3/23/17

LUCY AND VIV MEET JOAN CRAWFORD



"The Lucy Show" was the follow-up  color version of "I Love Lucy", sans Desi Arnaz and William Frawley (who, in my opinion, were sorely missed). Such was the greatness of the earlier show that this series has been largely ignored in the popular culture universe. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance are still best friends only now they're 'Lucy and Viv', lending the whole enterprise an aura of laziness. They couldn't even think up new names? And somehow Ball's voice dropped an octave in the two years that intervened between the shows, making her sound like a female impersonator doing Lucille Ball (think Harvey Fierstein).

Nonetheless, the above clip is nothing short of frigging hilarious. I can't find the entire show on Youtube so I've no idea of how the situation resolves itself, but Lucy and Viv inadvertently wander into Joan Crawford's house and meet the star herself, who--through a little contorted logic and circumstantial evidenc-- they think must have gone broke. Wonderful timing by all three women, an incredibly funny double-take by Vance when she realizes whose house they're in, and a formidable comedic line about a banker (Lucy's boss) who "wouldn't lend money to Richard Burton if he put Elizabeth Taylor up for collateral".

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3/10/17

"PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK": ODE TO BROADWAY & 70-SOMETHING STREET



Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing filmmaker and photographer Jerry Schatzberg for my upcoming podcast series "Movies Til Dawn" (inventive title, right? But it is the age of 'branding' so...)

Our conversation centered primarily on one of the great 70s counterculture films and certainly the starkest look at drug addiction ever made ,"Panic In Needle Park". Above I've posted a longish (three minute) trailer for the film which will give you a basic starting knowledge of what this extraordinary film is all about. If you've never seen it I urge you to find it on Netflix. (There's also a Youtube posting of the entire movie but the image is squeezed for some reason). In his first starring role, Al Pacino completely makes you forget that you're watching an actor play a drug addict. Much of this is directly attributable to Schatzberg's direction, which crosses the boundary from narrative film into verite documentary waters. The film uses no score whatsoever, though Jerry told me Ned Rorem actually composed a score but that bit by bit they kept eliminating cues until they got the idea that any music was too much music. Much like this year's Oscar winning "Moonlight", the film is so good that you kind of can't wait to get out of it and back to a civil world. It's also a portrait of New York in the Lindsey years and of an Upper West Side that is no longer. I remember that New York a bit--I was a six/seven year old--and the film brought back the smells of a darker, trashier city, one in which my mother gripped my hand tightly in hers as we walked those very streets.

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3/2/17

BETTE BOOGIES DOWN



Here's the theme song that didn't really exist for the movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", sung by Bette Davis who wasn't a singer on a TV show that nobody remembers. As with my previous post--Bette singing the theme to "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte"--you can feel the disbelief in the room as Bette boogies down. Why she chose at this late stage in her career to take up singing remains a mystery--one that she took to the grave with her. But I do like her spirit and if nothing else it shows that Bette had nerves of steel and a certain sense of humor about herself.

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2/20/17

HUSH HUSH SWEET BETTE



Did you know Bette Davis could sing? She could. Sort of. Apropos of my previous posting featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?", I am now veering into "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" territory. The film was a sort of follow-up to WHTBJ and began production with both Davis and Joan Crawford re-teamed. But Crawford walked after a few days of shooting, claiming illness--yeah, right. Production was shut down and the film was almost abandoned (in which case it would have been a prime candidate for my D.O.A. Film Festival). Director Robert Aldrich apparently offered the role to, among others, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivian Leigh, all of whom passed. (The Leigh pass is curious--she might have been ill at the time as it seems like a great opportunity for her at that sad and late stage of her career). Finally Davis's old Warner Brothers friend Olivia De Havilland bailed things out and the show went on. This clip is from a Steve Allen hosted "I've Got A Secret", broadcast shortly after the films seven Oscar nominations were announced. Bette sings the theme song quite sourly--perhaps she didn't trust herself to do it? She didn't have the hit with it. Patti Page did.

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2/14/17

BEHIND THE SCENES OF "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?"



Yes, Ryan Murphy's much-anticipated "The Feud" promises to take us behind the scenes of the legendary "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane", showing us the no-doubt tense and downright nasty dynamic between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. But what was it really like on that fabled set?

The answer is "I don't know". But I did find the above studio-sanctioned six-minute behind-the-scenes promo piece for the movie, showing us director Robert Aldrich, viewfinder slung around his neck, putting his all into shooting the picture. Aldrich was always a bold filmmaker and he seems to have reveled in the dark (and often tasteless) script by Lukas Heller. Clearly he had no fear of his two (to me) terrifying diva's and the film still holds up terrifically well. This all started because I interviewed his daughter Adell Aldrich for a doc I'm shooting on the actor Burt Young. Adell was her father's script supervisor on a number of films and this was the first of them. (I believe you can see her at 4 minutes, fifteen seconds). Having met Adell, I started the pleasant but time-wasting task of searching Youtube for any footage of her father. I didn't find any at first. But then this nifty little reel turned up, as if yelling from the bottom of a well to be discovered. Perhaps it wanted its day in court, before Ryan Murphy's version of things hits the screens/devices/phones/ or however the hell we watch stuff now.

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