone, and blows out his candles, we breathe a sigh of relief with him. I had never gotten that before. Adding “Marry Me a Little” to eh end of act one helps, too, which they did in the 95 production. This Company had an emotional arc and cohesiveness that I hadn’t experienced with this piece before. This set, too, and the costumes felt more “New York” to me than any I have seen.
I last saw this with Boyd Gaines, Debra Monk, and Jane Krakowski in ‘95. I liked it, but this production had much more of a cosmopolitan flair. I also just liked the performances more. Barbara Walsh was surprising as Joann, a role that seems to belong to Elaine Stritch. I also was taken by Elizabeth Stanley, whose April was sweet, and much more interesting than she gives herself credit for.
I still think it’s a flawed show—amazing music with an entertaining but thin book—it’s one of those experiments in trying to catch the feeling of living in the city with the structure of the piece—Boris Aronson famously did this with the original set. This was the first time I was emotionally engaged and felt that feeling of closeness and busy-ness without connection—possibly due to Raul Esparza’s tony-winning performance as Bobby. But he was certainly buoyed by the tone of this production, and like I said, it had a cohesiveness I hadn’t seen before. Loved it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Red Shoes

A friend did a great job for a recent blog-a-thon, something like theHey, Internet, Stop being such cynical f-ing douchebags blog-a-thon, which just seems endlessly entertaining. The idea is to write about a movie that just fills you with unbridled joy. I immediately wanted to write something, but then things got busy, and I only had that one day, so I didn't. But it's stuck in my mind. So I'm doing it now.

How many movies fill me with unbridled joy? A lot. Nights of Cabiria, All About my Mother, Beautiful Thing, the list is actually pretty long. But there was one movie that just kept coming up in my mind. I first saw it when I was about 15, and it captured my heart.

Powell & Pressburger's MASTERPIECE (yes, I'm yelling it at you) about a doomed ballerina who is forced to choose between the career she loves and the man she loves. WATCH THE TRAILER!

See, I'm Jewish (Russian/Eastern European) and Irish. Which means that for me to truly, to my very soul, love love love something, there has to be a tinge of melancholy to it. Some kind of sadness, like honey to bring out the flavor of your tea. Not that I don't love complete silliness like the Muppets, or Carol Burnett, but even as I write that I notice there is always some poignancy in their silliness; some humanity that takes the humor and drops it directly into your heart. Does the Red Shoes do that? Not really, but I LOVE IT ANYWAY! I love it for the dancing, the melodrama, the fabulous costumes, the insane dialogue, the dancing, the COLOR! that makes the film look like it's hand tinted. And of course, the timeless story of the girl who danced until her feet were stumps and then died. Love you, Hans.

The story concerns a ballet hopeful, Miss Victoria Page, played brilliantly by Moira Shearer, a fiery redhead who wants to dance so badly that she cannot separate it from her will to live

"Monsieur Lermontov, I am that horror"

Lermontov: Why do you dance?
Vicki: Why do you live?
Lermontov: I don't know why exactly....but I must
Vicki: Well that is my answer, too.

IT'S ON! Meanwhile, we are watching a young composer who is brought on to assist the orchestra after telling Lermontov that his professor stole much of his music for the ballet that Lermontov's company was performing, called "Heart Of Fire". From this scene comes one of my favorite lines, "Remember, it is more disheartening to have to steal, than to be stolen from.....good day. (drop sugar cube in cup and dismiss)

Did I mention that Lermontov is played by Anton Walbrook, an actor I just found out was half-Jewish, gay, and feld the nazis, as well as acted in four languages in his career? Well, it is, and I can honestly say that it's for me one of my favorite performances on screen ever. Ever.

I really love so much about this movie. I love that Ludmilla Tcherina cannot pronounce Julian Kraster, and says "kwastuw" instead. I love that Leonid Massine not only choreographed the whole thing, but also is supporting in it. I love that the supporting male ballet start looks about 50! See him here, as the dancing newspaper:

And can we talk about the costumes? There is one giant blue dress that's particularly insane. There's a 20 minute full ballet right in the middle of the friggin' movie! I LOVE IT! Granted, for some reason I particularly love the ballet docs, and movies, but this one just gets everything right. And since it's 1948 it's done in gorgeous stunning technicolor. Look at these shoes!

I won't get too plot heavy, but Vicki becomes a huge star, after Lermontov sees her dancing to a record in small theater in Stadler Wells:

Check out the red dots!

But she falls in love and leaves the ballet for Julian while they work on a new ballet, the Red Shoes.

Lermontov: The Ballet of The Red Shoes" is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on.

NO ONE ELSE ever dances the ballet of the Red Shoes, and she is brought back on the night of the premiere of Julian's piece to dance. Lermontov convinces her. WITNESS THE DRAMA!

He's tearing her a-pa-ha-ha-hart! Sadness! Melodrama! Maids screaming about curtain times in French! What is there for her to do?! I can't tell you. You'll have to see the movie. But I will tell you that Anton Walbrook's curtain speech is worth the price of admission.

I love this movie. I just love it. There's so much more. I won't bore you. But I will tell you that Martin Scorcese names this film among his most important influences. IT'S THAT GOOD.

"One day when I'm old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me, "Tell me, where in your long life, Mr. Craster, were you most happy?" And I shall say, 'Well, my dear, I never knew the exact place. It was somewhere on the Mediterranean. I was with Victoria Page." "What?" she will say. "Do you mean the famous dancer?" I will nod. "Yes, my dear, I do. Then she was quite young, comparatively unspoiled. We were, I remember, very much in love."

Victoria: Julian?
Julian: Yes, my darling?
Victoria: Take of the red shoes.


Friday, March 21, 2008

My dinner with.....

Stinkylulu tagged me for the truly entertaining My dinner with..." meme. It gave me pause, but then I got a very clear picture of who it would be. And after trying to figure out somebody else, it occured to me it could only be...

My dinner with Harvey Fierstein. After all, if he can do that, and this:

And On Broadway as well, wouldn't you?

So here's the meme

1. Pick a single person, past or present, in the film industry who you'd like to have dinner with, and tell us why you chose this person

I was flirting with the idea of Anton Walbrook, who starred in the Red Shoes, because he not only acted in hour languages but was gay, half Jewish, and left Germany under the Nazis. And then there are there are the usual suspects--Michaelangelo, Jesus, Joan of Arc (were you really inspired or just tres fou?). And of course, I would love to have an audience with Dolly Parton. But other people can have a serious dinner and report back to me. And I was definitely feeling a gay vibe, which was surprising to me. So I picked Harvey because he has made a career in the theatre from a very young age, a career that includes the birth of off-Broadway, playwrighting, Broadway, movies, Tony Awards, and both sides of the gender line. And I'm sure he's got amazing stories. And he seems always a great balance of silly, level headed, smart, saavy, warm, and intelligent. And I love the kind of underground theatre he was involved in that is nowhere near as feasible or available as it once was. Not to mention being one of the first out nationally known actors EVAH! (And I have a sneaking suspicion this is about how I would look in drag):

2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

I was dating a guy in DC once, who came up to NY and wanted to go to his favorite Italian restaurant, Po. It's on Cornelia in the West Village. So I'm there, and I use the restrooom, which is covered with newspaper stories about this exact space being Caffe Cino, on of the birthplaces of Off-Broadway, the place where the careers of Lanford Wilson, Sam Shephard, Robert Patrick, and Harvey Fierstein were launched. I freaked out, basically, much to the confusion of the people I was with. And it's a few blocks away from La Mama, ETC, where he played Jackie Curtis' mother in law and workshopped the individual parts of Torch Song. So it would have to be Po. We would have an entertaining and tasty pasta dinner, followed by a stroll through the village talking about all the theatre and performance that happened down there, from Barbra at the Bon Soir to the Factory girls at La Mama, and what Julius was like when it was the place to go. Hee. There would probably be two other friend as well, but not too large a group. I would love it to be one of those early summer nights where the air is cool and the humidity is low. The moon is full and the air is luscious enough that you just don't want to sleep. The perfect night for strolling and talking. Perhaps Magnolia for cupcakes?

3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner

1. Who most influenced you out of all the amazing people you have had the opportunity to work with?
2. Is there a hat you most enjoying wearing out of all you have--acting, playwrighting, book-writing, activist?
3. You seem to mention shopping a lot in interviews. What do you love so much about it?
4. What's your favorite turkey you've been in?
5. How do you feel the atmosphere for gay performers/writers, etc., has changed during the time you've been involved in theatre and movies (if at all)?
and the optional 6. How do you manage to be so darn inspiring? And tell me about this (and working with Anne Bancroft)....

4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to. Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre, so that people know the mastermind behind this Meme.

Dave E-ticket; Sean Zombietruckstop; matt Mattycub; Patrick of Man.Hat.In; Alonso Moroccomole, and Matt of Aloof Dork