Monday, June 26, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Manic Monday

Vivien Leigh in Winston Churchill's favorite film, “That Hamilton Woman."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Rachel Maddow ... "House of Cards" ... Ansel Elgort ... and the return of jukeboxes!

“THE AMERICAN people are more patriotic than partisan when it gets to the end of the day.  It’s true that we’re tribal and partisan and petty and all of those things, but there is also pride and awareness of what it means to be the kind of country we are, which is unlike any country on earth, and I think that will bear out.”

That’s Rolling Stone cover woman Rachel Maddow, talking to Janet Reitman in the June 29th issue of RS.

Maddow, who is now the empress of MSNBC, as brilliant as she is sometimes frustrating in her presentations, is one of the most powerful voices in media; she goes where others won’t or don’t care to, and nobody sticks with a story like Maddow, layering it, night after night, like some intricate, delicate pastry that foes must think twice about before biting into.  Death by doggedness.

As Maddow remarks: “When there is something to say ... I’m going to report it insistently.  And I’m willing to do that even if it bothers people.” 

While there is hope to be found in Maddow, she is but one person, in a world increasingly exhausted and disappointed by the political process in general. Nor is she running for office.  Hmmmm ...!  We’ll talk. 

And it is surely no coincidence that Rolling Stone in the same issue features a devastating story by Tim Dickinson “Can The Democrats Fix the Party?” 

This is the important read of the issue — no offense to Ms. Maddow. All I can say is shape up you guys and take some responsibility for what has happened — because it did not happen overnight.
Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
SPEAKING of politics, sort of — I binge-watched all of the 5th season of “House of Cards” over two nights. OMG!

The Undertakers, I mean the Underwoods.
Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey remain astonishing as Claire and Frank Underwood, the Macbeths of D.C. But to be honest, enough is enough.  Any fun that might have been found in watching these two totally soulless, malevolent monsters has withered.

There is nothing redeeming in either character, not even humor.  Is my reaction colored by what is happening in real-life, in the corroded corridors of power, stupidity, lies and hypocrisy of the actual capitol?  Perhaps a bit. But looked at as a dramatic fiction, “House of Cards” has played its most chilling hand once, twice, three times over. 

The Underwoods are well beyond redemption and I can’t see another season of these two getting away with murder — literally and figuratively.  Although another season is coming, with Claire in control, more or less.  (I know we are somehow meant to root for her, but as she is no better than Frank, her icy empowerment is deadening.)

I’ve rarely wished worse fictional fates on fictional characters, which is actually, I suppose, a tribute to performances and plots that almost defy belief.  But their ends must come.  Maybe musical numbers will help? 
FLIPPING through Billboard magazine, attempting to keep up, barely, with what’s happening in music, I was encouraged to see, only a couple of pages in, a full page congratulations to Barbra Streisand, for her sold-out stints at Barclays in Brooklyn, this past May 4 & 6. I missed Streisand’s recent concert, but she’ll be back, she always is.  She was, I heard, sublime, as usual.

Then I came across an article by Brooke Mazurek, about “the ultimate luxury in retro-audio gear.”  Jukeboxes, of course!  Celebs such as Tom Petty, Snoop Dog, Drew Barrymore and Bruce Springsteen spring for original Wurlitzers, Seeburgs and Discomatics for upwards of $10,000. 

Something like a 1940 Gabel Kuro jukebox (Art Deco design) will sell for $120,000. 

The renaissance of vinyl has also hyped interest in jukeboxes.  It’s unlikely that restaurants and bars will return to these glorious music monsters, but the venerable Rock-Ola company sees more and more just plain folks investing in 45rmp nostalgia. 
An Original 1946-47 Wurlitzer 1015 and a 1954 Seeburg M100 "G"
Courtesy of Don Muller Angeles
Finally, in my Billboard perusal, I read about cover boy,  actor/singer Ansel Elgort, who seems poised for big things, via the movie “Baby Driver.”  The writer, Rebecca Milzoff, gave Elgort an astonishing money notice, commenting: “Elgort effortlessly lopes through the film like some hybrid of Fred Astaire, Tom Cruise in ‘Risky Business’ and John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever.” 

Ansel, be a gent and send Ms. Milzoff some flowers. And to whatever studio is releasing “Baby Driver” — that sentence goes up top in the ads!
Ansel Elgort photographed May 12 at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Photo: David Needleman
MAIL: From a reader, re our column on June 20th in which, among other things, we addressed the Elizabeth Banks/Steven Spielberg imbroglio:

“Great column. It's unfortunate that in making her point, Elizabeth Banks left out Spielberg’s ‘women's’ picture, ‘The Color Purple.’ But she had a good point. Three movies built around a female lead out of what — forty feature films — isn't great.
“On another director, I myself have always found it interesting that out of Woody Allen's long film career, to my knowledge he's never had even a minor gay character. One would think that in all of those hip New York sophisticated stories, one of those ladies would have had a gay confidante. And you know that he must have many gay people in his world, but it obviously just doesn't get his imagination going. Maybe he feels he couldn't portray them and their humor accurately.
“By the way, I thought he was brilliant on the Diane Keaton AFI tribute. The most wonderful stand up. Sort of wish he would do a night of stand up at the Beacon Theatre.” I agree, Woody was terrific, as was Diane, who narrated, very amusingly, throughout the show, the progress and travails of her career.
Now, before the Woody responses come in — yes, I recall Meryl Streep as one-half of a lesbian couple in “Manhattan”  and there was the bisexual/bi-curious Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” And Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein in “Midnight in Paris.”  But I think my reader was referring to gay male characters. (The flamboyant couple and their fey robot in “Sleeper” — does that count? Or Ed Begley Jr. coming out of the closet in “Whatever Works”?)

Personally, Woody supports gay rights.  Most likely he sticks to the kind of characters he knows.  Going too far outside his niche might be more of a disservice, actually.  Not even great directors can be all things to all men — or all women. 
Ed Begley Jr. in “Whatever Works.”
CORRECTION:  On Friday, in reminiscing about Vivien Leigh, I somehow wrote of Miss Leigh dashing the length of a huge balcony to meet up with Laurence Olivier.  She did, but in “That Hamilton Woman” not “Waterloo Bridge.”  In the latter she was a dancer-turned-hooker, and her end was tragic, as usual for the characters she played.  Our wonderful editor Jeff Hirsch, made that change as soon as a reader pointed it out to us.  But, for those who missed the correction, here it is.

I am so embarrassed, because “That Hamilton Woman” is a favorite of mine.  One of many things I share in common with ... Winston Churchill!  The great Brit ran that 1941 film endlessly, and considered it brilliant wartime propaganda.
Emma rushing onto her vast balcony to bid farewell to her beloved.

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