Thursday, March 10, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Selling Illusions

Marlene Dietrich as Nazi sympathizer cabaret torch singer Erika von Schlütowin in "A Foreign Affair," 1948.
by Liz Smith

Farewell to "Downton Abbey" — We Laughed, We Cried, But It Was Time to Go! Also: John Wayne ... James Bond ... Seth Sikes ... Rufus Wainwright ... and Marlene Dietrich, selling illusions in "A Foreign Affair."

"WHAT IS
it about the British? Why are we the way we are?"

"Well, some say it's history. But I think it's ... the weather."

That was one of the last exchanges between Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith aka Isobel Crawley and Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, on the series finale of "Downton Abbey."
So "DA" is over and done with after six seasons, and despite feverish rumors, I don't expect a movie version to "tie up" or extend any of the final storylines. For my money, the series ended just as it should, and when it should. This, despite some who say the finale was treacle, sappy, wrapped up too neatly in a bow, and everybody had a more or less happy ending — even Edith! I spoke with someone who actually said: "Oh, damn, I was hoping somebody was going to die!"
The series lost steam after the departure of Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley. (Stevens declined to re-sign with the show so they killed Matthew off in an automobile wreck.) After that, creator/writer Julian Fellowes didn't seem to know what to do with a lot of the characters, but "DA" continued to be a pleasure, most especially for the above-mentioned Misses Smith and Wilton, and my personal favorite of the younger actors, the divine Michelle Dockery, who played the love-her-or-loathe-her Lady Mary.

"Downton Abbey" was civilized, unrealistic fun. And I enjoyed it even more this year, not that the quality was improving, but it was such a relief to turn it on and try to forget politics and presidential candidates debating the size of their private parts, etc.
I also thought it was super-classy of Julian Fellowes to give the final scene to Violet and Isobel, and allow Maggie Smith to have the last line. After modern-thinking Isobel remarks that everything was moving forward, and there was nothing to do about it, Violet says, both amused and wistful: "If only we had the choice." Fini.

I have had such a wonderful time with "DA." I'll miss it, but there's always the DVD's. I salute Mr. Fellowes and every single actor, crewmember, costume designer, photographer and historian who worked on the show.

You all did a good and charming deed in an increasingly naughty, scary world.
THINGS TO do, things to know:

This week film icon John Wayne will be celebrated in a new comic book from Storm Entertainment, "Tribute: John Wayne." This runs 24 pages, written by Steve Urena and illustrated by Vincenzo Sansone. It will feature two separate, collectible covers. Storm Entertainment is one of the leading publishers of comic books and graphic novels. Previous movie star subjects have included Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, George Reeves (Superman) and Elizabeth Taylor. For info go to stormfrontpublishing.com.
... Speaking of Miss Elizabeth Taylor, Firooz Zahedi's beautiful new book of photos and essays of the star of stars has already gone into its second printing!
And there's even a Deluxe Edition.
... March 19th at the McKittrick Hotel in NYC (530 W. 27th Street) Supercinema, the monthly "immersive experience" celebrates Bond, James Bond. Supercinema prompts guests to come dressed as their favorite 007 character. (Last month, they did a very successful tribute to Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet.") There are theatrical performances, and an open-all-night bar. Dress code is mandatory. I know this is slightly short notice, but try to pull something together — go as M or Q or one of the innumerable Bond girls (this likely requires nothing more than a bikini or a towel.) Emulate a villain such as Odd Job or Jaws or Dr. No or the lovely Rosa Klebb. Get a pair of riding pants and a silk blouse and try out your Pussy Galore skills. Endless choices. But why do I have a feeling that half the people who show up are going to be covered head-to-toe in gold paint. Just be careful with that one. For info go to SupercinemaNYC.com.
... On June 16th and 17th singer Rufus Wainwright, for reasons known only to himself, will recreate, again, his song-by-song, version of "Judy at Carnegie Hall," at ... Carnegie Hall. It was a decade ago that Rufus first performed his tribute to Miss Garland's great concert triumph, which is pretty scary, because it seems like only a couple of years ago! It was a big night, that night. One of those "New York events" everybody had to see. Maybe it will be again. It was a fascinating evening. And packed to the rafters. Go to www.rufuswainwright.com.
... On another Garland-ish high note — this Saturday at 54 Below, Seth Sikes who made his name and fame singing (brilliantly) the songs of Judy Garland, turns his attention to Miss G's daughter, Liza Minnelli, in a show celebrating Liza's birthday. I hear that as terrific as Seth was interpreting Garland, he's even better, crooning and belting out Liza's songs.
... DO YOU want to have lunch with Sally Field? (I would, but after our review here of "Hello, My Name is Doris," I doubt that's gonna happen!) Or maybe meet Jesse Eisenberg and snare two tickets to the premiere of his latest movie "Batman v. Superman"? Want to attend the fabled Coachella music festival? A walk-on in "Fifty Shades Darker"? (the sequel to "Fifty Shades of Grey.") Or, pass up all that show biz stuff and attend the sure-to-be-insane Republican National Convention? If any of that interests you, go to www.charitybuzz.com. This is the famous online auction place that does so much for so many.
ENDQUOTE: "Don't be so upset. Nothing really happened. Fly home. Wash your hands, wash your lips, you have so much soap in America. Sorry. You know this game of love? Some people win, some are jinxed — they shouldn't even sit down at the table."

That's Marlene Dietrich imparting some European wisdom to Jean Arthur in Billy Wilder's incredibly cynical and brilliant 1948 movie, "A Foreign Affair." I caught this over the weekend on Turner Classic Movies.
Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, and Jean Arthur in "A Foreign Affair."
I was struck by two things. One, the film belongs, body and soul to Dietrich — her acting, her haunting, sensuous musical numbers, her beauty. (She initially resisted the movie, as her character is a Nazi sympathizer in what are literally the ruins of Berlin. But her old friend, director Wilder, convinced the heroine of the Allied fighting forces — who had risked life and limb entertaining the troops — to play the part.)

Second, both Dietrich and Jean Arthur were 49 and 48 respectively, when they made the movie. The leading man, John Lund, was considerably younger. The ladies look divine, through their own real-life efforts, and by the forgiving fact of fabulous, flattering black and white photography!

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.