Friday, April 28, 2017

My Chat with Kevin Spacey

The late, great Jack Lemmon would be so proud of him.  Just like Lemmon, Kevin Spacey's mentor, Spacey is a two-time Oscar winner.  Both he and Jack Lemmon received their first Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor category.  Their second came in the Best Actor category.  Kevin Spacey won for THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) and AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999).
Kevin Spacey is good at drama, good at comedy, and he's a good singer.  If you saw the NBC special saluting Tony Bennett for his 90th birthday last year, you know exactly what I mean.  Spacey, who did all his vocals in his Bobby Darin biopic, 2004's BEYOND THE SEA, was in absolutely fantastic voice singing on TONY BENNETT CELEBRATES 90.  I wonder if Spacey will sing as the Tony Awards host for the June11th telecast airing on CBS.

After the Tonys are handed out in New York City, Queens will see Kevin Spacey in solo action.  According to the website, Spacey will play Clarence Darrow, the legendary lawyer, in a one-man show at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens.  This show will be a 2-night event, June 15th and 16th.  The 90-minute play about the famed American Civil Liberties attorney premiered on Broadway in 1974.  Henry Fonda played Darrow.  Ticket for Spacey's production go on sale April 30th.
Spacey has a hot hit on Netflix with HOUSE OF CARDS.  In it, he's a ruthless and charismatic Washington, DC politician named Frank Underwood.
When I met Mr. Spacey last year, he had played a real-life politician -- President Richard Nixon.  Oscar nominee Michael Shannon starred opposite him at Elvis Presley.  When Nixon was in the White House, these two men -- at opposite ends of the national popularity scale -- met and the meeting produced a very famous and very unlikely photo.

You wouldn't think that a movie based on the President Nixon and Elvis Presley White House meeting would work.  Michael Shannon played Elvis.  Shannon didn't sing nor does he really resemble Elvis, but he got the emotional truth of the man and gave a solid performance.  So did Spacey as Nixon.  There's humor, heartache and depth in this loopy film.  It doesn't come off like an extended comedy sketch.  Director Liza Johnson did a fine, bright job.  Here's a trailer.

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has been airing a short video salute to Jack Lemmon narrated by Kevin Spacey.   It's a lovely piece. In it, he tells how Jack came to be his mentor and, later, his fellow cast member in the movie version of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.
Because of that TCM short, I'm re-posting my interview of the two biopic stars.  Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey and  I talked about  ELVIS & NIXON.  Kevin also told me how one particular Jack Lemmon performance helped him create his character for AMERICAN BEAUTY.

Look for ELVIS & NIXON on Amazon Prime.  For information on tickets to see Kevin Spacey in CLARENCE DARROW, check out this website:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Billy Porter, Broadway Star

I am in awe of his talent.  The Broadway musical version of KINKY BOOTS, a hit British film comedy, brought Billy Porter a Tony Award for his lead performance.  As well it should have.  The actor/singer/playwright will receive a special honor on May 6th at the annual GLAAD Media Awards ceremony in New York City.  It's another award he deserves -- because he adds much light to the world around him.  Let me tell you a story about Billy.
Whoopi Goldberg hired me to be a cast member on her weekday morning radio show.  It was a live national show broadcast from New York City.  We started in 2006 and, unfortunately, the show was cancelled in 2008.  A couple of months after the cancellation, the Screen Actors Guild held a career networking event in Manhattan.  My buddy, Broadway theater scene podcaster/comedian Keith Price, and I went to network.  I was in need of a new job.  I was in need of an agent to help me get a new job.  We ran into Billy Porter at this event, gracious and wonderful Billy. He is a walking buffet table of talent.  My initial reaction was "Why would Billy Porter need to be here networking?"  But, I know how the business is.  He needed work too.  Come 2012, a musical version of KINKY BOOTS started out-of-town tryouts.  It became a great big Broadway hit starring Billy as "Lola," the smart-as-a-whip drag queen performer who helps revitalize business and spirits in a needy factory town.
You may not know this, but Billy Porter also made movie history.  He's one of the very few actors -- maybe the only actor -- who ever stole a movie scene from Al Pacino.  The movie is an indie film called THE HUMBLING.  Al Pacino is the lead character.  THE HUMBLING also stars Dianne Wiest, Kyra Sedgwick, Greta Gerwig and Charles Grodin.  Billy's in the supporting cast.  I saw this film at a critics screening.  It didn't open probably because it was similar to another film that year -- one that would win the Oscar for Best Picture of 2014.  That film was BIRDMAN starring Michael Keaton.  Pacino, like Keaton did, played a very middle-aged stage actor who seems to be having a breakdown.  Some of his delusional but fascinating to see behavior occurs onstage in a Broadway show.  His audience and his fellow actors don't know what to expect next.  And he's involved with a young lesbian.  Barry Levinson directed this uneven comedy.  Here's a trailer.
Honestly, BIRDMAN is much better.  But, watching Billy Porter as a character having to deal with this bat-shit crazy stage actor is a scene that gives you life.  I laughed.  He stole a scene from Al Pacino with some skillful Thelma Ritter-like underplaying.  Bravo, Billy.

While I've got your attention, let me plug an earlier movie in which Billy had more screen time.  It's a refreshing indie comedy from 2000 about a group of gay male friends in West Hollywood.  It's called THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB.  It's refreshing because the film is so race/age inclusive.  It also shows that gay men can play an outdoor sport.
Billy's the guy who really needs to hear something like Judy Garland singing "The Man That Got Away" from her A STAR IS BORN soundtrack when he's just experienced some major romantic humiliation.  The cast includes actors who went on to solid TV work -- like Dean Cain (once a TV Superman), Tim Olyphant, Zach Braff and John Mahoney from the sitcom FRASIER.  Mahoney played Frasier's dad.  THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB should have been spun into a TV series.

Billy has a new album out and it's called Billy Porter Presents:  The Soul of Richard Rodgers.  Some of the classic songs written by Rodgers that Billy performs are "My Romance," "With a Song In My Heart," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair."  Billy has special guests joining him in song.
You can find Billy's album on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Jodie Foster won her second Best Actress Oscar for taking on the 1991 role that Michelle Pfeiffer had been booked to play.  THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a hit with critics and with the public.  Its famous lines and visuals are now part of our pop culture.  It may be the most famous of the films that Jonathan Demme directed but it is, by no means, the only fine film that he directed.  There were other films he directed that entertained and provoked us -- and landed a special place in our hearts.  For me, 1986's SOMETHING WILD was a way cooler and bolder reflection of the 80s than the John Hughes teen movies.  For one thing, back then I always felt like I wanted to call director John Hughes and say, "You do know that black kids also attend high school in the Chicago area, right?"  There was never a black leading teen character or sizeable supporting role for a black teen character.  When he gave us a minority character, he gave us a dorky Asian teen with the name "Long Duk Dong."  To me, that was just like The Little Rascals having a black kid called "Buckwheat."  Jonathan Demme acknowledged class and race, their conflicts, connections and culture wars.  Look at the journey of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in 1988's MARRIED TO THE MOB.  And then there was 1993's PHILADELPHIA.  Tom Hanks broke a cultural barrier as the first male Hollywood star to win an Oscar for playing an openly gay man in an American film.
Yes, William Hurt played a gay man and won the Best Actor Oscar for 1985's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.  That was an independent foreign film.  For Hollywood, at that time, there was still nervousness about playing openly gay men onscreen.  Top male stars were not taking on those roles.  1982's MAKING LOVE, a tender and bittersweet movie about a married man who comes out to his wife, was not an AIDS drama.  It was basically a love story starring Michael Ontkean and Kate Jackson as the young married couple and Harry Hamlin as the openly gay novelist in L.A. who becomes involved with the doctor husband.  Hamlin went on to TV series success but said that there were no more movie script offers after MAKING LOVE. Nowadays, look at the actors who got Oscar nominations or won the Oscar for playing an openly gay man:  Greg Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Javier Bardem in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, Sean Penn as MILK, Philip Seymour Hoffman as CAPOTE, Colin Firth as A SINGLE MAN and Christopher Plummer in BEGINNERS.  Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal played two ranch hands who kissed and made love in 2005's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

As I've written before, it's different now.  Thank Heaven.  Actors commit to playing gay characters in Hollywood films.  We have gay anchors telling us the news on TV.  Almost every reality show has an openly gay male.  Straight and gay actors play gay people on TV.  Openly gay people host popular TV talk shows.  This was not the case when PHILADELPHIA was being shot by Jonathan Demme.  We were in the midst of culture wars and in the dark grip of the AIDS crisis.  And Hollywood gave off the vibe that playing a gay man could handicap a leading man's career.  In PHILADELPHIA, Hanks and Antonio Banderas play a couple.  But we never see them kiss.  Around the same time, TV sitcom star Will Smith had gone after the role of the sophisticated gay black con man in the film version of SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION.  He got the role, but would not do the same-sex kiss that's vital to a key scene in the play.  Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin played two handsome men who kissed each other a lot -- shirtless even -- in Fox's MAKING LOVE directed by Arthur Hiller.  After 1982's MAKING LOVE, Ontkean's biggest hit was a TV series job. No major film script offers.  Just like Hamlin.  Without a kissing scene, Hanks was still brave to play this man onscreen.

Tom Hanks was a beloved, Oscar-nominated movie star who made us feel good in hit comedies such as SPLASH, BIG, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. Then, like Jack Lemmon in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, he showed us some darkness in the life of the white collar All-American guy.  He was a lawyer with AIDS fighting for his rights in PHILADELPHIA.  Denzel Washington played the lawyer for the AIDS-stricken lawyer who takes his case to court.
When the movie opened, I was in my first and only romantic relationship.  We were introduced by a mutual buddy when I worked on a local morning news show in New York City.  On our first date, we knew that there was something soulfully special happening.  We kept dating.  Three months later, I had to get him to the hospital.  He thought he just had a severe case of the flu.  A week before Christmas, he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.  He was from a small town down South and had never been tested.  Nor had he really come out to his parents.

Although I was in good health, a few gay co-workers urged me not to mention anything about his diagnosis to my bosses for fear that they might find a way not to need me on the show anymore.  My modest salary helped take care of my partner.  I could not be open about my partner being terminally ill with AIDS for fear of losing my job due to, let's face it, bigotry.

1993's PHILADELPHIA meant a lot to my late partner.  And to me.  To Richard, mainstream audiences going to see PHILADELPHIA meant that they were seeing an example of the rights being denied people with AIDS and how that denial broke the hearts of the people who loved them.  His parents down South paid attention to the film.  He, his parents and I were thrilled when Tom Hanks won the Best Actor Oscar for that performance.  Richard's attitude was "When people see Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA, they see us a little more clearly."
In my personal life, Jonathan Demme's PHILADELPHIA was the door that opened so that understanding and compassionate communication could enter the room.  Thank you, Mr. Demme.  Thank you so much.  PHILADELPHIA holds a very special place in my heart.  Your talent and the compassion you had for people will be missed.
Other works by the late Jonathan Demme along with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SOMETHING WILD, MARRIED TO THE MOB and PHILADELPHIA are STOP MAKING SENSE, SWING SHIFT, MELVIN AND HOWARD, the 2004 remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and BELOVED starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ingrid Bergman Behind the Wheel

THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE does not get mentioned when Ingrid Bergman fans talk about her top classics such as CASABLANCA, NOTORIOUS, GASLIGHT, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, SPELLBOUND and ANASTASIA.  But my affection for her performance in this film grows and grows.  Not that looks are everything, but, man...she is an absolute babe in this movie.  The close-ups on her face make me swoon.  And she was nearly 50 when she made the film.  THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE is a 1964 release that was made in England.  There's one car and we see how it effects the lives of three different owners.  So, it's like three shorts stories in one full-length feature.  The cast includes George C. Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Art Carney and Rex Harrison.  Ingrid Bergman and Omar Sharif star in the final story.  Ingrid Bergman, with her enormous acting skill and breathtaking natural beauty, had won the hearts of American moviegoers with her Hollywood debut in INTERMEZZO.
 That 1939 love story starring Leslie Howard was a remake for her.
She'd been starring in Swedish films before her American onscreen bow.  INTERMEZZO was the Hollywood duplicate of her 1936 Swedish film of the same name.  Did you ever see Joan Crawford in the MGM drama called A WOMAN'S FACE?  Crawford played a facially disfigured woman who becomes a bitter, small-time criminal.  George Cukor directed the remake.
That 1941 Hollywood film was a remake of another Swedish film starring Ingrid Bergman.  In the 1938 foreign original, Bergman was a more of a bad-ass facially disfigured criminal.  She's the leader of criminal gang.  The gang members are all men.

Ingrid Bergman was a master at screen drama.  Rarely did she get comedy scripts, but she certainly had the talent for comedy too.  You see that in THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE.  She plays a wealthy American widow on holiday in a Europe teetering on the brink of war.  She seems totally uninterested in the severity of world events around her.  She has an assistant, a little dog, and a flowered hat.  She's chatty.  Bergman as the wealthy widow gives you the kind of fast-forward dialogue delivery that Carole Lombard and Rosalind Russell trademarked in comedies of the 1930s and 40s.  The thing about wealthy Gerda Millet is that she fools you in this comedy/drama.  She's more than her luxury items.  Before her story ends, she will join the Yugoslavian resistance against the Nazis.

Yes.  She resisted.

Gerda chatters away, preparing to order a meal while others in the hotel pay attention to the news and prepare for war.  Omar Sharif as the desperate Davich overhears a conversation she's having as has an idea. He's an anti-fascist and needs to sneak into Yugoslavia to continue his resistance work.  She can get across the border in the car.  He hides in her car.
He thinks her little pet, her chic wardrobe and her car define she is.  Wrong.  As more and more of her strength, her fortitude and her selflessness reveal themselves, you see him fall in love with her.  When first they meet in the hotel, you see that the powerful and wealthy widow finds him attractive.  But she, out of propriety, tries not to make it obvious.  He is, after all, a younger man.
The character was a younger man.  Omar Sharif was a younger man.  Ingrid Bergman had been a Hollywood movie star ever since Sharif was an adolescent.  Omar Sharif was in his early 30s.  He'd clicked with American moviegoers with his performance in 1962's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, a classic that brought the Egyptian actor an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Ingrid Bergman was a 2-time Best Actress Oscar winner -- and she'd go on to win a third Oscar. Again, she was nearly 50.  If Hollywood ever thought that a mature actress could not have a younger leading man, this pairing shoots that notion right out of the water.  The cool part is that the younger man really, really wants to kiss her.  Not just because of her beauty.  But because of her substance.  Her quality.  Her character.  She is not a flighty rich lady who emotionally keeps herself behind a wall with the upper class.  She is someone you'd want by your side in a crisis.
Watching Ingrid Bergman transform from one of "the ladies who lunch" into a resistance fighter fascinates me.  The transformation is so fluid, so seamless.  The underplayed romantic angle fascinates me too.  How could Omar Sharif's character not want to kiss her?
He makes the first move.   The car is a definite asset.  This time...she doesn't resist.

Give THE YELLOW ROLLS-ROYCE a look.  Remember, it's three episodes in one film -- and the Ingrid Bergman episode is the final one.  There is some classic Bergman this performance.  The restaurant scene when Davich informs Gerda that innocent people have been injured.  Bergman, looking elegant, holds a little dog and does some complicated, funny business with tablecloths while not missing a beat with dialogue.  Classic!

Monday, April 24, 2017

FEUD and a Female Impersonator

The TV critic on FRESH AIR, the weekday National Public Radio show, predicted Emmy nominations for Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon in FEUD.  That was the FX series about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  FEUD was a Ryan Murphy creation.  I agree with FRESH AIR.  Lange and Sarandon deserve Emmy nominations.  Heaven bless Jessica Lange.  Her performance as Crawford was so powerful and so human that folks may now think of the late Hollywood star in a kind way that overlooks Faye Dunaway's kabuki-like monster in MOMMIE DEAREST.  Lange was great and touching, especially in last night's finale.
 I grew up in Los Angeles.  When I was a kid, it was a "factory" town with two big factories -- Lockheed and Hollywood, the dream factory.  I grew up reading Hollywood reports and stories and seeing film-related news and shows on TV.  I started my professional broadcast career right out of college when Bette Davis was still working and when Jessica Lange made her screen debut.  I'm lucky.  I became an entertainment reporter.  I interviewed both women.  I'm a veteran in the radio and TV industry.

When I was watching Ryan Murphy's FEUD, I felt that young viewers would take what he'd written as totally factual.  I was thinking "Well, that bit of business is more from the feud Bette had with Miriam Hopkins or Susan Hayward.  Not a feud with Joan" or "Would studio head Jack Warner really have said 'I want you out there sucking c**k' to Joan in her AARP years?"  In FEUD, Jack L. Warner severely orders Crawford to get out and promote 1962's WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?  It did become a box office hit, one that brought 2-Oscar winner Bette Davis the last of her Best Actress Oscar nominations.  Joan wasn't nominated.
SPOILER ALERT:  I will refer to last night's finale.  The late Charles Pierce was a hugely popular female impersonator who was famous for his hysterically funny Bette Davis imitation.  I saw Pierce onstage once and he killed.  If you saw last night's finale, remember the comment Bette Davis gave to the Associated Press reporter who asked for a comment on the death of Joan Crawford?  I doubt seriously Bette Davis said that.  If I recall correctly, Charles Pierce said that onstage dressed as Bette in ALL ABOUT EVE and got a tremendous laugh in his bit about dealing with Joan Crawford.  If Bette Davis had really said that to an AP reporter, her quote would have made big entertainment news.  I think Ryan Murphy had Susan Sarandon quoting female impersonator Charles Pierce:  "I was taught to say only good things about the dead. Joan Crawford is dead. (Puff cigarette) Good."

Also, in the montage showing Bette's career in a decline and doing stuff like The Dean Martin Roasts?  Well, she did do that show, but Bette was still booking work -- and she did some excellent TV movie acting that brought her Emmy nominations.  She did a 1979 mother/daughter drama with Gena Rowlands, a 1980 race drama called WHITE MAMA about an poor older white woman living in a low income black neighborhood.  One young black man keeps her from being evicted.  Davis was terrific in the creepy TV mini-series THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME based on a Thomas Tryon occult thriller.  Tryon also wrote THE OTHER.  Davis played an aging flight instructor in 1980's SKYWARD directed by Ron Howard.  I felt she was really strong in 1983's RIGHT OF WAY.  She and James Stewart played an elderly married couple determined to retain their independence and have control over their own lives and, perhaps even, their own deaths.  At the time period in which Ryan Murphy showed Bette Davis as a guest getting ribbed on a Dean Martin Roast, Bette Davis was honored in a highly-promoted CBS prime time special.  It was the AFI Achievement Award show honoring ...Bette Davis.  Back then, the annual AFI Salutes on CBS were big deals and must-see TV.  They were highly promoted the way the Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammys telecasts are today.  This 1977 Bette Davis AFI tribute was an all-star, prestigious gala and a top network special.  If you're a TCM viewer, you learned that Olivia de Havilland was at the A-table to honor Bette and her date was the late, great Robert Osborne before his TCM host years.

Did you know that Bette Davis had hoped to be in a hit Broadway musical?  She had done the film version of THE CORN IS GREEN in the 1940s at Warner Brothers.  She was repeating the teacher role in 1974's MISS MOFFAT.  Morgan was a black youth in the musical version. The late Nell Carter was also in the cast.  Film historian/author and totally cool dude Ed Sikov has the info on this theatrical misfire.  MISS MOFFAT closed after two weeks of tryouts in Philadelphia.
Katharine Hepburn had success with her Broadway musical, COCO (based on life of designer Coco Chanel), and Lauren Bacall reinvented and recharged her career starring in the Broadway musical APPLAUSE, a musical version of ALL ABOUT EVE with Bacall as Margo.  Hepburn and Bacall got Tony nominations for their musical performances on Broadway.

When I met Bette Davis, she was in Milwaukee.  That's where I started my radio/TV career and she'd come to town on a promotional tour for her 1978 film, DEATH ON THE NILE.  She loved making the movie. She hated being on location.  Joan Crawford did not work on TV as frequently as Davis did but she did provide a few laughs with Lucille Ball as a 1968 guest on THE LUCY SHOW and, a year before 1970's TROG, she starred in one of the best and most memorable episodes of NBC's Rod Serling anthology series, NIGHT GALLERY.  She played the richest woman in the country -- a blind and mean woman -- in a 1969 episode called "Eyes."  The ruthless woman pays a man for his eyes.  The episode was directed by a newcomer in his early 20s named --- Steven Spielberg.

Also, from what I've read in biographies, there were friends/co-workers like Myrna Loy who did keep in touch with Joan during her later years in New York City. Last night's finale implied the Loy did not keep in touch.
About that FEUD moment when a hungover Joan wanted to be awakened in the pre-dawn hours to hear the announcement of the Oscar nominations.  The Oscar nominations didn't come out early back then like they do now.  Oscar nominations were announced in the late morning or early afternoon.

I interviewed Jessica Lange before she got the first of her six Oscar nominations.  She now owns one Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (TOOTSIE) and one for Best Actress (BLUE SKY).
She's also a Tony and an Emmy winner.  When she made her big screen debut in the flop 1976 remake of KING KONG, male critics dismissed her as another gorgeous model who had delusions of becoming an actress.  When she she was nominated for 1982's TOOTSIE, she made Oscar history.  She was also in the Best Actress category for FRANCES released the same year. I often wonder if any of those male critics apologized for dismissing her as untalented.  Lange broke my heart in last night's finale. Wow, she was good.  They were all good.

The lead actresses and supporting cast members FEUD elevated the material and gave truth to the real-life characters -- more so than Ryan Murphy did with some of his business in the scripts. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Getting VERTIGO Again

Live action. Animation. Long meaningful scenes with no dialogue.  Erotic obsession.  I wish I was describing my love life of the last few years, but I'm not.  I watched the Alfred Hitchcock classic, VERTIGO, again recently.  My brother gave me a DVD of it for Christmas.  In a way, this movie is a look at what happens when really good beauty makeovers go bad.  James Stewart is the psychologically handicapped police detective in San Francisco who falls in love with a cool mysterious blonde played by Kim Novak.
If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about here.  This movie is secrets, mysteries, passion, recreation and repair.  When I watched it recently, Hitchcock hooked me in again.  VERTIGO had my full attention.  I didn't play it while I multi-tasked.  I let social media go.  I didn't check my phone for text messages.  I didn't make calls.  I did, however, notice something that I'd never noticed before in all the times I've seen it.  You know that VERTIGO has a strong floral motif running through the story.  When the cop first sees the blonde, they're in a posh restaurant.  A floral display decorates the scene.
 There's a flower in the shot with her as she gracefully exits the restaurant.
When the detective follows her to a deluxe San Francisco department store, he sees her purchase a colorful bouquet.  She seems to be at the center of vibrant, colorful flowers.
The flowers become part of her identity and allure.  The flowers also come to be a symbol of the eroticism in the detective's attraction to her.  Notice that the floral motif even carries over to a bedspread in a key scene.
What I had not noticed before in the composition of scenes was that the floral motif starts earlier in the drama.  It starts with the brainy "gal pal" played by Barbara Bel Geddes.  She and the cop are friends and have been for some time.  There was a brief romantic union in the relationship.  However, he's come to describe her personality as "motherly."  She, we can see, still has romantic feelings for him.  But he will never have the passionate feelings for her that he develops for the elegant, mysterious, beautiful blonde.  Notice the flowers in Midge's apartment.  They're all pale, like the top half of her wardrobe.
Midge's flowers reflect the state of their relationship.  They are friends.  Buddies.  In his mind, almost like relatives.  In a way, Scottie (James Stewart) has gotten used to her and she sorts of blends into the San Francisco background.  She doesn't stand out to him romantically and sexually the way the desirable blonde Madeleine (Kim Novak) does.
The flowers in 1958's VERTIGO.  What a brilliant bit of detail that adds to the overall psychological complexity of this mystery/love story.  It just goes to show you that you can discover new things about classics you've seen several times already -- if you're paying full attention, that is.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

DOLLY Dissed on WNYC?

Bette Midler got rave reviews from coast to coast.  THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WASHINGTON POST are just three of the outlets that had high praise for Bette Midler's performance in the Broadway revival of HELLO, DOLLY!  In THE NEW YORK TIMES review, we read "Bette Midler provides a dazzling lesson in star power."  THE WASHINGTON POST:  "HELLO, DOLLY! and Bette Midler are a perfect match."  THE LOS ANGELES TIMES:  "Bette Midler and HELLO, DOLLY!...Broadway heaven."
Then I heard the short WNYC review this morning during a local news break from the national NPR broadcast of Saturday's WEEKEND EDITION.  The theater review segments are about 2-minutes long and done by one critic.  Today, the critic called Midler's performance "subdued' and said that she's at her best when does shows in which we see her shimmy and shake onstage.  I am a longtime Midler fan.  I saw her in concert before she made THE ROSE (1979) and in concert since then.  I saw Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY! twice during her successful revival in the 1970s.  In fact, I interviewed her.  I was new in my first full-time professional broadcast after graduation.  The tour played a few days in Milwaukee.  Press was given seats for the opening night performance.  There was a press conference that we were invited to attend.  Channing granted me an exclusive backstage interview on another day, our interview aired and made a strong impression on my radio boss.
In some TV, film and stage performances, Carol Channing made have played the ditzy blonde.  In real life, I found her to be as ditzy as General Patton.  She not only promoted her show, she promoted others shows and urged people to embrace the arts. Without criticizing big-budgeted movie version expanded, altered and tailored to suit the talents of Barbra Streisand, Channing detailed the heart of HELLO, DOLLY! to me and why it worked.  One of its qualities was that it kept the emotional intimacy and humanity of its source material.  It's a musical based on Thorton Wilder's hit play, THE MATCHMAKER.  Yes, the same Thornton Wilder who gave us OUR TOWN.  When I saw Channing in the show a second time, it was a great "Aha!" moment.  I realized every bit of what she'd told me coupled with an understanding of why audiences must've had loved it so much.  The show was a hit.  The title tune was on pop charts recorded by several singing stars.  Jazz great Louis Armstrong had a big pop hit with "Hello, Dolly!" which is why he was worked into the 1969 film version.
HELLO, DOLLY! is a Broadway musical comedy classic.  The score by Jerry Herman is great.  The songs have gone on to become standards.  The story tells us to embrace life, help others, and not to cut off from life after deep heartbreak.  Dolly is widow who was in a wonderful marriage.  She may not show it but she's lonely.  She's middle-aged.  She longs to find a new life and a new love...."Before the Parade Passes By."  HELLO, DOLLY! presents optimism, generosity of spirit and good will for people in our lives.  It's not a show that promotes building walls to keep people out.

The WNYC reviewer did not give me the impression that she'd ever seen THE MATCHMAKER onstage or rented the 1950s Paramount Pictures version starring Shirley Booth, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse.  Nor did I get the impression she'd ever seen a previous stage production of HELLO, DOLLY!

In 1964, no wonder audiences cheered at "Before the Parade Passes By" and "Hello, Dolly!," two of the most life-affirming, uplifting Broadway show tunes ever written in the 1960s. This was on Broadway the year after America was paralyzed with intense, sudden grief after the 1963 assassination of President of John F. Kennedy.  Our national emotional wounds were still fresh a year after he was killed.  President Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, were champions of the fine arts.  They invited cultural events and artists into the White House.  They attended Broadway shows.   A joyful musical comedy like HELLO, DOLLY! starring Carol Channing helped America heal in 1964 after those dark days in November 1963.  The country needed Dolly.

That's why Bette Midler didn't shimmy and shake.  She's an actress playing a character, a character in the early 1900s.  She's not in concert as The Divine Miss M.  She's a veteran entertainer over the retirement age who, according to other reviews, is giving a powerhouse star quality performance in one of the most treasured Broadway musical roles for women over 40/50.  HELLO, DOLLY! is not Midler in one of her glitzy Vegas productions.
I pray I can see Bette Midler in this revival.  I think we can all expect to see her get a Tony Award for it.  Tell that to WNYC's theater critic.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Great Reviews for Richard Gere

He's come a long way since AMERICAN GIGOLO.  His new movie is called NORMAN.  This week on NPR, a film critic used the word "magnificent" to describe the performance Richard Gere gives in his new movie.  In THE WRAP, the reviewer wrote "Richard Gere gives a tour-de-force performance" and added "...NORMAN is above all a showcase for Gere's substantial talents."  A.O. Scott of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote that Gere "...has never been better."  Kenneth Turan of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES called his performance "exceptional" and his role "impeccably played."  I've been a Richard Gere fan for a long time and I am thrilled to read that high praise for his new performance.  Reviews like that could lead to an Oscar nomination.  Richard Gere is one of those veteran actors who has done good work for years and years, but has never been an Oscar nominee.  He's in a group with other screen veterans such as Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow, Dennis Quaid and Malcolm McDowell.  Maybe this will be the year for Gere to make a major impression on the Academy.
The full title of his new film is NORMAN:  THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER.  It's an R-rated indie film.
 Take a look at this trailer for the film that has Gere as a Manhattan schemer.
I first noticed Richard Gere when he played the street hustler wearing a jock strap as he does push-ups in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR.  Diane Keaton was excellent as the cynical single woman in the city who takes him home for a one-night stand.  After that role he really hit big in 1980's AMERICAN GIGOLO.  It was sort of his PRETTY WOMAN, only it was a drama.  He was the handsome, upscale rent-boy who serviced lonely ladies in expensive neighborhoods.  Young male moviegoers wanted to dress like Richard Gere in AMERICAN GIGOLO.  Even the equipment his character used to exercise while upside down became trendy for a short time.  Gere was Hollywood's hottest new guy on the cinema block.

1982's AN OFFICER AND GENTLEMAN was a big hit for him.  1990's PRETTY WOMAN is now considered to be a classic, by some.  Julia Roberts played the happy hooker who finds true love.  The seediness of her profession was removed so this could basically be a Cinderella-like comedy.  This is when I really started to like Gere.  I watched his early dramas and felt he was a good actor, but there was something cold about him.  It may sound odd, but I think the silver in his hair as he matured warmed him up.  That and his personal spiritual growth.  He proved to have a nice touch with comedy and, you have to admit, he had wonderful chemistry with Julia Roberts.
I thought for sure that he'd get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 2002's CHICAGO.  He was terrific in that musical comedy as the shady lawyer, Billy Flynn.  He sang and danced!  But no nomination.

Gere has his share of hits, clunkers and his share of good movies that died at the box office.  He did a couple of films after CHICAGO that I felt deserved more attention than they got.  You might want to check them out, if you're a Gere fan.  Both are based on true stories.  He played Clifford Irving, a man who pulled a huge scam on the New York City publishing world.  His name was in the headlines as the man who claimed he helped the extremely reclusive, extremely famous multi-millionaire Howard Hughes write his autobiography.  Every top book publishing shop in town wanted the rights to that book.  Only...Irving's story wasn't true.  I really dig Gere's energetic work in this film.
Click onto this link to see a trailer for the 2006 Richard Gere movie called THE HOAX:

In 2007, Gere was seen in another movie that flatlined at the box office but I liked it a lot.  Like THE HOAX, it boasted a fine performance by Gere.  This journalism thriller is based on a true story and a real-life war.  Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg starred in THE HUNTING PARTY.  Now that we're so deep into the world of the 24-hour news cycle on cable TV and our president is a former reality TV show host who had no prior political experience, maybe this film would be more appreciated now than it was in 2007.
Gere plays the American TV journalist in war-torn Bosnia who gets into a big argument with the network anchor.  On the air.  Because of losing his temper with the newsroom star, the field reporter's career takes a hit.  He schemes to get a big enough story that will help him make a comeback as a credible journalist.  He gets the idea to hunt war criminals.  Dangerous war criminals.
Click onto this link and watch the trailer for THE HUNTING PARTY starring Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg:

Check them out if you have a chance.

NORMAN is on my "Movies To See" list.  Good for Gere on getting those great reviews.

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