Posts Tagged ‘A Star is Born’

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In the summer of 2016, Barbra Streisand hit the road with her latest tour, The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic. In early June, I sat uncomfortably on the fence with a spike up my ass when it came to buying tickets. Her prices are nowhere near affordable for those of us hanging on to our careers in publishing; the venue was a two-hour drive (or nine, with Bay Area traffic); and as much as I loved both the young, fun, silly “Fanny Brice” Barbra and the ‘70s Barbra who went in for that hair perm every other day, the duets of her recent years never made it to the top of my playlists.

On June 12, 2016, an unimaginable thing happened in an Orlando nightclub. Actually I’d give anything to call it “unimaginable,” but of course we could imagine it; we’ve seen it too many times and hoped for too many years that our leaders will try something other than prayer to make us feel safe. With more shooting tragedies that we can count or name or cry over, this was the first time when I ran to the bathroom because I thought I was going to be sick. As I paced around the toilet unsure of my stomach’s plans for me that morning, ten words that someone had said to me years ago brought my pacing to a halt – if they didn’t do something after Newtown, they never will. For a moment I simply existed in my bathroom, mentally disassociated from the world and staring at a framed picture of Bert and Ernie that, for the first time, failed in its attempts to brighten up the place. On my phone were texts of love or loving thoughts, invitations to lunches and drinks, dinners and movie nights, all of which I declined. I’ve been there before, and I knew what could happen if I joined the hundreds who were drowning their grief and sorrows. When raw emotion drastically assumes power, no amount of alcohol will produce the desired intoxicating results. Even if I could drink a bar out of business, in that state, I knew that my body would refuse the embrace of a red wine hug or allow itself to be wrapped in the warm blanket of a good Manhattan – nope, no wine hugs and whiskey blankets that day, but like a phone bill, a hangover is much more reliable; no matter how much fun I had the night before, a hangover is guaranteed to show up and ruin the day.

I said no to drinks, no to dinner, and no to movie night, but sitting around the house and consuming all the news coming out of Orlando was not an option. I had just started volunteering at a cat café around the corner from my house, and although I hadn’t signed up for shift on that particular Sunday, I took a chance and popped in to see if I could help out that day. Half café, half cat shelter (with health codes well intact), KitTea was exactly where I needed to be that afternoon, and I spent about five hours cooped up with a mama and her three kittens who were still in acclamation, because the poor dears still needed to be fixed and were in desperate need of attention. The world outside throbbed with its news cycle, but in that tiny acclamation room it fell away for those few hours, and I left with maybe not a full smile, but perhaps half of a grin, which was the best that we all could do that day.

That evening, high on kitten love but low with a helpless sorrow, I struggled for balance. Even on our safest of days, life is short, and only one thing would restore harmony – I bought my Barbra tickets.

Okay, enough of the therapy session. Watch Gilda, and then we’ll talk some more.

Barbra walked out in a dazzling little black number and started the show with “The Way We Were.” Yes indeed, my friends, she started her show with that classic of a classic, knowing full well that, with those first few hums, she had us sitting in the palm of her impeccably manicured hand. Girlfriend is 74 years old, so if perhaps she didn’t hit every single note of “Evergreen” or hold it for ten minutes like she did 30 years ago, we all know that I was still buying a T-shirt before I left. At the top of my “she probably won’t sing it” wish list was the song “Woman in Love” which has a note that Barbra and I practice in the car to and from work at least three times a week. With all her classics, not to mention a new album on the way, it was such an undeniable long shot that I didn’t even recognize it when she started to sing the first few words. That night, she gave us all of ‘em – “Evergreen,” “Stoney End,” “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” “People,” “Children Will Listen,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and after a costume change to a lovely gray evening gown, she twirled, swirled, and totally nailed “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”

You’ll allow me the bragging rights for a moment: After I see Dolly in a few weeks, my own Divas Live set list will be complete – Madonna sang “Like A Prayer” on two of the three tours that I’ve attended. I was about 14 years old when Mom took me to see Bette Midler sing “The Rose,” a night to remember. In Seattle, Cher performed “If I Could Turn Back Time” in the same outfit that she wore in the music video 25 years ago (not a single stitch has been altered; don’t even think such things!), and before Cher came on, Cyndi Lauper closed the opening act with “True Colors.” Perhaps my crowning achievement was sitting in the second row when Liza sang “Cabaret” and tried to hit the final note a second time after our first standing ovation. All dramatically different diva experiences, each performance comprised of magic from a different spell book, but on August 4, 2016, you could color me only one color, and that color was “Barbra.”

At the beginning of Act II, Barbra paraded back out, and although I was hoping for her to begin with “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” (which, l learned only recently, is from the Sunset Boulevard musical, tripling my love for the tune!), she started with a little a speech about changing the world before she hit us with, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination.” Not to be dramatic, but the light shining off of the 19,000 tears that ran down everyone’s cheeks was greater than any light show that the arena could have designed. I never look up set lists before I go to concerts, and since her new album hadn’t been released yet, the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and I call it a film, NOT a movie!), truly came out of nowhere. We sang along through the tears as commanded, and the show continued with another set of both the old and the new. Through all the cloudy gray times, ongoing work frustrations, a new scratch on my car, and a very long wait on Netflix for A Star Is Born (1976), Barbra’s tour has been my mental happy place for weeks, and, if only for a second or two, who didn’t retreat to a mental happy place when Gene Wilder died last week?

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Thousands of words in hundreds of obituaries memorialized the magic of Mr. Wilder not only as Willy Wonka but also as a permanent resident of Mel Brooks’s universe. When I hear the name “Gene Wilder” I think first not of Willy Wonka but of another magician, the late comic Gilda Radner (if you didn’t watch the entire video above, scroll back up. I can wait). Admittedly I glamorize any Hollywood relationship and cannot imagine it as anything less than perfect: Bogie and Bacall; Hepburn and Tracy; Lucy and Desi; Brooks and Bancroft; Bert and Ernie . . . in my head, even the marriages that ended in divorce were flawless, and every moment of every day was filled with nothing but love and laughter. Biographies and memoirs try to tell me otherwise, but until I sit down with these couples and hear true stories of heartache directly from their lips, well, you can’t believe everything that you read. Hardly what Hollywood would consider a photogenic couple with enough material for a glossy coffee table book (um, but I would totally buy it), Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner each had so much magic in one little finger, that combining all 20 of those fingers in marriage should have allowed them more time together before Gilda’s cancer forced them to part ways.

With each and every news cycle more tragic, outrageous, or disgusting than the one that preceded it, I start to doubt Wonka’s message in “Pure Imagination” that if we want to change the world, there’s nothing to it. Sure, buddy! You live a secluded life in a candy factory, completely closed off from the world with its revolting spoiled children and their irresponsibly vile parents. Seriously, what kind of father says “Alright, sweetheart” when his daughter demands that he buy her a golden goose and pink macaroons and a million balloons and performing baboons and . . . hmmm, okay, I’m beginning to understand Wonka’s doctrine of seclusion. If you want to change the heinous world, simply leave it and create one of your own. At times I find this idea perfectly reasonable and very appealing for a moment, but even with a chocolate river, lickable wallpaper, and dozens of little orange men from Loompaland running around the factory, Willy Wonka’s existence is nothing if not lonely. His musical, magical, and memorable life can exist only in the pure imagination of his guests, so I’m starting to wonder what kind of fantasy life exists in the pure imagination of Willy Wonka?

I guess it depends on who’s singing. The sound of only a few lyrics brings together the forces of Barbra, Gene, and Gilda like a trio of superheroes, and it’s with their help that I can exist in the world that seems to go out of its way to terrify us these days.

Those three teaming up to change the world . . . can you imagine?

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I’m always tickled when Little Magazine asks me to create a music playlist for them. Given a general theme, I begin compiling an overflowing list of possibilities, eventually seeking guidance from my taskmistress – often at 1am – in reference to the maximum number of songs that she will allow. Yet the stress of choosing and rating and sorting and resorting is a cakewalk compared to the stomach-punching anxiety that comes with permanently deleting a song. Every time I cut a song, a jukebox fairy dies.

The springtime playlist that I composed for Little Magazine provided an opportunity for a thorough review of my library; the hefty number of film and television soundtracks found in my archives was quite a shock to . . . well . . . no one. Typically I stay away from the alcohol when I write, but this lovely glass of Sofia Coppola rosé and I decided today to reveal our top-ten favorite movie soundtracks. Since we’re breaking our “no alcohol” rule, we came up with a few others to compensate:

1) We’re leaving out musical scores – not to be sniffed at, but we’d have to include all of our favorite Disney movies; Hitchcock would be all over the place (minus The Birds, of course); Jaws would have to be included in order for us to post this list guilt free; and Moonstruck . . . oh, Moonstruck.

2) We’re leaving out the musicals – way too easy, and way too hard. You want me to compare A Star Is Born to Cabaret? Too treacherous a road.

3) We’re leaving out words and phrases like “best” and “all-time greatest,” not because we’re ashamed of our choices, but because we’re afraid of you flinging disgusting objects in our direction (yes, I’m looking at you).

4) Sofia and I fought over this one – although not a musical, The Skeleton Twins (2014) may not be included just because of this magical moment:

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10) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

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Despite two attempts, the deep, devoted love that so many feel for this Coen brothers film never blossomed in me, but I do find that Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain” slips easily into many a playlist. And it must be the banjos of this bluegrass soundtrack that transport me immediately to the first few moments of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.

 

9) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

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After a binge watching of Ugly Betty, I came to the realization that “Save the Best for Last” should be played at least once a day. No offence to the drag queen hidden in the shadows of the closing credits, but I would have teared up if Vanessa Williams had made an appearance in this wickedly fun film. “Sometimes the snow comes down in June; Sometimes the sun goes round the moon” – poetry at its finest.

 

8) 200 Cigarettes (1999)

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This cinematic masterpiece became the bible of one of my most treasured of friendships. Tunes of the sun-setting 1970s meet those emerging in the early 1980s, and together they skip down the streets of Manhattan on New Year’s Eve. Watch for an Oscar-snubbed Martha Plimpton – she’s ferocious, and she knows just it takes to make a pro blush.

 

7) Mermaids (1990)

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Take it from me, she’s a better catch – outshining the original, Cher’s version of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” opens this assortment of classics, closing with Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy.” A matchmaking service for ugly girls could never be played on the PC iStations of today.

 

6) Pulp Fiction (1994)

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Bless Mr. Tarantino’s dark and bloody heart for introducing Dusty Springfield to a generation that may have never had the pleasure.

 

5) Dirty Dancing (1987)

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You’ll find a decent amount of overlapping with the tunes from Mermaids, but seriously, what’s with the music industry? This nostalgic treasury should have launched Patrick Swayze’s singing career. Keep your eye out for one of Mom’s personal favorites – the cover of “You Don’t Own Me” by The Blow Monkeys changes absolutely everything about Lesley Gore’s original.

 

4) Footloose (1984)

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With Sammy Hagar’s “The Girl Gets Around” blasting underneath me, I have no doubt that I could stand between two cars and play chicken with an 18-wheeler . . . and win. Please note that this soundtrack should be played only on cassette tape in a silver boombox and while wearing red boots.

 

3) The Big Chill (1983)

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Speaking of cassette tapes, when we were kids we drew a happy face on the side of the tape we liked and a frowning face on the other. Side “A” of The Big Chill ended with Three Dog Night “Joy to the World,” and Side “B” closed with “Tell Him” by The Exciters. The Big Chill was all smiles on all sides.

 

2) The Graduate (1967)

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“Put it in the pantry with your cupcakes.” I never knew – is that a dirty line? I’ll always take the side of the character in a leopard coat, but when Simon and Garfunkel generate an emotional apathy within Benjamin, my allegiance to Mrs. Robinson begins to crumble.

 

1) Dick Tracy (1990)

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Square jaw; ooo such a handsome face. Madonna’s I’m Breathless album not only blessed the world with the dance floor (and my kitchen floor) classic “Vogue” but also scored Stephen Sondheim an Academy Award for the song “Sooner or Later.”

Beauty’s where you find it:


In the depths of Hollywood’s everlasting award season, both the veterans and rookies of the silver screen continue to perfect the “if I lose” facial expression, a moment often filled with greater entertainment value than the winner’s acceptance speech. It’s an honor just to be nominated? We’re all winners just to have made it this far? Perhaps yes, but come now . . . the diva lobe of my brain would be throwing an imaginary glass across the room, cursing the wench who won what should have been mine. Fortunately shattering that one glass can cut through a wall that was keeping out a much-needed sense of relief. As the cursing subsided, slowly I’d gather up the broken pieces and then begin combing through new scripts.

The agonizing race in job market can lead to similarly impetuous flinging of imaginary glassware. In these, the years of ghastly Economigeddon, it turns out that we are genuinely tickled just to be “nominated,” or called in for an interview. Recently members of the film industry familiarized themselves with my range, background, and training before I charmed them with a memorable performance, highlighted with (trust me) an exquisite costume design. Predictable nail-biting seized the following day’s schedule, but sadly it turned out that the name enclosed in the dreaded golden envelope was not to be mine.

There was only one thing to do — slip into my fancy green sweatpants that are polka-dotted with the Grinch’s face, crack open a bottle of red (conveniently a line of Coppola’s called “Director’s Cut”), and watch the should-have-won-the-Oscar performance given by Miss Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954). The night was bitter; the stars had lost their glitter, but three hours later I was asleep . . . today it’s a new world, and yes, it was an honor just to be considered, let alone nominated. Despite any broken glass on the floor, I am confident that somewhere there’s a “some job” that’s a “some job” for me.


“The next one is sort of a strip-tease tempo . . . we don’t do it, we just talk about it!”

Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is a theatre-in-the-round, allowing patrons to sit behind the stage as well as in front or on the sides. Those who sat behind the stage in December 2010 caught a few good views of the performer’s face, but mostly they were looking at her sequined back and red scarf. Every time she turned around to face them and I got a glimpse of her profile, I was absolutely certain I was staring at her mother. After slaying us with what we thought was her grand finale, Liza Minnelli poked her head out from behind the curtain and whispered, “I just saw the cutest thing.” She walked down to the front row and brought on stage a little girl dressed in a flapper outfit similar to one Liza wore in Cabaret (1972). Putting the little girl on her lap, Liza told the story of how her parents met on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and ended her December concert with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland performed live at Carnegie Hall. Exactly 50 years ago today, the woman whose voice remains my favorite of all time charmed that fortunate audience with 26 of her greatest songs. Along with “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “That’s Entertainment,” and “You Go To My Head” (to which she forgets the words, bless her heart!), Judy paused now and then for a bit of humorous story time. Although she was approaching 40, that laugh of hers still had the softness of a little girl’s.

Having worked a year at Beach Blanket Babylon, I’ll always have a little giggle of my own attached to the song “San Francisco.” When I sat down and calculated, I believe I saw the BBB cast perform that song close to 500 times. Aside from the theatre, many of these wonderful songs bring to life the many wonderful films of hers. Judy didn’t perform “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” but the medley of “You Made Me Love You”/”For Me and My Gal”/”The Trolley Song” brings me an all-too-familiar smile that beams with an “I love that movie!” Having covered Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and For Me and My Gal (1942), she moved on to “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” at the end of which she sighed one of our favorite Judy-isms: “I know, I’ll, I’ll sing ’em all, and we’ll stay all night!”  That line, which I’ve rewound more times than I’ll ever admit, was a ruby-red tornado that carried Judy and her audience smoothly into “Over the Rainbow.”

Of the 26 gems, still nothing pulls at my heart and tear ducts like “The Man That Got Away.” Along with “Swanee,” Judy pulled this extraordinary song from the soundtrack for A Star Is Born, a film for which Harpo Marx and I agree she should have won an Oscar. I can do the great Judy Garland little justice, if any . . . pour yourself a glass of ruby-red, fire up the record player, and celebrate with me the 50th anniversary of the untouchable Judy Garland’s performance at Carnegie Hall.

Thanks Miss Garland . . . I think I miss you most of all!

Add Judy Garland to your queue.


A few nights ago, I settled in for yet another journey with dear Vicki Lester and her rise to stardom. While there are many scenes in which her talents are (thankfully!) on full display, there’s one that really crawls under my skin . . . and I know I’m not alone! Every time I watch this scene (and you better believe I rewind endlessly), I’m again flabbergasted that Miss Judy Garland did not win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. All due respect to 1955’s winner, Miss Grace Kelly for The Country Girl, there is absolutely no comparison in my book! The protective wall that surrounds my heart makes it difficult for me to cry, but then suddenly here comes Judy Garland, ready to punch right through that wall! This last time, I didn’t even realize I was crying until the end of the scene . . .

Have a look:

Exactly 88 years ago today, Frances Ethel Gumm was born into a family of performers and found her way to the stage before she turned three. The little girl with the huge voice signed a contract with MGM when she was 13, and at 16, her immortality was insured when a cyclone swept down and blew her house over the rainbow.

Never has a voice crawled into my heart like Miss Judy Garland’s. I’ve paid my respects previously with entries on The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born, but I see no reason not to toast, once again, the voice that was just too good for this world. Happy birthday, Baby Gumm!

With the “Garland Goose Bumps” still on my arm from The Wizard of Oz, it seems fitting that I move on to an epic film that is nothing but pure Judy. The story of a star who rises as another falls is not a new one, yet I’m more than happy to revisit it in A Star Is Born, Miss Garland’s first film in almost five years. This one has it all — terribly fake sunrises, cigarettes that seem ad-libbed in their frequency, the Hollywood bellboy from I Love Lucy, an eerie little visit from Liza, and of course, that unparalleled voice…

If you’ve never had the pleasure, I’d highly recommend finding, borrowing, or downloading any version you can find of the song “The Man That Got Away.” If you can locate the live version from Carnegie Hall, I say pounce! Since “Over the Rainbow” remains in its own category unaccompanied by any other, I can safely say that “The Man That Got Away” is my favorite song of Miss Garland’s. James Mason plays Norman Maine in the film, an actor falling deeper into alcoholism and further off the movie screen. Norman still manages to help Miss Garland’s character rise to the top as his fall accelerates — in one of his sober moments, he catches the unknown Esther Blodgett (Garland) and her band just as “The Man That Got Away” comes pouring out of her. He’s as hypnotized as I am by this tiny woman whose voice is still unlike anything I’ve ever felt or heard.

How that immeasurable voice fit into that tiny woman was all I ever wanted to learn in biology class — that’s one the few science tests I could have aced! How does she make the double T’s in “bitter” and “glitter” sound so amazingly painful that I can’t wait for more? In any event, that gorgeous song was more than enough for me to hop in my Oscar Time Machine and snatch the Best Actress Academy Award out of Grace Kelly’s hand (for The Country Girl) and place it in Miss Garland’s.

The fast-paced dialogue of old movies can be quite the workout for me, as I run behind the stream of words, trying to keep up. After Norman grabs Esther’s lipstick and draws a heart on the wall with their initials in it, she narrowly escapes his advances for a second meeting.  Esther tells him “I’ll lay out a whole supply of lipsticks, and we’ll celebrate all over the walls.” That quick delivery, combined with such a scrumptious line,  is one of the many loves I find on my journey through old movies. The confidence that stirred within me years ago with the witch’s hat and broom reappears again, perhaps a bit transformed, and a certain familiar half-smile forms on my face. I wanted my mind to work as quickly as hers, churning out the wittiest of comebacks without thinking. The gift of mimicry was always there for me — I can remember movie lines without fail, precisely as written and recited. Although I was usually called upon to perform such lines and flawlessly did so, a part of me still wished for some lines of my own.

Over the years I’ve discovered there’s an important piece of information that some of my generation go through life without… on March 12, 1946, Miss Judy Garland gave birth to Miss Liza Minnelli. This fact that I learned on perhaps my second or third week on this planet is still unknown to many — please pass it on! In A Star Is Born, a wonderful form of creepiness rears its two heads during the 15-minute musical number, “Born in a Trunk.” In the number, Miss Garland joins a chorus of dancing girls who all sport a rather short black wig. As she looks directly into the camera for just a moment, all those Cabaret fans out there will swear, as I did, that both Judy and Liza are inhabiting a single body.

If you do give this one a try, I’ll warn you that it’s quite the commitment — at just under three hours, A Star Is Born requires me to stop all liquids half a day before viewing if I want to make it all the way through. It is a film I return to often enough, and although Mr. Mason and the others give wonderful performances, I do sometimes fast-forward any scenes without my dear Miss Garland. There is another voice in the film, though far less powerful, that tinkers with my old movie memory just a pinch… with his big talk and big shoulders, Mr. Jack Carson plays one of the studio’s big shots who witnesses Esther Blodgett’s rise in Hollywood. Mr. Carson brings me to a favorite of mine that he was in a few years earlier; try as he might, his shoulders were no match for those of our dearest Miss Joan Crawford…

My Oscar Time Machine for A Star Is Born: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Miss Judy Garland (and Grace Kelly can just sit there).

Add it to your queue.