Thursday, March 1, 2018

In Praise of

Justifiably classic film moment — Timothee Chalamet's final four-minute close-up in “Call Me By Your Name."
In Praise of Timothee Chalamet ... "Summer" Arrives on Broadway ... "Babette's Feast" onstage ... and Madonna Wants the Good Times back.
by Denis Ferrara

“FAME IS the thirst of youth,” said Lord Byron.
BYRON’S quote might have been used as the title of Daniel Riley’s great big GQ cover story on 22-year-old Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet.

Instead, the cover declares “Introducing Timothee Chalamet, and the profile itself announces “Arrival.”

In his editor’s letter, GQ’s Jim Nelson writes, “You might never have heard of Timothee Chalamet.” Really? I think most of the readers of GQ know who he is. And before those readers even get to the actual article, Nelson pens what amounts to a panegyric, comparing Chalamet to Jack Nicholson in “The Passenger” ... Gene Hackman in “Scarecrow” ... and “Tom Courtney or Albert Finney in just about anything.”

The profile artfully catches the actor as the fame of his “Call Me By Your Name” performance resonates, and he is covered with acclaim, awards and significant nominations. The author, Mr. Riley, refers to Chalamat as “maybe even a sort of genius” and goes on to repeat “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig’s now famous remark comparing Chalamet to Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Yikes! Give this kid a break. Not that he isn’t a wonderful actor; hey, his final four-minute close-up in “Call Me By Your Name” is a justifiably classic film moment already.  But such lavish praise is enough to turn one’s head around, Linda Blair style, or make a person high-tail it to the hills for a while to decompress. Or — this generally happens when people land the cover of Vanity Fair too soon — cause those who complimented him so fulsomely to be grumpily disappointed if he doesn’t immediately live up to “expectations.”
Timothee seems like a lovely young man and is an excellent actor.  He has three movies upcoming, including “Henry V.”  Let’s not burden him  with over-the-top comparisons and grandiose predictions.  He is what he is right now — the third youngest male ever to be nominated in the Best Actor category.  I’m sure Chalamet would say that’s more than enough, for the time being.
P.S. Jim Nelson’s GQ editor’s letter also tells of many changes in the venerable men’s magazine, including the disappearance of the Manual section, which advised on “what to buy, eat, drink, how to dress, date and behave, etc.”  It has been replaced by a new section, The Fix which will also offer occasional advice but in a “less blunt” manner. 

Hey!  I like blunt.  I always read the Manual tips.  Not that I ever took any of them — certainly not on how to dress. (If I don’t pay attention to my very smart, well-dressed celeb PR pal Scott Gorenstein — he has perfected a telling little shudder when I appear at events — I certainly pay no mind to GQ.)  Still, bluntness is not to be despised.  I will approach The Fix warily. 
With PR’s Scott Gorenstein at the Russian Tea Room.   Scott did not chastise my apparel this night.  I was wearing a jacket and real shoes instead of sneakers.  Briefly, he had hope. 

... I was glad to hear, a while back, that Madonna was recording again, and I appreciated Leah Greenblatt’s shout-out for the 20th anniversary of M’s dazzling “Ray of Light” album, in Entertainment Weekly. (Good grief, has it really been 20 years?)  

But perversity has always been La Ciccone’s middle name and neither time or six children or living in Portugal has changed that.  When her manager Guy Oseary posted an Instagram other day also celebrating the anniversary of “Ray of Light,” Madonna added her thoughts.  Rather than just saying thanks and perhaps telling more on her coming work, the pop icon had to complain about the way albums are made nowadays, and mused back to the time “I was allowed to be a visionary.” 

When you are one of the most famous pop stars ever, richer than Croesus and a once — and perhaps future — driving influential force in music, it doesn’t play well to grouse about the good old days, and how different it all is now (just as artists of a certain age tiresomely bitched about Madonna and MTV when she was on the rise.)  And while I happen to agree that Madonna was a visionary, it’s better to allow admirers such as myself to say it.

I am of the firm belief that Madonna will have another shiny and new music moment — something epic and surprising. Just shush up honey, make the album, release it and, well — stay shushed!
... BACK when it was announced that there was something on the way called “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” I thought it wouldn’t happen — nothing so fabulous could happen! (Big Donna Summer fan here!)  But now “Summer” is nestled in New York, casting has been completed and announced, and the musical is set to open on April 23rd at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater (previews begin on March 28th).  The great singer will be portrayed by three actresses:  LaChanze performs as “Diva Donna” ... Ariana DeBose will do her stuff as “Disco Donna” ... and Storm Lever appears as “Duckling Donna.”  The book is by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff — the latter also directs. The music?  More than 20 of Summer’s iconic hits. 
LaChanze, Ariana DeBose and Storm Lever in 'Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.' Courtesy of Kevin Berne
I saw Summer perform only once, years ago at one of Bette Midler’s Hulaween’s.  She’d been laying low for a few years and the audience was tense and eager.  She came out, she looked gorgeous, and then she opened her mouth to sing. It was 1977 again and New Year’s Eve all rolled up in one woman whose voice was simply astonishing — and seemingly untouched by time.  The audience was berserk before she was halfway through the first song.  By the time she finished, delirium had set in.   Shortly after, I read Donna’s frank, no-frills, no-dish autobiography, “Ordinary Girl,” and reviewed it positively. On the day the item appeared, Donna herself called the office thanked me and asked to be “forgiven” for not calling about all the nice things we wrote about her Hulaween appearance!  She was a doll — charming, funny, appreciative, modest.  In fact, she seemed very much an “ordinary girl,” indeed.  The next day she sent a sweet note and a deluxe CD of her greatest hits.
Jaded friends of mine suggested that she probably did that with everybody who had written a positive review. I couldn’t have cared less. (And I kinda doubt she did.)  If Miss Summer was simply executing the clever “business” side of show business, she did it in a particularly lovely manner. 

... I WAS astonished to realize several weeks ago that I’d never seen the famous 1987 film “Babette’s Feast.”  Based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  This realization occurred to me as I was trying to manage some of the clutter in my room — that is, I take one pile of clutter and move it two feet.  Going through a stack of DVD’s I came across a Criterion DVD edition of the film, unopened. (The nice people at Criterion used to send a lot of movies, knowing how we loved them, and would often write up the latest remastering, first-time-on-DVD or Blu-Ray, etc. They don’t do that anymore, but what the hell, I have a pretty impressive library of classic films!)

So I watched “Babette’s Feast” and loved its bittersweet, tender simplicity — not to mention developing a ravenous appetite! (Babette’s sumptuous, generous feast could convert the most committed vegan and arouse dipsomania in the staunchest teetotaler.) 

So who knew that this lovely film was being put on stage?  Well, I’m sure a lot of people did know, but only a few days ago did I become aware that a stage version will open in New York on March 25th, at the Theatre at Saint Clements (423 West 46th Street.) 

Developed by Abigail Killeen, written by Rose Courtney and directed by Karin Coonrod, this is, to me, one of the most fascinating screen-to-stage adaptations ever.  Given the film’s quietude and its cinematic attention to the sinfully delicious meal that French refugee Babette serves to her unsophisticated, pious Norwegian neighbors, I’d never have thought it could be transformed for the stage. (This lack of imagination is why I will never write the great American novel.  Or even fair-to-middling trash.)
Michelle Hurst as Babette. 
Michelle Hurst (Miss Claudette from the first season of “Orange is the New Black”) will star as Babette.  Other cast members include Juliana Francis Kelly, Abigail Killeen, Jo Mei, Elliot Nye, Steven Skybell, Sorab Wadia, Sturgis Warner and Jeorge Bennett Watson.

The movie soothed my soul and made me feel better about the human condition.  I expect nothing less on stage. 
Contact Denis here.