Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: Zombies ... Sophia Loren ... The Civil War ... Ava Gardner ... Seth Sikes

Ava Gardner in "The Killers." Criterion DVD has recently relased a high-definition digital restoration of the 1946 film.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
by Liz Smith

Zombies ... Sophia Loren ... The Civil War ... Too Much Blu-Ray Detail! ... Ava Gardner ... Seth Sikes.

Sophia — Fabulous, but not for "Dynasty."
“I WONDER if Sophia Loren ever regretted turning down the role?” That’s one of my readers, Barry Ross Parnell, reacting to our little tribute to Joan Collins and “Dynasty” the other day.

Miss Loren, was first choice to play Alexis, but the $ wasn’t up in her league. Eh, some things are meant to be. Fabulous as Sophia is, she never could have conveyed what Joan did in that series.

As Vivien Leigh was born to play Scarlett ... Monroe Lorelei Lee ... Elizabeth Taylor Maggie the Cat, so Joan Collins was meant for Alexis.

Sophia did receive an honorary Oscar in 1991 in TO COME, which she really didn’t deserve. Certainly not in the face of the Academy refusing to award Doris Day. Miss Day was a far greater asset to Hollywood than Loren ever was.
THE ZOMBIE genre continues apace. Like vampires, the plots never seem to run out of gas. The latest is titled “Maggie” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joely Richardson and Abigail Breslin as the title character (she’s been infected, but stalwart daddy Ah-nald refuses to give up hope.) This one is said to be more “personal and emotional” despite the apocalyptic surroundings.

Schwarzenegger and company, including director Henry Hobson will be on hand Wednesday night in Manhattan for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin in "Maggie."
I OFTEN comment that the horrible American Civil War was never really “won.” Both sides, North and South, remained extremely antagonistic, in the long aftermath — the false “Reconstruction” and later, stretching all the way to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s and even today. The country was split, politically, spiritually, economically. So it was, so it remains.

In September, TV viewers will have the opportunity to re-visit and reassess the “glorious cause.” PBS will present a beautifully upgraded, High-definition version of Ken Burns’ 1990 masterpiece “The Civil War.” (Ken says, “The show has never been seen with such clarity.”) At the time of its original airing, the program attracted an audience of over 30 million. This stands as a PBS record.

“The Civil War” will be broadcast over five nights, beginning Sept 7th. I urge every American, in every part of the country and of every political stripe to watch this masterpiece. You might learn something.
SPEAKING of high-definition TV and the Blu-Ray restorative process, I had a chat with a movie-loving friend of mine who says, “I’ve given up on Blu-Ray. I don’t mind an old film being ‘cleaned up’ but the hyper clarity of Blu-Ray simply cannot be what most filmmakers intended. I don’t want to see every freckle and pore. I don’t want my illusions shattered when the make-up looks like make-up — you can just about see the blending. I don’t want the backgrounds so crisp I’m distracted away from the action in the foreground.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard this complaint. And if you’ve ever watched an awards show on an HD television set, glamour takes a back seat to pores the size of sinkholes.
"That's close enough!"
Ava in "The Killers." Men died for her. And why not?
IF YOU long for that old-fashioned, often black-and-white glamour that enshrined so many movie goddesses, check out the new Criterion DVD release of “The Killers.” This 1946 crime noir, based on a Hemingway short story, stars young Burt Lancaster as a gambling man who gambles too much on Ava Gardner, in the role that propelled her to stardom. Lancaster, too, rose quickly after this.

Ava, who’d been hanging around Hollywood for a few years, playing bit parts and marrying Mickey Rooney, took full advantage of her femme fatale role, lounging against pianos, singing (in her own soft, sultry voice) “The More I Know Love” and betraying men left and right. She is crazy-making beautiful and the soft, sensual photography complements her looks and the nature of her character.

Give me this semi-fantasy, rather than close-ups that reveal nostril hair!
Judy, 1963.
I TOLD you recently about a young man, Seth Sikes, who has appeared at the NYC nightspot 54 Below, singing the songs of Judy Garland. I was assured it wasn’t some campy evening of drag, nor did Seth attempt to “channel” Judy in any way. He just ... sang.

So I went off to see him last week and couldn’t have been more charmed. He’s young and handsome and enthusiastic. He doesn’t look Judy-ish (he’s blonde, for one thing) and he doesn’t try to duplicate her sound. He tells his tales of being attracted by early MGM musicals, Judy, and later overwhelmed by the lady alone onstage, at Carnegie Hall.

Sikes has boundless energy and a true, strong voice, with just the right amount of throb and drive and melancholy, depending on the number. But not too much. He never, ever veers into caricature. He wrote a good deal of the beautifully melded patter and links between the songs.

The place was packed, and one of the audience members was John Meyer, the songwriter who composed some of Garland’s better songs toward the end of her life. (Garland would announce, wryly “I’m going to sing a new song ... and I haven’t learned a new song, since ...” and she’d name some obscure vaudeville number.)

Meyer’s songs were good, and were well within Garland’s limited range at the time. Seth sang John’s “It’s All For You.” And it was.

Sikes is expected back at Below 54 sooner rather than later.
Seth Sikes belts out "Come Rain or Come Shine."

Contact Liz Smith here.