a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

In a film that has NOTHING to do with Shakespeare, young British actress Florence Pugh strongly stakes her claim on an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress. It’s the first great performance of 2017. And what a welcome thrill it is to see a comely, new, powerful actress tear up the screen to pieces, “to very rags” as Shakespeare would say.

Pugh’s Lady Macbeth is right up there with the powerful, royal, screen queens of all time, though this is strangely based on a Russian novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov. And her character is called Catherine. but make no mistake, she is the queen of all she surveys.

But here her domain is reduced to a remote farm in Northern England. It could be Scotland. Catherine certainly likes to stride about boldly on the marshlands, which may be subbing for the moors of Scotland.

Her rushing to the marshes is the first indication of the headstrong, frightening woman is to become. A demure bride at first, she is a virgin when her she is sold into an arranged, loveless marriage to a man 20 years older than she, at the beginning of the film.  You can tell by her blazing, beautiful eyes, she just hates him, and hates every minute of her having to subjugate herself to his iron will.Lady Macbeth 7A

She also strangely has a Black maidservant beautifully played by Naomie Ackie, who may be looking at an Oscar nomination herself. Meek, as opposed to her mistress’ willful destructiveness, she is driven to be mute, by the horror of all she surveys Catherine doing.  And it is quite horrible. Just what the oppressed Catherine does to get her revenge on all the men who have thwarted her on her way to total domination is spoiler-rific. But suffice it to say, it is blood-curdling and shocking enough to drive her kind maid Anna, into utter speechlessness.

With the simplest pf dialogue and also of locales and costumes, eschewing the extravagances, which are the norm of bodice-rippers, director William Oldroyd impresses with every sparse, and then bloody take.

Cosmo Jarvis is the hunky catalyst that unleashes the repressed Catherine desires. And yes, “Lady Macbeth” is as hot as it is bloody. You’re in for a roller-coaster ride of passion from one end of the erotic scale to the other as Catherine’s passions become unleashed.

Finally, a serious Oscar contender is on 2017’s VERY sparse table.

What a delicious, French, binge-watching treat is ahead for all those Francophiles out there, cineastes all, who may not yet be familiar with one of the seminal works of French cinema! It’s the maestro of maestros Marcel Pagnol’s magnificent “Marseilles Trilogy”. Critierion is now issuing a delicieux boxed set of all three films, “Marius”, “Fanny” and “Cesar,” plus a hefty “Supplementaire” disc and book, so by the end of enjoying this summertime delight, you, too, can feel you really ARE on the French Riviera, albeit in the 1930s and in black and white.

Over the course of the three, two hour-plus films, we become enthralled with the star-crossed love story of Marius and Fanny, as their thwarted tempestuous amour fou echoes down the generations of this vivid-cross-section of French MIDI life.  The MIDI of France is the southern part. And the accents and the behavior of Les Marseilliase are VERY different from the Parisiens up north. Even a character, Monsieur Brun, who is from Lyon, gets the raspberries for being stuck up and too bourgoise for the VERY working class souls who frequent Cesar’s Cafe de la Marin, where much of the action takes place and his dreamer of a son, Marius works for him as a bartender/waiter.

The larger than life Cesar is played to perfection by the legendary Raimu, who Orson Welles described as “the greatest actor of our time.” Coming from the music halls and burlesque world of the MIDI, Pagnol really “discovered” him by making him the central character of the Trilogy, and also giving him one of the greatest roles of his, or anyone’s lifetime. Sort of a French Jackie Gleason, he mesmerizes whether he is shouting at his wayward son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) or trying to placate the confused young Fanny (Orane Demazis). He dominates all he surveys.

The dashing Fresnay ( he pronounced it “Fray-nay”) became quite the huge French movie star after the incredible success of “Marius.” The great Raimu was worried about him, as Marius, though, because he was the only lead actor from “the North.” He was Alsatian. But Fresnay was a total perfectionist and studied the quirky Marseilles accent for months.

When the cast was rehearsing, he was missing for three weeks, says Pagnol, in an interview, chuckling at the memory. Fresnay was working as a waiter at a sea-side bar in Marseilles, just like his romantic character, who is torn between his love for the sea and for his Fanny. His Marius is totally believable and moving in every aspect. “I knew he would be great in the role, and he was!” says Pagnol smiling.

And Fresnay’s accent is perfection. I couldn’t tell. Sir Alec Guiness called him his “Favorite Actor.”Marseilles Post Card

Pagnol was the great pioneer of location shooting, so we become VERY familiar with the grande charme of Marseilles, here depicted as a fishing town that is growing and growing into the thriving seaport it would become. That Pagnol loved his home town and the brilliant actors and technicians all from the South of France is evident in every frame. He is the one who revealed them all to the world for the first time. People were stunned that there were such good actors from “the South” and that not all the talent in France was concentrated in Paris!

I was lucky enough to be in La Belle Marseilles once myself. When in the early ’80s I was actually at the Cannes Film Festival with a movie I was actually IN with Divine.(I was Miss Bronx) It was Andrew Logan’s “Alternative Miss World” and still ranks as my only feature film.

ANYwho- I lost my passport and had to go to the American Embassy in Marseilles which was a delightful train ride along the Riveria. I still remember the beautiful sunshine and the smell of the sea. Marseilles is really the seaport town to end all seaport towns. I remember the subway stop having a fish-tank/aquarium set beautifully right into the blue mosaic-tiled wall of the subway station. I had bouillabaisse for lunch. And I still remember it as being the best bouillabaisse I ever ate! Bien sur! It was in Marseilles!

Though this 4-disc + booklet box of joy is complete in every aspect of Pagnol’s incredible work, and Fresay and Raimu both get more than their due, I thought it odd that the petite jeune fille, Orane Demazis who played the heroine , Fanny, in this tres masculine world, was all but completely ignored. Turns out she was Pagnol’s mistress who actually bore him a child during the making of “Marius” and “Fanny”! How totally French!Marseilles Trilogy 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


“They Live By Night” is a real gem from the late ’40s, being given new life, by the Criterion Collection, which has really done a great job, rediscovering and saving legendary Hollywood director’s Nicholas Ray’s first film. It’s also the first film noir and Farley Granger’s first big film, too, and quite possibly his best performance. He surprises in “They Live By Night” as Bowie (pronounced “Boo-ee”) the proto-type of the troubled teenager, Ray would immortalize so well with James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.’

Granger is so good in this film that one wonders what his spotty career would’ve been like if it had been released the year it was made, 1947. Instead of being shelved for nearly two years by Howard Hughes who took over RKO Pictures at that critical point, and didn’t show it to the public in the States, until it was a hit in England.

This remarkable, significant film was given zero publicity when it first opened, evidently, and made no money.

Farley Granger’s best known, of course, for his two superlative roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” and “Strangers on a Train.” In “Rope”, he was again a troubled, sensitive, teenaged killer, but this time he was gay, though nobody openly used that word.Rope 2 Arthur Laurents, who wrote screenplay for “Rope” said in an interview, before he passed, that the word “homosexual” was never used on the set, and he doubted that James Stewart even knew that’s what he was playing. But Granger sure did.

One also wonders if his career wouldn’t have been as big as Dean’s, who also was gay, or at least, bisexual, but closeted. He’s so good in “They Live By Night,” you wish we could have had more great performances from him.
His Bowie is a tortured, but innocent soul, having grown up in prison and as the film begins he’s fallen in with a bad lot indeed. “They Live By Night” was based by Ray on a ’30’s crime novel “Thieves Like Us” and definitely pre-figures “Bonnie and Clyde” and was unusually influential on the French New Wave. “Breathless” etc, etc. The Nouvelle Vague’s recognition of its’ importance saved it from obscurity.

But “They Live By Night” breaks genres just as much as starts them. For a crime drama or a film noir, it really is a love story at heart, with Cathy O’Donnell of “Best Year’s of Our Live” giving just as heartfelt a performance of the girl in question as the hillbilly tomboy Keechie, who grows into a woman right before our eyes, on the run from the law, in the arms of Granger’s Bowie. But unlike Bonnie Parker in real life or in “Bonnie and Clyde,” she’s the innocent who doesn’t participate in the gangs’ crimes, as Bowie does. She wants a home and a hearth, Christmas trees and presents. Bowie seems to not care about any of those domestic things.

Innovative debut director Ray used a helicopter shot of the gang, under the opening titles, in their getaway jalopie fleeing a bank robbery. It was the first one of its’ kind. His use of upbeat banjo music and jazz at moments when they had never occurred before in a film’s soundtrack is striking and often imitated later, esp. in Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde.” A night-club scene with the performance of “Your Red Wagon” sung by an African American chanteuse is a stand-out. It occurs on the day that Bowie and Keechie try to act “like normal people.”

“They Live By Night” is a treat, a thrill, and a delight. Ray makes you really feel for Bowie and Keechie, Granger and O’Donnell’s characters, and you hope they get away, but it’s film noir…so…they’re doomed.

Criterion has done a marvelous job with their DVD and Blu-Ray of it. There’s an interview with John Houseman, who was one of the producers, and an audio commentary with Granger, late in his life.

The film historian Eddie Muller does most of the talking as the tries to pry the reluctant, diplomatic Granger into revealing just what it was like in Hollywood in those heady days.

He gets Granger to say he was “angry, depressed and resentful” of the film being shelved for those two crucial years at the beginning of his career. What a difference it would have made, if the public got to see just how good he could be, in the right role, with the right director!

Hitchcock, of course, did right by him in those two now classic films,
“Rope” and “Strangers on a Train”. But oh! He could’ve done so much more!
Muller also gets him to briefly say that he often had dinners with Ray, and mentions one night in particular at the Montecito hotel, where James Dean “turned up” and “sat in a corner giggling with two Mexicans he had brought with him.” Hmmm…

It’s FIXED! Now I can type again!!!!!!!!!!! NOW, it’s a really happy Fourth!

All hail the Geek Squad! They can solved ANYTHING!

And a hint to all my dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre, DON’T ever close your laptop at night, or any time, with your (eye)glasses resting on the KEYBOARD! My glasses didn’t break! Thank god! But my computer did! The central part of it was hopelessly scrambled! But now I am back with a brand new computer and there’s a LOT to write about! Will try to catch up as quickly as I can! In any case, Happy Fourth! My Fourth went from Scrappy to Happy! My Facebook Friends and Fans. imagine what it would be like without a computer!

What are other tips one should avoid with laptops? Like I know no water anywhere near it. Others?

Appy 4t of July! I broke my keyboard of my computer! But don’t worry! Will be fixed tomorrow! I ope


Good, good news! What I think is the best play of the year “Indecent” is now being given a reprieve and an extension through Aug.2. A huge jump at the box-office made the producers decide to give it a run though the summer, hoping its’ two Tony Awards and great word of mouth will keeping reaping the rewards, it so justly deserved. And it was going to close on Sunday! Imagine its’ talented ensemble cast’s surprise! The two Tony awards,to Best Director of a Play, Rebecca Taichman and Best Lighting Design for the young lighting wizard Christopher Akerlind.

The Cort Theater on W.47th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue will continue to be where Rebecca Vogel’s masterpiece holds court.

“Spamilton,” the smash hit musical has now moved into a larger house! No, I’m not talking about “Hamilton,” the smash hit musical whose ticket prices hover in the $800 range. I’m talking about Gerard Alessandrini’s masterful spoof of “Hamilton,” which started uptown at the tiny Triad nightclub on W.72nd Street. It was on a second floor and had no signage anywhere, over a Turkish restaurant. I don’t know how audiences found it, but they did! It was more than cozy at the Triad and absolutely hilarious. And was only supposed to run three weeks! And now look at it!

Now, with two Drama Desk nominations under its’ belt (One for Alessandrini for Best Lyrics and one for Nora Schell, see above, for Best Featured Actress in a Musical), “Spamilton” is now firmly enconsed DOWNtown from the Triad at The Puerto Rican Traveling  Company’s theater at 304 W.47th Street, just off 8th Avenue. A mere block away from “Hamilton.” And frustrated theater-goers, who can’t get into “Hamilton,” just mozy on over to “Spamilton” and pack that house, too. It’s a theatrical phenomeon that keeps growing exponentially.
“Spamilton” has grown a second act, too, as befits its’ status in a proscenium-arched house. And I, a rabid fan of Alessandrini since the year dot, was DEEE-lighted at the surpise intermission. There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, and “Spamilton” is a great thing.

Alessandrini, Broadway’s master spoofist, has outdone himself here, with a show satirizing just ONE show “Hamilton”, with the central character being Lin-Manuel Miranda, not Alexander Hamilton. And Miranda can stand up to the spoofing. See above, yes, that IS him, with the marvelous young actor playing him, Dan Rosales.

Miranda has tweeted, “It’s brilliant! I laughed my brains out!” And Bette Midler evidently saw it, too, and told Alessandrini, “Be gentle with me.” And he is, and yes, SHE’S in it, too!

Relax Bette! You’ re a presence and a character (The great Christine Pedi) but, well, I won’t spoil the surprise of Christine as Bette as Dolly in the Second Act. And while we’re on the subject of the Pristine Christine, there’s MUCH more of her in the show (We can never get enough) and she knocks Glenn Close, Liza Minelli, and Barbra Streisand out of the ball park. And others…
Nora Schell is gone, but the comely Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, is more than filling her high heels and hitting the high notes of the nearly 100 characters SHE is called upon to play, including Audra McDonald, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé and Gloria Estafan.

And Dan Rosales, who I’ve now seen impersonate Lin-Manuel THREE times, has just grown and grown into a true star with every iteration.

My one caveat is that the sensational Tristan J. Shuler was out the night I saw it, and so was his great number “I kill my friends in my underwear” from “American Psycho in Paris.” Instead I saw his very, very good understudy Cameron Amandus get to sing the satire of “Dolly and the Chocolate Factory, “Come with me, and you’ll see a show with no imagination.”

You can never say that about  Alessandini. He IMPROVES every show he spoofs. May his “Spamilton” run as long as “Hamilton.” It’s so funny, it probably will. I could see it every night forever!

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