Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In one stretch these past couple of days, for instance, we managed to take in the remarkably diverse buffet of Love Actually, Eight-Legged Freaks, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Inglourious Basterds. Of them all, I'd only (shamefully enough, Debbie Reynolds fans) ever seen the first. The combo left me a little dazed, I have to admit.
Love Actually is a guilty pleasure, old-style Hollywood treacle repackaged en style Cool Britannia, a Grand Hotel of varied stars and all-over-the-map acting, from another of Emma Thompson's exquisitely observed portraits of discreet anguish to Bill Nighy's scenery-chomping glee as a faded rockstar. We laughed, we cried, we wished we had some of those apartments.
I really rather thought, believe it not, that Eight-Legged Freaks and Molly Brown have a couple of things in common, principally the over-the-top dedication that their stars throw into making implausible vehicles as entertaining as possible. Both sets of performers clearly know that they're not in Strindberg, but decide to ride it out by giving it their all.
Miss Rheba once worked lights for an East Coast stage production of Molly Brown and regaled us with tales of what agony the cast had in trying to replicate even a fraction of the enthusiasm that Miss Reynolds and company brought to what is, at the end of the day, pretty eighth-rate stuff. She calls the show The Unsinkable Molly Reprise, pointing out that it has just about exactly three numbers, all of which are mercilessly recycled until the audience begs for release. On the other hand, Harve Presnell is pretty easy on the eyes and gets to stride about in some truly astonishing pants.
It strikes me that the tagline from the one-sheet above - "Get out of the way... Or get hit in the heart!" is way more Tarantino than MGM, and could just as easily work for Basterds. About which I don't have a great deal to say, other than that it was in parts very effective, in others extremely silly, and overall more a perverse valentine to cinema than, in itself, a film of any distinction.
But I do kind of wish that Tarantino would team up with Debbie Reynolds. David Lynch gave Ann Miller her last role, and just think what madness Jackie Brown's creator and Molly Brown herself could bring to the the screen...
Monday, December 28, 2009
I mean, seriously. Ann Miller. Just think "star" and take it from there. You know you want to...
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
It's a fine, clear Christmas morning here at the Café. As Mr. Berlin wrote, "The sun is shining, the grass is green;/The orange and palm trees sway." If we're not particularly dreaming of a white Christmas ourselves, it's likely because I think our day will be more than sufficiently merry and bright right here, however tempting it might be to indulge in nostalgia for days gone by.
In a little while, I'll go wake up Mr. Muscato and the dog, and perhaps rather more delicately intimate to the just-arrived Miss Rheba (a trouper after twenty-odd hours in the air) that too much sleep only makes the jetlag worse. We'll have breakfast, open a gift or two, and then, I think, go investigate the beaches and give Koko a chance to bark at the waves, a favorite pastime. Dinner, later, at one of the grand hotels. We are very lucky.
And I suppose we will spend a moment, here and there, remembering. Christmas, freighted down as it is with expectations and associations, tradition and religion, excess and obligations, becomes a kind of milestone, a stopping place from which we can look back and see, like the illuminated tableaux pictured on Victorian glass slides or the lighted tableaux of department-store Christmas windows, bits and pieces of ourselves from earliest childhood on.
Here's the year that there was so much snow that all the cousins and relations spent the night; there's the first year you knew that Santa Claus was really Dad. On they march - the first Christmas away from home, feeling very grown-up and secretly homesick beyond belief; the year that there wasn't much of a Christmas, after two funerals; Christmas in New York, surrounded by friends that formed a new family; and now, these last years, Christmases that feel like home again, wherever we may end up being.
Maybe that's a sign that you really have grown up; when the Christmas that you make for yourself, whatever it may be, feels like home.
Do you believe it's been a year already? When the sad news that Eartha had gone on before came, I wrote, "How characteristic of her, to slip away on Christmas day, guaranteeing that we would as much celebrate as mourn her. Certainly, it's just as she would have had it, for few entertainers were such thorough celebrators as Miss Kitt: of sex, of life, of love, of all the pleasures of the flesh and spirit."
And, of course, of the virtues of deeds, sables, '54 convertibles (light blue), a duplex, checks, and the occasional this and that bought at Tiffany. At least an approximation of which, from your own list, I hope appears under your Christmas tree.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In my defense, I can say quite truly that I wasn't all that fond of them even when I was one. They seemed noisy and unpredictable, something I now enjoy greatly in singing stars and screen legends, but which in person, then and now, has fewer charms.
Even my favorite programs as a child bore this out. Captain Kangaroo, with its gathering of middle-aged gentlemen in jeans and naval uniforms, enacting skits that were old when Vaudeville was a tot, was far preferable to the harsh urban realities of Sesame Street. And of course, a Saturday wasn't complete without time spent in the gentle company of this dear lady d'un certain age and her friends (Zoom I made an exception for, which in later years I realized was because it was essentially the pre-teen equivalent of a Saturday night at The Saint, minus the rampant promiscuity).
So here are Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, wishing us a Merry Christmas across the decades. I knew them, not from their '50s incarnation, but as the hosts of The CBS Children's Film Festival, the kind of good-naturedly improving kiddie show that's fairly impossible to imagine existing today. For me, the KF&O bits were always much more engaging than the frequently baffling short films from around the world, and having to sit through 20 minutes of goings-on involving a happy Bulgarian family was the price paid for the joy - truly - of watching a sweet older lady talk with a puppet crocodile.
My Christmas gift for anyone finding themselves in a similarly nostalgic frame of mind is to direct you here, and to echo the Kuklapolitans in saying, "Merry Christmas, Frannie..."
And can't you just hear her? "Meeeee-rry Christmas. Now get me a drink."
Or am I flashing back to my childhood again?
In short, driving in Our Fair Sultanate is going to hell in a handbasket, and if something isn't done about the absolute fuckwits who make up what seems to be an ever-increasing proportion of local drivers, the already insane national traffic-fatality statistics (I've heard estimates that they are up to forty times most developed countries) are going to continue to skyrocket.
When we arrived here some years ago, aside from a plague of idiotic young men driving ridiculous cars bought for them with daddy's money, it was actually possible to get around from place to place without risking, at best, a heart attack, or, at worst, a grisly, gory death. No more. A simple run to the supermarket can allow you to witness a veritable catalogue of motorized assholery - not just your garden variety speeding, unexpected U-turns, or tailgating (although all of those are commonplace). Oh, no - I'm talking things like people deciding to pass into oncoming traffic just to prove, apparently, that theirs is bigger than yours; or family cars, loaded down with a dozen small children milling about in the backseat, roaring along at top speed on the shoulder of a packed highway; or death-wish driven shitheads inching into traffic to execute what turns into a fish-tailing left turn with brakes and horns squealing as a dozen other drivers have to slam on the brakes, and...
I mean, what gives? This is a placid, almost chokingly polite place, one in which voices are rarely raised, tidiness reigns supreme, and most people - local nationals and expatriates alike - seem to have bought into the kind of public demeanor that can make it feel like living in Stepfordistan. But put these very same people behind the wheel, and they turn into rejects from The Wacky Races, only without the cartoonish immortality.
When it reached the point that the Big Man himself, His Majesty, had to give a sharp scolding to the general public earlier this year, I thought things might improve. That was followed by the putting up of large and prominently placed billboards, with his smiling face accompanied by boldfaced declarations of the people's obedience to his wise advice. I'd like to meet those people, 'cause they're sure not on the roads.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
That's the kind of family this is a Singer Christmas for.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Although at my age, I'm not sure my system's up to it...
Jerry Herman was never the most subtle of songwriters, but La Mitz's manic delivery takes this little gem from Mame and turns it into a Lola Heathertonische moment of pure tinsel showbiz. And that is, in its own unique way, a most wonderful thing.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
We're not being terribly inventive giftwise, I'm afraid this year; or rather, let me amend that - I'm not being terribly inventive. Still, I don't think I'm in danger of seeing the face a real-life '50s housewife would likely have come up with if faced with a Eureka under the tree, even if Mr. Muscato's gift is rather practical
Family fun fact: yet another of Grandmother Muscato's Indisputable Dicta was that anything other than a Bissell vacuum was vulgar - how she came up with that one, none of us know. But in her world, anyone with an Electrolux or, God forbid, a Hoover, was trash.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
We see her here in 1962, at almost the end of her long, strange trip, singing a song that, although she debuted it only a year earlier and had less than one year left, has become one of the ones with which she is most closely identified.
If anyone on earth had cause to regrette beaucoup, it would have been she, but I dare anyone not to believe her...
And isn't little Lucie a lump?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Who knew that Maria von Trapp (not to mention Nellie Forbush) had such grade-A gams?
A Prima Donna's Progress, the autobiography of the redoubtable Dame Joan Sutherland, the Antipodean sensation known to opera lovers everywhere as La Stupenda, is less a memoir than a semi-guided tour of the world's most detailed datebook. It chronicles seemingly every event in the lady's long and varied career, one that should be - one might think - absolutely chockablock with incident, drama, and anecdote.
Instead, we get a relentless listing of every flight, every rehearsal, and Lord knows every performance that took place in a career that stretched from the end of the Second War almost to the end of the century. In fits of enthusiasm, people she encounters are described as "clever", "kind", or (in a rare spasm of enthusiasm) "talented"; otherwise, she remains singularly and obdurately silent on questions such as personality, aesthetics, or even the occasional on-the-fly observation of the goings-on about her.
Even so, it must be admitted, something of the magnificent absurdity of a diva's existence does float to the surface, apparently despite the authoress's best intentions. There is, for instance, the evocation of a vanished world conjured up by the juxtaposition of the lady's activities during a single week in the early '70s, in which she combined rehearsals at the Met with a quick stop at the book launch for Cole Lesley's tome on his life as Noël Coward's amanuensis and companion, with a (one presumes) lengthier appearance at a record signing in her honor - at Korvette's.
Still - it's a long haul, and the occasional gems are few and far between. It's frustrating to spend time with someone who's met everyone from Marjorie "Interrupted Melody" Lawrence to the Queen Mother but who doesn't have an interesting thing to say about anyone, a certain sniffy dismissal of Pavarotti's starstruck ways possibly excepted.
Instead, why don't you read Cole Lesley's book, or the brief and touching memoir by Graham Payn, who was also Coward's intimate? The latter writes movingly on how much it meant that Sutherland - unlike many of the Master's other friends and toadies - kept up her relations with the eccentric band of companions Coward called "the family" even when the great man was no more (rarely has any widow been more thoroughly and completed dropped than Payn, and by people who really ought to have known better).
Reading Dame Joan, one senses that there is a fascinating, sympathetic soul in there somewhere lost in the rush to get from place to place; reading about her, one learns with satisfaction that there truly is.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Nonetheless, Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I braved the hordes - there must have been anything up to four dozen people at times - to spend most of the day near the water, and very pleasant it was. Now we've all got that lovely feeling you get after a day outdoors - a kind of Vitamin D haze, I suppose - and we are enjoying the spectacle of a thoroughly exhausted terrier.
The consumer society may have its drawbacks, but you could be in Novosibirsk in 1978. Which do you think Aunt Lyudmila will like better - the 5-watt bedside lamp, the space heater crafted from a tin pieplate, or the desktop fan that doubles as an amputation device?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I think it makes a nice opener for the Café into the holiday season, as well as one of the few contexts in which I can imagine feeling - let alone admitting - that it makes me rather miss Yoko Ono...
Maybe it's just that I find snaps like this one, in which she looks so much like a rough-draft Norma Jeane, unnerving...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
She was, for even longer, Mrs. Eddie Albert, which is just about as far from being either exotic or mysterious as one can imagine. Although it does raise the distinct possibility that she got to hang out with Eva Gabor, which has to count for something. Also, she was Cugat's niece, which means that Charo was, at least for a while, her aunt. Which is kind of fabulous.
Here we see her working, as well as anyone could, the unlikely, unpromising glamour-shot combo of wicker and lamé.
I should have listened to the divine Miss Anita O'Day, seen and heard here live in Berlin, 1970, reminding us that when it rains, it pours.
That's something, improbably enough, we've been discovering right here on the edge of the great Arabian desert, we've been finding out. Nightly downpours for the past three nights have cleaned the air rather marvelously, giving rise to even-more-than-usually dramatic views and clear horizons. Now the air has something of the crisp, cool feeling of late April back home, which is really rather refreshing.
Unlike anything having to do with the sordid business of making a living. Why can't we all live on capital, like the good people of Tilling? A much more sensible way of passing one's days if you ask me, and such bad planning of our forebears not to have socked it all away.
But we'll always have Sharm...
Friday, December 4, 2009
The answer is the notorious resort Sharm el Sheikh, whither Mr. Muscato and I have repaired for a minibreak. We were startled to see the reminder of home shown above at the very entrance to the heart of honky-tonk Sharm, the town of Na'ama Bay.
It appears that all the principal thoroughfares are named for various regional leaders, but His Majesty has the prime luck to be namesake to the main avenue of approach. I'm not sure that the rather dismal T-shirt shops and shisha joints that line his street are exactly the image he usually tries to convey, but I'm sure the city fathers' hearts were in the right place when they named it.