Well, before I could say "If it's Tuesday it must be Belgium", the invaluble JC has managed to locate press and photos of our trip to Ghent that are so recent, they seem to have been pubiished before having actually occurred. Actually, two nights ago was the gala screening of "City Island" and the lifetime achievement award for Andy Garcia. Note that his actress/co-star/daughter Dominik was with us and that Andy wore his trademark "wintertime only" beret. Thanks, JC, for posting this link in a language I can't identify (Flemish?) If you want more photos and stuff, go to the comments section of my last post and scroll to the bottom; JC has helpfully provided links for all to share.

ghentGhent is a candy-box city, literally, As beautifully crafted, modeled and sweet as the chocolate which its country is so famous for making. I made the tactical error of telling one of our hosts upon arriving that I couldn't wait to see neighboring Bruges (as in "In Bruges"). "But why?", they asked. "Ghent has everything and more. It is alive! Bruges is merely a museum city. Ghent has a university, people, life!" I half-expected them to break into a Flemish chorus of "L'Chaim" and realized, glumly, that I'd stumbled into an old rivalry while merely attempting to behave a trifle more...aware...educated, if you will, about my surroundings than the usual ugly American filmmaker.

But I was hell bent on Bruges anyway--how many trips to Belgium might we reasonably contemplate in this life?--and yesterday five of us went: myself, Andy, Dominik, our associate producer Joe Drago and music agent extrodinaire Laura Engel who was at the festival with several members of her highly prestigious boutique client list: Alexander Desplat (who wrote the wonderful score to "Benjamin Button") and the legendary Marvin Hamlisch ("A Chorus Line", "The Way We Were" etc.). Bruges turned out to be far from a museum--a bustling, beautifully kept and frankly touristy little medieval spot. We managed a horse-and-buggy tour--Laura was hip to this specialty of the area and "produced" the entire thing--which was lovely and terrifying all at once. Andy smoked his cigar while bundled in the back of the carriage, a touch that I found very swashbuckling. Indeed the whole thing felt so of another century that I couldn't help stealing a favorite Orson Welles line upon entering a taxi cab in New York (as quoted in Peter Bogdanovich's "This Is Orson Welles" and re-quoted to me by PB in similar circumstances--we were getting in a cab on Central Park West in deep rush hour--and hereby requoted by me with no permission whatsoever...JESUS, STOP ME): "And a gold doubloon to you, sir, if you get us there before nightfall!"

Said to the average New York City cabbie, it's funny because it's meaningless. Said to the horse and buggy driver in Bruges, it somehow makes sense. Now picture an aging Orson Welles saying it as he lumbers into a taxi after giving his destination and you get it fully. Here's Andy and I in the town center of beautiful Bruges.

The big closing night ceremony bit that all these festivals have was something called the "Soundtrack Awards", a televised
event where they give out awards of various sorts for music in movies. M. Desplat won two. Marvin Hamlisch was the "lifetime acheivement" guy. He played "The Way We Were" on the piano with a singer who looked but didn't sound like Barbara Striesand, a truly unfortunate combination. Then he conducted the orchestra in "One" from "A Chorus Line", with footage from what I presume to be the film version of the show (a flop from the eighties with Michael Douglas as the director who in the show wisely remains an off-stage presence only).

marvinhamlischAfterwards, Andy, Joe and I (and the cool-as-all-get out Laura Engel) had dinner with Marvin Hamlisch and his wife, Teri. Now most people know Marvin from the above mentioned credits; when I was a kid, everyone thought he wrote Scot Joplin's "The Entertainer" from the Redford/Newman/David Ward/George Roy Hill classic "The Sting". The truth was he didn't; he had the cleverness to fit that ancient piece of ragtime to the picture and adapted it for the film. Obviously "The Way We Were" and "A Chorus Line" were hugely successful events in their time--and these he most definately did write. But what I remembered about Hamlisch--which I mentioned to his surprise and I think delight last night--was a record album I had called "An Evening With Groucho". This was Groucho Marx's one man show as presented in the late sixties (prior to Hamlisch's emergence on the big-time circuit) at Carnegie Hall. And who was Groucho's accompaniest? Marvin, of course! Earlier he had been the rehearsal pianist for Streisand when she did "Funny Girl", her breakthrough Broadway hit. This was the stuff I wanted to talk about with Marvin and he was most engaging and--i suspect--happy to talk about a piece of his early life that is now vaguely remembered by others, if at all.

All in all, a lovely film fest experience and one that made me reflect on my youth in an interesting way: for if you were growing up in the early seventies, surrounded by show-biz, and had any musical talent at all, everyone thought you might turn out to
be...you guessed it, Marvin Hamlisch. I remember his success and omnipotence at the time as proof that it paid to practice your piano lessons. And that he was cool enough to play (and conduct) classical music, but could still write hit tunes, hit shows and accompany Groucho Marx. What a pleasure to break bread with the man. Here he is on his extraordinary beginnings as a piano prodigy..

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And here he is on Johnny Carson in 1976 accompanying--get this--Bing Crosby and Ray Bolger. A fine piece of footage and one I hope to mention to Marvin next time...assuming there is a next time.