The latest film, as usual, concerns itself with love, death, and perennial discontent. In a recent interview, he confessed that he automatically hates his work after it’s finished. “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” is both funny and sad, essentially a comedy of desperation (sounds like an oxymoron). It has an impeccable group of actors and thankfully, one doesn’t have to look at Allen since he writes and directs without being on screen. A narrator comments on the characters’ misadventures (his words but not his voice). Desire is what it’s all about. The characters all want something or someone that’s different, although as they perceive it, better than what they have – whether it’s a job, an apartment, or a new love. Allen is quoted, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying!” Gaffaw! “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” is well worth your investing 98 minutes. As an aside, it’s over 15 years since Woody Allen got together with Son-Yi Previn, his step-adopted daughter. And they said it wouldn’t last!
Much my happy surprise, I found someone in Bayonne who remembers who Mabel Mercer was. Ask Louis at Le Petite Beauty Salon on Bayonne’s Broadway and he can tell you all about the English-born cabaret singer. I was fortunate enough to see the singer’s singer many years ago (she died in 1984). The lady had a unique way of making ordinary songs better than they actually were – great ability to spontaneously deliver a lyric (in her day, lyrics made sense). In fact, Frank Sinatra once said, “Everything I know I learned from Mabel Mercer.” Ms. Mercer popularized the intimate style of nightclub speech song known as parlando (I had to look that word up in Webster’s. Chanteuse Julie Wilson is one currently carrying on the tradition.) Well, for more than a decade, the Mabel Mercer Foundation has held an annual Cabaret Convention. The Foundation is a not-for-profit arts organization to perpetuate the American Popular Song through the Art of Cabaret. It pays tribute to all the songs we can’t get enough of (anyway, I can’t) – songs by Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers, Berlin, Mercer, and the like.
Last month, I was at the opening night gala of the Cabaret Convention, held at the magnificent Rose Theater in the Time-Warner Building. In the huge auditorium, cabaret love was busting out all over (not June this time). Today, it’s an ever-fragile world – fragile for a couple of reasons. These days, the mass media appears to prefer youth, sex, and novelty over maturity, wisdom, and proven musical substance. And why don’t we “come to the cabaret, old chum?” I’ll tell you why. It has outpriced itself – too bad.
Last month, PBS (that’s Channel 13 for Bayonne) featured Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-part documentary-style series. One part followed him as he rummaged through cluttered basements and dusty attics. As I watched, all I could think of was Rosemary Clooney singing “Come Onna My House.” Yes, Feinstein should come to my house. If he’s looking for yellow sheet music, I’ll say it again: “Come Onna My House.”
Explanation: my mom played jazz piano (she particularly loved Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson). On Fridays, she would close her dental office and head for Macy’s. Now most women would go there to buy clothes. Not my mom. She went to the music department to listen to a pianist who would play all the new songs in hopes of selling the sheet music. My mom would buy them, bring them home, and play them for me.
But I digress, as is my wont. Back to the wonderful Michael Feinstein, who is on a mission to save a vital part of America – our music. As a young man, he worked for Ira Gershwin. These days, he sings as if it’s a celebration of music for people who appreciate the romance in the lyrics. Rightfully, many credit the performer with re-inventing interest in the American popular song. Bandleader Vince Giordano, who appeared in Episode III, has a passion for preserving music that predates him. He’s helping to keep alive the spirit of the 1920s and 1930s when jazz was hot. The American Songbook’s s’wonderful, s’marvelous – and thankfully, there are folks like Feinstein and Giordano who do care for it. Me, too!
For a short time, but not short enough, I got hooked on a television series that made me feel ashamed. In fact, I didn’t admit to anyone that I was watching part of Bravo’s Housewives franchise. The only excuse I can think of is that I was curious about the New Jersey ladies. Supposedly reality TV, I found it appalling and yet entertaining and absurd. I was on overload. The affluent New Jersey Housewives are shallow, self-important, greedy, conventional, boring, and often downright dumb (but who was the dumb one – I was watching!). Doyennes of self-indulgence, their gated communities are ticky-tacky and their mansions all look the same – huge, shiny, new with lots of marble, walk-in closets (I’d love to have one of those!), and crystal chandeliers. The women are collagen-plumped and Botox-stretched. Uninhibited and ostentatious, words fly – even crockery and tables fly. So I finally came to my senses. Why do we celebrate and record these shallow, dumb, petty people! And more importantly, why did I feed into it! Whatever happened to role models? Whatever happened to aging gracefully? Whatever happened to my senses?
One of my defenses is that I was viewing the New Jersey Housewives as a soap opera, a satire in which the characters perform even to showing the viewer how ridiculous and petty they are. Well, the real bitchy New Jersey Housewives can laugh all the way to the bank. The series has been renewed for a third season. Will I watch it? I hope not – but I’m not sure.
My brother, Adrian, did not possess conventional male good looks, yet most females loved him. My girlfriends would blush in his presence. And he loved the females right back. All of this came to my crowded mine when I saw a favorite movie gem, “Casablanca,” for the third time. It was in the 1942 American romantic movie that I reacted to Humphrey Bogart. What made him appealing to me? He had battered looks, an insolent demeanor, and a sort of simmering anger. For some reason, all of that worked in his favor. Even as his temples grayed, his appeal escalated and he became a new kind of hero.
Of course, “Casablanca,” where Bogart enjoyed his first romantic leading role, is the one that comes to my mind. The film, which ranks near the top of the list of the greatest films of all time, is most memorable. We all remember “Play it again, Sam” and I think of Bogart when I play “As Time Goes By.” Admittedly, I also enjoy looking at the young and gorgeous Ingrid Bergman. I’m glad television allows us to see them again – one more time.