Friday, March 4, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Boredom or Suffering

Madame de Staël as Corinne by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.
by Liz Smith

Saving Oscar — What Will The Academy Do Next Year to Prevent Another Ratings Plunge? (President Trump as Host?) Also — Jennifer Lopez, Debbie Reynolds and The White Phone of Lana Turner.

"ONE MUST choose in the life between boredom and suffering," said that well-known lady of letters — and biting words — Madame de Staël. (Napoleon Bonaparte detested her. In his case, de Staël neither wanted to suffer or be bored, she simply wanted the tyrant gone.)
SPEAKING of boredom, that seems to be the general consensus of those who watched the Oscar telecast. The few who watched, that is. Ominously, the event hit an eight-year low in ratings. I don't think the disinterest had anything to do with the "diversity" controversy. People are simply much more fascinated/entertained/terrified by what's going on politically, than in the make-believe world of movies.

Twice, during the show, I received phone calls from friends who asked, "Are you watching Trump's rally?" And these were movie type friends! "I'm watching the Oscars!" I barked. "They'll be re-playing Donald's speech for days. Goodbye!" (Some people say I am a bit on the impatient side. I don't know why.)

Tina Fey said she thought the Oscar show had too much diversity, in that everybody seemed to have an opinion on everything — from corporate greed to climate change. In any case, the Oscar producers will not be unmoved by the ratings failure. I can't imagine what next year's Academy Awards will look like, but you can be sure it will be different.

As, most likely, the world will be quite different.
SOMEBODY wrote in to ask "Where was Debbie Reynolds?" on Hollywood's night of nights? Well, the legendary Debbie received her honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in November, at a special Oscar ceremony. Also honored for lifetime achievement, at the same event, was the divine actress Gena Rowlands and director Spike Lee.
Billie Lourd accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on behalf of her grandmother Debbie Reynolds at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 7th annual Governors Awards on November 14, 2015.
Gena and Spike with their awards.
I don't have any thoughts, one way or another about Spike Lee, but I certainly think Miss Reynolds and Miss Rowlands should have taken their Oscars on Oscar night itself! Debbie Reynolds is one of the last surviving stars of the last gasp of Hollywood's golden age. Attention must be paid.
Speaking of Debbie, I hope she's getting some cash out of those new Tropicana orange juice commercials, where she and the late Donald O' Connor and/or Gene Kelly can be heard singing "Good Morning" from "Singing In The Rain." To say that the unsinkable Miss Reynolds has had bad luck with money and men — or, more to the point, with men who have taken her money — would be a vast understatement. I'd like to think "the sun is shining bright" for Debbie.
A pair of red test slippers for "The Wizard of Oz" from Debbie Reynolds sold for $612,000 in 2011. Imagine what the real ones are worth!
THE OSCARS may have disappointed ABC-TV, but movie memorabilia is a growing industry — and not just for major items, such as gowns worn by Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn, or cars driven by this or that James Bond over the decades, or scripts with annotations by stars or directors, or the seemingly endless supply of ruby slippers in which Judy Garland traveled the Yellowbrick Road to Oz.

More mundane movie goodies, such as meticulously kept scrapbooks, vintage posters, candid photos and home movie footage of stars can garner big bucks. There are well over a thousand auction houses in the U.S. and Britain that handle movie memorabilia, and depending on the quality, fans can turn their youthful fascinations into a pretty penny.

Go to your cellar or attic, and look for those movies you — or a family member — took of, say, Linda Darnell, when she just happened to be vacationing in the same place you were. Maybe nostalgia isn't what it used to be, but it's still pretty potent. Why do you think Turner Classic Movies is so popular?
MORE MAIL: From a faithful reader who was moved to write after our recent column on Lana Turner and "Madame X." This woman, by the name of Anya, was a huge Lana fan when she was a little girl. She read the movie magazines, and found out all about Miss Turner's fabulous negligees, her many lovers and her white telephone (in her bedroom, of course.) This child didn't really know what "lovers" were, and of course she was too young for filmy negligees, but she could have a white phone, she reasoned! So she went out, bought white enamel paint, and put three coats of it on the family phone.
Nobody was amused, as the phone had to be wrestled with, pried apart, if anybody needed to make a call, or answer a ring. "My father was ready to kill me, but he didn't understand that this was one step closer to my being Lana Turner!"

Sweet. This girl grew up and no doubt wore negligees and had boyfriends. Maybe she even got herself a real white telephone. However, she stayed away from other things Lana had around her bedroom, such as dead gangsters. Well, we can go too far emulating our idols!
IT'S EPIC! At least that's the feeling at Epic Records, now that Jennifer Lopez has returned to the label, with a new long-term contract. Lopez juggles so many deals and products — clothing ... fragrance ... cosmetics ... her Vegas act, her TV series, "Shades of Blue" ... her latest boyfriend, her ex-almost hubby (she thinks Ben Affleck's new tattoos are the sign of a "mid-life crisis") ... acting in movies, and maintaining her incredible face and body. I'll never forget attending one of those Time 100 galas a few years back. Lopez walked in, and the room froze in admiration. People were agog. She is even more attractive in the flesh than in any carefully lit and posed photo.
J. Lo at the 2006 Time 100 gala.
Speaking of Lopez the actress, I've always liked her quality onscreen. She doesn't always choose her properties well in that area, but who knows what her choices actually are? (Jennifer seems to have attempted every genre, I'll say that for her!)
I did catch, on Netflix, a recent movie Lopez did with Viola Davis, "Lila and Eve." I'd never heard of it. I think it was in theaters about a week, and then went straight to cable. After watching it, I understood why. Both ladies were terrific — Miss Davis giving an exceptionally emotional and committed performance. But, the script, which also had an absurd "twist" ending, was mind-bogglingly devoid of reason.
J. Lo and Viola Davis in "Lila and Eve."
And yet, I bet it looked good on paper, and the combination of Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez had to be seen as a plus and an audience hook. I recommend "Lila and Eve" simply for the performances of the leading ladies.

And also to remind you, in the immortal words of Elizabeth Taylor:

"You know, nobody sets out to make a bad movie!"

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.