Monday, August 2, 2010
She was, of course, Myrna Loy, and while the crown bestowed on her by Hollywood was really just something of another studio publicity ploy (the King, of course, was Gable), it fit her.
She only hit her stride as a star after a decade spent in what must have seemed an endless string of stinkers and unlikely ethnic parts. After putting in her time as Vamp, Lady in Waiting, Fifi, Chorus Girl, Inez Quartz, Girl in China, Yasmani, Nubi, Slave Girl, Lola Bland (!) and, God help her, Fah Lo See, Myrna was at long last rescued. MGM, having taken its sweet time, figured out what to do with her, which was: treasure her, glorify her, and, most of all, Americanize her - as if that took much doing.
And so she became Nora Charles; the glamourous leading lady who warmed up William Powell in all those Thin Man movies (and many others) and who came to epitomize a kind of ideal American lady. In a town not known for the quality, Myrna was serene. By the time she moved on to television and the stage, as Hollywood's onetime studio goddess eventually did, simply casting her was a kind of shorthand, a mark of quality. Myrna Loy was, remained, and, I suspect, always will be a class act.
Would that one could say that for every luminary sharing this her natal day. In truth, they're a mixed bunch. Let's say Happy Birthday, even so, not just to Mrs. Charles, but also to epic bibulist Peter O'Toole and antic jurisprudentist Lance Ito; to real-life Mr. Bette Davis Gary Merrill and television's Mr. Edith Bunker Carroll O'Connor; to the barely Transylvanian eternal pre-teen werewolf Butch Patrick and hardly Olympian sometime Prince protégée Apollonia*; and to pulchritudinous Loy co-eval Ann Dvorak, piquant thesp Mary Louise Parker, and putrid would-be conservacomic Victoria Jackson.
We see Miss Loy here a few decades after the height of her reign, but in my opinion she still looked damn good. I love that fiesty Old Dame look, one too little seen anymore in this taut and frozen-visaged era...
*Apollonia fun-fact: it was in fact her eponymous sometime girl group Apollonia 6 that first sang, on their equally eponymous first album, "Manic Monday", ages, more or less, before the Bangles. Who knew?
Friday, July 30, 2010
Oh, yes, I'm fully aware that everybody's over weird Japaniana; but then you stumble on something like this little startler, and you realize all over again that the "Why am I Mr. Sparkle?" Simpsons episode is still a work of sheer genius (not to mention verisimilitude).
Watch and marvel...
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Yes, on a fine July evening in 1940, audiences at Warner Theatre's across the nation sat down for a nice double-feature to find their evening preceded by A Wild Hare, the gripping story of a hunter and his prey - and it's all been nothing but good times since.
What Bugs's epics may have lacked in length (averaging, I believe, something between six and ten minutes), they more than made up for in quality. I'm especially partial to the ones in which Bugs torments poor clueless Daffy Duck, although I can also be talked into a vintage Marvin the Martian now and again. The opera parodies, the triumphantly disastrous night at the Hollywood Bowl ("Leopold!"), encounters with fellow stars from Edward G. Robinson to Errol Flynn and with adversaries that ranged from a baby to a truly deranged witch - really, they're all pretty wonderful.
If I had to choose one favorite, I suppose it would have to be The Rabbit of Seville - what's yours?
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Movin' on up indeed, in the immortal words sung so memorably by Miss Ja'net Dubois, albeit to the very far East Side and not exactly to a deeluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi (although I will be crushingly honest and admit that our new digs are not exactly up to the standards illustrated - the people actually movin' on up in that snap are in fact the Eisenhowers).
Yes, here we are, once again surrounded by a bewildering profusion of random possessions (it's not a good sign when your first thought on opening most boxes is "why on earth did I keep that?") and slowly sorting things out. I have been moving on average every three years or so since I was 18, but that doesn't make the process any less agonizingly annoying. While Mr. Muscato has been almost as consistently nomadic, he is significantly less a packrat than I, and so finds the whole thing that much more depleting.
I keep telling him that moving is like childbirth (a process neither of us, it must be admitted, is particularly familiar with aside from our own arrival), and one never remembers how very unpleasant it was once the baby (or, in this case, the decorator*) arrives. I don't think he believes me.
The dog, on the other hand, restored to us after a bureaucratic process only slightly less Kafka-esque than that required to extract a Soviet dissident, has found his favorite sofa cushion and is entirely content. So some things are as they ought to be.
* Who am I trying to kid, being so grand? To paraphrase Pogo, I have seen the decorator, and he is us.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I'd rather remember her in palmier days, dripping in diamonds, teased out to there, and painted with an insouciance that seems almost Fauve, as convinced of her perfection as she is that the sun will rise in the morning (a time of day she last saw 'round about the time she may or may not have been Miss Hungary).
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I am madly in love with the almost baroccoco composition of this snap, in which La Chantal assumes the position of a beneficent background goddess, bestowing her approval on the curious union of the tiny if powerful President of France and his bride. As always, though, the primary thought on Chantal's mind appears to be how very much more glamourous she is than anyone around - and who can say her nay?
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Of these, I don't think there can be anything better than the creature pictured above, the incredible Dina Martina. It's actually rather hard to describe an evening in her presence, except that it is raucous, mindbending, and, most surprisingly, startingly cosy. She reminds me of one of my favorite Susan Sontag lines: "Camp is a tender feeling."
Who else could make an audience vie fiercely for the privilege of winning what are billed as "the world's largest underpants" (emblazoned, live on stage, with the star's own makeup faceprint)? Who could create a mash-up on "Fever" and "No Scrubs"? Most of all, who else could take an act made up of just about equal parts malapropisms, mispronunciations (g frequently becoming j -Ms. M. is very pleased with her "jifts"), hoary jokes, show-biz lore, and a healthy dose of the very difficult art of singing just badly enough (it really is tough, kids - just ask Jo Stafford)? I can think of no one but Dina.
Each of the acts we've seen these past few weeks have been pretty fab - the tight, Vegas-style evening of cabaret with Cher-extraordinaire Randy Roberts (whose own character, a diva poised somewhere between Ann Margret and Rita Hayworth, is even better than his star takes), the trip into Varla Jean Merman's glamorously demented song-stylings, nights with Miss Richfield and Miss Burlington and more, and of course the truly awe-inspiring trainwrecks that are each week's edition of the town's legendary "talent" contest/revue Show Girls. Still, it's Dina I'll take away as someone I'd not only like to see again, but maybe have a cocktail with, in character or out. I know nothing about the man behind the legend, but it must take a fascinating brain to go so far out and still feel so very much at home.
* Although no one, alas, seems to be doing Bette Davis this year. I have a hunch that you can guess who this year's sensation is, done in tributes ranging from respectful to disembowelling. If you were to guess that her initials are L.G., you wouldn't be far off (and no, it's not Linda Gray).
Friday, July 9, 2010
Even better, I've got not one but two ways to tie the (it must be admitted) unaccustomed athletic theme into topics more regularly found herein.
First up, the video seen above - a regionalized version of the omnipresent tournament song, "Waving Flag", featuring my favorite Arab-pop ultrastar, that Kylie of the East, Miss Nancy Ajram. It's both an improvement on the original song and actually rather a fun little clip.
Second, as part of my ongoing effort to broaden your horizons, I'm proud to bring you a snippet of news from our once-and-future part of the world that may have escaped your attention. The National, a UAE-based English rag, has passed on the rather fascinating news that local religious authorities have declared via fatwa that the World Cup's signature contribution to noise pollution, the vuvuzela, is - at least in certain conditions - haram, or off limits. That'll learn 'em, but I doubt it will do much to quell the mosquito-like hum that has been the background to our lives for the past four weeks or so...
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Of course, it wasn't the first time those kneepads had come in handy...
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
She dressed for the heat in floral prints (the better to show up, too, against the imposing green marble backdrop of the United Nations podium, from which she spoke very nicely about the importance of that at times invaluable, at times infuriating body), but as always the focus of her toilette - and the real reason for this post - was her charming and highly decorative chapeau.
I say the real reason for this post because, while I do of course as always appreciate a Royal visit, what I really want to do is call attention to one of my favorite recent blog-finds, Mad Hattery! A lighthearted, possibly borderline-obsessive look at topper trends among the titled classes, MH! is presided over by the almost impossibly knowledgeable hostess Ella, and she and her coterie of fascinator-followers make for very good company indeed.
Among other things, we share a level of despair over the sartorial choices of the Princess Royal, a healthy disdain for Princess Michael of Kent, and an unbridled fondness for the slightly demented charms of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, a lady to whom the MH! generally refers to as "Cake," for reasons obvious to anyone who studies her very distinctive hatting tendencies. Further afield, MH! takes aim from time to time at the studiedly dull dressing of the Japanese Imperials, looks now and again at such regional favorites as Princess Haya of Jordan (and Dubai) and the colorful Sheikha Moza of Qatar, and is now gearing up for the August nuptials involving the erstwhile Greek royals. It's all in excellent fun, and I really can't recommend it enough.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
First things first: we're all well - Mr. Muscato, Koko, and me. It's been something of a wild ride over the last few months, a whirlwind of surprises, difficult decisions, unexpected opportunities, enormous annoyances, horrid misbehavior from startling corners, the occasional complete nervous collapse, a shade too many doctors and lawyers, endings, and, now, beginnings. It all required a good long rest, which I have to say we've been enjoying tremendously.
Now that I'm catching up, at last, I can't tell you how much all the interest, concern, and nagging from friends and Gentle Readers over recent months has meant; I only wish I'd had the energy not simply to disappear for a while, and I hope, very much, that forgiveness will reign for the long and enigmatic silence.
So, here's what's up, more or less, in no particular order.
Alas, the Villa Muscato is no more. One of the first signs, in fact, that the universe - ours, at least - was falling out of alignment was the unwelcome news that our longsuffering landlord had at last awakened to the fact that he was being woefully underpaid and was exercising his option to retake his little slice of heaven, ostensibly for a family member.
In discussing domestic options, it became clear that my betters at VeryDull International Consulting (a wholly owned subsidiary of Gilded Cage Career Choices, LLC) were not encouraging about the prospect of a new long lease. "I wouldn't," said my Fearless Leader in the Home Office, "count on more than six months, really..."
At that point, much becomes mercifully unclear even in such recent memory.
Lights up, then, on a sunny morning some six weeks later, in which after much backing-and-forthing, suggestions, proposals, and just the slightest hint of threats in several directions, our way forward became clear(er). In short order, we were dealing, badly, with the appalling prospect of packing, closing accounts, zeroing out obligations business, fiduciary, and social, and generally steeling ourselves to entirely unendurable levels of activity, change, and general stress and strain.
The first wrench was saying adieu to Ermilia, our stalwart domestiche, who is now brightening the lives of a charming expat family who have taken on the formidable bureaucracy currently required to secure the presence in one's life of what Grandmother Muscato referred to as Good Help. Even the temporary attentions of her silent and eccentric chum, the ever-reliable Flordeliza, were only a pale substitute for our lamented factotum.
But then, at last and with a curious mix of relief and melancholy, Mr. Muscato and I bade farewell to the peculiar little Sultanate in which we'd made our lives for the past six years. I suppose I will have more thoughts as time passes on the place we've called home, but for the moment, suffice it to say that we don't miss the driving, and it's wonderful not to feel guilty wearing shorts.
And ever since we've been recuperating, most recently for an extended stay in one of America's loveliest, most relaxing, and most invigorating (a seeming contradiction, I know; but it's not) seaside villages, one that will I suspect be familiar to at least a few of you from the snap above. We've slept, we've luxuriated in the sun and sea, we've gorged on lobster in all forms, we've regaled friends and family with tales of our injustices and triumphs, we've shopped furiously for perfectly useless bibelots, we've made our way through a fair amount of Champagne, and now...
We're preparing, with a certain amount of mixed trepidation and excitement (and a great deal of procrastination and inertia), for the next Great Changes.
Soon, therefore, we will once again be expatriates. We've found ourselves, long distance, yet another commodious-looking villa not too far from the sea. We will shortly be reunited with our beloved Koko, who has spent his long summer leave in the devoted care of friends and who has been sorely missed. We will be facing all sorts of new hurdles and opportunities, from securing basic services in a place almost as noted for bureaucracy as the dear Sultanate to securing a (pale, but with luck adequate) Ermilia-replacement to finding a decently amusing place to spend a Thursday evening.
It all raises the question, I have to say, of what to do with the Café. The name, of course, will no longer be entirely accurate, nor, for that matter, will my own nom de blog. We shall have to see, as things go along, and I hope you will be as patient with me as I figure these things out as you all have been while I went, for a while, underground.
In the meantime, a lovely Independence Day to all of you who care for such things; we'll be celebrating in our own quiet way, before shortly setting off for our own New World. I hope you're all as well, or at least as content, as, in the end, it's turned we have managed to be.
Monday, March 8, 2010
But they just did the criminally short bit assigned to this year's honorary award winners, and all I could do when presented with the spectacle of Lauren Bacall standing next to Roger Corman, the two of them being ovated by All Hollywood, was imagine what she was thinking: "What the f*** am I doing standing next to this hack, the Putz of Poverty Row? I've survived pictures from To Have and Have Not to Dogville - and he produced Attack of the Giant Leeches."
But he's thinking all "Yeah, whatever, Mrs. Bogie. At least I didn't make The Mirror Has Two Faces."
Sunday, March 7, 2010
If you pay close attention to the second paragraph, you'll discover something both astonishing physiologically and intriguing in terms of its implications to film history.
And as for the copy itself, well ... I suppose I'm not that surprised that this plucky little periodical doesn't have a fact checker, but really - couldn't they even spell her name right?
Saturday, March 6, 2010
"That pert baggage," said Marvelle later, on learning of her niece's solo release, "would have been better off learning to say 'I don't.'"
This one's mostly for readers here in the Sultanate, but to those outside - enjoy freedom. It's a precious, fragile thing.
I've written about this before, but now our Local Information Overlords have really lost it, blocking just about the most interesting local expat voice on the Internet and, potentially, giving the country a real black eye in the estimation of people everywhere who care about freedom of expression. Yes, blocked as of this morning is Muscat Confidential, an invaluable resource and a great read.
Fortunately, on the Internets, everything is possible (almost), and it's my joy to do for MC's Undercover Dragon what he did for another site that recently faced the censor's axe: provide a link that, through the miracle of Google, allows local readers who don't have their own ways around the dungeon walls to make their own decisions about what they read.
Here it is: Muscat Confidential for all, Muscat Confidential forever! If things don't improve, I'll add a link over there on the right for more permanent use, but for the moment, I hope any local readers who stray by find it of use.
Friday, March 5, 2010
I realized, in fact, when reading about the coming festivities this morning, that this is very likely the first year ever in which I have seen exactly none of the nominated films in the theatre, and only one of them on DVD (that was Inglourious Basterds, which seems to me far too weird to be an Oscar-winner).
Still, I remain intrigued by the people, if not the films, and I was pleased to run across a gallery of luminaries snapped at these year's BritOscars, the BAFTA Awards. It included the usual run of wholly obscure outside the UK TV types, but also two of my current favorites:
The excellent Stanley Tucci, whom I first fell for in Big Night and then A Midsummer Night's Dream. He has that nebbishy/hot thing down pat and gives every indication of being exceedingly smart and very, very funny. In The Devil Wears Prada he managed to be both funny and tragic at the same time, which is really a very New York state of mind. I just wish he played more in movies that feature shower scenes.
And my newest favorite, the irrespresible Miss Gabourey Sidibe. I'm actually kind of hoping she doesn't go home with the little gold gentleman, as I'm afraid it would doom her to one-hit wonderdom and eventually having to make movies with other one-time-rans like Marlee Matlin and Brenda Fricker. I think she's just about perfect and likely only to get better as she goes on.
I have to reason to hope that this year's is a record I won't repeat; if nothing else, it truly reduces one's interest in the proceedings, red-carpet gawping aside. Although that, after all, takes one a very long way; there's always the off-chance that Stanley will show up in the world's first topless tuxedo, isn't there?
First up, beloved UK canary Clodagh Rodgers, a performer whose moment in the spotlight as fourth-place finisher in the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest was forever overshadowed by the taking in vain of her name in one of the greatest of all Monty Python pieces, the extended "Cycling Tour" episode. I know it's hard to imagine if you haven't seen it, but "Ce n'est pas la belle Clodagh ... c'est Trotsky, le revolutionaire!" is one of the towering comedy moments of all time.
Here she is, though, at her moment of triumph, in all her be-hotpanted splendour, belting out her biggest hit; sadly, it's a song so idiotic that even here, when it was new and shiny and fun, even Clodagh doesn't look like she's having a very good time.
Also celebrating today, albeit in a completely Different Part of the Forest, is American broadcaster and writer Ray Suarez. His name, to me, will always conjure up a very specific time, one when his smooth, reasonable voice was, although I didn't know it then, something of an anchor for me.
In the early nineties, I was just coming off a spectacular, demanding, and really rather impossible job, one that had taken me around the world, allowed me to meet many of the people I most admired, and, when I left it, left me exhausted, adrift, and a little bit miserable. I was living in New York, I had contacts and friends and all sorts of potential opportunities, and I didn't want to do anything.
Which was a problem, since like most New Yorkers working in the arts, I was also quite thoroughly broke. Knew everyone, went everywhere, of course, but had a standing balance in the high two-figures down at the Chase Manhattan.
Fortunately, a friend came to my rescue; she needed someone to clean up tens of thousands of data records for a project on which she was engaged and decided I would do. Although I was a complete computer novice, she taught me the database program (Paradox in its pure DOS form, for those who care) and set me loose.
For the better part of a year I spent at least part of most days sitting in a tiny, windowless office off Times Square, completely alone, correcting spelling, making formatting consistent, and generally learning how data works (which is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. Or at least I think so). At a time when I needed it, this seeming drudgery provided refuge, structure, and consistency. I would walk up from the Village, let myself in, turn on the radio, and sit down and try to figure out how to standardize international phone-number fields.
NPR was the background noise, and "Talk of the Nation" often the show; even today I can hear Ray Suarez's calm, reassuringly sensible voice. It brings back exactly that empty little room, the endless packets of Nabisco Vanilla Cremes I went through, the clanking sounds of pipes in the ancient, faded building.
Looking back, I suppose I was probably pretty depressed, and the undemanding routine of Paradox and radio just about the best therapy I could have had. As the project was ending, my friend - surprised, I think, that it had gone so well - asked me if I would teach other people, her clients, how to work with the product she was developing. Talk to people? It was a big step, but I gave it a shot, and it worked, and from there has turned into all sorts of other lines of work.
So here I sit today, on a nearly perfect morning on the far side of the world, with Mr. Muscato asleep upstairs, Koko curled up on the sofa, and the birds singing in the garden, and think gratefully of Ray Suarez, 53 today.
Were I a real writer, I'd probably try to find a way to link it all together - some kind of a pop-music epiphany/jack in the box/time in its flight kind of mashup, but instead all I can think of is Graham Chapman dressed as a French girl, shrieking "Oh, Maman! Ce n'est pas..." and so dissolve in giggles. Koko really must think me very odd.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
So, as the tumbleweeds rolling around might have clued you in, life has been hectic for the past couple of weeks. Something vaguely resembling a lull, however, may be in sight, and so last night the Mister and I celebrated by retreating to our favorite pub. We normally sit on the terrace, which has great views of our little city and the sea and less smoke, but last night lots of folks were out and about, and so not a table to be had.
We sat inside, in a quietish booth near the bar. Mr. Muscato was actually quite pleased, as it meant he (vy. vy. butch, you know) could watch the big football match (Sultanate vs. Disdained Neighbor). So there we are, in a relatively quiet nook, him looking over my shoulder at the vast screen at one of the room and me... discovering that tucked into the other side of our booth was a mysterious little screen, the size of a computer monitor ten years ago, that for reasons wholly mysterious was showing a succession of Asian pop videos with the sound off.
I was lost. Football fans on all sides raged, our excellent meal came and went, and we were even treated to an especially choice version of one of our favorite bar sights (older and very respectable local man enjoying the company of a lady distinctly not his wife, sister, mother, or daughter, although very likely about the age of the last). My eyes stayed glued to the Silent Mystery Karaoke Screen.
One video especially stood out. Now, I know nothing but nothing about Asian pop; my last flirtation in that regard came two decades ago while I was living in Japan. I came home armed with only three words gleaned from the credits: Seaside, Super, Shinee. And, thanks to YouTubes, here it is. I think that what most enchants me is that both this video and the version in the bar featured handy English subtitles - which appear to be almost entirely different (last night's version featured a great deal of "going down the road of love," which is wholly absent here, for instance).
They do share, however, the deathless refrain that has provided the title above. I think the boys are Korean, they're certainly very energetic, and, unlike I would ever be, they're able to keep a straight face while exclaiming "Take me Take me Enjoy Today!" My current guess is that the song is "Seaside" while the band is Shinee. After watching it three or four times, Seaside Super Shinee is exactly how I feel.
Monday, March 1, 2010
I therefore take the liberty of appealing to those in this part of the world who haven't already done so to pay attention to the current posting by fellow blogger Suburban, who is looking for insight into the realities (which seem very likely to be harsher than we realize) of crime in this generally idyllic place.
That I can do so while reminding myself of one of my favorite Kay Francis pictures is just a little of what my Lousiana pals would call lagniappe. Fortunately, the Villa Muscato features very little to attract a jewel robbery; now, if there were evildoers out to steal biographies of minor royalties or Garbo DVDs, we'd have something to worry about...
Friday, February 26, 2010
A little lesson from Miss Bakaire on the essentials of fabulousness - a headpiece to die for, a couple of insinuating numbers, and a deathless belief in one's own mythos. Even here, with all the limitations of an early-TV variety special, in Germany yet, Josephine demonstrates why she was one of the very great sensations and, among other things, a matchless dancer...
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Actually, we're having a rather Anacin kind of week at the Café, darlings, for which apologies. I'm sure things will look brighter by the weekend, which after all in this part of the world is practically moments away...
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
In memory, it will always be 1953, the year that saw her headline three of MGM's favorite things: a much-loved classic (The Desert Song), a hagiographic biopic (So This is Love, the story of Grace Moore, herself a onetime MGM asset), and a great big Broadway hit, Cole Porter no less (Kiss Me Kate). In the last, it must be admitted, she's really very good, happily sending up her image and gleefully sparring with dreamy costar Howard Keel.
If all her parts had been as challenging, as off-kilter, as Kate's Lilli Vanessi, she might have had a longer career, but audiences were tiring of operetta and what Lena Horne later called "pretty mouth" singing. After only one more picture (the creaky Vagabond King, from a 1925 Friml original, at Paramount and opposite the not exactly Keelische Oreste Kirkop), Grayson moved on to theatre, television, and graceful retirement.
She was a lovely lady with a lovely voice who appears to have lived a dignified and happy life, and if that's not the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood legends, it's still no mean feat. What leading lady of today will have as good a name in fifty years?
Last night's treat was the comparatively least celebrated of Warner Bros.' run of early thirty musical spectaculars, Dames. There are perfectly legitimate reasons that it doesn't have the stature of, say, 42nd Street or Golddiggers of 1933, but it's still a fine evening's entertainment.
Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler do their usual business (brash and blushing, respectively) quite competently, and Joan Blondell, as always, livens the proceedings. The plot requires Guy Kibbee and ZaSu Pitts, as Keeler's parents, to bumble and dither as is their wont, but Pitts is oddly absent, doing nothing with what is basically a pretty nothing part (she looks like she wishes she were back with Stroheim in Greed).
The real reason for these pictures, of course, isn't the plot, but rather the numbers, and here Busby Berkeley certainly delivers. From an idyllic Central Park setting for the rather treacly "When You Were a Smile on Your Mother's Lips (and a Twinkle in Your Daddy's Eye)" to set the Powell-Keeler romance moving to the title number that highlights the inevitable show-within-a-show, the music moves along briskly. A bizarre Gibson Girl/Gay '90s number, "The Girl at the Ironing Board" gives Blondell the chance to frolic with an entire laundry's worth of en-puppetted long johns (a feint at least in part a result of her advanced pregnancy during filming).
One thing this picture does require is a very high tolerance for the standard that it launched upon the world, "I Only Have Eyes For You," of which one hears a very great deal in the course of the film's 91 minutes. It first appears early in the picture, but then gets the full-fledged demento Berkeley treatment later on, in an extravaganza that imagines the Second Coming as the Apotheosis of Ruby Keeler, or perhaps what Kim Jong Il might get up to if he had an unlimited supply of white organza (and Ruby Keeler). It might seem the last word in Bekeleyiana, but in reality it only sets the stage for the big "Dames" finale, which, like the rest of the best of Berkeley, is basically indescribable.
Actually, it's what Leni Riefenstahl might have done if she'd had better drugs and a sense of humor. In fact, it's odd having seen this movie and the Leni documentary in one week; it causes all sorts of thinking about what was really going on in people's minds in the 1930s.
I've decided that there is a truly fundamental difference between Riefenstahl's massed thousands of perfect Aryans and Berkeley's intricate compositions of giggling Hollywood chorus girls. It's that Leni came out of entertainment (having started as a dancer - of sorts, if the clips available are any indication - and actress) and applied what she had learned there to the glorification of Fascist pomp and circumstance. By contrast, Berkeley took his military-academy background - his love of regimentation, precision, the endless geometric replication of pattern - and applied it to the most basic tropes of show-biz: boy meets girl, kids meet fame (on a soundstage the size of all Burbank, in the company of endless numbers of extras moving in unison).
That is, although in some ways the products seem almost eerily similar, they're actually coming at each other from entirely different universes. One gilds a vacuous evil, giving it a frozen, gimcrack glamor; the other adds a backbone of steel to the June-Moon-Spoon of a thousand nights in Vaudeville, turning it into true cinema that's still, by virtue of its inherent absurdity, gloriously entertaining and oddly human in scale. Surely there can be few less Fascist concepts than 350 dancing Ruby Keelers, let alone having all of them serenaded by the keening croon of the eternal juvenile Dick Powell.
If only he could have done more with poor ZaSu...
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Still, I think we can't forget what an extraordinary creature she was in her prime, as here, a vision in orientalische Halston with the whole world ahead of her. There have been few more lovely women in recent decades, and if her film career never went much beyond Cabaret and Barry Lyndon, both of those are in their own ways landmarks in which she is very, very effective.
Here at the Café, Miss B. holds a special place, having been responsible for one of the very first little traffic spikes back eons ago when all of us were mere cyber-tots. Much should be forgiven the fabulous, but the killer combo of trout pout and a forehead as flat and immovable as the Antarctic do try one's patience, if not one's admiration for all that went before...
It was especially thoughtful of the designer to have included this tome's original title, so that paperback buyers needn't have fretted whether Red Carpet for Mamie Eisenhower (or is it actually the more stentorian Red Carpet for MAMIE EISENHOWER?) was in fact a new and different biography than the seminal Red Carpet for Mamie that they had bought in hardback last year when they were on vacation at Ogunquit and it was the only thing the damn drugstore stocked besides the awful Taylor Caldwell novel that Aunt Gert gave them at Eastertime.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The film is far more than the story of Hitler's favorite filmmaker, the woman whose rollercoaster career took her from silent stardom in the now unwatchable genre of German Mountain Epics to scubadiving at 90+ in the Indian Ocean - heights and depths, indeed. What it really is, I think, is an almost continually frustrated attempt to answer one question: "What was she thinking?"
For decades she maintained one obdurate story: she was an apolitical artist, one who got caught up, all unawares, in the frenzy surrounding the rise of Nazism and who just happened to create its most enduring visual records. She was, in fact, a victim - of Goebbels, who repeatedly frustrated her perfectionist vision; of her postwar critics, who saw in Triumph of the Will the potent danger of a genuinely gifted eye meeting a poisonous message; and even of later writers, like Susan Sontag, who looked at Riefenstahl's '60s work photographing African tribesmen and saw a continuation of her Nazi-era celebration of what we know think of as body Fascism.
In the movie, she hews to this line, a nonagenarian vision of raddled UFA glamour as she tells her well-worn tales, dimpling guilelessly at the camera like the old pro she truly was. She compares herself, repeatedly, to Dietrich, whom she admires, it seems, not for her boldly anti-Hitler stance, but simply for having escaped and endured. She notes that she needed the same kind of lighting Marlene required - a high single spot to create the legendary shadows - and makes the dubious claim that she had been in the running to be Von Sternberg's Lola Lola in The Blue Angel.
Only once does the mask drop. Reunited in the stadium of the 1936 Olympics with two of the cameramen she had schooled to realize her almost demented glorification of athletic perfection in Olympia, she sits, during a break, chatting with them, apparently unaware her mic is live. Suddenly, briefly, her days as the toast of Berlin come to life. The three dispassionately move from talking about apertures and exposures to chitchat about the more routine assignments of who filmed who - "Ah, ja, you went to Moscow with Ribbentrop, no?" and for just that moment, you realize what an abyss she is, a vacancy, not apolitical but amoral, genuinely unable to fathom the bizarre experiences she has been through.
At the end of the film, she tries one last justification, another repetition of her tropes - I was not a party member, I never said anything anti-semitic, people lie so terribly about me, I was (looking very much intact) "shattered" to learn of all the atrocities, what could I have done ... and it occurred to me. Leni, in the end, really is a Lola Lola, a woman who, for film as the original was for sex, is so wholly self-absorbed, "von Kopf bis Fuß " made for nothing else, that she just ... can't help it.
For Marlene, Lola was just a role, the one that finally set her on the road to real stardom and out of the black orbit of National Socialism. Leni, though, was the real deal, Dietrich's dark shadow. It's a paradox, then, that she enjoyed a long, vigorous old age and, finally, a measure of renown apart from her vilification, even as her braver, more clear-eyed coeval languished in a geriatric haze of liquor and self-pity in Paris. Good choices don't always make for happy endings, but even so, while both women may have had "wonderful, horrible" lives, I have to think Dietrich's was the better path.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Romero's was a fun career - steady work certainly, with 60-odd pictures behind him before he went into TV in a big way in 1950, enough familiar roles to make up for a fair number of quaintly obscure titles (Love Before Breakfast, anybody? Carnival in Costa Rica? Happy Go Lovely?), and a nice long old age to bask in the appreciation of fans. He worked with everybody from Shirley Temple to Divine, and he always seemed to enjoy himself.
Never married and one of Hollywood's favorite "Confirmed Bachelors," Romero earned the title noted above the hard way: no less than Joan Crawford, who no question knew from butch when she saw it, bestowed it on him.
Eilers is really is just the ghost of a name today. Here she seems just a shade too happy to be on the radio, although I suppose it could be the "yes, I still have a jawline" pose she's having to hold for a moment or two longer than is strictly comfortable. She's one of those people who was bigger then than we would credit today without ever having really clicked. She never did television - maybe she should have learned a thing or two from Butch.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Also celebrating today are a dizzying array of Café favorites: St. Eva of Gabor, eternal castaway/sex bomb Tina Louise, sex bomb/survivor Burt Reynolds, Method megastar Kim Stanley, bossa nova biggie Sergio Mendes, deft self-satirist Leslie Neilsen, and two of my favorite Egyptians: King Farouk and my very own Mr. Muscato.
We're less thrilled that he shares the day with a certain Mrs. Palin, formerly of Wasilla, Alaska, but we're going to be sloughing off that slight vexation with a quick road trip to this Dubai place that everyone's always going on about. If it's radio silence in these parts for the next few days, you'll know that we're having fun...
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Sadly, Maureen McGovern's startlingly funny version hasn't been Youtubed, although you can, if you like, catch a rather more elegant singing of it by the exquisite Dutch diva Elly Ameling (I adore how those ladies bring such a genial, "look Ma, I'm dancing!" air to their encore numbers).
Knowing you, though, you'll probably click right through to the (maddeningly unembedable) dance-spectacular featuring the improbable trio of Steve and Eydie and Gene Kelly. Nothing says Gershwin like a 1975 TV special, after all.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
And you dreamed it all
And this is your story.
Do you know who you are?
You're the dream operator...
Monday, February 8, 2010
Hers is story that doesn't end well (death on skid row in 1947) and that didn't leave much behind - but, for a moment, in her gold lace wrap she was just about perfect, and it looks like she knew it.
Also, her final film has, I think, a marvelous title: Chloe, Love is Calling You. It ought to be a romantic screwball about a feckless heiress, with maybe a fun part for Helen Westley or Edna May Oliver as her aunt/chaperone. Instead, because by that point nothing was going right for Borden, it was in fact a lurid 1934 cheapie filmed in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Still - that photo, that moment...
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Friday, February 5, 2010
For your (dubious) listening pleasure, Jacek "The Polish Bobby Vinton" (is that redundant?) Lech brings you his 1966 hit "Bądź dziewczyną moich marzeń" ("Be the girl of my dreams") .
It's notable mostly for the appearance on backup of a rarely seen legend: yes, here we have not only Thing One and Thing Two, but their lesser-known sister, Thing Three. If this is what they could come up with for primetime TV, imagine what the girls in the steno pool were wearing. Snazzy frock on the slightly-too-enthusiastic hostess, though, you have to admit...
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The above was snapped during Miss Rheba's Christmas visit, in the garden of the Grand Mosque; the profusion of flowers everywhere is one of the distinct features of the local winter, not just in snazzy public places like the Mosque, but along the roadsides, in massed quantities on hillsides, and decorating intersections and traffic circles (the latter an endangered species as they are replaced by red lights). That they're all the sort of northern flowers - petunias and such - one finds in suburban English gardens only makes it that much more picturesque.
As usual, Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I have spent part of our weekend at our favorite seaside spot, joined this week by visitors from Europe (stunned at the sunshine) and the Emirates (stunned at the dire local nightlife). There is always great people watching at the beach - the Western tourists cluelessly wandering about in inappropriate swimwear, the gaggles of subcontinental gentlemen and local youth ogling same, and the wide variety of family outings - from nuclear families of three to extended clans of ten or more times that - enjoying sun and sand.
I'm particularly interested in how women deal with the competing and contradictory demands of modesty, fashion, and comfort. One solution is standard sportsclothes under the enveloping black abaya and headscarf - teen sisters racing along the beach after smaller siblings with the abaya sailing behind them, inevitably recalling comic pre-Vatican II images of nuns at play.
Another, very common in the Muslim world, is to try and meet all three priorities via layering. When I was living in Cairo, the fashion among junior misses was to go with the then-stylish strappy mini-sundress - over skin-tight jeans and turtleneck, creating a kind of slightly slutty (but totally covered-up) jumper effect.
Yesterday we encountered a remarkable local variation of that look that saw both the comfort and fashion angles taken to new extremes: a matron frolicking on the beach with her tots, resplendent in an ensemble that consisted of a scarlet tracksuit (the type with stripes down the sides, previously more familiar to me on elderly Italian gentlemen in South Philadelphia or perhaps on third-tier rappers) worn under a form-fitting metallic-silver jersey cocktail frock, complete with ruffled handkerchief hemline, the whole completed up top with a gold fishscale-pailleted scarf and down below with rainbow-striped platform espadrilles. Yes, the combo led to a certain amount of unavoidable lumpiness, but on the whole, whatever else you can say, Madam was fierce.
On a different note - why is it that, whether in times of boom or, as now, shall we call it lack-of-boom, that local building contractors don't seem to take any special advantage of the more comfortable weather? A very high percentage of the many high-profile projects around town seem more or less stalled - not only the ones with reputed Dubai-related money woes that clearly have been knocked awry by the financial crisis, but the publicly financed ones like the long-pending opera house.
A few are proceeding apace, but in general the city presents a silhouette of still cranes, a six-story high mini-version of Dubai's sixty-story skyline. If previous years are a model, come the summer, things will rev up significantly, because, of course, as much as possible has to be done and perfect by National Day in November. I think it would be a mercy to the workers, if nothing else, to reassign that deadline to the July accession anniversary, just so the rush could be going on now, when it's not pure torment to be outdoors.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
The clip's mise-en-scène recalls nothing so much as one of the era's lesser poolside gay porn romps, although the burly singer - perhaps "performer" would be a kinder, if no less euphemistic, term - appears considerably more butch than most stars of that genre in those days when Twinks Ruled the World.
And it's her birthday - 45 today. She's had the kind of life that can be summed up by pointing out that her short-lived popstar career was actually one of the saner things she's ever done...
It's always seemed to me that the light went out in Gable after Lombard's death, and except for the rare spark here and there (and some deeply touching moments in his last film, The Misfits - Monroe's influence?), something about losing her (and the War, I suppose, and just passing time) quenched what it was that had made him such a Total Star.
Sharing the day? Well, it's a mixed bunch - the great Victor Herbert alongside Saturday Night Live also-ran Garrett Morris; the inimitable Incomparable Hildegarde and byproduct-of-fame Lisa Marie Presley; two Very Different Divas, the superlative Renata Tebaldi and subculture superstar Exene Cervenka; and two of the more mordant talents of the Anglophone world, Miss Muriel "Jean Brodie" Spark and Terry "the Pepperpot Python" Jones.
Oh, and another lady who will shortly merit a post all her own. Don't say you haven't been warned...
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Lugosi has gotten a lot of respect in recent years as the Great Thespian Done Wrong by Hollywood machinations, just as Ed Wood has gotten more than his share of props for "rescuing" the onetime Austro-Hungarian heartthrob and showing him some respect at the end of his long, strange trip.
In this clip, though, we can see that only two years after his greatest triumph Bela was already quite willing to trash his own image - although there is something in his glance at about 1:16 that does convey a shade of existential sorrow, as if in realization that he's starting down a slippery slope.
Frankly, the only thing that frightens me about this number are those damn mannequins. Well, that and the piano player...
*Transylvanian accent absolutely required.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
When I go through these bouts of sleep-to-the-point-of-unconsciousness, I often wake more tired than after a similar amount of the usual dozing. Moreover, I'm more prone than usual to remembering dreams - usually long, complicated, and repetitive dreams. This week's featured, in a starring role, Miss Bonham Carter, albeit not in a lilac fur-trimmed peignoir as seen here.
We were walking together, for a very long time, doing the usual dream-state pointless searching for things, talking about other things, and generally not making much sense.
I woke suddenly yesterday morning at one such dream's end, just as she turned to me and said, "you know what the real problem is, don't you? Don't you?"
"Tell me," said I.
She turned away; looking gravely over her shoulder as she walked off, she said, simply: "Mystery clown."
And so I woke up. And this is what I Googled from that phrase:
Amazingly, despite the horror of that image, last night I slept the dreamless, refreshing sleep of the innocent and feel much restored.
But what could it mean?
I know I've already run one Carole Samaha video this month (and how many blogs do you read that can claim that?), but over the last couple of days I keep running across this one and find myself smitten - it's random and poppy and just great fun.
It's the Lebanese diva's hit "Ali", and in it she, a couple of girlfriends, and a pair of I'm quite totally certain platonic pals dance it up. I'm loving the ice-cream colors, the Demoiselles de Rochefort choreography, the very 1986 synth hook, and the way it makes me think of numbers from things like Star Struck, if it were Middle Eastern instead of Australian.