Wednesday, November 8, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Gowns and jewels of silver and gold

Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner in “The Barefoot Contessa.” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Turner Classic Movies — Providing An Endless Stream of Entertainment ... Our Current State of Weariness/Wariness ... George Michael — “Somebody to Love” ... Music, MTV, and Madonna.

AH, Maria, so it hasn’t been good for you?”

“Harry, in many ways it has been beyond my dreams, like a fairy tale in this century, and I am ... cenicienta, Cinderella?

“`I have gowns and jewels of silver and gold.  I have a coach pulled not by four horses but with the power of two hundred. Thousands of lonely men write every month that they dream of me, mothers give my name to their babies.  And young girls wash their faces with a soap which I am paid to say I use, but which I do not.  And I have so many other things.  Everything in the world that can be rented.” 

Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner from “The Barefoot Contessa.” 
This is part of the great scene on the terrace of Ava’s (movie star Maria Vargas) “rented home in bad taste.”  Bogart (as Ava’s friend and screenwriter) disapproves of her choice of seedy companions. They argue.  Ava/Maria finally snaps, “The fairy tale again. Cinderella came out of the ashes and was spotless when the prince found her!” 

Other than the fact that I came across this famous movie on TCM the other night, there’s no significant reason to have remembered and quoted this.  Just some old-fashioned glamour and melodrama for mid-week. (Every day’s a good day for a bit of Ava. Mr. Sinatra certainly thought so!)  

Courtesy of TCM I caught Harlow, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and William Powell in “Libeled Lady” and marveled again at Harlow’s vibrancy and humor, even as the effects of the illness that would soon end her life at 26, had begun to manifest.
Also, Turner Classic Movies ran a remastered copy of James Whale’s spooky/campy “The Old Dark House.”  This 1932 entry makes about as much sense, and is as much fun — in its creaky black-and-white way — as the current CGI phantasmagoric  “Thor: Ragnarok.”  I know that’s a stretch, but maybe one really has to be into the weird magic of movies to get it.
After a while, I was hard put--not being a true devotee of the world of Marvel comics and super-heroes--as to what the heck was happening in “Ragnarok” but I was vastly entertained. It seemed to be one witty line and situation and in-joke after another, helped along by mind-bending visuals, and Cate Blanchett having way more fun than seems legal. (She is Helas, Goddess of Death, and has more or less re-defined camp for the 21st century. Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is drowsy in comparison.) 
(YouTube/Marvel Entertainment)
And the adorable Chris Hemsworth? As lucrative as hauling around his Thor hammer has been, he could put that prop away forever, and have a highly successful career as a comic actor — he seems like the guy who might breathe new life into the often exhausted world of rom-coms.  (I think we’ve had the best of Ryan Reynolds in that genre.)

Despite the above revels in movie theaters and on my couch at home, there seems to be no genuinely comfortable place for “entertainment” writing these days, although — and we should never forget — gossip, movies and Betty Grable’s legs flourished during the darkest days of World War II!  
1943 photo shoot for Life magazine, by Walter Sanders, showed cold cream being applied to Betty’s legs!
My current weariness/wariness is nothing new, really.  I suppose the omnipresence and instant nature of grim tidings is the culprit.

After all, even before the invention of the printing press, or the blaring repetitiveness of TV’s two most awful words, “Breaking News” — things were so bad in the world that everybody was sure Armageddon was just around the corner.  (Preppers are nothing new, although Medieval survivalists had very little to put into storage. Mostly they headed for church where they were told they were sinners, but a better afterlife awaited. Then they were carried off by the plague.) Flip through the works of Albrecht Dürer, for example — Facebook for the hopeless!
Albrecht Dürer's The Four Horsemen, from The Apocalypse.
Escapism is defined as: “The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”

We feel guilty here sometimes, engaging in fantasy. Conversely, we are often criticized for stepping outside fantasy and making a few real-world observations.  Still, we’re determined to carry on.  Even if, unlike our friends in Britain, we are unable to always Keep Calm.
George Michael with David Austin as young lads.
THIS ‘N THAT: IT’s impossible to speculate on what the late pop artist George Michael was really intending, with his 90 minute documentary “George Michael: Freedom.”  He was editing when he died almost a year ago at the age of 53.  Finished up by Davis Austin, Michael’s manager and co-producer the result is a somewhat shallow “and-then-I-did-this” hagiography.  And perhaps that would have been okay had George not died.  He was famously private, despite aspects of his life being uncovered somewhat against his will. 

And this reticence seeps into all aspects of the film — even when he is discussing the AIDS-related death of a lover, or his mother’s passing from cancer, the same year.  George talks a lot about fame — how much he wanted it — but without apparent passion or true conviction.  Still keeping that wall up?  Most likely.  Some famous friends contribute, but their memories are mostly as flimsy/careful. The movie didn’t need to be a wallow into his troubles, but an almost total avoidance of his well-publicized battles did no favors.  (His professional struggle to free himself artistically from Sony Records is well done.)
“Freedom” is at its most alluring when it is simply showing us what George Michael did best — sing, perform, create, mesmerize.  As every review has mentioned, his tribute performance of Freddy Mercury’s “Somebody to Love” is the movie’s highpoint and emotional centerpiece.  But the old “Wham!” clips are deliciously invigorating as well.

It will perhaps take some time to really document the life of George Michael.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps all that needs to stand is his work, and how he chose to present himself — carefully. “Freedom” is available via Showtime.
... SPEAKING of music, and a certain era, it was interesting to read (in Billboard) that music videos have had a big comeback over the last two years.  Oh, nobody’s ever stopped making them, but long gone is the time millions sat hypnotized as MTV ran hours and hours of videos in heavy rotation. It should have gotten boring — and for sure I was already much too old to be so mesmerized — but it was like a visual drug.  MTV no longer controls video.  Now streaming services like Spotify and YouTube are the places to go.  Artists such as Adele can reach one billion viewers, presto. Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” has almost 700 million views.  I suppose it’ll never be quite the same as it was — whatever is? (And for those who don’t know “how it was” what does it matter?  Culture moves on.)  
But I still recall with great fondness hearing from Liz Rosenberg, Madonna’s press rep for so many vital years back in the day.  We’d receive a package containing The Big M’s new video, with a simple message. “Brace yourself; this will change your life!” 

And in so many cases — “Material Girl,” “Like a Prayer,” “Oh, Father,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Human Nature,” “Bad Girl,” “Express Yourself,” “La Isla Bonita,” “The Power of Goodbye,” “Take a Bow,” “Erotica,” “Justify My Love,” “Ray of Light,” “Frozen,” even up to “Hung Up” and “Sorry” — Miss Rosenberg did not exaggerate.  Madonna and her collaborators were brilliant.

Well, that’s past, although 2015’s “Ghosttown” had strong echoes of Madonna’s prime.  And “Bitch, I’m Madonna” was rampant fun.  (Her critics say she is too mature to have such fun.  She says, well — she disagrees.)   

And bless, her Taylor Swift’s elaborate, self-referential “Look What You Made Me Do” did indeed bring me back to the golden days of  video divas and divos — Janet, Paula, Prince, Michael, Cyndi, Whitney, Sade, Tina, Annie Lennox, Patty Smyth, the above-mentioned Madonna.   

Long live the music video, wherever it plays!
Contact Liz here.