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Archive for the ‘drama’ Category

Real Treat for Hitchcock Fans! 2 Early Films w/Ivor Novello on Criterion

A luscious, real treat for fans of Alfred Hitchock and for those of you who adore the Silent Film star Ivor Novello! “The Lodger” and “Downhill” are both out and in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual the Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job of putting together a 2 DVD Special Features Edition.

Ivor Novello was the British/Welsh Rudolph Valentino of his day. A heart-throb, a matinee idol and a silent film star, he was right up there as a composer, too. He wrote most famously “Keep the Home Fires Burning” as a World War I anthem and many, many more songs as well as  full-length musicals. He is even portrayed in Julian Fellowes’ “Gosford Park” by Jeremy Northam. Fellowes has also written a biography of him. He was gay but, of course, closeted, for those times didn’t allow him to say what he was, but he had a male lover Bobbie Andrews, who he lived with for all his life. And he had notorious liasons with Noel Coward, and even Winston Churchhill.

When asked what it was like Churchill supposedly replied, “Musical.”

None of this information of course, is included in the Criterion Collection, but I thought you all dear readers, dear cineastes, would like to know what all the fuss was about in the 1920s.

“The Lodger” was Hitchcock’s break-out movie in 1927 and Novello was its’ star. In audio interviews on the “Supplements” with Francois Truffaut(1962) and Peter Bogdonvich(1963 and ’72), Hitchcock makes no bones about how he felt working with Novello. As the biggest star of the day, Hitchcock, who was unknown at the time, HAD to use him, and use him he did.

Novello gives an uber-creepy portrayal of the lodger, who just might be Jack the Ripper. Because of Novello’s immense popularity at the time, he could not be a villain. So Hitchcock played it right on the knife-edge, where he was so often going to keep his audience for the rest of his career. Was he guilty or was he innocent? You don’t know til the end of the film.

And for those cinephiles who remember the famous opening close-up of Grace Kelly coming in to plant a big, wet, sloppy one on James Stewart in “Rear Window”, we see Novello in the same, intense, swoon-worthy pan into a frame (see above, top) where Novello seems to be about to kiss the audience. That zooming shot made me question if Hitchcock was not gay after all. Well, he certainly never acted it out. But in that shot, and how lovingly he treats Novello, though he was “stuck with him” in order to advance his career, it’s clear that he also had great affection for Novello’s helping making him (Hitchcock) a star-director with “The Lodger.”

And “Downhill,” the other included film, also from 1927, shows that Novello felt strongly enough about what Hitch was doing for HIM, that he let Hitch direct, this second film, which Novello also wrote, about a college boy, who is wrongly accused of a flirtation (or more) with a shop girl, and is expelled from his Eton-like school, and his life goes downhill from there. Included in “Downhill” which is not a thriller or a mystery, there’s a great shot of Novello descending an escalator on the London underground, going down, down, down.

The 2K digital restoration has a marvelous, eerie score by Neil Brand, performed by the Orchestra of St. Paul’s. And an informative interview of the challenges he faced creating the scores for both these silent films, which I’m so grateful to Criterion was presenting us with in this sparkling manner.

#Alfred Hitchcock, #Ivor Novello, #The Lodger, #Downhill, #Silent Film

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“Dunkirk” Lives Up to It’s Oscar Hype! Mark Rylance Will Get His 2nd Oscar nom!

I just LOVED “Dunkirk”! Not a fan of war movies as a rule, the cinemaster Christopher Nolan has re-written the book on this genre as well as re-inventing it with this spectacular achievement . It’s a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, white knuckle thriller as well as an eye-popping, frightening and ultimately triumphant Best Picture of the Year. Well, so far, anyway.

It’s hard to imagine anything that will top it in terms of its’ size and scope, and story, too. Christopher Nolan is the screen-writer as well as director, and also, a producer.

I found myself moved from the first frames of “Dunkirk,” with its’ magnificent Hans Zimmer score thumping and pounding and shaking the earth, which in the first shots are a picturesque rendering of the French seaside town of Dunkirk as it was then, in June of 1940 .  Nazi leaflets are dropping like autumn leaves on the young British soldiers below, who all are about to be slaughtered outright by the unseen enemies machine gun bullets.

The most unlikely, scrawny, leading young man is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, (See above and at top of page) who we are going to follow through his epic journey of struggling to survive the evacuation of 400,000 British and allied troops, who are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Bullets are ripping, searing and whizzing everywhere as Nazi planes pound the helpless soldiers, exposed, vulnerable and innumerable on the Dunkirk beach. They are just sitting ducks. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” one officer proclaims.

How will they EVER get out of there? And that is the drama that director Nolan is portraying so incredibly accurately, and in such a breath-taking and wholly cinematic detail. Nolan’s exacting directorial eye gives verisimilitude a new meaning.Mark Rylance with Oscar 1

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (for Best Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies”)  is the truly heroic, mild-mannered, stiff-upper-lipped British captain. owner of his own medium-sized,  pleasure yacht, hardly a warship. It is one of the many civilian small craft that are commandeered by Churchill to set sail across the churning English Channel and rescue all those stranded soldiers. Rylance’s no-nonsense, utterly focused, amateur seaman/citizen is a masterpiece of restraint, understatement and terse John Bull heroism.

Dunkirk 2

And he’s symbolic of one of hundreds of small boats that turned the tide of this terrible war, WWII. They did the impossible, because they had to. How they were called upon and how all they just stepped up to this incredible, daunting challenge  and how in doing so  served their country and saved the free world. Churchill’s thrilling call to arms “We will fight on the beaches!” echoes throughout the film, and as a first generation Brit myself, I was immensely proud of all of them. magnificently depicted here in this their finest John Bull hour of courage.

It’s a David v. Goliath feat, and it’s all true. This really did happen. And Nolan re-creates it down to the smallest, scarifying detail. Not even pop star Harry Styles,who acquits himself quite admirably as the gnarliest of the small group of British soldiers, teenagers, really,  can fall out of line. If you weren’t looking for him, he would blend in totally with the other young, struggling, dirty, frightened, brave soldiers.

“Dunkirk” explodes with many, many understated and marvelously compelling performances. Irish actor Cillian Murphy(below)is totally unrecognizable as a survivor of a downed plane that Rylance and his crew of two lads rescue from the sea. Is he a German? Is he a deserter?

Rylance’s scenes of struggle between him and Murphy will. I’m pretty sure,  net the Oscar winner another nomination. He’s got the biggest part. The Academy likes to nominate those they’ve awarded and nominated before. But Murphy, Whitehead, Styles and Sir Kenneth Branagh (as the British troop leader,who has the most moving single line in the film, which I won’t reveal here) are all  exemplary.


That Harry Styles in his film debut holds his own with these Knights of the Realm is as much a tribute to Nolan’s laconic, terse direction of the actors as well as the many, many ships at sea and the planes in the air. And to shoot this all on water! How did he get those incredible, aquatic shots?

Hoyte Van Hoytena, the superb cinematographer of the awe-inspiring, acrobatic camera work is surely on his way to an Oscar for his astounding work here of filming the unfilmable on land and on sea .There’s not a lot of blood in “Dunkirk” but there is an awful lot of water!  Lee Smith’s phenomenal, fast-paced film editing is going to be acknowledged, too, at awards-time, I’m so sure. “Dunkirk” is incredibly only 90 minutes! And it’s shot on film. Nothing is digital.Tom Hardy Dunkirk 1

A special note most also be taken of previous Oscar nominee Tom Hardy (for Best Supporting Actor for “The Revenant”)’s ability to act throughout the film almost entirely in a pilot’s gas mask, with only his eyes and his voice for expression.(See above) He’s got to carry nearly a third of the film in tight close-up in his fighter pilot’s cockpit. He’s as moving and as effective of those fighting to survive below, who we see in full.Dunkirk 4

This picture was made for Oscar, and it will get nominated all over the place, and deservedly so. It’s a great movie. And a great movie movie. And Number One at the box-office for the past two weeks to boot. Don’t miss “Dunkirk”!

#Dunkirk, #Mark Rylance, #Christopher Nolan, #Harry Styles, #WWII #Tom Hardy, #War Movie, #Oscars, #Best Supporting Actor, #Best Picture

Sam Shepherd Passes;I Debuted as an Actor in His “Melodrama Play” at LaMama

La Mama Ellen Stewart

I made my theatrical debut at La Mama in a Sam Shepherd play called “Melodrama Play.” It’s little known, and I’ve never seen another production of it. The late genius actor/director Seth Allen convinced Ellen Stewart, La Mama herself, to let him have his own company of actors at La Mama, in the heady early ’70s and he called it The Star Car. I was working the box-office at the time and became quite the La Mama fixture for a while.La Mama ext.1

Ellen was a legend even then. She had practically jump-started the Off-Off Broadway movement herself, with her Café La Mama in the ’60s. And Sam Shepherd was a main part of her early success. She adored him. He was one of her “babies.” And Seth Allen was, too.

Sam Shepherd was already a produced star and considered a major American playwright by the time I landed in “Melodrama Play” in 1971. With Seth Allen directing. It was as campy as all hell, and two go-go dancers in cages onstage and in and above the audience added to this outre effect ,and I sure did as Cisco, a hippie with my hair in a huge red-orange ‘fro ( I had hair then ). I was supposed to, per Seth’s direction giggle and laugh all the time. And yes, I was also in hot-pants, cut off jeans, and a skinny T-shirt. There’s a picture of this somewhere and I’ll publish it some day.

 

Young San Shepherd 1

It was the last thing in the world, I think, that Sam expected to see his play done like – this a transgender mini-extravaganza.

Seth had a history with it. He had toured Europe with La Mama E.T.C. in a VAN that was called “the star car” by its inhabitants, and I think Melodrama Play was one of the plays they did, hence Seth’s affection for it.

It was thrilling to do, and I remember meeting the EXTREMELY handsome young playwright at the cast party after opening night, and he looked at me a bit bewildered. He didn’t know what to say, initially. I don’t think he ever thought of this character as gay, but I certainly played it that way, and the audience loved it. It was quite the debut.

And Sam just looked at me with this perplexed expression and after a pause, said, “Good.”

 

 

 

 

Hollywood Reporter Says That Casting Conflab May Cause “Natasha, Pierre…” to Close

The esteemed Hollywood Reporter has now weighed in on the “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” casting controversy. As I feared in the last post, the Hollywood Reporter says “Casting Controversy May Cause ‘The Great Comet’ to Close Early.” http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/will-casting-controversy-hasten-closing-broadways-great-comet-1025196?utm_source=twitter

I was really afraid of this. Tragic. I feel terrible for all involved.

Casting Brouhaha Embroils “Natasha, Pierre…”

Much to my surprise there was a tweet in my in-box this morning from Josh Groban! I have to say that all his fans got this tweet, too, and it was all about “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812”, the great show that he just departed on July 2. I read the whole twitter feed before I could get a handle on what happened. It’s very confusing. I’ve read Playbill.com now and Theatermania.com and you can, too, of course, and track this complicated story.

Seems that his replacement the actor whose nick name is Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan” of “Hamilton” was going to be replacing him in the role, but I did notice an ad touting Broadway veteran Mandy Patinkin’s taking it over for three weeks in August. And now it seems, he’s not. He’s backed out of it. There was “a social media uproar,” which I didn’t hear anything about until I got that frantic email from Josh himself. What was going on? Josh said, and you can read this on Twitter “It was handled poorly.”

Which I guess means that they, the producers, didn’t tell “Oak” that Patinkin was replacing him! And so soon.

And he took it rather badly, and announced, also on Twitter that he is now only performing the role of Pierre til the date Patinkin was supposed to take over. Except he’s not, Patinkin decided. Anyway, he’s leaving. “Oak” that is. In the meantime, composer David Malloy, who is perfectly adequate as Pierre, has been stepping in when needed, as has the perfectly acceptable understudy. They’re fine, but neither of them is Josh.

Long story short, I guess he wasn’t told about Patinkin’s coming in. And so soon. Makes me think that Groban leaving this expensive, huge, lavish show has been reflected at the box-office, so the producer’s thought “We need a star.”

Well, now this has caused such a Broadway brouhaha, I wonder if they’ll ever find ANYONE to step into Oak’s place. Nobody wants to  replace in a mess like this. I knew that there would be trouble when recording mega-star Groban left the show. But I didn’t think it would reach these proportions. This saddens me all ’round. And clearly Josh is sad about this, too  Josh was in the show for nearly a year. He fulfilled his contract. He won a Tony nomination for Best Actor and now he’s moving on. He’s never gotten any negative publicity like this before, to my knowledge.

Natasha, Pierre 20It’s my favorite show on Broadway. I’ve seen it four times. I hope it continues despite all this.

Marcel Pagnol’s Incredible “Marseilles Trilogy” now Delicious Boxed Set on Criterion

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exquisite “Indecent” Reprieved & Extended Through Summer!


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.

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