Ian McKellan’s Best Parts

DATELINE: Playing the Part

McKellan with Milo Parker Mr. Holmes, of course!

When the Great Thespian gathers together his early autobiographical photos and files, you know you are in for a treat. Ian McKellan sits down for a life achievement interview. It’s called McKellan: Playing the Part.

Now he has been great fodder for TV laugh talk shows for years, mostly owing to his dry wit and coming out at age 50 as a gay man during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

His great roles are in films like Gods and Monsters, Apt Pupil, and Richard III, though he is best loved for his superhero movies and Harry Potter junk. He is a good sport about the green screen stuff, but it’s not really acting to him.

We do see him in many rare behind-the-stage clips and playing Shakespeare on TV. He was quite a good-looker as a young man, though no one ever told him so, he admits.

He grew up at college with the likes of Derek Jacobi and Corin Redgrave. It was heady company. He admits his life has been one mostly of life in the company of strangers. Heavens, he must have relied on much kindness.

Like many middle-class Brits, he had to learn a posher accent and quickly discovered the best way to do it was hanging out at theaters. He started young, watching backstage, and appearing in any and every play as a teenager.

An interesting sidelight is that Milo Parker (costar of Mr. Holmes with McKellan) plays the actor as a boy. We presume Mr. McKellan had something to do with this casting. He thought he should have won something for Mr. Holmes—but forgot he already won a Screen Actors Guild award for something or other.

McKellan influenced many actors and stage people over the years. He has always taken some pride in that aspect of his life, which has been solitary without family or children, a conscious decision of a gay man. He has made the acting profession his family.

 

 

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Michael Caine: My Generation is Not Yours

DATELINE: Swinging 60s?

Michael Caine Only Blowing Off the Doors?

Michael Caine, one of the great film stars, and under-rated actors since the 1960s, produces and presents a documentary that gives intriguing insight into the London influence of the 1960s.

That was the time of swinging London, Carnaby Street, and the Beatles. It was also when Caine first struck pay-dirt in his movie career.

Caine knows enough to start the documentary with his famous line from the Italian Job about blowing the bloody doors off the car, famously parodied in The Trip and The Trip to Spain by Coogan and Brydon.

You will see a few TV clips of his early performances, and he tells how he chose the name Caine for his career (based on an old Humphrey Bogart movie playing nearby when he was selecting). All this early detail is marvelous.

He even notes that he was a few years older than the group of Cockney stars that rose up in music, film, photography, and fashion. But he was there.

With ingenious clips of young Caine riding up in an elevator, and the old man stepping out, you have his memories coming out: he recalls going to a trendy dance club where every Beatle and every Rolling Stone was dancing; he figured this was the place to be.

Michael Caine converses with Roger Daltrey, Donovan, Joan Collins, Twiggy, Paul McCartney, and Marianne Faithfull, about the days when they were young. He is right there for most of this, but in the final segments, when drugs and LSD take hold, he is not really a participant.

As he points out, he kept his head. It is why he is still making movies fifty years later. He was far beyond London by the late 1960s and the drug scene there. It is alien to him.

The insights are fun and enlightening in his chats with those who transcended their Cockney roots. There is also a soundtrack of great 60s music from Kinks, Beatles, Stones, and Animals.

 

 

Filmworker: More Than Kubrick’s Go-fer?

 DATELINE: Alternate Ego?

Leon Vitali Young Vitali

We won’t quibble with you. At first, we were put off by the idea that someone had done a documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s assistant. We thought it was chutzpah to call this man a partner or more in Kubrick’s career.

Leon Vitali prefers to be labeled “Filmworker,” and how wrong we were about his contributions to the works of the grand master after 1976. For 30 years, Vitali became more than an assistant: he was an alter ego, a shadow to Kubrick’s Peter Pan.

To work in such proximity to a whirlwind dervish genius takes its toll. He went from stunningly beautiful boy to haggard and wizened old man. He was there for Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, doing everything with Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick met Leon Vitali as an actor on the movie Barry Lyndon. The beautiful young man so impressed Kubrick that he revised the film and made him a featured actor. He is brilliant, trained by the Royal Shakespeare troupe, etc.

Yet, he threw it all away when given the chance to work as a Doppleganger to Kubrick.

Not many actors would toss away potential movie star status to become lost in the voracious appetite for work that was Kubrick. When you look at Vitali today in his old age, you cannot find the pretty boy he once was: the Kubrick perfection disease has ripped him to shreds.

We were surprised that he had time to procreate a family. For 30 years, on every film, he worked 20 hours per day, doing whatever Kubrick wanted: casting, lighting, sound, editing, scripts, and jack of all trades. Leon Vitali puts to rest the rumor that Kubrick filmed a fake Moon landing for NASA.

He had the enviable job of being on the right hand and left hand of Kubrick. He took startling photos of the reclusive genius. We liked see James Mason with Jack Nicholson on the set of The Shining.

It was Vitali who came up with the idea of twin girls murdered by axe. He was child star Danny’s acting coach, and the lines between Kubrick and Vitali disappeared over the years. Kubrick would send out messages in Leon’s name, would call him for impossible and constant errands.

Vitali was more than an assistant. He was joined at the hip with the great auteur. You might suspect they were gay lovers, but their love was strictly the film business and mostly the art.

 

 

 

 

 

Sen. Cracker Graham Support for K-K-Kavanagh?

DATELINE: Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Blackmailed!

 Judge Roy Moore Any Judge will do it for Trump!

Some observers are wondering why President Bone Spurs Trump’s most ardent critic of the past two years suddenly had a change of heart.

Sen. Lindsay Graham suddenly became the attack dog for the Administration at the hearings for Judge K-K-Kavanagh. His spirited hissy fit at the hearing has all the makings of a man’s manufactured indignation.

If the lady doth protest too much, then what condition has prompted cracker Graham to represent his Carolina constituents with a banjo on his knee?

He even threatened to politicize his future dealings with the judiciary, overlooking the fact that the women justices he supported were not accused of harassing other women.

He seemed unfazed that the man who picks his clerks for their leggy credentials boasted that he will surround himself with a harem of law clerks as a Supreme Court justice. Old B-B-Brett seems unfazed at the pain he is inflicting on his family to satisfy his raw ambitions. On the day Bill Cosby goes to jail in handcuffs for using date rape drugs, Brett is on his way to the Supreme Court for a similar allegation.

Can it be that the latest Trump troll is acting out of the fear of something evil coming his way? For years the rumors have persisted that Graham is a member of Dorothy’s Friends, that amiable group of rainbow singing Munchkins.

Now we begin to wonder if blackmail is at the heart of Trump support. We have seen thugs purported to have made unkind suggestions to women like Stormy Daniels by Trumpist monkeys. Can it be that the voters in Carolina may be treated to a lowdown on the downlow of Lindsay Graham? Would Trumpites sink so low? You better believe it.

So, the man with no proclivities to support date rape of women may have proclivities that he would prefer you not cast a vote upon in future elections. It’s not likely that the LGBTQ community of South Carolina wants to think of what sits on Graham’s knee.

Or if he is on his knees to do something other than pray and to do the bidding of President Bonehead Bone Spurs?

 

How Far Lifar Travelled

 DATELINE:  Male as Diva

Lifar with Daddy Diaghilev Lifar & Daddiaghilev!

Today he is barely recalled, except by balletomanes.

Serge Lifar was a name in Jeté sets and Monaco parties from the 1920s to the 1950s. He was a principal dancer for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He was a sort of sub for Nijinsky on stage, in bed, and off kilter.

Lifar was ambitious, and his tale is fascinating to see played out in a documentary called Serge Lifar: Revolution in Dance. Interestingly enough, the word gay is never spoken.

Considered pale in comparison to Nijinsky, olive-skinned Lifar played the same roles for Diaghilev who tutored him and turned him from a late-blooming peasant boy into a stunning aesthete. He became friends with Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and a raft of Paris artists around the era.

Life was dramatic for Lifar. He was the epitome of a drama queen before the term took hold. He was a social media star when there was no such thing: he had a nose job to lessen shadows on his face when he danced.

As catty serious as this film is, it avoids tales of bedtime trysts, a fight with Boris Kochno (Diaghilev’s secretary) over the Maestro’s dead body (literally) in 1929. It details Lifar’s alleged collaboration with Nazis and handsome officers he needed to cultivate. He twice met with Hitler, and his Paris Opera House was always filled with front-row SS officers.

Yet, there is plenty of dirt to go around, even when spread nicely thin. Lifar refused to go to Berlin and start a ballet school, creating an epic ballet for the Third Reich. He was still convicted of collaborating by a French tribunal.

He regarded himself as homeless, a displaced person, a refuge from Russia who made a home for 30 years in France. He was an autocrat who saved the arts from Nazis, according to friends. He is often credited with “firsts” in ballet that rightly belonged to Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

He couldn’t give up the fame or infamy, having ridiculous duels and carrying on as a diva long after he should have retired. His greatest ballet creation was Icare, about the handsome young man who flew too close to the sun with wax wings. Delusions take many forms. How appropriate.

 

Funny Face: Frothy, Light, & Fun

DATELINE: No Ginger Needed?

winged hepburn Winged Hepburn!


In 1957 came the last great Fred Astaire movie, and his dance partner and costar is Audrey Hepburn, not Ginger Rogers. Funny Face is as good as you’re likely to find with a homage nod to those musicals of the 1930s.

You may cringe to see almost 60-years-old Astaire wooing almost 30-years-old Hepburn. The old dance trouper is amazingly youthful, though at times he looks tired after all those acrobatic steps. He watches a few numbers (jazz interpretive stuff with Audrey and two beatniks) with askance.

The older woman Kay Thompson is the fashion magazine owner and editor (and Ginger could have played this but chose not to do it). And, Kay steals all her scenes, including a few dances with aging Fred.

Within a few years, Astaire would turn to dramatic acting in films like On the Beach, dismissing himself as too old to dance and be a romantic lead.

Yet, when he is called upon: Fred still has the magic, doing a dance with an umbrella and a raincoat that turns into a matador’s cape. Brilliant late career effort.

Though producers denied Audrey a chance to sing in My Fair Lady, she does so in this film—and her voice is distinctive, not bad.

Fred plays an arty photographer on the lines of Richard Avedon (who took the real pix in the pic). Hepburn is a bookstore worm transformed into a model that she disdains.

Early claustrophobic stage scenes contrast with the wide-open location numbers in Paris, leading up to the real Eiffel Tower. Director Stanley Donen provides some marvellous moments outside the studio.

Gershwin tunes abound, including the constant refrain from “S’marvelous,” that emerges only at the climax of the movie.

In some ways, the movie is trying too hard to be special, like dancing on raft in a stream with swans floating by. Yet, you must give it credit for providing us with legendary performers doing wonderful things.

 

 

 

Broken Hearts Club, 20 Years Later

DATELINE: Sexy Romantic Comedy?

stellar cast

Of all the weird elements of the Broken Hearts Club is its subtitle, a Romantic Comedy.  It is nothing of the sort, but rather a version of a gay sex farce. That takes nothing away from its polished and entertaining qualities.

The other oddity, still years later, is the cast of all-straight men, mostly at the start of their big careers, and all playing mincing gay boys of different stripes. It’s like one of those World War II platoons with different ethnicity and stereotypes.

The cast is stellar, including Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood and Justified) giving a slightly off performance that nearly convinces us he is gay. Of course, his kissing abilities are hot, but he has been married for years.

So has Dean Cain as the Lothario of the group and Zach Braff as the gayest queen.

The ragtag friends work part-time in some capacity or other at Jack’s a gay friendly restaurant in Los Angeles, and they play softball for the business. This gives the actors a chance to prance around in queenly fashion.

When dramatic moments are called for, the actors are highly polished and strong, even in their disappointments with love. They seem to avoid falling into bed with each other, but when it happens, look out.

Greg Berlanti writes and directs with aplomb and wit, though stereotypes are required. The young men are all 20-somethings, in the tail end of the AIDS crisis and not really part of it.

We would like the director to do a sequel and show us these men and their dissipated lives at age 50. It might prove more instructive, if not frightening, to see what happens to handsome gay men in middle-age.

In Search of….Life After Death

 DATELINE: Thereafter in the Hereafter?

alcor Freeze Your Asset Off?

Dead to rights, you are likely afraid of death. This episode of In Search of…would not be a comfort if you are. It seemed to spook Zachary Quinto, the unflappable host.

The series tackled the question of surviving death, immortality, fountains of youth, and cheating the Grim Reaper, with a variety of considerations.

We met a few experts—one in paranormal with engineering skills to make devices to catch spirit sounds. Another expert in near death experiences (NDE) spoke of the “wonderful experience,” of dying.

Yet another talked about the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel when he almost drowned—and seeing a busy Grand Central Station of spirits, by the cartload, wandering these long halls. It seems commuting never ends.

There are, we are told, 200,000 near death survivors from all cultures, and they tell the same story about their minutes on the steps of the Afterlife.

Quinto wanders the halls of the Omini Parker House hotel in Boston which is reportedly haunted. There he manages to hear some voices from beyond.

The most ghoulish and creepy stuff centered on Alcor, the business in Arizona that promises new life by cryogenically freezing either your head or entire body. To have your brain (still in its safety skull) frozen will cost you about $80,000.  Cheap if they have not destroyed your brain cells in the process of putting you 320 degrees below zero. Baseball legend Ted Williams is there.

Quinto also took in Harvard Medical School where a pill keeps mice young—and soon will alter your DNA enough to keep you alive for about 140 years.

All in all, one bioethics expert noted that postponing death will render the point killer of art useless. No more need for Mozart’s Requiem, if you never die. It will be meaningless.

 

 

 

The Lost Career of Richard Cromwell

 DATELINE: Baby Face Curse

Cromwell holding clock 

Cromwell Holding Clock in Tom Brown of Culver!

Baby-faced Richard Cromwell was a shoo-in to play the panty-waist Baby-Face Morgan for a poverty-row movie production. He was always professional on the set.

Cromwell’s character is the unlikely son of Machine Gun Morgan, notorious crime boss in the syndicate. With all the FBI overwhelmed with World War II Nazis and saboteurs at home, the mob needs a front man and fall guy. Cromwell’s looks bring disparaging remarks and innuendo as he is propped up as a fake mob boss.

In case you hadn’t caught on, this was meant to be a comedy, featuring dumb blonde secretaries and mugs who are morons.

Cromwell’s career was already in the toilet, owing to the closed shop from the studios. After the pinnacle years of the 1930s when Cromwell appeared with Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, and other stars, he was in rapid descent.

He married Angela Lansbury when he was 35 and looked like a teenager at the altar. Their marriage lasted only a few months and later rumors came forth that he was gay.

Cromwell remained on the periphery of Hollywood, having many friends in the industry. When he tried to make a comeback at age 50 in 1960, he became ill and did not survive, replaced in the movie.

In Baby Face Morgan, he is referred to as a kid when he was 33. A few years later, the same fate of looking young befell Audie Murphy for his entire career.

Cromwell’s movie is only passable to watch with flat yokel humor. It’s one of the forgotten tragedies.

 

 

 

Hard to Kill, Harder to Watch

DATELINE:  Hard Jobs

Tim Unleashed Tim Kennedy Unleashed

Tim Kennedy, formerly of Hunting Hitler as the go-to adventurer who investigated dangerous people, has gone a step beyond for a new Discovery series.

Hard to Kill is one of those “dangerous job” shows where some rank amateur tries his hand, without training, at doing something where you need a few years of experience to do the job right.

So, Tim Kennedy, former Green Beret, muscle-man, pushing forty years, is perfect as the guy being a man in a world of wussies. In the old days we called him a dare-devil, or simply foolhardy, or blithering idiot.

He shows guts and lack of brains at the same time.

In the first show, he tries his hand at “American bullfighter,” and it’s not what you expect. In the jargon of pop culture, this job is rodeo clown:  the guy in clown makeup who distracts the rampaging bull from running over the fallen rider.

This is risky. Breaking bones is the easy way out. Jumping to the fence to escape the bull’s charge is not a good idea, as these pros tell Kennedy: you can be impaled on an immovable object (a fence slat).

Bulls run at 35mph and are reasonably adept at hitting their target. You can plainly see that the rodeo men take it seriously to protect their own—and sending out an untrained person is not only foolhardy, but unethical. Yet, the price of TV fame comes high, so to speak.

Kennedy is personable and overly energetic, but these kind of adventurers were the explorers of yesteryear. They may seem anachronistic today or suited only for TV derring-do.

 

 

Marilyn Monroe: Gone 56 Years

DATELINE: Sad Anniversary

MM 

Was it really so long ago in August, 1962, that Marilyn died so suddenly and mysteriously? We heard the news on Sunday morning on vacation. Was it an accident or some kind of bizarre conspiracy that did her in?

She was thought to be a sad, pathetic suicide at the time of her death, body claimed by former husband Joe DiMaggio. Her last film was the Misfits with Clark Gable, written by her ex-husband and playwright Arthur Miller. It was extraordinary stuff. She could play light comedy or heavy tragedy (Some Like It Hot, Bus Stop).

She had become emotionally erratic, fired by the studio and dismissed from movies (The outtakes of Something’s Gotta Give show her radiant and perfect. Over an hour of film footage was reconstructed a few years back. Why did they fire her?). The career trauma  seemed to explain her death—at first.

Over time, we learned she was a victim of the casting couch: with lurid stories of her promiscuity and misuse by producers and unscrupulous men (and Joan Crawford).

Then, we learned she was the victim of the President of the United States and his brother. Some even speculate that she was assassinated by the CIA because she was about to blow the whistle on political shenanigans and UFOs, state secrets she learned in her dalliances.

Now, more recently, we hear that she fought the casting couch mentality of Hollywood, walked out of movies when she was mistreated and sexually abused.

Whatever the truth, she was a luminous talent, who actually glowed on celluloid. Her career might have been on the skids because of age by the late 1960s, but we will never know whether she would have made a transformation to character actress, or into a legend as she is now.

Poor Marilyn. She was missed immediately– and is still missed today.

 

Portrait of a Fantasy Classic

DATELINE: Robert Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie

Brackman Jennie Brackman Painting Used in Film!

Portrait of Jennie is unusual movie fare by any standard—whether it is today or when it was released in 1949.

Back then, audiences were better educated for sure. The movie starts out with quotes from Euripides and Keats on mortality and the philosophy of death. As if to prove you are not in Kansas, the film uses the stunning music of Debussy’s “Nuages,” with an assist from Dmitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann. Phew!

You don’t have music like this as background audio nowadays!

Unsuccessful painter of landscapes, Eban Adams (Joe Cotten), cannot find a plug nickel for his work in 1934. When he begs art dealers Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway to buy one of his pictures, they take pity on him. However, the price is to be told there is no love in his work, in critique by a spinster art collector.

When he meets a turn-of-the-century little girl in Central Park, she tells him she will grow up fast to marry him. Lo and behold, when he sees her again, she is older, and then again older. He is enchanted, and forced to do detective work to find her.

The twosome finally conclude that there is some error in the time-space continuum, no mean feat considering when the movie was made. They are not supposed to cross paths, let alone find the love of their lives, of all time.

You know that something is afoot when the screen goes garish green toward the climax.

The actual prop portrait of Jennifer Jones, breathtakingly beautiful, was actually done by Robert Brackman—and kept in the library of producer David O. Selznick, married to Miss Jones at the time.

With another gallery acting job by Joseph Cotten—and an assist from Ethel Barrymore, the old lady with a crush on him, you have an instant classic—and more.

Throw in Lillian Gish and Cecil Kellaway—and the film noir photography of Central Park at night, and we can forgive any logical weirdness in the storyline.

You owe yourself one romantic fantasy in a lifetime. This should be it, and never let drowning in a tsunami stop you from going to Land’s End on Cape Cod.

 

 

Borg & McEnroe, Not Exactly Chums

DATELINE: Clash of the KooKoo Birds

great acting

Telling great sports rivalries has become a movie goldmine for Bobby and Billie as well as Bird and Magic. The latest sports film is called Borg Vs. McEnroe.

However, the two most unlikeable figures among elites are the pairing of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in 1980. If you don’t remember how it turned out, this movie’s suspense will be enhanced.

Essentially this is the story of two crazed competitors. Yes, we guessed that to compete at a high level you must be touched in the head. Indeed, these two may seem dissimilar, but both were “not quite right in the head,” according to the movie.

The Swede was often called Ice Borg or CyBorg, to indicate he was a robotic and inhuman creature. On the other hand, American John McEnroe comes across as Norman Bates in a McEn-psycho mode.

There really was no relationship between them outside the tennis court. They were not enemies, friends, or even friendly antagonists. They barely acknowledged the other in person.

Instead of showing us, the movie prologue states that the 1980 match changed both men. We never see that. Epilogue cards tell us they became best friends and even served as best man at the other’s wedding. We don’t see any of that.

As for the performances, they are uniformly brilliant. Shia Labeouf is perfect as McEnroe, and Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnasson is equal to the ice borg. They are riveting in the roles, and that makes the film well worth your time and investment.

 

 

Devilish Fun with Sooke

 DATELINE:  Porno, not Inferno

 sooke Sooke, not Cooke

How the Devil Got His Horns is hosted by a new media sensation from England named Alastair Sooke.

He is an expert is ancient art and classic art work. If you are expecting Alistair Cooke, you will discover the new generation is decidedly Alastair Sooke. And, the differences go way beyond white hair of Alistair Cooke to the lithe Sooke.

This young art critic has all the smarts and sexy appeal too.

Looking like an Oxford undergraduate, but the smartest kid in the class, the expressive expert from England is made for social media. He is ambiguous enough in sexual terms as to make you wonder about that wedding ring.

Sooke travels around Florence, Venice, and museums, wearing sandals. When he stops to explain an early depiction of Jesus on a church mural, he happens to be wearing the same sandals as JC. No coincidence we suspect.

He explains  how the Devil, Lucifer, originally was a blue angel on the left hand of God, before his precipitous fall. He is described as a bureaucrat in heaven, which explains his rebellion.

Lucifer’s initial beauty downgrades to ugliness over the years, as you need corruption to supervision corruption. Sooke raises the issue that Lucifer’s transformation was far more an aesthetic decision of poets and artists rather than Church leaders.

Sooke also revels in showing us the most depraved depictions of hell fire and suffering. As he tells us, it’s more porno than Inferno in the art world for the Medieval viewers.

If you want a blue angel for your guide, there is none better than Alastair Sooke.

Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

Lance, Mason & Friend Lance,  James Mason, & Friend!

When in 1979 we heard James Mason was doing a Stephen King TV movie, we were appalled. We refused to watch one of our perennial favorites demean his career in its last years by doing something as cheesy as Salem’s Lot.

Today we eagerly watch it and devour his every screen moment.

Who would have guessed that James Mason slumming on TV could be so delightful?  With Tobe Hooper directing like he is doing an imitation of Vera Miles approaching Hitchcock’s Bates mansion, you throw in some performers we always liked: Lance Kerwin, Ed Flanders, Elisha Cook, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Kenneth MacMillan and Fred Willard!! What a juicy little horror—just a tad silly around the edges.

It’s a little perverse too. James Mason is the procurer for some kind of Nosferatu in Maine, finding little boys for him to devour. Lance Kerwin seems ripe, but he has eyes only for David Soul. Their smoldering subtext is off the charts in its own way. Did anyone making the movie understand the word ‘latent’?

James Mason and Lance Kerwin share only a couple of glances in their scenes, but it may be that they saw something utterly disdainful in the other.

With an uncut three-hour version of the old TV miniseries now available on streaming, you can sit back and wallow in low-rent horror that remains top-drawer compared to the junk of today. There is no needless blood and/or off-the-computer special effects. Here actors rely on their wiles, not on the blue screen.

James Mason is the full show here, delivering lines with an inimitable throwaway snobbery. Wait till you hear him pronounce, “expertise.”

Most of the movie he is either entering or exiting doorways and looking askance. He clearly enjoyed making a movie with his wife, Clarissa Kaye, and chewing the scenery. You will enjoy it too.