Monday, October 3, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Melodic Monday

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Roy Orbison ... Keely Smith ... and how to top the original "Murder on The Orient Express" soundtrack?

“ROY ORBISON’S voice sounded like an angel falling backwards through an open window.”

“With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera ... it was a voice that made you want to drive your car over a cliff ... it could jar a corpse.”

“After I heard ‘Crying’ to me — that was the voice of God.”

“Roy has the greatest and most distinctive voice I have ever heard.”

The above comments on the utterly unique and unmistakable sound of singer Roy Orbison came from admirers as diverse as Dwight Yoakam, Bob Dylan, Barry Gibb and Elvis Presley.
Roy with Bob Dylan and Barry Gibbs.
The often-fraught and sometimes tragic life of Texas-born Roy, who died in 1988, is now being prepared for biopic treatment.

Ray Gideon and Bruce Evans (“Stand By Me,” “Starman” “Mr. Brooks”) will pen the script.  Alex, Roy Jr. and Wesley Orbison, Roy’s surviving sons are on board with the film. (Two sons from his first marriage to Claudette Frady were killed in a house fire. Claudette had died in a motorcycle accident several years previously.)
Wesley, Alex, Barbara Orbison, and Roy Jr.
In all ways, Orbison was one of the most distinctive and influential performers of his era — the midnight black hair (dyed) the pitch black eyeglasses (he suffered from near-immobilizing stage fright, although many assumed he was blind!) And of course, the three or four octave sound that rose and fell with such astonishing effect on songs like “Only the Lonely” ... ”Crying” ... ”Oh, Pretty Woman” ... "Dream Baby” ... ”Running Scared" ... "It’s Over.”

His career, which began in the 1950’s at Sun Records, suffered inevitably as times changed, but of his fallow period he once remarked: “I kind of stood there like a tree where the winds blow and the seasons change, and you’re still there and you bloom again.”
And he did bloom again, although one aspect of his comeback initially irked him — director David Lynch’s use of Orbison’s haunting “In Dreams” in Lynch’s controversial 1986 movie, “Blue Velvet.” (Orbison flat-out refused to allow the song; Lynch ignored him.)  But, in time, Roy came to see that audience exposure to the 1963 hit not only helped reintroduce him, but also gave the song-“performed”  by a loony drug dealer in the movie — a different, even more striking resonance.

At this point, there is no director or star attached to what one of Orbison’s sons calls the “undeniably cinematic”  aspects of his father’s life.
Although actors who play singers generally want to sing for themselves — from Susan Hayward as Lillian Roth to Diana Ross as Billie Holiday to Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn to Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash — in the matter of attempting to recreate the vocal quality of Roy Orbison, I’d advise sticking to the original. (Good lip syncing is an art in itself. Consider Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones.”  Although an excellent  singer, she could not manage the movie’s near-operatic score. Marilyn Horne did the vocals. But Dandridge gives heart and soul to her syncing — watching her, you’d never know.)
In thinking on casting, I’m going to offer two suggestions. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I admire so much as an actor, despite the current “Snowden.”  And somebody new — well, new to me. Ben Schnetzer. He is incredibly compelling in the college hazing drama, “Goat.”  (My initial interest was the ongoing progression of pop star Nick Jonas as an actor. Nick’s progressing very well indeed, but Schnetzer is a revelation.)
Oh, I know, you thought I was going to suggest Justin Bieber.  Silly.  No, him I’m saving for the next Elvis movie.  There’s a distinct pouty facial resemblance there — particularly to the very young Elvis, before he dyed his blonde hair shoe-polish black.

The Orbison movie, looking toward a 2018 release, is currently working under the title “The Big O: Roy Orbison.”  Let’s rethink that one fellas, okay?
MORE MUSIC notes:  Way back when it was more difficult for women to forge their own careers, to be mistresses of their destinies, so to speak, singer Keely Smith set up her own record label, Keely Records. It was an off-shoot of Frank Sinatra’s hugely successful Reprise label. (After his many years as the crown jewel of Capitol Records.)

Keely, and her hubby Louis Prima had become famous for their  raucous nightclub performances and recordings, but somewhat lost in those years was Keely’s unerring way with soulful ballads.
Now, Real Gone Music has “reactivated” Keely Records and will release again, the splendid 1965 album, “The Intimate Keely Smith.” Treasured by fans and long out of print, this disc — described by devotees as a “tone poem” — showcases what Keely did best.  Included are silky, thoughtful renditions of “Sinner or Saint” ... ”God Bless the Child” ... ”Blame it On My Youth” ... ”As Long As He Needs Me” and “You’ll Never Know.”
Keely, now 84, keeps a low profile.  Maybe the re-release of “The Intimate Keely Smith,” a collection she particularly liked, will bring her out.  She was — she still is — one of the greats.
A WHILE back there was word that a remake of “Murder on The Orient Express” was being mulled. I got up on my high horse — what could be better, I declared,  than the 1974 original with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Jackie Bissett, Sean Connery, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Martin Balsam, Wendy Hiller, Michael York and Jean-Pierre Cassel?  Nothing, of course. Don’t do it!  But who listens to me.
“Murder” is most assuredly being re-done, with the estimable likes of Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Michael Pena, Daisy Ridley and Kenneth Branagh, who will direct and star as Agatha Christie’s master detective Hercule Poirot.

And you know what, this sounds fine. I certainly look forward to Dame Judi as the stubborn Princess Dragomiroff, and Miss Pfeiffer as sharp-tongued Mrs. Hubbard (roles played to a fare-thee-well by Wendy Hiller and Lauren Bacall, respectively.)
However, in keeping with the musical theme of today’s column, I do wonder how the original score, by Richard Rodney Bennett (performed by the Royal Opera House Orchestra) can be bested? This is one of the most evocative film soundtracks ever — capturing every mood and character; haunting, ominous, amusing.

I say the composer of the new score will have a far more difficult time living up to the past than will the new actors!

Contact Liz here.