Anyone who has been reading this column very much lately (and who has?) will note that I very rarely portray Real Events that actually Happened In Real Life; more often, I have tended to take real life (as we all know it) and lie about it. (My wife, the supple yet vulnerable Mrs. Kelp, insists that in this regard, I am a “creep”; or “leech”; or other fine word containing gangs of “e’s”. She likens me to a “vulture”, and describes my art as “that which is ‘un-visable’”.
(For many people, the holidays can be a time of depression.)
I have decided to suggest to you some movies and videos, while also pointing out that because it will soon be/is (time flies) January, all of our lives are over. This is the end, my only friend, the end. It’ll be snowing; you won’t want to go out there, except for videos and (maybe) food. Sit there and eat. Watch what you have to.
Or better yet, watch “The Singing Detective”, a six-part BBC production from 1986 that I had been hearing about for years as being something of a cornerstone in TV history that (amazingly enough) lives right up to everything I’d ever heard about it. It’s visionary, uncompromising, and devastating, and one of those rare productions that has that quality you sometimes get with great books when you just don’t want them to end.
Dennis Potter (who wrote the story and screenplay) died young, not long after writing this and Steve Martin’s more widely-seen “Pennies From Heaven”, and “Detective” shares the cynical, elusive quality of the latter; but the earlier work is far bolder and more affecting, although you do have to give this one a bit more rope -at times, it’s reasonably repulsive, centering as it does on a bitter writer with a crippling skin condition and his fantasy murders. Frequently, anachronistic song and dance productions are thrown in in the manner of “Chicago Hope” and “Northern Exposure” -except this is where they got the idea, and where it was taken much farther.
There’s more than enough bitterness and despair for the most jaded misanthrope, but there’s also a lot of feeling, and characters you genuinely regret leaving off with at the end. The acting (Michael Gambon, Janet Suzman, and a ridiculously appealing Joanne Whalley Kilmer) is excellent throughout, as is the direction (by Jon Amiel); but the script is really something, floating, as it does, between Raymond Chandler and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. The whole thing is so brilliant you’ll wonder how they ever got funding for it. It’s available at East Orleans Video, where the new owners have happily continued in the fine tradition of their predecessors, finding more obscure and rewarding titles to accompany the modern blockbusters.
Speaking of which, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” is another one you probably won’t find anywhere other than East Orleans Video, and it’s as perfect an antidote for January as I can imagine -especially if you’re a jazz fan of any order. (Actually, it’d make a pretty good antidote for “:The Singing Detective”, too for that matter.) It’s a documentary by Bert Stern that covers the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959, and I thought I had seen it; but my recollections were of a black and white movie, which this isn’t; nor did I recall the amazing atmosphere of the piece -this is absolutely the coolest audience you will ever see.
The music isn’t bad either, starting with a brilliant piece by Jimmy Giuffre and progressing through personable turns by Mahalia Jackson, Monk, Louis Armstrong, Anita O’Day, Gerry Mulligan, a very early and out-of-place Chuck Berry (you can see the jazz guys goofin’), and many others. Watch this one and marvel at how cool folks used to be.
Other good flicks: “Waiting For Guffman” (Christopher Guest strikes again); “Rosewood” (which, against all odds, emerges as an extremely satisfying Hollywood action epic); “This Whole World” (more great work from “Jerry McQuire”’s Renee Zellwiger; and even “Private Parts” (despite Howard Stern, an at least somewhat thought-provoking deal; get “The Singing Detective” first, though. Way first. This one can wait…)
I gotta go eat. Just wanted to mention (before I do) that whoever stole the picture of that lovely woman from the Barley Neck’s bathroom is no friend of mine…we needed that picture where it was, and you’ve done the entire community a horrible mis-service. Please replace it.
Also, there’s an open mike happening every Wednesday night at Willy’s Gym in Orleans, from 9 til’ 11 or so. It’s called “After Dark”, and it’s sponsered by Willy’s Gym, the Music Box, and my friend Bob Laverty, who can be reached at 240 3493. Go forth and hoot.
Happy New Year, folks.