Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Always in the spotlight

Cher — Always in the spotlight.
Cher — Exploring Tibet Will Have to Wait, She's Still Our Dancing Queen! Also: Indomitable Olivia de Havilland! ... The ordeal of "Ordeal by Innocence" ... The Mystery Of Bruce Willis' tee-shirt and the comedy duo of Cuomo and Conway.  
by Denis Ferrara

“ALL right, darling, what can we expect of you? What will Cher be at 75?  Other than the fact that you’ll only look 40?”

Cher — forever young.
“75?  Geez!  I don’t have any idea. Maybe plays by then, the stage.  Or maybe by that time, the world will have decided it’s had quite enough of me.  And I’ll be climbing mountains.  I have that thing in me.  I have that desire to be an old lady climbing mountains and going to Tibet and driving my truck.  I could see myself puttering around, exploring. 

“Do you have a life motto?”

“I don’t know if I have a motto, but I have a belief that everyone’s got to have a dream.  And if they reach that dream, then they’ve got to have another.  Because it’s not achieving your dreams that counts.  It’s going toward them.”

That was Cher, when I interviewed her back in 2003, in the midst of her “Farewell” tour which had begun the previous year and extended into 2005.

75 was still a long way off.  Not so much now, but at 72 Cher has definitely not said “farewell.” Nor is she an old lady driving and puttering around in Tibet.  And nobody has had “quite enough” of her.

In fact, she is now in the midst of another astonishing upsurge.  Her brief appearance in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” was that film’s big publicity hook, and she enjoyed singing ABBA’s “Fernando” so much that soon she’ll release a new studio album — her versions of more ABBA hits.  There’s already a tease of “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” driving fans wild.

Cher is unlike any female pop star in the pantheon — the most enduring, the most satisfying, the one who gives you your money’s worth.  If there’s ever a Mount Rushmore devoted to great women in music, Cher’s gotta be there.  In fact, what the hell — I say put her on the current Mount Rushmore!
Mamma Mia!!!
Over the years I had quite a few moments with Cher, and I was always impressed by her intelligence, her basic modesty, good humor, sensitivity and an amazing air of serenity.  I’ve never seen anybody sit as still as Cher, and yet carry on an extremely animated conversation — a beguiling quality of high vivacity mixed with the calmness and meditative qualities of Zen.

She speaks honestly.  She says what she means and means what she says.  You never leave her, personally, one on one, or professionally, giving her fans exactly what they want, feeling in any way cheated, misled, disappointed. I speak only as somebody who dealt with her as a reporter; and there is indeed the real woman with issues I’ve never encountered.  But even a good actress cannot mask her genuine personality entirely.  I might not want to be married to Cher (for a variety of reasons!) But one cannot come away from her without feeling she is a good person, a loyal friend, and very much the guardian of her image — not so much for her vanity or ego (although those things must be there), but I honestly do think she feels a responsibility to employ her “talent to amuse” for as long as she can, for us.
She said this to me back in 2003, and I’m sure it still applies:

Cher — Still Our Dancing Queen!
“What I want to do is go out there and give them two hours of completely forgetting everything about their life, forgetting any problems they have, just uplifting them and try to give them something they can walk away with, some sort of memory.  But nothing heavy. If I do it right, if it’s light enough, it can be like magic, like a sleight of hand.  You’ll  never know; you won’t see it.”

I also asked her a question I’d often asked of other very famous people, those whose private lives are public fodder, whose every move and utterance is dissected — was she comfortable with the Faustian deal of fame?  Would she, if she could, give back some of her success for a measure of privacy and normalcy?” 

Cher answered instantly: “Probably not.”

I said:  “You are the only famous person I’ve ever asked that who has said no.”

“Then they’re lying,” replied Cher with total assurance and no need to elaborate. 

Cher’s “Dancing Queen” album debuts on September 28th.  The Broadway musical based on her life, “The Cher Show” opens in December, and she is currently in residence at MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

Puttering in Tibet will just have to wait.

Olivia de Havilland just turned 102 and is back to suing producer Ryan Murphy because of his depiction of her in his “Feud: Bette and Joan” series.  Oh, for God’s sake — I say it again, Mr. Murphy, take the offending lines of dialogue out, and apologize to an icon.  Be a fucking gentleman. How about asking the lovely Jessica Lange — who played Joan — for advice?  I’ve always considered Lange to be not only wildly and wonderfully talented, but a sensitive, intelligent nice human being.  (I’m not suggesting Mr. Murphy go to his Bette Davis, aka Susan Sarandon for counsel.  When I think of Sarandon, all that comes to mind is screaming at her “How’s that Jill Stein thing working out for you?”)
... SHOUT-outs, kudos, applause to the writers, directors and actors of Showtime’s “The Affair” and TNT’s “Animal Kingdom.”  Both delivered knock-out season finales.  I don’t know quite how “The Affair” will fare in its fifth and final season without Ruth Wilson (Alison) but I have a feeling her tragic vibe will be all over it.  As for “Animal Kingdom” it has moved far beyond the Australian film upon which it is based — which is a good thing because if it had followed the movie plot, the series would have ended after season two.  The character of J Cody (Finn Cole) has been revealed to be as coldly, soullessly sociopathic as Ellen Barkin’s criminal matriarch Smurf.  More so!  I see nothing but high-tension, back-stabbing (literally and figuratively) good times for season four.
J Cody (Finn Cole) realizes Smurf (Ellen Barkin) can't be trusted. Photo: TNT
.... I binge-watched Amazon’s “Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence” over the weekend.  Ugh.  Well, we were kind of warned — the word “ordeal” is in the title.

I’m no Christie expert.  I don’t think I’ve read one of the fabled author’s mysteries.  But I’ve long been a fan of the films made from her books — going as far back as Margaret Rutherford’s outings as Miss Marple, the 1945 version of “And There Were None,” its remake as “Ten Little Indians” in 1965, and of course all the other Christie adaptations — “Witness for the Prosecution,” (Marlene!) “Murder on the Orient Express,” (Lauren Bacall!) “Death on the Nile,” (Bette Davis vs. Maggie Smith!), “The Mirror Crack’d,” (Elizabeth Taylor vs. Kim Novak!), “Evil Under the Sun” (Maggie Smith vs. Diana Rigg!) and Britain’s long-running “Poirot” series.  Even last year’s “Orient Express” remake was bearable. 
Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in Agatha Christie's "Death On The Nile", 1978.
But it was clear this new “Ordeal” has taken massive liberties with Christie’s material.  Set in the 1950’s but trying hard to appeal to a 2018 audience, it is an abominable mess. Downright nasty.
... ALL right, now, a question.  I watched, for the umpteenth time, the first “Die Hard” movie.  When I tuned in, Bruce Willis was already stripped down to his white tank tee-shirt and bloody bare feet, dashing around outwitting Alan Rickman (still so missed!) and his cronies.  Here’s the thing, Bruce’s shirt is a little soiled from his exertions, but still most definitely white.  He is shown crawling inside an air vent — shirt still white — but suddenly he’s out of the vent, throwing somebody through a window and the tee is ... brown.  Not just sweat and bloodstained — brown.  To me, this has always stood out as a major continuity error. Has anybody else ever noticed and can this be explained?  I ask for so little in life. (There’s an “American Dad!” episode that spoofs “Die Hard” — yes, I watch “American Dad!” Not every night can be Fellini or Ingmar Bergman or the best of Ernst Lubitsch.) The animated series shows Stan Smith’s character in an increasingly battered tee, but it never changes color completely.  This kind of disappointed me, because Seth MacFarlane and his bad taste buds are usually up on this sort of thing.
... COMEDY tonight, and every night.  I thought I’d finally lost my mind last week watching CNN’s Chris Cuomo and White House spokeswoman Kellyann Conway bicker, talk over one another, and generally waste time for the better part of an hour.  It was surreal. Cuomo is inept, and comically over-empathic.  Does he imagine because he thinks he has “truth” on his side that Ms. Conway, slippery as an eel, will suddenly say, “You’re right, Chris, I lie and so does my boss and I’m giving my notice, here and now on your show. Grant me immunity, save my soul!” 

There is so much real news with which to fill an hour — I’d love to see time devoted, for example, to the articles by Jason Zengerle and Emily Bazelon in this past Sunday’s New York Times magazine. These tell of all the things that are happening quietly, inexorably, perhaps irrevocably behind the scenes, as we are all distracted by foolish people, arguing foolishly.
Contact Denis here.