Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hail and farewell to André Previn

As the New York Times duly notes, André Previn "wrote or arranged the music for several dozen movies and was the only person in the history of the Academy Awards to receive three nominations in one year (1961, for the scores for Elmer Gantry and Bells Are Ringing and the song “Faraway Part of Town” from the comedy Pepe)." The multitalented composer-conductor and bon vivant -- who died Thursday at age 89 -- also collected Oscars for scoring Gigi (1959), Porgy and Bess (1960), Irma La Douce (1964) and My Fair Lady (1965). He did not write famous songs like ‘Summertime’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ — he arranged and orchestrated them, creating the versions heard on the soundtracks."

Lest we forget: He also composed the score (or at least that part of it that wasn't composed by Tchaikovsky) for Ken Russell's deliriously unhinged The Music Lovers, a film that played off and on for nearly two years at the Gentilly-Orleans, my favorite New Orleans art house during my college years. And, yeah, there was that Mia Farrow connection.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Answering for a friend: Who will win the Oscars?

OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one: You decided weeks ago to forego any serious Academy Award prognostications — indeed, you’re not entirely sure you’re going to actually watch the Oscarcast — when you get an anxious email on the day before Oscar night from a dear friend who’s entering an Oscar betting pool, and really needs your help with handicapping. So you sit down, look over the list of nominees, pick your favorites — except, of course, in those categories where you don’t really have a favorite — and then forget about what you’d pick because your friend wants to know what Academy voters will pick, dammit. 

And here’s the result.

Best Picture:

SHOULD WIN: BlacKkKlansman
WILL WIN: Green Book

Lead Actor:

SHOULD WIN: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
WILL WIN: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Lead Actress:

SHOULD WIN: Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
WILL WIN: Glenn Close, The Wife

Supporting Actor:

SHOULD WIN: Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Supporting Actress:
SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk


SHOULD WIN: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Animated Feature:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Animated Short:

WILL WIN: Bao, Domee Shi

Adapted Screenplay:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee

Original Screenplay:

SHOULD WIN: First Reformed, Paul Schrader
WILL WIN: Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly


SHOULD WIN: Cold War, Lukasz Zal
WILLWIN: The Favourite, Robbie Ryan

Best Documentary Feature:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: RBG, Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Best Documentary Short Subject:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry

Best Live Action Short Film: 

WILL WIN: Marguerite, Marianne Farley

Best Foreign Language Film:


Film Editing:

SHOULD WIN: BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
WILL WIN: The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis

Sound Editing:

SHOULD WIN: First Man, Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
WILL WIN: Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst

Sound Mixing:

WILL WIN: Bohemian Rhapsody

Production Design:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Black Panther, Hannah Beachler

Original Score:

SHOULD WIN: BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
WILL WIN: Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

Original Song:

SHOULD WIN: “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
WILL WIN: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice

Makeup and Hair:


Costume Design:

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter

Visual Effects:

WILL WIN: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Friday, February 08, 2019

A brief story about Albert Finney, oral sex, Jack J. Valenti, and me

In Charlie Bubbles (1968), the only movie the late, great Albert Finney ever directed, Finney affectingly plays an author who, for a goodly portion of the film, is on a road trip with his adoring secretary, played by a very young, pre-Sterile Cuckoo Liza Minnelli. (She’s pretty terrific, by the way.) There is a scene where it’s fairly clear, though not explicitly depicted, that because he’s too enfeebled by ennui or just plain exhausted, she scoots down between his legs in a hotel room bed to fellate him. That’s one of the reasons why Universal had to release Charlie Bubbles through a subsidiary distributor — the studio couldn't get a production code seal for it.
Something similar happened the same year with Michael Winner's I'll Never Forget What's'isname, a movie that has a scene in which it’s heavily implied that Oliver Reed performs cunnilingus on Carol White. The minor controversies sparked by both films are amusingly detailed in Jack Vizzard's 1971 memoir See No Evil: Life Inside a Hollywood Censor —  a book, not incidentally, that I cited as a reference in the long-delayed master’s thesis I wrote more than a decade ago for my MA degree at the University of Houston.

Oddly enough, both Charlie Bubbles and I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname played for months on a double bill at the Gentilly-Orleans, an art house in my hometown of New Orleans, during my senior year of high school. And I viewed the double bill multiple times — not because of the risqué scenes (though, I must admit, they weren't exactly a deterrent) — but because, for reasons I still don't fully understand, I felt extremely simpatico with the alienated characters played by Finney and Reed. (Yeah, I was a strange kid.)

What I had no way of knowing at the time is that both films provided early headaches for Jack J. Valenti, who took over as head of the MPAA in 1966 — and wound up replacing the Production Code with the vastly more flexible MPAA Ratings System in November 1968.

Now I teach at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at University of Houston. And the world keeps spinning in its greased grooves.