Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today we compact the 1971 film version of Jacqueline Susann's trash classic THE LOVE MACHINE

The indescribably tacky Moss Mabry fashion show that opens this movie version of Jacqueline Susann’s novel will have you laughing so hard, you’re bound to miss the first fifteen minutes of the plot. Thoughtfully, the filmmakers include a recap: In John Phillip Law’s penthouse, model Jodi Wexler shows the front page
of Variety to her caged bird, saying, “Look Chipper, after just six weeks with us, we’ve taken him from a lowly newscaster and made him President of IBC News.”

While Dionne Warwick sings “Your dreams will fade, and so will you” on the soundtrack, Law cheats on Wexler with every starlet who passes by, even as he fights programmer Jackie Cooper to improve the quality of TV. Cooper, standing in, no doubt, for talent-free novelist Jacqueline Susann as well as for the moviemakers, claims proudly, “When it comes to schlock, I’m a genius!”

It’s not Law’s notions of Hamlet that get him ahead, but his skills in the sack: while bedding Dyan Cannon, the wife of his boss Robert Ryan, the latter conveniently collapses from a heart attack (we suspect that he was watching the dailies), so Cannon names Law as his replacement. The envious Cooper remarks, “You’ve come a long way from the six o’clock news.” “That’s right,” Law says, “I’m in your field now — I’m a connoisseur of crap.” (Aren’t we all?)

There’s a price to pay, natch. When Law’s too busy for Wexler, she commits suicide. Law would be heartbroken, if only he could register any emotion on his immobile face. Since he can’t, he walks down to Times Square and hires a big, big hooker (Eve Bruce, listed in the credits as “Amazon Woman”!). When she calls him “a closet queen,” Law beats her senseless and hightails it to (believe it or not!) the pad of David Hemmings, the photographer who loves him. In exchange for giving him an alibi, Law agrees to buy Hemmings “a gold slave bracelet”inscribed anyway he likes. (And you thought it was easy being a love machine, didn’t you? The problems never end.)

When Cannon finds Law enjoying two naked babes in the shower, she sets fire to his bed. Realizing that she could torch his career, too, Law escorts Cannon to a party and then . . . blatantly ignores her. Why? Probably so that the outraged Cannon will steal Hemmings’s slave bracelet — to use as blackmail and stuff it down her bra. This leads to the movie’s crazed climax, a crockery-throwing, hand-biting, face-slapping melee over the buffet table, but three grown men — Law, Hemmings, and his actor boyfriend — are no match for Cannon. When Hemmings pulls her hair and Cannon cracks him over the head with an Oscar, it’s the closest anyone associated with The Love Machine ever got to such a statuette.

DELICIOUS REMEMBERS: Tony Curtis, Hollywood Leading Man, Dies at 85

by Dave Keher, AP

Tony Curtis, a classically handsome movie star who earned an Oscar nomination as an escaped convict in Stanley Kramer’s 1958 movie The Defiant Ones, but whose public preferred him in comic roles in films like Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Great Race (1965), died Wednesday of cardiac arrest in his Las Vegas area home. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by the Clark County coroner, The Associated Press reported.

As a performer, Mr Curtis drew first and foremost on his startlingly good looks. With his dark curly hair, worn in a sculptural style later imitated by Elvis Presley, and plucked eyebrows framing pale blue eyes and wide, full lips, Mr. Curtis embodied a new kind of feminized male beauty that came into vogue in the early 1950s. A vigorous heterosexual in his widely publicized (not least by himself) private life, he was often cast in roles that drew on a perceived ambiguity: his full-drag impersonation of a female jazz musician in “Some Like It Hot”; a slave who attracts the interest of a Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) in Stanley Kubrick’s
Spartacus (1960), a man attracted to a mysterious blond (Debbie Reynolds) who turns out to be the reincarnation of his male best friend in Vincente Minnelli’s Goodbye Charlie (1964).

But behind the pretty-boy looks could be found a dramatically potent combination of naked ambition and deep vulnerability, both likely products of his Dickensian childhood in the Bronx. Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, to Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Emanuel operated a tailor shop in a poor neighborhood, and the family occupied cramped quarters behind the store, the parents in one room and little Bernard sharing another with his two brothers, Julius and Robert. Helen Schwartz suffered from schizophrenia and frequently beat the three boys. (Robert was later found to have the same disease.)

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his parents found they could not properly provide for their children, and Bernard and Julius were placed in a state institution. Returning to his old neighborhood, Bernard frequently found himself caught up in gang warfare and the target of anti-Semitic hostility; as he recalled in many interviews, he learned to dodge the stones and fists to protect his face, which he realized even then would be his ticket to greater things. In 1938, Julius Schwartz was hit by a truck and killed.

In search of stability, Bernard made his way to Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side. During World War II he served in the Navy aboard the submarine tender U.S.S. Proteus. His ship was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, which Signalman Schwartz watched through a pair of binoculars. “That was one of the great moments in my life,” he later wrote.

Back in New York, he enrolled in acting classes in the workshop headed by Erwin Piscator at the New School for Social Research, where one of his colleagues was another Seward alumnus, Walter Matthau. He began getting work with theater companies in the Catskills and caught the eye of the New York casting agent Joyce Selznick, who helped him win a contract with Universal Pictures in 1948. After experimenting with James Curtis, he settled on Anthony Curtis as his stage name and began turning up in bit parts in films like Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross (1949), Arthur Lubin’s Francis (1950) and Anthony Mann’s Winchester ‘73, alonside another Universal bit player, Rock Hudson.

At first, Mr. Curtis’s career advanced more rapidly than Hudson’s. He was promoted to supporting player, billed as Tony Curtis for the first time, in the 1950 western Kansas Raiders — and became, he recalled, first prize in a Universal promotional contest, “Win a Weekend With Tony Curtis.” With his next film, the Technicolor Arabian Nights adventure The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), he received top billing. His co-star was Piper Laurie, another offspring of Jewish immigrants (born Rosetta Jacobs), with whom he was paired in three subsequent films at Universal, including Douglas Sirk’s No Room for the Groom, a 1952 comedy that allowed Mr. Curtis to explore his comic gifts for the first time.

In 1951, Mr. Curtis married the ravishing MGM contract player Janet Leigh, whose beauty rivaled his own. The highly photogenic couple soon became a favorite of the fan magazines, and their first movie together, George Marshall’s Houdini (1953), was also Mr. Curtis’s first substantial hit. Perhaps the character of Houdini — like Mr. Curtis, a handsome young man of Hungarian-Jewish ancestry who reinvented himself through show business — touched something in Mr. Curtis; in any case, it was in that film that his most consistent screen personality, the eager young outsider who draws on his charm and wiles to achieve success in the American mainstream, was born.

Mr. Curtis endured several more Universal costume pictures, including the infamous 1954 film The Black Shield of Falworth, in which he co-starred with Ms. Leigh but did not utter the line, “Yondah lies da castle of my foddah,” that legend has attributed to him. His career seemed stalled until Burt Lancaster another actor who survived a difficult childhood in New York City, took him under his wing.

Mr. Lancaster cast Mr. Curtis as his protégé, a circus performer who becomes his romantic rival, in his company’s 1956 production Trapeze. But it was Mr. Curtis’s next co-starring appearance with Mr. Lancaster — as the hustling Broadway press agent Sidney Falco, desperately eager to ingratiate himself with Mr. Lancaster’s sadistic Broadway columnist J. J. Hunsecker in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) — that proved Mr. Curtis could be an actor of genuine power and subtlety.

The late ’50s and early ’60s proved to be Mr. Curtis’s heyday. Taking his career into his own hands, he formed a production company, Curtleigh Productions, and in partnership with Kirk Douglas assembled the 1958 independent feature The Vikings — a rousing adventure film, directed by Richard Fleischer, that has become an enduring favorite. Later in 1958, the producer-director Stanley Kramer cast Mr. Curtis in The Defiant Ones, as a prisoner who escapes from a Southern chain gang while chained to a fellow convict, who happens to be black (Sidney Poitier). The film may seem schematic and simplistic today, but at the time of its release it spoke with hope to a nation in the violent first stages of the civil rights movement and was rewarded with nine Oscar nominations, including one for Mr. Curtis as best actor. It was the only acknowledgment he received from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his career.

Mr. Curtis began a creatively rewarding relationship with the director Blake Edwards with a semi-autobiographical role as a young hustler working a Wisconsin resort in Mister Corey (1957), which followed by two hugely successful 1959 military comedies: The Perfect Furlough and Operation Petticoat, in which he played a submarine officer serving under a captain played by Cary Grant. Under Billy Wilder’s direction in Some Like It Hot, another 1959 release, Mr. Curtis employed a spot-on imitation of Grant’s mid-Atlantic accent when his character, posing as an oil heir, attempts to seduce a voluptuous singer (Marilyn Monroe). His role in that film — as a Chicago musician who, with his best friend (Jack Lemmon), witnesses the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flees to Florida in women’s clothing as a member of an all-girl dance band — remains Mr. Curtis’s best-known performance.

Success in comedy kindled Mr. Curtis’s ambitions as a dramatic actor. He appeared in Mr. Douglas’s epic production of Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and reached unsuccessfully for another Oscar nomination in The Outsider (1961), directed by Delbert Mann, as Ira Hayes, a Native American who helped to raise the flag at Iwo Jima. In The Great Imposter, directed by Robert Mulligan, he played a role closer to his established screen personality: an ambitious young man from the wrong side of the tracks who fakes his way through a series of professions, including a monk, a prison warden and a surgeon.

Mr. Curtis’s popularity was damaged by his divorce from Ms. Leigh in 1962, following an affair with the 17-year-old German actress Christine Kaufmann, who was his co-star in the costume epic Taras Bulba. He retreated into comedies, playing out his long association with Universal in a series of undistinguished efforts including 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), Captain Newman M.D. (1963) and the disastrous Wild and Wonderful (1964), in which he co-starred with Ms. Kaufmann, whom he married in 1963. In The Great Race, Blake Edwards’s 1965 celebration of slapstick comedy, Mr. Curtis parodied himself as an impossibly handsome daredevil named the Great Leslie, and in 1967 he reunited with Alexander Mackendrick, the director of Sweet Smell of Success, for an enjoyable satire on California mores, Don’t Make Waves.

Mr. Curtis made one final, ambitious attempt to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor with The Boston Strangler in 1968, putting on weight to play the suspected serial killer Albert DeSalvo. Again under Richard Fleischer’s direction, he turned in an effective, rigorously de-glamorized performance, but the film was dismissed as exploitative in many quarters (“An incredible collapse of taste, judgment, decency, prose, insight, journalism and movie technique,” Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times), and failed to reignite Mr. Curtis’s fading career. He divorced Ms. Kaufmann and married a 23-year-old model, Leslie Allen, that same year.

After two unsuccessful efforts to establish himself in series television, The Persuaders (1971-72) and McCoy (1975-76), Mr. Curtis found himself in a seemingly endless series of guest appearances on television (he had a recurring role on “Vegas” from 1978 to 1981) and supporting performances in ever more unfortunate movies, including Mae West’s excruciating 1978 comeback attempt, Sextette. A stay at the Betty Ford Center followed his 1982 divorce from Ms. Allen, but Mr. Curtis never lost his work ethic. He continued to appear regularly in low-budget movies (he played a movie mogul in the spoof Lobster Man from Mars, (1989) and and occasionally in independent films of quality (Nicholas Roeg’s 1985 Insignificance opposite Theresa Russell as a Monroe-like actress). He took up painting, selling his boldly signed Matisse-influenced canvases through galleries and department stores.

After divorcing Ms. Allen, Mr. Curtis was married to the actress Andrea Savio (1984-92) and, briefly, to the lawyer Lisa Deutsch (1993-94). He married his sixth wife, the horse trainer Jill Vandenberg, in 1998, and with her operated Shiloh Horse Rescue, a nonprofit refuge for abused and neglected horses, in Sandy Valley, Nev.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Curtis is survived by Kelly Lee Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis, his two daughters with Janet Leigh; Alexandra Curtis and Allegra Curtis, his two daughters with Christine Kaufmann; and a son, Benjamin Curtis, with Leslie Allen. A second son with Ms. Allen, Nicholas Curtis, died in 1994 of a drug overdose.

He published “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography,” written with Barry Paris, in 1994 and a second autobiography, “American Prince: A Memoir,” written with Peter Golenbock, in 2008. In 2002, he toured in a musical adaptation of “Some Like It Hot,” in which he played the role of the love-addled millionaire originated by Joe E. Brown in the film. This time, the curtain line was his: “Nobody’s perfect.” His final screen appearance was in 2008, when he played a small role in David & Fatima, an independent budget film about a romance between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim. His character’s name was Mr. Schwartz.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Today, kittens, we join HIGH SOCIETY - the absolutely fabulous sitcom that proved to be just too delicious for CBS.

Coming off a nauseating period of stale, family-friendly sitcoms, where touching female friendships cluttered up the airwaves, 1995's HIGH SOCIETY, was a refreshing breath of fresh air. This fast-paced, brittle comedy features dialogue positively strewn with innuendo, double entendre and insults. Nothing and no one is sacred.  (You'll need a score card to keep up.)

From the opening credits, High Society announces itself as aggressively retro. "The Lady Is a Tramp" is heard as our heroines make their entrances at a glamorous Manhattan party. Jean Smart (Designing Women, Frasier) plays the trampy Ellie Walker, a Jackie Collins-style writer who drips diamonds even during the day, when she wears purple suits and silly hats that look both expensive and garish. Mary McDonnell (Dances With Wolves, Donnie Darko) plays Dott Emerson, her chic, ladylike best friend and publisher.

Ellie likes to drink and is frequently seen drinking. Or hung over. We first meet her passed out on the dinner table at Dott's swank Manhattan apartment, begging for nicotine: "Just put a tailpipe in my mouth and turn the engine on!" While Ellie sucks on a cigarillo and pops countless pills, we hear all about her blackouts at a party the night before-and how she "thinks 12-stepping is a country dance." Her career is an afterthought: a support system for her plastic surgeon. She's a bad girl of a certain age who parties hard, chases young male flesh and doesn't remember a thing in the morning.

The divorced Dott is the smart one, (which means she remembers to check her makeup in a silver compact as she enters the party). While the interaction between these two women is priceless -- each bit of dialogue sharp and stinging – its Ms. McDonnell who dances off with the show, providing a delicious wry delivery that wrings the most out of some lame situations. When she decides to cook a motherly meal, she walks into her own kitchen with the intimidated look of a child entering a dark fun house. "This room is bigger than I remember," she says with comic wonder. Ellie and Dott drink and try to cook; they're not exactly Lucy and Ethel. More like Mame Dennis and Vera Charles (for you Auntie Mame fans out there – but that’s another review all together).

As escapist sitcom heroines go, we'll always choose a champagne-swilling, man-hungry romance novelist or a vain, tart-tongued book publisher over one more mousy former housewife looking for her identity. And these characters are so deliciously dramatic and shallow that it's almost impossible to get enough. Neurotic, caustic and over the top, Dott and Ellie have a deep and long-lasting friendship bordering on co-dependency. Into this world steps frumpish housewife Val (Broadway's Faith Prince) -- an old college friend who is leaving her cheating husband. Val is everything that Ellie has worked so hard to leave behind. And without even an inkling of the style, taste, or the drama that our two ladies have come to appreciate as their cherished way of life, she comes off as rather annoying, making her the perfect foil for the self-centered Ellie's snippy remarks:

Val (to Ellie): I know you try to look tough but, deep down, I can tell you're just chock full of nice.

Other characters include Dott's cradle-robbing business partner Peter (a delightfully snarky David Rasche); her young Republican son Brendan (Dan O'Donahue); and Dott's justifiably arrogant, gay, immigrant assistant Stephano (Luigi Amodeo). Jayne Meadows is also on board, as Dott's deliciously acerbic (and equally as shallow) ever-marrying mother, Alice Morgan-Dupont-Sutton-Cushing-Ferruke.

Critics had mixed reactions to the series. Most loved its vicious sniping, but some panned the show -- unjustly comparing it to the highly overrated (and poorly written) Cybil. Others were quick to dismiss the show as an inferior rip-off of the British phenomenon Absolutely Fabulous. And although audiences were beginning to appreciate High Society's outrageous writing and camp sensibilities, CBS asked the creators to soften the dialogue for future episodes in order to make the characters warmer. Knowing that this would ruin the whole dynamic of the series, the production team opted not to continue. CBS finished its initial 13 episode run and sent the show on hiatus -- from whence it never returned.

Fortunately, yours truly, foreseeing the inevitable, recorded every delightful episode for a lifetime of savoring. And while I am just thrilled to have my wonderful homemade versions on dvd,  I can only hope, for posterity's sake, that some savvy, commercial dvd outfit will offer them up professionally (with menus and scads of bonus goodies) some day soon. Until that glorious day, as Dott so eloquently puts it in episode one, "I'm not depressed...  just deeply introspective - with a slight dramatic flair."

Monday, August 30, 2010

TEEN WITCH: A Young Girl's Guide to Better High School Living Through Wicca, Ballet Skirts and Scrunchies

TEEN WITCH opens with a dream sequence. Dowdy teen Robyn Lively dances on the ledge of a rooftop with hunky Dan Gauthier, the high school quarterback she has a crush on. You can tell it's a dream because 1.) He's paying attention to her, and 2.) She isn't dressed like a librarian. When she's awake, Lively is frumpy and only has one friend (played by Mandy Ingber), whom she obviously chose because Ingber is even dowdier and frumpier. Even Lively’s ghoulish little brother, Joshua Miller, doesn't respect her -- and he looks like Rosie O'Donnell!

Things are very strange at the high school Lively attends. There's a trio of white boys rapping in the hallway – all the time! And in the locker room, there's a squad of girls in purple leotards who break into a spontaneous, overly choreographed musical number called "I Like Boys." (Which defies description entirely, but turns out to be the best of all the unexplainable musical numbers that just show up in Teen Witch for no apparent reason.)

A few days before her 16th birthday, Lively stumbles upon the lair of diminutive fortune teller Zelda Rubinstein who tells Lively that her magical powers will emerge the day she turns 16. Sure enough, at the school dance, gazing at Gauthier and his stuck-up, cheerleader girlfriend Lisa Fuller, Lively wishes that he would come over and talk to her - and he does. Later on, as Lively is being driven home by Fuller's nerd-cousin Dan Carter, Carter starts to get handsy, and she wishes he'd leave her alone. Suddenly Carter vanishes into thin air - never to be seen again - and nobody even misses him!

Now, cognizant of her mighty powers, Lively's thoughts naturally turn to sex. Is it possible to cast a spell on Gauthier to make him love her, she asks Rubinstein . "Love you?" she replies. "With me being your coach he's gonna become your love slave!" (Just what every sixteen year old girl needs.)

Abondoning the love-slave idea, Lively opts instead to make herself the most popular girl in school. (Why settle for one guy when you can have the whole school?). Hocus Pocus and whammo! – her hairstyle, clothing, and makeup are suddenly 1989 fashionable and everyone just adores her.

Filled with lust over Lively's new look, (ah...the fatal lure of the scrunchie), Gauthier takes her to an abandoned, ramshackle house in a secluded meadow to have sex. But, as he scatters his discarded clothes like rose petals on the stairs, (in a reversal of the typical movie seduction roles), we defy anyone not to ROFL at his soft-focus International Male-style poses as the unironic sax solo plays in the background..

On the way home, Gauthier asks Lively to the dance (Yes... another school dance.) But Lively feels guilty about tricking him into loving her so she tells him to get lost, opting instead to attend with Rubinstein, violating the first cardinal rule of dating – never go to the prom with your psychic.
Teen Witch only played in about two theaters for about a day or so back in 1989, but due to relentless repeated showings throughout the next couple of decades on cable, it has bewitched an entire generation of young girls with its positive message that no matter how unpopular you are, you can always call upon the black arts to force  people to love you. And isn't that what life's really all about?


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Ban in California!


SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing a temporary victory to gay rights advocates in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Wednesday’s decision is just the latest chapter of what is expected to be a long legal battle over the ban — Proposition 8, which was passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote -- and proponents were already promising to appeal, confidently predicting that higher courts would be less accommodating to the other side than Vaughn R. Walker, the judge who issued the ruling.

Still, the very existence of federal-level ruling recognizing same-sex marriage in California, the nation’s most populous state, set off cheers from crowds assembled in front of the courthouse in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon. Evening rallies and celebrations were planned in dozens of cities across California and several across the nation.

In San Francisco, the plaintiffs’ case was argued by David Boies and Theodore Olson, ideological opposites who once famously sparred in the 2000 Supreme Court battle beween George W. Bush and Al Gore over the Florida recount and the presidency. The lawyers brought the case — Perry v. Schwarzenegger — in May 2009 on behalf of two gay couples who said that Proposition 8 impinged on their Constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

For gay rights advocates, same-sex marriage has increasingly become a central issue in their battle for equality, seen as both an emotional indicator of legitimacy and as a practical way to lessen discrimination.

“Being gay is about forming an adult family relationship with a person of a same sex, so denying us equality within the family system is to deny respect for the essence of who we are as gay people,” said Jennifer Pizer, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, who filed two briefs in favor of the plaintiffs. “And we believe that equality in marriage would help reduce discrimination in other settings because the government invites disrespect of us when it denies us equality.”

The trial, which began in January, was closely watched in the gay community, drawing large crowds to courtrooms, and inspiring re-creations by actors which were posted online. The plaintiffs offered two weeks of evidence from experts on marriage, sociology and political science, and emotional testimony from the two couples who had brought the case.

Proponents for Proposition 8, which was heavily backed by the Mormon church and other religious and conservative groups, had offered a much more straightforward defense of the measure, saying that same-sex marriage damages traditional marriage as an institution. They also argued that marriage was essentially created to foster procreation, which same-sex unions could not, and was thus fundamental to the existence and survival of the human race.

On Tuesday, those supporting Proposition 8 telegraphed their view that they had likely lost this round as the defense’s leading lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, filed a notice with the court requesting that Judge Walker keep the ban on same-sex marriage in place while they appealed his decision.

The defendants requested a ruling at the same time as Judge Walker issues the opinion, setting the stage for a quick appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals "and, if necessary, the Supreme Court."

On Wednesday, lawyers for Ms. Perry responded with a letter of their own, requesting that Judge Walker not automatically rule on such questions without a hearing, asking that they be allowed to respond to the "obviously premature" motion before any action is taken.

The decision could also play into the state’s gubernatorial race in California though the race has been centered largely on economic issues thus far, with unemployment running more than 12 percent and a $19 billion budget gap.

Democrat Jerry Brown has been vocal in his support of gay marriage in his current role as California attorney general. Republican Meg Whitman has taken the position that marriage should be between a man and a woman – in line with the language of Proposition 8 – though she says that she strongly supports the state’s civil union laws, which afford many of the same rights as marriage.

There were also signs that Judge Walker’s personal life – several published reports have said he is gay -- might become an issue for those opposed to his ruling. Hours before the decision was announced, a commentator on Fox – Gerard Bradley, a professor of law at University of Notre Dame – posted an editorial questioning the judge’s impartiality.

“I do not doubt that Judge Walker made up his mind about Prop 8 before the trail began,” Mr. Bradley wrote.

Some in the gay rights community were initially upset by the case fearing that a loss at a federal level could set back their more measured efforts to gain wider recognition for same-sex marriage, which is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.

But those concerns seemed to fade as the trial began, and on Wednesday, the mood was of elation and cautious optimism that Mr. Boies and Mr. Olson’s initial victory might change the debate.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said that she believed that there were members of Supreme Court who “have a very deep seated bias against LGBT people,” meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. But, she called Wednesday’s ruling “potentially game changing.”

“This legal victory profoundly changes the conversation,” she said, “for folks in the legal world and the policy world who were previously unmoved by this struggle.”

Jesse McKinley reported from San Francisco and John Schwartz from New York. Malia Wollan contributed reporting from San Francisco.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The return of ON A CLEAR DAY to the Great White Way


The Broadway graveyard is full of flops that had great scores and bad scripts. An outstanding example is the 1965 musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. The score -- music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner -- is melodic, witty and whimsical; the title song became a standard when Barbra Streisand recorded it for the 1970 movie.

But Lerner's original story -- about extrasensory perception, reincarnation and transmutation -- was as loony a script as ever there was on Broadway. As one critic wrote, "What Mr. Lerner should have worried about was not another life but a better idea."

Director Michael Mayer (American Idiot) and playwright Peter Parnell may have come up with that "better idea." Their version of On a Clear Day is being given a staged reading this weekend by New York Stage and Film, a production company based at Vassar College.

Here's the skinny:

In the original, the main character was a kooky young woman who, in a past life, was an English aristocrat. In the new version, the young woman is a young man who, in a past life, was a black female jazz singer.

Gender-bending is hardly a new concept in the theater -- see Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare -- but this new twist on Clear Day already has impressed the Vineyard Theatre. The off-Broadway company will present a full-scale production in January.

In the meanwhile, let's travel back in time with the show's original leading man, Tony winner John Cullum, and get the backstage story on the original production.

"It was a crazy, wild experience," he recalls

During the show's Boston tryout, Cullum replaced Louis Jordan, who was playing a Viennese psychiatrist. Jordan, Cullum says, was "being wiped out" by his leading lady, Barbara Harris. The actor had no idea he was being fired. The producers sent him off on a two-week vacation, ostensibly to learn some new scenes, and never brought him back.

When Cullum took over the role, he discovered that Jordan had a secret: He didn't know his lines.

"The first time I was onstage, I realized that Louis had written the lines all over the set," Cullum says. "If I opened the cigarette case or a drawer, there would be the lines, written out. Except the script kept changing. So the lines all over the set were different from the lines I was trying to learn."

The script was a mess because the author was, too. Lerner was living on his yacht in the Charles River. One of his guests was Max Jacobson, better known as "Dr. Feelgood." The good doctor was giving Lerner shots of something that was supposed to eliminate sleep and stimulate the imagination.

A musical about ESP was being written by a guy on LSD.

"Alan could stay up for hours and hours working on the show," says Cullum. "He told me he'd written 2,500 pages of dialogue. But it wasn't inspired writing. It was just writing for the sake of writing. "He was up and then -- BOOM! -- he'd pass out, right in front of you. When he was up, he'd disappear. We'd come to rehearsal in the morning and find out he'd gone to California or Europe. He'd just get on a plane and go see somebody. So even though he was writing the show, I never had much contact with him."

Cullum says Harris, whose performance was brilliant, was eccentric, as well. "She loved to improvise," Cullum says. "If I had a line -- 'Why are you smiling?' -- she'd frown. It was charming, but it was difficult. I had to do a Viennese accent, and while I could do improvisations, I couldn't do them with a Viennese accent. So I was locked into the script, and she was floating all over the place. "Barbara was a great talent. One of the best I've ever worked with. But she was always on the verge of something. She never actually went bananas, but there was something lurking there, something very dark."

On a Clear Day opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre with what was then the priciest ticket on Broadway -- $11.90. Despite tepid reviews, the production managed to eke out an eight-month run. "We'd gotten pretty good by then," says Cullum. "But Alan had lost heart. Everybody was saying this is no Camelot or My Fair Lady. He said, 'Just close it.'

"I hope the new version works," Cullum adds. "Some of Alan's ideas were wonderful, and the music is gorgeous."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a middle-aged British ex-patriot teaching at a university in sunny Southern California in 1962. A closeted homosexual by cultural necessity, he's possessed of monumental outward conformity. Inside, however, beats the heart of a true romantic.

George is the sort of fellow who keeps his tastefully decorated moderne home spotless and his reputation even more so. "It takes time in the morning for me to become George," he explains in the first of two voiceovers that bookend the film. "By the time I've dressed and put the final layer of polish on the now slightly stiff but quite perfect George, I know fully what part I'm supposed to play."

On the face of it, the immaculately groomed and exceedingly dry George is preparing for yet another day in the classroom – that's his "part" in the quotidian SoCal community in which he resides. But beneath that mask of staid conventionality lies the real George, a heartsick shell of a man who has found himself caught in the riptides of grief following the accidental death of his longtime companion Jim (Matthew Goode). George has decided to end it all, but it's still only 7am and there's one last day of life for George Falconer to get through.

Adapted from the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man is an exquisite and haunting feature debut from the Austin-born fashion designer/icon Tom Ford. It's a melancholy meditation on love and death and hidden lives, and Ford brings everything he has to the film, not least of which is his picture-perfect designer's eye for detail, composition, and the infinite subtleties of narrative shading. (Spanish cinematographer Eduard Grau makes the film reflect George's mindset; Los Angeles has rarely looked so desaturated yet so inviting.)

A Single Man is, ultimately, Firth's tour de force. He slips into the raw role of George Falconer with exactly as much precision as George brings to becoming Professor Falconer (straight, no chaser), and the masks both actor and character share are uncommonly seamless. Likewise Julianne Moore, who shows up as Charley, George's Tanqueray-drowning ex-lover, closest friend, and only confidante. Their scenes together – they get trashed and dance around her place, then fall to the white shag, panting, smoking, and blearily confessing to each other like a pair of well-heeled high school kids – have the clear-eyed sheen of those left behind, booze or no booze.

When, late in the last night of his life, George runs into one of his students, the impetuous and alluring Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, best remembered looking considerably younger in About a Boy) both Firth and Ford seize on George's equally fervid and presumably final grab at life and love (of a sort), and the sequence, which ends up in the inky midnight of the Pacific Ocean, has a magical grace to it. Few directors, much less big-screen neophytes, have conjured the ability to distill the human byproducts of love and death with such ethereal, elegiac style as Ford does here. Fittingly, Alfred Hitchcock, who did just that while driving Jimmy Stewart to madness over Kim Novak in Vertigo, is referenced all over the place, from Abel Korzeniowski's Bernard Herrmann-esque score to an instant-classic shot that imposes Firth against a massive, piercingly blue image of Janet Leigh's eyes on an outdoor advert for Psycho.

A Single Man is an absurdly ravishing piece of filmmaking. It's not simply that Ford has a ravening and righteous eye for cinematic composition and detail (you'd expect that from the Gucci resurrectionist and onetime guest editor of Vanity Fair); it's that everything fits perfectly, from titles to fin, but most of all Firth, who dons the role of George like a fine bespoke suit. Which, Ford being Ford, it surely was.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LEWIS, KAHN and FELDMAN ruthlessly chew-up and spit out Vonnegut in the merciless 1982 screen debacle SLAPSTICK OF ANOTHER KIND

Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman star in this tragi-comedy of misplaced aliens, based on the best-selling novel, Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut.

Wilbur (Lewis) and Eliza (Kahn) are the smartest (and ugliest) brother-and-sister team ever to set foot on earth. They are two misfit infants kept in hiding by their parents (also played by Lewis and Kahn) and their doting butler (Feldman), and relentlessly pursued by the government. Apart, they are the dumbest kids on the planet, but together they hold the answers to the secrets of the universe. But will anyone believe them?

Alongside 1999's infamous bomb Breakfast of Champions (starring Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, and Albert Finney), Slapstick (Of Another Kind) is one of the worst adaptations of Vonnegut ever to hit the big screen. Vonnegut's darkly humorous novel about two deformed, dim-witted twins who become super-geniuses when putting their heads together was given a non-sensical subtitle and a pointless framing device involving spaceships and aliens to make it appear to be a parody of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Add in the presence of Kahn and Feldman, and it's plain that the producers of this fiasco were hoping to fool audiences into believing this was a Mel Brooks affair. But writer-director Steven Paul is no Mel Brooks.

In 1982, Paul was something of a wunderkind, listed by Guinness as the world's youngest film producer. Since then, he's gone on to make some of the worst movies on record, including Baby Geniuses (1 & 2), Karate Dog and a cross-dressing Gene Simmons in Never Too Young to Die. (Not the guy most likely to succeed at Vonnegut.) In fact, Paul only ended up filming the first
chapter of Vonnegut's book, leaving out huge chunks of story that might have made us empathize with the twins.

But where else can you find a tiny Pat Morita sitting in a rice bowl? Where else can you see a former castaway on Gilligan's Island (Jim Backus) play the president of the United States? Where else could you see Jerry Lewis and Madeline Khan walking on stilts, wearing giant ears, in Frankenstein Monster haircuts that slide back to reveal foreheads that throb and pulsate? Funny for all the wrong reasons, this Bad Movie Free-for-all is definitely worth seeking out.

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