Welcome to my new movie, a documentary based on a wonderful book by James Gavin called "Intimate Nights: The Golden Age Of New York Cabaret". Jim's book documents, in astonishing and wonderfully entertaining detail, the history of the small clubs--those chic and innovative nightspots where, once upon a time, people went too for an evening of sophisticated entertainment featuring singers, musicians, monologists, stand-up comics etc. Cabaret, in other words, in its most rarefied and exuberantly sophisticated form. I urge you to buy Jim's book if you're interested in this subject. And I urge you even more strongly to buy it if you're not--because it will make you into a convert. It's a fantastic cultural treasure trove that deserves more attention and is about to get it.
I met Jim last year through a mutual friend and, without knowing it, we were each other's admirers; I'd loved "Intimate Nights" since it's initial publication in the early 1990's (I used it--plundered it more accurately--for research for my first film "Cafe Society") and he, it turned out, had just seen my documentary "Tis Autumn". He mentioned that he'd always thought turning his first book into a documentary was a good idea and I instantly took to it; cabaret is a terrific subject and many of its stars and graduates are still with us (many more, sadly, have disappeared in the recent past-- Eartha Kitt, for instance). Why not make this film a la Ken Burns into a major documentation of the whole field, thought I? And so another reckless adventure began. One really ought to search for financing before making a movie, but the really important thing here was to capture as many interviews as possible as quickly as possible--just this morning, the New York Times carried the obituary of the terrific singer/pianist Blossom Dearie. Thus we've begun taping this past week in LA--our first interview subject was the legendary comedian/writer/actor/monologist Shelley Berman. My theory is that once we tape a pile of interviews with interesting people, the entire project will sound more viable to the big-time doc-funding doc lovers out there. And if not, screw them. We'll find some way to create this movie over the next couple of years.
Below I've posted a clip of Shelley Berman from the Dean Martin show, circa mid-60's I would say (based on the clothes and the progression of the bags under Dino's eyes--not as deep as the early seventies and hence less of that strange fake-tan make-up that he began lathering his face with). This clip doesn't do justice to Berman's real talent but its' not a bad start--actually the Berman stand-up records ("Inside Shelley Berman" etc.) were recently on youtube with accompanying still photos of the legend, but they now seem to have vanished--perhaps another victim of the misguided notion that everything ever created must be paid for over and over again even though none of the original creators stand to profit. Berman's career was famously "cut short" by a damning documentary made about him in the early 60's called "Comedian Backstage", which apparently featured Berman having a tantrum backstage because of noise during his act. I'm eager to find a copy of this movie--it's not up on youtube--and if anyone has any further information about it, you know where to find me.
Upcoming interviews include Orson Bean, Dixie Carter, Kaye Ballard, Robert Clary and "others too numerous to mention..."