Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2019

There Will Never Be Anyone Like Her

Doris Day is dead.  Ann and I have been dreading this moment and no sense repeating all the accolades that will be posted and written, all deserved.

But to me, a piece of me has died. The only way I can put it is I loved her public persona.  I felt the same way when John Updike passed away, one who occupied my reading life and made sense of the changes in America, decade by decade. Can it be he has been gone ten years now? 

Doris Day occupied my idealized fantasies of the girl next door during the same period, fresh, wholesome, shorn of pretense.  This is something that cannot be faked.  She was radiant, buoyant, and whenever I needed a pick me up, all I needed was to watch, yet again, one of her films as her inherent goodness was infectious. 

Her talent was peerless.  I don’t think anyone in film could match her for her ability to act, sing, and dance, especially in the comic realm.  She was the whole package, and projected a special kind of lovable personality.

One theatre/film critic, who will remain nameless, has criticized her as being merely an average singer.  Perhaps her voice was not exceptional.  Nor was Sinatra’s.  But there was that something else that made their singing extraordinary.  Sinatra’s phrasing and ability to capture his audience as if he was singing to you might be the best way to describe his gift.  Doris’ was to project her golden personality in song.  Just listening to one of her recordings, I see her radiant smile in my mind.

We’ve usually heard her with big bands but she would have made it as a cabaret singer if movie land did not appropriate her for their own in some 40 films.  One of those was a biopic where she played cabaret singer, Ruth Etting, with Jimmy Cagney, demonstrating both her acting ability and cabaret style in “Love Me or Leave Me” (1955).  Or one can hear her with pianist André Previn on the 1962 album “Duet” and appreciate her gift for singing without the silver screen prop, that sparkling personality still shining through.

In a world sorely in need of rectitude and hope another “companion” of ours has passed, but at least we have her films and recordings to remind us of what can be.  RIP Doris Day.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Fake News in La La Land

As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.  I speak of the Academy Awards’ embarrassing mistake of naming La La Land Best Picture, only to have to retract that in the middle of La La’s acceptance speech, naming Moonlight.  This is all because Price Waterhouse Coopers gave the presenters the wrong envelope.  Perhaps the Academy is shopping for a new accounting firm?  In this era of “fake news” the mistake only feeds the Zeitgeist.  Maybe it was Russian hacking?  It's one thing to tamper with the election and it’s quite another to mess with the Academy!

I have not seen Moonlight, but it does sound like award-winning material, adapted from a play.  However, I loved La La Land, particularly Emma Stone’s rendition of the song “The Audition” which I have made part of my piano repertoire.  I also admired the film as a throwback to filmed musicals of the past, albeit updated for our times. 

Our friends Betty and Claudia were visiting this weekend, both movie buffs, and they had not seen Fences (nor had we) and I was surprised to find the film being offered on pay-per-view so we watched it before the Academy Awards yesterday.  I was stunned.  August Wilson stands among the greatest American playwrights.  Although the movie rights to the Pulitzer Prize winning play were bought soon after the play opened in 1987, it was only recently produced as Wilson had insisted that the film have a black director.  His wishes continued to be honored after his death in 2005.  It was Denzel Washington, one of our finest actors, who finally was chosen to direct and star in the play – he was in the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway with Viola Davis as well.  I was surprised that Washington was not even nominated for best director, although he was up for best actor.  Until I see Moonlight, which won for the “best” film, I can’t comment, but what Washington accomplished as a director and as an actor has to be greatly admired.  Viola Davis was spectacular as well.  I will not easily forget this film, Wilson’s writing, or the performances.

When you think about it, how does one chose between a La La Land, Fences, or Moonlight – all award deserving in their own right?  It’s one of the reasons why the Academy Awards doesn’t resonate with me.  I watched part of it, but did not see the controversial ending; both Moonlight and La La Land deserved better.  But so did Fences and Denzel Washington.

I mentioned this before, but never went into any detail.  We attended the 1980 Academy Awards as a guest of the Academy.  Their Annual Motion Picture Credits Database was published by my firm at the time.  In those days, such information was in reference book form.  I used to visit the Academy and the American Film Institute searching for publishable material.

When I received an invitation to attend the Awards, I was able to combine the trip to LA with one of my editorial efforts, and, of course, Ann wanted to join me so I accepted.  Unfortunately, this is way before cell phone cameras and I thought it a little tacky to arrive with my full-size Nikon hanging from my shoulder, so I have no photographs to record the experience.

I had a rented car (not very fancy) and wore just a plain suit.  Ann was dressed nicely but no designer dress or even borrowed jewels.  A valet took our car and in spite of being unknowns (and looking the part), we walked down the red carpet to some applause.  No one asked for our autograph, though : - ).

This was Johnny Carson’s second year as host and the big film, winning most of the awards was Kramer vs. Kramer.  Coincidentally I had met the author of the book on which the film was based, Avery Corman, a year or two before.  He politely autographed a pre-production copy at the American Booksellers Association meeting after we discussed why I felt a special connection with his book: I had been divorced ten years earlier with similar custody issues.

Back to the Academy Awards, I remember standing next to Gregory Peck during one of the brief breaks, I wanted to say something, but felt it would be intrusive.  So we just stood there, admiring all the screen actors I recognized and he knew well.  It was a lot of fun to attend this major Hollywood event, but Ann and I were outsiders, looking in.

After watching the film Fences we took Betty and Claudia to our favorite Sunday night place, Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter to listen to the Jupiter Jazz Society’s weekly jam session.  Professionals play but other musicians can sit in for a set or two.  I’d like to do that myself but as most of my piano playing has been solo; I don’t have the skills for impromptu jazz accompaniment.  So, we go just to enjoy and support such a worthwhile effort.  Organizer Rick Moore, who plays the keyboard with the best of them, gathers a wide range of musicians, ones just starting out, but oh so talented, to retired and seasoned professionals who just like to jam.  It is Rick (and his wife, Cherie, a co-founder of the Society) who drive the mission to preserve jazz for future generations.  And future generations are responding.  Ava Faith, a 13 year old singer, made a surprise appearance last night after singing the National Anthem at the Marlins’ spring training game.  She already has the right stuff, a great young jazz voice and a personality that is impressive.  Wonderful to hear that generation perform the Great American Songbook and to know it will endure.  I tried to capture a brief clip with my twitter feed…
To round out yesterday, in the morning Claudia and I took a walk on the beach in Juno, watching the sun rising over the pier…

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump’s Truman Show

Once upon a time one’s life meant having some time to oneself. Presidents were there but mostly in the background except during critical times. Now we are all exhausted from less than a month into the Trump presidency. Why? He is omnipresent; no matter where you look, to whom you speak, online, newspapers, or TV, big brother is there, “100%” as HE is fond of saying. Now we are subjected to the anxiety and ennui of Trump reporting 24-7.

I can’t help but think of the movie The Truman Show. Our existential hero of the film, Jim Carrey, is an orphan who has been raised by a corporation to live and be watched, without his knowledge, on a reality TV show 24-7 -- until he discovers this and tries to escape.  In this latter respect we’re in Carrey’s position, but this is an environment HE doesn’t want US to escape from.  As the Narcissist -in-Chief HE enjoys being watched in his own simulated reality TV show, a terrarium of which the contours are “alternative truths.”  Our role is to be spellbound.  Before I merely thought this behavior “crazy making” but it may be more --  preparation for almost anything, totalitarian rule by the Plutocracy, religious wars, the demolition of the Republic, a nuclear winter, or all rolled up into the Trumpocalypse (“the catastrophic destruction or damage of civilization following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America.” -- from Urban Dictionary)

Instinctively, even if we survive we all know this will not end well.  I hope I am very wrong, and that the next four years will be bigly amazing, devoid of losers, with tremendous, terrific winners, but I fear it’s not gonna happen, zero percent.

Friday, January 20, 2017

LA,LA,LA, In La La Land

It might seem disrespectful.  In many ways it was, a silent protest, seeing La La Land instead of our new President’s inauguration, the first one we’ve missed in decades.  It seems like yesterday when we were filled with hope as evidenced by what I wrote exactly eight years ago.  The complete text is at the end of this entry.

After watching the never ending ennui of the Republican primaries and the solipsistic behavior of our new President-elect, how could anyone welcome his presence in the oval office?  And I’m referring to his behavior, not necessarily his policies, which, to be fair, remain to be seen.  We had hoped Obama would have been more effective, but how could he given the illegitimacy narrative so infused by the right and particularly by the new President himself?  All those years contending he was not born here, that he is a secret Muslim, ad infinitum.  It was their objective to block any and everything and for the most part they succeeded.  Still, the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.3% when he took office to below 5% and the Dow has tripled (although I am not naïve enough to singularly credit President Obama for these changes, but his leadership had an impact). Obama was not a “perfect” President, particularly in foreign affairs, but he was a decent, rational person.  Can we say the same, now? 

And now there are accusations of Trump being an “illegitimate” President because of Russia’s interference (not to mention Comey’s).  As there is no evidence that ballot boxes were hacked, he is not illegitimate in the legal sense of the word, but one can reasonably conclude the election was tainted.  One cannot prove an alternative reality but no doubt these events impacted the election results.
I had to laugh (or cry) at Trump’s assertion that “we have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled.”  You would therefore think that his pick for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, would have a better excuse for his failure to reveal $100 million in assets and links to a tax haven company, than saying “as you all can appreciate, filling out these government forms is quite complicated.”  After all, isn’t he a genius like all the rest of the Goldman Sachs ringers appointed to the Cabinet?  Not that I have anything against Goldman Masters of the Universe other than when Trump was running he equated them with the “swamp” of the establishment, paying Hillary Clinton for speeches.

But I’ve now read Trump’s Inaugural address which, when read, sounds like many of his impromptu electioneering stump speeches, but pulled together into one dystopian narrative.  I’m ready to embrace a stronger economy, jobs for all, but we’ve been on that trajectory for years now.  Rather than rebutting some of the speech, point by point, NPR has done a good job with fact checking.  Not that facts matter anymore in this post-factual, reality TV world, but here is their take on it.

So, to us the perfect antidote to the malaise of fear and despair over the election was seeing La La Land while the new President was sworn in and fêted.  The movie is a sweeping reaffirmation of the power of music and the arts, and a declarative statement that the American film musical is back.  It’s wonderful that a new generation is ready to embrace this art.  There’s a lot to be said about living in fantasy when one goes to a movie theatre, but it’s another matter to live one’s real life in the real world with leadership in serious doubt.  I hope President Trump transcends all these concerns.

Nonetheless, what a difference eight years make…

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early in the Morning

It is early in the morning on the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration – in fact very early, another restless night.  When it is so early and still outside, sound travels and I can hear the CSX freight train in the distance, its deep-throated rumbling and horn warning the few cars out on the road at the numerous crossings nearby.

Perhaps subconsciously my sleeplessness on this, the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, relates to the incongruous dreamlike images of the bookends of my political consciousness, from the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957, the freedom marches that culminated with the march on Washington in 1963 and Martin Luther King’s historic "I Have a Dream" speech, to the inauguration tomorrow of our first Afro-American President.  All this breathtaking demonstration of profound social change in just my lifetime.

Much has now been said comparing Obama to Lincoln.  In my “open letter” to Obama that I published here last May I said “Your opponents have criticized your limited political experience, making it one of their main issues in attacking your candidacy.  Lincoln too was relatively inexperienced, something he made to work to his advantage.  Forge cooperation across the aisle in congress, creating your own ‘team of rivals’ as Doris Kearns Goodwin described his cabinet in her marvelous civil war history.”

The Lincoln comparison is now omnipresent in the press, not to mention his cabinet selections indeed being a team of rivals. But I am restless because of what faces this, the very administration I had hoped for: a crisis of values as much as it is an economic one.  The two are inextricably intertwined.

I am reading an unusual novel by one of my favorite authors, John Updike, Terrorist. One of the main characters, Jack Levy laments: “My grandfather thought capitalism was doomed, destined to get more and more oppressive until the proletariat stormed the barricades and set up the worker’ paradise. But that didn’t happen; the capitalists were too clever or the proletariat too dumb. To be on the safe side, they changed the label ‘capitalism’ to read ‘free enterprise,’ but it was still too much dog-eat-dog. Too many losers, and the winners winning too big. But if you don’t let the dogs fight it out, they’ll sleep all day in the kennel. The basic problem the way I see it is, society tries to be decent, and decency cuts no ice in the state of nature. No ice whatsoever. We should all go back to being hunter-gathers, with a hundred-percent employment rate, and a healthy amount of starvation.”

The winners in this economy were not only the capitalists, the real creators of jobs due to hard work and innovation, but the even bigger winners: the financial masters of the universe who learned to leverage financial instruments with the blessings of a government that nurtured the thievery of the public good through deregulation, ineptitude, and political amorality.  This gave rise to a whole generation of pseudo capitalists, people who “cashed in” on the system, bankers and brokers and “financial engineers” who dreamt up lethal structures based on leverage and then selling those instruments to an unsuspecting public, a public that entrusted the government to be vigilant so the likes of a Bernie Madoff could not prosper for untold years.  Until we revere the real innovators of capitalism, the entrepreneurs who actually create things, ideas, jobs, our financial system will continue to seize up.  That is the challenge for the Obama administration – a new economic morality.

Walt Whitman penned these words on the eve of another civil war in 1860:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day--at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

It is still early in the morning as I finish this but the sun is rising and I’m going out for my morning walk.  Another freight train is rumbling in the distance.  I hear America singing.