Tuesday, February 21, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Loveable creatures

The human waterfall in Busby Berkeley's Footlight Parade (1933) – “Historically, the worse Hollywood has felt (and the worse the world around it has looked), the better escapism has fared ..." — Stephen Galloway in The Hollywood Reporter.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Around the World in Ten Years With Elizabeth Taylor. Also: a Nureyev bio-pic ... Chita and Tommy concert tour ... and "La La Land" makes us feel better, so it deserves the Oscar?

“THIS TIME, we finally had a real talk. And drank a lot, too. Finally, I had a chance to confess all my fears about my new life ... I discovered to my great surprise, that Richard was afflicted by the same insecurities. We both feared getting lost in such a fabulous yet suffocating lifestyle.  By the end of the evening Richard was stone drunk. But for once I didn’t care. We at last understood one another much better.”

“My Life in Focus: A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set.” Click to order.
The cover shot of Mr. Bozzacchi's first book, “The Queen and I."
Gianni captures La Liz on the set of "X Y and Zee."
That is photographer Gianni Bozzacchi, from his new book, “My Life in Focus: A Photographer’s Journey with Elizabeth Taylor and the Hollywood Jet Set.”  

The “Richard” he speaks of, is of course Richard Burton. 

Mr. Bozzacchi was the “personal photographer” to Elizabeth (and Richard) for about ten years.  A few years back, he published another book dedicated to Taylor, “The Queen and I” which was essentially a photo tribute.  This one is his biography, interspersed with the impact of Taylor.  It’s small-size and photos are grainy black and white — rather disappointing.  

The interesting thing is how Taylor chose Gianni, and how he was never really able to understand or quite accept it.  His insecurity and tentativeness seemed to bring out Taylor’s ever-ready protective instinct. She appreciated how he photographed her, but more than that, Gianni seemed another bird with a wing down. That was a quality which drew her to many friends and quite a few husbands, as well. 

Bozzacchi returns Taylor’s friendship by never revealing too much.  Of her epic drinking and abuse of prescription drugs there is virtually no mention. Only her vaunted qualities of generosity and bawdy humor. (In their last phone conversation, Taylor insisted on one of the dirty jokes that they often shared.  Although only weeks from death, the fragile Taylor laughed lustily about the joke, which involved Viagra.)  Bozzacchi also insists that the fabled fighting between Elizabeth and Richard was exaggerated by the press, and that to the end, it was a great love affair, undone by the outsize responsibilities of their careers. 

Well, perhaps for Elizabeth, but I don’t think Richard had anticipated what life with La Liz would entail; that their own love affair and marriage would turn them into symbols — first of passionate “free love” and then of vulgar over-entitled excess. Or that their careers would become a sausage factory, grinding out film after film to support a ridiculously extravagant lifestyle. (As Gianni points out, Burton was never comfortable with the existence Taylor took as her due, from childhood. He’d have preferred nights in his library to jet-setting.)

Bozzacchi makes some extremely pertinent observations on why their careers eventually faltered — although Elizabeth remained more viable and valuable to the media than Richard, even after her movies no longer attracted interest. (Neither of them made rational choices or kept up with contemporary filmmaking — it was all about the bottom line, the perks, and keeping an eye on one another.) Bozzacchi also includes interesting adventures and observations about Princess Grace, Bardot, Virna Lisi, Chanel, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch. (Gianni found Welch to be charming, quite unlike her disagreeable image at the time, but he still has no idea how she ended up naked and unconscious in Richard’s bed during the filming of “Bluebeard” — with the inebriated Burton in an agony of regret.) But, really, it’s All About Liz.

What struck me most about the book, is the loyalty Elizabeth generated.  In the six years since her death, no salacious tell-alls, no sharper-than-a-serpent’s-tooth betrayals have surfaced.  Those who have exposed her privacy, have written with love. 

Well, she was a loveable creature.  I miss her still.
The Life That Late They Led: Taylor and Burton in Venice, 1967. (Burton would rather have been huddled with a good book. Although he doesn't look as bored/miserable here as he often did, at the height of this madness.)

... With David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Reader”) writing, and Ralph Fiennes directing, it is doubtful that their announced production of a bio-pic about the late, legendary ballet icon, Rudolf Nureyev, will be nearly as amusing as Rudy’s own leap into bio-pic world — Ken Russell’s 1977 epic, “Valentino.” (Nureyev played the silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, Michelle Phillips was his controlling wife Natasha Rambova, and Leslie Caron put in a dazzling turn as another star of the era Alla Nazimova.)  
Michelle Phillips and Rudolf Nuryev in "Valentino."
“Rudolf Nureyev: The Life” sounds considerably more high-minded, described as a tale of “uncompromising spirit, of homeland and ideologies that restrict ... a tale of life and ballet culture.”  Which means less focus on his status as a celebrity and habitué of Studio 54 — all of which eventually wearied him — and more on his great influence as a dancer, committed to his art. (Unable to dance as he wished, Nureyev sensationally defected to France in 1961. He would not be allowed to see his homeland or family until 1987.)  Oleg Ivenko will play the Rudy. 
... RIGHT now, for some of us, it is the winter of our discontent.  But we have to go on living and enjoying ourselves. Honest. So, let’s think ahead to autumn, and a very special concert tour.  It is titled “Chita & Tune: Two For the Road.”  And if I have to give last names on that, you have fallen into the wrong column!  The two Broadway legends have, between them, won 12 Tony Awards, and most everything else not nailed down. Chita says: “I am thrilled to be joining my dear friend the incomparable Tommy Tune.”  He says: “I love Chita Rivera.  This is a dream come true!”   There, you got the last names.  The tour dates and other details will be announced at a future date.  “Other details.”  Like that’s necessary?  Chita and Tommy, onstage.  That’s all the detail we need. Autumn can’t come quickly enough.
... Explanations about the popularity and Oscar shoo-in predictions for “La La Land” continue apace as the big night approaches, but I think Stephen Galloway says it best in The Hollywood Reporter: “Historically, the worse Hollywood has felt (and the worse the world around it has looked), the better escapism has fared: Busby Berkeley musicals and Shirley Temple flicks flourished during the Depression ... in feel-bad times, feel good films are fine.” 
Also in the Hollywood Reporter, I was glad to see writer Scott Feinberg suggesting the return of the juvenile Oscar.  I’ve been pounding this drum for almost as long as I’ve attempted to shame the Academy into honoring Doris Day. The juvenile Oscar, which passed out of favor in 1962, makes sense. Children — no matter how fine the performance — should not be on the same competition level as seasoned adults, some of whom have worked decades to hone their craft.
ENDQUOTE: “In general its very dangerous to keep the old campaign architecture around this presidency, to have an eight-person panel on CNN debating whether or not he said something. ‘Did he or did he not do this thing we watched him do?’  There’s actually serious harm in that discussion.

“And yeah, I don’t see the point of talking to Kellyanne Conway because her language jujitsu is so strong.  You know she can look you in the eyes and tell you just the opposite of what you just saw happen, and she will be able to be more confident in her answer than you are in your question.”
That is HBO’s great John Oliver, talking to Rolling Stone’s   (Oliver is the cover, a far more appropriate subject for Mr. Hiatt’s talent than his last assignment — Paris Jackson.)

Couldn’t agree more with Oliver.  I think the president and his people need to be called out strongly on their daily mendacity, but once done, move on. The press tends to beat a story to death, to the point where even when you know they’re correct, it’s like, “Come on, surely something else is happening in the world?!”
Other than bangers and mash, John Oliver is my favorite British thing. 

P.S. Speaking of  men who talk politics on TV, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with my pal Bill Maher’s mild and amused treatment of gay, conservative provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos. There’s nothing funny about this guy.
Granted, Maher has often offered Ann Coulter, and her hateful rhetoric a platform.  But I tend think of Coulter as an intelligent woman led to near madness in her embrace of conservative values.  Mr. Yiannopoulos displays neither wit nor intelligence. I don’t think he should be denied the right to speak publicly — remember, outraged liberals, we’re fighting for democracy — but as with the above-mentioned Kellyanne Conway, why give him TV outlet?  Or if you do, don’t treat him with amused condescension.

Ignore his clanking jewelry, ask real questions, get real answers.  
Contact Liz here.