Thursday, September 28, 2017

LIZ SMITH: I Could Go On Singing

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta with her family dog Alice.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

For Your Consideration:  The Loneliness of Lady Gaga.  Also — The Clothes of Harrison Ford, and Reading Up on the Russian Revolution.

“I’M ALONE, every night. All these people will leave, right?  They will leave. I go from everybody touching me all day, and talking at me all day, to total silence.”

That’s Lady Gaga in the new Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two.”

Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) in this moment, declares the immortal mantra of the great star:  everybody “takes a nice big chunk” — as Judy Garland memorably said in “I Could Go On Singing” — and then you are left to your own sadly solitary — often self-destructive — devices.

This seems a particular torment of the musical star, the performer who electrifies thousands nightly, adored, screamed at, worshipped — cut to the forlorn figure, exhausted in the dressing room, solo in the limo, without companionship in the hotel room. 

This tragically shadowed image also seems particular to the female star, in the mythology of Lonely at the Top.  I mean, do we ever think of Frank Sinatra (or Bruce Springsteen, for that matter) enduring such a moment? 
Never mind that Gaga, in this film, is shown with a constant gaggle of the usual assistants and professional cohorts (all of whom appeared genuinely devoted) as well as her large and apparently loving, affectionate family.  She Feels Alone, and has now had her classic say on the matter. (Miss Garland’s was, “If I am such a legend, why I am I so alone?”)

Just as Gaga’s impact as a pop star/image-maker has been compared to Madonna, “Five Foot Two” can only be seen as her version of “Truth or Dare” Madonna’s raunchy 1991 peek behind the curtain of fame, hard work and driving ambition.
But where “Truth or Dare” found its power in Madonna often playing up the bitchier aspects of her image, and daring us to find the vulnerable “real” person behind the star, Gaga offers no irony.  We are meant to like her with no equivocation, and we do.  “Truth or Dare” said, essentially: pay up for the fun of trying to figure me out. (Or, in the words of “Gypsy’s” Mama Rose: “Leave ‘em begging for more. And then don’t give it to ‘em!” )

Filmed as Gaga finishes up work on her album, “Joanne” and prepares for her Super Bowl appearance, we see the star in and out of bed, in and out of clothes, with makeup and face stripped naked. She expresses herself on the gradual morphing of her image — meat dresses out, more simple pulled back hair in.
She admits several times that the outrageous get-ups of earlier years sprung from insecurity about her looks and talent. Our heartstrings are gently plucked; we are impressed by her modesty, as intended. (Also, this just goes to show you — stars don’t always believe the flattery of their admirers.  Those who adored Gaga from the start said it a thousand times — if anybody didn’t need to gild the lily, it was Lady G.)  
She allows the cameras close when suffering chronic pain, visiting doctors, having injections, being partially soothed by massage, weeping over her physical aches, lost lovers, friends who are ill. She is also shown having fun visiting Walmart to check out how her new album is being sold, and re-arranging the display. It’s more real than reality TV but less real than reality — get it?
Diva moments are rare. Her (apparently reasonable) complaints are followed immediately by apologies. There are “fame” montages showing Gaga being mobbed at various times in various outfits and the inevitable frenzy she creates in public.  Interesting but — as Madonna infamously said — “reductive.”

Not that I agree with Madonna’s lack of generosity in that moment, when asked if she thought Gaga “borrowed” from her. (Gaga wryly comments in the film that she’d rather Madonna had confronted her directly, than “hear it on the fucking TV!”).
But the two women are so often compared and have generated a similar type of adoration from fans: they feel M and/or Lady G. have spoken to their fears, to their inner lives, to an ability and right to exist freely and without shame — “Express Yourself” vs. “Born This Way.”  So, the documentaries are fair game for comparison as well.

The “Five Foot Two” Gaga seems “nicer” that the “Truth or Dare” Madonna. But “nice” makes for a less compelling ride.  And while Gaga is a technically better singer, the musical sequences in “Truth or Dare” are epic, classic.  Gaga’s performances in “Five Foot Two” are fine, but not sweeping.  Then again, it’s not a concert film.

However, for Gaga’s fans — her rabid “Little Monsters” — who desire nothing more than for her to exist in a state of blessedness, “Five Foot Two” works that angle very well indeed.
TERRIFIC interview with Harrison Ford in the big 60th anniversary issue of GQ. Writer Chris Heath accurately notes that “Harrison Ford is more interesting and entertaining when he’s avoiding questions than most people are when they’re answering them.” (Ford keeps insisting he’s not a “reflective” kind of guy. Then he goes all ... reflective.)  

But for GQ’s Creative Editor, Jim Moore, the most interesting thing about Harrison Ford is that in the 37 years Moore has worked at the magazine, Ford is the first cover person to ever wear his own clothes for the photo shoot. The jeans and tee shirt that rest on Ford’s still admirably fit frame, on the cover, are straight from the actor’s closet, as is the suit he wears inside. Moore notes “His suits are all custom-made, so they fit perfectly.”
RECOMMENDED reading: Even if you can’t stand another word about Russian plotting and election collusion, I urge you to read Ian Frazier’s massive history of the Russian Revolution — which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year — in the current issue of Smithsonian magazine.

This brilliantly detailed overview of the end of the czars and beginning of Bolshevik “freedom” — interspersed with glimpses of Russia today — hooked me from its opening sentences:  “Russia is both a great and glorious country and an ongoing disaster. Just when you decide it is the one, it turns around and discloses the other.”

Frazier’s article has also compelled me to order John Reed’s famous 1919 book about the revolution, “Ten Days That Shook the World,” which Frazier often references. (Reed, who sympathized with the oppressed masses, experienced the revolution firsthand, as it happened.)
Contact Liz here.