Sasha, a brilliant young Russian violinist, needs a visa to stay in New York. He gets a fellowship to study at Juilliard and he's good, but his domineering father, a cellist from the old country, keeps interrupting Sasha's lessons with his teacher, Marie, an exceedingly attractive American pianist (Carolyn McCormick) who knows her Tchaikovsky and can down her vodka with the best of them. The young man (the extraordinarily talented Phillipe Quint) meets Ramona, a bohemian blonde keyboard player and singer (Nellie McKay), who lives hand to mouth, raiding garbage dumpsters for her next meal. Meanwhile, Papa (Michael Cumpsty) gets it on with Marie, and will Sasha bone up for his recital or will he throw caution to the winds and join Ramona's band? The movie is tender-hearted and sweet but not sentimental with great shots of street musicians on and off the subway. New York City (Brighton Beach, Lincoln Center, the Russian Samovar) is happily on display. The superb soundtrack veers from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and ambitious cavatinas to "classic rock" songs featuring violin and keyboard and written by Mr. Quint. It's an homage to dualities: two cultures, two love affairs, two kinds of music. Brilliant. See it. -- DL
Read this interview with Beth Harrison, acting director of the Academy of American Poets, on "poem in your pocket day" (April 26), movies and poetry, and much else, from the current issue of Guernica.
An excerpt I loved:
Guernica: I noticed that one of the Academy’s suggestions for National Poetry Month is to watch a poetry movie. I must admit, all I could think of was Howl until I looked at your list. Do you have a recommendation?
Beth Harrison: Stacey Harwood compiled a terrific list of movies that include poetry, as well as a great essay on the subject, and anyone who wants their cinema with a side (or sometimes main course) of poetry can do no better than to start here.
Usually I recoil from snarky letters to the editor pointing out errors in an article, although sometimes the unseemly back-and-forth between bitchy intellectuals in the back pages of the NY Review of Books is the best thing in the rag. When I see an error I usually think someone else will run with it so I just turn the page. But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal there was a review by Frederic Raphael, an English writer of some note, devoted to Alice Yeager Kaplan's Dreaming in French, a book about three redoubtable American women who spent formative time in Paris: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Mr. Raphael is not terribly impressed with Ms. Kaplan's writing: not all of it is "sycophantic gush," he writes, but "banalities and imprecisions abound."
In discussing the treatment of Jackie Kennedy, Mr. Raphael writes that "A gauche juvenile poem in French ('Who knows why an April breeze / Never remains / Why stars in the trees / Hide when it rains') is gravely admired, and construed for us, by Ms. Kaplan." Although I admire the critic's adroit use of the adverb ("gravely"), the errors here are too splendid to go unremarked. The lines that the reviewer (and, I infer, the book's author) believes are taken from a "juvenile poem in French" are actually from Johnny Mercer's lyric for Hoagy Carmichael's song "How Little We Know," which Lauren Bacall sings in her screen debut in To Have and Have Not (1943). Gauche? I don't think so. It's a gem of a song, and it must be said that Jackie remained loyal to Mercer: everyone knows she adored "Moon River," which Johnny wrote for Henry Mancini's tune in Breakfast at Tiffany''s (1961).
Here's the scene from To Have and Have Not. Judge for yourself. -- DL
According to Hollywood Reporter, actor/poet James Franco (above right) has paid a record price for the film rights to "The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School," David Lehman's seminal study of the four poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch (above left), Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler) who during the mid-20th century "revitalized poetry at a moment when it seemed that everything that could be done had been done."
In a separate statement, Lehman revealed that he would likely collaborate with Franco on the screenplay. Production is scheduled to begin later this fall. Early scenes will be shot on location in Cambridge, Mass, where the young John Ashbery befriended Koch and O'Hara while at Harvard. Production will move to New York City for the remainder of the film.
"Franco is a talented writer and actor with a deep appreciation of poetry," said Lehman. "I'm thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement on the film." Word is out that actor Seth Rogan will portray James Schuyler and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley, below right) will play John Ashbery. Franco is tight-lipped about who will play Frank O'Hara, giving rise to rumors that he will play the ill-fated poet himself.
Negotiations for the film rights reportedly began shortly after Franco appeared as Allen Ginsberg in the critically acclaimed "Howl." At first Franco refused to disclose how much he paid for "Avant-Garde" but when pressed he admitted that he tapped several poetry-loving investors to come up with the record cash amount of continue reading here.
I just saw Telly Savalas – Kojak a little later in his life, with considerably less hair – riding a bike and hanging onto a car being driven by character actress Cara Williams, and then losing his balance and falling off his Raleigh Sports. It’s a heart-stopping moment (ha!) near the exciting climax (ha!) of the 1963 Danny Kaye comedy, The Man from the Diners’ Club. I happened to be watching this screwball gem (not quite) on YouTube early this Sunday morning (dubbed in Hungarian, of course) -- because I’d recently acquired a publicity still from the film, an image of Kaye exiting an establishment with an awning that says “Your Loss is Our Gain,” pedaling furiously on his bike, and I wanted to know what was going on, plot-wise.
Well, the black-and-white Columbia release is about a timid credit card company clerk (Kaye) who inadvertently approves a card for a mobster (Savalas) and has to get it back, or lose his job. There are G-men and gangland goons, and a lot of the action happens at the Sweat Shop Gym (hence the awning with the motto). At one point, a fleet of gangsters, disguised as florist deliverymen, quit the gym en masse on bikes. And at the same time Savalas is busy crashing his two-wheeler, Kaye is cycling at high speed trying to get to a church so he can marry the girl he loves (Martha Hyer). Lots of rear-projection and backlot stunt doubles.
It turns out that William Peter Blatty, who would later publish a little horror thing called The Exorcist, wrote The Man from the Diners’ Club screenplay (credited as Bill Blatty). Be sure to store that info for a particularly challenging round of Quizzo!
I promise my next blog post won’t be about movie stars on bikes…. Anyone have a photo of Wallace Stevens riding around on a Schwinn?
The late Madeline Kahn (1942-1999) was one of the most talented women of the 20th century. She received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the first in 1974 for her performance as Trixie Delight in Paper Moon; the second the next year for Blazing Saddles, in her unforgettable turn as Lily Von Shtupp, "The Teutonic Titwillow." In this movie, she sings possibly the dirtiest song ever written that never actually mentions sex, "I'm Tired"
In fact, her comic performances for Mel Brooks are what she is most remembered for: Blazing Saddles,Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, and The History of the World, Part 1. She also did some brilliant work in early episodes of Saturday Night Live. If you have Netflix, check out her first appearance, from May 8, 1976. (Some of the clips are available on Hulu.) Her range is amazing: Marlene Dietrich, Pat Nixon, a twelve-year-old girl explaining sex to her friends at a pajama party, a film noire vamp singing "I Will Follow Him" with John Belushi's Jack Nicholsonesque private eye. There is also a sweet couple of minutes with Gilda Radner, which leads into Kahn singing this exquisite version of "Lost in the Stars" from Kurt Weill's musical of the same name (an adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, which just happens to be one of my favorite books). I remember watching this the first time it aired and, at the age of 14, being completely stunned. I've been looking for it again for 35 years. (I apologize for the poor quality of this clip. NBC is very stingy with their material, and this is the only version I have been able to find online, other than embedded in the complete SNL episode.)
Kahn was one of those people who got singing. What I mean is that, on top of a powerful voice with impressive range and lovely pitch, she knew how to present songs so that the lyric and music blended into a whole work of art, in the tradition of Sophie Tucker and Judy Garland, so that her singing became a true performance and a song-writer's dream. As funny as she was - and she was funny as all hell - this is what I love best about her as a performer. She could sing anything - from some blues to a duet with Sesame Street's Grover. Finally, here's a clip of her from the 1988 celebration of Irving Berlin's 100th birthday. Don't be surprised at how wonderful she is.
While Sonny is driving alone in his car, he's listening to the October 3,1951 radio broadcast of Russ Hodges calling the decisive third game of the Dodgers-Giants playoff -- a half-inning before Bobby Thomson ended the Dodgers' season with the "Shot Heard 'Round the World, which many consider the national pastime's all-time greatest moment.
Of the main cast, four pairs of actors share a birthday: Al Pacino and Talia Shire (April 25), Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall (January 5), James Caan and Sterling Hayden (March 26), and Abe Vigoda and Al Lettieri (February 24).
Whether it is, as many of us think, one of the two or three greatest of all movies, The Godfather is certainly a script that the certified US male of a certain class knows much of by heart. For more exquisite Godfather trivia (Jews play Sonny and Tessio, an Italian plays the Jewish Moe Greene) go here.
Jane Russell, who died this year, did some great duets with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.