Friday, June 1, 2018

Working on the foundation

“WHY WAS I not made of stone — like thee?” 
Idris Elba’s “Hunchback.” Also — The Demon Barber Closes Shop ... ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Connecticut ... ”Patrick Melrose” ... ”McMafia” ... Marilyn.
by Denis Ferrara

“WHY WAS I not made of stone — like thee?” 

Those are Charles Laughton’s last, heartbreaking lines in the 1939 classic film, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  (With ravishing Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda, the gypsy girl he saves and loves, hopelessly.) 

Based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, the tale has been re-imagined endlessly.
Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, protecting his beloved gypsy Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara).
For the screen, at least 11 times: including a silent film in 1905 ... on to the 1923 Lon Chaney vehicle ... the Laughton/O’Hara version ... the over-color-saturated (but more Hugo-accurate) Anthony Quinn/Gina Lollobrigida effort in 1956 and Disney’s 1996 animated version.  Also — five television movies or miniseries (Anthony Hopkins was Quasimodo in a 1982 TV “Hunchback’) and a dozen operas! 

Whew!  But the story still has another life. Britain’s brilliant and smoking hot Idris Elba is looking to star in, direct, produce and compose the music for a “modern retelling” of  Quasimodo’s tale of heroics and unrequited love, for Netflix.
How this will work out, I can’t say.  It is unlikely to be a comedy in the manner of “Cyrano de Bergerac” which eventually became Steve Martin’s “Roxanne.”  And, hey, Quasi doesn’t have to be hideously disfigured. Perhaps Idris will simply be the victim of extreme social anxiety, Esmeralda a party girl, and “sanctuary” Mr. Elba’s apartment or cabin in the woods.  (Hmmm ... maybe that’s getting too close to your typical kidnap-and-terrorize-the-lovely lady horror flick.)   

Hugo’s story was set against political machinations and prejudice toward the gypsy community.  A 21st century “Hunchback” might call on aspects of worldwide immigration policies and the plight of immigrants seeking safe harbor — sanctuary — far away from their war-torn homes?   I know it’s heavy handed — just a suggestion. Geez! 

However the old story is handled, I’m in, because I’m always in for Idris Elba.  Later this year we’ll see the fifth (and I think final) season of the “Luther” series, and he has another British TV series coming, a comedy titled “Turn Up Charlie.”  (We love him as Heimdal in the “Thor” movies, too.)

And yes, there’s still talk he might don a tux someday and become the first African American James Bond.  The last time Idris contemplated all that, he said among other things that he’s “too old.”  Well, he’s only 45.  Daniel Craig, who was lured back from slashing his wrists before ever doing another Bond movie with a record-breaking salary, is 50, and filming doesn’t begin until December. 

I’d advise Barbara Broccoli, who controls the Bond franchise, and is determined to stick to Ian Fleming’s Anglo 007, to perhaps take a look at the box-office receipts for “Black Panther” — the third highest grossing film ever in the U.S. and the ninth most profitable of all time.  As Cyndi Lauper sang, money changes everything. 
THIS ‘N THAT:  There is still time to catch the dazzling Off-Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”  The classic Stephen Sondheim musical opened at the Barrow Street Theater in February of last year.  It closes on August 26th.  There will be other revivals of “Sweeney Todd” but the rather sad news that accompanies the closing of this one is that it marks Barrow Street Theater’s final production at Greenwich House, where is has resided for 14 years. Too bad.  I’ve seen some wonderful shows there, including “Every Brilliant Thing” back in 2014 and more recently “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.” It’s a terrific space and will be missed.  For tickets visit
... DO you like Shakespeare?  Do you admire the styles and atmosphere of Jane Austen’s novels?  Well then, prepare for director Claire Shannon Kelly’s coming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  The Bard’s tale of fairies, love potions and donkey-headed actors will be set in Austen’s Regency period, with formal drawing rooms, carefully manicured English gardens, and Empire gowns.  The show is part of the annual “Shakespeare on the Sound” festival, which happens at Pinkney Park in Norwalk, CT.   Previews begin on June 14th and the show will run through July 1st.  For tickets visit   
... I ALMOST didn’t watch HBO’s “Patrick Melrose” starring Benedict Cumberbatch because I’d so hated his recent PBS TV movie “A Child in Time” — wretched, jumbled and pointless beyond redemption.  It made me furious.  But I gave in to “PM” and, of course, Cumberbatch is brilliant.  It is one of those performances so unrelentingly intense that you have to wonder how the actor survived. I hope Doctor Strange is clearing a space on his bookshelf for another Emmy. (He took a statuette in 2014 for “Sherlock.”)
... GOOD news for fans of James Norton and the BBC’s “McMafia” series (which airs over here on AMC).  It has been picked up for a second season.  I came to it late, caught up — thank you On Demand! — and now I’m obsessed.  It’s my new “The Americans.”  (On Monday, I will be recovered enough from the series finale to address it all here.)
... APOLOGIES to fans of the late singer/actress Patricia Morison. I reminisced last week about Morison — who died on May 20th — and about “Kiss Me, Kate” — how much the original cast recording of the show influenced and affected me as a child.  But, I misspelled her last name, putting in two R’s.  Several of the lady’s friends wrote in. One, very politely.  Two others, not so much.  When I responded to the two gentlemen who knew Morison well, attempting to apologize, they wrote back even more severely — “blame everything and everyone but yourself!” or words to that effect.  And here, I believed Shakespeare’s quote from “Taming of the Shrew” — “The poorest service is repaid with thanks.”
ENDQUOTE # 1: “News celibacy is real.  Everyone knows that if you don’t set limits, you’ll find yourself distracted by alert notifications, or looking up the history of Qatar, or wondering if the name Avenatti appears anywhere in Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.’”    That’s ZZ Packer, writing in the Sunday New York Times magazine. 

Photo illustration by Derek Brahney
His article, “Boiling Over” tackles the morphing and excesses of “outrage” in our current climate — everybody is always “outraged” about something.  Incidents that might have once been irritating, unpleasant “incredible or surprising” (in Packer’s words) are now an absolute outrage, tweeted, re-tweeted, reported with exhausting vigor via cable news.

The incessant need for everybody to be outraged 24/7, is not only often pointless, it also lessens the impact of those times — which over the past year have been plentiful — that we SHOULD be outraged.  The danger posed is too much outrage leading to burnout, just when we need all our energy.  

Packer writes: “It’s true that when an outraged moral stance becomes more of a moral selfie, it can become ripe for satirizing ... But the word still pinpoints that which transgresses human decency. We have a ready answer to the question ‘Who deserves justice?’: Everybody. But who deserves relief from injustice is the question we haven’t been able to answer with anything but our outrage.”
ENDQUOTE # 2:  “I used to think the best way to find myself as a person was to prove that I am an actress.  But there has been a slight alteration with time.  I am trying to prove to myself that I am a person.  Then maybe I’ll convince myself I am an actress.  My work is the only ground I’ve had to stand on. To put it bluntly, I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation. But I’m working on the foundation.”

That was Marilyn Monroe, talking to Redbook magazine’s Alan Levy in the summer of 1962. By the time this issue of Redbook was on newsstands, Marilyn was dead. (She died in the early hours of August 4th.) 

I’ve always liked this quote, which encompasses Marilyn’s personal ambivalence and insecurity, along with a strong realistic sense that her career was in jeopardy — a “superstructure with no foundation.”  

She knew that the dazzling image she created had made her a great star — “one of the greatest in Hollywood’s history” as the New York Times stated in her obituary. But that image — so delicious, so ripe, so disconnected from reality — even movie reality! — had no place to grow and change as the actress herself matured. (She was 36 at the time of her death, and the press was already asking, “What Will Marilyn Do Now That She is Middle-Aged?”)

Had Marilyn lived, today would have been her 92nd birthday.
Marilyn, July 1962.  A few weeks later “one of the most famous stars in Hollywood’s history” would be gone.
Contact Denis here.