Monday, June 30, 2014

Corners Of Their Minds

The Hollywood Reporter surveyed a bunch of show biz mucky-mucks and compiled a top 100 movie list. Here's the top 25.  I'd list them all but don't have the patience.

1.  The Godfather
2.  The Wizard Of Oz
3.  Citizen Kane
4.  The Shawshank Redemption
5.  Pulp Fiction
6.  Casablanca
7.  The Godfather: Part 2
8.  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
9.  2001: A Space Odyssey
10. Schindler's List
11. Star Wars
12. Back To The Future
13. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
14. Forrest Gump
15. Gone With The Wind
16. To Kill A Mockingbird
17. Apocalypse Now
18. Annie Hall
19. Goodfellas
20. It's A Wonderful Life
21. Chinatown
22. The Silence Of The Lambs
23.  Lawrence Of Arabia
24. Jaws
25. The Sound Of Music

The list is more commercial and mainstream than critics' lists, but that's the be expected.  Most of the films were big hits, and most are in English.

The top director is Steven Spielberg. He's got four in the top 25--E.T., Schindler's List, Raiders and Jaws--along with lower-ranked Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  Other top directors with three or more titles are Coppola, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Scorsese and Christopher Nolan.

Certain picks I don't understand, including the perennially overrated Shawshank Redemption.  On the other hand, it's nice to see Pulp Fiction up so high. I assume the relatively younger crowd picked it, while the older types went for Casablanca.

Most disappointing, if predictable, is the short memory of Hollywood.  Reading this list, you'd have no idea there was ever a silent era. In fact, there are only 16 films from before 1960, and none before 1939.  More than half were released since the 1980s. The most popular decade, with 24 choices--almost one in four--is the 1990s.  There were some good films that decade, but better than the 70s?  Or the 30s?

When the next list comes out, will, say, Avatar (at #67 already below #45 Titanic) be missing?  Or will older films, like On The Waterfront drop out?  Time will tell, but I'm surprised Avatar--the biggest hit of all time--made it at all.

Sweet Suite

Happy birthday, Andy Scott, lead guitarist and singer for Sweet.







Sunday, June 29, 2014

Where Have You Been Billy Boy

Here's the start of a piece in The Hollywood Reporter:

Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground far-left radical who Sarah Palin made famous in 2008 by suggesting he was a "pal" of President Barack Obama...

So that's what made him?

I'd say Bill Ayers was famous--or infamous--in the late 60s as a leading activist who became leader of the Weather Underground. And I'm guessing he remained "famous" in the early 70s when he was a fugitive and his picture could be found in post offices around the country.  Then he was famous for having his charges dropped due to what could be called a technicality.  He also wrote a book in 1973, Prairie Fire.

Perhaps he was forgotten for a while as the memory of those days of rage faded.  But boy did he jump back into the headlines when he wrote his book Fugitive Days: A MemoirThe New York Times did a piece on him where he was quoted saying "I don't regret setting bombs" and "I feel we didn't do enough." The piece was published on September 11, 2001.

He also had a relationship with Barack Obama.  This was reported in mainstream newspapers and discussed quite a bit among conservatives.  Then Sarah Palin mentioned it.  I guess she's the first celebrity to be involved in the story, so, to The Hollywood Reporter, that means he finally became famous.

Let me try to explain it in a way that they can understand:

Mel Gibson got headlines around the world when he was arrested for drunk driving.  But he did some things of note before then, wouldn't you agree?

Our Boy Leroy

Happy birthday Leroy Anderson, probably the greatest composer of symphonic novelty music.









Saturday, June 28, 2014

Still Lookin' For That Love

Bobby Womack has died.  We forgot to celebrate his birthday this year, but we've done it in the past, and the music still sounds fine.

The Common Good?

I've often wondered why there's so much fighting over Common Core.  I mean, is the concept that high school graduates should have certain basic skills and be aware of certain facts in math and English controversial?

Maybe this is the right way to do it, or not.  But it's odd how angry Common Core makes people, both on the Right and Left.

I was going to write more about this issue, but I went to the Common Core website and it froze my computer and I had to reboot. So now I'm against it.

RR

Happy birthday, Richard Rodgers. If he wasn't the most popular songwriter of the 20th century I'd like to know who was.














Friday, June 27, 2014

The Little Fellow

An odd essay By Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club about why Chaplin still matters. Certainly a worthy topic, especially since Chaplin started appearing in films a century ago.  But where does this come from:

His post-silent films—which include his two most enduringly popular features, Modern Times and The Great Dictator—reflect his own attitudes more than the feelings of American audiences at the time.

So these are his two most endearingly popular features, end of discussion?  At the very least I would think The Gold Rush and City Lights are at the same table.  (And personally I find The Great Dictator to be much weaker than these other three.)

But Vishnevetsky has odder things to say about Chaplin's style:

The other popular comedians of the slapstick were big movers—acrobats, daredevils.  Chaplin's physical comedy, on the other hand, was naturalistic; for the most part, his routines operated within an average person’s range of motion. This helps explain why Chaplin would become the most imitated person of his time. 

I think he was the most imitated because he was the most popular, not just because he was easy to imitate. As for his work, it's true his actions were smaller, finer, more subtle than others--not that he couldn't be acrobatic when the plot required--but to say he operated within the average person's range of motion is missing the point.  More important, I'd say, is he was able to do things with a grace, wit and finesse that no one else could come close to.

The Gold Rush’s iconic "Oceana Roll" endures not only because it’s funny and, like much of Chaplin’s comedy, easy to replicate, but also because his face—which is concentrated during the performance, but breaks into a boyish laugh when he’s done—captures the feeling of wanting to perform. It lasts, because it was built to.

Much of his comedy easy to replicate?  In the same way, I suppose, that anyone can learn trumpet but not many can play like Louis Armstrong.  In fact, in Chaplin's heyday there were numerous onscreen imitators--some literally trying to pass themselves off as the man himself--but none endured, because they didn't have Chaplin's genius.

We may be able to relate to great clowns, but it's because they do something beyond what we can that they endure.

FM Music

Happy birthday, Frank Mills. Not the "Frank Mills" from Hair, but the Canadian musician.  He charted three songs on the Billboard charts in the 70s.  Two of them just made the top fifty but, alas, not the top forty, and one hit the top ten and went gold.  See if you can tell which one.





Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reading Reed

Maybe I should just do a weekly post on Rex Reed, because he's bananas.  Each time I read his column I'm astonished anew.  Take his latest on Jersey Boys.  The first paragraph:

Jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood hates the bubblegum pop-rock noise of all those ’50s groups like The Four Seasons as much as I do. And there is nothing fresh, special or intriguing about the story of their rise and fall that distinguishes it from all of the other jukebox musicals that pollute the ozone in retro agony. So why did I enjoy Jersey Boys, the Broadway show about them that is still running after nine years, and why do I like the movie even more? I think it’s because, despite all that crummy doo-wop, it’s a universal, American “anyone can make it” success story that has uplifting appeal onstage, and in Mr. Eastwood’s capable hands, the joy spreads like apple butter.

1)  Eastwood hates their music?  Maybe Rex knows this personally (and I can actually believe it, since the movie doesn't seem to understand the passion behind the music, though I generally find passion missing from much of Eastwood's work), but if this is so, why would anyone give Eastwood the assignment?  And why would he take it?

2)  They started in the 50s, but are a 60s group, recording their big hits in that decade.

3)  There's nothing fresh, special or intriguing about their story distinguishing them from other jukebox musicals?  I would think a major reason Jersey Boys has become one of the biggest jukebox musicals of all time is precisely because, in addition to the tunes, it's got a compelling story, different from others.

4)  So Rex hates the music and the story.  Yet likes the movie.  A neat trick.

5)  Why does he like it?  Because it's got an "anyone can make it" appeal.  The music is unique, the story is unique, but it's the huge cliché at the center that draws Rex in.

6)  Rex says the joy spreads like apple butter. (Why apple butter?  Does that spread better than regular butter?  And don't get me started on "pollute the ozone in retro agony.") Funny that most critics don't find the movie so joyful, and almost none think it better than the stage version.  When was the last time anyone accused Clint Eastwood of spreading joy, anyway?  One of the main complaints, in fact, is he's turned the story into a downer.

And that's just the first paragraph. Reed's plot summary, as always, is filled with errors*.  I'll ignore them, except for one he went out of his way to make:

That screeching soprano kept [Frankie Valli] out of jail, paid his bills, propelled him to stardom and influenced myriad pop imitators, from Little Richard to Little Anthony and the Imperials.

I assume my readers already know the error, but just in case, let me note that Little Richard and Little Anthony were stars in the 50s, before anyone had heard of the Four Seasons. Now Lou Christie, that's another story.

*In The New Yorker, the usually reliable Anthony Lane makes what I think is a mistake:

We get the guys clustered around a phone, pouring the start of “Sherry” into the ear of Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), their producer, who informs them that, by chance, he has tapes set up to record...

I seem to recall the guys were unhappy that songwriter and member Bob Gaudio was late because they were about to go to a recording session.  Much harder to buy is when he comes in with some lead sheets and they can immediately start singing the song, and then Bob Crewe over the phone can hear the first few a capella bars and knows it'll be a huge hit with a new sound.

The Mole

Happy birthday, Larry Taylor, a great session bass player who became a member of Canned Heat during its glory days (and, unlike other members of the band, is still alive).








Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BM

I saw an ad for McDonald's that offered a special deal--after 9 pm you can get two Big Macs for the price of one. (They also said check out #McDAfterDark but I'm not sure how helpful that is.)

Whenever I hear this sort of promotion, I wonder how deeply they thought it out.  Did they notice Big Macs weren't selling after normal dinner hours?  Did they just want to draw people in later?

In any case, will this increase overall profits?  I mean, now you know that if you just wait till 9 you can get a great deal.  But most people don't eat then.  So won't this just make the vast majority who get their Big Macs (which I assume is Mickey D's biggest seller) like chumps?

For that matter, what do you do when you get to McDonald's and it's 8:30 and you discover this deal.  Let's say you're using the drive-thru.  Do you go around the block a few more times?  Do you put the car in park and say just bring it to me when the deal starts.

And when the deal ends, will business drop off?  If that's so, why start it to begin with?  The fast food wars are pretty brutal, but how much do people count their pennies. (I'm guessing plenty of the crowd they get feel that saving a few bucks is no joke.)

Two First Names

Happy birthday, Harold Melvin of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes--pretty good billing.







Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Molen Culpa

Gerald Molen is a major movie macher, having produced Schindler's List, Jurassic Park and other titles.  Recently, he's been involved in conservative documentaries with Dinesh D'Souza.  Their 2016: Obama's America was the second-biggest political doc of all time, and now its follow-up, America, will be released this July 4th weekend.

But he's not happy.  Apparently his past connection to Hollywood makes him feel ashamed.  So he's written a letter to 866 conservative and Christian leaders, saying:

As a member of the Hollywood community, I have been part of an industry that has unwittingly and yes, even wittingly, caused much damage to America and to the world, and I am well aware of the blight that has too often been the result of such actions.  

Throughout my years in Hollywood, I tried to live my life differently and be a part of projects that I would be proud to have my grandchildren watch.  It hasn't been easy, but I've at least tried to stand against the tide of depravity that has too often flourished there.

Mr. Molen shouldn't feel so bad.  He doesn't have that much power.  No one in Hollywood does.  They fancy themselves influential, but most of America gets along without them just fine, enjoying their product if and when they choose, not because Hollywood has somehow hypnotized them.

The letter goes on:

There is a certain irony in the release date of America. It just happens to fall on the 10th anniversary of the release of the most successful political documentary in history. I do not feel it proper for me to name the film or the filmmaker for a film based on half truths and deliberate obfuscations of facts.

He's referring, of course, the Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which grossed three-and-a-half times as much as 2016: Obama's America.  Moore's anti-Bush film was released in the summer of 2004.  That was the year, you'll recall, when George W. Bush was reelected.  2016: Obama's America, an anti-Obama film, was released in the summer of 2012.  That was the year, you'll recall, when Barack Obama was reelected.

Molen continues:

I am asking for your help to let our fellow Americans know about this wonderful film. You will know best how to spread the word, but I am humbly asking for your help to do so. We all know about the election that is to be held in November. But there is a second election, this one starting on July 2nd, which also impacts the political and social culture of our nation. Thank you again for all you do for our country. On the second of July together we will begin to push back against the darkness.

So the letter is actually a promotional tool.  For a guy who's ashamed of his past, that's pretty shameless.

Don't Knock Wood

Chris Wood, one of the founders of Traffic, would have been 70 today. Alas, he died of pneumonia when he was only 39. (He played woodwinds in Traffic, which at first I thought fitting, but no--that spot would have been better held by Steve Winwood.)







Monday, June 23, 2014

The High Power Of Hightower

Happy 70th, Rosetta Hightower, lead singer of the Orlons.







It's Showtime!

Jerome Robbins left Broadway behind in 1964, during the age--that he helped start--of the director-choreographer.  They didn't write the show, or star in it, but owned it nevertheless.  And the man who became the top name in the field wasn't Gower Champion or Harold Prince (who didn't choreograph but sure knew how to stage) or even Michael Bennett.  It was Bob Fosse, whose name became a style in itself.  On top of that, he was the only one in this age who became a major Hollywood director.  Most didn't, or couldn't, make the switch.  (Robbins himself won an Oscar for co-directing West Side Story, but got fired from the film--his first--because he took too long to do the dances.)

And now Sam Wasson has a biography out befitting such an innovator, simply entitled Fosse.  At 700+ pages, it has the room to go into detail for each major show and film the man worked on.

Fosse was born in Chicago June 23, 1927 (today's date, by no coincidence), and grew up, like so many, poor during the Depression. His dad was a show biz failure who put the bug into his son.  Little Bobby took dancing lessons and was earning money at it by age nine.  He became part of a team, the Riff Brothers, who performed their act during an age when Vaudeville was somewhere between dying and dead.  Fosse, who'd go out on his own in his teen years, played up and down the Midwest in every cheap hall and theatre there was.  He spent of lot of his time, in fact, playing in burlesque houses, being teased by the girls there.

This background played heavily in his later work, which was so often about the sleazy side of entertainment. (When you look at it, this is the theme of every film he made.) He developed a style in these years that played up his strengths and hid his weaknesses--the hunched shoulders, jerky movements, turned-in feet, cocked hat (to cover his thinning hair), not to mention the sly, sinuous, sensual movement that became a hallmark.  His background also gave him a sense of inferiority--he didn't come from ballet, like Robbins. He came from the lowest rung of show biz, and always felt that he was a bit of an impostor--"fooled 'em again" he'd often say when a show was a hit.

He spent some time in the military, as a performer, and then in 1949 married girlfriend and dancing partner Mary Ann Niles. It was the beginning of a lifelong pattern--fall in love with a talented woman, be with her (sometimes marry her), cheat on her, and finally toss her aside for another.  And Fosse had no trouble meeting women--he was cute, charming, talented, empathetic and, not so common among male dancers, decidedly heterosexual.  He pretty much had his pick of the chorus.

He made his way to New York and was establishing himself as an entertainer when Hollywood took notice.  MGM signed him to a contract in 1953.  However, the big Hollywood musicals of the Freed Unit were on the wane and the studio didn't quite know what to do with him.  The put him in a few films, and he's pretty good, but it's also clear he's not the next Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. He's got moves, but not that star presence.  He would later play lead in some stage shows, and consider doing more, but essentially from this point on he was a behind-the-scenes guy.

He got out of his contract and came back to New York.  It was around this time that he left his first wife and took up with Joan McCracken, a top dancer who'd appeared in the original Oklahoma!.  She encouraged him, and pushed him, and soon he got a job choreographing a major Broadway musical, The Pajama Game.  The show was special in that it had maybe the top four musical directors of all time working on it--Fosse, producer Harold Prince, director George Abbott and good old Jerome Robbins. Robbins was hired to spot neophyte Fosse--he was well-established and didn't want to just choreograph so Abbott agreed to name him co-director.  Fosse, at this point, was good at small numbers--his "Steam Heat" is a classic--but he was still learning how to stage larger numbers, something Robbins was a master at.

During the 50s he'd go on to choreograph some other Broadway hits--Damn YankeesBells Are Ringing, New Girl In Town, Redhead (where he also directed)--and win three Tonys. Most of these show featured Broadway sensation Gwen Verdon, who became his next wife.  On that last show, he'd also become a director.

He worked his dancers intensely, searching for something that would play.  He didn't just demand, for example, the arm be held correctly during a movement--he'd specific where the wrist, or a finger, should be. He was also known for his directions--he didn't want mechanical movement, he wanted each dancer to believe he or she were playing a specific character with specific motivations.

In 1960 he'd learn another important lesson when he was fired from The Conquering Hero (which would go on to flop) while out of town. (This was the show where bookwriter Larry Gelbart famously observed that the proper way to punish a Nazi was to bring him out of town on a musical).  The show was based on Preston Sturges' wartime comedy Hail The Conquering Hero, and Fosse wanted to play up the political satire, making the show a bit harsher, not just another mindless Broadway musical comedy.  His firing made him fight for more and more control, and also seek out darker and darker themes.

After taking over the choreography of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying--a smash--and directing and choreographing Little Me, he was back on top.  The latter featured one of his most famous numbers, "The Rich Kid Rag." It was an example of another trait--Fosse, unsure of himself, always felt safe doing a spoof, and the comedy here was about the rich condescending to a low-class style.

While this was happening, his wife, Verdon, was happily working as his assistant, even though she was one of the biggest names on Broadway.  Then she had their daughter Nicole in 1963.  Gwen took time off to raise her, but as she was approaching 40, she and Fosse decided it was time for her to do one more big show before she was too old to dance all night.  Fosse looked around and finally decided on a musical based on Fellini's Nights Of Cabiria.

The show became Sweet Charity.  Fosse tried to write it, as he'd try to write all his shows from now on--there's that attempt at complete control--but it was the one talent he didn't have, to make magic on a blank sheet of paper. He was always filled with ideas, and would happily collaborate, but when it came to going home and typing it up, that was never his specialty. Perhaps this was the reason so many of his best friends--Neil Simon, Herb Gardner, E. L. Doctorow and, above all, Paddy Chayefsky--were writers.

Charity was a hit and Hollywood called again, this time asking Fosse to direct a film version of the musical.  It would star Shirley MacLaine (who'd been in the chorus of Pajama Game) because as big as Verdon was on the Great White Way, she was no movie star.  Fosse found he loved making movies, and with the help of his cinematographer spent hours and hours shooting from all sorts of angles to see what he could get.  In the early 60s, such Broadway adaptations as West Side Story, My Fair Lady and The Sound Of Music were giant hits, so the checkbook was open--which led to a lot of white elephants, including Sweet Charity.  The irony was, his fluid stage style made the original show play like a movie, but adapting it to screen made the fun-but-flimsy show seem clunky.  Still, this is a large dose of the Fosse style, and many of the numbers look great when watched by themselves.

Fosse licked his wounds and returned to Broadway where he directed another huge hit, Pippin.  He fought with the writer and composer over how dark it would be.  The final product was maybe the first true Fosse show as we think of him today. Perhaps not deep, but dazzling.  With the help of a TV commercial Fosse made--an innovation at the time--the show ran for years.

Meanwhile, he had gotten another movie director gig--some producers are smart, and know the best time to hire talent is after a flop.  He was charged with bringing Cabaret to the screen--it was a Harold Prince show that he hadn't worked on (and was probably jealous of--no one took Sweet Charity seriously, like they did Cabaret).  He hired Liza Minelli, Michael York and, from the stage show, Joel Grey.  But he decided to do something different.  The original show had plenty of old-style Broadway numbers, where characters would suddenly start singing.  In Fosse's movie, the only numbers would be where the characters were actually singing or performing within the movie.

The movie was a huge hit, and won eight Academy Awards, including best director.  That same year, he won two Tonys for Pippin. He also got an Emmy for directing a TV concert Liza With A Z.  No one had ever, or likely ever will again, pull off such a hat trick.

So he was in demand on both coasts, and could choose his projects.  He decided to make Lenny, a film about Lenny Bruce, and create one last show for wife Verdon (they were separated but remained married), Chicago, based on the 1920s play (which had been turned into a non-musical movie starring Ginger Rogers).

Lenny was a troubled shoot.  Fosse now had money and power--enough power to make a drama in black and white--and would shoot scenes over and over.  Like Jerome Robbins on West Side Story, Fosse was a perfectionist and a choreographer, and as such was used to working something over and over until he got it right.  That approach doesn't work in movies, where every hour costs a ton. On top of that he was working with a big star, Dustin Hoffman, and they didn't get along. Fosse was used to telling his actors exactly what to do, while Hoffman was used to exploring a role and finding the part.  Fosse didn't approve--he even told Hoffman not to do any research on his own, even though Lenny Bruce was a well-known public figure.

After all the work, including a long period of editing, Lenny came out in 1974.  It didn't make much money, but got a lot of respect, earning six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director.  Meanwhile, on Chicago, the same problem as always--Fosse wanted it stripped down and very dark.  He fought with Verdon, who had an ironclad contract and saw this as her vehicle.  As much as he admired her, even loved her, there was always some jealousy in the relationship--she had the name and fame on Broadway far before he did, and he wanted to prove he was in charge.

Also featuring Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach, Chicago was a major hit. (A revival twenty years later would become the longest-running revival ever on Broadway). Unfortunately, for Fosse's ego, it was completely overshadowed that season by a musical that opened a week earlier, one of the biggest shows ever on Broadway--A Chorus Line, from his main competitor for King Of Broadway, Michael Bennett.

In the middle of all this activity, something even more significant happened. Fosse had always been a big smoker--in fact, the cigarette on his lip was a trademark.  On top of this, he took both amphetamines and barbiturates, prescribed by doctors, to manage his driven lifestyle.  He had chest pains and underwent open-heart surgery.  If this all sounds familiar, it's because it's the plot of his next film, All That Jazz.

Even before the surgery he'd been working with a screenwriter on a film about a man who dies, but now he decided he could turn it into something autobiographical. (In fact, if you really want to know about Fosse, don't read this book, see All That Jazz.)  He helped develop the script, which became about a popular Broadway musical director, uncertain of his talent, also in the middle of editing a movie about a comedian.  He has to go to the hospital and the producers start looking to replace him. Also, the musical stars his old wife (played by Leland Palmer, who'd been in Pippin, but here a stand-in for Verdon), while he lives with his new girlfriend, who's a great dancer herself (played by real-life girlfriend and dancer Ann Reinking). He's also got a cute daughter who wants his love.

Playing Fosse is Roy Scheider.  Fosse needed a star to get the film made, and after a lot of turndowns hired Richard Dreyfuss, who soon dropped out.  Scheider, who can't sing or dance, does a great job.  He hung out with Fosse for weeks before shooting to get down his look, his feel, his mannerisms.

The film is done as a musical, but, once again, not a conventional musical. As such, it's probably Fosse's greatest film.  It won four Academy Awards as well as the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  But it's also a film created by a man who seems to think he might not mave much longer to live.  In fact, the climax is a big musical number in his mind, dreamt during surgery, that precedes his death.  How do you top that?

While the film was gestating, he also came up with his latest Broadway show, Dancin'.  Nothing but dance numbers from songs he liked.  Brilliant, when you think about it.  He finally figured out how to get rid of those pesky writers and composers.  The show--really a revue--was a hit.

But after All That Jazz, he didn't know where to go next.  As it was, he was getting old and tired, and Broadway was moving toward spectacle--Les Miz, Phantom Of The Opera--as was Hollywood, with Lucas and Spielberg.  The dark, quirky style of Fosse was a tougher sell.

In film he had enough clout to make something that seemed ruinous, commercially--Star 80. It was based on the Dorothy Stratten story, a Playboy Playmate of the Year who had star potential, but was killed at the age of 20 by her estranged husband Paul Snider.  Fosse could actually see himself as the murderer--if he'd been small-time and never went anywhere.  Eric Roberts is memorable as the sleazy thug, but the film flopped in 1983 and the critics brought out the knives. 

On Broadway he decided to do a show he'd been thinking about for years--a musical adaptation of the Italian film Big Deal On Madonna Street, about small-time crooks and a failed big score.  He moved it to Chicago during the depression and featured African-Americans.  Instead of a new score, it featured songs of the period.  While Fosse won yet another Tony for choreography, the show, in 1986, was the first flop he'd ever brought into town.

In 1987, he was given some lifetime awards--as if his career were over.  Meanwhile, other big names were dying, like Fred Astaire and Michael Bennett (one of many in the Broadway community taken by AIDS).  Fosse turned 60, but though he was slowing down, he still smoked and took drugs.  On September, in Washington, D. C. while overseeing a revival of Sweet Charity, he dropped dead of a heart attack. By that point, it was probably more a question of when.

What he might have done next, we'll never know.  But he did leave behind some fine films and shows, and a memorable style still influencing dancers today.

PS.  The book has odd chapter titles: "Sixty Year," "Thirty-Seven Year," "Twenty-Four Years" and so on.  They're meant to represent how much time he has left.  I'm not sure if this was a good idea, but I'll admit it's memorable.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Oh The Pain

Earlier this year, Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker had trouble with the miniseries True Detective.  Almost everyone else thought it was great, but not her. (We'll soon know what the Emmys think.) Now Nussbaum has trouble with another policier, Fargo.

Vaguely based on the Coen Brothers film (they're producers on the show), the miniseries has the same Minnesota setting and is about criminals and detectives, often echoing lines, situations and characters from the original.  It's longer and serialized, of course, and most critics seem to think creator Noah Hawley did a fine job making it work in the new format.  Including me--the show was surprisingly smart and funny, and darker than expected.  It had its flaws, but so did the movie (in fact, it's the movie I think overrated.)

I won't go into Nussbaum's analysis--I think she misses the point (of both the TV show and the movie)--but let's look at her introduction:

...Maybe I’m burned out on bloodbaths. But “Fargo,” FX’s adaptation of the great film by the Coen brothers, created and written by Noah Hawley, left me feeling a thousand miles away, despite its strong cast and shrewd beauty. It also raised a question that’s become a cable-drama default: How good does a violent drama need to be to make the pain of watching worth it?

"Pain" to watch such a show?  There's plenty of bad TV out there, so when something fairly original and intelligent comes along, I don't find it painful. The subject matter barely enters into it, and certainly crime drama has its place as much as any other genre.  Perhaps Nussbaum should quit her job if she finds it so unpleasant.

It's Him, Babe

Happy birthday, Howard Kaylan, lead singer of The Turtles and slight less ugly member of Flo & Eddie.  He was actually born Kaplan, but Kaylan sounds more fun. (He wrote a very enjoyable autobiography last year, well worth checking out.  This was a guy who was a major rock star before he was 18.)










Saturday, June 21, 2014

Domo Arigato, Emuir Deodato

Happy birthday, Emuir Deodato, born on the longest day of the year, which may explain why his songs are so long.






He Wrote It And It Felt Like A Kiss

A sad day for music lovers.  Gerry Goffin, lyric-writing half of the unbeatable Goffin-King team (and half of the less lyrical Goffin-King marriage) has died.












Friday, June 20, 2014

How To Be Bop

Happy birthday, Eric Dolphy. His work in free jazz was a reflection of modern music.  He died at age 36, or he might still be around today.






In His Sandbox

If you type "Brian Wilson" into Wikipedia, there are more than ten choices. But there's only one Brian Wilson.  Happy birthday.
















Thursday, June 19, 2014

Enjoy Sir Paul while you can

Uh-oh. The free ride is over. Or wobbling, anyway. Youtube is cashing in.

PA System

Happy birthday, Paula Abdul.  She was a Laker Girl who had tremendous success as a singer in the late 80s/early 90s.  When that dried up she became even better known as the nicest judge on American Idol.






Paul Alone

Yesterday's tribute to Paul McCartney was just Beatles' stuff.  He also had a solo career (and yes, that includes his work with Wings and Linda).
















Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Too Good To Be True

Jersey Boys is coming out this week.  I like the Four Seasons but I'm not exactly looking forward to the film.  In general I don't like jukebox musicals--I like it when the songs are written specifically for the show, not the show written around old songs.  In any case, I doubt the cast sounds better than the original.

For that matter, I don't think Clint Eastwood is a great choice to direct a musical.  (Of course, I don't think he's much of a director in general.) He has an alleged affinity* for music--he even composes himself--but I've never seen it come out in his films.  Oh well, guess he can't be worse than John Huston directing Annie.

The film stars John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for the part of Frankie Valli in the original Broadway production.  Regular film producers might not have chosen him, but no-nonsense Eastwood did.  Here's Young talking about his film inspirations in The Hollywood Reporter:

I grew up watching Hollywood movies and some of my favorite movies of all time were Hollywood musicals, and my grandparents were big Broadway fans and talked about seeing legendary performances on Broadway like Yul Brynner in The King and I or Robert Preston in The Music Man or Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Of course, those were before my time, so I never got to see those performances, except on film.  And so I knew when I had the opportunity to maybe do this, how historically significant it is in Hollywood musicals for someone to originate the role in the Broadway show and to be able to reprise their role on screen.

(Originally the Reporter spelled it "Yul Brenner."  Good to see some editor got to it only a bit after it was too late.)

Hollywood often picks stars over the original Broadway names, but these are cases of good casting--Frank Sinatra in The Music Man or Cary Grant in My Fair Lady just wouldn't have been the same thing.  Still, is Young's performance on Broadway thought of in the same way?  Are future generations demanding we get the original copy of Frankie Valli?

Also, one odd thing about these examples is each one is not a trained singer, but got through the songs more on personality.  Young was originally hired, I assume, in large part because he could sing like Fankie Valli.

So good luck, John, and all the rest.  Maybe I'll check you out, or maybe I'll stay home and listen to the Four Seasons on my iPod.

*The Hollywood Reporter says:

... it must be recalled that Eastwood has always displayed an enduring affinity for American popular music, an interest expressed in his music scene-oriented features (Honkytonk Man and Bird, not to mention his still-unrealized remake of A Star Is Born)...

That's funny. I consider Honkytonk Man and Bird (which have nothing to do with Four Seasons style music anyway) to be exhibits A and B showing Eastwood has never displayed any affinity for American popular music.

When He's 72

It's Paul McCartney's birthday. What can I say?















Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Endgame

Game Of Thrones ended its fourth season with some big moments and a lot of questions.  And now that "The Children" is over, we get to wait till next year for more.  I wish it were on every week, but it would kill Benioff and Weiss.  (But would it kill George R. R. Martin to finish the next book before they pass the novels?)

Last week we spent the whole hour at the Wall, so I was surprised to see we're starting where we left off, with Jon Snow exiting the tunnel to find and kill Mance. (We sort of knew this would be in there somewhere, but it's not going to be the highlight--the two big scenes we're waiting for is Tyrion's execution, and Arya and Sansa finally meeting.  As we'll see, neither worked out as expected.)

Snow is allowed into Rayder's camp and they compare notes.  Mag, King of the Giants is dead, as is Ygritte.  Snow still pretends to strength, but Mance knows better.  He'll overtake the Watch in a day or two unless his people are allowed free passage to escape the White Walkers (who have been White Walking since the series began while their war is still just around the corner).  Snow makes a move to kill Mance, but it's a pretty cheap thing to do--Mance already spared him, as did Ygritte, so would he want to dishonor himself? Especially since it's far from clear that a dead Mance mean it ends.

Before we can get much further, a thousand men on horses raid the camp, routing the ragtag band.  It's Stannis with Davos.  I predicted they'd ride in like the cavalry last week, but here they finally are, a day late but instead of a dollar short, filled with Braavosi gold.  It's not clear to me how they knew to get there.  I assume Castle Black is around the middle of the Wall, so the coast on the Narrow Sea must be hundreds of miles off.  They decided to disembark on the north side?  And ride through the snow (without winter clothing) till they got to Mance's camp?  Wouldn't it make more sense to come up from the South and meet at Castle Black, where they'll probably be greeted with cheers?  (And if not, they could take it anyway).  And then, if they choose, they could come out through the tunnel.

But never fear, Stannis is here.  He and Davos have Mance cornered, along with Snow. Mance won't bend the knee, of course.  But we're interested in how Jon Snow treats Stannis.  Baratheon and Davos are pleased (if they were capable of showing that emotion) that Snow--as son of the honorable Ned Stark--recognizes he's the true king.  He also says if you knew what I'd know, you'll burn all the corpses and hold Mance rather than kill him.

At King's Landing, the aftermath.  The Viper is dead, of course, but the Mountain is poisoned and ready to shuffle off.  Pycelle says goodbye, but creepy Qyburn thinks he might save him.  Cersei once again sides with Qyburn, who looks to become the court favorite.  What they'll do with a reanimated Mountain is not certain, but who doesn't love a powerful zombie fighter.

Cersei goes to Tywin and has it out with him (which happens about every three episodes).  With all that's happened, she'd definitely not marrying Loras.  She pulls out her trump card--she'll tell everyone who the real father of her kids are.  Tywin probably knows the truth, but has been actively denying it all along.  Next she goes to Jaime. Last time they were alone (not including corpses) he took her by force. Now she forces the matter and Jaime is the one worried someone will come in.  But he's only too glad to go along.  As I've been saying from the start of this season, I thought Jaime changed, but apparently he still can't resist his sister.

At Meereen, Daenerys is still holding court.  Some of the oldsters want to sell themselves back into slavery, since they've got nowhere to go.  She allows it as long as the contract lasts no more than a year. (Is she worried about the UCC?). Barristan harrumphs it's slavery in all but name, but he's wrong--you get paid, you can leave after a while, what's the problem, old man?  The next issue is harder to deal with.  Her dragons (we haven't seen them in a while) are flying around the countryside and--it was bound to happen sooner or later--have killed a child.  It's really not clear what can be done. (Hey, dragons gotta eat.)  So she takes the two whose whereabouts are known (the third is still out there, and perhaps we can expect some trouble in season five) and chains them in the catacombs. Hey, I thought dragon fire could melt chains.  And rock, too.  But it's still a moving scene as the Mother of Dragons leaves behind the only children she'll every have.  (Lots of stuff about Children in this show of course, though the specific reference is still coming)

In general, I think getting bogged down in Meereen was a mistake for Dany.  The only excuse I can see is allowing her dragons to grow. But the point is she wants to rule Westeros. She's got an army, the enemy is in a weak position, make your move.  Otherwise, she's a sitting duck.  Without hardly trying Tywin has already split off her best advisor.  When everyone knows where you are, why can't some assassin slip in and end your quest?

Back at Castle Black they burn their dead Brothers.  Melisandre looks at Jon Snow through the fire.  She likes looking at fire, of course, but she also may be seeing something in Snow.  (Would she ever leave Stannis, though?)  Snow goes to see chained-up Tormund and they agree Ygritte deserves a burial north of the Wall, which she gets.  And we get a chance to say goodbye to Rose Leslie.

We stay North of the Wall with Bran. He and his pals have been traveling for quite a while. They finally get to the tree he's seen in his vision.  I was asking myself how can they travel all these miles without being attacked by White Walkers when suddenly these Ray Harryhausen reanimated skeleton start grabbing them through the snow.  And just as they were out of the woods, out of the dark, out of the night, ready to march up to the gate and bid it open.  It's quite a fight, with Bran taking over Hodor.  A kid near the tree appears and starts throwing fireballs. He's one of a group older than the First Men known as The Children. Aha.  But he's too late for Jojen, who knew he wasn't going to make it anyway.  (He was slowing things down anyway.) Everyone else gets into the tunnel underneath the tree where Bran meets some old guy who apparently is the three-eyed raven of his dreams.  He's been watching Bran--and everyone else--for years. The man tells Bran he won't walk again, but he will fly.  What does that mean?  Tune in next season.

Next we see Brienne.  I wasn't expect that--thinking of Arya, Sansa and Tyrion, I almost forgot her.  While she and Podrick were asleep someone stole their horses, so they'll have to hoof it themselves to the Bloody Gate about thirty miles off.  On the way, Brienne stumbles upon Arya--though she doesn't know who it is.  The Hound is busy defecating, but soon comes around--I was worried the wound had gotten to him but he seems okay.  Pod recognizes him and Brienne realized who the girl is--on of the Stark girl's she's pledged to protect.  This may be the biggest moment in the hour.  Brienne's had a tough time of it.  She pledged to Renly who died soon after.  She pledged to Catelyn who died soon after while Brienne couldn't even find her daughters. So after all this marching and searching, she's finally close to her goal.

But how will Arya react?  And the Hound? (Pod will just do what he's told.) Before we get to that, let me register disappointment that they didn't go on through the Bloody Gate even if Lady Arryn was dead.  So what?  Are there no other relatives around?  They'd just rather ride aimlessly?  What a shame, since Arya was so close to seeing Sansa, not to mention enjoying the protection of Littlefinger. (Not sure what he'd do with the Hound. Maybe pay him, more likely kill him.)

But through their long travels they've grown to appreciate one another, and probably would prefer to hang out together as long as possible. Arya, in any case, has plans of her own, and doesn't want to go with Brienne.  The Hound has become like a father, and wants to protect her--and doesn't believe Brienne can offer any protection.  (Can't we all just get along?)  At first the Hound thinks she's with the Lannisters--does have Jaime's sword after all--and just wants the reward on him. But he'd probably rather that be her goal over trying to take away his "daughter."

So a fight ensues. Brienne's specialty is taking on top fighters (Jaime, the Hound) when they're not at their best.  We don't know how weakened he is at present, but the fight goes back and forth and it looked for a while like he has the best of her.  I was thinking they wouldn't dare.  Both these characters have become fan favorites, but with the Hound's big speech a few episodes ago, and a festering wound, it seemed like they were priming him to say goodbye.  But not Brienne of Tarth.  (It's funny--these four characters are all well-liked and losing any one would piss off the fans--maybe Pod could go, but the other three, I don't know.)  Anyway, she finally forces him off a cliff.

But as the fight is happening, Arya is hiding.  She's obviously got plans of her own, though I'm not sure why she doesn't trust Brienne. But then, she's learned not to trust anyone.  Brienne is mad at Pod once again--this time for not watching the girl--but he was busy watching the fight.  Arya walks down to the Hound, seriously wounded but not dead.  (Why doesn't Brienne go down there? It's not that far.  But she's already off in another direction.)  He begs her to finish him, since unless there's a master behind a rock, he's going to die an agonizing death.  It seems like she might--he's on her list, after all--but she refuses and takes his silver instead.  Good for her. (Did the writers think it would be too cruel?) The question is will the Hound survive.  He's all but dead, bleeding out, can't walk, but if movies have taught us anything, it's if you don't see the dead body, the character can pop back up any time.  Maybe Arya, riding away on her horse, had a chance to stop and tell a master to go minister to the Hound.

We don't see any more of Brienne and Pod, though I assume she's crestfallen.  She's also ten miles away from the Gate, so I'm guessing she'll continue on her journey and maybe will meet up with Sansa, finally.  But all this is for next year.

Finally, the big moment.  Tyrion's in his cell, awaiting execution.  It's night. In comes Jaime to rescue him. It's almost too easy, after all we've been through. Jaime takes him up to a door with Varys on the other side, ready to spirit him out of town.  But once Jaime leaves, Tyrion has other ideas. Apparently he knows about the passageways (around the dungeon? why?) and trap doors and is soon in Tywin's room. (I think it's Tywin's room. Could be his old place.  Hard to tell.) Lying in bed is Shae, awaiting Tywin.

Okay, I'm a little confused.  They spent about two seasons convincing us Shae is in love with Tyrion. Was she faking?  She couldn't have been Tywin's confederate all that time, not possible.  Then he sends her away to protect her, but that pisses her off. Enough to turn on him?  Really?  She never leaves town and testifies against him at his trial. But I assumed she was forced into it--they told her lie for us and it'll save him, or something like that. Has she really, truly, turned on him, and is now even lying with Tywin?  (Hey, ho's gotta eat.) I don't get it.

Anyway, don't think we'll ever find out, since they struggle and Tyrion chokes her to death.  Then he gets the crossbow off the wall and visits dad (on Father's Day) in the privy.  Tywin acts calmly and commandingly, but Tyrion has the advantage. Tywin says what he can to get away, but Tyrion shoots a bolt, and then another for good measure.  Tywin, I assume, is dead.  After all that fighting to keep the family going, all his children are in open rebellion against him, and he's shot to death while defecating.  What a way to go.

Tyrion then meets up with Varys. A bit late, and Varys wonders what happened.  He gets in a shipping crate (Varys likes putting people in shipping crates--Tyrion certainly fits) and is going off somewhere, but where? The North?  Dorne?  The Iron Islands? Essos?  I think Fester--excuse me, Varys--is on the boat with Tyrion, though I'm not 100% sure.  Probably just as well if he is. Don't want to be the baggage with no one to pick you up.

In the final scene, Arya is alone for the first time in forever, riding her white horse across the countryside. At a dock, she wants passage to the Wall. I was a bit surprised, since 1) she's always talking about Braavos and 2) has a coin that gets her there.  Anyway, the Captain ain't going North, he's going home to Braavos.  How convenient.  She pulls out the coin and he's impressed.  Just like Jaqen promised.  She's shipping off to the East with her own cabin.  And the fourth season ends.

So where are we?  Way up North Bran has finally gotten to where he needs to be.  It's been a long trip but what does he do next? (And what of Osha and Rickon, by the way?) Stannis, with Davos and Melsiandre, is looking pretty good. He's in charge at the Wall and has plenty of troops to do with as he pleases.  But Roose and Ramsay Bolton hold the North, so if Stannis wanted to ride down the King's Road, he might have some trouble.  And where does Jon Snow fit into all of this?  Is he gonna stay back and take over the Wall, or does he have a bigger destiny?  For that matter, what will Samwell and Gilly do?  And where does Theon fit into all of this, too?

In King's Landing, it's a mess.  There's a power vacuum with Tywin gone.  Tommen may be called King, but he's just a pawn.  Mommy Cersei is probably the closest to being in charge. Will the marriage to Margaery go on, or will Cersei stop it? (You don't want to piss off Lady Olenna.)  Will Jaime remain in charge of the King's Guard, and keep up his nightly duties with sis?  Will he be fingered as the one who let Tyrion out, and have to flee?  We've seen Tyrion (and probably Varys) get out, though we don't know where they're going.

Plenty of action at the Eyrie.  The Hound lays dying, but Brienne and Pod have work to do, probably going to the castle.  Meanwhile, Littlefinger and Sansa (and Robin too, who may not be long for this world) run things and hope to control the game of thrones from afar.

In secondary areas, like Dorne and the Iron Islands, nothing but bad news. Will they respond? (And who's running Haarenhal?  For that matter, is anyone ready to take on Walder Frey?)

In general, the action may also be shifting East.  You've still got Dany stuck in Meereen, but her dragons--and the rest of her entourage--are growing.  Only poor Ser Jorah is MIA (while Daario is away for a while). Will Mormont head West or stick around to pine?  Meanwhile, Braavosi coin is funding Stannis's war. (Didn't he promise to take King's Landing?  Will they let him get away with fortifying the Wall?)  Then there's Arya, herself heading to Braavos.  For the longest time everyone seemed headed to King's Landing, but the action is spinning away from it.

Also, for the book readers, has Game Of Thrones finally gone far enough away from the books that they can no longer tell what will happen next? I hope so.  It's hard to read any material on the web without spoilers.  The fourth season reset the show for the TV fans--let's force the readers to think anew on everything, too.

There's Always Room For Jello

We would be remiss to pass through June 17th without noting the birthday of Jello Biafra.







Monday, June 16, 2014

Front Singer

Happy birthday Eddie Levert, lead singer of The O'Jays.






In-Between Holland

Happy birthday, Lamont Dozier, one-third of the songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, about as great a songwriting team as existed in the rock and soul era. (And is there a better songwriting trio?  Who?  DeSylva, Brown & Henderson?)














Sunday, June 15, 2014

The party of love

I don't know why anyone should be upset by this. It's a perfect example of bigotry.

(Sort of funny that it's no longer displaying, having been replaced (for a day or so, I imagine) by the story.)

Dad's Day

Father's Day already?





Bustin' Out

According to Myron Meisel in The Hollywood Reporter, there's a new play out in Pasadena--Stoneface: The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Buster Keaton.  Maybe I'll go see it.  But it's a weird thing--trying to portray comic genius is sort of an exercise in futility.  The lives of great clowns may be interesting, but who can recapture the essence of their talent?  If anyone could do their routines as well, the originals wouldn't be so special.

Movies like The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O'Connor, and Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr., just can't compare. (Somewhat better is Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon since his character is only inspired by great clowns.)

Stoneface stars French Stewart, best known for his work on Third Rock From The Sun. The play's written by his wife Vanessa Claire Stewart (whom Meisel refers to, in his excitement, as "French"--not her nationality, her name).

There's nothing I can say about the play until I see it, but I can say something about this paragraph in the piece:

Nevertheless, I still believe that The General, great as it may be, is surpassed by Our Hospitality, Seven Chances and Battling Butler. But on the other hand, I actually even harbor some genuine appreciation for Keaton's first M-G-M talkie vehicle, 1930’s Doughboys, notwithstanding the obvious muzzling of his creative spirit.

Odd, and certainly idiosyncratic.  Keaton's The General has long been considered his masterpiece but I agree with Meisel that it doesn't stand head and shoulders about his other work. In fact, his great movies, all created in the 1920s, are of a piece.  Some of the features are better than others, but all are worthy and have, at the very least, great moments.

The General I'd put in Keaton's top tier, but it's not necessarily his best.  It'd have to compete with Sherlock, Jr., Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Cameraman. On the other hand, Our Hospitality, Seven Chances and Battling Butler don't quite reach that level. Interestingly, it would seem neither Meisel nor I put the film often considered his other classic--The Navigator--up top.

Regarding his early talkies, they're a steep decline from his silent work, but far from worthless.  Most of them have at least brief flashes of greatness, and I agree that Doughboys (which is his second MGM talkie vehicle after Free And Easy) is worth looking at--though only after you've seen his silents.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kate The Great

Kate Mantilini, a restaurant in Beverly Hills, is closing today.  It's been an institution since I moved here years ago.  I haven't been there in a while, but, more than once, when friends were in town and wanted to go to a real L.A. place, I took them there.

Harry Lewis, who'd been a contract player at Warner Brothers, and his wife Marilyn, started the Hamburger Hamlet chain in 1950.  In 1987, they opened Kate Mantilini, a place with roadhouse cuisine, but a bit classier. Lewis died last year, though I believe the reason the place is closing is the rent was too high.

Kate Mantilini had a general menu with good food and reasonable prices.  You didn't need reservations.  And it was open late, which I liked. 

The restaurant appeared in movies, such as Heat.  And it was a hangout for a lot of Hollywood names.  I still remember my first trip there.  I'd moved to L.A. not that long before, and a friend "in the business" took me.  We walked in and right there, in one of the booths looking out on Wilshire, was Ann Miller.  She's gone and now so is Kate Mantilini.

Oh Boy

Happy birthday, George Alan O'Dowd, aka Boy George. He's had some minor success as a solo act, but is best remembered for the days he burned bright as lead singer of Culture Club.








Friday, June 13, 2014

He should cancel his office supply contract, too

What Nate Silver has to say about Cantor:

"He should probably fire his pollster."

Right. I doubt that he's much use right now. Probably have to let the interns and staff go, too. Return the coffee maker . . .

Scooter Lerner

So, is Lois Lerner a Scooter Libby, a mere fish caught in a net that has nothing to do with her, or is she a real criminal. It's not looking good for her.

web page hit counter