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Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

HOW CARRIE GOT HER GROOVE BACK

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to SEX AND THE CITY 2 with bated breath. The first film version of the era-defining HBO series was unimaginative and uninvolving, and the advertisements for the new one, featuring an overly bedizened cast all striving mightily to prove that over-40 is still sexy, were off-putting, to say the least (although subway defacers have had a field day with the posters, taking particularly cruel aim at Sarah Jessica Parker).

What a delight, then, to report that this sequel is pretty damn terrific, everything SEX 1 was not in terms of fun, real glamour and alluring storyline. A problem with its predecessor was the inordinate focus on Carrie Bradshaw (Parker) and her eternal, tiresome problems with the commitment issues of her beloved Big, aka John Preston (Chris Noth). Her three BFFS Samantha (Kim Cattral), Charlotte (Kristen Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) were largely relegated to the sidelines and one rarely got the sense of what any of them did for a living to earn their posh lifestyles.

From the beginning flashbacks, when we see the ladies amusingly gotten up in the get-ups they wore upon arriving in NYC – Carrie as a Madonna wannabe, uptight Charlotte the staunch preppy, ever-serious Miranda as a hideously 1980s career-woman, and wild and crazy Samantha in CBGB’s punk rock drag – these dramatic issues have been beautifully righted in the new film: we actually see Carrie agonizing over meeting writing deadlines for an important VOGUE piece and negative reviews of her new book about the first two years of her marriage, I DO, DO I?; Miranda effectively deals with chauvinistic partners at her law firm; Samantha works her high-powered publicist’s wiles to score the girls a lavish, gratis trip to Abu Dhabi, and Charlotte contends with motherhood, with all of its attendant childish screaming tantrums and exhaustion.

The very idea of traditional marriage is provocatively called into question from the first scene, at the wedding of the series’ two favorite hag fags, Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) and Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone). However unlikely this pairing between these oil and vinegar gay types might be, we do learn that, in exchange for the over-the-top campy wedding, replete with swans and Liza Minnelli Stanford insists upon, Anthony gets to cheat. Miranda remains devoted to her job, a necessary part of her life, however it may absent her from her litle boy’s life. And writer/director Michael Patrick King has found an authentic, highly relatable story arc for Carrie with the boredom she feels at having finally landed Big – he will always be “Big,” incidentally, whatever name they choose to give him – only to find him all too content to stay home night after night on the couch in their lavish (overdecorated) condo, eating takeout food and watching the new flat screen. It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” which could also realistically describe every marriage ever.

Having kept her bachelorette apartment, Carrie decides to escape for a few days there to get some writing done and “revisit
the clothes,” which ignites a proposal on the part of Big that they spend a couple of days apart from each other every week, a terrifying and yet tempting way to sustain interest in a marriage they’ve both definitely decided will be just about them, sans kids. A real escape hatch for Carrie is vouchsafed with that trip to Abu Dhavi, with Samantha announcing, “After two years of this bad economy, we need to go some place RICH!” You can practically feel the audience’s hearts jump in agreement.

“Rich” doesn’t begin to describe things, with Marrakesh gorgeously filling in for this United Arab Emirate (“Dubai is so over,” declaims one expert here), as, sponsored by an impossibly rich and generous sheikh the ladies find themselves esconced in a hotel that looks like something out of MGM’s 1944 KISMET, complete with personal valets (the gay one’s called “(Paula) Abdul”) and everything their avid hearts could possibly desire. John Thomas’ cinematography fills the screen with burnished hues and gorgeous desert vistas, while Aaron Zigman’s feverish Arab-tinged music score provides its own sexy exhilaration. The girls take the town by storm, natch, triumphing with a fun rendition of “I am Woman,” in what has to be the most opulent karaoke club in the universe. Davis and Nixon have their strongest moments in a shared drunken scene in which they dare each other to admit the true horror of being a parent. (Such is the goodwill generated by these characters that even when they wail “And we have help! How do the women without it do it?” and condescendingly drink a toast to those less fortunate you (almost) don’t hate them.) Carrie runs into her old love, the now also-married Aidan (John Corbett, more relaxed and attractive than ever) in the soukh, and has a very close sexual call with him that has her wracked with guilt, especially after she tells Big about it. Ever-horny Samantha chafes at the effects of menopause and the country’s sexual repression, gets arrested for public lewdness and has a meltdown in the marketplace, showing off way too much flesh and tossing condoms at a horde of infuriated men. Of course, this character has always been known for her outrageousness, but I couldn’t help feeling here that King really pushed the un-p.c. envelope, going far beyond the highly foreseeable joke of having the ladies disguise themselves in burkas, what with all of the threats posed on various people who choose to comment on Islam by certain unamused fundamentalist groups. Whether meant as a light laugh or actual indictment of repression, one sincerely hopes such reprisals will not be a result of this.

Everywhere else, things are kept souffle-light, and all I had to do was watch an entire row of blissfully absorbed female audience members at my preview – as entranced as a bunch of six-year-olds at Serendipity – to know that King has struck gold again, and this time, far more deservedly. The whole concept of the show has always been the purest glossy fantasy, yet I find it interesting that this doesn’t extend to the photography, which completely eschews any softening, youthful effects on the actresses. (Was Parker, as producer, all too aware of the sometimes risible results of an excess of gauzy focus from old Doris Day films, not to mention Lucille Ball’s MAME?) It’s refreshing to see that all four leads seem to have very little if anything done in terms of cosmetic surgery, but there’s no denying that, on Parker, especially, the lighting can be very harsh. Along with her evident charm and wit, I think her appeal has always been a certain Everygirl quality which, her sublime ability as a clotheshorse aside, stems from her lack of conventional facial beauty. This jolie laide quality, coupled with her penchant for carrying off the most extreme fashion, make her the cinematic Diana Vreeland, although that black lacy hat she dons for the Blatch-Marantino wedding is diabolically unflattering. On the other hand, the casually loose blazer she wears over a revealing evening sheath will probably be copied the world over. And who else but the Dior-mad T-shirted Parker could work a Zac Posen hoopskirt – her favorite ensemble in the film – while shopping in the soukh?

Sartorially speaking, Cattrall, the series’ beamingly constant, essential secret weapon, is the big winner here; in the desert scenes, Costumer Patricia Field almost seems to have taken a note from Marlene Dietrich in GARDEN OF ALLAH (maybe the most jaw-dropping Technicolor wardrobe in screen history), with her flowing draperies and cunning Cleopatra cap she wears for the inevitable camel ride. All interested women and more than a few men play the game “Which SEX AND THE CITY character are you?” and, for me, it’s always been Samantha, and here, when a condom pops out of her passport in Abu Dhabi, it’s every bit as funny for being oh so real. When a shopgirl has the temerity to suggest that a certain selection is too young for her, she silences her with, “I may be 52, but I will ROCK this dress!” which she does, even though Miley Cyrus turns up at the same event in it. But there are get-ups enough for all the ladies to satisfy the most craven fashionista, in a way to make even Norma Shearer in RIPTIDE look impoverished.

That other requisite of the show – hot man meat – is also on fulsomely piquant display. The first SEX AND THE CITY had that one, very late in the day, frontal scene of Gilles Marini to get panties all a-twist. Here, the party gets started early with a crew of international, bulgingly Speedo’ed soccer players staying at the hotel, and a couple of undraped moments for the partners of – who else, Samantha? – one of whom is a devastatingly dashing Danish character named Dick Spirt (!), played by Max Ryan, who makes a sensational entrance in a desert jeep.

At a running time of 146 minutes, the movie has already impressed some negative critics as overlong, but, although I felt this way about its predecessor, this skillful time around, it felt nothing but generous and, for true fans of the series, it will be one long, frivolously enjoyable orgasm. The good is so good here that it’s easy to overlook the bad, namely, King’s deathless penchant for labored puns: “inter-friend-tion,” “Lawrence of my labia,” “Bedouin Bath and Beyond.” (At one point, Carrie is seen reading Nancy Mitford’s wonderfully witty “Love in a Cold Climate” and I only wish King could sometimes elevate his tyle to that level. He can appropriate nicely, however, as witness a charming little steal from IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.) There are fun guest appearances from the luscious likes of PThe Pursuit of Love\\\enelope Cruz, as a sexy banker lady who briefly turns Big’s head, as well as talented New York stage stars, happy to be in even a minute of this, such as Norm Lewis (THE LITTLE MERMAID), Ryan Silverman (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), Condola Rashad (RUINED), Loretta Ables (SOUTH PACIFIC) and Kelli O’Hara (SOUTH PACIFIC), as a groupie whose sudden frostiness when Carrie expresses her desire to remain childless, reminded me of her frostiness to me at a New York event, following what had been a deliciously warm interview. (“She’s pregnant, must have been hormones,” someone explained to me.) And then there’s Liza, whose rendition of the now officially overdone “Single Ladies,” flanked by two Liza impersonators, defines a whole new level of cinematic camp, even if it seemed more in the style of Mama’s “Get Happy” rather than hiphop. In the hard times of the Depression, we had and NEEDED Rogers & Astaire, Deco dancing us into heaven, and Dietrich sweeping everyone exotically away, and now, with all this war and oil and collapse, four Manhattan ladies are doing the job quite nicely, thank you.

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

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END OF AN ERA

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm


(Carl Van Vechten)

Lena Horne.

Well, she’s gone and, with her, truly, the end of an era. Somehow, subconsciously, I had always felt that when she goes, that’s pretty much it. You know, there’s always that one figure whose very presence here on earth, however attenuated, nevertheless made this world a richer, better, more privileged and enlightened place. The era I refer to as ending is that golden age of show business many of our parents were lucky enough to grow up in, and some of us were able to enjoy the final vestiges of, in the 1960s-80s. It was the era of elegance and an overwhelmingly variegated abundance of great performers, when men nattily wore suits, and women, devastatingly, gowns, and gloves, moving in the mesmerizing half-light of chic boites. Triumphantly aware of, and enabled by, the example of this flourishing theatical aristocracy, people, even civilians, were adult and carried themselves thusly, attempting to drink like Sinatra, smoke like Dietrich, quip like Coward, sing like Garland and, hopefully, approximate, in the way they led their lives, something approaching the ineffable, imperturbable (at least on the outside) magical poise and unswerving seriousness of Horne. Her birth sign was Cancer, with all the creativity and difficulty that entails, and, as a fellow Crab, she was a rare example of class and grace I could point with pride to (as opposed to George W. Bush, Nancy Reagan, Randy Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Lindsay Lohan – God help us! – and other horrors too numerous to mention).

If nothing else, from an entire life and career conducted with indefatigable elegance, there was her voice -supple, celestially melodic and so, so sexy – probably the most sheerly lovely of them all. Her one-woman show on Broadway remains the greatest live performance I have ever seen.

Onscreen, she is at her most luminous and profitably utilized in Vincente Minnelli’s CABIN IN THE SKY (1943), where she is given the full MGM glamour treatment and takes it all in spectacular stride, being simply irresistible as a vamp sent by the devil himself to tempt poor Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Minnelli loved her all his life and lavished care over her presentation here: witness the way she plucks that one gigantic, impossibly perfect magnolia blossom from a tree to wear it like a Lily Dache chapeau. Pure decorative Minnelli; pure sensually soignee Horne.

After that, moviegoers – and we of a later generation planted before our televisions – had to content themselves with those frustrating, single cameo appearances she made in MGM musicals which followed, made so she could easily be excised for racist exhibitors’ purposes. How many fitful hours of June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven and Kathryn Grayson one had to endure before that startling moment when a curtain would part and there SHE would be, dressed in some Grecian draped column by the brilliant Irene, impossibly goddess-like, but a breathing, moving, and ever so swinging goddess who would momentarily shake things up ferociously and singlehandedly justify Technicolor.

In one of those typical quandaries that beset New Yorkers every now and then, I had been invited to her birthday gala celebration at Roseland, which took place during the run of her show by my late friend, journalist Bob Weiner. As bad luck would have it, this coincided with my first (family-organized) trip to the Orient. Of course, I went to China, but I did gnash my teeth a bit non the Great Wall thinking of what I missed.

I did see Lena at one of her last big public appearances, her 80th birthday celebration at Avery Fisher Hall in 1998, where, after endless onstage tributes to her of highly varying quality, she finally appeared onstage, magically sang one song a capella which blew everything which had preceded her completely away, and had Liza Minnelli, at her neediest, desperately clinging around her neck like an Elsa Peretti pendant.

I admired Lena for the way she withheld her approval of Janet Jackson impersonating her in a biopic project after Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction at the Superbowl. (It looks like Alicia Keys – a much better choice, and she can act which she proved in the too-little seen NANNY DIARIES – will now play her in this Oprah-produced venture.) Apart from the notoriously redoubtable Ethel Waters, her CABIN IN THE SKY co-star, all the dark divas worshipped her, like Eartha Kitt, who shortly preceded her in death, but told JET magazine, “I adore her. She does not know this, but when I was trying to figure out what I could do to be recognized, loved and wanted in show business, I saw her in STORMY WEATHER with Katherine Dunham. I saw her on the screen, a high-class sophisticated lady … She gave me the feeling that I would be OK, that there was a place for me in show business.”


as Julie Laverne in SHOW BOAT, a role she was born for but never really got to play

Leslie Uggams, Horne’s close friend and sorority sister, is carrying the torch like no one else, with a show based on Lena that had a triumphant recent run in Los Angeles which she is trying like the duckens to bring to New York. Although I never previoiusly saw any real connection between the two, after catching Uggams at two recent Manhattan engagements, I cannot wait to see how she applies her agelessly magnificent voice and shimmeringly warm personality to this project, which I am sure she carries off stupendously.

In the current Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute exhibit, Lena has pride of place in the room devoted to screen legends, with a clip of her from STORMY WEATHER running on the
walls, along with Garbo, Dietrich, Hepburn, Shearer, Crawford and Hayworth.

Although I never knew her, my friend, Marle Becker, did, and here is his touching tribute:

“Good Morning,

By now you may have heard on the news or read in the paper or on the Internet, that singer/actress Lena Horne passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

I met Lena in 1981 during her amazing one-woman show on Broadway, ‘Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.’ I was nothing more than a groupie who stopped by the stagedoor at the Nederlander Theatre one evening to get an autograph – and that meeting quickly turned into an amazing friendship of almost 30 years.

Lena has had a profound influence on me from the time I bought my very first LP, ‘Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria’ in 1957. And who could have ever imagined that some 25 years later we would meet and begin one of the most amazing relationships ever! On a personal level, I can honestly say that Lena was a kind, caring, considerate and concerned friend while always remaining the most resilient, compassionate and deeply courageous person I’ve ever met and I feel blessed beyond measure to have enjoyed the pleasure of knowing her.

Although her death was not unexpected, it is still nevertheless a tremendous loss and while I am grateful for the time we shared, I will miss her terribly — particularly that electric smile and her wonderful sense of humor. But she has left me with dear friends that I treasure and met through her, most notably her lifelong friend, Edouard Plummer; her hairdresser, Phyllis Della; her stage manager, Joe Lorden; her press agent, Josh Ellis; and one of the men who produced her record-breaking one-woman show on Broadway, Fred Walker.

The world has lost a great talent and a wonderful human being and I am left with some wonderful memories and one less friend.”

Marle

see her singing “Moon River” here


with Tuskegee airmen during WWII, and Noel Parrish

here are more tributes from her friends that were sent to me from Marle Becker:

JOSH ELLIS WAS LENA’S PRESS AGENT ON HER LEGENDARY ONE-WOMAN BROADWAY SHOW IN 1981, ‘LENA HORNE: THE LADY AND HER MUSIC.” AFTER JOSH’S NOTE IS AN EMAIL FROM FRED WALKER, CO-PRODUCER OF THAT SHOW. AS YOU CAN SEE, LENA WAS VERY MUCH LOVED BY ALL WHO CAME IN CONTACT WITH HER AND THE THING WE ALL RECOGNIZE IS THAT LENA LEFT US WITH THE GREAT GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP – SOMETHING WE ALL VALUE. AND AS A GROUPIE INITIALLY, I WAS MORE THAN THRILLED TO BE ACCEPTED AS A PART OF HER EXTENDED ‘FAMILY’. AND I’LL TRY NOT TO BORE YOU WITH ANY MORE OF THIS, I PROMISE, BUT…..THERE ARE TOO MANY WONDERFUL STORIES ABOUT LENA, FROM THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY KNEW HER, NOT TO SHARE THEM WITH YOU. HOWEVER, I AM DEEPLY SADDENED THAT I AM STILL IN FLORIDA AND WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ATTEND HER FUNERAL ON FRIDAY. MARLE

Josh Ellis: “The news this morning of Lena Horne’s death hit me like a punch in the stomach. I got the news by reading condolence emails from friends. That’s because I check my emails in the morning before I watch or read the news. Working with Lena was my last truly happy experience in the theatre. There were other shows, other stars and other hits after Lena, but she was my favorite, along with Yul Brynner.

Through Lena I met my great friend Marle Becker and the wonderful Edouard Plummer. Through Lena my terrific working relationship with producer Fred Walker and hair designer Phyllis Della bloomed into lasting friendships. Lena brought Mike Martin and me even closer. And for the years Lena and I were together, I think and hope that she and I had a mutual admiration society going.

On stage Lena was magic. Backstage she was magic. In her dressing room she introduced me to Rosa Parks, Alberta Hunter, Harold Arlen and Marilyn Horne, just four of the endless list of the famous who had to come backstage to congratulate her after “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.” Working with Lena was to watch 20th Century history come to life.”


in JAMAICA, by Al Hirschfeld

You’re Not Invited!

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2010 at 5:13 am


Katy Perry at the Met Costume Institute Gala in a gown which lit up; in the words of Stephen Sondheim’s GYPSY, “You gotta get a gimmick!”

In today’s New York Times, writer Guy Trebay covered the opening night gala of the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s exhibit “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity,” a soiree, presided over by chairwoman and Vogue editrix Anna Wintour which, for its swathes of celebrities swanning their mostly borrowed finery for hordes of paparazzi, has become widely known as the Party of the Year. He ends his article with “the stage of New York nightlife might well have dimmed had Anna Wintour not brought her own kind of carnival to town.”


Anna Wintour: Yes, I’m wearing my drapes, and no, you’re not invited

I beg to differ with Trebay, starting with the very title of his somewhat brown-nosing article, “Welcome to the Club.” Yes, indeed, welcome, that is if you write for the Times, or are a media superstar or mogul able to afford the price of a table which ran to $250,000 this year. Starting with the very first, pre-Wintour Gala, this was always an elitist affair once supported mainly by the interested members of Manhattan high society. However, once the high-priced dinner was finished, a dance party ensued where the hoi polloi, who also happened to be the real fashionistas, were allowed to attend for a C note or so. Decked to the nines in everything from haute couture to do-it-yourself fantasies which paid tribute to the exhibit’s theme, these were the fun style-obsessed folk – the artists and their models, the hardcore party people -who lived for this annual event. They were the ones Bill Cunningham loved to photograph, as opposed to those he HAD to. In those days, this really WAS the party of the year, because it was such a dazzlement to the eye and so damned enjoyable, with no need for any extraneous after-soiree – now de rigeur – to heighten the exclusive elitism factor.


Kristen Stewart: what the well-dressed bloodsucker won’t wear

Once Wintour swept in, with her anorexic army of label-bearers, with the basic attitude of “We’re too good for y’all,” these parties came to an end, and unless you were a very certain somebody, you simply were not wanted. Even the Costume Institute employees, who slave to put up the exhibit and ensure that everyone in the world knows about it, are not included. (And why should there be, when there’s always some Olsen twin with sundry escort to take their entitled place at the table?). It should be noted that Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley and Costume Institude head Harold Koda were once upon a time budding fashionistas, too, and Vreeland acolytes who worked on her shows and also got to go to the ball. With its ultimate red carpet illuminated by photographers’ flashes, the event is now much more Hollywood than New York, a sort of faux Oscars, with all the attendant shallow glitz that this implies. This unseemly fascination of the New York fashion world (which once sniffed at West Coast tackiness) with Tinseltown has of course been obvious for a while in the endless covers of VOGUE, HARPER’S BAZAAR, etc., which feature such imperishable style icons as Renee Zellweger and Kate Hudson on their covers, rather than the supermodels (from Jean Shrimpton to Linda Evangelista) true fashion lovers once adored.


Sarah Jessica Parker: Pleating a lost cause

But, at this ain’t-we-the-shit shindig, even the most fortunately entitled can experience a freeze-out akin to anything felt by commoners who must content themselves with watching the proceedings from afar on 5th Avenue. And good luck with that, as even the red carpet takes place under an obscuring white tent; as La Wintour must see it, why the hell would any celebrity want to get all gussied up to be gazed at by “the little people”? A few years ago, Diana Ross arrived in full diva regalia, feeling no doubt every inch the queen of the universe (as usual). She espied her dear friends Naomi Campbell and Iman across the room, raised her arms in a typically florid gesture of greeting, whereupon her two “Supremes” promptly popped out of her strapless gown. Campbell and Iman took one look at this and quickly scurried away from her, like any two high school mean girls.

This year, we got Katy Perry – the Millicent Rogers of our time – in a gown which – Holy Cow! – really lit up!

The exhibit, which consists of garments from the recently acquired holdings from the de-accessioned, venerable Brooklyn Museum costume collection, is itself something of a puzzlement. One expected to see the great American designers – Elizabeth Hawes, Claire McCardell, Irene, Pauline Trigere, Halston, et. al – represented, but, from the first room, devoted to the nouveau riche “Robber Baron” Age at the beginning of the last century where the opulent creations of Worth are featured, most of the clothes are French. Vionnet, Lanvin, Chanel, Patou, Alix Gres, Molyneux are all heavily featured making one think that the show’s title should really have been “The Rich, Well-Traveled American Woman – Fashioning a Parisian Identity.”

The clothes are undeniably beautiful, with the 1920s room an exquisite rotunda of ethereally gorgeous flapper dresses. However, this brings up another problem with the show, which is too blandly generic, with its themes of Flapper, Suffragette, Screen Siren, etc. It’s all rather Women’s Herstory 101 telling us nothing really new. At the press conference, Curator Andrew Bolton said the Institute had originally envisioned the exhibit as a follow-up to Diana Vreeland’s “American Women of Style” show in the 1970s, which featured influential style innovators like the Gibson Girl, Josephine Baker and Rita Lydig. Such fabulous fashion victims as Millicent Rogers, Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., and actress Janet Gaynor, who was married to Hollywood costumer Adrian, had donated clothes to Brooklyn Museum, and the idea was to feature them as additional American style muses.


Janet Gaynor, B.A. (Before Adrian)


Janet Gaynor, A.A (After Adrian)

I wish the Institute had stuck to this original concept, as it would have made for a far more interesting show. These women, rich and renowned as they were, were also fascinating in their own right and led remarkable lives. Standard Oil heiress Rogers was an accomplished jewelry designer who drew inspiration from the Native American culture of her beloved Taos, New Mexico and was an early advocate of Indian rights. Gaynor was an entrancingly charming performer who won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928 for her luminous work in three silent films, one of which, F.W. Murnau’s lyrically Expressionistic SUNRISE, is generally rated as one of the all-time greats. Although exquisitely gowned by the talented Omar Kiam in her greatest success, the original A STAR IS BORN (1937), she was never known as a fashion plate until she married Adrian. He transformed a petite, perfectly proportioned girl next door into the very height of sophistication, a mainstay of best-dressed lists for decades.

The Met does have on display one absolutely jaw-dropping rarity: Anna May Wong’s dragon motif black satin sheath which she wore in the film LIMEHOUSE BLUES (1934). Designed by Travis Banton, perhaps the greatest of all Hollywood costumers, it possesses all the singular magic of a myth as well as revealing the tall, lithe, impossibly slender form of the legend for whom it was designed. An actual clip of Wong wearing the dress in the film unspools on the walls around it, adding to the delirium. There are also clips from such fashion forward films as GILDA, SHANGHAI EXPRESS, THE WOMEN and BRINGING UP BABY (although “Katherine Hepburn” is misspelled, which would have driven the actress crazy, as she spent her whole life correcting people.) Hepburn, Dietrich, Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rita Hayworth: these were true style icons whom women the world over avidly copied, as opposed to these screen nonentities on the magazine covers today who’ll barely be remembered in twenty years and are the synthetic product of that bane of the world: stylists. Incidentally, the clips are far more effective than the specially commissioned final room of a panorama of fashion icon media images, which are blurry and chaotic, and end the show anticlimactically, to say the least.

Today I went to Brooklyn Museum for the press preview of the sister exhibit to the Met show, AMERICAN HIGH STYLE: FASHIONING A NATIONAL COLLECTION, which also draws on their vast holdings which date back to a time when the museum was the premier depository of fashion for scholarly purposes. The minute I set foot into the galleries I had – yes – an “Aha!” moment for this was everything I’d been seeking at the Met. Curator Jan Glier Reeder has done a spectacular job in both selection and her lucid, informative and accessible exhibit notes, filled with that essential, enlightening context which, she agreed with me, is so important in any exhibit and sometimes gets lost to the purely academic. Here were the clothes one needed to see, expressive of that uniquely American dynamism, function and elegance: Elizabeth Hawes (with three adorable pencil sketches for Katharine Hepburn’s 1932 wardrobe), Adrian, McCardell, Norell, Galanos, Geoffrey Beene, Halston. An assortment of Sally Victor hats bears testament to that designer’s incredible wit and the way she drew upon various ethnic influences to crown her chic ladies who lunched. Her Foreign Legion-inspired draped chapeau is simply divine – no other word for it.

THe exhibit has its nod to Hollywood as well, in the form of an expert original knock-off of the John-Frederics-designed hat that Vivien Leigh wore in GONE WITH THE WIND to complete her green velvet ensemble made from her mother’s portieres, replete with chicken claw decoration. The hat was mass manufactured to fulfill the feminine heart’s desire of a nation besotted with Scarlett O’Hara. Additionally, the magnificent Fontana Sorella embroidered pink satin ballgown and bolero coat Ava Gardner wore in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA is there to be drooled over.


Ava’s dress
Yes, there are French clothes here as well, particularly some luscious Schiaparellis which belonged to La Rogers and show exactly why, in the late 1930s, especially, she posed such an innovatively daring threat to Chanel’s eminence. But they never overwhelm the collection, as they do at the Met. Indeed, how could they, when Brooklyn boasts some of the most marvelous examples of their famed cache of Charles James creations, that designer who always seems to dominate any exhibit through his incrediblly fertile, architectural sensibility? His famous 4-leaf clover ballgown, seen below, which he considered his masterpiece, is on display and one can only imagine the number of students who will be feverishly sketching this one on their visits to the museum, and all the designers who will unsuccessfully try to knock it off.

Bravo Brooklyn!

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2010

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm


the 24th annual Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans, ruled by Yousuf Karsh’s beautifully moody portrait of the playwright, accompanied by ever-present cigarette and drink


Wes Hart, BROADWAY BEAUTY PAGEANT contestant (photo by Michael Portantiere)


Charlie Williams, BROADWAY BEAUTY PAGEANT contestant (photo by Michael Portantiere)


Leslie Uggams, who returned to the New York cabaret stage after 18 years at the Cafe Carlyle, and thoroughlyn deserved the appellation “divine”

Allan Carr (seen here with GREASE 2 star Maxwell Caulfield), the gay, wild and crazy Hollywood impresario who probably did more coke than anyone in Tinseltown – and that’s sayin’ something! Also responsible for that infamous Rob Lowe-Snow White disastrous Oscar telecast


Minna Gombel, treasurable Hollywood character actress, whose ability to get totally pissed off in a matter of seconds was only rivalled by her feisty contemporaries Wynne Gibson and Dorothy Burgess

Read all about ’em, and my more, in my column IN THE NOH in GAY CITY NEWS here

MORE ABOUT MINNA

Whether accusing everyone and sundry of the murder of her unloved spouse and nervously trying to maintain a clutch on her kept man Cesar Romero in THE THIN MAN, completely henpecking Oliver Hardy in BLOCKHEADS, or being rudely shoved aside by carny man boyfriend Preston Sturges in HOOPLA so he can present a clean image for his innocent son, Richard Cromwell, Minna Gombel (1892-1973) often seemed to get the short end of the deal and that was often her own fault. What was most striking about her is that, like her feisty contemporaries, the hard-bitten Wynne Gibson and Dorothy Burgess, she was no shrinking violet willing to go quietly into that good night. No, Minna kicked up a fuss, letting you know all about it, with her eyes popping with fury and mouth a grim tight line of pure discontent. And, when it came to playing a more warmhearted goodtime gal, as in Ernst Lubitsch’s THE MERRY WIDOW, as the head cocotte of a deliriously fin-de-siecle Maxim’s, beautifully dressed by Adrian and brunette for a change, or as a burlesque hoofer comforting Kay Francis over her eternal maternal woes in COMET OVER BROADWAY, Gombell proved that Mae West and Joan Blondell had nothing on her for sheer, bawdy empathy.

She received her early training at the Bard of Avon School of Expression in Baltimore, and made her professional debut in stock, playing in Rupert Hughes farce EXCUSE ME in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1912. She used the name Winifred Lee, as her father objected to her career and use of the family name. Shortly thereafter, however, he caught her in stock in Yonkers and changed his mind, insisting she revert to her original, if rather homely name. This name nearly lost her a job and she would have changed it back had an advisor Marc Klaw not told her to keep it.

She made her Broadway debut in 1913 in Charles Frohman’s MADAME PRESIDENT. She was in some 14 Broadway shows after that before coming to Hollywood in 1931 for a contract with Fox, in which she was to coach younger players as well as act. She made a big impression in Frank Borzage’s BAD GIRL and signed a new contract as a fulltime actress.

Minna liked her men. For years, she starred in stock with the Knickerbocker players, part-owned by Howard Rumsey, whom she married, divorced, and then married theatrical promoter Ferdinand Eggens, theatrical promoter. That marriage also ended divorce and her name was linked with J. W. Sefton, vice president of the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank. Sefton denied their reported engagement in a 1932 New York tabloid, saying “The engagement is untrue. I have known Miss Gombel for a number of years, and she is a very fine girl but there is no truth to the report that we are engaged. I suppose someone has seen us together quite a bit in Hollywood and started the report.”

PLEASE GIVE

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm


Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt in PLEASE GIVE

PLEASE GIVE continues writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s wry, incisive study of contemporary urban American women which began with her disarming WALKING AND TALKING (1996) and again stars her ultimate muse, the indispensable Catherine Keener.

Read my interview with Holofcener in FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

HANDSOME HARRY

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2010 at 3:43 pm

You won’t see a more truly adult, intelligent and moving film this year than Bette Gordon’s HANDSOME HARRY. And what a cast!

Read my review of it in FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL here