Friday, July 31, 2009
I would be hard pressed to do better than the New York Times obituary in conveying the nature of her allure. It quotes a 1966 report in which their reporter may have found himself a shade too transfixed, writing of her attendance at an official briefing:
The meeting had begun when the Maharani made her entry, giving everyone a whiff of expensive French perfume. She was dressed in a turquoise-blue chiffon sari with silver sequins sparkling like stars on a moonless night. She looked around with her large almond eyes. Everyone stood up. As Hillaire Belloc once described someone, ‘her face was like the king’s command when all the swords are drawn.'
Yowzah! Not many left in this low world who can have that kind of effect on a hard-boiled political journalist, no?
40 seconds-or so of stop-motion bliss, advertising (based on other examples avaialble) laundry soap. Not quite as ruthless an earworm as the one brought to you by the fine folks at Tarako, but you may still find yourself humming this later.
I'm especially fond of the third set of triplets, who could have escaped from an all Blythe-doll re-enactment of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. And may well have.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Even though I have never lived anywhere even remotely near Los Angeles, the very idea of not being there has left me oddly aggrieved - a side effect, I suppose of living too damn far away from everything.
UPDATE: And now she's in New York. AUGGGHHHH!!!
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Joining her are a wide swathe of the great, the good, and the goofy: la belle Delta Burke, the Governator, funniest Friend Lisa Kudrow, tawdry celebrother Frank Stallone, most-baffling-since-Luise-Rainer-Double-Oscarite Hilary Swank, Welles-idolator Peter Bogdanovich, and the supremalicious Anita Hill among them.
All of whom, combined, would seem to me to make an almost ideal reality television cast, no?
I'm very taken with their look, halfway between Mae Questel and Josephine Baker, and with the effect that they have en masse, as if in preparation for a Ziegeld Follies tribute to Lolita.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Norma Shearer ended her onscreen days with a trio of pictures that proved, more or less definitively, that what had seemed like a new direction in The Women (Norma playing a spirited, contemporary woman with a sense of humor) was actually a dead end, for they took her back to the aristo settings and Great Lady moments that had made up too much of her work in the '30s.
This isn't, as some have suggested, a case of a studio easing out a falling star (as Warner's did Kay Francis) by throwing her into quickies or stinting on production values. No; it's simply that suddenly it's the 40s, and what Norma does just doesn't play any more. Escape, Her Cardboard Lover, and this one, We Were Dancing, all had respectable sources (a popular novel, a stage favorite, and a pair of Coward one-acts) and were given the full glossy MGM finish - sets, costumes, lingering flattering close-ups, and hordes of extras when necessary. Escape had a Special Prestige Guest Star in Alla Nazimova, and both it and Cardboard Lover paired Norma with rising favorite Robert Taylor.
We Were Dancing is the Shearer picture that time forgot, and this trailer goes a long way in showing why. It's perfectly fine to fill out out a movie with people like Lee Bowman and veteran character player Alan Mowbray; it's quite another to claim that they constitute part of a "7 Star" cast. It doesn't help that Norma's been burdened with a coiffure that appears to be equal parts meringue and Sue Ann Nivens, or that even when being slapped, Melvyn Douglas looks to be waiting for his next date with Ninotchka. This is the Norma Shearer parodied by Charles Busch - lavish, exquisite in her self-regard, and totally pointless.
All of which is to say I can't wait to see it in its entirely when next the opportunity arises - on top of Norma, Norma, Norma, it has a bit by a very young Ava Gardner, a turn by Marjorie Main as a lady judge, and a moment or two for professional dowager Norma Varden. With all that and Norma's dresses, what more could one ask?
Generally, it's been those who've actually impersonated him who've fallen furthest short...
Being a genuine heartthrob in his own right didn't help Nureyev, whose specific brand of smolder simply didn't apply, somehow. Ken Russell's fevered direction did all it could, but this Rudolf just didn't live up to the real Rudolfo.
Trying to camp it up, as model Matt Collins had to in The World's Greatest Lover, doesn't help (neither did Gene Wilder, at least this time out). He had the cheekbones, but not the chops.
Tony Curtis brought his own very special verve (not to mention Natalie Wood) to a photo-shoot impersonation. His was an allure distinctly less ethereal than Real Rudy's, but you have to hand it to him on the eye makeup.
Third-string hunk Anthony Dexter may have the upper hand in terms of resemblance to The Sheikh (not to mention the divine Eleanor Parker to play opposite), but sometimes just the profile isn't enough. Despite being hailed as a great discovery (at least by Columbia standards), within five years he was headlining Fire Maidens from Outer Space.
Still, he did bring a certain...heft...to the screen, as evidenced by this still.
The idea of a distaff Valentino has a certain Sapphic charm; here, silent sisters Shirley Mason and Viola Dana disport themselves as Rudolph and partner in his Four Horsemen tango.
But really: when confronted with the actual Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, all else falls away. The Gigolo Superstar, still Hollywood's greatest Sudden Death (his funeral made Michael Jackson's look like nothing at all), and at heart a nice boy from Puglia.
I doubt screenland is done with trying to figure out what made it all work. I can't immediately think, though, of anyone who could take on the mantle (or rather, I suppose, the burnoose) were another biopic in the offing - Johnny Depp's Captain Jack has a touch of the old allure; Clooney has the dashing part down; Banderas is more or less the reigning ethnic. None, however, has the full package, as it were, to take on the legend. Perhaps it's just as well.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Isn't she fab? And still, some years after this Australian appearance, going strong today, with a voice amazingly unchanged from the crystal sound with which she amazed Broadway in 1951. What do you suppose Britney will be up to in 2067?
When did shops stop featuring sphinxes and blackamoors as signifiers of luxury?
I always knew there was more to Patsy Stone than just a pretty (blotto) face. Do you suppose that Jerry Hall, Twiggy, Petula Clark, and other vintage names are now berating their publicists in a desperate search for a cause that will get them the full scarves-and-flowers deity treatment?
And children - this is what 63 looks like. Maybe we all need a good cause...
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Really - is there anyone who lived through the regrettable mid-century Calypso-craze who was less "like so" than Robert Mitchum? And it's clear, I would say, that he knows it too. Also clear: not his first rum cocktail of the day.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Imagine how tired of boat jokes and having people sing snatches of West Side Story at her Natalie Wood must be...
What finding these women did for me was make me realize just how remarkable the originals are. These women - church secretaries, real-estate agents, middle-managers - all seem perfectly nice, but given the names they're been handed, they're living examplars of (the real) Joan Crawford's adage: "If you want to see the girl next door, go next door!"
Here, in what is perhaps the least erotic two and a half minutes ever put on film, we see what happens when you combine the dance stylings of Miss Jayne Mansfield, two truly horrendous Italian comedians, a hula costume on loan from Trader Vic's, and what looks like the lobby of a Yugoslavian three-star resort. From the 1964 spectacular Primitive Love, it's the kind of thing that would have been enormously improved by having Divine stand in for the putative star.
Our little Sultanal capital is all very well in its quiet way, but especially this time of year, it can be a tad somnolent. It runs short on surprises. That, and it's hotter than billy-be-damned, which doesn't help. Despite its reputation, Cairo, even in the summer time, is no worse than your average southern American city weatherwise (if just a shade sootier), and the evenings are generally deeply beautiful.
Perhaps I shall have to think of some reason to travel...
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I think I am especially amused because I firmly believe that it has been based on a combination of Elizabeth I and that colorful lady of the last century, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.
Well, everything except maybe the pig (and, not to be a purist or anything, isn't it the Duchess who holds a pig?).
In a piece of high-quality, penetrating journalism in yesterday's Telegraph, "Male celebrities pose nude to raise awareness of male cancer," I think I start to get some answers. The gallery of photographs drawn from a new calendar almost makes me think I need to spend more time watching rugby.
It also made me realize that despite being a voracious consumer of gossip columns of many nations, there are legions of people who can be labeled "celebrities" of whom I've never heard. I suppose I'll just have to read more trash.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
For the moment, we kind of do. Today we got to spend several charming hours in the local hospital while poor Mr. Muscato underwent an unpleasant (but don't worry, not a very unpleasant, and you know what I mean, don't you, all of you gents over 40?) kind of test that required significant anesthesia.
Sitting in the hospital room while he was off being worked over, I thought, and not for the first time, that these visits are like little glimpses into the future. At some point, we will probably again be doing something rather like this, and it won't be trivial. Given that he is, in Mr. Peenee's immortal words drawn from a far more serious situation, "the center of my universe, the joy of my life, the cream in my coffee," it all felt rather grave even though it was really, as they used to say on those civil-defense PSAs, just a test.
When they rolled him back in, accompanied by a beaming doctor who gave every impression of seeing through the "just a friend" ruse that went over with the nurses and was fine with it, it was like clouds parting. Within half-and-hour, groggy but game, he was working his way through the hospital's rather dire "chicken a la Italian" and well on his way to being deeply grumpy about having to have an IV.
Oh - and the sock monkeys? Sorry. I know I don't usually do cutesy, but I've always had a soft spot for the damn things. My Great Aunt Edna used to make them. Even she never thought of dioramas, though, although I tremble to think what she could have done had she done so.
And haven't we all had that moment, once or twice?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I was never a Total Opera Queen in my New York days, but I would get out at least a couple of times a season, often enough to note the differences in impact made by the arrival in the audience of one or another of the Great Retired Ladies. Tebaldi was always received with reverence, the crowd parting, a discreet smattering of applause as she took her seat (always perfect, in something floating and elegant, the kind of thousand-shades-of-neutral gown that perfectly set off her still remarkable beauty); Sills, appearing in her manager's seats or across the way at the Met was still the hometown girl made good, jolly and eager, but very much a Public Figure; Albanese, though - it was like watching a parade, the arrival of Dolly Levi. Always with one or two gentlemen in tow, her lacquered black hair a performance in itself, dressed in Diva Uniform - pearls, shawls, perhaps a fan - and speaking, as one (rather lovely) profile notes, entirely in exclamation points, she could whip the crowd into a little tide of joy, one she would then generously turn over to her successors on the stage. You knew, whether or not the singing really was first rate, that you were out at an Event.
There aren't all that many left who can do that kind of magic, based on time, accomplishment, and that most elusive of ingredients, the Little Something Extra that makes a star.
Speaking of stars, today also sees celebrations in order for, in no particular order, a motley crew that includes thrush Margaret Whiting (another audience-favorite, if at rather different venues), actor/guest Orson Bean, painter-of-anomie Edward Hopper, troubled Ronette Estelle Bennett (gone too soon, and too recently), professional mother Rose Kennedy, etiquetteuse Amy Vanderbilt, Priscilla-tranny Terence Stamp, underused neo-Lena Lonette McKee, and, God help us, Bob Dole. What a dinner party you could make out of that crowd!
That's right - those extraordinary gluts, teasingly shown off in Dostana, are said to be fully on display - in a torture scene! I'm not sure my heart is up to that kind of stress.
Oh, and in related news, there is, it seems, also a fairly good chance that there will be a Dostana 2 (and oh, how I wish the subtitle were to be Dostana Harder), in which pseudo-lovebirds Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan return to India, only to find that they've become poster-children for India's gay rights movement, or some such complication.
I think I'll spend the rest of the day in my chaise, fanning myself and trying to regain some semblance of equilibrium...
If there is any proof at all that even the best drugs only do so much, it is the quite extraordinary version of the 1927 silent classic Metropolis that disco overlord Giorgio Moroder brought to birth in 1984. Moroder took one of the most visually overwrought and (thanks to generations of ruthless cutting) thematically incoherent films ever made and provided it with an electro-dance soundtrack that matches it in being both entirely overwrought and completely incoherent.
So, of course, I love and revere every hand-tinted, staircase-running, transforming-vamp-roboted, Bonnie-Tylered, Freddie-Mercuryed, for-God's-sake-Loverboyed minute of it. The many hours spent during the summer of '84 watching it repeatedly (at Philadelphia's old TLA, if memory serves) are a treasured part of my 80s experience, and even having seen other, significantly more solemn restorations, I think Moroder may still have done best by Fritz Lang's demented vision.
In Berlin's fabulous Film Museum, a significant amount of space is devoted to all things Metropolis, but I was disappointed to see that they strongly deprecate this unique version of the great work. They don't exactly use words like "abortion" to describe it, but you can tell how they feel. It's a rare lapse on their part, and if they didn't also have a truly heartstopping gallery of Dietrich costumes, I might never have forgiven them.
Monday, July 20, 2009
However, I do feel that it could just as easily be construed as beloved ditherer ZaSu Pitts deftly - and to the surprise and, one feels, satisfaction of Paula Laurence (caught in the midst of her trademark Martita Hunt impression) - ripping a mouth-breathing Celeste Holm a new one.
You just know ZaSu could drop the Vera Vague act any time she wanted to, and one can hardly think of a more suitable target.
Space-Age Bachelor Music fun fact: I actually worked with Sid Ramin, once upon a time. Great guy. Had I known he'd been to the moon - or met the Ames Brothers - we might have had more to talk about.
It was one of those everybody-come-inside-you're-going-to-watch-this moments, that's for sure, and it made for a pleasant change from the ones the year before, which were funerals. Everyone took it very seriously, because somehow it was going to make everything different: men on the moon.
As it turns out, it didn't particularly, unless you really, really like Tang (local fun fact: in this part of the world, you can now get Tang Strawberry - does that exist back home?). Oh, I know it was a vital part of scientific advances of the era, and it meant a lot in terms of beating the Russkies, but really: by 2001 we were supposed to have intergalactic flight attendants and resorts on the Sea of Tranquillity and all that. On some level, no matter how much has happened since, is it any wonder that we can, at times, feel vaguely ripped off?
Afterward, when the doors on the Mediterranean Fruitwood Consolette that held the television were closed again, and for the rest of that summer, Susie Cooney next door and I would play moon landing, even though Midge didn't have a space suit and had to wear her green prom gown instead if she wanted to ride along with Barbie and GI Joe. Susie would solemnly tie a little plastic bag over her head, which was good enough as a space helmet for Midge.
Later on, a real live astronaut came to town, and because Father Muscato was a Rotary Bigwig or a Shrine Kahuna or for some other reason, I got to be taken along to meet a Man Who Walked on the Moon. It made you feel funny, to think about, but he was very nice. Typically, I remember his wife more, because she was wearing eye makeup, which among Our Kind was considered very racy, and had a large and elaborate hairstyle (I believe that sausage curls were involved, and it was definitely dyed, also racy). I don't remember which astronaut it was, one of the first ones or one of his successors, and now the only other person who might remember would be Father Muscato, and while it's the kind of fragment that might one morning surface, I'd probably first have to explain who I am, and...
Forty years can seem like an awfully long time. Maybe it's time for our next Giant Leap.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
So, of course, inevitably, Sarah Palin has featured here and there, most recently, as a result of her ... unique ... career choices. The public statements of our new La Pasionara de los Wingnuts via Twitter have been particularly fertile fodder. One commenter on a recent post noted that the lady's choice of background image was especially striking - and my goodness, as seen above, ain't it the truth!
It looks to me like someone has let Willow or Pothole or Kaytel or whatever one of the younger sprogs' names are have a go at the Photoshop. I'm only disappointed that in addition to the striking (presumably Alaskan) landscape, superimposed flag, and apparent hommage to Alison Hayes or Darryl Hannah, they didn't manage to working in a screaming eagle, Liberty Bell, or at least a moose. Maybe once she recreates, post-elected office, her Twitter page (given that she's now "AKGovSarahPalin", she'll kind of have to), she'll take care of that...
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Zsa Zsa's kind of a big girl, isn't she?
Mia, it turned out, had every reason to look this wary while playing Woody Allen's Alice. Now there's a story that didn't turn out well...
Neither does this one, particuarly - it's only a middling best-case scanario no matter what when the best you're going to do is Fred MacMurray. Am I the only one who finds this an almost painfully embarrassing picture to watch? Hepburn's Alice is just so raw, so needy, and so surrounded by horrors and buffoons.
This Alice is pretty raw and needy as well, but in an on-purpose gritty '70s cinema kind of way. Of course, it also created one of the least gritty sitcoms in television history, but much can be forgiven in the context of having also given rise to the character of Flo "Kiss Mah Grits" the Waitress.
Little got forgiven this particular incarnation of the Carroll book - it's remembered, if at all, as the movie that almost sank Paramount (along with the fledgling career of Charlotte Henry, its Alice), a misbegotten, over-elaborate attempt to recreate Tenniel's illustrations using awkward masks and ungainly costumes. I do like any picture that credits Edna May Oliver, Alison Skipworth, and May Robson above Cary Grant, though.
By contrast, this ... unique interpretation of the deathless children's tale is remembered, if at all, as one of the last of the quasi big-budget, 35mm pornos. It's not exactly an all-star production, although the musical numbers (!) were arranged and conducted by Hollywood staple Peter Matz, whose other credits range from Color Me Barbra to Lust in the Dust.
My only association with this one is that title perplexed me deeply as a child; it must have shown up on television at some point. A town ... like Alice. The only Alices I knew were Grandmother Muscato's cleaning lady, a tiny, sweet-natured Polish woman who seemed impossibly old to a six-year-old and, more my contemporary, our pastor's daughter, a rather more vinegary female. Neither seemed even vaguely municipal.
Similarly, neither had a restaurant, although at least one of them cooked.
And this is one that would not have turned up in my straitlaced little hometown...
While this one definitely did. I know many Carroll purists find this Alice even less appealing than other Disneyfications of the classics (to put it mildly), but I've always had a soft spot for it, even before it got brilliantly turned inside out (if you haven't seen the link, do go now - but come back!).
Another Alice turns up (if not particularly alive and well) in a latish addition to the "whatever happened" mini-genre that kicked off a decade earlier, in this case with Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon trashing their own reputations just like Crawford and Davis before them.
Even so, they didn't begin to go as far as some Alices. The subtext, by the way, of the teasing "See Alice's Trip in Psychedelic Color" tagline is that the balance of the (brief) running time is in glorious black-and-white. Apparently, this one is best considered less in relation to Wonderland than as a remake of Reefer Madness.
This was the first talking Alice, and it looks to have been just about as surreal as anything cooked up in Acidland. Great poster, but otherwise just about as obscure as can be - perhaps a result of having been distributed by the not-exactly-MGM Unique-Cosmos Pictures.
There are, of course, lots of other Alices, old and new, and on the horizon we have the prospect of Tim Burton's take on the tale. I have a feeling it will have more than a touch of Acidland itself...