Thursday, August 29, 2019

David Crosby: Remember My Name

David Crosby: Remember My Name
seen @ Cinema Village, New York, NY

I saw the trailer for this when I saw the Toni Morrison doc earlier this summer and knew I wanted to see it—and so did Virginia. We both dug this portrait of legendary folk singer David Crosby, now in his lion-in-winter years after a lifetime spent taking way too many drugs and pissing off way too many friends and lovers, to the point where his music is what keeps him sane. Fortunately, his voice is still in excellent shape, even if the rest of him isn’t.

Producer Cameron Crowe needs little prompting to get Crosby to be absolutely candid about the many mistakes he made: turning on a lover to drugs, being a dick to his band mates—primarily The Byrds and CSN(Y); doing jail time. Still, he had a hand in creating some of the best, most powerful and relevant music of his generation. He is equally candid about the politics of the 60s and how his music gave him a platform to speak his mind during a tumultuous era. He may even feel survivor’s guilt for being alive while so many of his peers are gone, including a young woman he loved who died long before her time. He lays everything bare, and now, he continues touring and recording, worrying his wife sick but unable to tear himself away from the music, which has been his constant companion.

It’s a familiar story, no doubt, and to anyone who has followed Crosby’s career, little of it can truly be considered shocking, but to someone who was born after the Summer of Love, after Kent State, after Woodstock, I found it riveting.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

I’ve got an unanticipated buildup of posts and I need to clear the slate, so this will be a smaller post than I had planned. Blinded by the Light is inspired by a true story about a teenager of Pakistan descent, living in a nowheresville English town in the 80s, whose world is rocked when he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen for the first time.

I enjoyed this one a whole lot, and not just for the nostalgia factor. Director Gurinder Chadha, who also did Bend it Like Beckham years ago, presents us with a lead character, and a situation, not unlike what you might’ve seen in the 80s and 90s films of John Hughes or Cameron Crowe, but the racial aspect is a clear and important distinction: being Pakistani alienates newcomer Viveik Kalra not only from his economically depressed town, but from his disapproving father, an immigrant just trying to look out for his family the only way he can, because he knows no one else in this bigoted environment will. Bruce’s music (which you either love or hate; you can guess how I feel) speaks to Kalra like nothing else does and tells him there’s someone else, half a world away and part of an entirely different culture, who understands.

Light is also a joyous, exuberant story that’s a pure expression of youth, which someone will turn into a Broadway musical one day, I have no doubt. Indeed, it borders on being a musical already. Any potential comparisons to Yesterday, another film about someone of East Asian descent who bonds with Western rock music in an unusual way, are unfounded, partly because of the sci-fi aspect and partly because the romance here felt more organic. I had a great time watching it.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz Blogathon is an event devoted to all things associated with the 1939 MGM film and the original novel by L. Frank Baum, hosted by Taking Up Room. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

The Wiz

It’s hard to imagine which has been more influential to American pop culture: the original children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, or the 1939 MGM adaptation, The Wizard of Oz. Baum was a prolific author in his time; in addition to the Oz series of books (there are fourteen), he wrote 41 other novels and 83 short stories, plus his poems and even scripts.

Oz the book was released in 1900, with illustrations by WW Denslow. Its initial print run of 10,000 copies sold out quickly. A musical stage play was made two years later, the first adaptation into another media. The book hit one million copies printed in 1938. The first film adaptation was overseen by Baum himself, a multimedia production titled The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays.

The 1939 MGM version credits the director as Victor Fleming, though several different men sat in the  big chair, including Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe (both before Fleming) and King Vidor (after), plus George Cukor acted in an advisory capacity, though he didn’t shoot anything. The screenplay was credited to Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, though again, other hands worked on its development, including Fleming, Vidor, Cukor, Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the poet Ogden Nash. Herbert Stothart did the score and Harold Arlen & Yip Hamburg composed the songs. Oz was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and won two: Original Score and Original Song for the all-timer “Over the Rainbow.”

Listing the many variations of the original Oz story over the years, in film alone, would take way too long—and anyway, I’m here to discuss one in particular, which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary and is notable in its own right—especially if you’re a New Yorker.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Thank God It’s Friday

The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon is an event devoted to the life and career of the actor, hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews and Emma K. Wall Explains It All. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at the host sites.

Thank God It’s Friday

Disco! I’ve talked about it here before, and while I was way too young to have gotten involved in any disco-versus-rock flame wars civilized debates, if you had asked me in, oh, 1980, which side I was on, I would’ve put on my-my-my-my-my boogie shoes and did The Hustle to the music of Chic, or perhaps the Brothers Gibb—even if disco was dying by that point.

My sister would’ve been the reason why. Disco and classic soul is close to Lynne’s heart, always has been, and she and her husband include plenty of it in their cover band. She had a shoebox full of 45s and I believe she even had some 8-tracks, in addition to her many LPs, and whenever she wasn’t around I’d idly go through them and play a few. I was a Top 40 nerd all through grade and junior high school before I discovered classic rock in high school, so my mixtapes had not only disco, but freestyle and even some new wave.

And dancing? I must have spent the entire sixth grade trying to moonwalk. Not easy in Reeboks. I think I mentioned the bar mitzvah I went to sometime in the mid-80s where I danced up a storm with my friend Howard’s sister Susan. I’m pretty sure there was some disco on the turntable that day, though I couldn’t tell you which moves I busted.

I also recall my junior high prom, but that was in 1986 and by then, though we had plenty of Madonna and Whitney Houston and the Pointer Sisters to groove to, we didn’t call it disco. I doubt anyone did. Freestyle was lumped in with general pop music and I never made a distinction.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Ninth inning

Nine years is way longer than I ever would’ve expected WSW to last. The usual thanks and words of humility apply once again. If you’ve been at all entertained, or educated or amused by my blog, then I’ve done my job. I hope I’ve done it well.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Five original Woodstock performers who made movies (and TV)

Of course I wish I had been there. Mad as it sounds like it was in hindsight—the rain, the disheveled crowd, the brown acid—I think it was understood, even then, how special the concert was.

Time has turned it into something larger than life, something emblematic of The Sixties in general, and yeah, that colors my perception of it (how can it not?), but strip away the legend and I still would want to have been there for it, if only for one of the three days, not just for the music but for the atmosphere, the chance to taste the spirit of this seminal period in American history which seems light years distant now.

Was there really a time when young Americans honestly believed rock and roll could change the world? Where peace, love and understanding were more than words on a bumper sticker? I look around me today and I see a nation that doesn’t need a war in Vietnam; it’s more than happy to fight itself. I see a president worse than Nixon ever was, one blind to his own divisive nature. I see the best minds of this generation raging on social media and on television so loudly they can barely hear what anyone else says.

The world seemed equally bleak fifty years ago, too, but for three days in August, rock and roll brought forth into the world a different vibe. Maybe it was nothing but hype in reality, but the idea of the Age of Aquarius and the redemptive power of music was strong enough to attract half a million people to Yasgur’s Farm where “everywhere was a song and a celebration”—and the idea remains attractive today.

The musicians that attended Woodstock went on to various degrees of success and longevity. Some of them went Hollywood. Here are five examples, including links to their Woodstock performances:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Books: Banished From Memory

The 2019 Summer Reading Challenge is an event in which the goal is to read and write about a variety of books related to classic film, hosted by Out of the Past. For a complete list of the rules, visit the website.

I met Mary Sheeran at a birthday party Sandi threw last year. I was familiar with her, in a general sense, through Sandi’s Facebook page: I knew she, like Sandi, was a writer as well as a classic movie fan. At the party, we talked for a little bit, but I can’t say I know her that well.

Then Sandi recently told me Mary had a new novel out, one set during the twilight of Hollywood’s studio era, and I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a look. I did more than that; this book is 468 pages! It’s no light summer read. Banished From Memory is not Mary’s first novel, but I did not expect something quite this physically big from a small press book (Aquafire Sulis, since you ask).

Dianna Fletcher is the teenage daughter of a Barrymore-esque acting family in 1960 Hollywood. After a series of Disney movies, Dianna gets a plum role in a more grownup, critically-acclaimed film that gets her kudos as well as unwanted attention. At first, it doesn’t quite get her the respectability or the confidence in her future as an actress she craves, on her terms. Then she meets Bill Royce, an older, up-and-coming Method actor who slowly alters her perceptions about the movie world and her parents, as her fortunes change. Meanwhile, the specter of Communism post-McCarthy still looms over Hollywood in this election year, and over Dianna and Bill.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens NY

Apparently Quentin Tarantino has said he only wants to make ten films. This is why the posters for his films always say “the ninth film” or “the eighth film” or what have you. If this is true—and personally, I’ll believe it when I see it—I can respect that. If he has other interests in life and he believes filmmaking will get in the way of pursuing those goals, then he should be free to retire early.

Why not? He’s given us a quarter century’s worth of thrilling, often controversial but distinctly unique films, including a modern classic, Pulp Fiction, and several other outstanding films, including Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill. One could argue he has little left to prove.

Yet in an era in which filmmakers like Clint Eastwood continue to make movies deep into his eighties, nonagenarian actors like Dick van Dyke and Betty White remain not only active but relevant, and The Rolling Stones still sell out stadiums after over fifty years, one can’t help but wonder if QT, who’s not yet sixty, is for real.

If the right idea for a film came to him, would he be able to resist the director’s chair? I’m invested in my novel, even now, six years (!!) after I laid the groundwork for it, and come hell or high water, I want to see it published in some form, but every so often I’m tempted to go back to comics—especially during times when I feel the novel is a piece of crap and I’m an idiot for even thinking about writing one.

At the same time, we can all think of examples of creative people and creative works that overstayed their welcome (we can debate over which ones they are, but let’s not). I was unimpressed with QT’s latest, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad film.

I thought it felt too similar to most of his films: the self-indulgent dialogue, the hipper-than-thou soundtrack, the ultraviolence, the damn foot fetish—but that still puts it ahead of most films made today. It still looks like the work of a filmmaker confident in his technique, perfected over a number of years, and in his ability to tell his story his way. Hollywood has not put me off of seeing his next film, whatever it will be, particularly if he makes that R-rated Star Trek film he’s talked about.

So I don’t buy the theory QT has put forth that a given director’s body of work tends to decline after a certain period of time. Steven Spielberg made 1941, The Terminal and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but we still hail him as a genius because he hits far, far more often than he misses—and so does QT.

If he does retire after his next film, so be it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something—the chance to work with a particular actor, the right story idea, restlessness, spurs him to reconsider, at the very least—but I would hope, after falling asleep while watching Hollywood (seriously), that he would attempt something outside his comfort zone. Something truly out of left field. Space opera might be just the thing...

Friday, August 2, 2019

Furry links

So what do I think about that Cats trailer? Now that you’ve heard everyone else’s opinion...

Back in the 90s, I saw on VHS a production of the Broadway show, so I’m familiar with it. I always thought it was peculiar. This, though, is on another level. The trailer didn’t freak me out as much as it did some people—I stayed up half the night watching “reaction” videos on YouTube—but yeah, turning the cast into CGI human-cat hybrids may not have been the wisest decision. (On the other hand, we now know a Thundercats movie is possible!) It’s doubtful the fans of the show would have accepted an animated version, though, so this is what we’re left with, not that anybody was clamoring for a Cats movie in 2019 to begin with. Plus, while I can hardly object to Jenny Hudson’s rendition of “Memory”—easily the best thing about that trailer—from the looks of her, I couldn’t help thinking she’s just reprising her role from Dreamgirls.

Still, it is Cats, and because it’s Cats, people will turn out for it, especially at Christmas. It’s one of those things where if you love it, you adore it wholeheartedly. I know; I was the same way with Rent, but that didn’t have CGI human-cat hybrids. So I guess between this and the Lion King remake, this will be remembered as (with apologies to Al Stewart) the year of the cat.


Don’t have too much else to say at the moment, so let’s jump straight to the links:

Why does Paddy love westerns?

Who was “the Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood”? Ruth has the answer.

Ivan discusses a film written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett that has become quite relevant in 2019.

Hugh Jackman in concert is quite spectacular, as Hamlette will attest.

Jacqueline looks at which movies were playing the weekend of the moon landing.

Fritzie shows off shampoo ads with silent film actresses.

Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft reflects on her mother’s legacy as a gay icon, fifty years after her death.

Also, a crowdfunding campaign is under way to restore Judy’s birthplace.

What would TS Eliot have made of the Cats movie?

That casting a black girl as the Little Mermaid is still a matter of controversy in 2019 is frankly, embarrassing. But there’s historical evidence that suggests such a thing isn’t that unusual.

The long-term implications of the virtual technology of The Lion King 2019.

Paul McCartney will write the music for a stage musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

84-year-old Sophia Loren is working on a new movie directed by her son.

These pics from the demolished site of the former Sunshine Cinema will depress you.

Long before he joined the cast of In Living Color, Jim Carrey appeared in this Playboy Channel movie. (NSFW)

Celebrity memorabilia and the people who buy it.