Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: Remembering the Greats ...

Here I am, dancing with Oscar. First, he led me. Then, he insisted I lead him. It was all in good humor — a birthday celebration sometime ago in the original Le Cirque for Barbara Walters where only men were invited. And I had slipped in, dressed as a waiter. Oscar's kind of joke on propriety.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
by Liz Smith

Remembering the Great Oscar de la Renta ... HBO's "Mr. Dynamite" Lights Up The Genius of James Brown ... The Brilliant "Nostalgia" of Annie Lennox.


"I POSTPONE death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by losing ... " wrote Anais Nin.

Oscar and Annette.
A great friend Oscar de la Renta,practically the king of the fashion world, left us this week. I had known Oscar since the days he started out at Elizabeth Arden. He was always laughing, joking, in for the inside story and — so talented. Everywoman hoped to dance with Oscar and have him looking down, smiling, because then you knew you were the cynosure of all eyes.

And, no matter how good or bad you were dancing — he made you look good, even when you were wearing another designer's clothes. In his time, Oscar climbed the fashion and celebrity and social heights. He had the good sense to marry two incredible women and he made both of them very happy. He left a thriving booming business behind.

The world will miss him!
RAN into Sergio Kletnoy, writer for Elle and Cosmopolitan at the HBO screening of the Mick Jagger-produced James Brown documentary “Mr. Dynamite.” (More on that later.)

Sergio enjoyed the movie, but he was still in an Annie Lennox induced trance, having sat with the legendary singer for about two hours. She is promoting her new, acclaimed CD, “Nostalgia.”
The amazing Annie Lennox and an enraptured Sergio Kletnoy.
Sergio said, “I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but she is so remarkably, amazingly eloquent. You ask her a question and she gives you five different interpretative answers. All brilliant. On at least two occasions, I actually lost track of my original question! Transcribing this is going to be an effort — a really satisfying effort.”

Sergio has sat, or at least stood, with every major music star of the past decade or so, including Madonna and Cher. (He recalls the latter quite clearly as he was knocked to the ground when another overzealous journalist greeted Cher with a sweeping embrace that caught Sergio — a former professional dancer — quite off-guard. Cher was solicitous of Sergio after he got to his feet.)

As for the album, it consists, as the title suggests, of ravishing Lennox covers of such classics as “Strange Fruit” ... I Put a Spell on You” ... ”Mood Indigo” ... I Can Dream, Can’t I?” ... ”Memphis in June.” How did the Scottish-born Lennox, who found fame as the lead singer of the Eurythmics, arrive at such a distinctly American, soulful selection?

Annie told Sergio: “Actually, I was a bit stuck, so I went to YouTube and looked up a lot of songs from the '20s and '30s and '40s, and found things I liked. It was a great tool.”

Be on the lookout for Sergio’s full interview with Ms. Lennox in Elle.
NOW FOR “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” which screened at the Time Warner Center. Directed by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney and produced by Mick Jagger (released through his Jagged Films company) the documentary traces James Brown's life from his wretched childhood to his climb to fame. It is, indeed, dynamite. But it is dynamite with a long fuse, and perhaps some judicious editing wouldn’t harm this excellent work.
James Brown and Mick Jagger.
However, real music mavens will adore this film, which digs especially deep into the formation of the James Brown “sound,” the unique style imitated by everyone from Jagger to Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake. “Mr. Dynamite” is packed with riveting film clips of Brown performing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, the Olympia in Paris, the Ed Sullivan Show (“You are a great star!” a stunned Sullivan told Brown after his set.)
James Brown on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Also shown — the legendary T.A.M.I Show out of London, where Mick Jagger, after watching Brown, shamelessly “stole everything I could.” (Jagger’s own, and quite amusing words, on film.)

We get some sense of Brown, as much perhaps as anyone could. He was a basically isolated man, driven by his work and his desire to lift himself up, become famous and rich — independent. It was this “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality that attracted him to controversially support Richard Nixon. Later, Brown would feel betrayed by the president. Luckily, he never heard Nixon on tape, complaining about, “No more black people!” when he was about to meet with Brown. (This moment drew gasps from the audience.)
At the screening: Fred Wesley, Victoria Pearman, Alex Gibney, Martha High, Peter Afterman, Michael Veal, and Blair Foster.
The singer’s frank capitalism and business sense was certainly an inspiration for today’s African-American moguls, such as Sean Combs and Kanye West, though neither have his talent, by a long run.

“Mr. Dynamite” will probably play better on the small screen. There was considerable restlessness among some in the audience. But those who loved it, loved it, breaking into rapturous applause as the credits rolled. (Actually, applause erupted several times during the movie, so powerful were the clips of James performing. Especially the classic, “Please, Please, Please!” This always ended with an apparently exhausted Brown being draped with a cape and tentatively led off stage, only to have him “revive” and go into another stanza of desperate, love-sick, sex-starved begging.)

Later, at the Park Café, down-home Southern food was served and celebs such as HBO’s Sheila Nevins (who was most amusing in her opening remarks), Pat Cleveland, Amy Sacco, Roger Friedman, Linda Yellen, Fern Mallis, George Wayne, Drew Nieporent and Andrew Saffir of Cinema Society mingled. Also, a number of James Brown’s musicians and singers from the great era of “James Brown and his Famous Flames” were there.

Mr. Dynamite debuts on HBO October 27th.

Contact Liz Smith here.