Thursday, February 18, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Hollywood and Diversity

A scene from 1915's "The Birth of a Nation," starring Lillian Gish. The 2016 film uses the same title as D.W. Griffith's KKK propaganda film.
by Liz Smith

Will Hollywood Embrace Diversity NEXT Year? ... Johnny Depp's Hollywood Vampires Bite the USA ... "Grace and Frankie" on DVD ... Comeback of the Decade: Jennifer Jason Leigh ... Let's Blame Obama for EVERYTHING! 

"THE MORE things change, the more they stay the same," said Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously. Of course he said it in French, originally, and I usually prefer to use that version ("plus c'cest la ... etc") But why start out pretentiously? I've got the rest of the column for fancy foreign phrases.
LAST WEEK'S Entertainment Weekly told about a coming film, "The Birth of a Nation," that has been wildly praised at Sundance, and is predicted to be a big Oscar favorite next year. It is about the 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner. This is all fine and well, historical and true, but as we have written here before, diversity means not just putting African Americans on screen, but putting them in roles that fall outside the typical stereotypes.
A scene from "The Birth of a Nation," 2016.
The movie is likely brilliant — and I certainly believe these stories should be told — but I still think television is doing a far better job at presenting people of color. (Except for reality TV, which offers whites and blacks in an unflattering light. Asians, so underrepresented everywhere, should be grateful at least that reality TV hasn't come knocking on their door.)
The same article in EW mentioned several more movies being built around African Americans. The one that caught my eye, is "Hidden Figures" which will star "Empire's" Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson. This is about the black female mathematicians at NASA who worked at putting a man in space. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is also "attached" to the project.

Please, Hollywood, can I have some more of that?
THIS N' THAT: For those of you who felt a little tingle on the neck over The Hollywood Vampires, who made their TV debut on the Grammys, then know this — band members Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, Duff McKagan and Joe Perry will kick off a cross-country tour on Tuesday, May 24th at Turning Stone Resort Casino in upstate New York. Call Ticketmaster or 877-833-SHOW.
... IF YOU are interested in the legend of Faust (and who doesn't want to make a deal with the Devil?) and/or in chamber music, check out the production of Johann Sebastian Bach's classic beginning tomorrow in Hartford, Connecticut. The music will be performed by The CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, with combinations of instruments that are considered "daring and unusual." For more info on "Faust" and other musical endeavors, go to www.thevirtuosi.org.
... ON April 12th the first season of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin's funny, touching and surreally "real" series, "Grace and Frankie" arrives on DVD from Lionsgate and Skydance Television. (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston are their hubbies, who are, literally, "coming out.") There's also a gag reel, interviews and commentaries from the cast and crew and a behind-the-scenes featurette. Season two of the Netflix series will debut on May 16th.
... Pick up the New York Observer for its terrific cover story on "Hateful Eight" Oscar nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh, written by our pal Roger Friedman. "The Hateful Eight" is very much the actress's comeback film, after some fallow years. ("There were things I passed on that I wish I hadn't. The truth is, thing do go away.")
But, sometimes they come back. I still don't know if I like "The Hateful Eight" — are we really supposed to like Quentin Tarantino's movies? — but I was instantly and totally blown away by Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance, and predicated an Oscar nomination the day after I saw the movie. She is sensational. Yesterday, we wrote a big thing here about how the Oscars don't really matter. And they don't really. But since they do exist, since we do live in a competitive society, I hope Jennifer Jason Leigh wins the Oscar. I love the other nominees — Kate Winslet, Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams and Alicia Vikander, and they are all marvelous and varied. But who can resist a great back-story and a return to glory? Not me.
Jennifer Jason Leigh as a nominee for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in the film 'The Hateful Eight' during the 88th Oscars Nominations on January 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
WE OFTEN let you know about odd websites of TV channels that amuse or interest us: Buzzr ... CoziTV ... getTV ... Poseidon's Underworld, and others. Well, we just found something new. It is a film critique site called "Dreams Are What Le Cinema is For ..." written by Ken Anderson.

I suggest that everybody who loves movies — and has a good sense of humor — visit this site, which has been around for about five years. Mr. Anderson writes lovingly, intelligently and wittily about movies he adores. And not just the usual suspects, either, although they are abundant. He takes seriously, more or less, "bad" films such as "The Valley of the Dolls" or Elizabeth Taylor's famously campy "Boom!"
Taylor in "Boom!" (Just another vacation in Sardinia.)
In fact, writer Anderson has a fine regard for the latter-day efforts of La Liz; those years of Taylor essentially saying: "What the hell, let's do a movie in Sardinia. I'll take a million plus, some jewelry, the costumes, and now let's have a drink or ten on it."
Anderson also is one of the few who has ever truly understood the generally loathed screen adaptation of "A Little Night Music" which Elizabeth filmed right before she married John Warner. The movie is flawed (let's just bypass Taylor's singing), but has tremendous charm. As Anderson points out, most people who "hate" it, have never even seen it, but are slavishly attached to the stage version.
La Liz as Desiree Armfeldt in "A Little Night Music" — Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life.
Liz and Len Cariou in "A Little Night Music."
Elizabeth, as an aging, melancholy actress, gives one of her best performances, subtle and poignant. The cameraman could have been kinder to her, but ET was busy being a bad girl, eating too much, requiring her costumes to be let out several times. (Taylor started putting on weight the second she announced her engagement to Warner, on the "Night Music" set. She said it was "happy fat." I don't think so.) Taylor's co-star and rival in the movie, Diana Rigg, is simply brilliant. Had the movie been a success, Rigg surely would have been Oscar-nominated.

This is a great site, with fine writing and an unusual perspective.
Diana Rigg — a lost, brilliant performance.
ENDLUNACY: After the news broke over the weekend that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died, I jokingly remarked to a friend, "I wonder how they are going to blame Obama?" I should have known better. Within hours the blogosphere was alive with rumors that President Obama had Scalia done away with. (The more extreme versions have the president doing the deed himself.) But other conspiracy theorists are giving Obama a pass on this one.
I received this e-mail yesterday: "As you know, Justice Scalia died on a hunting trip, in West Texas, near the Mexican border. Rumors are rampant in Texas, among people with criminal connections in New York and politicos in D.C. that Scalia was murdered by the drug cartels." There was this P.S. "Potentially, the Scalia autopsy is the most significant event of the 21st century, matching the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in profound consequences."
At the age of 79, overweight with a liking for rich food, a natural death seems most likely. However, all this would make fine fodder for Fox News emperor Bill O'Reilly. He could add Scalia to his list of "Killing ..." bestsellers (Kennedy, Lincoln, Jesus, etc) I think Bill should write up the circumstances surrounding the deaths of presidents McKinley and Garfield. Although there has already been a brilliant book on Garfield's terrible end — "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard. I believe we wrote it up a while back.

The Scalia "mystery" is yet one more wild card in this year's insane political game of high-stakes poker.
President Garfield with James G. Blaine after being shot by Charles J. Guiteau.

Liz Smith is still recuperating. Denis Ferrara is still pinch-hitting.

Contact Liz here.