Thoughts on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

debbieThe twin deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within twenty four hours of each other brings 2016 to a devastating finish  for multiple generations of film lovers. Reynolds bursted on to the screen in what many consider the greatest musical film ever made, Singin’ in the Rain. Her career survived one of the most famous scandals in Hollywood. She did it all with grace and style.

Reynolds most memorable roles, for me, along with Singin’ in the Rain were in the underrated drama, The Rat Race and comedies like The Gazebo, Goodbye Charlie, Divorce – American Style and Albert Brooks wonderful film, Mother. On TV, she was a perfect fit as Grace’s mother, Bobbie Alder in Will and Grace.

Three decades later her daughter, Carrie Fisher, became the first liberated sci-fi screen heroine. As princess Leia, Fisher inspired many young girls to break barriers here on earth just like her legendary character did in a galaxy far, far away. While I saw the first four Star War films, I was never a big fan of the series. For me, Fisher’s most memorable roles were in Shampoo, The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally.

I always admired Fisher for her soul baring acerbic wit. As someone said, a few days ago, I don’t remember who, Carrie was the  Dorothy Parker of our day. She was a great interview, never holding back, coming across as both cutting and vulnerable in discussing her addictions, relationships and mental illness. Her books were just as open. Postcards From the Edge, her first novel was to some extent based on her own life, as were her other written works.

HBO has been working on a documentary that takes a look at the mother/daughter relationship. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds airs in March 2017.

Remembering Lennon

   john%20lennonPhoto by Bob Gruen

  On December 8, 1980 I was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when a news bulletin interrupted the program; John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, where he lived, as he and Yoko were returning home after a late night recording session.

    I was in shock!

   I grabbed my small transistor radio and turned it on. The dial was already set on WNEW-FM, then one of the premiere progressive rock stations in New York. It was true. Lennon was shot and soon pronounced dead. The station was jumping from one report to another. It was a combination of  shock, disbelief and horror. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

  Over the next days, weeks and months tributes poured in, memories were talked about, dedications were made all trying to keep the dream alive. There were also the hucksters who sold phony memorial pins, posters and tribute magazines. A slew of quick paperback writers pasted together “biographies” that fans gobbled up.

    In the end though, and what remains with us today, thirty-six years later, is the music and its message.

  Sometimes art is at it best when it seems so simple, yet it carries a message that gets more powerful and important with each passing day. Imagine is such a song.

 

Edward Hopper and the Movies

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Hopper’s The Balcony

Edward Hopper loved the movies and he reflected that love in many of his works. When Hopper was not in the mood to paint, he would frequently binge on going to the movies where he would sometimes find inspiration. However, unlike most people, for Hopper, movie going was not a communal experience. Instead, as his work bares out, he found isolation and solitude in theaters like he did in his most famous cinema theater painting, New York Movie (permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art), which shows an usherette standing alone under a light in a side hall just off the main auditorium.

hopper_1939_new_york_movieHopper’s New York Movie

Phillip French writes in his article, From Nighthawks to the Shadows of Film Noir how Hopper influenced film and the other way around. French writes how, “German expressionism impinged on Hopper early on, during his sojourn in Paris. His 1921 etching Night Shadows looks like a storyboard sketch for a high-angle shot in a Fritz Lang movie.” I myself see Lang’s silent classic, M.

2221_hopper-night-shadowsHopper’s expressionistic like Night Shadows

Many of Hopper’s works are voyeuristic; private moments in people’s lives (A Woman in the Sun, New York Interior, Office in a Small City).  Hopper’s influence on Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in Rear Widow (1953) where James Stewart’s photographer, stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg, sits by his bay window looking out the courtyard watching all the lonely people going about their lives in their apartments. You can see Hopper’s influence again during the opening credits of Psycho (1960) as Hitchcock’s camera moves from a wide view of the city and slowly zooms in on one  window where we discover Janet Leigh and John Gavin in an afternoon tryst.

hopper-night-windows-october-art-room Hopper’s Night Windows

rear-window-_-miss-torsoHitchcock’s Rear Window

In his most famous work, Nighthawks, Hopper was inspired after reading Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers (1946), where two hitman comes to a small town diner looking to kill Burt Lancaster’s The Swede, a down and out boxer. When Universal Pictures and director Robert Siodmak turned the Hemingway story into a film, Siodmak certainly kept Hopper’s diner image in mind. Another sign of Hopper’s influence is seen in Force of Evil (1948). Screenwriter/director Abraham Polonsky, while on location in New York for his first film, took his cinematographer, George Barnes, to an exhibition of Hopper paintings and told him, that’s the way he wants the film to look.

nighthawksHopper’s Nighthawks

killers                                                       Robert Siodmak’s The Killers

Nighthawks would continue to influence filmmakers and other artists for years to come.  Director Herbert Ross used it as inspiration in his 1983 musical, Pennies from Heaven as did Todd Hayes in Far from Heaven (2002). Tom Waits third album, and his first live album, Nighthawks at the Diner, with a cover design by Cal Schenkel, was influenced by Hopper.  In 1984, artist Gottfried Helnwein did a pop version of Nighthawks called Boulevard of Broken Dreams replacing the everyday patrons in Hopper’s painting with pop icons James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The guy behind the counter is Elvis. Later Green Day used Helnwein’s title and created one of their best known songs.

dreams

Edward Hopper was not a sociable man. He seems to have had little interest in communicating with or meeting people. Much of his art can be seen as the work of a man who lives within himself.

 

 

 

 

Columns as Art

These columns stand in front of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native America Art in Santa Fe. The artist, Yatika Starr Fields, is of Cherokee/Creek/Osage heritage. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is the son of two artistic parents, Tom and Anita Fields. Fields work has been shown across the U.S. and internationally.

columns-museum-of-comtemporay-native-arts_dsc6606_cw-6603The color, the lines and pattern are what struck me and made me want to photograph it, hopefully adding a bit of my own vision to it in the way it was photographed.

Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sorta Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him. Sorta…