Tuesday, February 7, 2017

LIZ SMITH: This land is your land

Ripe for a remake — “The Constant Nymph" (1943).
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Glorious Gaga Does it Right! ... "Girls" Headed for the Big Screen? ... Another Plea to Ryan Murphy ... IMDB in an uproar — don't kill the message boards!

“THIS LAND is your land, this land is my land/from California to the New York island/ from the Redwood Forest to the Gulfstream waters/This land was made for you and me.”

Lady Gaga’s choice to open her 12-minute Super Bowl extravaganza with brief renditions of that Woody Guthrie song — "This Land Was Made for You and Me" — along with "America the Beautiful" was the most potent political statement of this new year.
Gaga knew what she was there to do — entertain people gathered to watch football.  As a humanist, she also knew what she represents to millions.  She made her point, without mentioning a name — and without profanity.  And then she went on to drive home a dazzling, inclusive medley of her hits. 

By now she has been rightly praised. (I have seen very little criticism of that show. Although I have to admit, I didn’t bother to look where I might find it. Why bother?)

Gaga, I have always admired you.  Today I salute you. I am all for “the resistance.” I am on board with naming names and getting down and dirty when one has no choice. But I appreciate as well, in these fraught times, subtlety and reaching across aisles (and stadiums) to find and preserve an apparently teetering common goal — American democracy.
I HAVE to admit the big laugh — for me — at the NYC “Girls” season six premiere of the HBO show last week was Lena Dunham’s remark onstage at Alice Tully Hall.  Addressing co-workers she said: “I’m going to have a good time for the next few years, pretending to the media that we are still all on intimate terms.”  I’m sure she was kidding.  They all do seem to be pretty close.
Going to say right off that “Girls” was just one of those things I couldn’t get into. Although, I tried.  I watched it a whole season and then pretty much gave up, although I’d catch the odd episode here and there, admire the writing but found it difficult to like most of the characters. (With full knowledge, naturally, that it’s not the duty of a show to present altogether likeable, relatable characters. What a bore that would be!)
So the Lincoln Center event was rather odd. Everybody else, it seemed were huge fans, knew all the character arcs and were wildly enthusiastic.  And that’s contagious. The place was packed, star-studded, and the after party at Cipriani 42nd Street was divine. For a show that prides itself on gritty realism, this last season premiere gala was awfully elegant-looking, with a fountain-like crystal creation as the center bar, and a hell of a lot of unbelievably great food.
So, the party was more fun than the series, but who can't appreciate the effort and commitment of HBO and its now iconic star?  Miss Dunham created a groundbreaking show — the real “Sex and the City” for real woman (and men.)  I’ll be looking forward to Dunham’s second act. 

She did just tell The Hollywood Reporter that she’s up for a “Girls” movie: “Oh, we’re doing the movie!  I’d just want to leave enough space so that we are finding them in a super-different place than when we left them.  If HBO could pay for two ‘Sex and the City’ movies, they’d better pay for ours.”
Ms. Dunham was then reminded that the movie studios paid for the “Sex ...” feature films. 

She responded: “Oh, we may have more trouble with that.”

Judging by the enthusiasm I saw, I don’t think so, Lena.
MAIL: As we await with campy curiosity, the debut of Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” about the enmity/jealousy between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, we are still horrified by the rumor floated that Murphy, on his “American Crime” anthology was going to beat up Monica Lewinsky. Even if presented sympathetically, she would have to relive that terrible time all over again. 
About a week ago, I received this note from a reader, who was similarly affected by that news:  
Ever since the scandal broke, I've thought it almost a crime the way Monica L. was treated.  She was dragged through the Clinton mud as though she was some scarlet whore. She did nothing more, or less, than many people do on the job, for good or ill.  But Lord, what a horrendous price she has paid.

I'll sign a petition or whatever to object. I mean, she's not a convicted killer like OJ. She was a 21-year-old woman who got it off with her boss.

I KNOW — Life's not fair, but dragging her back and through the mud again really is a harsh life sentence for anyone.

I do hope the talented Mr. Murphy has re-thought this.
ON February 20th, something rather shattering happens to devoted film fans.  The powerful IMDB movie site, where one can find all the facts, figures, name, grosses, etc on feature films and TV shows, is abandoning its most popular and passionately adored feature — the message boards.  This is where fans go to opine and argue and often offer up some brilliant writing and analysis. While it is true that the boards — like everything online — can be sabotaged by “trolls” and deliberately argumentative types, the benefits of this community are enormous and positive — and not just for those who contribute.
Surely actors, producers and directors have delved into those boards for intelligent theories and critiques.  There are petitions circulating to keep the boards alive.  I think IMDB will suffer overall without the opportunity for audiences to communicate, make friends, exchange ideas, learn from each other.
Click here to sign the Petition to keep the IMDB messageboards going!
ENDTHOUGHT: So there I was channel-surfing and I came across Turner Classic Movies’ telecast of the famous (sometimes referred to as “famously, unfairly forgotten”) 1943 film, “The Constant Nymph.” Based on a novel published in 1925, the movie concerns itself with a mature composer (Charles Boyer) an infatuated adolescent (Joan Fontaine) and Boyer’s beautiful and increasingly frantic, jealous wife (Alexis Smith.) At some point I must have seen this movie, and do not recall what I thought of it then, but watching it now is an eye-rolling experience.
Twenty-six year-old Fontaine, in pigtails, repeating her awkward Mrs. De Winter bit from “Rebecca” is awfully hard to take.  Especially as she is clearly obsessed with Boyer and makes little attempt to conceal it. He is torn. (It’s rather like “Lolita” with classical music.)  Fontaine alternately droops and flitters about, often declaring she’s going to leave, which would be wise, but she never does. Boyer pouts and broods.  They are ridiculous.
The one blazing standout here is Alexis Smith as the frustrated wife. Although the role demands that she be occasionally unpleasant to sweet Joan, it’s hard to blame her.  She’s the only character who makes sense; even when the writers put absurd things in her mouth.  Miss Smith was gorgeous and talented, but for some reason Warner Bros. where she initially gained fame, wasted most of her potential.  As with Angela Lansbury and Lauren Bacall, Alexis would have to wait until Broadway revived her, in “Follies.”  (I was also lucky enough to see Alexis in the short-lived Broadway venture, “Platinum.”  Not great, but she was was!)
Anyway, I now see why “The Constant Nymph” has been somewhat  forgotten.  Although to be fair, at the time, the roiling, creepy emotions of Boyer and Fontaine were admired. She, in fact was Oscar-nominated. Which goes to show you that the Academy was as silly then, as now.  (Fontaine’s best performances were the aforementioned masterpiece “Rebecca” and the overripe bodice-ripper, “Frenchman’s Creek” where her other set of mannerisms — affected, insincere lady — were perfect for the role of a woman infatuated by a sexy pirate. This film, by the way, is in bad need of restoration.)

As for “The Constant Nymph” that one is begging for a remake — on Lifetime TV.  (Teenage girl, confused husband, jealous, distraught wife.)
No longer constant, or a nymph, Fontaine fights off jealous Basil Rathbone in "Frenchman's Creek."
Contact Liz here.