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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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:10 PM