Thursday, September 8, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Live Long and Prosper

James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy and George Takei in "Star Trek: The Original Series." PARAMOUNT/EVERETT COLLECTION
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

50 Years Later — "Star Trek" Lives Long and Prospers. Also, Kudos for "Kubo and the Two Strings" and Joyce Carol Oates' "Blonde" Finally Gets Its Close-Up.


“LUCILLE BALL might have never read a ‘Star Trek’ script. She initially thought the show would be about movie stars on trek to entertain U.S. troops.”

I loved this bit of trivia from John Jurgensen’s big take-out on the 50th anniversary of all things “Star Trek” in the August 26th issue of The Wall Street Journal.
And I was vastly amused to read in this piece that at a recent “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas one clever young woman showed up dressed as Miss Ball, much to the confusion of fans who don’t know the history of the original show, which was produced by Desilu, the production company founded by Ball and her hubby Desi Arnaz. (Ball took complete control after their divorce.) 
“Star Trek” has had so many incarnations, on screens big and small, even an animated series.

But for all the skills and improvements in special effects; the terrific characters, acting, and out-of-this-world plotlines that came later on, I still cherish those first three classic seasons.
The melodramatic line readings (thank you Bill Shatner!) The anachronistic hairstyles and makeup. The papier mache sets. The rich color and dreamy, fuzzy camerawork (perhaps created to disguise those sets!) And the hopefulness of a multiracial cast. (Could Nichelle Nichols and George Takei have dreamt they would become stand-alone iconic figures on a then still lily-white TV landscape?)  The ears and eyebrows of Leonard Nimoy; how improbably logical and normal they looked on his unusual face.
Favorite episode?  One of the great ones, “The Trouble With Tribbles” from season 2.

Actor Clint Howard, who played Balok on season 1 told WSJ writer Jurgensen: “No one had any idea that 50 years later, the story would have a heartbeat.”
A heartbeat?  Taking into account the science fiction aspect, I’d say “Star Trek” has grown three hearts, three brains and an unending, alien-like supply of love.

P.S. Tomorrow, Adam Nimoy’s documentary about his dad, “For the Love of Spock” opens.  As one reviewer noted:  “The countless devoted fans of Nimoy and his character virtually guarantee that ‘For the Love of Spock’ will live long and prosper.”
“I HOPE they don’t do that to me, when I’m gone!”

That’s what Marilyn Monroe said in 1957, rejecting a script she’d been offered to portray Jean Harlow.

And this was  years before the infamous Arnold Shulman biography that would so stain Harlow’s image and spawn two terrible movies.
Monroe as Harlow, photographed by Richard Avedon, 1958.
(Nevertheless MM would suffer through Paddy Chayefsky’s “Goddess” film the following year, a morbid, thinly-disguised version of her own life and career, starring Kim Stanley).

Monroe couldn’t know at that time that she only had five years left, and would be the subject of hundreds upon hundreds of biographies and dozens of big and small screen interpretations. (As well as former hubby Arthur Miller's vicious, self-serving stage play, "After the Fall.")
Kim Stanley as a thinly-disguised MM in "Goddess."
Now, one of the most controversial MM “biographies” will finally come to the screen — “Blonde,” by the esteemed Joyce Carol Oates.

I put quote marks around the word biography because “Blonde” is fictionalized biography, a novel based on facts (or as many facts as one can possibly glean from Marilyn’s life — so full of secrets and fantasies.)
It’s a massive, beautifully written book, but fantastically depressing and extraordinarily confusing, as the reader never really knows what Oates is making up, exaggerating or presenting just as it occurred.

(To be honest, Norman Mailer did that kind of thing first and best with his famous 1973 “novel biography” on Monroe, and a follow-up, “Of Women And Their Elegance,”  in which he brilliantly captured Marilyn’s own voice.)

Netflix, Regency Pictures and Plan B are producing. Andrew Dominick will direct, and a “new actress” will portray Marilyn.

Why bother?  Nobody ever portrays Monroe as a human being  and nobody ever cares if the source material is extraordinarily sketchy (sorry Michelle Williams and “My Week With Marilyn”!) and fiftysomething years after her death, what can we learn?  

I say stick with fabulous photo books. There is an endless fascination in the star’s image, and every year a new unpublished cache of photos is discovered.  Within the trove of images, one can find the real woman, if you look hard enough. 
"I hope they don't do that to me when I'm gone."
LET’S consider a magazine called The Week. I’ve extolled this aggregate of excerpts and critiques and I read it religiously 52 weeks a year. (Indeed, I have given away many subscriptions to this magazine.)

So, I sat down to pursue The Week for Sept 2nd. When I arrived at the movie reviews, I was tempted to ignore the 4-star animated feature “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Stop-motion animation usually leaves me cold.
But this film, set in feudal Japan, won absolute raves from critics for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Kubo” according the reviews was quite simply a masterpiece!  That was  also the verdict of the Phoenix Arizona Republic’s film critic. And Kerry Vogel predicted that this “beautiful, funny, frightening and full of heart” movie will win the Oscar for best-animated feature at the Academy Awards this year.
There are a number of big stars doing voices for “Kubo” — Charlize Theron as a snarly snow monkey, Matthew McConaughey as a comic beetle.  Also Ralph Fiennes, George Takei (of “Star Trek” and gay rights lore and legend), Rooney Mara and Brenda Vacarro.  Art Parkinson is young Kubo.

Intrigued, I went to see “Kubo and the Two Strings” in a Connecticut theatre mall over Labor Day weekend. The audience was small but captivated.
And so was I. “Kubo” really is totally magic, a true work of art from director Travis Knight. (He also made a winner titled “Coraline,” in 2009. More recently, he did
“ParaNorman.”)

I’m not going to write another word about the plot itself. The fact that “Kubo” is a boy who is a storyteller seeking his family; well, that’s enough.

When I returned to New York, only about 10 days since I’d read about the movie winning such critical applause, I didn’t write about “Kubo.” Why? Because the film wasn’t even showing in a single movie theatre in the Big City!  I didn’t want to send people looking for something so difficult to find.
It was not even listed by any of the rare foreign film houses across from Lincoln Center, nor in the popular movie houses where the young elite congregate downtown.

The movie biz sometimes seems to leave it all up to the Internet. Hollywood only thinks of filling theatre with blockbusters.

I do have confidence that “Kubo” will at least have new life and appreciation on DVD and cable. And perhaps when Oscar nominations roll in, it will be included.  Yes, it’s that good.

Contact Liz here.