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COPPOLA’S ‘COTTON CLUB’: THE RESTORATION, AT LAST!

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2019 at 6:12 am

Written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, ‘Stormy Weather’ is a great torch song. It was great when Ethel Waters introduced it at the Cotton Club in 1933. It was great when Lena Horne covered it (much to Ethel’s displeasure) a decade later in the film of the same name. And it was great again this afternoon at the NY Film Festival world premiere of Francis Ford Coppola’s fully restored COTTON CLUB, when Lonette McKee sang it in a gloriously extended scene that was criminally cut from the original 1983 release. It’s the definitive movie mounting of this ballad (Lena’s was admittedly a little tacky, visually, in her movie.)

Oh my fucking God. For years, I had heard of the tantalizing musical scenes left on the cutting room floor and many as well, which featured the story of Gregory and Maurice Hines’ fictional dancing brother team. As Coppola, who got a standing ovation from the exuberant crowd (as did Lonette after that number), told us, during the q&a, the shady-ass, racist higher-ups who financed the troubled film felt there was too much music and too many black people in the movie.

Those scenes have been gloriously restored and it is truly like another movie -richer, more lucid and although not great because of a decidedly shallow, surface-y script – it delivers more sheer entertainment in its dazzling evocation of Deco era Manhattan certainly than any other movie around today. While Richard Gere retains that mannequin-like hollowness he never seemed to shake, he’s at least more palpably passionate than he ever was (maybe his being allowed to do his own cornet playing helped, and quite decent he is, too.) Diane Lane seemed a bore back in 1983,but here, with scenes which give you more of an idea of her Texas Guinan-like character, she’s fairly dazzling, an archetypal flapper vamp, immensely aided by Milena Canonero’s genius period gowns (no better evocation of this era exists – just for her jet beaded fringe headdress, alone, which was one of my very few memories of the film). And the most amazing people pop up, like Jackee Harry doing an uproariously sassy number telling off her no account man.

In the big Grand Central Station climax, Coppola wonderfully gives Gwen Verdon – as Gere’s mother, whom I’d forgotten – a solid moment showing some kids how to do a buck and wing. Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne, both deceased, were so good together, bringing real pangs of nostalgia. But those were as nothing compared to seeing the late Gregory Hines doing his fabulously noisy stuff on the huge screen and his rapprochement with brother Maurice – in genial person today, as well – was even heart-piercing than I remembered, his suddenly stopping their reunion dance to kiss Maurice on the mouth, with an “I’m sorry” that is the most devastating scene in the film.

I’d forgotten how imperturbably handsome Joe Dallesandro was as Lucky Luciano, and then you get to see Honi Coles and his tappin’ clan busting loose in one huge smile-fest. And what about Julian Beck of all people, playing a mobster? Coppola recalled that he had a long ponytail down to his waist but the actor assured him he would still look right for the period without having to cut it. He just swept it to one side in a bun depending on the camera angle and you never saw it.

The restoration rights a mighty wrong – I have been obsessed with this period and subject all of my life and had friends who worked at the Cotton Cub, as well as on the movie, filling my ear with tantalizing accounts of what they’d witnessed day to day during the shooting. When the film came out, so lavish, and yet so choppy and unaffecting, I was like Morales in A CHORUS LINE, I felt nothing. It was devastating, and a sure sign of how the the movies were changing to become the arid, kiddie-aimed desert they are today. So many giants of talent – whom Coppola richly extolled today – once walked this NY earth and so damn many of them miraculously got cast in this film, which you must see when it goes into general release.

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