Sunday, February 26, 2017

You Can Call Me MISTER Fane

This pretty much sums it up. . .

The hysteria of Russell Rouse’s The Oscar (1966) – and what a strange 1966 it is: no Vietnam, no Beatles, no drugs, no black people – is the hysteria of the Hollywood Studio Sytem as it was passing away. For the movie photographs only those who've already passed on: has-beens and never-weres days from the Monrovia Rest Home for Retired Actors: Jill St. John, Elke Sommer, Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley, Eleanor Parker, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, Jean Hale, Edith Head, Hedda Hopper, Peter Lawford, Ernest Borgnine, Edie Adams, Walter Brennan, Merle Oberon. The movie seethes with the bitterness and panic of all those no longer getting phone calls returned, no longer getting the good tables at Chasen’s (as it then was). And yet. Two hours of rug-chewing by desperate actors trying hard not to go down for the count gives us a heightened reality and earnestness more true and human than over-produced “this is Hollywood” Artworks such as Sunset Boulevard, Bad and the Beautiful, The Last Tycoon, The Player, Mulholland Drive, Short Cuts, and the god awful Barton Fink. In The Oscar, every actor plays every scene as if the house were burning down with only ten minutes left to collect the valuables.

In particular, the two leads: Stephen Boyd as Frankie Fane and Tony Bennett as, yes, Hymie Kelly. The Irish-born Boyd’s self-loathing and rather insane self-involvement must've been well-earned. A remarkably talented and noble actor, his movie career (much like Frankie’s) the result of pure accident, his life was short, unappreciated, and tragic. (He would die at the age of 45.) Though the movie is shot full of speed and smarm, there isn't a moment of camp or dishonor in Boyd’s performance. Neither is there in Bennett’s. Saddled with that ridiculous character name, and often hooted at by the superior types who take all their cues from Vanity Fair, Bennett’s accomplishment here at times approaches the tone and greatness of his singing: sincere, gentle, with good cheer and naked emotion that seems grandly modest. There is no ego in Tony Bennett’s sound, nor in this his only movie role.

A berserk, cheap, buggy opera of rot (Percy Faith’s score is at one with the movie’s major key: it oozes), The Oscar seems like some preposterous combination of Visconti, Sirk, and Harold Robbins. A combo of lust and disgust toward a Hollywood already gone.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Award Winner

Monday, February 20, 2017


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Last Gleaming

In 1983, your world champion Los Angeles Lakers hosted the All-Star Game inside their Fabulous Forum. (And man, was it ever). Chosen to sing the national anthem was Marvin Gaye. When Gaye was done, CBS-TV, the NBA front office, GMs across-the-league, and Reaganistas everywhere went bananas.

'Cause the man knew. It was over.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentine's Tour

A happy document and curiosity: Valentine's Day 1962 and Mrs. John F. Kennedy gives us a tour of the White House. Video quality is not great (kinescope); and final proof that the early-60s were even worse than the middle-80s for female hairstyles.

Jackie running into her bemused husband toward the end is certainly the highlight.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Little Bit Softer Now. . .

If the only decent thing Barry Levinson ever directed was Diner (1982) -- and it is -- it would be enough. Not only is the movie an enthralled valentine to a moment on the cusp of the 60s, it was also made on a cusp: right before the LucasBerg/MTV/Reagan era would begin, and destroy everything.

What a stable of unknowns: Reiser, Barkin, Stern, Guttenberg, Bacon, Tim Daly, Michael Tucker, the lovely Kathryn Dowling, Rourke. And not a pose or attitude in sight. . .

Friday, February 3, 2017

Near Dark

Two People (1945) is the bĂȘte noire of Carl Dreyer's monumental career. Made a year after Day of Wrath, it has been a work ignored or shunned by film historians and critics, Dreyer fans, and most intensely by the director himself. (Dreyer fought a long and costly legal battle to get his name off it. He lost.) So presumed has been the movie's worthlessness, it has been seen by very few; and has therefore been difficult to see until recently. The script was taken from Dreyer and changed in several major ways by the studio. His casting demands were ignored. And one scene Dreyer insisted must be cut was not eliminated. Yet Two People is a secret masterpiece, one which could have been made by no one else.

For 71 ardent minutes, we are in one apartment containing two people: a husband (Georg Rydeberg) and a wife (Wanda Rothgardt). The man has been accused of professional theft by a famous and powerful colleague, a colleague once involved with the man's wife and who winds up dead, at first an announced suicide then later discovered to be a murder victim. Dreyer sends us back and forth: Did the husband do it? Did the wife? Maybe neither.

Hence the story. What makes the work pure Dreyer is the sexual repression and sexual license flowing from the same source: a power-saturated system of evil surrounding the characters. In many ways, Two People is Carl Dreyer's attack on the morally-benumbed Danish middle class, the Professional class, thriving while immersed in compromise, intrigue, and death: it was made -- as was Day of Wrath -- under Nazi occupation. So the characters dwell in the land of sexual and professional betrayal, embraced by glowing white walls and swooning art music. Yet the walls are filled with shadow. And Dreyer's angles and cuts move deeper and deeper into darkness. And in the face of moral reckoning: escape through suicide.

After 70 years, Two People speaks to us strongly: identity and professional and sexual obsessions inside a Death State.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Dr. Michael Parenti's brilliant (and very funny) explanation of the Roman Empire ~ and our own.