Friday, December 30, 2016

a postscript

I've been remiss. I forgot to mention among the references to Jacques Demy's "The Young Girls of Rochfort" in my essay on Damien Chazelle's ”La La Land” that there is a wonderful documentary made by Demy's widow, filmmaker Agnès Varda - "Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans" ("The Young Girls Turn 25").  The film, which I saw back in 1993 at the Mill Valley Film Festival, details the return of some of the film's stars, including Catherine Deneuve, and crew to the town of Rochfort to celebrate their movie 25 years later. It's an especially poignant documentary, given that three principals involved in the film - Demy, Gene Kelly and Deneuve's sister, Françoise Dorléac - were all long gone by the time of the tribute.

Monday, December 26, 2016

an "occasional musical" and its clueless admirers

Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate ©
 Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling perform for Damien Chazelle's camera

Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" is an odd film of significant charm and flashes of brilliance. It is being sold, rather bravely, as a musical and I reference its courage because the musical genre hasn't been appreciated, understood or desired, for several decades now, by the moviegoing public or even critics (who one would expect to have open, adventurous minds).

Actually, it should be noted that "La La Land" is a musical occasionally.  Sometimes, it remembers that it's a song-and-dance film and, at other times, it seems to forget.  That's part of its laid-back, unrushed, fizzy charm. And this curious quality - seemingly both deliberate and dreamy - is what makes it uncommon among modern films, musical or otherwise.

Chazelle works with only six songs here - which seems like barely enough to carry a self-promoted "musical" - but he's creative with them, playfully extending two or three into lengthy productions while limiting others with a scratch-pad casualness and brevity. Sometimes, only a few bars are sung.

His film has been embraced almost unanimously by the critics, deservedly so, but for reasons that have little to do with the movie itself.  It's been compared by more than one reviewer to "Singin' in the Rain," which is odd given that the two films have little in common apart from the fact that they both contain song and dance performed against a movietown backdrop.

"Singin' in the Rain," co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and released by MGM in 1952, has become the easy, rather convenient go-to musical for contemporary critics, even though one suspects that these same critics probably would have dismissed it as inconsequential in '52.

Also: "La La Land" can't be realistically compared to any American musical because, well, it isn't really American.  It's French (although spoken and sung in English, of course).  It's inspiration is the work of the late French filmmaker Jacques Demy, its specific template clearly being Demy's 1967 creamy sundae-of-a-musical, "The Young Girls of Rochefort" ("Les demoiselles de Rochefort"), featuring songs by Michel Legrand. Both move to a light, lilting jazz score, and "La La Land" also pays homage to Legrand with orchestrations that are lush with violins, flutes, accordians, concertinas and xzylophones.

The music (even the background mood music) in Chazelle's film swirls, unlike that of any other American movie musical within memory. Justin Hurwitz composed the Legrand-like music for "La La Land" and Ben Pasek and Justin Paul contributed the film's quick, clever conversational lyrics.

The French musical is something of an acquired taste, not always easy to consume and enjoy. "The Young Girls of Rochfort," a rare exception, goes down relatively easy, but I always found Demy's much-admired 1964 film, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" ("Les parapluies de Cherbourg"), a challenge to sit through.  Although "La La Land" follows the contours of its inspirations, it has none of the archness of its French counterparts.

Somehow, Chazelle manages to surmount that problem (although certain moviegoers, especially non-fans of the musical, may still be annoyed). 

His sprawling opening number, "Another Day of Sun," choreographed by Mandy Moore on the Los Angeles I-405 Freeway and performed by an ensemble of 100 singers and dancers, seems gratuitous and unrelated to the film that follows, but it is absolutely crucial to setting its tone:

We're not in Los Angeles anymore, Toto.  We're in Rochfort.

The plot that kicks in is about two show-business careerists who meet cute (well, sort of) on the 405, and the film then seesaws back and forth between the ambitions of the girl, a hopeful actress named Mia (Emma Stone), and those of the boy, a frustrated musician named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), while also fooling around with chronology as it also goes back and forth in time.

To make ends meet, Mia works as a barista in the café on the Warner Bros. backlot, where one the buildings has the word "Parapluies" written on it, a reference of course to "Les parapluies de Cherbourg," whose plot is echoed in Mia and Sebastian's knotty relationship.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling complement each other perfectly, with Stone playing it hyper with raw nerves showing and Gosling shielding his character's insecurities with self-aware cool. And so, given these character dynamics, it makes sense musically that Mia nervously flirts with a song or belts it out, as in her showstopper "Audition" ("The Fools Who Dream"), while Sebastian simply croons, lightly and quietly, flirting with his songs in a different way, as he does with "City of Stars," the reprise of which is sort of a musical doodle. Both songs are sung live; others are lip-synced.

"La La Land" doesn't completely ignore the American film musical, memorably quoting two. Sebastian's scenes performing in various small, dimly-lighted, smokey clubs subtly evoke the moment when Judy Garland sings "The Man That Got Away" in George Cukor's "A Star Is Born" (Warner Bros., 1955), while an elaborate, painterly fantasy sequence late in the movie reimagines what can only be the dream ballet in the Vincente Minnelli-Gene Kelly collaboration, "An American in Paris" (MGM, 1951).

All of the film, but especially the fantasy sequence, has been given a luscious glow by cinematographer Linus Sandgrew. In his New Yorker review, Anthony Lane commented, "It looks so delicious that I genuinely couldn’t decide whether to watch it or lick it." Sandgrew employed the old CinemaScope process for this oaccasion and Los Angeles has never looked more inviting. I feel precisely the same way about the movie itself.

FYI: Catherine Deneuve stars in three of Jacques Demy's musicals.  In addition to the aforementioned  "Les parapluies de Cherbourg" and "Les demoiselles de Rochefort" (which also starred Deneuve's late sister, Françoise Dorléac, and Gene Kelly), there's 1970's "Donkey Skin" ("Peau d'âne").  Demy also directed Yves Montand in 1988's marvelously titled backstage musical, "Three Tickets for the 26th" ("Trois places pour le 26").

Notes in Passing: Given the role that Warner Bros. plays in the film (Nicholas Ray's 1955 "Rebel Without a Cause" is also referenced), it's a bit of a surprise that Warners didn't snap up the film's distribution rights.

Lionsgate is releasing "La La Land."

Also, two - count 'em - two soundtrack albums from "La La Land" have been released - one devoted to the film's song score and one to its background music.  This isn't a first, however. David Byrne's new-style film musical from three decades ago, ”True Stories” (Warner Bros., 1986), also had an album of mood music and another with songs.

The latter, however, was not from the soundtrack. All the songs on it are performed by Byrne and The Talking Heads. The actor-singers in the film included John Goodman and Annie McEnroe. Byrne's film remains new-style even 30 years later.  It's terrific and worth seeking out.  That said,  I'm still waiting for an authentic soundtrack album from it.

Well, one can hope, right?

Finally, a delayed added postscript: I've been remiss. I forgot to mention the wonderful documentary made by Jacques Demy's widow, filmmaker Agnès Varda - "Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans" ("The Young Girls Turn 25") - which details the remaining cast (including Deneuve) and crew of "The Young Girls of Rochfort" returning to the town of Rochfort to celebrate their movie 25 years later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

indelible moment: "Scrooge" (1970)

One of the most delightfully perverse moments in movie-musical history is performed early on in "Scrooge," Ronald Neame's 1970 adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with songs by Leslie Bricusse.

In it, Albert Finney, so obviously relishing the role of Ebenezer, lurches through the streets of London, scowling at passersby and declaring in rhyme (courtesy of Bricusse's intricate, socially incorrect wordplay): 

"Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men
Reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest men like me!"

"Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!," Finney/Scrooge declares before breaking into Bricusse's marvelously demented song, "I Hate People," whose lyric sounds even more deranged when seen on paper. Or in this case, on computer screen.  Happy Holidays?  Indeed. Here goes...

"I hate people!
I hate people!
People are despicable creatures
Loathesome, inexplicable creatures
Good-for-nothing, kickable creatures
I hate people!
I abhor them!
When I see the indolent classes
Sitting on their indolent asses
Gulping ale from indolent glasses
I hate people!
I detest them!
I deplore them!
Fools who have no money but spend it
Get in debt, then try to end it
Beg me on their knees to befriend them
Knowing I have cash to lend them
Soft-hearted me! Hard-working me!
Clean-living, thrifty and kind as can be!
Situations like this are of no interest to me
I hate people!
I loathe people!
I despise and abominate people!
Life is full of cretinous wretches
Earning what their sweatiness fetches
Empty minds whose pettiness stretches
Further than I can see
Little wonder I hate people
And I don't care if they hate ... me!"

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Philly's Own!

Did you know that Bradley Cooper was born in Philadelphia and grew up nearby in Jenkintown and Rydal?  Or that Tina Fey is from Upper Darby? Or that Kevin Bacon's name should always be prefaced by ... Philly's Own?

Well, you would if you live in Philadelphia or anywhere close to the place because the paper of record, The Philadelphia Inquirer, has become obsessed with pointing out such information, ad infinitum, in reviews, interviews or any other pieces of scintillating journalism involving a celebrity with a local connection, even if the connection is tenuous. Aubrey Plaza is from Wilmington. Taylor Swift is from Wyomissing.  And Will Smith and Lee Daniels and David Lynch and Seth Green are all ... Philly's Own!

Why, I'm sure Meryl Streep even crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge once. That counts, right? I mean, she would qualify even though she's from, well, Summit, New Jersey. Jersey is a suburb of Philadelphia, isn't it?

I know, I know - I'm being snarky.  But I just don't understand this brand of unbridled pride. Do the paper's readers really care and do they have to be informed, over and over again, that Cooper was born in Philadelphia?

Lately, the Inky (as it is know locally) has been especially keen on promoting the local connection of "Ardmore's (and Friends Central's) own Benj Pasek" who penned the lyrics with his writing partner Justin Paul for the six songs in Damien Chazelle's "La La Land," yet the latest attempt to revive that eternally misunderstood genre, the movie musical.

Every piece - and there have been several of them - have referenced this.  The connection has been shoehorned even into wire stories written by non-Inquirer reporters. And exacerbating this rather tacky bit of hometown chauvinism is the fact that the person who wrote the music for "La La Land" is never mentioned.  That would be Justin Hurwitz who (no surprise) isn't from Philadelphia and who attended Harvard (with his friend Chazelle), rather than the University of Pennsylvania. Bad form.

For the sake of full disclosure, I hasten to note that my second newspaper job was in Philadelphia.  It is more than 30 years since I worked there but even then, there was this outsized pride in the place.  Case in point: When Grace Kelly died, it wasn't enough to run an obit or an appreciation.  No, there had to be a separate pullout - about a dozen pages celebrating a movie star who made only a handful of films, half of them negligible, and who was competent at best as an actress. But she was Philly royalty, see?

And then there's "Rocky," a solid little film that has been transformed locally into a work of art as significant as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

An editor - a carpetbagger brought in from out of town to tweak the features section - once theorized that the incessant bragging was probably the result of Philadelphia being situated between Washington, D.C. and New York in more ways than one - that there was this desperate need to either call attention to itself or forever live in the shadows of N.Y. and D.C.

So, is this kind of horn-blowing a part of New Journalism or is Philly unique?  I'm not sure.  It may be routine in other cities as well.  I don't regularly access the sites to papers in Boston or Chicago, for example.  However, I do know I've never seen "hometown references" in either The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post.  And when I worked in Northern California, I certainly was not expected to mention that Tom Hanks was a local boy in any of my reviews of his films.

But I am more than aware that Kat Dennings is from Bryn Mawr, and that Alan Goldberg (creator of TV's "The Goldbergs") is from Jenkintown and that, yes, Blythe Danner and Bob Saget are also two of  ... Philly's Own!

Compulsively so.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

reducing "hairspray" to a limp, joyless spritz

The bad timing and general pointlessness of NBC's unnecessary live production of the musical comedy "Hairspray" was exacerbated by arch, curiously lax staging.  More about the bad timing later.  More about the show's lethargy now.  This "Hairspray" was as middle-aged as the extras hired to play high-school students in the background and the dances.

It takes a lot of dubious, misguided decisions to level what should be a surefire show but NBC managed to check off just about all of them. Which is odd, given that the network got off to such a spectacular start with its 2013 staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," a production which honored the show as originally written, restoring two fine numbers that were excised from the Disney-fied 1965 TODD-AO film.

But the success of "The Sound of Music" cornered the network into a rather rigid "family friendly" formula - musicals that appeal to kids, teens and their parents exclusively.  There's no place here for something like "Sweet Charity" or a Sondheim work.  Instead, we got the deadly "Peter Pan" in 2014 (a production that, seemingly, has impacted the career of its miscast star, Allison Williams) and a forgettable version of "The Wiz" in 2015.  What's next for the kids?  "Oliver!"? Yet another "Annie"?

Predictably, the announced production for 2017 will be "Bye Bye Birdie," a (teen-driven) show that has already been the basis of an inferior but wildly popular 1963 film version and an especially terrific 1995 TV version.

There's an expression for this - can you say creative bankruptcy?

In the meantime, the Fox network entered the picture earlier this year and raised the bar considerably with a jaw-droppingly excellent version of "Grease" performed before a live audience (a conceit that NBC appropriated for "Hairspray") and with a youthful enthusiasm that's been glaringly absent from the (again, middle-aged) NBC musicals.

If the consummate, immediate goal is to attract young audiences, a degree of youthfulness is an obvious necessity.  Instead, "Hairspray Live" (as it is officially titled) delivered about 2¼ hours of forced fun.

I can't readily comprehend the reason for NBC's "Hairspray," as the material was the basis of Adam Shankman's exceptionally good film version (the definitive "Hairspray") which played cineplexes as recently as 2007 - a production that benefited strongly from Leslie Dixon's textbook example of exactly how to adapt a cartoon-like play into a credible movie.

Adhering close to the stage book, "Hairspray Live" seemed rickety, devoid of the kind of solid foundation that supported the '07 film, something which affected its performances which were scattered all over the place.

On paper, the peerless Kristen Chenoweth (a musical comedy treasure) and the ever-reliable Martin Short (who can do anything) both seemed letter-perfect for their roles, but performances which should have worked with ease were undermind by either the TV script or simply bad direction.

Jennifer Hudson, strangely cast as the mother of a high-school student (she looked younger than her TV son), has a knockout singing voice but precious little "presence"in this production and even less of the kind of powerhouse personality that her role required.  She also has the disadvantage of being compared to Queen Latifah who nailed the role in the Shankman film. Whatever, her performance lacked a necessary heft.

Having seen Harvey Fierstein in the stage version of "Hairspray" - and having a rocking good time watching him - I anticipated the same fun.  But it became clear that the kind of broad playing that marked Fierstein's stage performance works well only in the artificial setting of a theater.  It can't hold up under the close, relentless scrutiny of a camera.

There's a reason why Carol Channing was never considered for the films of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and 'Hello, Dolly!" or Ethel Merman for the movie version of "Gypsy." It would have been too much.  (Full Disclosure: I'm seriously dating myself here, but as a kid, I saw Merman in the original production and, yes, even on stage, she was too much.)

Anyway, in retrospect, John Travolta's decision to eschew even a hint of camp in his performance in the theatrical film was an astute one.

Then there's Maddie Baillio, the newcomer selected for the lead role that was played with such effortless pluck and sincerity by Nikki Blonsky opposite Travolta.  Baillio has a fine voice but, as an actress, she is (how can I put this?) - well - fairly vacant.  And while Hudson seemed too young for her role, Baillio looked too old to play a teenager.  But then just about every teenager in this production looked too old.  I have to ask: Why not cast the show with real teenagers?  There are certainly plenty of them out there.

An unctous Darren Criss was brought in to serve as on-screen host, an assignment that Mario Lopez pulled off so handily for Fox's "Grease Live."  Despite his yelping and fawning, Criss was an unconvincing cheerleader.

On the plus side, there was Ariana Grande who exhibited impressive restraint, grace and a sense of team spirit in a good but frankly supporting role; Garrett Clayton, who brought a fascinating sexual ambiguity to the role of a high-school heart-throb, and best of all, Dove Cameron, who managed to make her mean girl both loathsome and button-cute.

Cameron is a naturally witty actress. Get this woman a lead role already!

On the production side, the choreography by the estimable Jerry Mitchell was a decided disappointment, surprisingly rigid and jerky, rather than what the show's breezy score would inspire - liberating and free-flowing.

As for NBC's timing in airing "Hairspray," that was unavoidable, since these shows are announced and go into pre-production a full year before airing. For all its frivolity, "Hairspray" is an ardent plea for diversity, with the dance floor used as a level playing field for people of all color.  It indicts the racism which has been revived in recent years and has become disturbingly rampant in the past few months.  Compared to the racist venom and bile that have become routine in society and regularly covered by the media (always in lip-smacking detail), the crucial message behind "Hairspray" now seems weak, facile and, sadly, a little futile.  It's like using a pretty little pink Band-Aid to try and cover an ugly, festering sore.

That said, I have to admit that I was amused by the ads for some vintage products (Nilla Wafers!) that are rarely advertised on TV these days. A very clever touch. Also, the telecast restored a familiar line borrowed from another show, "Gypsy," that wasn't used in the Shankman-Dixon film - "I'm a pretty girl, Momma," given a famously iconic reading by Natalie Wood in the 1962 film of "Gypsy" and spoken in this production by Ariana Grande. (There's another "Gypsy" line quoted in one of "Hairspray's" lyrics - "Momma's gotta let go!," from the rousing "Rose's Turn" finale).

Note in Passing: During the telecast, NBC promoted its next live musical - "Bye Bye Birdie," starring Jennifer Lopez (although it sounded like it used Ann-Margret's voice singing the title song written for the awful '63 movie).  This seemed way too premature.  Anything can happen in a year. It reminded me of the 2004 Tony Awards telecast.  Nicole Kidman was a presenter and the announcer introduced her as "the star of the upcoming film of 'The Producers'."  Well, when "The Producers" went into production a few months later, it was without Nicole Kidman.  She dropped out and Universal lost one of its big selling/marketing points.  Uma Thurman, almost as big a star as Kidman, came in and took over the role.

Friday, December 02, 2016

the working title

The above still from "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," directed by Edward Zwick from the David Mamet play of the same title, was included in the summer preview press kit distributed by TriStar Pictures in 1986.

However, by the time the film was released that July, the studio got cold feet and retitled it with the generic moniker, "About Last Night."

It always seemed too good to be true that TriStar would retain the work's original, edgier title. (And ,of course, the title was retained for the 2014 Kevin Hart remake with Joy Bryant, Regina Hall and Michael Ealy).)

In the meantime, I have a Kris Kritofferson autographed shooting script for a Michael Cimino film titled "The Jackson County War" which, of course, became "Heaven's Gate" (1980). And let's not forget that Billy Wilder's "Ace in a Hole" (1951) became "The Big Carnival" in Paramount's desperate attempt to rescue it from box-office failure.

Which brings me to the point of this essay - namely, those films that underwent a title change and rarely for the good. I've come up with a few others that originally had singular titles that were vetoed in favor of the nondescript. Feel free to share others that come into mind. Here goes:

Sir Carol Reed's "Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian" (1970), starring Anthony Quinn and based on the Clair Huffaker novel, became the more politically-correct "Flap" on screen and in display ads.

Norman Taurog's Cary Grant/Betsy Drake vehicle, "Room for One More," (1951) became "The Easy Way" for its TV syndication when Warner Bros. decided to spin the film into a sitcom in 1961. That new title stuck, even after the series was long forgotten. The original title returned when Warner Archives put the film on DVD.

Paul Mazursky's "Jerry Saved from Drowning" (1986)- a remake of the 1932 Jean Renoir French film "Boudu Saved from Drowming" ("Boudu sauvé des eaux") - became "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." Nick Nolte assumed the role originally played by the legendary Michel Simon . And Gerard Depardieu played the role in yet another remake, 2005's "Boudu," directed by Gérard Jugnot. Got that? 

Sidney Lumet's Brando-infused "Orpheus Descending" (1960) became "The Fugitive Kind." And Joseph Losey's "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1968) - like "Orpheus Descending," by way of Tennessee Williams - became "Boom!" The latter starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in roles played by Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter on stage, under the direction of Tony Richardson.

Edouard Molinaro's "I Won't Dance" (1984), with the much-missed Kristy McNichol, became "Just the Way You Are."

Tony Bill's "The Baboon Heart" (1993), with Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater, became "Untamed Heart."

Peter Yates' "The Janitor Doesn't Dance" (1981), starring William Hurt as the janitor and Sigourney Weaver as a reporter, became "Eyewitness."

Robert Aldrich's remake of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" (1971) became "The Grissom Gang." Among the cast in Aldrich's film are Kim Darby and Connie Stevens, both of whom were married at one time to James Stacy. 

Howard Zeiff's sweet-natured "Born Jaundiced" (1991)- a great title -  became "My Girl."

Robert Altman's "The Presbyterian Church Wager" (1971) became "McCabe and Mrs. Miller."

Altman's "Brewster McCloud and His Sexy Flying Machine" (1970) was simplied to "Brewster McCloud."

Altman's all-star "Prêt-à-Porter" (1994) was translated to "Ready to Wear," thanks to Harvey Weinstein.

When director Robert Mulligan and his producing partner, Alan J. Pakula, decided to film the 1954 Horten Foote play, "The Traveling Lady," they had no idea that a song written for the film would overtake the marketing.  The opening titles feature an open highway with the camera staring down at the road, moving along with it.  But then composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Ernie Sheldon wrote Baby, The Rain Must Fall” for star Steve McQueen's character to sing. The film's screenplay was written by Foote but it was no longer known as a movie based on a distinguished play.  Lee Remick played the traveling lady on film, a role created on stage by Kim Stanley (who later reprised it for a live TV production).

Joan Micklin Silver's "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (1979), based on the Ann Beattie novel of the same title, became "Head Over Heels," only to revert back to "Chilly Scenes of Winter" for its re-release.

Andrew Bergman's "Cop Gives Waitress Two Million Dollar Tip" (1994), with Bridget Fonda and Nicolas Cage, became "It Could Happen to You."

Jon Avnet's hugely poplular "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" (1991), based on the book by Fannie Flagg, was reduced to "Fried Green Tomatoes."

George Cukor's Judy Holliday gem, "A Name for Herself" (1954), became "It Should Happen to You."

Roman Polanski shortened the title of his film version of "God of Carnage" to the monosyllabic "Carnage."

Finally, there's a film whose re-title I prefer - Jonathan Demme's "Citizen Band" (1977) , a so-so moniker that was momentarily changed to "Handle with Care" before Paramount decided to stick with the original.

Two other perfectly fine titles, meanwhile, were preserved at the 11th hour. Gilbert Cates' "I Never Sang for My Father" (1970) was slated by Columbia to be retitled "Strangers" (replete with a title song sung by Roy Clark) before someone there wised up and decided to keep the title of the lovely Robert Anderson play on which it is based.

And William Wyler's 1961 film version of the Lillian Helman play, "The Children's Hour," almost became "The Infamous."  This was the second time that Wyler directed Helman's material and the second time he had to deal with a title change.  He earlier filmed the play in 1936 and it was given  the title, "These Three." In this case, the change made sense, given that the original subject of homosexuality was supplanted by a plot about a romantic triangle. It was no longer "The Children's Hour."
Note in Passing:  Thanks to Glenn Erickson and his invaluable DVD Savant site, I was reminded that another Altman film underwent a title change - ”L.A. Short Cuts,” based on a series of stories by Raymond Carver , became "Short Cuts."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

a feline critic reviews hitchcock's "psycho"

Found this marvelous little piece on You Tube, credited to RM Videos.  I've no idea if it was staged or altered or if the darling little cat is even watching "Psycho" or the election coverage at the time of the posting.

Doesn't matter. It's purrfect. (Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Lauren and her sisters...

They growl, they purr, they whisper, they murmur, they sigh, they intone, they inflect, they modulate, they enunciate, they deliver.

They have voices, great voices, and while movies themselves may vary wildly, their voices guarantee something special, something forbidden.

I'm talking about actresses who talk to us in the dark.  Not all actresses, but the ones with those voices that stir impure thoughts.  I can imagine any one these women whispering, "I want you, Joe."  And that's what movies and movie stars are supposed to be about - fantasized relationships with teasing, arousing shadows on a screen, imperfect men and women who may not be good for anyone and who seem to be talking directly to each of us in the audience. It's intoxicating. A little sinful.


The 1940s had Lauren Bacall, already dangerously confident at 19 (the age when she made her film debut in Howard Hawks' "To Have and Have Not" in 1944) - always a woman, never a girl.  Her deep, smoky voice stood seemingly miles apart from Bette Davis' brittle snap and certainly Katharine Hepburn's yankee lockjaw (never a turn-on).

By the time we reached the 1980s, we had Kathleen Turner, Bacall's unofficial heir, who brought a robust, near-athletic quality to her line readings, often camouflaging plots we've seen 12 times before.

Actresses with voices that equal the mystery promised by Bacall and Turner have never been in the majority and, in recent years, seem to have become increasingly rare. With that in mind, a casual celebration is in order - a quick, scratch-pad tribute to those women with irresistible seen-it-all, done-it-all voices. Here's the deal:  I'll toss out the names, in no particular order.  You just have to sit back and imagine their individual sounds. And, with any hope, no one great voice will be inadvertently muffled.  (If I do miss one, remind me; I'm ready to hear suggestions.)

Kim Novak. A haunted beauty with a haunted voice that set her apart from other Hollywood blondes of the 1950s (Monroe!  Mansfield!).  Her voice projected an aching sadness.

Barbara Feldon.  Forever Agent 99. She spoke with a languid sexiness that brought grown-up thoughts to a silly sitcom.

Elizabeth Ashley. Her rasp is boozy and enticingly threatening.  Vocally, she's Bourbon on the rocks.

Debra Winger.  She of the great honking voice, almost nakedly forceful - enough for late-night stimulation.

Audrey Hepburn.  She looked like an elf but that voice was something else.  Indescribable. Absolutely singular.  That's why it was so ludicrous to dub her singing (with  Marni Nixon's pitch-perfect but soulless voice) in "My Fair Lady."  So what if she hit a bum note or two.  At least we would have known exactly whose voice was singing Lerner and Loewe.

Daryl Hannah. A tall, blonde, lanky beach girl whose unexpectedly scratchy voice makes her unexpectedly accessible.

Suzanne Pleshette. She had a husky voice that matched her dark, dusky beauty - and that came with a sneaky taunt.

Joan Crawford.   The Grande Dame of movie voices.  Ambitious and driven, she taught herself how to be a star and, more to the point, how to speak like one.

Piper Laurie. Her porcelain beauty - white, white skin and soft orange hair - is offset by a commandingly deep voice.

Hermonie Gingold. Need I say anything?  She spoke with a haughty impatience, underlined by perfect elocution and what sounds like a slight lisp.  When she concocts an anti-love potion for Jimmy Stewart in Richard Quine's "Bell, Book & Candle," she urges him to drink it "before it loses its strengthhhhh!" Priceless.

Zooey Deschanel. The new girl on the block.  Her voice is like sandpaper, only less abrasive. The apathetic, blasé intonations that she brings to her line readings make her a natural comedienne.

Diana Sands. Her unique voice somehow melded a gravel with a purr, a powerful combination that was put to superb use during her seduction of Beau Bridges in her greatest screen role in Hal Ashby's "The Landlord."  She left us too soon, way too soon.

Vanessa Redgrave. Her marvelously sonorous voice, made to recite Shakespeare or Joan Didion is tempered ever so slightly by a subtle out-of-breath quality.  Consequently, she brough an orgasmic rush to the dancer Duncan in Karel Reisz's "Isadora" and to the songs she sang as Guenevere in Josh Logan's "Camelot.". Best. Actress. Ever.

Demi Moore.  Rarely has the sound of congestion been so fetching.  Yes, congestion.  You want to feed her chicken soup but you don't want her to get better because the sound is so mesmerizing.

June Allyson.  She had adorable cracks in her voice.

Katherine Heigl. Seemingly punished by the media and her peers alike for being outspoken and having standards, Heigl comes with a focused, straight-shooting voice of a serious woman.  Formidable.  I like her. And the fact that she's a tireless animal advocate doesn't hurt.

Catherine Deneuve.  Thick, creamy, Gallic and rich.  Just like French cuisine.  She always spoke flawless English (at a time when colleagues such as Depardieu couldn't), with just enough of an accent. And she's aged beautifully, naturally. (Below with Daniel Auteuil in André Téchiné's excellent 1993 film, "Ma saison préférée.")

Sissy Spacek.  That homespun rasp is never less than endearing.

Ginger Rogers.  Arguably the screen's most versatile actress.  She could mold her voice to any role she plays - a serious woman, a gum-snapping chorine, a child-brat. For for some bizarre reason, I think of her voice in black-&-white, surrounded by Art Deco trimmings.  The mere sound of Rogers stimulates the imagination.

Whoopi Goldberg.  Dreadlocks and a cultured, velvety growl.

Janet Leigh.  Her voice changed with time.  As a young actress, it was very light, girlish. You could imagine her sipping a milk shake. But as she matured, it took on a deep womanliness.  She was someone you could meet for drinks.  Scotch, definitely.

Emma Stone.  Another new girl.  A child-woman whose voice is as assertive as her jut-out chin.  And she speaks with knife-edge timing.

Jacqueline Bissett/Charlotte Rampling. No-nonsense British women whose all-business, supple voices have an underlying tenderness. And admittedly, I'm a sucker for the precise diction.

Rosalind Russell.  Russell had muscle in that voice.  She would gladly compromise her naturally patrician inflections for mile-a-minute screwball comedy. 

Kim Basinger. A good-old-girl with a charming drawl, as comfortable as a porch hammock. Powerfully affecting.

Mary Boland/Lee Patrick. No one could do "high-society" as well as Boland (check out "Ruggles of Red Gap"), but Patrick did an amazing impersonation of her in "Auntie Mame."

Annie Potts. Other comic actresses would kill for her Looney-Tunes peep.

Glynis Johns. Yes, yet another Brit.  But different.  She speaks with a girlish gravel.  Unique.

Blythe Danner. Her honey-blonde hair always matched her voice, which flows like butterscotch through vanilla ice cream.

Betsy Drake.  aka, Cary Grant's third wife and his best match. Her sandy voice equaled her disarming down-to-earth looks and bearing.  A British tomboy.  Everything about her was appropriated by Julie Andrews for her role in "The Sound of Music."

Tippi Hedren/Melanie Griffith.  A mother-daughter team who share the same little-girl voice that has a naughty, sexed-up edge to it.

Kay Kendall. She spoke with the hauteur of a society dame.

Julie Christie. Her voices comes with an earthy majesty. Another word comes to mind, too.  Breathy.

Christine Lahti.  A real, unpretentious woman whose vocal flirtiness seems to come easy.

 JoBeth Williams and Sigourney Weaver always conveyed the same intelligence, experience and earthiness.

Dixie Carter.  The name says it all.  There's more than a bit of reveille in that voice.

Sally Kellerman.  That voice fairly drips with spaciness. There's a reason she was so wildly popular in the '70s.

Irene Dunne.  The unsung heroine of screwball comedies of the 1940s. (Forget Hepburn.)  I'm not exactly how to put it but when I think of her voice, the now unsued word "flibbertigibbet" comes to mind. Also, great singing voice as evidenced in the better version of "Show Boat."

I guess there are male actors who also come with an assortment of terrific voices, but they interest me less.  Nevertheless, if I had my choice and could handpick any voice I wanted, I would go with Herbert Marshall's, hands-down.  He had a voice of mellifluous maleness.  Dulcet-toned.  Resonant.  Rich.  A voice of "style," not "class" (horrible word).

Oh and how I wish that I sounded exactly like him. one gentleman