Archive for 2011

Coming Soon: About Face

The Sundance Film Festival announced their line-up this week and one in particular will be of interest to baby boomers and/or fashionistas everywhere. About Face is a documentary about fashion models of the seventies and eighties and their career highs and lows and the inevitable work tolls of aging. If you don't recognize the names -- Carmen Dell'Orefice (still stunning in her eighties), Cheryl Tiegs, Jerry Hall, Christie Brinkley, Dayle Haddon, Carol Alt, Isabella Rossellini and Kim Alexis -- you will no doubt recognize the faces. Many became actresses, married rock and sports stars, retired or as in the case of Dell'Orefice, lost all their money to Bernie Madoff. And several are still going strong today as the baby boomer generation has made it cool to be "of a certain age."

Sundance runs January 19th to the 29th and if aren't lucky enough to attend, About Face will be shown on HBO next summer!

Beverly Johnson and Cheryl Tiegs

Christie Brinkley gets a touch up on set

Photo Credits: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Big Girls Need Big Diamonds

No one loved diamonds more than Elizabeth Taylor, famously quoting that "big girls need big diamonds." And no celebrity is more identified with diamonds and jewels than the legendary actress. While she may have had numerous husbands (seven), her love affair with jewelry may be the one that lasted the longest. From the 33.19 karat Krupp diamond bestowed to her by two time husband Richard Burton to a ruby and diamond Cartier necklace from Mike Todd, she amassed an incredible collection over her extraordinary lifetime and even developed a perfume called White Diamonds.

Just in time for Christmas comes the Collection of Elizabeth Taylor on the auction block at Christies. Collectors and well-heeled fans of the late star can purchase over 1000 items that include jewelry, couture and art starting on December 13th through the l6th. The collection is expected to fetch 30-50 million and it's all here -- Bulgari, Givenchy, Van Cleef & Arpels, Valentino and even Warhol.

And if the prices are too staggering for your budget, opt for the catalogue of memorabilia. A special boxed set accompanied by Taylor's signed out of print book "My Love Affair with Jewelry" is available for a mere 2500.00 (note - only 25 are available and proceeds go to her AIDS Foundation). You can see more of the collection at the Christies website.

Santa, if you are reading, I would love the Irene Sharaff yellow silk chiffon wedding dress worn on her first wedding day to Richard Burton in l964. It's a steal at 40,000-60,000. Just put in a bid on the low side and see what happens:)

Irene Sharaff wedding dress

Krupp diamond given to Taylor by her fifth husband.
It's said she wore the ring everyday and is valued at 2.5 to 3.5 million.

Bulgari sapphire and diamond necklace given to
Taylor by Richard Burton on her 40th  birthday
Estimated price? 600,000-800,000

Nicknamed the Granny Necklace after Burton gave it to Taylor
when she became a grandmother, this gold, diamond and emerald piece
 from Van Cleef & Arpels is a bargain at 120,000-180,000

Warhol's lithograph is expected to go for 30,000-50,000

Valentino red satin ball gown

Emanuel sateen white trenchcoat as worn by Liz below in 1954

Antique circular "opera passes" with the names of opera houses

Husband Mike Todd gave Taylor this tiara to wear to the Oscars
Estimate 60,000-80,000

Happy bidding!

And if you are in the Richmond, Virginia area next weekend, I will be speaking on the making of Cleopatra at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday, December 10th. The lecture will be followed by a screening of the film.

I will also be lecturing on Designs on Film at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC Thursday, December 8th followed by a book signing. And at some point, I will stick a wreath on the door and ink out a few Christmas cards:)

Photo Credits:  Christie's

It's the final COUNTDOWN

Do do do dooo

Do do do do dooo

Do do do dooo

Do do do do do do dooo

Et cetera.

The final countdown for what, you're asking? Why, for the RPG Kickstarter, of course! It is less than a week until it's all over (December 4). My, how time flies when you're something something.

But! It's still going strong, and the stronger it goes, the more RPG goodness I can make. As of this writing, there are still amazing incentive rewards to be had, like:

  • RPG page 41- original art- signed by moi and Felicia Day

  • The original art for the alternate cover to Pocket Hams and Troll Fats: RPG Collected, Volume 1 by the amazing Chrissie Zullo

  • A sketch of an RPG character by Fiona effing Staples (why, even I don't know who she's going to draw- ooh, mystery)

  • A page of original art from the forthcoming Dragon Age digital comic drawn by the mighty Chad Hardin (comic published by BioWare and Dark Horse)

  • The opportunity for you to be made into a super hero by actress/writer Brea Grant- she'll sketch ya and give you super powers and all sorts of cool stuff

  • RPG prints by me, Renae De Liz, and Meng Zhang

  • AND a super secret gonna-be-revealed soon reward that might have something to do with pocket ham. That's right.

So become a backer! Tell your friends and your "social" "networking" cyber comrades! It's good for your charisma AND your speechcraft, I swear.

The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep is a true chameleon and continues to amaze with her dead-on portrayals of Julia Childs, Karen Blixen, Miranda Priestly (a.k.a. Anna Wintour), Karen Silkwood and Rachel Samstat (a.k.a. Nora Ephron).

A dead ringer as Thatcher
Next up for the much heralded greatest American actress living today is the role of former Prime Minister of England's Margaret Thatcher in The Weinstein Company's The Iron Lady. From her bouffant hair to power blue suits, Streep is already garnering early Oscar predictions for a seventeenth nod (she has only won twice). Early word is the film is not without its share of controversy (such as her battle with dementia) in the biopic of one of Great Britain's most famous and divisive residents of No. 10 Downing. It should be a great story of yet another strong woman who smashed the glass ceiling. Here here.

Streep with film husband Jim Broadbent
The real Margaret Thatcher with husband Denis

The film debuts December 30th and you can see the trailer here. You can also read about the life and career of Streep in my article for Celebrated Living.

Photo Credits:  Alex Bailey for Pathe Productions/The Weinstein Company, Celebrated Living

Performing a Public Service:Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers

Whatever one may think of John Landis or Dan Aykroyd as either artists or people, they both deserve kudos for preserving a modern day performance of Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway on film in The Blues Brothers (1980).   Aykroyd wrote him into the script and Landis gave him full attention for a lavishly filmed performance on stage.  Watching the movie the other day on Netflix, and seeing John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd perform with Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, John Lee Hooker* and Ray Charles, I wondered to myself, "Did they appreciate the talent amassed for this film that would never be together again?"

Of course they did.  How could they not?  I've never been a cult-follower of The Blues Brothers like many others (though I do like it) but I'm glad it exists.  I'm glad it's out there and so many performers who weren't connected to film got a chance to be preserved on film forever after.  Besides, where else can you find Charles Napier, Carrie Fisher, Twiggy, John Candy, Paul Reubens, Steve Lawrence and Henry Gibson all playing bit player back-up in the same place at the same time?   If there were ever a film whose preservation of talent on celluloid surpasses the importance of the film itself, this might be the one.

*He doesn't actually perform with them but he's there just the same.

The Movie's Good, I Just Don't Like It

"Greg said it's not about that so shut up, stupid!"
The laws of film criticism would seem to dictate that when a movie is good, demonstrably good, we should like it or, at least, appreciate it in all its glorious excellence.  I'm not talking about those recent brouhahas and kerfuffles and, dare I say it, foofaraws that erupted after that guy wrote that piece about how he didn't like those movies that were supposed to be movies he liked but he found them boring and then a bunch of critics were all like, "I hate you!" and went running to their rooms and then some other guy wrote another piece where he even mentioned some friends of mine (in a very positive light, of course) and talked about how everyone needed to chill or whatever word the kids are using these days to denote "ignore your intellectual outrage and keep your mouth shut like a good little soldier."

So, yeah, anyway, it's not about that.

No, it's about a movie that seems well-done in every possible way but is still quite unlikeable.  The writing is literate and tight, the plot works well, the acting is uniformly good, the direction clear and efficient, the musical score, editing, photography, sound, etc. are all top-drawer, as my non-existent prep school friends would say (their names are "Chip" and "Skip").  And yet, I simply don't like them.  And I don't mean "it's not my cup of tea" (Chip and Skip again), I mean, "Damn!  I really hate this movie!"  See, that's kind of confusing because when a movie has everything going for it, it seems like somehow, someway, I should like it.  But that's not the case nearly as often as it should be.

Back in 1996, everyone in the world of film criticism (well, it seemed that way but it was before aggregate shit sites like Rotten Tomatoes so what in the hell do I know) was lying on the floor recovering from spasms of nirvana after watching The English Patient.  Seriously, I'd read a review and the critic would be all like, "English Patient? Touch me... there."   So I saw it and found it to have fantastic acting, a really tight script, good clean direction and breathtaking cinematography.  And, brother, did I hate that fucking thing!   And I don't really know why because I've never taken the time to go back and watch it again which I probably should because it seems like I'm constantly hating or loving movies that I end up reversing my opinion on in weeks, days, sometimes hours.  I do this because, as best I can tell, I've got some kind of mental problem but, you know what, that's for another post.

So, again, I can't claim The English Patient is bad.  I think everyone involved should be proud of their accomplishments on it.  It's not easy to make a movie, really it's not and something like The English Patient shows the kind of skill and talent that we should all be so lucky to possess.  It takes time, patience and a butt-load of money and I'm not here to dismiss any of the movies discussed in this post, just say that, inexplicably, I don't like them while acknowledging they're all well-done.

"This movie is bullshit! Good popcorn, though."
What got me thinking about this again was my recent viewing of The Road.  Is it well done?  I'd say, exceptionally so.  The post-apocalyptic landscape is, for one, so convincing, so dead, so grey, so lifeless that I'd swear the art director and set designer had somehow seen the coming end of the world and replicated it for the film (how they would have done this I'm still working out but I'm strongly leaning towards a time-helmet of some kind).  The lead performances by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smitt-McPhee are both excellent and the story has a lean, efficient quality to it.   A no-frills kind of feeling that is perfectly fitting for such an enterprise.  And yet, by the end, I couldn't help but think the entire viewing was a complete and utter waste of my time.   I've felt that way ever since.  Here's what I got from it:  Nothing.

Maybe there's a slickness involved that I just don't connect with.  It's possible.  All the films that produce this kind of reaction in me feel perfectly done in some vague, technical way.  In fact, a lot of Best Picture winners fall into this category for me as well as almost the entire career of Ron Howard.  I see a Ron Howard movie and everything in them seems just right, you know?  As in, no chances taken, no going outside the constraints of the familiar, no bold exploration of new ideas.  They all have that prepackaged feel to them.  A sort of "Paint by the Numbers" where all the colors are right and in the right place but it feels forced, stiff, dead.

By contrast, when I watch something like Stroszek, it feels like Werner Herzog was making it up as he went.  And that feels great!  It's like he said, "Okay, let's film you driving away.  No! Wait!  Drive the truck in circles first.  Then get out.  Then get back in.  Set something on fire.  No!  Wait!  Is there some kind of crazy theme park or arcade around here?  What?  What's that?  Dancing chickens?  Perfect!  Let's go there and film that!"

It's the same when I watch early Scorsese.  Mean Streets and Taxi Driver have a dirty, messy, sloppy feel to them, a feel I really like.  The Aviator, on the other hand, is excellent on all levels but I just don't like it.  It feels so clean, so polished, so... so not Scorsese.  Same with The Departed.   All of these films, from The English Patient to (oh, let's pick a Howard film) Frost/Nixon seem so very uninspired.  They feel like the work of people who all know exactly what they're doing and they do it well but they don't let any part of themselves become a part of the equation.   It's like the recording of Born Free by Andy Williams (Huh? What?  Just bear with me, okay?).  In the song, he sings every note exactly as written and it's a running joke for my wife and me to take note of the one part in the song where he doesn't, the very last verse where, instead of singing the word "free" he kind of speaks it, boldly.  It's unintentionally funny because it's the one, single, solitary moment where he lets any kind of personality enter into his rendition.   Rather than phrasing the words to fit his feelings, emotions and instincts, like a Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra, he does exactly what he's supposed to do.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

"Nothing I said applies to me.  Now get off my lawn!"
So maybe that's it.  Maybe when a film does exactly what it's supposed to do, it turns me off.   Maybe that's why I'm a fan of so many scratchy, ugly, thrown-together movies from the seventies and so little a fan of so much from the eighties on.   From the eighties on, thanks to technology in filming as well as post-production editing and special effects, even crappy, low-rent movies have a slick, polished look to them.  But that can't be the whole story because as much as an Out of Africa, The Last Emperor, Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty or Chicago don't work for me, practically everything Hollywood did in the forties does and if anything ever fit the definition of "people who know exactly what they're doing and doing it well", it's Hollywood in the forties.  I mean, those guys and gals put together movies like Tin Lizzies rolling off of Henry Ford's assembly line and, somehow, most of them do feel inspired to me.  Maybe that's because they were inserting themselves into the films (oh shit, it's that theory -  RUN!  Save yourself before it takes over the whole discussion!).   Or maybe there are too many people involved in the post-production now to keep any kind of individual directorial vision up there on the screen for anyone to even notice.  Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old curmudgeon and this is the dumbest idea I've ever had for a post because, in the end, there can be no possible answer to the question, "How can a movie do everything right and feel so wrong?"

On the Set: The Great Gatsby

I posted back in March on the Warner Brothers remake of The Great Gatsby that is currently filming in Sydney, Australia. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the film stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick and Leo DiCaprio in the title role of F. Scott Fitzgerald's popular novel. Here are a precious few shots from the set and you can already see the incredible period costumes designed by Catherine Martin (and wife of Luhrmann). DiCaprio makes a dashing Gatsby (as did Robert Redford in the seventies film version) and Mulligan is a perfect Daisy. This marks the Lurhmann and Martin team's second collaboration with DiCaprio as they filmed Romeo + Juliet in 1996.

Mulligan and DiCaprio

Leo Dicaprio and Tobey Maguire 

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan

Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson

Sydney becomes Long Island in the twenties

Martin is also the film's production designer. A two time Academy Award winner (Moulin Rouge) and Tony Award winner for the set design of Broadway's La Boehme, "CM" has her own line of rugs, paints and wallpapers. Many of the sparrow and vine designs are inspired by her native Australia as well as Asian designs and traditional lace. I interviewed CM on the set of the film Australia several years ago and she is a dynamo --  it's no easy feat doing double duty with costume and production design. The mother of two was also getting ready to launch the Catherine Martin line as a natural extension of her film work. The line is distributed in Australia with Designer Rugs and Porter's Paints. (You can read more of the article on my website under Articles/Four Seasons magazine).

Martin and Luhrmann
Feathers Area Rug for Designer Rugs

Martin's Paint Line with Porter's Original Paints in Australia

Sparrow Wallpaper

The film will be distributed in 3D and premieres Christmas day of 2012. Needless to say, I can't wait.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo Images: New York Magazine, Warner Brothers, Catherine Martin, The Daily Mail

Facebooking the Demise of the Wicked Witch (of the East)

I imagine at this moment on Oz Twitter, #CelebratedTooSoon is trending wildly.

By the way, you just know when it comes time for the Mayor's re-election, his campaign's going to be all over the fact that both wicked witches died on his watch.

What I Learned Today

Mary Carlisle is still alive.  She was one of the WAMPAS baby stars and is the last remaining one.  Reading up on the WAMPAS baby stars is the kind of thing I actually do so, if you're not as weird as I am and are unfamiliar with them, simply go here.

Anyway, she's 99 and will turn 100 on February 3, 2012.  She was born almost 100 years ago but when she was born it had only been 86 years since Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died.  So there were people alive when she was born who were alive when Jefferson and Adams were alive.  On top of that, consider this:  86 years ago from this time, Joan Crawford was starting her Hollywood career in the silents and Charlie Chaplin was making The Gold Rush.   Wrap your head around that for a little while.

And while you're at it, visit this picture gallery for dozens of great photos of Mary Carlisle.

Ralph Fiennes, The Interview

He's been called a writer's actor, workaholic, heartthrob, sex symbol, thespian and complex. And that is just for starters.

Will the real Ralph Fiennes stand up? Read more about the charismatic British actor and his upcoming film Coriolanus (Weinstein Company) in my cover story for Celebrated Living. Charming and enormously talented, he had me at Quiz Show

Fiennes in The Constant Gardener

As Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show

As Amon Goth in Schindler's List

Director and star of Coriolanus

With Jennifer Lopez in Maid In Manhattan
Photo Credits: Celebrated Living, Weinstein Company, Universal Pictures.

And on a personal note, RIP Vali (1995-2011). You are missed more than you know.