1/20/17

"BROADWAY": A TIMES SQUARE NIGHTMARE



Here are the first four minutes of the 1929 movie "Broadway," directed by Paul Fejos and based on one of the biggest stage hits of the 1920's which was called--er--"Broadway." The opening credits are among the most disturbing I've ever seen, with elaborate miniatures of Times Square, mad dolly moves and finally what appears to be a giant, gold-sprayed, demonic bartender walking through the set. Assuming you haven't run from the room screaming, we're next treated to the interior of the Club Paradise where the entire action of the play takes place. Once again nightmarishly garish and surreal sets are explored in nauseatingly elaborate dolly moves, finally settling down to a strange little scene where a male choreographer rehearses a few chorines in a dance that he performs quite well and they can't perform at all.

"Broadway" was shot in both a silent and sound version as was frequently the case in the early days of talkies (this was because many theaters had yet to convert to sound). Scenes were actually filmed twice, one for each version,  because the acting styles differed--talkies slowed scenes down while silent scenes depended on a more pantomimic acting style. Actually, I don't know that for a fact. I just made it up. But it does sound authoritatively informative, doesn't it? The reason for the Hungarian titles is that this is a Hungarian print of the movie, the only known existing print of the full silent version. Apparently a full sound version exists in a vault in the Smithsonian. Or perhaps Universal Studios. This contradictory information has been gleaned from the comments section below the video. Basing anything scholarly on information that comes from Youtube posters is a little like basing information on anything political on the words of Donald Trump. At least "Broadway" is silent...

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1/12/17

"MADOFF" HAS BEEN NOMINATED FOR A DGA AWARD!



Longtime readers of this blog (the four of you) know by now that I have a complete lack of self-consciousness about self-promotion (a quality, I hasten to add, that can almost always be found in a show-biz kid). So it is with no humility whatsoever that I announce that the Directors Guild of America (or rather its members) have nominated me as Best Director of a Mini-Series for my work on "Madoff", which aired last spring on ABC. Click on this to read the Variety article. I would appreciate you sending good thoughts and vibes into the ether as I'm up against two HBO movies and two live musical events, all of which are stiff competition. The hell with it. It's great to be recognized by one's peers and I'm deeply thankful to mine.

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1/10/17

A SONDHEIM POTPOURRI


Above is a very watchable twelve minute doc consisting of combined interviews of Stephen Sondheim through the years. You'll see young Stephen (including excerpts of the show I previously posted), middle aged Stephen (talking on the Mike Douglas show at some point in the 70s) and aging Stephen, sitting in a rather baronial and countrified room in what I believe to be his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. There are many fine moments--a young Stephen appears on a TV show with Arthur Laurents (this is around the time of 'Anyone Can Whistle' making it the mid-60s) and Laurents makes extravagant (and correct) claims for the superiority and originality of young Stephen's lyrics. Sondheim sits patiently, taking in the words impassively with not a hint of embarrassment or false humility. It's this sense of complete confidence, certainty and cool that I find so oddly disarming--does he never have a doubt? There's another nice moment where he casually mentions how helpful alcohol can be in creative work--and the accompanying visual shows him pouring a very healthy shot of Absolute Citron into a highball glass. What a relief to finally have a writer deviate from the party line: "I drink but never when I'm working". Bullshit!

Best of all, though, comes at 10 minutes in. In yesterday's post, I mentioned that Sondheim began spinning the same anecdotes that we'll hear over the years on that early 60s CBS show. The story of how Oscar Hammerstein taught him everything he knows about plays and lyrics one afternoon when he was a teenager is told using six different interviews spread over fifty years. It's a very amusing way to send up Stephen and it's also instructive; the truth is, he's a quite shy man (full disclosure: I met him and spent an hour in his company about five years ago at a big show-biz event and while charming and friendly I could see how painful an ordeal the whole afternoon was for him) and recycling good anecdotes is probably the easiest way for him to get these interviews over with and get back to what he really prefers: staying home and playing games, whether they're board games, card games, or music and lyric-writing games.

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1/9/17

YOUNG SONDHEIM



When Stephen Sondheim was still just a lyricist he appeared on a CBS 'educational show' and discussed how he became (at the age of not-yet-thirty) the celebrated lyricist of 'West Side Story' and 'Gypsy'. Above is the show. It's a wonderful watch as we see the young, low-key and utterly confident Sondheim begin spinning the basic anecdotes, opinion and autobiography that he's never really changed over the years e.g. how his childhood mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, taught him to write a show by mercilessly criticizing his high-school musical effort, how he hates writing lyrics, how he doesn't like his own beautiful lyrics to 'I Feel Pretty' etc. etc. The orchestrator/conductor Irwin Kostal is also part of the show and, during his  interview, goes a little postal on how much his arranging helps composers who are lazy and only give him a melody to work with (!), as well as throwing in his contempt for how unschooled new composers are and how bad rock and roll is. It's quite a performance, matched only by the woefully miscast and stiff singers who demonstrate a few Sondheim songs--in the words of Gore Vidal (when he was speaking of Charlton Heston's acting): "You can hear the piles of wood collapsing from miles away".

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1/6/17

JACK AND JOAN: A NON-LOVE STORY



Here's a one minute clip of an interview with Joan Rivers in which she discusses her one appearance on the Jack Paar show and how Paar utterly failed to help her career. Forty-some years later, Rivers is still bitter about what happened. Good for her. I think I'm getting to like Paar less, the longer this series goes on...

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