Sunday, November 25, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I've never re-posted one of my posts, but on this sad day and in memory of the great Amy Winehouse here is my original post from 2007 about my discovering her.
A few months ago I started to hear the name Amy Winehouse here and there. I had never heard of her, but her name caught my imagination and then I saw a few photos of her and I knew that I had to search her out. So I went to You tube and there she was. With a click of the mouse she came alive and I was hooked big time. Not since I first heard and saw Janis Joplin have I been so taken with a contemporary pop star. I think she is the first great singer of the new century, and if she survives she will be right up there with Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington Ella Fitzgerald and Janis Joplin. I should say that these five greats are my favorite top singers and now I add Amy to that list. I like and love a lot of other singers of course, Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Doris Day (that’s a post in itself), Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole (the only two male singers to make my list), Tina Turner, Patsy Cline, Dione Warwick early Aretha Franklin, the great girl groups of the 60’s, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Anita O’Day and for a few minutes Barbra Streisand back in the days before she became well Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland mainly for her rendition of The Man That Got Away in “A Star Is Born”. Quite a group. But what is it about Ms. Winehouse that I find so God damn appealing and habit forming. Well first of all of cause is her magnificent voice. You just don’t expect to hear singing like that coming out of such a tiny and young person. And then there is her look. The black black bee hive hairdo, the tattoos, her sense of fashion or nonfashion, and her vulnerability. But like many of the other women singers that I have loved she’s on a path of self-destruction. I first heard of Billie Holiday actually on the day she died July 17th 1959 when driving with my mother in our red 1957 Pontiac. We were listening to the car radio when an announcer said that she had died. I had just turned 12 and of course had no idea who she was. In fact I thought the guy said that Judy Holliday had died, and indeed she would die tragically a few years later. Did I curse that dear lady by thinking she was dead? In any case I got upset thinking that Judy had died, “No Ira my mother said, its Billie Holiday who died.” “Who was she?” I asked? She was a colored singer. “Was she any good?” “Yes very.” That “yes very” I would find out for myself many years later when I finally heard Billie sing her blues. I had never heard anything like her before or I might add since. Sometimes in the 1980’s when I would get blue maybe over breaking up with a boyfriend or just anything sad or lonely in my life I would put “Lady In Satin” on the stero, light up a joint, crack open a beer, smoke too many cigarettes and cry my eyes out. When I hear Billie sing, I say she is my favorite singer of all time, but then I’ll listen to Sarah Vaughan and say she is my favorite singer of all time, or Dinah Washington is my favorite or Ella Fitzgerald is or Joplin is. I guess you get the drift. Today I bought the dvd “I told You I Was Trouble” which is a dvd of Winehouse in concert from this year and watched about one hour of it. She’s magnificent and maddening. She’s only what 24 and I kept thinking to myself that she’s not long for this world. I could not take my eyes off of her, with her sixties eye makeup and hair, her thin legs her beautiful face and that incredible voice. Every week some kind of crap involving her is in the news. Arrests, drug busts, horrible photos of her and her druggy husband both bashed up and cut, with blood all over them, domestic violence written in blood on her face. I thought it was a still from a new Cronenberg movie. Concerts have been cancelled or gone bad, very bad with audiences booing and walking out. And then there is the drinking and drugging on stage, the parodies of her on YouTube and all those nasty comments. This little lady needs help big time before its too late. I’ve not cared about any singers for a long time and I have no idea what Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears sound like but I wish that they would just go away. Does anyone actually listen to them? Of course they do, look at all the money they make. This kind of pop crap began with Madonna with her tiny voice and now continues today with the likes of Pink, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani and so many other bad singers. But then along comes Amy Winehouse, “she’s the real thing” my friend Peter said after he finally heard her great cd “Back To Black”. Yes she’s the real thing, edgy, talented, dangerous but ultimately sad and a real heartbreaker.
Pictures of Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughan, Janis Joplin, Etta James, Dinah Washington & Billie Holiday
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
This past weekend me and my friend Peter went to the Film Forum to see the revival of Diva. We had free tickets thanks to my close friend Lee who did the poster for the film (he does the posters for all the special films that show there.) and he had two tickets waiting for us at the box office for the first show. Diva, which is Jean-Jacques Beineix’s first film, is a quirky colorful pop mixture of action, romance, music and fairy tale that is based on a pop novel by the French writer Delacorta. The story is this. A young French postal delivery boy named Jules, is an opera lover & a big fan of the beautiful, & eccentric African American diva Cynthia Hawkins who is performing in Paris when the movie opens. Ms. Hawkins played by the beautiful opera singer Wilhelmenia Fernandez refuses to sing for recordings, and this quirk of hers is what sets the action of the movie moving. Jules decides to tape Hawkins in performance, after which he goes backstage to meet the diva, and promptly steals the gown she wore at the concert, which he sometimes uses as a scarf when its not hanging in a shrine he has made to her in his large loft filled with discarded cars. The plot really gets tangled when Jules, while on his way to a delivery witnesses the murder of a barefooted young woman who is carrying a tape that has a lot of plot and secrets on it. Who is she, and why does she wind up with an ice pick in her back is one of the movie's many enjoyable plot devices that slowly unravels as the film goes on. While on her way to the ice pick the lady drops her tape (unknown to him at the time) in Jules delivery pouch, and the chase so to speak is on. Jules charmingly played by Frederic Andrei is not only in danger from the very creepy killers of the lady, but also from two shady Japanese record producers who want his pirated tape of Hawkins beautiful aria from "La Wally" that Jules recorded. Very much influenced by American crime thrillers & film noir but very much it's own film, Diva is a delight from the very beginning to the beautiful ending which takes place on an empty stage and always moves me to shed a few tears. One of the terrific things about Diva is its lively cast of characters all wonderfully played. Thuy An Luu as the young & sexy Vietnamese model Alba, is most winning as the companion of the strange & seemingly very wealthy recluse played by the great Richard Bohringer. These are characters and performances to embrace; they make one feel good. There are many wonderful set pieces including a quite amazing chase on motorbike through the Paris metro, a stroll in the early morning hours around Paris with Jules and Hawkins, and of course the gorgeous singing of Ms. Fernandez. Beautifully photographed by Philippe Rousselot this is one of the highlights of 1982, and among the very best of the decade. There is also a somewhat new and restored DVD that does justice to the film both in the quality of the picture and sound.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
The Horror Of It All
This past Halloween night I decided to watch a real horror, the newly restored dvd of William Friedkin’s controversial movie Cruising. I didn’t go to see this piece of crap when it came out, but I did see it on video back then and didn’t care for it much. Well you might be asking why did I want to see it again. Since it was so many years ago I thought it might be interesting to watch it again with the wide space of time separating my initial viewing. I also love movies that take place in New York and enjoy seeing the city as it was in years past, even if it’s the fairly recent past. Unfortunately the movie still stinks. I should mention now that I was one of the many gay men and lesbians who protested the making of the film when Friedkin and his crew were shooting at night in the meatpacking district of Greenwich Village where many of the after hour leather and sex clubs used to be. I was 32 that hot summer and I was having an affair with a good-looking but very fucked up Italian schoolteacher. Gino was Intelligent and a lover of movies like myself and very politically aware so we got our little whistles and joined the protest to disrupt the filming. The gay community was torn and divided over this film. Many gay men took part in the filming as extras in the leather and sex bar scenes but there were also many of us who thought that this film would do the gay community great harm by presenting all of us as sex crazy perverts who did weird and strange things to and with each other in dirty ugly dark places. Now of course I know that there were many gay men who did do weird and strange things with each other in dirty ugly places, but most of us did not and we didn’t want the world to think of us in that way only. I think we did a good job of causing problems for Friedkin but of course we did not stop the film from being made. It was so strange for me to see the film again, because I recognized so many of the men who were extras in the bar scenes from my own days of cruising and hanging out in the village and the bars. Many of the men who were in the movie are more than likely dead from AIDS. Ghosts. Shadows on celluloid. I myself was never much into the seedier side of the gay scene. I was more of a disco baby and preferred going to 12 west which was a primo members only gay disco then the sex clubs like the mine shaft. I did however once go to the anvil late one night or early one morning gagging all the way there from the stench of blood that hung in the air from the meat packinghouses that once lined the area. I promptly got my pocket picked in the pitch-black back rooms, and that pretty much cured me of that scene. Once I asked Tom if I could go with him to the mineshaft and he very loudly said “no way.” The sleaze scene was ok for him, but not for me. He would protect me from all that. The film based on a homophobic novel by Gerald Walker a newspaper hack is silly but creepy with Al Pacino in the lead and starting in my opinion his sad decline as a once exciting actor who gave so many memorable performances in the early 70’s. His slow downfall may have begun with Cruising but for me it was really solidified with the dreadful remake of “Scarface” that Brian DePalma pooped out in 1983. I can't really understand why DePalma felt the need to do a remake of Howard Hawk's 1932 gangster masterpiece Scarface that starred the stunning Paul Muni in the lead. The original is so good and tough, lean and stark, short and to the point. This laughable mess goes on for an unbearable three hours, and has as its centerpiece, it's anchor, its star, Al Pacino who is simply dreadful. . All his recent roles & performances seem the same, they blend and melt into one. His performances have become lazy, fat and dishonest. At times it seems as if his performances are yelled at us, and this is usually mistaken by some as intense and powerful acting. When he tries to be subtle and quiet, he comes off as insincere and all method. He was fun in Dick Tracy, because he was playing a cartoon, and his overacting was exactly right for a comic strip. His performance was all make-up. His Oscar for the cheap & sentimental "Scent of A Woman" was undeserved, but as Oscar saw it he was long overdue. So in Scarface we have Al playing gangster with a bad Cuban accent which comes off as a bad Mexican accent. DePalma & the screenwriter Oliver Stone have changed the Italian criminals of the original to Cubans and instead of booze we have coke, instead of the fine subtle Hawksian direction of the original we have De Palma's over the edge Misdirection. To be sure DePalma has made some terrific original films.Carrie, Sisters, Dressed to Kill and The Untouchables immediately come to mind, but Scarface is not one of them. There is however one top notch DePalmian sequence and that’s the chainsaw in the motel bathtub scene, but that’s only a few minutes in a three hour flick. The violence and gratuitous cursing wore me out, and after awhile it all becomes meaningless and stupid. I envy Michelle Pfeiffer who in the film gets to walk out on this mess. Also in the cast is F. Murray Abraham, one year away from winning a best actor Oscar and oblivion, & Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who in the flash of a snort goes from being a good sweet girl to a raging party girl, not very convincingly I might add. Not exactly a highpoint of American cinema, but Cruising makes it look like a minor masterpiece. Some years later I happened to catch William Friedkin on some late night interview show where he said he was sorry he ever made the film, and apologized to the gay community. I thought on the extras that are on the dvd that he would once again apologize for making this garbage, but he came off as arrogant and proud that he made this drek. I wonder what it is about the gay life style that so appeals to him? I mean he also made the hateful screen adaptation of the play “Boys in The Band” that is so full of self-pity, loathing & anguish that when I first saw it in a theatre I was embarrassed and humiliated by what I was seeing. Is he a closet case or what? And what was Jeanne Moreau thinking when she married this hack? True the marriage lasted 15 minutes but still I just can’t figure out what one of the great actresses in the history of cinema would see in this Hollywood crap filmmaker. The plot of Cruising is simple and blunt. A cop (Al) goes undercover to find the killer of gay men and becomes seduced by the leather scene and slowly starts to loose his identity and some would say his mind. There is a horrible murder at the end of the film of the most sympathetic character in the movie, and we are left to ponder the possibility that hey maybe Al did it. I’ve had two Al Pacino sightings; one was in 1975 at a party the weekend before the Oscars when he was nominated for I think Dog Day Afternoon. It was a large art world bash, and it was crowded but no one recognized him, except of cause me. I went up to him and started to chat him up, telling him how much I loved his work (which I did, think of him in The Godfather films) and wished him good luck on getting an Oscar. He was warm and friendly, and even asked me about myself. The second time was the day his mentor Lee Strasberg died, and I was sitting on a bench on 5th avenue near Central Park when he walked by me with a friend looking very distraught over I guess Strasberg’s death. Two honest moments in his real life that I wish he somehow would convey in his screen life.