a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Tennesse Williams’

Oscar’s Eyes glimmering and gleaming at Cannes at Corey Stall & Tilda Swinton!

The new Oscar season starts at Cannes. Yes. It does. It’s earlier every year, but this year Cannes seems particularly poised to kick off a few, or more than a few Oscar hopefuls, LONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG race, or stroll, I guess at this distance, to the 2012 podium.

First off, I’m starting with the film that opened Cannes to such tumultuous acclaim, Woody Allen’s new film, yes, ANOTHER one, set and shot entirely in Paris, called, of course “Midnight in Paris.” And Woody, who avoids all such hype, usually, in the US, does turn up in personi and walks the red carpet in Cannes whenever he’s got a film in competition.

And the French are going crazy for “Midnight in Paris” picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics already and on its way to a theater NEAR YOU! Maybe as soon as next week in major cities.

Now I haven’t seen it yet, but people are acclaiming it as one of his best. Although some bloggers like David Poland of www.moviecitynews.com thought it was just “Okay.” Which is it?

Well, one thing is ALWAYS true of a Woody Allen film…it’s a VERY Oscar friendly cinematic situation, especially in the Supporting categories. And the ONE person coming out of Cannes with a bucketful of kudos is unknown Corey Stall, who plays Ernest Hemingway. EVERY review singled him out. And so did Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone, who, yes, is there in person, covering every thing on and off La Croisette in fine form at www.awardsdaily.com and also at Steve Pond’s www.thewrap.com

I’m not surprised because I know Corey from his days at NYU Grad Acting, where I saw him ace a WIDE variety of roles, including Big Daddy in a memorable “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. He must’ve been 24 or 25, and he’s not fat. Maybe he was in a fat suit, but he shaved his head and was virtually unrecognizable to me as one of Tennessee Williams most indelibe characters, and Corey made it HIS OWN.  He was transformative, mature-for-his-age and memorable. I can still see him to this day, grumbling out that key word to Big Daddy’s character “MENDACITY!” And you could swear that it was a man in his ’50s or ’60s doing it! And it was young Corey Stall! No wonder his Ernest Hemingway as a young man in “Midnight in Paris” is resonating so strongly with critics at Cannes. It sounds like a perfect meeting of actor and character to me.

C0rey may not win, but he is the one who is being singled out in a star-studded cast that includes Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates and Marion Cotillard, and that usually means OSCAR NOMINATION! I’m calling it now!

There may be many more nominations coming this scrumptious-sounding film’s way, and I’ll let you know when I see it ASAP.

And then there’s Tilda Swinton, evidently, by all reports, doing her career best in a film called “We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin.” Actually, we’ve got to talk about Tilda…Who just doesn’t stop topping herself. I can’t wait to see this film, too.

And coming up at Cannes, or winding up to the Big Finish,  the Grand Finale is Pedro Almodovar’s new film, “El Piel Que Habito” (The Skin I Live In) which is the Closing Night Film. His first film in ages without Penelope Cruz ,but WITH his first break-out International Star, Antonio Banderas.

Lots of Oscar potential here.

But will they go the distance or fade, unfortunately, as the year wears on, like Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” did last year and “Bright Star” did the year before?

But it seems like Woody and Tilda have started their Oscar ball rolling in fine French fettle. Let the games begin!

Ellen Stewart, the legendary “La Mama” passes.

I’m a bit bewildered by the events of yesterday. I attended the wake of the late Ellen Stewart, LaMama herself, who started my career, and who was a major figure in my life.  The wake was an incredibly uplifting experience. Paradoxically. Wakes are always kind of frightening, in and off themselves, but this was not. There was soooo much love and joy and peace. Ellen’s great spirit was THERE.

She was one of the legends of our time. An African-American woman who broke through barriers, social and artistic, every day of her waking life.

A more fulfilled, influential, far-reaching, and yes, global life I really can’t imagine. That one woman did all these extraordinary things is just mind-boggling.

Her influence in MY life was extraordinary. She was the first person to say “Yes” to my hopes and dreams of breaking into Show Business. She allowed me in to her “home” of “La Mama” and I was one of her “babies.” I first stepped in the door of the red-rimmed building on 74A East 4th St. on October 1970. She passed at 91.

The first day I got to LaMama and the first things I remember are people were saying that (a) “Ellen is in St. Vincent’s(the West Village hospital)again.” Followed not long after by people saying(b) “Ellen is in Europe.”

The two statements seemed absolutely contradictory and yet those two sentences really summed up the dicotomy of  her life.

It seemed once I got to know her that every time she got out of the hospital (it was always unspecified “heart problems”) she got on a plane and went to some AMAZING theatrical event somewhere unexpected in the world, seemingly founding La Mama companies wherever she would go.

She had La Mamas all over the universe and she truly defined the words “multi-cultural” before there even was such a word.

At her wake, there was a closed coffin, white  flowers ( where they lilies?) everywhere and a (marvelous slide show was playing in the West Village funeral parlors two rooms that were PACKED with Ellen’s “babies.”

She HAD to play the mother role and it was one she excelled at, obviously, and you were always the “baby” no matter how old you got to be.

She started as an elevator operator at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, probably the only job opened to her in that esteemed store. Still an epitome of style. And boy, did Ellen have style! She designed her own dresses, totally self-taught, and wore them in her elevator, and they were sooo strikingly orignal, that the stores’ owners took note and before you knew it, she was DESIGNING clothes at Sak’s! The first black woman to do that. And this was in the ’50s! There were many early black and white photos of Ellen from those days, and before. She certainly seemed model-beautiful. Breathtakingly so. It was wonderful to see fashion shots of her from a time before we knew her as La Mama.

By the early ’60’s she had started her coffee-house theatre and called it La Mama, since “Mama” was what everybody was calling her then. And it was in an East Village basement. And it was the beginning of the Off Off Broadway movement that was to change the American theatre.

La Mama was totally color-blind and so was her theater. It was one of the first places that African-Americans could find a home. One of her brothers wanted to do a play he had written but according to Ellen “He broke his soul” trying to find a place to do it. And so she started her coffee house theater.

I would say single-handedly she started the Off Off Broadway movement but actually there were two other theatrical spaces that were burgeoning simultaneously with La Mama. The Cafe Cino, run by the late Joe Cino. And the Judson Poets’ Theater which was housed in the famous Greenwich Village Church right on Washington Square. And the late Rev. Al Carmines was its’ resident composer, turning out new musicals every single week, it seemed, that the congregation appeared in. EVERY single member who wanted to sing, could sing. The chorus was enormous and filled the church was years with celestial music.

Ellen meanwhile watched her coffee house basement theater grow to the point that it had to move into a four story building, 74A East Fourth Street, which is where I met her, and which is where it is still functioning today.

I started as an assitant stage manager there. The PROP boy, in essence, for the resident GPA Nucleus which was at the time Ellen’s Black company and the all black cast were doing Ed Bullin’s “Street Sounds.” Future Tony Winner Mary Alice (“Fences”) was in the cast of a play that was nothing but monologues.

It was something I never DREAMED I would do and it started me in one improbable(to my VERY young mind) job after another at La Mama.

I worked the box-office guarded by two VERY vicious German Shepherd dogs, one white and one black, called Slick and Sooner. And I was deathly afraid of dogs! AND I was allergic! But Ellen made me do it and I got over both those fears.

I think she thought it was GOOD for me. Or anyone in her orbit, to do things they were afraid of and thought they CAN’T possibly do.

Over my protestations over Slick and Sooner and I being enclosed in such a confined space, I remember her saying “You’re going to be glad they’re there.”

And eventually, I was. The East Village was a VERY dangerous place then, and NOBODY bothered Slick, Sooner or me.  Ellen was of course, right, as she always was.

Eventually I started my career as an actor there in Sam Shepherd’s “Melodrama Play” as a stoned hippie who couldn’t stopped laughing.

And Ellen started doing my plays there, too. “Audition!” in 1972 and later “The Kitty Glitter Story” which starred Agosto Machado and later she showed my first film there “Two Saints” which also starred Agosto, the magnificent Oriental transvestite, who I had met around the corner at the original WPA when I was cast as Candy Darling’s mother in Jackie Curtis’ Warholian musical extravaganza “Vain Victory.”

I met Andy Warhol there while I was working on the box-office one night and Tennessee Williams, too. What did they have in common? Both were gay and both were nervous wrecks. Andy had just been shot and Tennessee was so worried about the opening of his new play “Small Craft Warnings” across the street at the Truck and Warehouse OFF Broadway theater, he was fleeing town.

I met most of the people who were to form my life there, and many who are still my friends today. My composer Donald Arrington and Susan Haskins and filmmaker Nancy Heiken main among many.

I could go on and on. And maybe I will, someday, with the title “I Remember La Mama” firmly placed in my mind.

R.I.P. Mama

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: