Monday, August 28, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Reboots, Remakes and (Sex) Robots

Moira Shearer in 1948's “The Red Shoes.”
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"The Red Shoes" Remake; Julie Taymor's Revivals; Celebrity Male Sex Robots Reboot; Backing up Vera Miles.

“YOU cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies on the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never!

So declares Anton Walbrook, as the almost maniacal ballet impresario, Boris Lermontov to his distressed protégé, Vicky (Moira Shearer) in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s justly, lushly famous 1948 movie, “The Red Shoes.”

I popped in my Criterion DVD of this great — and admittedly over-the-top film — after a browse through last week’s New York magazine, where I happened upon a full page ad for the coming City Center production of “The Red Shoes.” 
Anton Walbrook as Boris Lermontov in “The Red Shoes.”
Who knew?  Okay, maybe you did, but I didn’t and since the show intends to follow the famous film, in some manner, I intend to see it. 

The role of the tragically conflicted Victoria Page will be played by Ashley Shaw — who originated the show in London last year — and Sara Mearns, of the New York City Ballet. They will alternate. Well, it is a strenuous thing — all that dancing and suffering.
Ashley Shaw in Matthew Bourne's ballet "The Red Shoes," which will have its American premiere this fall at City Center. Photo: Johan Persson
“The Red Shoes” is directed/choreographed by Matthew Bourne, or more accurately Sir Matthew Bourne.  He was knighted in 2016.

His own history would make a fascinating film.  Bourne was a teenage autograph hunter, a filing clerk, a ticket seller, an usher, became a dancer at the advanced age of 22 and created the wildly inventive dance company Adventures in Motion Pictures.  And at the comparatively young age of 56, he bent the knee before Queen Elizabeth II, who touched him on the shoulder with a blade, and said, “Arise — and dance!”  (She didn’t — QE 2 doesn’t have an antic sense of humor.  But for the film version of Bourne’s life we can indulge in a bit of license.)
Matthew Bourne and Darcey Bussell with his QEII award. Photo: Elliott Franks
Will anything be comparable to the movie, so overripe with melodrama, agony and exquisite color?  Possibly not. (“Julian, I love you!” cries distraught Vicky, moments before her assuredly final dance. “But you love that more,” replies Julian.  Marius Goring, who played Julian, delivers the line with annoying petulance as the camera travels to Vicky’s cursed slippers.)

But I’m more than willing to be swept up in a different version of the dark fairy tale.  “The Red Shoes” runs from October 26th through November 5th.  Visit or call 212-581-1212. 
Gloria and Julie. Photo: JIll Krementz
Leni Riefenstahl — possibly the subject of Julie's next musical.
I CAME across the ad for “The Red Shoes” because I was reading Rebecca Miloff’s New York magazine piece on the great theater/opera/film director Julie Taymor.  Ms. Taymor is directing the revival of David Henry Hwang’s “M. Butterfly,” which arrives in October.  Great stuff, but what was even more interesting were projects she has lined up or percolating.

Taymor is working on a film adaption of Gloria Steinem’s meditative memoir “My Life On The Road” and also a TV series based on Erica Jong’s “Fanny” — a bawdy pastiche of “Moll Flanders,” “Vanity Fair” and “Forever Amber.”

Sounds perfect for Starz (they have a big bodice-ripping hit with “Outlander.”)  Or Netflix, the go-to place for everybody, now.

But here is something that’s been rattling around in Taymor’s head for years.  She confides:  “A musical on Leni Riefenstahl.  It’s still a good idea!  A real Faustian musical, right?”

Two years ago I might have said, “Skip it, Julie,” but now I think a musical about the infamous filmmaking propagandist for Hitler and his Third Reich would be, well — perfectly timed.   If this even gets into the talking stage, I have casting ideas for Riefenstahl.  Julie, give me a call.

Oh, one last thing from this issue of New York magazine.  I haven’t really known what to think about the TV ads for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!”  They sort of remind me of trailers for those various “Conjuring” thrillers. Not my cup of paranormal.  But after reading Abraham Riesman’s article on the movie (about which he is obliged not to reveal details) and an interview with Aronofsky, I don’t care about the off-putting ads, I’m going to see this film!  Yeah, I would have anyway, of course — not much could keep me away from Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris and Javier Bardem. 

As I’m sure you know Mr. Aronofsky is the director of the second greatest, dark and twisted ballet movie, “Black Swan.”  (I still have to give first place to “The Red Shoes.”  Sorry, Darren.)

... RECENTLY we told you that Scarlett Johansson is the top choice as the female fantasy sex robot.  And we also listed the runners-up.  However, we did suggest this was all a bit discriminatory and what about male sex robots, based on celebrities?  We asked for suggestions. We got them. 

“Any of the actors who played James Bond (in their prime).  And maybe George Clooney and Idris Elba” ... “Either of the Hemsworth brothers” (Liam and Luke) ... ”Ryan Gosling, please!” ... “Chris Pratt, hands down!” ... “James Franco, although could they make a robot who seems so cheerfully sleazy?” ... “Prince Harry, if the queen would permit.” 

Also scoring high were Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Shemar Moore,  Charlie Hunnam, Matt Damon, Mark and Donnie Wahlberg, Tom Cruise and Alexander Skarsgard. (Apparently, abusing Nicole Kidman in “Big Little Lies” was not a deal-breaker for those who want him, robotically.)  

There were also some nostalgic choices — Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Rock Hudson, Yul Brynner, John Wayne (Hey, he was really beautiful when he was young!), Monty Clift, James Dean, and a surprisingly heavy showing for John Gavin. 
Mr. Gavin — still with us at 86 — was a somewhat wooden actor, but he was the absolute personification of the “tall dark and handsome” matinee idol leading man. Apparently, he is much remembered for lounging around in a towel with Laurence Olivier in “Spartacus.” And shirtless in a seedy hotel with Janet Leigh in “Psycho.”
Laurence Olivier and John Gavin in “Spartacus.”
I think of him always as the hapless guy married to shrewish Vera Miles in the 1961 Susan Hayward remake of “Back Street.”  (Favorite scene — Miles falls drunkenly on her face at a party.  Gavin and Hayward, who have not seen each other in years, attempt to assist her, but are transfixed by one another, as Miles writhes on the floor, battling with her voluminous evening gown. Gets me every time.)
By the way, Miss Miles celebrated her 88th birthday last week.  She lives quietly in California.  Miles, perhaps best known as Janet Leigh’s concerned sister in “Psycho” was a beauty and a terrific actress.  She missed out on her big chance in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” after she became pregnant. (He replaced her with Kim Novak.) 

I felt she never got a fair shake — perhaps because Hitchcock was annoyed that she had to back out of his film. (I wonder if Miles and Tippi Hedren ever talked?)  
Vera as Janet Leigh’s sister in “Psycho.”
And I recall being so angered at a line in Jane Fonda’s otherwise excellent film “The Morning After” in which she plays a down and out, almost-was actress.  “They were grooming me to be the next Vera Miles,” she blurts drunkenly to Jeff Bridges.  “Who?” he says.  Fonda replies: “Exactly!  They were replacing an actress nobody knew had left!” 

Vera Miles deserved a lot better than that.
Contact Liz here.