Friday, February 23, 2018

Mass Appeal

Eric Roberts, with Brooke Shields, in “King of the Gypsies,” 1978.
Meandering Through Magazines ... TV Owls ... Cakey Lips ... and hitting the
books — or when the book almost hit me!

by Denis Ferrara

Kevin Bacon, likely before he was so devoted to the PBS NewsHour.
“I GET a lot of my news from PBS NewsHour, which is nonpartisan, thoughtful reporting on whatever happens to be out there. On one segment, there were lawyers who had expertise in women's rights and sexual harassment, and the thing that came to light for me was the idea that, beyond all this celebrity stuff, was industries.

“For instance, in the industry of fast food, young, oftentimes poor women find themselves in the worst situations where they are sexually harassed and have no recourse. Let's hope this truly trickles down past Hollywood and becomes a catalyst for real change.”

That’s Kevin Bacon talking to Women’s Health magazine.  Kevin wisely watches real newscasts, and  has a grip on what the sexual harassment upheaval is really about — not actors — but real people, who have no stellar platform, or gilded guilt to assuage.

... WOW! That’s all I can say about the February 19th-March 4th issue of New York magazine. Page after page, article after article, it is overwhelming in content and quality. 

There is Jill Abramson’s cover story “The Case for Impeaching Clarence Thomas” (Nothing I have read regarding #MeToo and sexual harassment has stayed with me as this has) ... Andrew Sullivan’s knock-down, drag-out powerful piece “The Poison We Pick” about the devastating opioid epidemic ... William Brennan’s chilling “Worst Roomate Ever” (we’ve got a film here!) ... Jada Yuan and Hunter Harris exploring the intricacies of  writing, filming and promoting the Oscar-nominated thriller/race treatise, “Get Out.” 
I loved Katy Schneider’s look at living in turrets in and around New York ... Sarah Weinman’s interview with David Mamet. (When Mamet remarks that he hopes his new book, “Chicago” meets with “sufficient success,” Weinman asks what that entails. Mamet says, “It means anything other than ‘Well, why don’t you curse God and die!’”) Even the restaurant, TV and movie critiques seemed better than usual.

... THE Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair is generally something of a bore, and this year’s was no exception, mostly. (It was at least a blessing that there was only one Trump story in this issue — and it was really about Steve Bannon.  I did not read it.)  What I did read, with pleasure, was Sam Kashner’s terrific profile on the actor Eric Roberts. Once, Eric was the absolutely “next big thing” but shit happened and his career never quite coalesced as expected. (“King of the Gypsies,” “Mass Appeal, “Pope of Greenwich Village” “Star 80”). 
Eric Roberts in Santa Monica, California. Photograph by Sam Jones for Vanity Fair.
But Roberts — an actor I have always appreciated — has persevered admirably.  He is credited with — sit down — 487 film and TV appearances.  74 last year alone!  He does lots of Lifetime, Hallmark and straight to DVD — even music videos!  He has at least ten projects in post-production right now, including something titled “Frank and Ava” in which he plays Columbia Studios mogul Harry Cohn. This is a marvelous article. 

As far as I’m concerned Eric Roberts should have been on the VF cover — why another tiresome, grimly-lit, Annie Leibovitz group  shot: Oprah and Reese and Tom Hanks, Gal Gadot, DeNiro, Zendaya, etc.?  They don’t need any help. (Although the ghost of James Franco does — the courageous powers at VF cut him from the cover after he was accused of sexual harassment.)   Eric Roberts is only 61 and still looks great. Hollywood; get on the ball.
... SOMETIMES, flipping through magazines, I come across stories, or even brief items, that I imagine as the basis of a movie.  For weeks I’ve been meaning to mention Alex Perry’s terrific piece in the January 22nd issue of the New Yorker “Blood and Justice” a real-life tale of fed-up and frightened Mafia women in Calabria, Italy, who brought down the local mob.  The saga of these women — and zealous prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti — is a ready-made feature film. Everything is right there for a screen treatment.  
Grave slab, North Wales (Courtesy Howard Williams)
In other cases, almost nothing is there, which leaves imagination to run riot.  I was deep into the March/April issue of Archaeology magazine, and came across a short item about a fragment of a grave slab in North Wales for a 12th century abbot named Howell.  The striking aspect of this piece of stone was Howell’s image — he was carved wearing a wide smile, quite unlike art of that time — everybody tended to look very serious. (The Black Plague was such a buzzkill.)  Not too much is known about Howell, and I thought a good screenwriter could concoct something for this apparently cheery man of God. He could have been happy in his faith, or smiling for other, more cinematically exciting reasons — the naughty abbess down the road?  Perhaps I have too much imagination.

... IT seems to me that for some reason, owls are making a big comeback — or are a new, unique presence — in a variety of TV commercials. Owls are fascinating, beautiful creatures, and, seeing so many, I was moved to Google “Owls as pets.”  Not that I was seriously considering it — I have cats — but just curious.  Well, they don’t make good pets.  The details were grisly.  However, there were 36 million searches under that heading.  I bet it jumped recently, prompted, as I was, by all the cute TV owls.
... FINALLY, speaking of TV commercials, what is it with Maybelline’s “Matte Lipstick”?  I have never seen a less appealing beauty product.  The spot raves about how “daring and glamorous” those cakey lips are, but all I can think of is — ladies, if you want to look dead, like a zombie or as if you’ve just been rescued from weeks in the Sahara, use this!”  I suppose dry lips are better than an owl as a pet, but still.
ENDTHOUGHT: I know so many of you will be “shocked, shocked” to learn that I was a very poor student. I did not complete eighth grade. I was not simply sub-par scholastically; I was an annoyance and a trial to my teachers.  They all thought I was an “underachiever with potential.” 

Then they realized I was hopeless.  Their failure to motivate me was — to them — infuriating.  One teacher, Mr. Grant, was so appalled by my lack of interest, daydreaming, doodling, reading books in class that had nothing to do with learning (“The Carpetbaggers” by Harold Robbins, for example),  that he called my poor mother in for a special meeting.

“Mrs. Ferrara” he said, “your son is ... let me put it this way, I don’t know how he got into an above-average class.  But I am sorry to tell you (he wasn’t at all) that not only is Denis not above average, he is considerably below.”  Mr. Grant was triumphant, I was bored, and my mother was enraged — at him and me.

Soon after, in his class, doodling, daydreaming, and not-so-surreptitiously reading “The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem,” Mr. Grant called on me. I was beyond unprepared and rudely unconcerned.  “Why don’t you ever know anything?!” he barked with surprising fervor. “Because I’m below average,” I replied.  I guess enough was enough.  He picked up a book from his desk and flung it across the room — at me.  I ducked.  It hit the smart kid behind me.

I am very glad that Mr. Grant — an excellent teacher to those who wanted to learn — did not have a gun.
Contact Denis here.