Go West, Young Voter!

DATELINE: IQ Not a Barrier!

 

If you did not already believe that any idiot can become president of the United States, Kanye West is the example to prove the point.

His campaign motto shall be, “Go West, or Go to Hell,” and voters of an ilk will likely respond. He doesn’t need the senior vote, and has no intention of putting the Pointer Sisters into his cabinet.

Yes, this musical maven has announced he is fit and ready to be your next president. Despite being a Trump lackey, he has found the limelight too much to his liking.

He first big donor has lined up: another half-wit billionaire by the name of Elon Musk. He’s the guy ready to send you to Mars with no return ticket. And now, Mark Cuban who famously was called out by his player, Kevin Durant, with the words, “Cuban is a idiot.”

Spaceshots are already clamoring to be president of Mars. No mail-in ballots will be allowed on Phobos.

It’s now clear who has been abducted by space aliens and who is the pilot of your local UFO. Kanye will hold his convention and nomination rally at Area 51 where long runways and reverse engineers are preparing his Oval Office décor.

To balance the ticket, Kanye needs to find the right Veep and Justin Bieber may be a tad young, but he won’t be in line to succeed for eight years. Justin Timberlake is too far left. Taylor Swift has turned him down.

Kayne West already will tell you his black life matters more than others: he makes big money and has a famous wife. Kim Kardashian may not be Jackie Kennedy Onassis, but she certainly will give her best imitation. Jay-Z is set to be campaign manager. And Drake has promised to bring in the LGBT vote.

By the way, the Federal Election Commission is investigating Kanye for false filing information. The joke will be over soon enough.

 

 

  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.

 

 

 

 Not Birds of a Feather: Birders

 DATELINE: Central Park 

 Cooper, Starr with director Kimball.

 

If you want to escape viruses and racial problems, you may go to Central Park in New York City where over 200 varieties of birds come to spend time each year. The film is from 2012 and is called Birders: the Central Park Effect..

Seasonal birders are bird-watchers who come in spring or fall to see the most friendly and unusual birds ever to congregate in a small urban space.

One of the most charming of people in this documentary is Chris Cooper, a gay African American man who calls the art of birders “a treasure hunt,” and explains he disappears for a month of delightful fun every spring. He compares birding to stamp collecting.

You may recall the incident (not in the movie) about the white woman (clearly a racist who could never apologize with a name, only calling her victim “that man”) who called police on Cooper who complained her dog was not on a leash and was frightening the birds. Her attack on Cooper went viral.

That shows how even birdwatching has become dangerous in our racially charged world lately.

What a shame about the racist attack on Cooper, but it draws attention to how real the problem is—even when we try to escape the horrors of our society lately.

Cooper is articulate, intelligent, and a marvelous birder to introduce the artful hobby that entails The Central Park Effect on birds.

Other birders in the film include an old woman named Starr Saphir who charged a few dollars to lead people on watching tours. She usually finds a dozen birds, identify them, and give their history. She kept records for each year for decades before her passing in 2013.

Another character in the story compares birders to those seeking movie stars. The stars are not pigeons or geese, but rare birds you may know from books and pictures. To see one in person is like meeting a movie star, according to Jonathan Franzen.

The film now resonates in ways never intended, but it remains a delightful study of human nature in natural setting. If there is bad news, the number of birds is declining everywhere.

 

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.

Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer

DATELINE: Not in the Movie!

  Gomes has an ‘S”for scandal.

Despite the salacious title, you will see the male ballet dancer, but not much of his on-stage anatomy. And, you will not hear about the sex charges made against him.

Marcelo Gomes is one of the foremost contemporary dancers, and he does allow an inside look at his life, but you will not be going into his most private life.

His name is pronounced or mispronounced all too often: he is Marshelo Gomess, not like the Marchello Gomez.

He professes a hope to fall in love one day (on the backside of his career as a dancer in his 30s, we may think time is running out.

By all accounts he is the most proficient, modest, technically correct dancer of the age. Ballerinas love that he only performs to make them look better.

Marcelo has all the problems you might expect: he was an oddity, the only boy in ballet school growing up. He was clearly talented from the get-go. He is a genius in his work, and in his personality. He grew up in Brazil and never spoke English until he was 17. He sounds like he was born in Poughkeepsie.

His father and he are alienated, though they meet pleasantly in the film. However, the elder will not attend any performances, and the reason is not explored.

He studied in Paris and picked up French instantly. His great problem nowadays is injury. When he dances at St. Petersburg, he is overwhelmed to see Nijinsky’s rose petal costume from Spectre de la Rose,but he hears a bone crack when he dances Giselle.

He knows that his career is on its last legs, and he is already preparing to become a choreographer in his post-dance days.

As a personable and most untemperamental man, he came out on magazine covers, still shocking to many even today. He has a pet dachshund, and there is no boyfriend to be seen in this film. If you think you have a chance with him, this is your time for a pas de deux.

Apart from the creepy title, we thoroughly enjoyed this marvel of the modern dance world—and the film too. Alas, shortly after the film’s release, Gomes was accused of sexual harassment and resigned from the ABT. Nothing in the film indicates this issue.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.

 

 

Tom Brady: Oh, Say, Can You See?

 DATELINE:  Charitable De-pants of Brady

 Splitsville for Tom? Pulling an Elvis?

Tom Brady’s golf game has brought a split decision. It was a new low for the Super Bowl man without a pocket.

The big televised charity golf tournament with Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, came apart at the seams during the match.

It seems Tom Brady bent over and found himself flying by the seat of his pants. How could a man so thin break the laws of physics? Or maybe he just broke the wind speed for a tee-off swing.

We haven’t seen such roughage to a wardrobe since Janet Jackson pulled her prank. Yes, Tom, we see you for all your worth. He needed his copper-infused pajama pants to play the rest of the game.

If we recall clearly, Elvis used to regularly split his pants in his final concert tour. Some believe it was sewn into the act.

Tom needed a diversion, and a pair of Sponge Bob’s pants fit the bill, harry, and tom. Underneath it all, there came a subpar moment in sports history. This seemed to parallel Spygate, Deflategate, and the general run of fake news.

Now this has nothing on Trump on Memorial Day, swaying in the breeze like the American flag. Supporters wanted to support the unsteady President who played golf the day before and showed his handicap: standing still.

In front of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony, Trump looked like a man who had a few too-many swigs of Clorox before the game. He needed his club to act as a walker. We expect to see Trump split voters and pants, but never Tom Brady, his ardent supporter friend.

We gasped to see what color Tom’s undies might be: at least he wore undies, unlike some NFL players on Sunday games day.

Tom’s world tour of torn pants and broken promises will continue in Tompa Bay where the sea breeze will send a cooling cool to the Elvis stunt.

Every Little Step:  Distorted Version of Chorus Line

DATELINE: One Singular Omission!

 Jimmy Kirkwood.

 

The little documentary made about a revival of A Chorus Lineis so warped by time and death that it is about as inaccurate as you can find when all the principals are long gone. Every Little Step  is really Every Big Omission.

Three of the creative forces behind the great musical play were Michael Bennett, Nick Dante, and James Kirkwood. They all died way too soon: and the survivors are allies of Michael Bennett (Marvin Hamlisch, Donna McKechnie, and Bob Avian). So, you have a slightly skewed presentation of the past.

I knew Jim Kirkwood—and he has been cut out of this film and you’d never know he had any role whatsoever for A Chorus Line (which happened to win him a Tony for writing and a Pulitzer Prize for good measure).

Cutting out Kirkwood from credit began while he was still alive. I can recall his complaint about how “hurtful” all this was—and he admitted to me he did have a physical altercation with Michael Bennett. I cannot imagine what that looked like—as Jim often advised me to “Kick’em in the nuts” to start and end any fight instantly.

Jim was proud of his contribution to A Chorus Line and even put the logo on his letterhead until someone complained to him about his “colossal ego.” He removed the line of dancers and went with plain stationery. I told him to ignore such idiots, but he was overly sensitive.

This documentary would send him up to the roof and we might never get him down.

A great deal is made of the 12 hours of tapes of dancers’ interviews that served as backbone of the libretto. Bennett recorded this one snowy December night in the 1970s, but Kirkwood insisted to me he never listened to a single tape. He read a transcript and had to give structure and order to it. He pointedly said to me, “There were no tapes. I never heard any tapes.”

What intrigued him was his show biz background and literary themes of his life fit right into the storyline. If you read his works, you find every concept in A Chorus Line in books he wrote a decade earlier, from the Big Joker in the Sky concept of the “Director” to small details.

Even the biggest decision to change the ending to improve the book of the show is not given to Jim Kirkwood. It is entirely the idea of Michael Bennett. At the 1976 Tony Awards, Bennett gave a speech in which Kirkwood is mentioned as he gives “thanks to Jimmy.”

The closing credits mention permission of the James Kirkwood Trust, but never is he mentioned within the documentary. Every Big Omission indeed. As a friend of Jim Kirkwood, I am furious about this distorted movie.

 

Dr. William Russo is author of Riding James Kirkwood’s Pony.

Tom Brady: Knock on Any Door

DATELINE: Knock Three Times and Use the Secret Password.

 Ring a Ding Ding?

There was a famous Hollywood crime movie starring Humphrey Bogart called, Knock on any Door. It seems to have suddenly become the mantra of Tom Brady. In the immortal words of Maynard G. Krebs, “You rang?”

The former New England Patriot packed up his kit bag and headed to Tampa Bay or Tompa Bay, and he is the big man on Tompas.

However, he is still metaphorically and literally a man asea. He went to visit a coach and simply opened the door to a home and entered. You guessed it! It was the wrong address and the wrong party line.

In most states this is called B&E, breaking and entering. And, in conjunction with being cited for breaking the law at a Tampa Bay Park a day earlier, Brady is now on a footing to have a mug shot posted before his NFL profile pix on Tampa Bay Bucs website.

Maybe he was looking for his receiver Gronk who is also moving to Florida soon—and who knows? He may end up renting a room from the only man he ever wanted to catch passes from.

Stranger things have happened and may yet happen. We are waiting for the other shoe to fall: when will Julian Edelman, already upset at being left out of the social distance, may demand a trade to Tampa to join Alex Guerrero, fitness guru, and Brady advisor, in the pirate ship before it sinks.

If it seems Patriots have abandoned ship in commemoration of the RMS Foxboro Belichick ship sinking, you could say the lifeboats are filling up quickly.

The iceberg is Belichick himself—and when you hit him, you are doomed.

If the postman can ring twice, it seems Tom Brady should be able to stay at Mar-a-Lago without a bell or whistle blown. If you have friends in high places, you can violate pandemic protocol and walk into any home without being a home wrecker.

Tom Brady is off to a flying start in Florida where the beaches are now teeming with teammates and coronavirus pals.

 

 

Isn’t It Romantic? Yes, We Need It.

DATELINE:  Rarity, Rom-Com!

 Charming Cast!

Oh, my, a mere trifle, a little movie satire of rom-coms.

It isn’t brutal, but is gently sweet and it manages to convey its cynical attitude through the big girl Rebel Wilson as a wall-flower overlooked by friends, coworkers, and society as a whole. She grows up learning she is not Julia Roberts.

We kept waiting for a new version of the classic tune Isn’t It Romantic,that was the key song in its own movie in the 1930s and in Sabrina in the 1950s. Well, it never shows up, though there are several hilarious and giant musical numbers that give the entire cast a chance to show off skills not otherwise employed.

She is unlucky in love, and then is mugged: banging her head, to awaken in an alternate universe of romantic comedy, the film genre she despises so deeply. It’s a movie stage version of her life, complete with musical interludes, a gay sidekick, and a wardrobe for the big size.

Throw in Liam Hemsworth as a billionaire playboy in counterpoint to the average nerd who adores her at work, and you have all the ingredients for a classic silly comedy. She fears she will end up in a slo-mo climax—and indeed, what she wishes not for.

Everything is right, not overbearing, and the sweetness is within the cursing cynicism of Rebel Wilson who decries this romantic version of the Big Apple and all the lovely people in it.

If you need a diversion nowadays—and who doesn’t with coronavirus and masks everywhere—then this ditty will hit the spot more than ever before. We might have disparaged it a year ago, but today, we embraced its escapist charm.

Depending on how bad the news becomes, this movie will be nearby for a second viewing, the only antidote to the horrors of a pandemic.

From Afar, but Too Close for Comfort!

 DATELINE: Caracas Maracas

 Smoldering Luis Silva.

A few years back, a film made in Caracas called From Afar caused a minor stir in arty film circles. Indeed, some reviews left by “average” viewers noticed the only people who were intrigued with the movie were “professional” movie-goers.

What a miniscule, expert audience indeed.

Most called this a “hate” story, not because they were homophobic elements to the May-December relationship of a 50-year old denture technician and a teenage boy with an interest in cars, but because it did not fit the convention of an upbeat gay story.

Good grief. Two unusual and secretive people may well behave in non-traditional ways—and perhaps they are not really nice people deep down. Another critical crack at the movie pointed out that the ending was obscure, downbeat, or negative.  Oh, no, not in a gay movie!

It is what it is. But, activist gay types are limiting the rainbow colors. Only positive gay images should appear in your movie.

The two star-actors (Luis Silva as Elder, Alfredo Castro as Armando) are quite perfect in their roles. As a stand-offish older man who really isn’t into sex with an angry, passionate younger man who is “straight,” we have the makings of a power play of chess moves.

There is indeed something smoldering below the surface in which the younger (named ironically Elder) may be manipulated into a trigger man for a dirty job.

This is not a movie for those who see subtle psychology as “boring.” If you cannot read a Henry James short story, you may not be able to sit through a 90-minute film about motives under the surface.

As for us, we give all movies an even-break. This one deserves much more for its integrity.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Friends is Just Marvelous!

DATELINE: A Sleeper to Wake You Up!

 New Stars!

We had the pleasure of watching a Dutch movie that was not insipid, nor overly obvious. Just Friends is a gay movie with a light touch.

Subtitles are secondary to the beautiful production and images, and Josha Stradowsk is stunning to look at, and he meets a Syrian played by Majd Mardo. They have chemistry and are delightful in their growing friendship.

The usual angst over coming out and family conflict are truly not part of the sophisticated tale. They are sexy, chic, and well-to-do. There are other conflicts that impede their relations, but Majd takes a job as housekeeper at Josha’s grandmother.

She is a delight too, as matchmaker and wise old lady.

These are intelligent young men, and their maturity makes for a story that appeals to all viewers. Josha is the one who has a hobby with his drone, and he sees Madj surfing from above. It is intriguing how connections are made.

Without a doubt, you seldom meet people in character movies that you really would like to spend time with, but these two are pleasant dinner companions.

What impediments to their friendship that must be overcome are not melodramatic and work out, making your time with this story fly like the drone, over the Netherlands and its beautiful world.

If you’ve been stung by horrible gay-themed movies of all stripes, you need your faith in a good film restored. This is the antidote.

Serge Lifar: A Life with Ego & Dance

 DATELINE: Collaborator

 Lifar with Diaghilev & Stravinsky.

The French documentary is entitled A Revolution in Dance, and that is applied to Serge Lifar, a danseur and ballet maître who went from the era of Diaghilev to the dawn of Nureyev.

With covert and sly methods, the teenage Lifar managed to put himself before the grand Maestro—and caught the eye of the aging powerbroker. It led to an education, seven years of stardom in the Ballets Russes, and a future however Lifar chose to go.

After Diaghilev’s death in Venice, Lifar went to the Paris Opera House and made himself a home for thirty years. Literally, a home. He was there day and night, choreographing and plotting.

His outrageous demeanor became the stuff of social life and gossip columns. It was only incidental that he made ballets—and innovative ones too, Icare, based on the Greek legend of Icarus.

For a dozen years, he was the staple of the Opera House and transformed the focus of the Paris scene on dance. Then, the roof fell in: sort of.

When the Nazis captured Paris in 1940, Lifar was a stateless person—and played ball with Joseph Goebbels. He even met Hitler, at least twice we know of, and he allegedly refused to go to Berlin to start a corps de ballet there. We suspect Lifar would never deny Hitler directly. It led to charges later that he was a Nazi collaborator. He was even seen parading around in a Nazi uniform and the theatre for his performances were Aryan Nazi officers who loved his shows.

After the war, a tribunal banned him from dancing in France—but he wheedled his way out of that guilty verdict and was back on stage by 1947. You could say he overstayed his welcome, remaining a principal danseur until his mid-50s when his bones creaked over the stage.

When he finally retired, he was still a tabloid sensation, a good headline and an outrageous media person until he was 81 and the new era had fairly forgotten this legend.