Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The froth and folly of our life ...

Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde in “The Happy Prince."
"The Happy Prince" NOT a happy camper! Also: Maria Callas ... "Hamlet" at the Stonewall Inn ... What the well-dressed Capricorn is NOT wearing, and lovely reader mail.
by Denis Ferrara

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, May 1893.
“THE FROTH and folly of our life grew often very wearisome for me: it was only in the mire that we met: and fascinating, terribly fascinating though the one topic round which your talk invariably centered was, still at the end quite monotonous to me.  I was often bored to death by it, and I accepted it as I accepted your passion for going to music halls, or your mania for absurd extravagances in eating and drinking, or any of your less attractive characteristics, as a thing, that is to say, that one simply had to put up with, a part of the high price one paid for knowing you.” 

Oscar Wilde,
writing to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas — known famously as “Bosie” — in Wilde’s epic letter of reprimand, renunciation, regret and (eventual) renewal, “De Profundis.” 

This was  written from prison, where Wilde spent two years as a result of his passion for Bosie — and his refusal to flee England; preferring, encouraged by his lover, to fight charges of indecency brought by Lord Alfred Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensbury.
Everett wrote it, directed and stars as Wilde.
“De Profundis” is a remarkable testament — blazing with recrimination, self-pity, self-condemnation, forgiveness, love and a powerful return to a unique spirituality.  It seems the beginning of a new life, altered out of tragedy, but not without a different sense of self, an altered but perhaps greater genius. 

Alas, it was not to be.  Prison destroyed Oscar Wilde and it is the remnant of him that Rupert Everett has bravely put on screen in his new film, beautifully and bitterly titled “The Happy Prince” (one of Wilde’s eerily melancholy children’s stories.)

Last week The Cinema Society screened Rupert’s movie, which he has worked on for over a decade. (He wrote it, directed and stars as Wilde.) 

With considerable wisdom and some wit, Andrew Saffir, the Cinema Society man himself, opted to show the movie at the luxurious iPic Theater at the South Street Seaport.  There, one can drink, nosh, snuggle with lush comforters and cushions.  Indeed the first row of “seats” resemble lounging couches, suitable for an old Roman bacchanal.  There was something very Wildean, Dorian Gray-ish about it all — the kind of atmosphere Oscar himself would have loved at his height — and even at his depths, if he could scrounge the money. 
Everett with Lord Alfred Douglas played by Colin Morgan.
“The Happy Prince” tells the sordid, if not entirely unamusing saga of the famous writer’s last years, exiled from his homeland, separated from his wife and children, unable, unwilling to work. He is comforted by loving but frustrated old friends Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reginald Turner (Colin Firth).  And he is alternately still fascinated and ultimately betrayed and abandoned by the fiendishly self-involved Lord Alfred Douglas (played by the fiendishly attractive Colin Morgan.)  The great Emily Watson is also on hand, here and there, as Wilde’s long and deeply suffering wife, Constance.  She really has only a few scenes, but Watson is an actress of such depth, one misses her excessively when her brief scenes end.
Colin Firth as Reginald Turner.
Emily Watson as Wilde’s deeply suffering wife, Constance. 
Rupert Everett has appeared in two screen adaptations of Wilde plays — “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “An Ideal Husband.”  He also played Oscar onstage in “The Judas Kiss.”  Given his openness about his own sexuality — which he feels very much hampered his career as a leading man — Everett has always been attracted to Wilde’s story — rebel, martyr, victim, triumphant in death and legend. 
Rupert Everett and Colin Firth in the film adaptation of “The Importance of Being Earnest."
“The Happy Prince” is evocatively, richly photographed but Everett, for all his admiration of Wilde does not and cannot conceal the ruined writer’s sorry state of self pity, his self destructiveness, countered by his wit and rueful, often playful, self-awareness.

It’s not perfect.  Perhaps Everett took on too much by directing — there are issues of continuity and editing — but one can’t escape the haunted emotional power of the star’s performance; his willingness to go for broke.  And he is surrounded by actors, who even in the smallest roles, give themselves remarkably to the film.
If Rupert engenders Best Actor buzz, then the amazing Tom Wilkinson will certainly spark a Best Supporting campaign; he is amazing as a priest attempting to comfort the stricken Wilde — a Wilde who openly detests the wallpaper closing in on his deathbed, and who wonders suggestively, though weakly, if he has “one more mauve moment” left to him?  

He did not.  “The Happy Prince” left me unhappily pondering the inequities of gay life back in the day, worrying over signs and portents of what the future might hold, as well as the inevitable disaster of boyfriends who are much younger, blonder, extravagant and spend too much time in music-halls.
THERE WAS a party after at Mr. C. Seaport, attended by the likes of Michael Barker (co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, who spoke quite movingly at the screening about the dedication of Everett and all concerned to bring the picture to fruition), as well as Candice Bergen, Julianne Moore, Donna Karan, Dan Abrams, Scott Gorenstein, Princess Alexandra of Greece, Anna Wintour, Rupert, Colin Firth, Edwin Thomas, and a divine young man, the actor Cory Michael Smith. He’s been The Riddler on Fox’s “Gotham” for the past five seasons, is in Damien Chazelle’s alternately intense and dreamy moon movie, “First Man” with Ryan Gosling and he will soon be seen in “1985” a movie he also executive produced. It is set in the early years of the AIDS crisis.  It will open the NewFest LGBT Film Festival on October 24th.
Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, and Michael Barker.
Candice Bergen.
Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, and Anna Wintour.
Edwin Thomas, Anna Wintour, and Hamish Bowles.
Cory Michael Smith.
Oh, Huma Abedin was also there, wearing a “November is Coming” tee-shirt.   Not wishing to have another Seth Meyers moment, I wisely downed my Wilde cocktail (Sipsmith London Dry Gin) and left without giving her anything from my personal peanut gallery.  Andrew Saffir was most grateful.
Huma Abedin, Rory Tahari, and Dan Abrams.
P.S.  I have pulled out my well worn, shamefully marked up copy of “The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.”  I read “Importance of Being Earnest” last night, and found myself laughing aloud, just as I did the first time I read it, at age 12, with my cousin Stephen, late at night, both of us shrieking with amusement, much to the displeasure of my uncle, Louis, who also did not appreciate our doting upon the art of Aubrey Beardsley. 
Enter Herodias. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA, Graphic Arts Council Fund (M.73.49)
THIS ‘N THAT:

THINGS
I’m looking forward to:  First time director Tom Volf has worked five years on “Maria by Callas,” which is already being described as a “definitive” look at the great (the greatest?) opera diva, ever. The film includes never before seen or heard material from the singer/actress.  The movie opens here and in L.A. on November 2nd. 
I never had the opportunity to experience Callas onstage, but I became fascinated with her after seeing director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s movie “Medea” in 1969. I knew her name and celebrity status and as a huge student of Greek and Roman mythology, the movie interested me.  I loved it, although the adult friend who accompanied me found it “pretentious” and mourned Maria’s decline into feature films.

I then went to the library and sourced all I could about Callas (ah, the good old days before the internet — you had to get out of the house to do research!)  So, I knew of her great career and many dramas.  The same friend who took me to “Medea” promised me a year later to get me in to see Callas at her now legendary series of master classes at Julliard. (The basis of the famous Terrence McNally play, “Master Class.”)   But by then my friend had tired of me.  I wasn’t quite dumb enough, or — honestly — attractive enough for him.  Somebody with much better abs went to see Maria give a class or two.
Maria Callas, Medea, 1959
... SOMETHING else upcoming: “Hamlet Macabre Cabaret.”  This is described as a “modern, sexually charged retelling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”  Our new Hamlet — who delivers somewhat abbreviated and restructured text — is a bi-polar melancholy Dane, who grapples with depression, drugs and sexual identity.  The mood of the play is enhanced by the original compositions of composer John Dowland (1563-1626).    He gave his English Renaissance audiences such cheery odes as “Flow, my Tears”…”I Saw my Lady Weepe”…”In Darkness, Let Me Dwell,” and “Come, Heavy Sleep.”  This unusual production is directed by Sheila Morgan, features Alec Seymour, Jordan Louis Fischer, Kate McGarrigle, Alexandra Cremer, Glenn Stoops and Mike Durell.  It runs from October 22nd till November 1st, upstairs at the legendary Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher Street). Call 646-479-9167.
... I WAS at a bar the other afternoon (after the shock of seeing my new passport photo).  The Sirius XM Sinatra channel was on, playing a fascinating Sinatra recording session I was not familiar with — a lot stops and starts and SF talking with the band, producers, etc.  This aired during Nancy Sinatra’s weekly show devoted to her dad’s great work.  I am always impressed by how thoughtful she is, the unbelievable care and real knowledge she brings.  It’s not just ‘He’s my dad and he’s great.”  She knows music, she has taste.  I love Nancy.
... FINALLY. I received an email that announced: “Find out The One Thing that Stresses You Out The Most, based on Your Zodiac Sign.”  I had to read this because the whole zodiac thing has always amused me a great deal. 

I’m a Capricorn (Jan. 7)  and believe me, nothing about that sign corresponds with the real me — I’m not disciplined, motivated, organized, stable, a planner, a strategist, ambitious. 

Anyway, here, according to this article is what stresses me out the most:  “Lack of a Dress Code.” I kid you not. (I can hear the raucous laughter of my friend, the eternally well-dressed Scott Gorenstein snickering the way from Jersey City!)  I quote:

“Capricorns like a clear set of standards so they can meet them and look good while doing it. It’s what they do. Without guidelines, how will everyone else be able to tell they nailed it? [Note: They always nail it.]”  Sartorially challenged to the max, I am obviously not looking to the heavens for advice on anything.
MAIL: Last week’s review here of “A Star is Born” resulted in a wide swath of responses.  Most chimed in with “That was pretty even handed!” (This from readers who have both already seen the movie, and those who intend to.  My critique did not dissuade anybody from laying down their hard-earned money to watch Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper suffer. Which is good; I didn’t intend to discourage anybody.)  But of course, my favorite mail is always the most negative.  

One person chimed in anonymously: “The only thing worse than ‘A Star is Born’ is your pissy review of it!”
From a lady sadly signing herself Marilyn (you all know my fondness for that name!) came this: “Your take on ‘A Star is Born’ is another example of your chronically overbearing cynicism. You have turned into a negative, boring individual who lives in the past.”

Of course I’ll tend to agree with Marilyn that I am a bore. And I admit to a fair amount of cynicism. Life does that, and life today demands it.  However, I’m always up for a good sentimental wallow.  But as for living in the past — especially in regards to “A Star is Born” — I must hedge a bit.  I was very excited about seeing the movie.  Didn’t love it,   but I certainly didn’t hate it, praised Gaga and Cooper — and the dog! — and even suggested new ideas for a 2038 version.  I’d say I’m actually living very much in the present and even the future.  I might have accepted this rap if I’d declared: “Oh, please, nobody will ever do it was well as our dear Judy!”  Or, if I was hallucinating: “Nothing can top Barbra’s version!” 
Also, one of my smart readers reminded me of something I’ve often thought about, and wanted to add to any future remake of “ASIB.”  Aside from perhaps lessening up the mutual victimization by both characters, how about switching genders?  Reader Toby W. suggested: “The troubled, fading lady star scooping up a talented young boy. If they were to have gender-flipped it today and wanted the script to veer rock & roll, we present: Courtney Love and Harry Styles. If that age gap of 30-some odd years is too wide, and you want to go pop, there is: Beyonce and Harry Styles.”  (Obviously Toby W. likes Harry Styles.  I commend Toby’s good taste.)

And nope, Beyonce is really not too young to play a “fading” star.  She’s 37.  Bradley Cooper is only 43.   This brings up the diversity issue as well.  One would think that in a 2018 version of “ASIB” one of the two protagonists might have been a person of color?

Well, it’s too late now, unless Netflix or Hulu wants to give “ASIB” another pop within a year or so?  Even living in the past, I’m all for it. 

Photographs by Paul Bruinooge/PMC (Cinema Society)

Contact Denis here.