Tuesday, September 5, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The War of the Worlds

Orson Welles telling reporters that no one connected with the broadcast had any idea it would cause panic (Sunday, October 30, 1938).
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Game of Thrones" — The Parody ... Musical Vampire Sisters ... Ellen Barkin; Absolutely Rules the "Animal Kingdom."    

The great Dorothy Thompson.
“NO POLITICAL body must ever, under any circumstance, obtain monopoly of the radio. The greatest organizers of mass hysteria and mass delusions are states using the radio to excite terrors, incite hatreds, inflame masses.” 

That was the great journalist Dorothy Thompson, back in 1930, addressing the matter of Orson Welles and the (likely over-inflated) “The War of the Worlds” radio program sensation, which some took seriously as an invasion from Mars.

Thompson was pointing out the power of radio — the great mass communication venue way back in the day — how influential it could be. (Fascism and Nazis were on the rise.)  She suggested Welles should receive a Congressional medal, a national prize, for highlighting, inadvertently, media power to move masses; and how government should never play a part in that.

This quote comes from Adrian Chen’s sobering Sept. 4th New Yorker piece “The Fake News Fallacy,” which deals with our own influential mass media the Internet. Read, absorb, think. 

... STILL suffering “Game of Thrones” withdrawal?  Seeing dragons and White Walkers and Jon Snow’s ass in your dreams?  Well, tough. As you know, HBO says it might 2019 before we have final resolution.

In the meantime, however, you might want to salve your impatience with some humor.  Perhaps take in “Game of Thrones: The Rock Musical — An Unauthorized Parody,” written by Christopher Parker and Steven Brandon.  The show will run from October 10th-29th at the Jerry Orbach Theatre (1627 Broadway.)   It is said to be “uproarious.”  We’ll be the judge of that!  The official opening night is October 13th.  Call 212-921-7862.
... FANS of the unending vampire genre?  I am — I’ll take a fashionable bloodsucker over a zombie anytime.  Especially if they happen to resemble Catherine Deneuve (“The Hunger”) or Frank Langella (“Dracula”)  or  Tom and Brad (“Interview With the Vampire.”) 

Coming on September 14th is “Wicked Clone or How To Deal With the Evil.”  This stage offering, referred to as a “cinema musical” is about identical sisters, born in Transylvania in the oh-so-Dark Ages of the 13th century.  Now they live and work in Manhattan. It stars Gabriela and Mihaela Modorcea, who just happen to be real life twins who were actually born in Transylvania!  
They have collaborated musically with Jay-Z and Kanye West, both of whom are married to women who look like they know their way around a jugular.  The sisters also act, sing and dance.  They’ve worked with Madonna, too.  You fill that in.

“Wicked Clone” opens officially on October 26th at St. Lukes’s Theater.” (308 West 46th Street.) Nice touch of blasphemy, ladies!  Be there or be dinner.  Call 212-246-8140. 
... FINALLY — a huge, glorious shout-out to Ellen Barkin, star of TNT’s “Animal Kingdom.”  In last week’ season finale, Barkin conveyed the reptilian complexities of her character, Smurf — crime matriarch of sons and nephews — with-don’t-dare-turn-from-the screen intensity.  If the TV set had exploded I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.  Everybody on the show — Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary, Finn Cole and Molly Gordon are all great.  But Barkin is the manipulative, sexy, ugly, vulnerable, ruthless glue that holds it all together. Like Niecy Nash of “Claws,” Barkin has truly come into her own. Brava! 
MAIL: Much response to our Elizabeth Taylor celebration last week.  Most were brief “bravos” “thank you!” “I still miss her.”

But reader Van Smith offered this : “Is there a possibility of ‘borrowing genius.’ Thinking about today's column, and the fact that I can't really remember any Liz acting apart from ‘Virginia’ and ‘Taming.” Is it not possible that she was a dazzling beauty, and a compelling personality, but a mediocre actress who "borrowed" her scintillating performances from her co-star, who really was a genius?  If this is so, it makes all the Liz-Dick stuff much more understandable.” 
Answer, IMO — no, I don’t think Richard Burton made Elizabeth a better actress.  She was simple, subtle, fine-grained as a pristine young star.  And, despite being born in England, very American!  Later, she began to exhibit a tendency toward the overwrought, which made her more “interesting” (and a multiple Oscar contender.)

Liz in "Shrew."
With Burton, she developed an on-and-off posh pseudo-Brit accent, and sometimes tried too hard to live up to his “genius.” “Virginia Woolf” is essentially a stunt.  (“See Liz Look Terrible!”)  She is best — exquisite — in her quiet moments of grief and regret, rather than raging. And “Shrew” was tailored for her lack of experience in the language of the Bard.” (Also Franco Zeffirelli photographs her like a dream — all heaving bosoms and long wild hair.) The majority of their films together — the smash hits and the flops — all reflected the public/private perception of The Burtons.  This became tiring. She was, in her later years, a funnier, quirkier actress, but lost a great deal of her delicacy. (It did surface from time to time.)  She was actually better away from him — “X Y and Zee,” “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” even the distinctly weird “Secret Ceremony.” 

And from the gifted biographer/historian to the famous, Thomas Santopietro: “You are calling La Liz the greatest star.  Don’t you think Barbra Streisand would say: "Wait a minute, wait a minute — I'm the one who sang 'I'm The Greatest Star!'

Yes, she did, and maybe Barbra is the greatest, most transforming star, post-1962. But even she would have to give the “by far” to Miss Taylor, who outlived box-office popularity to become ... even more famous!  Unprecedented.
END QUOTE:  “There’s a saying: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  Or Ecclesiastes: ‘What has been, will be again. What has been done will be done again.’

“Human nature always superimposes itself — it’s strength and its frailty over the ongoing rush and chaos of ongoing events — and we can perceive patterns and themes and motifs.”

That is legendary documentarian Ken Burns to Esquire’s Adam Grant, talking, among others things, about his highly anticipated PBS series “The Vietnam War,” which debuts later this month. 

(Josh Brolin is on the Esquire cover, inside interviewed by Maximillian Potter.  Brolin’s career and image has jumped-started in such a positive way, that I was taken aback, being reminded how long it took him to reach this status, and all the troubles and misbehavior leading up to it. (He is now a rugged, sizzling hot 50 years old.)  Brolin’s fact-based firefighter movie, “Only the Brave,” is expected to garner him another Oscar nod.)

Oh, and Ken Burns is also the subject of a huge profile in The New Yorker, “Mr. America” by Ian Parker.  

I cannot wait to see this show!
Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson
Contact Liz here.