Thursday, June 1, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Realization of Utopias

A scene from 1961's "Chronicle of Flaming Years," for which the director, Yuliya Solntseva, won Best Director — becoming the first female to win that honor.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Cannes is "Beguiled" by Sofia Coppola, but Jessica Chastain is not beguiled by Cannes! Also — Forgiving Billy Bush, and Leaving Melania Trump Alone.

“A MAP of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.” — Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
SPEAKING of progress, it can be — it usually is! — a slow thing.

That snail’s pace was highlighted at the Cannes Film Festival, where Sofia Coppola took Best Director for “The Beguiled.” Coppola is only the second woman in the 70-year history of the annual French film fete, to win that honor. The first was Russia’s Yuliya Solntseva in 1961. (For “Chronicle of the Flaming Years.”)
The director with her co-stars in Cannes.
Coppola, who began her career in 1996, has six feature film credits, the most famous being “The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation” (for which she won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and “Marie Antoinette.” The latter film, a quite unusual take on the life of the tragic Queen of France was something I just didn’t cotton to, at first. In fact, I decided I didn’t much care for it, but after a number of viewings over the years, changed my mind. Ms. Coppola’s revolutionary view was, lost, and then found again, in translation.
I have to admit, I was somewhat shocked by Coppola’s win. Not that she won, but that she was just the second woman to score in the category! Surely directors such as Jane Campion, Mira Nair, Claire Denis, Kathryn Bigelow, Elizabeth Banks, Gillian Armstrong and Ava DuVernay have at least been in the Cannes running at some point? (I could Google that but life is too short and our deadline is noon.)

So, while this is hopeful, it’s also a bit depressing. After all, in Europe women are supposed to be taken more seriously, in all ways. (For instance, the concept/reality of a female head of state, prime minister or president doesn’t automatically sterilize the male population or reveal some rather unpleasant misogyny among women themselves.)
Nicole Kidman in Sofia Coppola's “The Beguiled.”
We will have to wait for our own female ruler. (I use that term because so many Americans seem to want a “ruler.”)

In any case, congratulations to Sofia Coppola. This makes me want to see “The Beguiled” more than I already did. And even though it is a remake of a 1971 film I recall fondly (with Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman) I intend to keep a more open mind than I did on “Marie Antoinette.” (As an unabashed fan of the famously lush and old-fashioned 1938 version with Norma Shearer, I couldn’t/wouldn’t wrap my head around Coppola’s avant garde approach.)
Clint Eastwood in 1971's "The Beguiled."
That the new “Beguiled” stars two of my favorite people, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, is a big help, too. (Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning are other familiar names in the twisted Civil War tale of a wounded — but seductive — Union soldier, and his Confederate “saviors.”)

P.S. Although Jessica Chastain — who was on the Cannes jury — expressed herself as pleased, naturally, about Sofia's win, she also expressed some alarm at the representation of women in the films she saw at the festival. "It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest."
Self Portrait, ca.1948
SAVE THE date. On June 6th at Cipriani 42nd Street, The Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction happens. This gala evening celebrates the Arts and Humanitarianism. (I sure hope I don’t have to remind anybody that Gordon Parks was a phenomenally gifted photographer, writer, musician, film director and humanitarian. He also helped launch Essence magazine.)

This years honorees include musician Jon Batiste ... U.S. Representative John Lewis ... philanthropist Alexander Soros ... singer and civil rights icon Mavis Staples ... and Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault (He is the deeply generous CEO and Chairman of American Express. She is a former lawyer who has devoted years to supporting the arts and health care organizations.)

Presenters include Stephen Colbert and Usher Raymond IV. (Yes, the singer/dancer/actor, usually known simply as Usher)

Common will perform. This is a big, big night. For more info call 914-579-1000 or visit
ENDTHOUGHT: I finally got around to reading all of Billy Bush’s interview in The Hollywood Reporter — his lengthy apologia regarding that infamous taped discussion between himself and the man who currently occupies the White House. When Bush was fired, I did think he got a raw deal, and said that. (And I was no particular fan of Mr. Bush’s style, which I generally found rather smarmy.) So, in reading his interview with Lacey Rose and Marisa Guthrie, I didn’t change my mind and didn’t think I’d make a further comment.
Bush with his former Today family. Photo: Joe Scarnici/NBC
But then I received a three-page letter from William O’ Shaughnessy of Whitney Media, rather passionately defending Billy. (I assume other members of the press also received this missive.)

It was an impressive catalogue of Mr. Bush’s finer qualities. So, since the poor guy went so far as to consult Tony Robbins and walk on hot coals (wouldn’t one of those things have been painful enough?), I say, for heaven’s sake, somebody get over their fake outrage and give Mr. Bush another chance.

We have become a very judgmental uncompassionate bunch, with our Twitter and trolling and pearl clutching.
Billy with his beautiful family.
Oh, and while on a roll, enough already with the body and face language readings of Melania Trump. This woman — and her young son Barron — never, ever expected to be related to the president of the United States. We don’t elect the Commander in Chief’s wife. How nice if they steep themselves in charitable good deed doing and go around looking fulfilled. But if they don’t, so what? I’d say Mrs. Trump has more than enough on her plate. Leave her to heaven. (Or to a really juicy roman a clef, a few years down the road. The late, great Jackie Collins would be on the second draft already.)

Our tender sentiments do not extend to the rest of the president’s family, however. They’ve all made their choices.

Contact Liz here.