Category Archives: Rants

Rant #532: Lions and Tigers and New Movie Musicals…Oh My!?

Can anyone tell me why musicals (or movies with music) are suddenly all the rage in Hollywood? Or why so many of the ones in production or heading that way are remakes, re-treads, re-imaginings? Just in the past week I’ve heard that Clint Eastwood wants to direct Beyonce in a remake of A Star is Born. And Bryan Singer wants to make a biopic of legendary Broadway and film director/choreographer Bob Fosse. And last but not least, Will Smith and Jay-Z want to co-produce a new version of Annie starring Willow Smith. (I wonder how Daddy Warbucks feels about all that hair-whipping, considering his bald state of affairs.) Is it the success of American Idol that’s created this musical interest? Is it the success of GLEE? High School Musical? What has made the musical such a newly popular form? When did all these musical fans (if they are fans that is, and not just cynical showmen trying to get on a bandwagon—see what I did there?) come out of the closet? I mean, I remember when the movie musical was anathema in Hollywood, other than maybe Blake Edwards letting his wife Julie Andrews sing in a coupla flicks (and of course, if you’re gonna put the bell-toned Julie in a movie, you damn well better let her sing and create something as entertaining as Victor/Victoria!) or Disney churning out animated musicals (not that we knew most of them would turn up on Broadway in a reverse-maneuver of the old days when a hit show got the big studio treatment). Even if they seemed to be sorta successful again after the success of Chicago (an over-rated, dazzingly miscast version of a brilliant Broadway musical in my opinion), the versions of Rent, The Producers, and Dreamgirls alone should have educated Hollywood that you just can’t give over production/direction of a musical to just anybody! I mean, what in Clint Eastwood’s arguably great directorial history speaks to his ability to direct a big soapy melodramatic music film? Bird? I think not. This choice sorta reminds me of Sidney Lumet directing The Wiz: as great a director as Lumet was, he had a leaden hand creating the magic and suspension of disbelief needed to create the world of that show. And as for a biopic of the late Bob Fosse, who’s seen a return to popularity (if he ever lost it, that is) after so much of his choreographic style has turned up in music videos: he doesn’t need a biopic after the lasting images and sounds of All the Jazz, his brilliant, darkly cynical, semi-autobiographical rumination of sex, death, love and jazz hands. Not even directed by the talented Singer, unless he wants to do something way outré like perhaps making Fosse a superhero or the second coming of Keyser Söze.  I also think finding contemporary talent to represent all the great entertainers who populated Fosse’s life—Leland Palmer, Liza Minnelli (amazing here in Cabaret), Ben Vereen (working it here in All That Jazz), Ann Reinking, Gwen Verdon (stunning here as Lola in Damn Yankees), Chita Rivera, among them—would be next to impossible today. The new Annie might be the closest thing to a good idea in this mix, as Annie’s a sorta timelessly adaptable story that might benefit from an urbanizing like the original Broadway Wiz or the updating I hear Debbie Allen gave to Oliver Twist, but the idea of Jay-Z potentially adding to or writing new music for Annie’s beautifully theatrical score. I won’t even touch that…Okay I will, and I’ll be quick: Jay’s talented but sampling “Hard Knock Life” does not a musical make.

Here’s the thing: to make a musical, one needs first a sense of rhythm, the kind of rhythm that understands that the heightened reality of bursting into song and dance to express inchoate emotion demands imagination in the combining of elements like music, movement and narrative momentum. And none of these directors/producers seem to me to be prepared to dance that tango or name that tune. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I shouldn’t complain until I see the work on the screen. But I do know this: if any of these musicals feel as stiff as Dreamgirls or as inert as Rent or as silly as The Producers, I’ll always blame the rise of Rob Marshall: how he managed to make Nine, a play about film, even more boring on film that it was on stage is beyond me.

That said: here are some of my favorite movie musicals, adapted from Broadway or created from scratch, in no particular order…some of them are flawed yes, but none of them fail on the level of musical/dramatic/narrative integration (scenes from a few of them are below, too; compare any of that Fosse staging or Jerome Robbins choreography to Rob Marshall’s work in Chicago. Or Gene Kelly’s tap dancing to Richard Gere’s in the same flick. Or the narrative work done by the music and staging to Chris Columbus’s Rent):

Cabaret


Singin’ in the Rain

West Side Story


The Bandwagon

On the Town

Funny Girl

Grease

Cabin in the Sky

An American In Paris

The Wizard of Oz

Fame

The Sound of Music

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TV Round-up: Big Brother, True Blood, Mad Men

Big Brother 12's Brendon and Rachel

All this love. All this pain. All my TV shows, or at least a bunch of them, have these characters suffering the slings and arrows of love affairs dying or being broken up or just coming to sad, centuries-old ends. On True Blood, Eric’s revenge murder has broken the thousand-year relationship between Russell, the Vampire King of Mississippi and his consort Talbot. On Big Brother, the houseguests evicted Rachel, the Vegas barmaid/chemist who made fire-engine red hair extensions famous, breaking up her alliance with swim coach/physicist Brendon, and temporarily putting a halt on their blossoming affair, by far the fastest-starting showmance in the history of my TV viewing. And on Mad Men, Don Draper’s not ending a love affair, but he’s learning a lesson about using women and the emotional fall-out of taking them for granted.

The thing is this, though: Why does the end of a vampire love affair resonate more strongly for me than the one between the “real people” on Big Brother? Why did I feel more moved by Russell’s howl of pain and fury than I did Rachel’s tears and Brendon’s pouts? Might it have something to do with the fact that, apparently, competitive reality shows and the showmances that drive them have run their course with me? From day one of this new season of Big Brother—the first season I’ve closely followed in about two years—I knew I wasn’t going to get too emotionally involved with this cast of characters. Why? Because there was something too knowing about each of them, too ready-for-the camera without being ready, it seemed, for the world. Is this what’s happened to society since the advent of reality tv? Have we created a nation of wannabe stars with personalities that seem dipped in acid and lizard spit? I don’t mean to be mean—or maybe I was just raised with a certain amount of decorum and politeness—but these people don’t seem merely dumb, they’re so cavalier about the feelings of others that they all seem like they’ve forsaken their humanity in the pursuit of half a million bucks. The things these people say about each other! The love affairs that begin three days into captivity! The breathless rushes to judgments and alliance-building, based on nothing more than shared commitments to clichéd notions of heteronormative masculinity!

I’m beginning to think this season of Big Brother might be the last one I can watch with any dignity. I find myself thinking the worst things about these people, wondering how they even function in the real world when they seem like such babies and monsters on TV. You know something’s very wrong when even the queer guy, Ragan (who seems like he might a cool dude), is one of the biggest dupes in the cast. Then again, perhaps he’s just laying the groundwork for a career in Internet porn like one of the last queer guys to appear on BB, so blind trust might be a quality he’s trying to cultivate before a national audience. (And I have a question about Ragan: what sorta PhD has 300 grand in student loans to pay back? Wow.) I will say this, however: the truly creepiest moment on Big Brother this season (and clearly, there have been many) was when CBS took a camera to Brendon’s ex-fiancee‘s house, where she detailed how she’d dropped him, calling him all kinds of names as she “watched” an episode with her family. If he was such a bad guy that you killed the engagement, why appear on his reality show to bad-mouth him—and let your mother add to the dissing? It felt so exploitative and nasty I couldn’t pull my eyes from the screen to finish my bowl of pasta. Apparently one doesn’t have to get “cast” on a reality show these days to show your true wannabe colors. Sometimes the easiest thing to say is, “No.” I think.

As for Mr. Don Draper: poor thing’s about to lose his best friend to cancer just as he seems to be swirling around the bowl in a mucous-y blend of whiskey and hooker hook-ups. I’m glad he’s away from Betty, but what has he gained in the process? An ugly apartment in the Village? I’m hoping this season of Mad Men gives Don a real good professional challenge to overcome, because his personal life is getting increasingly hard to watch, almost as bad as poor Joan and her Vietnam-bound hubby.  (Side note: Can’t the casting directors of these shows start finding some new actors for parts? Maybe I just watch too much TV—quite possible, at least until school starts!—but seeing Sam Page as Joan’s husband so soon after seeing him play Bree’s dead husband’s long-lost son on Desperate Housewives starts to confuse me after a while; I keep mistaking back-stories and mixing up character motivations.) Hmmm, now that I think about it, yes, I’m probably watching too much TV. But hell, at least it beats going to the movies for inception, I mean, “entertainment.”

Vive l’amour! Vive le Television! (I’m not being pretentious, I just have all this French in my brain as I’m studying to pass a language exam in two weeks. Pray for a brotha.)

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How One Black Person Responds to “How Black People Use Twitter”

The ridiculous artwork that accompanied the ridiculous article

It was something in the title that first struck me, the blatant, definitive, all-inclusive sound of “black people” in the title of SLATE magazine’s “How Black People Use Twitter.” Apparently it was time, the editors decided, not only to focus SLATE’s penetrating eye on the specific ways in which African Americans—we “black people”—utilize the popular social networking site which allows individuals to communicate in 140-character chunks of verbiage, but also how we bend the site to our own (apparently) racialized ways. The first time I read the article I was a bit bemused by it; my first thought was, well, should anyone be surprised that black folks happen upon some existing entity and re-create it to fit their own style? Of course not, American history is rife with musical, sartorial, and cultural shifts caused by the mere re-arrangement of codes that black folks decided to use to make things sound, look, and just work better for themselves—and eventually anyone else who decided to come to the party (sometimes stealing it in the process, but cultural theft is a blog post for another day). To be real, the so-called melting pot that is American (popular) culture seems as if its been eternally stirred by the fierce and hard-fought attitudes and moods of black folks who like for things to be what my grandmother used to call “just-so.”

But then I read the article a second time and I felt almost as if I was reading some updated version of 19th century racial anthropology or some foray into the heart of darkness, where the cultural ways of black folks get investigated with the usual mixture of shock and surprise and awe, a reversion back to that age-old regard for black folks as merely grouped-together objects with (of?) style, instead of actual individual subjects with points of view. Based upon the oh-so-interesting premise that even though black folks on Twitter use hashtags like #wordsthatleadtotrouble in an insular and provocative—and (apparently) black—way, these Tweets trend extraordinarily high in the Twitterverse and have taken to being referred to as “blacktags.” According to the piece’s author Farhad Manjoo, “The prevalence of these tags has long puzzled nonblack observers and sparked lots of sometimes uncomfortable questions about ‘how black people use Twitter.’” “What,” he asks, “explains the rise of tags like #wordsthatleadtotrouble?” (and, later, #ghettobabynames). “What,” he asks, “is it about the way black people use Twitter that makes their conversations so popular?” “Black people—specifically, young black people,” he decides, “do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It’s this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.” And therein lies my real problem with this article.

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Race, Fandom, and The Years of Living Mel-lessly

{I know the right way to approach the Mel Gibson story (if you don’t know about his racist, misogynistic outbursts caught on tape you  might wanna read this first) is to be either hiply cynical (y’all sure he didn’t say nigga?) or just casually jaded (racism! from Mel? whatever, man!), but maybe cause I was a fan, neither approach satisfies me. I’m too old to be shocked, yet too shocked to avoid it…}

I’m one of those people who likes to know which movies people consider their favorites. Especially if I sense you might be a person I might get close(r) to: I ask, very early on, “What’s your favorite movies?” It’s not that I judge their tastes—God knows I’d prefer someone to have very bad taste than no taste at all—it’s more that I like to learn from others, and if you seem cool, your choices in movies might be cool, and I’ll discover something I didn’t know about.

I’m also the type of person who, depending on the day, will try to make sure that you see at least some of the movies that I love—partly because I have a tendency to quote them, but also because sharing flicks is, to me, sharing a deep part of me: the movies I love really do, like the books I love, I think, define who I am. I am a fan, and proud to call myself one, someone who nonetheless understands and relishes his fandom as a complicated site of oft-needed pleasures and cultural belonging.

Two movies I’d always refer peeps to: The Year of Living Dangerously (problematic in some ways but oh so sexy) and Tequila Sunrise (problematic in other ways but endlessly fascinating as an investigation into the nuances of male friendship). Both because I think they’re top-notch examples of Hollywood filmcraft, rich of character and ambience, filled with grace notes of longing and loss, and because they starred one of my very favorite movie stars: Mel Gibson.

Suffice to say, it’s been years since I’ve watched a Mel Gibson movie. Dating back to 2006, to be exact.

When I was a teenager, Mel Gibson was The Man: coming off the over-the-top action of the Mad Max flicks, he was infinitely watchable in the Lethal Weapon flicks, and by the time I was an adult, Mrs. Soffel and Gallipoli (which I discovered late), showed him off to be quite the actor, equipped to perform touching moments that felt real and true, who also had—compared to other big stars—impeccable taste in material and the directors he worked with. And though I saw Payback and Signs, the last Gibson film I can say I really liked was Ransom. A Ron Howard throwback to high-Hollywood suspense burnished by a sleek contemporary world-weariness that wore well on its entire top-flight cast, Ransom felt in many ways like Mel cementing his eventual Clint-ness (as in Eastwood)—as wrinkles deepened along with the presence, as maturity began to take the place of rip-roaring braggadaccio.

I didn’t much love Braveheart; it felt a little over-determined to me, and I won’t even get started on the blatantly nasty homophobia that marred the representation of King Edward as such a complete, I don’t know, nelly(?), that he might as well have been—as the direct opposite to “masculinity” in which he was portrayed—literally, a Queen. Thinking back, was this the beginning…?

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Is it Etta, or is it Memorex?

So is it really Etta James on that audio talking bout whoopin Beyonce’s ass? 

I love Etta. And I love Beyonce (anyone who reads SCOTT TOPICS on a regular basis knows that!) And I refuse to come between two divas–whether one is over the proverbial hill or in the flush of superstardom. 
But Etta sounds pissed. And seemingly over the cult of Beyonce (who played the living legend in Cadillac Records). Sounds over Obama, too, if you listen closely–does she say something about his, um, big ears? Etta, girl…
First Christian Bale and now Etta…Two rants in a week. Celebrities are coming undone…

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