Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin in Derry & Colin, and Donal.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Great performances: Olivier's Richard III

Great performances come in various shapes, few as stunning at the spider-like, stunted king who dominates Laurence Olivier's 1955/56 film of RICHARD III, which he produced and directed, as well as starring as the much-maligned monarch. Now that Richard's remains have been found (under a car park in Leicester!) and authenticated there is revived interest in the fate of this king - was he really as dastardly as Shakespeare painted him? 

Yes, this is the work of a ham in full overdrive mode - all rubber nose and moptop wig and a cushion up the back of his shirt, but nobody before or since has told the tale with greater clarity. By making Richard so comical and witty and clever and running rings around everybody else as he exacts revenge for his deformed body by killing his way to the Throne of England, Olivier's performance still resonates now. The stellar cast Olivier surrounded himself with - Gielgud, Richardson, the silent Pamela Brown as the old king's knowing mistress, Stanley Baker, Laurence Naismith, Cedric Hardwicke and particularly Claire Bloom as Lady Anne - none of them steals Larry's thespian thunder. 

From his first approach to the camera as he draws us into his confidence with those lines: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York" - to that final "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" on the battlefield before he is hacked to death - this is a performance for the ages. I saw it as a child when most of the verse would have been over my head, but that scene where the murderers (Michael Gough and Michael Ripper - both very appropriately scary) drown Clarence (Gielgud) in the vat of wine is one moment that stayed with me, they also get the princes in the tower. It all looks great too, with fascinating costumes, music score by Sir William Walton, production design by Roger Furse, 

There was though another King that year: Yul Brynner, also mesmerising, in THE KING AND I and it was he who won the Best Actor Oscar (the others nominated were Kirk Douglas for LUST FOR LIFE and both Dean and Hudson for GIANT. It must be tough for an actor to have maybe one's greatest role the same year as a standout turn - but this was Brynner's breakout year (he also had his imposing Rameses in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and ANASTASIA out there), like 1954 was Brando's.

Ian McKellan's modern-dress 1995 version which I did not see seems unobtainable now (unless for very silly money). 
A lot more Shakespeare to investigate over the coming months: 6 cinematic HAMLETs: Olivier again with his Oscar-winning 1948 version, the Russian 1964 one by Grigori Kozintsev with the brooding Innokenty Smoktunevsky as the Dane; then there's Tony Richardson's 1969 one with Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi for the BBC in the 80s, Zeffirelli's with Ian Gibson (it also features Bates and Scofield) in 1990 and the 1996 Kennth Branagh all-star one (Julie Christie as Gertrude!) - then there's 6 Hamlets I saw on the stage: Peter McEnery, Michael York, Alan Bates (with Celia Johnson as Gertrude), Jonathan Pryce (Jill Bennett was his Gertrude), Stephen Dillane and David Tennant's understudy. Couple of MACBETHs too: Orson Welles in '48, Nicol Williamson for the BBC, Polanski's in 1972 and another television one with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. and of course Welles' CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is stunningly marvellous, as is his OTHELLO, both made on very shoestring budgets ..... Its going to be a winter of drama then .... I imagine Zeffirelli's HAMLET should look as good as his TAMING OF THE SHREW and ROMEO AND JULIET.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hungry like the wolf

Finally, I sit down with THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and am immediately sucked in and blown away. It must be Scorsese's best in decades - taking one back to the era of TAXI DRIVER, NEW YORK NEW YORK, RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS. For some odd reason I still have not seen CASINO, didn't like CAPE FEAR, didn't think THE DEPARTED was that wonderful and have not (yet) seen SHUTTER ISLAND, and I enjoyed THE AVIATOR much more recently than when I saw it on release. Then there's GANGS OF NEW YORK ..... the dvd has been sitting on the shelf for years. But we love Marty's MY VOYAGE TO ITALY on what Italian cinema means to him, and his music documentaries. Its great that he is as busy as ever, in his early 70s, with several projects on the go. He must be THE premier American director of his generation. 

So, THE WOLF ..... Martin Scorsese directs this true story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). From the Amerian dream to corporate greed, Belfort goes from penny stocks and righteousness to IPQs and a life of corruption in the late 80s - earning him the title of "The Wolf of Wall Street". Money. Power. Women. Drugs. Temptations were for the taking and the threat of authority were irrelevant. For Jordan and his wolf pack, more was never enough.

So sayeth the blurb. Well, it plays like GOODFELLAS on acid as excess is piled on excess, the drug taking is industrial quality. We watch dazed and amazed and amused, like the scene where Jordan tries to get to his car and drive home while smashed on quaaludes, then of course nemesis is reached as the FBI start to close in ..... DiCaprio is sensational, aided by Jonah Hill, the shlub who becomes his right-hand man. Other standouts are Joanna Lumley as his wife's aunt, Jean Dujardin as the Swiss banker, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConnaughy in a standout cameo, and more, more. Margot Robbie is just right too as Naomi, the trophy wife. That yacht ride in the storm is a zinger too ... there's practically 1,000 reviews of it on IMDB, raging from idolatory to rage about it, but love it or hate it its an American Epic. Its certainly a vast panorama of the greed and corruption which has unfolded since those heady 80s. On the negative side, it seems enamored with the alleged life story of a sociopathic, sleazeball swindler, and there is no character development - they start off sleazy and crass disgusting creeps and stay that way.
An alternative take is that its a very cleverly disguised narrative tale AS TOLD BY a con-man to us the audience. Jordan Belfort keeps embellishing his story with whores, drugs, orgies, huge mansions, enormous yachts with helipads, exploding airplanes, etc., because that is what will impress his audience. Somebody else said it was "a 3-hour fantasy concocted by a piggish frat boy on speed."
It is a stunning production, scripted by Terence Winter from Belfort's book; with a huge cast, and edited as usual by Thelma Schoonmaker, costumes by Sandy Powell - Leonardo is dressed by Armani, Marty's pal from The Band (THE LAST WALTZ) Robbie Robertson is 'executive music producer' and what a dazzler the soundtrack is with snatches of blues and rock classics by the likes of Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker. The three hours whiz by .... I think I want to see it again next week. Its a standout movie in a year of many standouts. Next we will be moving on to DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, as well as discovering whats INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS ....but first more fun and games with Schrader's CAT PEOPLE and Anita Ekberg's KILLER NUN and John Water's SERIAL MOM

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Happy birthday, Brigitte

80 today - like Sophia Loren last week! 

From HELEN OF TROY's handmaiden (its on again today) to DOCTOR AT SEA with Dirk and NERO'S LOST WEEKEND, and then those Vadim films which exploded into the mid-50s with AND GOD CREATED WOMAN when she was a sensation. She really was a new archetype, the female James Dean as she scorned convention. I couldn't get to see them at the time, but later I liked the torrid HEAVEN FELL THAT NIGHT. This "B.B." may have been Vadim's invention, but she proved a delightful comedienne with items like UNE PARISIENNE, COME DANCE WITH ME, BABETTE GOES TO WAR etc. and a serious dramatic actress in LA VERITE. If you were an early teen back then in the early 60s BB was THE pin-up, while girls everywhere copied that tousled hair and gingham skirt look.

Unlike Loren, Bardot was never that interested in acting or the trappings of stardom, and came to hate it all, but then the press hounded her so much, as captured in Malle's VIE PRIVEE with Marcello in 63, but she was perfect in Godard's CONTEMPT and a delight in Malle's VIVA MARIA with Moreau. That was a big hit in 1966. The London cinema, The Curzon, that a friend and I went to to see it was full!
I like her too in Bourguignon's TWO WEETS IN SEPTEMBER in '67, but she shouldn't have bothered with SHALAKO (where she and Boyd looks trashed and used up a mere decade after their 1958 Vadim hit), and she more or less departed the movies by the early '70s, but was still newsworthy as her romances and life at St Tropez kept the paparazzi busy. But she certainly was a major star - up there with Marilyn - and cultural influence in the '50s, with those books about her which had all those intellectuals in a tizzy.
She leads a different kind of life these days, and her politics may be suspect, but she has done a lot for animal welfare, particularly against seal clubbing etc. so one wishes her well. 
More on BB at label - we like her a lot now ! 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Weekend treat ....

I will be going back to 1980 and re-seeing Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO again, it defines the early '80s for me (along with Kasdan's BODY HEAT)  as the combination of Schrader's Bresson-like tale, Gere in those Armani clothes, Giorgio Moroder's pulsing soundtrack, the fabulous Lauren Hutton and that-to die-for apartment (visual consultant: Ferdinando Scarfiotti) combine to make a fashion/glamour statement that still works now. I will have to re-see Schrader's unique take on CAT PEOPLE (1982) as well ... and Gere's recent ARBITRAGE which seemed better than usual. More on GIGOLO at label ...

Wadjda

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a ten year old girl from Saudi Arabia who lives with her mother (Reem Abdullah) in Riyadh. She's from a very conservative society where women have to cover their hair around men, but she is a very lovable girl who's always pushing the boundaries to her limitations. When one of the boys (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) begins teasing her and outruns her on his bike, she promises that she will buy one to race him and beat him. She sees a beautiful green bike on sale and since her mother doesn't give her the money because she considers girls shouldn't ride bikes, Wadjda decides to raise the money herself. The perfect opportunity presents itself when director Ms. Hussa (Ahd) offers prize money for the winner of a Koran recitation competition at her school. Wadjda begins to dedicate her time and efforts to this competition, while her mother is worried about trying to convince her husband (Sultan Al Assaf) to stay with her and not get remarried. Wadjda is dedicated to achieving her goal despite the limitations presented by the people around her.

We have seen a few world cinema titles here since I began writing this. UNCLE BOONMEE from Thailand, which I love; UNDERCURRENT from Peru which is an interesting gay interest title; but WADJA from 2012 is the first film I have seen from Saudia Arabia so thanks to our resourceful Film4 channel for screening it yesterday. It is a charming, perceptive film about the role of women in these countries where they cannot openly be themselves. We in the West often do not realise how difficult it can be for them, particularly now with more international tensions. 

Female director Haifaa Al Mansour gets great performances from her cast - Wadjda and her mother in particular, and that bitch of a school-teacher. The enterprising Wadjda wins the school competition but cannot use the prize money to buy the green bicycle she has set her heart on. Girls cannot ride bicycles and the money must be donated. But there is a surprise in store .... the ending is uplifting as Wadjda finally rides her bicycle and races the boy who says he wants to marry her when she grows up. This is a warm, perceptive film accessible to every nation. I am so pleased I saw it. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hilariously awful movies: The Devil At 4 O'Clock

THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK, 1961. Here is a movie to laugh at ... One would expect something good from a film with both Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra in 1961, helmed by veteran Mervyn Le Roy (who directed GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933, see below) - a drama about religion and faith set in the South Seas as a volcano erupts. But what we get is a tedious, laughable plod though all the cliches - yes there is the lovely blind native girl (Barbara Luna) whom convict Sinatra deveops feelings for, there is the idealistic young priest (Kerwin Matthews, wasted here) who arrives to replace the tired old priest who has lost (and then regains)  his faith - thats Tracy.

Three convicts enroute to Tahiti are put to work at a children's leper hospital when their plane makes an unexpected stop on another island. There, Father Perreau is to get off and replace Father Doonan, who's been relieved of his duties by the cardinal. Once on the island, things get out of control when the volcano decides to erupt, and the Governor orders an evacuation. The convicts, priests and leper children are all on top of the island and have no sure way to get down and off to safety. All must work together if any are to survive.

The ending is a hoot as Spence and One Take Frank are left on the island and Frank crosses himself and is redeemed, due to Spencer, as the island explodes and they go to the bottom of the pacific. Kerwin and the others escape. Then there is the convict who falls into the quicksand ... and several other assorted treats. Perhaps Tracy felt like a change from those prestige movies like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA or JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG, whereas Frank signed up for anything then. Le Roy made another doozy that year, difficult to see now, A MAJORITY OF ONE a tedious comedy with the stunt casting of Alec Guinness as a Japanese, wooing Jewish widow Rosalind Russell. I saw it as a kid. Le Roy scored though with GYPSY in 1962 and that Jean Seberg romantic thriller MOMENT TO MOMENT in 1965, which I like a lot and must return to. When I saw Le Roy being interviewed at the London National Film Theatre in the early '70s it began with the "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" number by the three strippers from GYSPY. Fab. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Julia ? On the Beach ? The Arrangement ?

This week I am looking at and revaluating some "prestige" films that were  big in their day,  but do they still stand up now ? JULIA, ON THE BEACH, THE ARRANGEMENT.

JULIA was one of those hits from 1977 which we all went to at the time, and have been rather forgotten about since - THE TURNING POINT was another one - I will return to that later, when I have re-seen it. 

Looking at JULIA now it screams "prestige cinema" but it sees to have been has been debunked - just how much of it is true? Did Lillian Hellman make it all up? - its part of her memoir "Pentimento". It does all seem rather phoney now. Every scene is designed to be impressive, starting with the older Hellmann fishing in her boat at dawn, then that perfect period beach shack she shares with writer Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards, to the manner born) as they fry fish on the beach - Cape Cod presumably. It is 1934 as we see from the calendar on the wall - the time of the Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal. Hellmann is also a writer (after her success with the play THE CHILDREN'S HOUR), but with writer's block as we see her grappling with that old typewriter. Jane Fonda is actually ideal here, in her 70s prime, like a young Katharine Hepburn. The fastidious Fred Zinnemann carefully fashions it all - I like his other great movies like FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE NUN'S STORY, THE SUNDOWNERS and he always gets superior perforances from his actors, and so it is here ....

Then the plot begins - we get flashbacks to her youth with her great friend Julia, with her wealthy grandmother Cathleen Nesbitt, and then their years at Oxford - all golden spires, and Vanessa Redgrave radiant as Julia striding around in her tweeds  while declaiming the brave new future to come ... but then of course the War intervenes .... and Julia devotes her life to fighting fascism, putting her life in danger ...

The central scene has Lillian meeting Julia in a restaurant, but they have to be very careful in case they are being watched. Julia is now on crutches .... and has a mission for Lillian to smuggle money (in her hat!)  As a thriller though its rather suspense-less. Max Schell appears as Julia's friend Johann, and the young Meryl Streep has that minute appearance. There is that train journey - will Lillian get the money throiugh safely?. But then the plot goes haywire, and suddenly Julia is dead. Lillian goes to see the body in a suburban funeral parlour (with Maurice Denham) and tries to find the baby Julia supposedly had.   

It is all still watchable, but I think we have to take it with a large pinch of salt. Redgrave and Robards both won Best Supporting Oscars here and it was nominated for a slew of other including best picture and director. It was Zinnemann's last big success (he did just one more), great score by Georges Delerue, and lensed by Douglas Slocombe. Fonda of course is a far prettier Hellman. 

ON THE BEACH
I really cannot find much to say about ON THE BEACH, that big one from 1959 by Stanley Kramer from the Nevil Shute novel. Shute's novels usually featured big ideas: aviation in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY, war in A TOWN LIKE ALICE and only the end of the world in ON THE BEACH. Kramer like Kazan, was big in the 50s and early 60s, with those self-important movies on big themes, like THE DEFIANT ONES, INHERIT THE WIND, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG (with their great star turns) and this one set in Australia. Even Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner cannot make it sing as the ponderous affair also drags down Fred Astaire and Tony Perkins as the young naval husband. It is actually set in 1964 as atomic war wipes out humanity in the northern hemisphere; 
one American submarine finds temporary safe haven in Australia, where life-as-usual covers growing despair, as they wait for the radiation to reach them. The only interesting sequence is the submarine returning to San Francisco to investigate a tapping noise (which turns out to be a trapped blind cord), but where is everybody as there is no sign of dead bodies?. Did everyone just vaporise? The end coda couldn't be more in your face: that slogan "There is still time, brother"! That must have wowed them in 1959 as The Cold War escalated, it was one of the main films of that great year - but it simply does not stand the test of time and is a colossal bore now. One simply wants to fast-forward through most of it. 

THE ARRANGEMENT. Elia Kazan of course had his great decade in the 1950s, but like a lot of other once important directors may have felt left behind by the late sixties. THE ARRANGEMENT is from his own novel and it is all just too much as Kazan throws everything at us. Kirk Douglas is the business executive sick of the rat race his life as become as he deliberately crashes his car in that grim traffic scene. Deborah Kerr, getting rather matronly by then, is his worried steely wife doing all she can to help him rehabilitate himself, as he keeps flashing back to his exciting mistress Gwen - Faye Dunaway at the height of her glossy '60s glamour - who keeps taunting him about what he could have been. 
She does have that memorable line: "The screwing I'm getting is not worth the screwing I am getting". But it is all too much and too overwrought as Kirk fixates on his old Greek father Richard Boone and his nude frolics at the beach with Gwen ...
Eddie is a very rich man who has everything he wants; money, family, success, but a car crash causes him to reevaluate the life he leads. Searching for the happiness he lost, he remembers his one-time lover, Gwen, even as his wife conspires to take his fortune...
Like AMERICAN BEAUTY, Kazan's story looks anew at The American Dream and finds it wanting; looking at it now it is not as bad as some reviews said at the time, there's lots of interesting ideas here, but Kazan throws it all at us without being able to streamline it.  Right: Dunaway and Kazan.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Pizza with Marcello, Monica, & Romy

A Marcello double-bill: Italian comedy with Monica and a ghost story with Romy ..

THE PIZZA TRIANGLE or JEALOUSY, ITALIAN STYLE or GRAMMA DELLA GELOSIA was a surprise hit in 1970 - Pauline Kael gave it a rave review too, but it had vanished without trace until recently. I should have been watching a new sub-titled disk but it has gone astray in the post (a replacement is on its way), so I am remembering it from back then. It shows Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti as gifted farceurs as this trio of working class lovers clash, the third point of the triangle being Giancarlo Giannini. The prolific Ettore Scola, still writing and directing now, and who also directed Marcello and Sophia's hit A SPECIAL DAY in 1977, and Marcello as Casanova in THAT NIGHT IN VARENNES, fashions a hilarious tragedy as our bricklayer Marcello falls for flower-seller Monica, who then falls for pizza chef Giancarlo. Cue endless farce as they love, fight, bicker, and end up injured in hospital.
As IMDB puts it: An engrossing farce about a love triangle in modern Rome. Bricklayer Marcello Mastroianni meets flower-seller Monica Vitti at a political demonstration. He decides to ditch his fat, older wife for her. All goes well until a pizza, in the shape of a heart, arrives. It is sent to the girl by a young pizza-chef, played by Giancarlo Giannini. The pizza man becomes Vitti's lover, and poor Marcello goes mad with jealousy and attempts suicide, as do each of the other two at some point in this hysterical soap opera. The three lead performers, among the best that the Italian cinema has ever had to offer, are magnificent, as is the direction and comic timing by Ettore Scola creating a tragedy and comedy with political overtones and social satire.
Vitti and Marcello had not been this good in years. Giancarlo Giannini of course went on to those towering performances in Wertmuller's SEVEN BEAUTIES, Oscar-nominated in 1975, and that chilly lead in Visconti's last, L'INNOCENTE in 1976 (both reviewed at Giancarlo  Giannini label), and again is still working now. 

FANTASMA D'AMORE (GHOST OF LOVE), 1981. 
A decade later, in 1981, we see an older Marcello with an older Romy Schneider - a year before her death (aged 43 in 1982). This for some reason, despite its two European stars, never played in London as I would have wanted to see it. It was only in Italian but I have now sourced a sub-titled print, 
I don't usually go for ghost stories, but this turned out to be a totally absorbing drama, with supernatural tones, which kept the interest, It is set in Pavia, a gloomy city as shown here, as Marcello's accountant catches the bus for a change, and an ill-looking, shabby woman boards the bus and does not have the fare, so he gives her a 100 lire coin. She thanks him and runs away and seems to know him. Then she rings him at home, where he and his wife lead separate lives. He did not recognise her, the woman on the bus, as she had changed so much due to illness, but she is Anna, his long lost love who has come back. He is astonished but agrees to meet her. 
She is now looking like her usual attractive self .... it turns out though she is married. Then he is told by a doctor friend that she died 3 years ago, which he cannot believe. They meet again and go out on the river in a boat, but she falls over and drowns .... there is also a mysterious murder where a man who abused Anna kills his aunt. It turns out Anna is unrepentant about that (before she falls into the river) .... then a body turns up, but it is not Anna but the man who abused her and who killed his aunt, who was also unpleasant to Anna. Is she a vengeful ghost bent on revenge? He has to find out and goes to see her husband, who also confirms that Anna died 3 years ago. Her aged servant also takes him to where she is buried ..... So what is the real truth.  The aged ill Anna turns up again on the bus - she keeps being drawn back to him as he keeps remembering her, and what does that odd priest know about it all. They have to part one more time ...... 
Ok, it is a ghost story, one can accept that. But what does one make of the final scene, where he returns to a large house (which may be a hospital or asylum) and the nurse in white uniform coming towards him is Romy/Anna too and she smiles as she leads him back in. It is all the ravings of a lunatic? or has he simply gone mad from it all? We have to make up our own mind .... Its an endlessly fascinating puzzle well directed by Risi, and made bearable by the stars, Marcello is fine as usual; Romy transcends the material and is a fascinating presence. They are a perfect team too, like Marcello with all the others: Sophia, Anouk, Gina, Anita, Monica, Silvana, Faye, Catherine, Brigitte, Belinda, Claudia etc. 

In due course, more Marcello rarities: with Silvana Mangano (DARK EYES, her last, in 1989) and maybe two dreadful ones, long unseen here: A FINE ROMANCE with Julie Andrews, and USED PEOPLE with Shirley McLaine, both from 1992. There is also something called MACARONI, another late '80s Marcello comedy with Jack Lemmon in crabby, annoying mode as an American in Naples (shades of AVANTI ?) ....I will have to resist that.
More Romy coming up too, and Catherine Deneuve.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Happy Birthday, Sophia !

Happy 80th Birthday, Sophia. Some great clips here - I love that mambo from WOMAN OF THE RIVER, 1954.., and, below, clips from the 1955 SCANDAL IN SORRETO, aka PANE, AMORE, E ... . (now winging its way to me, but in Italian only!).
For UK viewers, Sky Arts 1 has a new documentary with interviews "Sophia, Yesterday Today & Tomorrow" which they will be screening a few times over the weekend, along with THE SUNFLOWER, not the best of her De Sica-Mastroianni collaborations, but I have not seen it since its release, when it was curiously old-fashioned back in the late 60s. 
I may re-watch some of her less-seen items like HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS or THAT KIND OF WOMAN, or some of her early Italian films like LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN or THE SIGN OF VENUS and I never tire of her and Peck in ARABESQUE. I am finally getting to see the 1955 SCANDAL IN SORRENTO (PANE, AMORE, E ...) but only in Italian! 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Some eye-catching posters - an occasional series

My afternoon with Reg

I posted here recently on the 20th year anniversary revival of MY NIGHT WITH REG, now back in London at the Donmar Warehouse. Well I saw it yeterday afternoon, and it was terrific. It is only on until the end of the month here, but - like the original - may transfer to a bigger theatre. 

I had not been to the Donmar before and I absolutely loved it, a great theatre space, with bars etc right in the middle of Covent Garden Seven Dials area, just over from Charing Cross Road. Nice pub nearby too for drinks and lunch. We were practically on stage with the actors, as the audience is on three sides, a total of 250 or so, so if was of course sold out. Perhaps its an English THE NORMAL HEART .... David Bowie's "Starman" gets a look in too!

Like the original production I saw in 1997, it is played at a quick rate, all 3 acts with no interval, as we watch the six characters inter-act. It is of course set in the mid-80s as the Aids crisis hits Engand and we observe this group of gay men. It turns out of course that all had slept with the unseen Reg, who has died by the second act. Guy - whose flat it is - was also careless when on holiday ..... so the stage is set for that profoundly sad ending, but it is also very funny. As I said before, the BBC version slows it down quite a bit, so it is a different experence on the stage. All six actors are perfect: Julian Ovenden (back to wooing Lady Mary in the return of DOWNTON ABBEY this weekend) and Lewis Reeves (below) as the dreamy Eric who both have to strip, Jonathan Broadbent, Richard Cant, Matt Bardock and Geoffrey Streatfeild. Directed by Robert Hastie, with a great set - I love that conservatory with the rain falling (below). Such a shame the author Kevin Elyot died earlier this year .... (as per my RIP post). 
In memory of Mike Clifton, RIP.

Duets with Barbra and Smokey ...

Frank Sinatra started this trend with his DUETS cd in 1993, which even casual Sinatra fans had to have, it turned out to be the kind of novelty record one played once and then filed away, but it sold enough for Frank to do a second one. Later of course we discovered most of these "duets" were recorded with the singers not even together in the same studio  ...... but it was a trend that kept coming back, no doubt being a marketing ploy to cross-over to new markets as hopefully fans of the singer duetting with you would have to buy your album - before they could download the track they wanted. At least we saw Tony Bennett recording with Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga among others, and could see the genuine respect between them.

Couple of new Duets now - I am just playing SMOKEY & FRIENDS, Smokey Robinson's latest, its a mixed batch of course  Gary Barlow turns "Get Ready" into a cheesy fun missing early Take That hit, while Elton John and James Taylor slow down and do different arrangements to "The Tracks Of My Tears" and "Ain't That Peculiar" - Smokey may have wrote that one, but its the funky Marvin Gaye version that we loved back in the'60s. 

Good to see Smokey back in business and still grooving, and his Tamla-Motown hits getting a new lease of life  ..... I did a post on Marvin Gaye recently (music label), soon: Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross, Al Green ... 

Barbra Streisand's latest "Duets" venture PARTNERS has had a different reaction though, being it seems mainly bland versions of earlier hits of hers - who needs the umpteenth version of "People" or "Evergreen" or "The Way We Were" with a not very fascinating bunch of guest artists (Michael Buble it seems comes off best) with overwrought and syrupy orchestrations, so I think we will be giving this one a miss (Barbra is very airbrushed on the cover as well). It seems crass too to be duetting with 37-year-dead Elvis now, who needs that?  I was suckered into buying her last one BACK TO BROOKLYN cd & dvd - but have not felt the need to play them yet. That also has the same duet with her son Jason ("How Deep Is The Ocean?"), which she is including again now - couldn't they have recorded something else. But then Barbra keeps selling her back catalogue over and over. This new one is already a best-seller.

As per previous posts I have been a big Streisand fan since her first albums (up to her A STAR IS BORN which I loathed), but really all I need of hers now is that SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM (I loved "Where's That Rainbow", "Gotta Move" and "Down With Love"), her 1965 PEOPLE album (my best friend Stanley, another Barbra fanatic loved that one), the FUNNY GIRL Original Broadway cast (having seen the show on stage in London, in 1966, when I was 20, as mentioned here before  - I can still picture her singing "The Music That Makes Me Dance" but they used "My Man" in the film), the soundtrack of HELLO DOLLY (which has some amusing dialogue snippets), and her late 60s period STONEY END, BARBARA JOAN STREISAND and WHAT ABOUT TODAY?. Then there's WET and LAZY AFTERNOON and THE WAY WE WERE album (not the movie soundtrack), and I suppose the her first BROADWAY album .... the 40-track Best Of .... is good too, with a lot of the early stuff, and I liked her CLASSICAL album as well. In her seventies now, The Voice may not be what it was, but maybe she needs to do another Broadway collection, as there are lots she has not sung yet. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Broadway babies !

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. This delicious Pre-Code Warners musical is not as well known now as some of those others like 42ND STREET or DAMES. Its only over 80 years old!  When I was a young movie buff back in the '60s old musicals like this were camp heaven and one would troop along to the National Film Theatre to enjoy them ..... but 50 years later they are hardly seen now. This new edition is a Spanish dvd which also has 42ND STREET, but I already have that. So, its back to 1933 ...

Broadway babies Joan Blondell, Aline McMahon and Ruby Keeler are out of a job as the new show they are going to open has been closed. Its the Great Depression and everyone is broke. The girls share a cold-water apartment and have to steal a bottle of milk from next door .... Ruby is pals with that nice young chap Dick Powell - he of course is a secret millionaire.   Brassy Ginger Rogers (who opens the film with "We're in The Money" with those risque costumes, gets wind of a new show and soon they are all busy again. We're "Petting in the Park", and the climax is that stunningly staged "Remember My Forgotten Man" a hymn to the men returned from the war who now are shuffling in bread lines for free meals from soup kitchens.  Polly (Blondell), Trixie (McMahon) and Carol (Keeler) are the chorines, and Ginger is the knowing Fay.
The choreography of course is by Busby Berkeley, with some of his best routines, its snappily directed by Mervyn LeRoy, costumed by Orry-Kelly, cinematography by Sol Polito,  and also in the cast are Warren William, Guy Kibbee, Eric Blore, Busby himself (the call boy), and a young Jane Wyman is one of the Gold Diggers ! This is the one where that precocious tot  (a midget playing a baby) presents Powell with a can opener so he can open those metallic costumes! 

The production number of "Shadow Waltz" has to be one of the best in this musical genre; the music was by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. That number and of course that Depression anthem "Remember my Forgotten Man" as sung by Blondell (and Etta Moten), show Busby Berkeley at his best.  Its fun seeing the young Ginger and Joan here, Ruby is endearingly clunky as usual, and its fascinating seeing the young Aline McMahon, whom I know from her older roles in films like I COULD GO ON SINGING in 1963, where she plays Judy's assistant/confidante, making a real character out of a role that barely existed on the page. The older Blondell too was terrific in THE CINCINNATI KID among others. How Depression audiences must have lapped these up back then, and we can still enjoy them today. How about GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 ?