Archive for August, 2019|Monthly archive page

Bergner’s Birthday

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2019 at 3:44 am

Happy birthday to the great Elisabeth Bergner! Largely forgotten today, in 1935, the year of her Oscar-nominated performance in Margaret Kennedy’s Escape Me Never (a film believed to be lost), there was no more famous or highly regarded actress on the planet. (Without her, Luise Rainer would not have existed.) Luckily, you can experience her distinctly Viennese charm, chameleon talent, which encompassed both the ultimate gamine as well as the most fulsomely seductive sophisticate, in the handful of available films she made: a beautifully designed As You Like It with an ardent young Olivier, the intriguing boudoir drama Dreaming Lips, and, made the same year as the outrageous Dietrich-von Sternberg The Scarlet Empress, a much staider life of Catherine the Great, named just that (1934).

The sculpture is by Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881–1919), who died shortly after completing it.

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In Uncategorized on August 23, 2019 at 3:42 am

I am happy to see TCM really doing its job today, paying tribute to little-known MGM ingenue Leila Hyams. A blooming, blonde All-American natural beauty, she is most remembered today for Tod Brwning’s sui generis FREAKS, in which her dewy loveliness and verve held its own against the most serious competition cast-wise any actor has ever known. The Big House, still one of the greatest prison epics, with the arrestingly handsome Chester Morris (a Deco profile if e’er there was), is one of her more prominent films being shown, as well as a raft of John Gilbert tales which prove once again that he could, the poor bedevilled devil that he was. Way Out West, the gayest Western ever made with one of the gayest leading men, William Haines, then the most popular movie star in 1930 is in the line-up, as well as one of Jean Harlow’s best and raunchiest, the Anita Loos-penned Redheaded Woman which helped bring on the Hays Code, so unapologetically sinful and amoral – and irresistible – was its heroine. Hyams has the thankless part of the decorative and decorous wife of Harlow’s boss (Morris again), whom the brazen wench is setting her sights for, but she’s well photographed by Harols Rosso and beautfully gowned by Adrian. Charles Laughton plays HG Wells’ infamous Dr. Moreau in the truly creepy 1933 Paramount adaptation of his novel, much of its creepiness stemming from Laughton himself, beyond deranged and at his most histrionically unbridled. (The horror lies in his hamminess.)

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In Uncategorized on August 19, 2019 at 9:35 pm
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In Uncategorized on August 19, 2019 at 9:33 pm

here’s how one star did it :

Well, we all gotta age….

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2019 at 9:26 pm

here’s how one star did it:

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2019 at 4:56 am

When Sam Goldwyn produces, William Wyler directs you, Gregg Toland photographs you, Omar Kiam dresses you, Robert Stephanoff beats your face and you are given one of literature’s most immortal heroines to play, it can sometimes all come together in the highlight of your career and, in your ultimate moment, you get to speak the Ben Hecht line: “Ellen, I AM Heathcliff!”.

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Gitchy-Gitchy, Indeed

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2019 at 5:48 am

When Karen Olivo, exquisitely dressed by Catherine Zuber, steps onto the stage of the Al Hirschfeld, in MOULIN ROUGE, and deliver’s Katy Perry’s “Firework” in an historic moment on Broadway, just because she’s THAT good, she has the benefit of a good, dramatic moment-appropriate song she is allowed to sing whole, thrillingly navigating a full emotional arc, without the “benefit” of a horde of manic, crotch-thrusting dancers taking it up themselves or hard-selling a different popular hit. The decade-long break she took from Broadway since winning the Tony for WEST SIDE STORY seems to have done her nothing but good: her voice seems to have increased in effective volume and intensity, and, showing off ferocious dancing chops and wreaking real audience tears out of the cardboard she has been handed here to work with.

Unfortunately, it’s almost the only time in this spectacularly opulent, at times visually gorgeous, frenetic spectacle that springs from the thinnest afterthought of a script which would not exist without Dumas’ “Camille”, in which the nyuk-nyuk familiarity of hoary pop tune lyrics takes the place of dialogue and stands in for whatever wit there should be. The overall effect of this show – like the original movie the experience of which I once described as being chained in a room with an ADD 12-year-old gobbling candy, sans Ritalin, working the TV remote control so hard it smoked – is like what ruined Liza Minnelli’s career. Every moment had to be show-stopping and voice-shredding, more was always more; the writers and directors never once seemed to trust the audience enough to be able to sit through quiet moments in which some real emotion and viewer involvement could develop.

Next to Olivo’s stupendous solo, I do admit to being viscerally touched by her and Aaron Tveit singing “Your Song” to each other – that foolproof, disarmingly simple John-Taupin instant and forever, generation-bridging classic.

But that was about it – and, for all the dazzle of the endless, effortful dances, the choreography by Sonya Tayeh was less than original, one more cause for the night’s ever-seeping ennui. I’ve seen way better on most televised award shows and my less than impressed impression began at the git-go, when the four fierce, scantily-clad chorines entered and, to that irresistibly thumping hook, began “Lady Marmalade.” As they got closer and closer to the orchestra, I wanted to react with the all of the explosiveness signalling a hot, fun time, but their seen-that gyrations were such that it was a definitely “meh” moment, disconcerting and a definite precursor of things to come. How many times can you watch crotch-grabs and split-second serial lifts, not to mention the basic triteness of the admittedly celebrated can-can?

The entire cast must, however, be saluted for their boundless energy, commitment and the way their sheer talent lifted this junk heap of a story onto a slightly higher plane. Hero Spunky Tveit can sing anything angelically well – I for one wanted to hear the whole of his jokey “Sound of Music” (funny how so few have covered that one since Julie Andrew’s pristine lustrousness) – and has the innate goodness, convincing innocence and impressive ardor so necessary to put this over at all. Danny Burstein delightfully revels in the voluble decadence of his gay emcee/club owner.

Robyn Hurder sinks her teeth into an important subsidiary chorine role and emerges triumphant, especially in a sizzling tango – she unfortunately never gets to really finish, typical – with Ricky Rojas playing a hyper, fetching but dumb Latin type as Burstein did, himself, in “The Drowsy Chaperone”, and largely wasted by his role’s particularly stereotyped and shallow conception. And it must be said that Sahr Ngaujah is the company weak link, ridiculously cast as Toulouse-Lautrec, although he is neither a dwarf or white, and is perceived as more of a writer here than a painter. His casting seems to be a rather pandering matter, as he is meant to present “Freedom,” one of the key tenets of his character’s all-important Bohemian agenda, and the dogged intensity with which he plays it becomes very monotonous. “Nature Boy” is a key ditty entrusted to him, and he ruined it by trying to “sell” it hard with a particularly painful, missed melisma.

If the producers really wanted to go for obvious non-traditional casting, it might have been preferable to put someone like maybe Norm Lewis as the villainous Duke, for Tam Mutu, although able, bears too much a superficial resemblance to Tveit and lacks a diabolical charisma which would have made the character less of an old-school bad guy moustache-twirler.

It was quite a long show, and ultimately exhausting, and the song choices, which have been updated since the film to include recent phenomena like GaGa, Perry, Rihanna and an effective (if too typically brief) snatch of Britney’s ‘Toxic’, becomng ultimately quite tired with the mediocre “Come What May” (not Patti Labelle’s, much preferable to David Baerwald and Kevin Gilbert’s) a big snoozer of a finisher.

It seemed to have three endings before the curtain all which turned out to be one more ending before the ultimate one, with the entire cast dragged out after the show’s sad plotted ending, for what almost amounted to a highly unnecessary little playlet of the same hyper can-can dancing and orgiastic writhing and jumping we’d been watching for 3 hours.

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