Sinatra in Palm Springs

DATELINE: 50 Years in the Desert!

 1948 Home!

One of the least frequently used ways to examine a life biography is to study the place called home. For Frank Sinatra, that place was not New Jersey or Las Vegas: it was Palm Springs where he first moved in the late 1940s and fell in love. He was one of the self-professed “desert rats.”

When he commissioned a house, it became a sleek modern style that so fit the area. It soon became a compound, and with his marriage to Ava Gardner, she took over much of its design, including a recording studio within for when he had the urge to sing.

Before long, the social and gregarious Sinatra had many of his show biz entourage there. It was an exclusive place which did not cater to his Jewish friends, and with Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers, they built a golf club that was open to all, especially celebrities. Even Bob Hope soon moved to the Springs area.

The home was the site of famous fights between Ava and Frank, resulting in damage that is now part of the legendary design. After their divorce and Sinatra’s resurgence after From Here to Eternity, he moved about ten miles across town to Rancho Mirage where he stayed for the rest of his life. He is buried in the Springs as well.

Sinatra even allowed his home to be used for Joan Crawford’s house in The Damned Don’t Cry. Later, his new compound had many guest houses for his frequent gatherings. He loved to entertain and be entertained. Only his mother’s death in 1977 in a plane crash on her way to be with him seemed to be a bad time.

Sinatra loved to drive around at night—and frequented many of the well-known restaurants of the area, from the Doll House to Melvyn’s. He had his own table in many—and he owned the town. If he came to your restaurant or bar regularly, you had it made.

In the early days of Palm Springs, celebs could walk around unbothered by fans. It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place away from the business centers of Hollywood, and the Racquet Club was part of Frank’s world.

The word most often used to describe Sinatra was “generous.” He was charitable beyond his moodiness or occasional blowup. Most called him a pure gentleman.

His entourage was not only the Rat Pack, but many stars from different films who vied to be part of this Vegas legend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  306 Hollywood Avenue: Archaeological Digs

DATELINE:  How a Life Matters

 Grandma as Empress!

One of the most original documentaries and fascinating undertaking belongs to a film by siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarin. When their grandmother dies at age 93 in New Jersey, they undertake to deconstruct her life though the house she lived in for 67 years.

Grandma Annette saved everything and they, at first, plan to shred documents and toss everything out for a quick sale. However, strange evocations in the house lead them to stop everything. Even the undertaker tells them her spirit may be in the house for up to 11 months.

Whereas most of our possessions are trashed in a bin immediately, like her lifelong collection of paperclips, the grandchildren now want to sift through her ordinary life like it is the pyramid of a great personage. The result is astounding, heart-rending, and illuminating. You must look at how our lives end up in a trash heap that no one wants or cares about. It could be your address or anyone you know.

In one segment, they visit the archivist for the John D. Rockefeller house, the saved heirlooms and collectibles of the rich family. They have the resources to do what middle-income people cannot—and they have selected what will survive to prove the Rockefeller legacy.

They then ask the archivist about his family. He has saved his grandmother’s cookie recipes and her log of making dozens for her children.

As Annette made dresses, beautiful copies for herself too, they have an interesting take on the fashion as icons. A conservator tells how she can feel the spirit of the owner in the clothes, and physicist Alan Lightman talks about how molecules and atoms never die, but become disarranged: the dead person is no longer assembled, but parts float around the universe.

They keep the house for six years until Jonathan hears his grandmother call his name. As Alan Lightman states, houses are universes, and like the universe, they can be reduced to fit into a thimble.

Dark Dirk’s Shadow

DATELINE:  British Murder Mystery

 As a Charming Killer!

Of course, Janet Greene is no Agatha Christie, but English female mystery playwrights were big in the 1950s. Her big play has more sociopathic psycho than most.

So, the big cheese to play the role was a perfect choice.

From light comedy to darkest character drama with sociological implications, Dirk Bogarde stormed onto the scene in British, arty films in the 1950s. He could play a charming medical students in the film series, Doctor in the House,or he could be a dangerous sexual predator as in Cast a Dark Shadow  all within the same year!

No actor in the Hollywood system could do that sort of range.

In 1955, he managed to play one of his creepier wife-murdering fortune hunters, cast as the darkest shadow, Teddy Bare who is married to oldster Mona Washbourne. Her name is Moni, but it sounds like Mommy when Dirk speaks.

Moni makes a will, against Teddy’s wish. With no will, he receives all her money. He is forced to dispatch her immediately and must find another wife/victim.

In some ways, the young man after old ladies is not credible, but the idea of a young man hustling an older man was not feasible in 1955, but we give Bogarde credit for his unspoken suggestion. In one scene he is reading male health magazine with men in bikini photos.

That was about as blatant as you could be to send a gay message in 1955.

In glossy black and white, the film is a beautiful production with sharp sets and lovely photography from director Lewis Gilbert. The other women victims are younger and more apt, Margaret Atwood and Kay Walsh.

This is a lost gem that now is found on streaming services.

  Mae West: Dirty Blonde

DATELINE: Way Ahead of the Curve!

 Mae in Lion’s Mouth!

When PBS Masters finally recognizes Mae 100 years after her astounding Broadway run, you know she is still years ahead of the rest of society. How did this woman whose first plays were called “garbage,” or “lewd” or worse, manage to transcend Sexand The Dragto become a sotto vocecomic?

She was hardly a dirty blonde, but she was stunning to behold.

Her first play about a sex worker resulted in a week-long jail sentence that became the best publicity stunt New Yorkers ever saw. Her second play, she scoured the drag queen bars of the 1920s to find 60 gay men and women to do her ground-breaking shocker about homosexuality!

It took her thinking about why few women attended her plays (she wrote, directed, and starred). So, she came up with Diamond Lil, in hour-glass dresses, fancy lingerie, and big hats: add a few off-hand jokes, and she was Mae West forever.

You could say she saved Paramount Studios with her astute performances: she was in charge of everything and made $1 more than the highest paid executive. She insisted on black performers with billing in her movies, and she gave Duke Ellington his first Hollywood exposure!

Mae hated negativity—and she liked to be in control. Slowly she evolved into a real version of her creative version. She was forty and overweight when she made her first movie, and she was run out of Hollywood by censors. By the 1950s, she was considered a man in drag herself–and she was ripe for parody everywhere.

In the 1970s in her 80s, she made a comeback as a sex symbol, a shocking parody that was hilarious inSextette  and Myra Breckinridge. With her half-baked singing, shimmy, and snide overcurrent delivery, she was a striking original.

 

 

 

Claire Denis: High Life Tumbles

DATELINE: Pattinson Finds His Spacesuit! 

 Rocket Man, Not !

The latest film by auteur and brilliant director Claire Denis is not her best, but it is original, bizarre, and will find admirers among the critical set. High Life sets a tone and standard for sci-fi that seems sci-unfit.

However, High Life is more original than your sci-fi audience may want. This is not on the level of Kubrick tackling the topic. It is anti-science fiction: philosophical and idiosyncratic. Forward is going backward from Earth.

 

If Robert Pattinson has selected it, you know you are in for something different. He knows how to pick unusual movies.

The narrative storyline is something about a father raising his infant daughter alone on a spaceship hurtling toward a black hole.

You know you are in arthouse territory when the title of the film flashes 18minutes into the story. We slowly discern the rest of the crew is dead—and therein is the tale of sexual tension with malcontents on a ship going nowhere at nine-tenths the speed of light.

Somewhere around half-way into the movie, we find the kink foundation and disturbing fact that these are actually delinquent prisoners unethically sent out as guinea pigs with no hope of return.

Their fate is not exactly happy, and their problematic lives merely make the inevitable tragedy. In the meantime, Pattinson is a curio, ageless and aging as his daughter grows up. Their goal of a black hole is referred to as an alligator eye, but it is the bullseye of bull. This dark, dour film has convinced some it is a masterpiece.

For others, it is simply so far out there that it defies comprehension. Critical reaction is all over the landscape and under the sun.

WW2 Race to Victory: Second Episode

DATELINE: No Re-enactors!

 

  FDR & Winnie

History Channel’s new series Race to Victory  started off shakily in the second installment by suggesting that both Stalin and Roosevelt were surprised by the attacks on their countries. Putting the drunken bender of Stalin in line with philatelist FDR. It seemed bad taste, and outright preposterous.

The excellent photo footage is most remarkable in its selection and usage. The second episode began in early 1941 well before Pearl Harbor to show how much Churchill tried to entice FDR to give up isolationism and convince America to fight with the British Empire.

FDR was a capitalist against empires, and Churchill was the epitome of the colonial mentality. Though they met and personally liked each other, there was no agreement on this sticking point. And, both were reluctant to accept Stalin, but his massive country was important if they were to stop Hitler.

The series skips with balletic care the idea that Pearl Harbor was a deliberate set-up to bring America into the war. However, we know from our father, a Naval officer in the war, that he and others believed it firmly.

The end of 1941 was Hitler and Japan’s run to victory on both fronts. The Japanese immediately took hold of all the key ports of the Pacific, making America’s requirement for two fronts. It undercut Churchill’s plans for the US to fight strictly in Europe.

However, this compelling series manages to pull together extraordinary historical film and pictures to make this a a refreshing and powerful series that depicts the Big Three in ways you may not expect.

 

 

Inner Circle of Jeffrey Epstein

DATELINE: Friends in High Places

Ghislaine Maxwell and friends.

The second part of the Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein  series delves into his close associates, while hinting that his accumulation of wealth may have been by fraud.

Epstein skates away from every investigation by dint of his personality, or bank account. His true rise to superpower came from a woman named Ghislaine Maxwell, a daughter of media mogul Robert Maxwell. She came to Epstein at a low point: her father died in a strange boating accident, some suggesting he was a spy for Israel and was assassinated.

Ghislaine moved into the New York residence, becoming his partner in sex crimes—procuring young girls. She was also a bon vivant and knew everyone from royals to movie stars, to celebrities of all stripes.

She and Epstein had pinhole cameras in every residence and amused themselves with video scenes of the rich and famous at parties, in bedrooms, on the private jet, and wherever Epstein set them up.

A few girls tried to escape—but they found his long reach of checkbooks would thwart any FBI or prosecution. In fact, he had a future Trump cabinet official in his hip pocket when he was a mere Palm Beach prosecutor.

Girls were plucked out of Trump’s Winter White House, the notorious Mar-a-lago. One 14-year old named Virginia Roberts began a nightmare relationship with Epstein, only escaping to Thailand when he ordered her to bring back a 12-year old girl.

By the new century, Epstein had broadened his social world to Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, and scores of the richest men in the world. He redefined himself as a philanthropist despite a conviction as a pedophile. He was tied to MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, as a big donor to research. Many fell prey to his clever manipulations.

Once ensnared, many famous men were likely unable to break out unless there was payment of some sort.

Marilyn Declassified

DATELINE: Patsy Monroe? 

In a new documentary called Marilyn Monroe Declassified,  director and writer Paul Davids in 2016 tackled the thorny subject of the probable suicide (its official designation) almost 60 years later.

He takes much archival footage and tries to find rare insights to give a background in his premise that it was more likely her death was an improbable suicide.”

No doubt that even decades later, Marilyn is a glowing and beautiful icon, transcending time and place. She may be up there in a few thousand years with women like Helen of Troy. Yes, legends easily pass into mythology with a background like Marilyn.

This film purports to examine both FBI and CIA documents only recently released to public scrutiny.

Using some fairly reputable scholars and researchers, the film veers off the standard biography patter for the final 20 minutes or so when the revelations about affairs with the Kennedy brothers (President and Attorney General) devolves into a mob contracted hit to embarrass the Kennedy Administration, led by the CIA guru and demonologist, James Angleton.

Sam Giancana, who believed the Kennedys betrayed him, was an eager contractor for Angleton. All stones could be unturned and thrown into the ocean when used. You may well ask yourself why it took 4 hours to call the police to report Marilyn was dead by her housekeeper (allegedly a CIA agent). After that, all bets are off.

The connection to Kennedy revealing to Monroe about the truth of the Roswell incident is documented in CIA/FBI reports. Whether true or not, she believed it and was prepared to use it, but the CIA was not about to accept that reality.

This documentary may seem to have gone off the rails, but it also seems grounded in the horrors that not even Ancient Alienswill tackle. It appears Oswald was not the only Patsy in a  conspiracy-ruled world.

Older than Dirty Gringo

DATELINE: Mexico & Villa

 Peck & Fonda

Years ago we passed up Old Gringobecause of Jane Fonda. It seems a generation past, and it was. She had the temerity to be the only one to make a movie about Ambrose Bierce, the extraordinary American literary figure.

We thought there would be others to make such a film, but in 30 years, no one has.

So, we turned to it now, on streaming view, to see old Gregory Peck playing Old Gringo. He is always marvelous, and here was another role in which he could shine: as the cynical, burned out, angry writer who ran off to Mexico because the fake media had used him his entire life.

This story is fiction and speculation. Bierce meets a naïve governess who has gone there to Mexico without knowing Villa’s revolution is in progress. She is used like a pawn by a rogue general under Villa played by the hot tamale of the time, Jimmy Smits.

The film is one of those tortilla Westerns with plenty of shoot-outs and western action. It seemed incongruous for both Peck and Fonda as they played out a freakish firing squad scene and tourista Americans.. Fonda is now 80+ and Peck is long gone.

When the gratuitous action calms down, they play a May-December love scene that is actually brilliant and touching. She is a spinster never expecting love, and he is an old reprobate whose career prevented him from smelling the roses.

If one scene can make a film, two legends brought it to life. The old politics is now long lost in today’s society, and so are these great actors.

Better to have waited to view this strangely literary movie amidst the chaff of movie crap.

Ambrose Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1912, and this is only one theory of his demise. Yet, in movie annals, it may be the last word.

Half-way through the film, the American woman falls in love with the foreign revolution—and we had some sense of Fonda still fighting the Vietnam War. When the end comes, she has betrayed the identity of a great man for self-interest, perhaps a moment of ultimate guilt.

 

 

 

 

Prince of Cool: Chesney Baker!

DATELINE: 1954 Buddy

 Chet as Challenger.

Was he really the first jazz musician in the early 1950s with a gay following? In a world of macho and homophobic jazz fans, Chet was often was dismissed as “faggy,” and singing like a girl. His style was decidedly feminine, often impossible to tell whether it is a boy or a girl’s voice. Think of Astrud Gilberto or Stan Getz.

He chose to sing a few ditties, that cemented the belief. His “My Buddy,” is shockingly gay for 1954.  And, his other plaintive tunes, like “Just Friends,” seem to sum up a gay world experience in the closet days of yore. He was always with beautiful women and a dog, as if to throw the bloodhounds off scent.

You half expect him to sing out about the love that dare not speak its name. And, then he bookends his melancholy sound with an amazing trumpet rendition that is subtle and delicate.

Gay historians may have missed him simply for not looking in the unexpected world of jazz by the Prince of Cool, as he was known to the aficionados of the day. He speaks convincingly, “How could you know what love is?” It almost seems a finger-poke to the straight eye.

“Miss your voice, the touch of your hand

Just long to know that you understand

My buddy, my buddy, your buddy misses you.”

Bruce Weber did a lionizing documentary on Chesney, Let’s Get Lost, which has been called homoerotic, rather knowingly. If you want a copy on DVD or tape, you will pay through the trumpet, unless you can play a Euro version on your recorder.

He was beautiful in his youth—and the camera loved him. By the end, the drugs and careless living took a hideous toll on his face. His talent remained, like a granite pyramid.

Chet Baker was hardly gay, in any open way, but was a sexually charged creature.

When Chet blew off a movie role as a trumpeter, Robert Wagner replaced him in  All The Fine Young Cannibals.

Weber’s biographical docurama contains the last haunting images of Chet before he either jumped off a hotel roof in Amsterdam, or was thrown off by drug dealers to whom he owed money.

The movie is stunning in its black and white sharpness: Chet Baker was James Dean, Louis Armstrong, and Picasso, all rolled into a trumpet.

Morgan: Seat Yourself

DATELINE: Paraplegic Love Story

Perhaps the weakest part of this low-budget character study is its bland title that gives no quarter to the subject: a paraplegic young gay man who decides he will race in a wheelchair, damn the consequences. The film is titled Morgan, like a dozen other stories and does not help to distinguish it.

Leo Minaya is effectively cute and a good actor who holds the center stage on the story and its difficulty in playing someone bound to a chair. Second, the story has a gay love story angle, but it is refreshing in not overwhelming us with gay sex, which is always a central part of these kind of stories.

The protagonist’s handicap status would be a game-killer in most tales.

Oh, somewhere in the middle we have the obligatory love scene, but the real conflicts are about a stubborn athletic competitor who is given life’s bum rush. He resents it and begins to ruin the remains of his life through his anger and obsessions.

When he announces he wants what he deserves out of life, his boyfriend tells him, “Maybe you already got it.”

The cast is small and rather humble in their roles (a black woman best friend, a doting and kindly mother, an officious doctor to remind him he can no longer have ejaculations).

The gay component takes a backseat to the sad reality of a small-time life that requires big-time adjustments.

Perhaps unrealistic on some levels, like finding true love that has staying power, the film chooses to be ultimately optimistic and illustrating that one can adjust to adversity.

Director and writer Michael Akers has presented a vision that deserves to be seen. Leo Minaya truly dominates the film and is exactly what you want in his performance.

 

 

 

 

Deadly Companions Before Parent Trap

DATELINE: Steve Cochran Died 55 Years Ago!

Steve Cochran with Brian Keith.

Before Walt Disney cast them as estranged parents of Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap,  Sam Peckinpah wanted them as the estranged couple in The Deadly Companions.

Even in 1961, it was rare for a woman to be the top-billed star in a Western. It happened rarely, usually with Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford.

This time Maureen O’Hara, the best leading lady for a half-dozen big stars like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, took on the role of hard and angry dance hall girl.

In the Deadly Companions, Brian Keith shoots O’Hara’s son by accident, killing him. When she wants to take the coffin to bury him in a dangerous town across Apache Territory, no one will help her –except Brian Keith. They are not boon companions.

Joining them somewhat unwillingly are Chill Wills and Steve Cochran as a couple of ex-Rebel bank robbers.

The reasons for the assorted bunch to stick together is hardly altruistic—or particularly believable. It does make for a singular Western in sea of oaters ending the decade. It predates the Clint-Leone spaghetti versions by a few years—and is the first film directed by Peckinpah who would turn to violence as a motif to keep up with the meatball brigade in the next ten years.

You have a chance to see that Keith was a solid leading man, not a TV star, and that Steve Cochran was cast perfectly as a  scoundrel. He was gone too soon after this film, and Chill Wills phones in his usual seedy kook bird version of his usually likable uncle.

We are reviewing the film on the 55thanniversary of Cochran’s death in 1965. He still looked youthful here and was always a classic bad guy. His death was peculiar in the movie and in real life too, as he was on a yacht floating for ten days because no one aboard could sail it to a port.

Crossing Rachmaninoff with Villani

DATELINE: Grand Music

Flavio in concert.

Some disparaging commenters have called Flavio Villani a mediocre talent who is the subject of a documentary on his effort to play Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto with a symphony orchestra.

It takes a snide and cowardly person to label Villani anything but brave and courageous to make such an effort. To tackle that difficult and breathtaking piece of music in a concert is like throwing a touchdown pass at the Super Bowl.

And, the sports metaphor certainly applies to Villani who came late to music—but found himself challenged and gripped by becoming a pianist of classical order. He left his native Italy and went to study in New Zealand at age 26.

His efforts are documented in this little film that shows him walking on the beach, admiring nature, cooking, and living a normal middle-class life while he ruminates on the power of Rachmaninoff’s intimidating piano composition.

We see him practice alone, practice with a second piano, and prepare for this first attempt to play with a symphony. It is daunting, and he is committed. A gay man, alienated by both classical music and his personal life, he is a man in exile in New Zealand. He returns home triumphantly, reconciling with his family before the big concert.

We see and hear snippets of the First Movement and almost the entire Third Movement on the big night. Whether he made a single mistake or several, we might never know, so complex is the concerto. The music is staggering, dramatic, and ultimately a melodious work of genius. He acquits himself admirably.

If you have never heard this concerto, you have missed one of the great experiences of life.

If someone without as much passion and heart want to knock his efforts, they reflect on their own base misunderstanding of the human condition.

This little story of one person’s integrity and decency is a beacon in the dark world of today’s inhumanity.

 

 

 

Orson Welles in a Western?

DATELINE: Have Horse, Will Travel.

 Orson, Horse Optional.

When we saw the listing, it was beyond credulity! Can it be that Orson Welles made a Western?  Even worse than that, the film is listed as a “tortilla-Western,” made in 1969.

The film is called Tepepa. It would appear that the film never made it to the United States for release—probably to Orson’s great relief.

Well, if there was a chance to see Orson on a horse, we needed to view it and give a report to faithful fans. No, he did not direct this Spanish-Italian production. It was made when he took all kinds of roles for the money to bankroll his own films. This was done for a few dollars more without Sergio Leone.

You cannot expect much—or have we grown too cynical? The film is a dubbed mess, some of it in English, some in Spanish, and some in Italian. Dubbing was optional.

Welles does not appear on a horse. The tortilla setting is Mexico, beautifully filmed in clean, clear settings. And, the Western is actually set in 1920. This gave Welles the chance to ride around in an antique red automobile, obviously a man of the future.

He plays some kind of prison commandant, or colonel of the villainous order. He is the foil to Tomas Milian who plays some kind of revolutionary folk-hero in the Che Guevara mode.

The movie’s director reported that Welles was most disagreeable on the set—and particularly nasty to his costar. Yet, they had merely a few scenes together. Mostly, Welles appeared opposite blond John Steiner who played a British doctor who also wants to kill the revolutionary hero who raped his girlfriend.

One of the main characters is a Mexican boy who serves as a ping-pong ball between the other actors. As for Welles, you’d expect he’d phone in his scenes and act with nonchalance. Though he mumbles some lines in disdain, he actually gives a nuanced performance, as if he can’t help himself. He clearly enjoys playing the baddie and savors each moment. He chomps on a stogie and is half-apologetic for his evil.

No, this isn’t Citizen Kane,and it’s not even For a Fistful of Dollars, but it is an hysterical historical gem with Orson Welles. We hooted openly.

The Mad Mad Mandela Effect

DATELINE: Wild Theoretical Movie!

  Robin Lord Taylor.

David Guy Levy has directed, written, and presented us with a highly clever paranormal mystery movie. It’s able to straddle the world of presenting us with dubious Internet info interspersed with a fictional movie. It is highly entertaining and thought provoking.

A young father loses his daughter to a drowning at the beach—and goes into a philosophical crisis that upends his world. Indeed, he begins to think his world is simulated reality in an attempt to reach the spirit of his dead child.

It threatens his sanity and worries all those around him, including his gay best friend (Robin Lord Taylor, once again in a creepy performance).

The Mandela Effect is a theory that mass memory errors are not misremembered events, but seepage from a parallel universe (like Jif Peanut Butter, or it is Jiffy Peanut Butter—or is Mr. Moneybags called something else without a monocle here and now). We all have these strange false memories that cannot be explained.

Some of us are clairvoyant and may think we are part of the interdimensional brigade. You may not be seeing ghosts, merely interlopers from a parallel universe.

Particle simulations being what they are in computers, the hero Brendan (Charlie Hofheimer) is increasingly drawn into a parallel universe where everything is a Looney Toon. He meets the designer of a quantum computer at a local university, and it resembles the Monolith out of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, and it may be exerting forces on events.

As a computer programmer, Brendan tries to overload the godly computer of quantum physics to blast through to a parallel universe. Considering its low budget, this is a a clever, intriguing, and ultimately thought-provoking sci-fi paranormal entry coming in at under 90 minutes of dangerous ideas.