Posts Tagged ‘classic film’

I’ve watched Network (1976) many times. I’ve paid attention to every single word start to finish; I’ve fallen asleep before the opening credits; I can picture the label of our VHS tape written in perfect penmanship by my mother with a purple sharpie. Just moments ago I put it on in the background while I started to plan for Monday’s workday (which means finding the perfect jacket to wear to a morning meeting in a freezing conference room, while I pretend to care about what the VP’s children did over the weekend). My jackets now sit in a pile under this computer, because I had to stop and rewind this scene five times before I was able to move on with, well, the rest of my life. Through Network, I understand everything and nothing about 2017, and I’m only 13 minutes in . . .

babyj2

“I don’t wanna talk about it! Every time I think about something nice, you remind me of all the bad things! I only wanna talk about the nice things.”

Nearing the climax of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette Davis (Jane) covers her ears and shrieks these words at Blanche, played by a suffering, bound and gagged but nevertheless buxom Joan Crawford. Let it be known here and now that on this, the last day of the last month of 2016, I agree with Jane completely, and not just because I will always favor Davis over Crawford. We have already seen lists of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad crises that occurred in the last 365 days. If you have Internet in any of its forms, likely you will see photos and captions capturing the year’s events and bundling them into a neat little list that makes us believe, just for a second, that these events are still within our control. The phenomenally awful and the terribly wonderful experiences would strike within hours of one another, forming a year that is now rusted in deep inside the vaults of our memory.

In September, I saw Mom dance and laugh and jump around when we both saw Dolly Parton perform live for the first time. Dedicating “Coat of Many Colors” to all the good mothers out there, Dolly knew that Mom needed some love around that time. In early December, I took a mini road trip with one of my best friends, on which we discovered what we know to be the world’s largest crane – apparently they’re building a second Grand Canyon near Corpus Christi. Barbra Streisand sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” live just for me, and I bought tickets to see her only because of the fear that was telling me not to right after the Orlando nightclub shooting. And that other shooting. And the other one. And the other one. Trying desperately not to live in fear of performance venues, I was singled out of the audience not once but twice by the main stars of different musicals (Cabaret and Hedwig) for a few seconds of special treatment and attention. Jennifer Saunders delivered Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie and providing me with enough confidence to continue my search for the perfect job that involves heavy drinking and very little work. Those and other interviews went extremely well, all to be followed either by radio silence or rejection. The Nice truck attack intensified the disgusting threesome that Fear, Anger, and Sadness seem to be having this year, another news story that left before it arrived. The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition brought me face to face with the fifth Oscar that I’ve ever seen in person. The year gave me clients whose books made it on to New York Times bestseller lists, a new parent company with better benefits, accurate drug tests, and new databases that helped to automate manual work, improve efficiency, and eliminate jobs.

A devastating fire in Oakland took the lives of those who were trying perhaps to deal with the devastation that they felt over the election, leaving the rest of us speechless, guilty for surviving, frightened, and once again out of control. For the first time in history, we had a presidential election that actually affected every single person on the planet, and for first time in history, I permitted and even considered crying at work the next day. Like the T-word that I can’t bring myself to write, the word “hope” has become almost as painful to hear. And yet a breathtaking walk through Muir Woods followed a Thanksgiving dinner that, due to a turkey snafu, was completely refunded by Whole Foods, bless its gizzard.

nj

Springtime brought me to the front door of KitTea, a cat café where I have volunteered and gathered enough love on the weekends to disperse like fairy dust on those around me. During the week, I rub the itty-bitty cat scratches and bite marks on my arms as a form of meditation, trusting that the cat gods will provide me with the strength to get through the week and its horrid news cycle. I had a biopsy that turned out to be a common, no-need-to-worry form of skin cancer, and in a few weeks, I’ll have a manly scar on my left arm where that ugly little scab is right now. When she sang “Islands in the Stream” for us, I held hands with one of my best friends when I saw Dolly for the second time this year, a cherished friend who knew without my telling her exactly what happened in my brain after I heard the nurse use the word “biopsy.” My birthday brought me a second Dolly pillow, solidifying the choice for “Woman of the Year” in my book and paving the way for every single dirty joke one could make about two Dolly pillows.

Another perfect December trip to Seattle brought me to the fireplace at my B&B in Capitol Hill, a few seconds of snow, a wine bar around the corner where I scored oodles of free drinks due to my Christmas Eve birthday, a drag show called “Homo for the Holidays,” and beautiful walks through Volunteer Park but no sight of Dan Savage or his delicious husband. Too many to count . . . we lost Elie Wiesel, Edward Albee, Gene, Leonard, Merle, Ali, Carrie, Debbie, George, Prince, and Bowie. Not enough to bless . . . the planet still has claim to Carol Channing and Betty White. Heklina’s Golden Girls drag show kicked off my vacation with its annual Christmas performance. The book A Little Life changed mine, and I have 12-Stepped my way through a scarf addition, only to realize that it was a gateway drug to jackets, and now the closet doors won’t close. Despite what the country’s political climate tries to sell or tell us, my closet door WILL STAY OPEN.

I only want to talk about the nice things, too, which is why I haven’t watched any of the regular news shows since November 9th. We’re all exhausted, and I keep thinking of a line from President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing: “[It] reminds me of that old joke about the optimist and the pessimist – the pessimist says ‘everything’s terrible, it can’t get any worse.’ The optimist says ‘oh, yes it can.’”

So when we need them, we hug our Dolly pillows and find a lost smile, holding dear those people who loved us enough to make sure that we go through the next year with a full set.

img_0664

I remember nothing about Europa Europa (1990), and I wish that I could apologize to Phil Schlossberg who tried to make me watch it.

To prepare for our bar and bat mitzvahs, we attended Hebrew School on Mondays and Wednesdays and Torah School on Sundays. When we took Phil’s class that concentrated mostly on the years of World War II, we were stupid little fifth graders, and we behaved exactly how stupid little fifth graders behave when they’re forced to go to Sunday School. How did this Holocaust survivor, whose arm tattoo is an image that I cannot get out of my head, find the strength to stand in front of a group of such disrespectful, spoiled, little children? We didn’t listen; we didn’t want to be there; we should have tried to absorb every single word that came out of this brave man’s mouth. As I stare now at the word “brave” scribbled in my journal, the tiny five-lettered word just looks skimpy.

Certainly Phil had faced challenges in his life far more frightening than trying to teach groups of overindulged children, challenges that our 11-year-old minds were unable to comprehend. We treated the Holocaust as if it weren’t real; it was nothing more than a word to quiet us down, or perhaps the scariest ghost story that adults could tell children. We never gave Phil the respect, the attention, the recognition, or the gratitude that he deserved. He did what he did long before and long after my peers and I coasted through his classroom, so I can only hope that our disrespect that I remember is either exaggerated or hardly fazed him. The reasons why this has been on my mind should be pretty straightforward, and a part of me is almost thankful that Phil and other survivors of his generation are not around to see what this country has become.

An apology from me to Phil cannot undo how we behaved towards him, but still, I wish that I could tell him that I’m sorry.

Right now my mind is here, wondering if I have to go through all of the sadness, anger, and fear in order to cope with my version of today’s reality:

 

All I want is to be here once again. I want to feel the sensations of acceptance, hope, and strength, but I can’t seem to hear any of the songs that come between these two . . . yet:

I’m listening.

barb1

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?

ww3

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?

barb4

 

bogart9

Hello again!

A binding contract of lifelong friendship forges when the person across the dinner table chuckles after you say, “Good God; that’s a Hello Again-sized piece of chicken.” Frightfully large chicken brings to mind the frightfully good-bad film Hello Again (1987), featuring Shelley Long as a woman summoned back from the dead after choking to death on a South Korean chicken ball. I didn’t know how else to break the ice and find a way to say hello. You know, again.

The “Closed” sign has been up at The Ticket Booth for some time now; other meddling voices have filled both my head and pen, pulling me in some new and exciting directions. But I began thinking about the booth and missing it, acknowledging the mental nudge that I wanted to open it up again and see how much dust had collected inside. Either sentimental or just a reaction to that dust, I found myself getting a little choked up trying to figure out why I had stayed away for long, and how, or where, I should start?

Shall we jump back in with the last Joan Crawford movie that I watched last week? Familiar butterflies began to flutter during Sadie McKee (1934) when I realized that it was the same film featured decades later in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), another Joan Crawford picture that paired her with Bette Davis. As an actress without any recent successes to her name, both Crawford and her character in Jane sit in front of the television utterly mesmerized by Sadie, a towering and bouncy young lady almost 30 years her junior. T’was a powerful moment on the couch that night – life had all came full circle for me.

joansadie

 

Not in the mood for big JC? I could brag about the trip we took to the San Francisco Symphony, where my family and I did not, in fact, get kicked out of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for rambunctious sobbing. The evening was a crowning achievement in my family’s history, as the Academy Award-winning score by John Williams generates a flood of nose hair-plucking tears for most of us.

sfsyet

 

Maybe you’d like to hear about the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition where Michelle and I saw an Oscar statuette, props and costumes from The Shining (1980), and pleasant letters from religious groups scolding Mr. Kubrick for turning the filthy Lolita (1962) into a film. If I were to steal one thing from a museum, I’d sneak out with one of those letters under my shirt. Read more about the exhibition on Little Magazine.

lolita2

 

Not in a Kubrick mood? I get it; he’s a treat but not for every day. How about the time when I saw Cabaret: The Musical performed on stage, and the Emcee (played by Randy Harrison from Queer as Folk) pulled me up out of the audience to dance with him in front the entire theatre? “Do you have a little German in you?” he asked, and when I told him no, he hissed with smile, “Would you liiiiiiiike some?”

 

Too early for das Kit Kat Club? When I went to visit Dad for a boys’ weekend, I brought him two DVDs – Network (1976) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – so he would never again have to worry about downloading them from those streaming services that tend to stall every three minutes. We ate; we drank; we swam; we barbecued; we teased Mom via text that we picked up KFC and without a coupon.

dunaway1

 

Oh, and a few weeks ago, Barbra started her concert with “The Way We Were.” I was there; I heard it; I saw Barbra Streisand perform live . . . no biggie.

barb3

 

The magic of film illuminates my life (the way your spirit illuminates my soul), but it just hasn’t appeared anywhere in my journals. And why? Because I’ve been sad. Hatred and fear surround us, and the two have joined forces to become what some have led us to believe is a constant threat that bursts into our nightclubs where we used to dance until dawn. It’s driving down promenades where we celebrate with our friends and friendly strangers. It’s shooting out of the guns controlled by law enforcement, and hours later it’s shooting out of the guns controlled by protesters. Hatred and fear surge from the mouths of men and women who are or want to become our elected leaders, and it’s being absorbed, magnified, and projected by their followers. For those of us who worry too much and insist on being in control of all things at all times, an overwhelming hodgepodge of sadness, anger, frustration and all the other googly–eyed emoticons was inescapable, but naturally I added one more fear to the pile – maybe writing about old movies just didn’t do it for me anymore.

Eventually the moment came when I could just about feel Cher’s palm meet the side of my face (we should all be so lucky), and I heard a firm but loving “Snap out of it!” It wasn’t a “snap out of it” advising me to ignore this world that frightened me so, but the time had come to tally up of all of those indestructible new memories and experiences that I just listed above. We have plenty to talk about and will, but before we chat about that new Ingrid Bergman documentary, the upcoming Dolly Parton concert, or the adorable little cat café where I started volunteering, first I just wanted to a quick little hello.

And it is time – it’s time first to acknowledge that sadness, anger, or fear and then release it all like you’re supposed to release a ghost. After that, grab your best (or, in my case, only) Dolce & Gabbana, find a theatre that serves champagne, and go see the new AbFab movie. We’ll talk more soon, because when you finally do snap out of it, you find that chicken balls are quite delicious.

abfab16

md1

This week I noticed how many musical biographies I have on that little iDevice of mine, each one more educational than the last (history books teach us nothing, you hear me, nothing!). To help create snappy headlines for a catalog that I’m working on for my book publishers, I’ve relied heavily on lines from these musicals and amused myself in the process. To help promote a collection of books that have been translated into English, I stole from Yentl the line “Tell me where, where is it written?” to use as its headline. The wine titles and their purple covers will be promoted with the handle borrowed from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life, to life, l’chaim.” The list of books on climate change could very well end up under the header, “Don’t rain on my parade,” but I should go for subtlety here if I want to keep it up.

Biopics have also entered my watch history in the last few months, as I just wrapped up the brilliant miniseries, John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, two people who should be married in real life. It was such a gratifying and addictive series, that naturally I scoured my shelves in search of others from the same genre. Ranking one’s favorite biopics turned into wonderfully frustrating task, as feelings of neglect and betrayal surfaced with each resort. But we gave it a go . . .

 

15) Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006)

Helen mirren_2

The movie itself, not my favorite, but with every hand gesture and tilt of her head, Helen Mirren unveils the broaches and emotions of Her Majesty The Queen, eventually taking home the Oscar.

 

 

14) Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997)

mrsbrown2

“No one should think themselves wiser than me!” Dame Judi Dench is the aunt we all wish we had, am I right? I think her earrings move only in the direction that she commands – wind and gravity are nothing to this woman.

 

 

13) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, The Miracle Worker (1962)

mw1

As Helen Keller’s tutor, Anne Bancroft’s miraculous scenes with Patty Duke include only grunts of frustration instead of dialogue. Astounding, but once was enough.

 

 

12) Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Julia Child now looks like Meryl Streep to me, and Stanley Tucci is delicious, as always. Sandra Bullock seems like a lovely person, but in 2010 the Academy really should have given more thought to its choice in the Best Actress category.

 

 

11) William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

ziegf1

It clocks in at just under three hours, but who could have too many helpings of William Powell? During the elaborate numbers of the Ziegfeld Follies, I could be found adding three different biographies on Flo to my wish list.

 

 

10) Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Boys Town (1938)

boystown1

In a pinch he can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch.

 

 

9) Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

tina1

Have you ever wanted to knock the television off its stand just to stop what’s happening in the movie? Taking logical action and switching it off won’t help a thing; the only way for me to save Tina from Ike is to throw that television to the floor with all my might. There were no instructions in the box telling me not to do this.

 

 

8) Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

bonniec1

Love for Mr. Beatty and all, but every shot (ha!) of Faye Dunaway in this film is exquisite and should be framed on my wall.

 

 

7) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Capote (2005)

capote1

At Harper Lee’s party celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird, he sits at the bar and mutters, “I frankly don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Ten seconds in a film can be more heartbreaking than all of its seconds combined.

 

 

6) Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer, Frances (1982)

frances12

Reaching for the moon? No, just one little star . . . on a dressing room door. Once again, the supreme Jessica Lange gives voice to every rejection, deception, and ambition through which her audience itself has suffered. It must have been by one vote when Meryl took Oscar home that year for Sophie’s Choice.

 

 

5) Greta Garbo as Christina, Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina (1933)

garbochris

This list overflows with royalty, but Garbo was the Queen before them all, including Capote. Unconvinced that a queen requires a king for a successful rule, Christina promises that she will die a bachelor.

 

 

4) James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

yankee1

Sometimes a gangster; sometimes a vaudevillian who can tap-dance down a staircase at the White House. As entertainer George Cohan, James Cagney was living proof that magic exists . . . no one can dance like that without assistance.

 

 

3) Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)

elizabeth-1

I was torn between listing this or Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). Her transformation into the Virgin Queen at the end of the film helped tip the scale.

 

 

2) Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk (2008)

milk1

When I first saw Milk, I don’t think I said as much as two words after I left the theatre. When I saw it again, the second time at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, I had the same reaction. Luckily there were bars in every direction, and we sat for hours at Twin Peaks, drinking our drinks and smelling the fresh cookies next door until the words and tears came.

 

 

1) Madonna as Eva Perón, Evita (1996)

Madonna in Evita

Never been a lady loved as much as a desperate, misunderstood, driven woman who was hurt and disappointed by life at a young age. After the erotic, bedtime story days of the early 1990s, Madonna revealed more of herself in Evita than she ever showed us during those equally magnificent naked years. You must love her.

vall4

 

Click here to read Part I.

 

I fall asleep. Or do I pass out and pass back in? Do people pass in, like they tiptoe into a room? I guess hazily that we touched down and came back up somewhere over Las Vegas, so that first pill must have worked.

 

“Did it?” Judy asks, still sitting next to me but with greater distance between us. We no longer shared an armrest in coach but now each of us has our own – somehow we had moved up to the first class cabin. I have no recollection of taking such a status leap or, in the process, transferring my rattling knapsack down what a potentially resentful aisle. Like denying a memory before someone produces photographic evidence, in those first few moments I would have sworn on a stack of Judy albums that our arms still remained locked in battle over an armrest back in coach. But here we are, Judy Garland and little old me, soaring over Las Vegas on the first anti-anxiety pill that I have taken for its intended purpose.

 

“I passed out for, what, ten minutes? I ask her. “That’s gotta be some kind of record for my sleeping on a plane. Draining the consciousness out of a plane ride is a dream scenario.” I lean back into my roomy seat. “That, and flying first class with Judy Garland,” I add, unable to delay the precious moments between thoughts and words.

 

And yet she doesn’t take the compliment, no doubt immune to gay men gushing over her after so many years, at times, sadly, by way of a marriage license. After decades of living next to the gay track, I suppose she has to make an effort just to notice the train . . . the rambunctiously flaming train, emitting rainbow-colored smoke that was probably good for the environment. I knew it well, for recently I began to feel like just another faceless passenger.

 

Planes, trains, contraltos.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

“You never told me what happened on the Valley of the Dolls set,” I tell her, shifting into “tabloid reporter” mode, listlessly filling in the plot holes for myself.

 

“The truth is what you choose to believe,” she whispers coyly, popping another is-it-a breath mint. But like any good reporter, I do not accept that kind of answer, especially from someone whose mind and words I love to pieces.

 

“Oh don’t give me that crap, Judy,” I hiss with an eye roll. Heavens, I never thought I’d take such a tone with her and surprise myself with such an outburst. I pivot back to the compliment, giving the approach a second try. “You’re smarter than that.”

 

She turns and looks out her window. “She’s smarter than that,” Judy echoes to the clouds outside. And she was, for it must have been only a day or two out of infancy when she learned the harsh ways of the stage and the harsher personalities that appear on, behind, above, and below it. On-the-job training at its most brutal – at an age when I was cheating on spelling tests, Judy Garland was seeing the business side of the The Business.

 

She turns her head back towards me, her body still pointed towards the window. “Okay, kid. If I’m so smart . . . ma’am, a scotch and soda, please.”

 

Finally, a flight attendant appears to give our necks a break. Definitely breath mints.

 

“If I’m so smart, why didn’t I make it to 50? If I’m so smart, why was always I broke the harder I worked? If I’m so smart, how did . . .” She stops. “Oh, you’re right; I have more answers than you have excuses.”

 

She is feisty but not restless. Good God, where was her drink?

 

“You’re not afraid that you’re going to choke on these pills, are you?” she asks. “They’re flea-sized, for Heaven’s sake.”

 

“No, of course not. But you’re avoiding my question. C’mon, tell me about the Valley.”

 

“You have a favorite truth already, and what’s wrong with that one?”

 

“Is that what happened?” I ask. “The way that Patty Duke said? Did the director purposely keep you waiting in your dressing room, hoping that anxiety would pave the way for some addiction to come knocking?”

 

Addiction.

 

There it was. The word I dread. Pills equaled addiction equaled loss of control equaled rock bottom equaled asking for help equaled codependence. And other than flying, there is nothing worse than codependence. Am I right?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

 

The scotch and soda arrives as the word “addiction” floats above us, pushed down by those plane air vents that drive everyone mad. Although Judy had ordered only one, the flight attendant puts down a second one in front of me.

 

“Patty talks a good game. Her acting . . . well . . .” She gives the thought a half-smile. “And is that what you’re searching for now, before popping another one of those flea pills?” she wonders. “A director to take direct responsibility for you?”

 

“It worked for you. Or, at least for your legacy.”

 

“Darling, I got fired. Or I quit seconds before the bastard fired me; I can’t remember which.” Pinky in the air, she breaks ground on her cocktail. I’m surprised it took her so long.

 

“Well sure.” I admit. “In a perfect world, I’d throw an entire bottle down my throat before every flight and knock myself out. Hell I’d do it before every bridge crossing or before leaving the house to face the crack heads of San Francisco. But I choose not to conquer anxiety with science. I do it the old-fashioned Jewish way – ignore the problem and never talk about it, until eventually it doesn’t exist. Compared to pills, don’t tell me that’s unhealthy.”

 

I hope for a full smile from her, and I get one.

 

“Perhaps moderation is the key,” Judy admits, raising her cocktail and giving a modest cheers to no one in particular. I still haven’t touched mine, and she’s noticed.

 

She looks at my drink, the ice slowly watering down its potency, and I see a light bulb flicker above her head. Either she’s just had a revelation, or she’s ringing for the flight attendant in preparation for round two. “You know what your problem is,” she starts, clang, clang, clanging the ice cubes in her glass and pointing it at me. “Your problem is that you don’t think you deserve to relax.”

 

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

 

“That’s not true,” I argue. “I think I deserve to relax. I just don’t feel it. I can’t get my body to catch up with that nagging part of my brain that keeps shrieking, ‘Relax!’ Thinking and feeling – huge difference there, ma’am.” I hope she’s buzzed enough to let me get away with a touch of sass.

 

“Don’t start with that ‘ma’am’ business, like I’m your aging neighborhood drag queen.” Didn’t think so. No way Judy Garland gets buzzed from one drink (but then again, those breath mints), especially a drink ordered on an airplane. Seriously, first class? I expected more from you.

 

But she’s on to something, and she’s not sure where her thoughts (or drinks or mints) are leading us. She sets down her cocktail and inches her body in my direction. Gently she puts her tiny elbow on that armrest that’s still obsessing my thoughts, her tiny hand supporting her tiny chin. Her gaze drifts over and then behind me, out the window on the other side of the aisle.

 

Suddenly I get butterflies. They start in my stomach and fly up into my chest and out of my mouth like a hiccup and land on my left shoulder where all my stress gathers due to a broken arm of my childhood. Stress and butterflies swarm to the same location – the body is such a puzzle.

 

Chin on elbow means serious business. On this plane ride to who knows where, Judy Garland was about to tell me something that was going to change my life. It’s that magical movie moment when, with 15 minutes remaining, the damaged character delivers a life-altering lecture to the I-have-my-act-together character, ultimately revealing that it’s the latter who needed guidance all along. Formula? What formula?

 

I prepare myself, and in those few precious seconds, I am ready. I am ready for the letters and words and sentences of Judy Garland that will change how my brain and body communicate and react. Her words will unblock that blockage forever, leading me to the tiptop of Mount Happiness, where a beautiful man in a loin cloth (probably named Bart) was waiting for me with his devoted love and a glass of rosé and the key to my dream house where I would find an indoor pool, a private screening room, and winning lottery ticket that I would donate to a cat shelter (let’s not get too selfish). All of this is about to happen right after she says whatever glorious words are gathering speed on the runway of her multitalented tongue.

 

“Y’know,” she sighs. “I never got to do a cover of that Dolls theme song.”

 

Excuse me?

 

That’s all I get? No mountain. No key. No loin cloth (Bart, by the way, would have known every single word to every single song on the Judy at Carnegie Hall album, including the words that she forgets). But that’s what she gave me. A missed opportunity to cover a song from a dreadful film that she quit working on, or got fired from almost 50 years ago?!?

 

I am let down by this scrawny Buddha of mine; devastated; far from over the rainbow; crushed and defeated . . . for about five seconds. Fuck it.

 

I reach into my bag and take a second pill with a sip of the second scotch and soda that she has already made her own. I mirror her pose, my elbow a tad fleshier than hers. Those front teeth of hers announce the rest of her smile, and she knows what I was about to do, probably before I know myself. I start her off, singing the first few lines.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

She stands up and takes it from there. What else could she do?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

When did I get, where did I

How was I caught in this game

When will I know, where will I

How will I think of my name

 

Sure, my voice lives in a slightly seedier neighborhood than hers, but I refuse to pass up an opportunity for a little duet action. I stand up join in.

 

When did I stop feeling sure, feeling safe

And start wondering why, wondering why

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

What’s in back of the sky, why do we cry

 

Looking back, I thought we sounded good together, and it’s not like the flight attendant was rushing over to shush us. Okay, first class, maybe you’re not so bad.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Out of this merry-go-round

Gotta get off, gonna get

Need to get on where I’m bound

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

When will I know, where will I

How will I learn who I am

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

Tell me, when will I know, how will I know

When will I know why?

 

The plane touches down and knocks me awake. I feel sleepy and confused, like I was about to take a final exam the morning after I pulled raging all-nighter dancing at the Cat Club. I hum the theme as I walk up the jetway, a survivor of yet another scenario into which I put myself willingly, unsure if it would end in my fiery demise. But I arrived, and I know that love was waiting outside at the curb to pick me up.

 

In the end, Judy Garland was right. Judy was right, and I was wrong – even in moderation, Valley of the Dolls is a truly dreadful movie.

 

What’s in back of the sky

Why do we cry

 

jg9

 

vall3

 

“I have to travel how far? To climb what? To reach where? The valley of the pills? Oh, Valley of the Dolls.”

 

My ears were popping already. I hate flying.

 

“I had Jem dolls and She-ra dolls when I was a kid. Do those count? I bet they relieved anxiety, and I didn’t have to take them with water. Anxiety relief and drought awareness. I was such a responsible kid.”

 

“And your Judy doll was where?” she asks from the seat next to me.

 

“I didn’t have one, Miss Garland,” I admit. “But when I watched The Wizard of Oz, sometimes I wore Mom’s black pumps and carried a mini basket with a mini Pound Puppy in it, if that counts.”

 

“Count, count. Does anything count, you keep asking,” she says.

 

Keep asking? How long had we been talking? How long was this flight?

 

Is this a dream; am I here? Where are you?

 

“My doctor brought up the idea of pills when I told him I was afraid of flying.” I think I was asking her a question.

 

“Pills, darling. What kind?” How and when did Judy Garland become my pharmacist?

 

“Lorazepam, I think it’s called. The name reminded me of Gonzo, that blue Muppet with the banana nose. Everyone and their mother told me not to drink on those pills if I try them, or I’ll . . . ”

 

“End up like me, darling?” Judy smiles. Her imperfect front teeth seem to nudge themselves far out in front of her face, but not at all unattractive. Humanity is so enticing when it appears in a creature of such immaculate talents.

 

“From what I read, I think most doctors mention Janis or Jimi Hendrix,” I say, as she glances over me, scanning the aisle for the flight attendant. “My ‘Piece of my Heart’ is decent in the shower, but I’m no Janis. And I always thought heroin was her pleasure.”

 

With no attendant in sight, her gaze drifts back to me, and before she can accuse, I blurt out, “I mean, of course I sing all of yours first.”

 

What, like I’m going miss an opportunity to suck up to Judy Garland? How often do you end up liking the person sitting next to you on a long flight? Judy Garland was to be my conversation pill, and she always takes effect quickly.

 

When will I know; where will I

How will I think of my name?

 

“I get panicky when it comes to pills,” I breathe in and admit. “I’ve seen addiction up close, and I’m terrified of becoming an addict or going through any of the crap that I saw when it happened to others. I don’t want to lose control.”

 

She eyeballs the aisle again and without looking at me says, “Yes, you do.”

 

Excuse me? Angry. I get a little angry. I get a little angry with Judy Garland who is sitting next to me on a plane with a destination that is still unknown.

 

Is this a dream?

 

“I do? You think I want to lose control? I get on the Oakland Bay Bridge every day to leave San Francisco, and when I get in the car, I put on the song that I want to be listening to if I happen to die that day. If the bridge blows up, I want to be listening to a song that I love, not the morning talk radio with their ‘Hipster versus Geezer’ call-in games.” I’m getting angrier. I’m getting close to shouting, as close as I’ll allow myself in a public place, or anywhere, really. I stop and look up and down the aisle myself.

 

In a low voice she begins to ask, “Who are you . . . ?”

 

“Never mind what song I’m listening to!” I interrupt, even though her question calms me slightly. “I’m thinking that if the terrorists chose that morning to come after the liberal, green, free-love loving hippies and hipsters with their billions of dollars and ridiculous trigger warnings (we’re all such victims, pass me a pill), that I want to be listening to one of my favorite songs if I die on the commute to a job that bores me to tears. I do this on the bridge. I do this on BART . . .”

 

“The who, darling?” Judy asks. “So you have a boyfriend? Not sure I enjoy his name all that much, but if . . .”

 

“No, no BART is the Bay Area subway that goes under the water. And since it’ll make my ears pop seconds before I’m killed in an underwater tunnel, the music is crucial.”

 

“Still, dreadful name. Sounds like a placeholder name in a cartoon script.” She takes one last look up and down the aisle before reaching for her purse. I hear the subtle yet familiar rattle before her hand meets her mouth, and she swallows dramatically.

 

“I’m sorry not to offer, darling. Breath mint?”

 

“Nice touch,” I tell her, the anger subsiding. “Can I get back to me?”

 

“Oh, had we left you? I had no idea.” Okay, I loved her again.

 

“I get on BART (Judy rolls her eyes), and I’m convinced that the day has come when they decide to blow up the tunnel and kill thousands of heathens with one stone. On planes I grip the armrest so tightly turning takeoff or (god forbid) turbulence, that I’m afraid my knuckles will start bleeding. I look around and realize that I’m sitting in a flying murder weapon, and you think this sounds like someone who wants to lose control?”

 

She looks at me puzzled, an expression not unlike the ones that I used to give an algebra pop quiz in middle school. Why are they quizzing me on things I haven’t learned yet?

 

Still clutching her purse, she pulls out a cigarette. A cigarette after a breath mint? Eh, who am I to judge? After an exhale to the ceiling (they were polite smokers in her day), she shifts her tiny body weight so she’s facing me with her entire being, which isn’t much. It’s the itty-bitty Judy Garland Show Judy who’s daintily sitting next to me. I think I hear “You Go to My Head” start to play through the earphones that sit in my lap, but I ignore it. Why does that thing start playing randomly when it’s been sitting turned off for hours?

 

“Your bridge. Your car. Your train. Your DART (I don’t correct her) Your bay. Your death. Why, may I ask, are all the terrorists after you in particular, darling? If you sounded this way and were on pills, I’d have little to no concern for you at t’all. But if this is how you are without pills, maybe you should try one.”

 

I can’t contain my smile. I always smile when someone exposes a trait or behavior that I thought I kept hidden from the world. And I both love and hate that she knows it.

 

Judy leans in a bit more, and I focus not on her teeth but on those eyes. “You’re trying to stay in control in situations when your own only guarantee is that you have absolutely none. You try so hard that you even set the score to the disaster scene. I bet you have a playlist ready for morning.”

 

How will I think of my name?

 

“Oh no, you do, don’t you, darling?” She leans back, perhaps debating whether to poke me with her cigarette. “Which ones are . . .”

 

“Many,” I promise quickly, “but ‘The Man That Got Away’ has always been at the top of the list.”

 

“Fine.” Phew, she’s satisfied and can get it together enough to continue. “Of course you want to lose control. What else is there to do at a time when you have zero chance of gaining it? It’s the trying that makes your knuckles bleed, darling. That, and you need a good moisturizer.”

 

She places her hand on mine. Judy Garland – singer, dancer, actress, therapist, beautician.

 

“You watched Valley of the Dolls recently, didn’t you?” she asks, changing and not changing the subject.

 

“Yeah, one of my publishers is about to release a 50th anniversary edition of the book, which I’ve still never read. I watched it the night my doctor brought up the idea of pills.”

 

“It’s a dreadful movie, isn’t it?” She is starting to fish; I can tell. We all know tales of her preproduction history with the film.

 

“I guess it made its point pretty quickly. k.d. lang’s cover of the theme song was in the first and last episodes of Nurse Jackie, so with that and the book, it’s been on my mind.”

 

Judy’s face lights up. “Edie Falco, I like that gal.”

 

Obviously I agree, but I’m a tad startled by her praising another actor. It was like the bad girl in detention admitting that she loves the homecoming queen’s performance in the school play. And talk about control – show me a scene when Edie Falco is not in complete control. Judy locked horns with director in the business, and probably maimed a few, but I can’t imagine a director ever taking issue with Edie Falco, onset or off.

 

So Judy Garland knows who Edie Falco is, but she doesn’t know that BART is a subway train, not my boyfriend? Although I’m still unsure of this plane’s destination, I am sure that I need my hallucinations to be consistent in their knowledge of modern day life. I reach for the rattling bag underneath the seat in front of me, wondering if there’s a pill for such a thing.

jgv1

 

Click here to read Part II.

I haven’t found the right words yet, but I’m still here, loving my old movies more than ever. New posts to come soon . . .

mmny2

The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .

 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):

gp2

A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.

 

The three sailors in On the Town (1949):

ott3

Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.

 

Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):

aae1

Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.

 

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):

apart2

Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.

 

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):

tiff1

You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.

 

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):

fg3

Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.

 

Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):

hann2

Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.

 

Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):

bb1

Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.

aa34b

What do I do for a living? I spend my weekdays fixing mistakes. When book publishers enter their data into my company’s system, it’s my job to adjust their misplaced prefixes, remove the first names that they entered into the “last name” field of an author record, or correct the despicable mistreatment of “too” or “your” in their online copy. I provide my publishers with suggested word counts for areas of their descriptive copy; I advise on categorization for their upcoming titles (no, you need to be more specific than NONFICTION: GENERAL); and I beg and plead with them to use the Spelling and Grammar tool on their word processors. Yes, these are book publishers who (or . . . um, is it “that”?) are making these grammatical errors, and although I’m guilty of the cursed typo here and there, I would never provide a marketing point that tells consumers, “you’re mother will love this book, and it makes a great gift to.”

However charming it is to anticipate and eventually witness our publishers’ seasonal bloopers, equally baffling to me is the amount of communication lost between a publisher and its art designer. Certain online accounts (one in particular seeking world domination, but here will remain nameless) turn into incredibly grouchy ladybugs when a cover image we supply does not match the title line word for word. Therefore my job demands that I scan every cover before it is sent out to the accounts, making sure the title, subtitle, and author name printed on the image match the title line that the publisher entered into our database. Either the publishers are failin’ to communicate with the designers, or these bullheaded designers are trying to tell the publishers something about the poorly worded subtitles . . . after your eye is trained to spot them, mismatches are everywhere you look. I’m no stranger to a breakdown of communication in the workplace, and several of my clients have published books on the subject, but oh, if only I could figure out a way for the data entry side to mend fences with the designers and match a title line and its cover! You Should Feel the Wrath of the World Domination Account Only Once, publishers; I warn thee about Capitalization.

Speaking of wrath, the data manager side of my personality showed up at my house last night. He’s supposed to sleep at the office, but in these I-can’t-lose-this-job days that we live in, who doesn’t work remotely?

khmg1

“Youth has its hour of glory, but too often it’s only a morning glory, the flower that fades before the sun is very high.”

Every winter we trudge through the Hollywood awards season that we all love to hate and hate and hate (but, oh, of COURSE I’m going to watch; what, are ya nuts?).  There is quality entertainment and rewarding validation to be gained from community grumbling, and the Academy Awards may be the official grumble-athon. Always the professional blogger, I was browsing what has replaced the video stores of our childhood, in search of any Oscar winners that should be placed snuggly into the queue. Never will there be enough time to experience the work of every artist who was once deemed “the best,” but my heart rests easier knowing they sit patiently in my own Netflix waiting room. This year, however, as I scrolled through the assorted lists of past winners, my well-trained data eye stumbled upon an unforgivable atrocity, one that I am unable to fix; one that jolted that aforementioned resting heart of mine.

Let us all take a breath and prepare ourselves – Netflix has the wrong cover image posted for Katharine Hepburn’s first Academy Award–winning performance, Morning Glory (1933).  In 2010, another film was produced bearing the same name, and during the 2014 Academy Awards, its stylish, perky poster will hang on Netflix’s wall where Ms. Hepburn ought to be.

During Oscar week . . . Hepburn . . . record-setting number of wins . . . wrong cover image . . . Hepburn . . . now I must spend my weeknights fixing mistakes.

With no other obvious methods to report content errors, I found on Netflix a “Call Us” option on its contact page, boasting a wait time of less than a minute. As much as I appreciate the word “curmudgeon,” was my love for the four-time Academy Award–winning Katharine Hepburn strong enough to turn me into such a bellyacher? My universe froze. I could be speaking with Mr. or Mrs. Netflix in less than a minute . . . should I? Having worked retail, ordinarily I am a very kind and polite customer, but could I trust myself to behave if I made such a phone call? I felt the eerie presence of a Fairy Godmother – but one who looked less like Grandma and more like Archie Bunker – and he was lingering quietly in the corner of the room, eager for the chance to transform my fitted tee and jeans into a cranky old man’s flannel bathrobe. The phone stayed on the other side of the room, having been switched to silent mode hours earlier. This, my friends, was a defining line in those pesky sands of time.

Perhaps I was not ready to cross it, but I could sure feel my toe on that line, grinding it brutally into the ground.

khmg3

Academy Award for Morning Glory (1934): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add Morning Glory to your queue.