Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly series sharing the music, books, and films that absorbed my time.

THE MUSIC 

The guitar and storytelling lyrics–it’s that rare, perfect album. A vinyl find at a garage sale, I rediscovered Making Movies, and it sounded just as sweet to my ears as it did 36 years ago. Fast forward time and Knopfler reinvents himself by cleverly pairing his talents with the legendary Emmy Lou Harris creating another great album in 2006, All the Roadrunning.

Mark Knopfler and Emmy Lou Harris duo
Mark Knopfler and Emmy Lou Harris, dynamic duo

THE BOOKScaptura-de-pantalla-2012-09-26-a-las-18-47-14

Only had time to read one, but Kate Remembered was an entertaining choice and introduced me to A. Scott Berg.  The efforts of his twenty year friendship with Katharine Hepburn and his profession as a biographer produced a satisfying page turner. I appreciated the insights she shared regarding the roots of Hollywood and her journey in the industry for 70 years. She passed in June of 2003, and Berg’s bio came out twelve days later. It’s a must read for movie buffs. Now I want to explore A. Scott Berg’s other biographies, especially his Pulitzer winner, Lindbergh. Can you recommend any of his biographies?

A 2013 article by Cain Rodriguez from Indiewire announced that Leonardo DiCaprio‘s film company, Appian Way, picked up the rights to produce a film version of Wilson. If you want to read the article, it can be found HERE. Does anyone know what stage of production it is in?

THE FILMS 

I watched a ton of Jeff Bridges this past month. Did you miss The Lucky 13 Film Club discussion regarding him? Why not check it out and comment? Lloyd and I would be happy to hear from you. https://cindybruchman.com/2016/04/13/jeff-bridges-the-lucky-13-film-club

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Why on earth wasn’t The Assassin nominated in the foreign language category during awards season? It was simply the most beautiful period film I have seen quite possibly, ever. Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bin and director Hou Hsiao-Hsien captured the grandeur of 9th Century China from the imperial court to the villages blanketed by some of the prettiest scenery on the planet. It’s a magical dream from which you wouldn’t want to awaken.

It was a film of few words. Characters shared space and time with the opulence of nature’s dialogue between song birds and the lively wind. Quirky Chinese twangs resounded from instruments from which I don’t know. A farmer’s walk crosses the screen without a pause for several minutes. When a character makes a statement, the other says nothing. This could be off-putting for Western audiences waiting for reactions or for the plot to move along; if you watch it late at night while tired, it could easily lull you to sleep. But what a dreamy world it is.  4/5. 

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A dark comedy with beautiful bodies and Alpen scenery, the cast is exceptional with sharp supporting performances by Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. A treat for all your senses. I highly recommend this smart film with strong script-writing.  5/5 

 

David Bowie and The Elephant Man

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In Chicago,1980, I saw David Bowie on stage as John Merrick in The Elephant Man. Without using prosthetic or make up, he contorted his torso and twisted his arm to imitate the Victorian freak show attraction. In Merrick, the head covered with fungal abnormalities held the bountiful dreams of the inner man. During the performance, I was in the third row pinching myself, because a short distance away from was the pop-icon. I held my breath; I was part of an audience that was silent, listening to words instead of the music. My admiration for Bowie as an actor superseded my appreciation for him as a musician. After multiple albums including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Heroes, and Let’s Dance, I enjoyed seeing Bowie in a different light. As an actor, I was impressed.

Discovered in a freak show, John Merrick was rescued by a doctor who transferred the side-show attraction from the dark alleys of the Whitechapel District in London to the chandelier-parlors of the elite. John Merrick was a physical abomination. In the telling of the story, he shared an emotional connection with Mrs. Kendal, a famous actress and their link was obvious. Their personae was the only dimension anyone cared to see. I can see why David Bowie wanted to play this role. I have wondered about icons in general. They are larger than life and defined by their exteriors. What about the vulnerable, human inside? That love-hate relationship with the paparazzi? Did their dreams of fame become a curse?

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Do you like David Lynch’s 1980 film?

In the notorious Whitechapel district in London, John (Joseph) Merrick appeared briefly in the Jack the Ripper story which starred Johnny Depp in From Hell (2001). 

How did Merrick inherit the name The Elephant Man? In Victorian days, “maternal impression” was a belief that the mother’s emotional/psychological perceptions transferred to the child. Supposedly, an elephant startled Merrick’s mother at a circus while she carried him. By the age of five, his skin and bone abnormalities presented themselves. The weight of his malformed head caused Merrick’s death. It’s a sad story.

David Bowie’s performance has stayed with me over the decades later. While Mark Hamill and Bradley Cooper have played The Elephant Man on stage, and I don’t know how well they did, I find it hard to imagine them outdoing Bowie’s performance. He understood the duplicity of appearance and reality. The facade of the freak show marvel vs. the private, gentle man who dreamed and possessed ideas like the rest of us.

The Running Man

This contribution is for my movie buff friend, Rob, who is hosting the MOVIE ROB’S OCTOBER STEPHEN KING BLOGATHON. I selected not a horror film but a 1982 science fiction novel penned by Richard Bachman, the alias of King. According to Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, it took him a week to write The Running Man. Like several of his film adaptations, the transfer from book to film is difficult. You really need a magical director to pull off the magic of King’s words. Is The Running Man as good as The Shining, Misery, or Carrie? No, not even close. Should you watch The Running Man (1987)? 

A good dystopian story contains satire, and The Running Man film reeks of it, and that’s the challenge with appreciating it. The story-line has a superior message which the inner intellectual embraces, while the film surrounds the viewer with all the crass elements about the 1980s I’d just assume forget. The film could have been a Blade Runner or a Mad Max with its themes developed, but as The Running Man tries to illustrate the ludicrousness of society, that is, a populace addicted to reality television and individual freedoms stolen by a corrupt government, the emphasis of the film shifts away from the warning and stresses the absurdity of the stalkers and the deliverance of those silly one-liners we all associate with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, it lacks the clever special effects admired in Total Recall (1990). 

Richard Dawson as Damon Killian
Richard Dawson as Damon Killian

Does it sound like I disliked the film? No, it is fun if you don’t take it too seriously. After all, you have to admire the cast for they are living examples of the parody and know it. Richard Dawson as the superficial television game host (remember Family Feud?) gives the mob what they want–violence and death in a gladiator-style television show with all the noise and lights and Jane Fonda leotards on dancers who came straight from the MTV set of a Paula Abdul video. How about Jim Brown, the football fullback worshiped for his prowess as a stadium athlete, or Captain Freedom played by Jesse Ventura, the quintessential wrestler famous for his staging in the ring? Or Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, a performer from another circus ring, the rock star? All this parodying of the entertainer and their fickle fans, grandmothers, and average Joes who are duped by the media makes me cringe especially since the story is set in the future of 2017.

I like watching old science fiction just to see if their predictions came true. Have we devolved? I think humans have always loved the diversion of entertainment. One can easily see the parallels from 1987 to today; we do live in a dystopian of sorts where violence and technology reign supreme. Where that thin line between appearance and reality is distorted for ratings and sales and the wow-factor. The fizz of the entertainment industry. The assault on the senses. A police-state merging with the entertainment industry to brainwash its society. Taken in this vein, the film from the past contains varying shades of our today. When I first watched it thirty years ago, it did feel like science fiction. Who better illustrates this past-present correlation than Arnold Schwarzenegger who has spent a lifetime in front of a camera as body-builder, actor, politician, and returning today as an actor, a nebulous icon of our world?

If you like good old-fashioned kick-ass films with sarcastic tough-guys bludgeoning their way from point A to B, you’d like this one a lot.  I did love the pod-slalom scenes when runners are transported from the studio set to the outside arena. 3.5 out of 5. 

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