Slapstick Comedy

speedy

On Sunday at The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse I saw a silent film that had an organ accompanist. Your probably wondering why I’m writing about it now? Because the humor hasn’t left me. Every time I tell someone about it the words don’t come out because I’m full of snorts, cackles and tears. So I’ll share the story-line and what made it special.

The 1928 film Speedy stars Harold Lloyd who plays Speedy. He can’t seem to hold down a job. Because of his love of baseball, he gets fired from his job as a soda-jerk, then spends the following day and all of his money with his girl at Coney Island. On Monday he becomes a cab driver and delivers Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium, where he stays to see the game. There he overhears of a plot by a railroad executive who plans to hire thugs from a gang to try to run the last horse-drawn trolley (operated by his girl’s grandfather) out of business. Speedy organizes the neighborhood old-timers who play cards with Grandpa to thwart their scheme. But it’s their shenanigans and how they go about it that’s hysterical and pure slapstick.

There’s a blacksmith who throws horse rings around the thugs necks and stops them in their tracks. The cobbler uses his hammer to bruise fingers. But it was the Chinese launderer that comes out with a steam iron to smooth out a few bottoms that had me in stitches. Now I have to admit I liked the Three Stooges, I know they were a little rough, with their face slapping and eye poking but I enjoyed their antics. But watching Speedy I didn’t identify with the Stooges but my own slapstick tactics growing up.

One summer when I was ten two cousins came to visit. One was male, 4 years older than my brother. The other was female, 6 years older than me. Our days were consumed with fun and trips to the plunge, water balloon fights, bike rides, games of kick the can, a trip to the beach on public transportation that was an adventure and of course, Disneyland. We even set up tents in the backyard, boys against girls.

Every evening we ended our days with a good pillow fight. Knowing they could wipe us out, I had to think quick and was determined, we had to win. I wasn’t going to go down like a good little girl or a scaredy cat. I knew all we needed was one good hit so I suggested that we each stuff one of my father’s wing tips into each pillow. My cousin obliged and seeing stars and a black eye ensued. I was grounded for thinking up the scheme but laughed all the way to my punishment sentence.

What outrageous schemes did you pull as a kid that can still make you laugh now?

Music Matters

The film, Florence Foster Jenkins I believed would be a barrel of laughs since it’s about a woman singing badly.

Although it’s based on a true story, it missed the mark. It feels like a 1940’s studio comedy- soon to be forgotten after you leave the theater.

It’s subject is an American amateur opera singer whose voice brought joy to millions in the depths of wartime, largely because she could turn even the most graceful coloratura soprano line into what could described as a screeching aria.

Foster Jenkins wasn’t famous because her singing sounded like a cat fight but because she committed to it with the panache and depth of feeling of a peak-form Callas- she was a true performer. Her records became instant collectors’ items, and her concerts sold out immediately.

The film stars Meryl Streep as Florence and Hugh Grant as St. Clair Bayfield, a once modest actor now her doting second husband and promoter.

As a music lover after seeing Lily Pons star at Carnegie Hall, Florence gets it in her head that she can perform there too. Much of the plot revolves around that life-capping event orchestrated by St. Clair.

Streep plays Florence as a hybrid of arts-scene doyenne and excited chubby schoolgirl: when she performs, she draws her elbows in close to her chest and occasionally twists very slightly from side to side, like a choir-girl who finally gets her moment in the spotlight. She’s complicated and warm and a delight to watch.

Hugh Grant glides through every scene with a lightness and wit that’s so gentlemanly and regal.  You can’t help but love his character. He’s the film’s center of gravity. He treats her with a kind of grandfatherly affection, while shielding her from the bow and arrow of the music critics and just about anyone else who dares speak the truth or will deflate her ego.

The couple’s relationship is snugly but abstinent: when Florence says “I love you”, St. Clair’s reply which he somehow makes genuinely sweet is “Mmmm. With all the knobs on.” But she sleeps alone, and St. Clair keeps an apartment downtown with his pretty much younger mistress. The arrangement puzzles Florence’s accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, but as St Clair points out, it works.

Florence’s rehearsal scenes have a gently escalating ludicrousness about them that’s winning, and all but ridden in tune as a short-inducing comic vignette.

But it never quite gets up to screwball speed. The film ushers you into Florence’s confidence and her snow-globe-like happy world that St Clair works so hard to keep from cracking.

File it as a film with two excellent actor portrayals and a tingling comedy about the creative instinct that fills your heart with short-lived joy.

A cinematic dud

 

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Needing to be alone after A Cinematic Dud

American Cinematique is an independent, cultural organization in Los Angeles dedicated exclusively to the public presentation of moving images.

Every May they hold a European film festival at the Egyptian Theatre that is sponsored by the Consulates.

It’s a great concept… one I wholeheartedly support but something has gone wrong. Whoever is on their selection committee is either desperate, doesn’t know how to analyze or practice discernment. Perhaps they don’t know what makes a storyline or a plot. Perhaps they haven’t the courage to speak up. Perhaps they feel having a film before them they may jeopardize the career of a promising filmmaker and it ‘s too big of a responsibility. After having worked so hard for so long, and in a moment their decision has the potential to change or ruin a life forever.

I can only speculate because they have a great red carpet event but once it’s time for the show to begin… the audience is in for a disappointment.

Last year there were eight short films from the international film circuit. They were so unoriginal, we walked out after the fifth. And we weren’t the only ones to do so!

Thursday night they showed Belgica, a feature that represents the high and lows of the club life. Two brothers open a small club with a devoted inner circle. It becomes the hottest place to be for a time, impossible to get into, and then, suddenly, the good times come to an end. It’s a reminder of a fleeting intoxication of the ego and it provides momentary suggestions—of how the highest highs can sometimes make the drudgery of the rest of life worth it. Many of the highs are fueled by drugs. And the boisterous music-fueled the drama but it’s neither an ambitious film nor a satisfying one and I walked out after ninety minutes of boring flatness.

And the winner is…

On occasion I get emails from the Goethe Institute announcing a random drawing. Last week I received one of these asking that I select a lucky number from 1-100. Being the lucky winner, last night I attended the Newport Beach Film Festival.

On Red Carpet
On the Red Carpet

For my readers who don’t know the city, it’s posh. And I like it. From the days of when I worked in entertainment and dated a young man whose family had a boat docked on the harbor to the time I suggested to a friend that we ring in the new year at Newport Beach. It’s nestled among golden stretches of pristine Pacific coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, the city epitomizes the casually sophisticated lifestyle of Southern California. It’s an idyllic seaside destination and it’s natural beauty is enhanced by a mild climate, vibrant yachting community and upscale shopping.

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The film festival brought together classic and contemporary film-making from around the world. I got to see the German film, One Breath, directed by Christian Zubert, starring Jordis Triebel. It was riveting and suspenseful. I love that sort of depth that has you on edge. After the show was an after-party with international cuisine and a chance to mingle with the crowd. What fun!

Spring Forward

AstraeaVSH

This week with the start of spring, I celebrated the passage along with what would have been my father’s 91st birthday, with a film. I attended, Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles in collaboration with the French Consulate’s and Alliance Francaise de Los Angeles, Film Festival.

The film Maestro was held at the Theatre Raymond Kabbaz.

It was a comedy that revolves around Henri, a young actor with much ambition who finds himself involved with legendary independent filmmaker, Cedric Rovere. Henri looks up to him and the Director takes a liking to Henri, although the young actors nature is banal he lives in a world that doesn’t go beyond pop culture.

The film they shoot is a period piece, based on the Greek Goddess Astraea. The young woman who plays Astraea becomes Henri’s love interest. She much like the Director, is sophisticated; they live in a mental world inhabited by Voltaire and Prevost.

Even when the conditions during the shoot aren’t quite what Henri expected, he is won over by the charms of his on-screen partner.

The comedic action takes place between the misfit couple, reminding one of how compromising oneself doesn’t lead to love when it’s not a fit. The sophisticate never gets understood or appreciated.

Through the generosity of the master filmmaker, Henri emerges somewhat transformed by the experience. And Cedric is also won over by Henri’s eager imagination, youthful spirit, and eagerness to love and views the film shoot as an unexpected gift.

Power in the Color Red

A couple of weeks ago while a friend was driving me to lunch, I grumbled that there weren’t any good movies out there. He suggested the film Trumbo, and because I respect his intellect, I thought I’d see it. It left my head spinning with current political themes and thinking about First Amendment rights.

It’s got smart dialogue and brilliant acting, with a great ensemble but I particularly liked Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren and John Goodman. It’s a meaty story and a period piece that only left one hole; wife Cleo (Diane Lane) is wearing Keds tennis shoes in the scene where the family is watching television, circa early 1950’s and Keds didn’t hit the scene until the 1960’s- do your homework costume designer!

Now for the storyline; It’s the height of the Red Scare and as a Communist Party member, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo is on Hollywood’s blacklist, and when he’s placed in front of Congress, and refuses to name names, he carted off to prison. He talks like a radical, but lives like a rich guy. (Great line from the film).

He and his liberal colleagues with their “let’s help them” attitude rubs newspaper columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and actor John Wayne (David James Elliott), the wrong way. They both are governed by self-righteousness and have a personal agenda to expose Communists out of the closet. Sort of like present day Republicans with a “let’s get them” attitude.

Upon his release, he downgrades his lifestyle and employs his family as assistants while he churns out scripts to make a living, some of them for garbage B-films about gangsters and pirates, and some of them such as Roman Holiday, and The Brave One, where he wins screenwriting Oscars for other people, who take credit when his name alone would have torpedoed a picture.

It’s a deeply entertaining story of a man, with a spirit of character who offers no apology for who he is and what he believes in. Go see it, it’s the best film of 2015. Dalton-Trumbo-Bathtub-1100x1390