Archive for March, 2012

An Evening with Jane Lynch

Last night I went to see Jane Lynch at the JCCSF (Jewish Community Center of San Francisco).  She was a last minute replacement for Glee executive producer Dante Di Loreto, and nobody was complaining!  The event was held at the Center’s Kanbar Hall, a theatre with 468 seats.  I was lucky enough to have an empty seat in front of me, so I had a great view of the stage.  I know the seat was sold when I bought my ticket, so I feel sorry for the person who couldn’t make it.  Three nights ago, at Napoleon at the Paramount, I told a couple of the gentlemen I met about this event.  The first thing they did when they got home from Napoleon was buy tickets.  I saw them in the auditorium, and they were even more thrilled than I was to meet Jane Lynch and hear her speak.   Lynch is charming and delightful, and yes, very funny unscripted.

After a clip of Lynch was shown from Glee on the screen behind, she was interviewed onstage by David Wiegand.  They mostly discussed the show, and Lynch’s character, Sue Sylvester.  She said the kids don’t ask her for career advice, mostly because they’re too busy working.  She described how hard the young actors work, and how exhausted they are at the end of the day.  She also said she loved that feeling of exhaustion after doing work she clearly loves.  Lynch also talked about the tailored track suits she wears, and how she’s actually never thrown a slushie herself on the show.  Even though they don’t really use ice, the slushies are cold and miserable to be hit with, and the kids have to shower and get hair & makeup redone every time.  Retakes are NOT popular if somebody misses. She likes her scenes with Quinn a lot, and she’s clearly fond of Chris Colfer.  She described how, when the show first began and they all had to have physicals, he confessed that he’d never been to a doctor by himself before.  Lynch loves to sing but isn’t a dancer, so she finds it ironic that she’s done more dancing than singing on Glee.  It sounds like she really enjoyed the Madonna number she got to perform.  Wiegand asked her a few non-Glee questions.  Lynch described how she met her wife here in San Francisco at the Westin Saint Francis Hotel.  She also made several references to her memoir, Happy Accidents, which I now must read.

I’m new to using the video function on my digital camera, but here’s a quick clip.

After the chat onstage, Lynch answered questions from the audience.  Two ladies had portable microphones, and they moved around the auditorium choosing raised hands.  I wanted to ask Lynch about her performance in the play 8 by Dustin Lance Black, which was about Proposition 8 and streamed live on YouTube a couple of weeks ago.  She played Maggie Gallagher, a conservative who vehemently opposes same sex marriage, and I’m curious if she heard of a reaction from Gallagher.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t chosen by the ladies before we ran out of time.  Valuable time was taken up showing three other clips from Glee during the interview.  Most of us who attended watch Glee, so the clips really weren’t necessary.  I wanted to hear Lynch talk more.  I think the clips were prepared for Di Loreto, since none of them were of Sue Sylvester.

After the interview and Q&A, we all went into the atrium where some talented teenagers sang a medley of songs from Cabaret.  Then Lynch signed copies of her memoir and anything else people brought to have autographed.  She also posed for photographs across the table.  The fans were well-mannered, and she was relaxed and friendly.  I had a chance to tell her she was great in 8 and Criminal Minds when she autographed my Entertainment Weekly magazine.  Everybody left satisfied and happy.

Listen to the JCCSF podcast of the interview here.

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Abel Gance’s Napoleon at the Paramount

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Last July, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival announced the March 2012 screenings of Kevin Brownlow’s 5½ hour restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon.  I bought my ticket the next day.  I’ve never spent so much money on a movie ticket—certainly never so far in advance—but I knew I couldn’t miss it.  I was a senior in high school the last time Napoleon was shown at special screenings with a live orchestra.  It was big news at the time, creating quite a buzz, but I didn’t go.  Yesterday I went to the first screening, and it was magnificent.  Fantabulous.  Exhausting.  Epic.

I have to confess.  From the moment I bought the ticket in July until the opening scene yesterday afternoon, I had serious doubts.  Would I be able to sit through a 5½ hour film?  Even with two 20 minute intermissions and a dinner break, I was still worried it would be torturous.  My other worry: the longest bathroom line I’ve ever experienced was my last time at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.  It’s a gorgeous Art Deco movie palace, and they do have a lot of toilets, but it doesn’t seem like nearly enough when you’re waiting in a long line.

In spite of all my fretting, the movie delighted me throughout, and I was never bored or restless.  An added treat was sitting three rows behind Kevin Brownlow himself.  Another pleasure was sharing the experience with so many interesting people.  Because I went alone, I chatted with the folks I encountered throughout the day—walking from the BART station, swapping cameras to take photos in front of the theatre, during the dinner break and the intermissions.  There were two enthusiastic twentysomethings from the Fresno area, three charming gentlemen from Flagstaff, Arizona, three others from San Francisco, and the two lovely folks who sat next to me.  These last two were perfect movie companions, and they gave me a ride home across the bay on a rainy night.  I feel like we all share a special bond now.

Kevin Brownlow has devoted most of his life to restoring this film to its original length, with rich color tinting and the 20 minute finale in polyvision. Abel Gance planned a series of six films about Napoleon, so this epic starts with Napoleon at ten (1779), picks up again with the French Revolution (1789), and ends with Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy (1796).  I enjoyed the entire film, but I especially loved the scenes with Napoleon as a boy (Vladimir Roudenko).  The opening snowball fight had some flickering at the beginning, which worried me, but the restoration soon smoothed out.  Roudenko has an amazing face, and he is such a good match to Albert Dieudonné, not just in appearance but in their interpretations of Napoleon.  Dieudonné doesn’t appear to be unusually short, but he is small, especially across the chest. His face is like a granite cliff.  After the many closeups, it’s etched on my brain, along with the tune to La Marseillaise, which wove through the brilliant score composed and conducted by Carl Davis.

The Oakland East Bay Symphony was in an orchestra pit below the screen, and we could just see the top of Davis’ head and his baton during the film.  The two side screens were covered by curtains with a square center screen, until the curtains opened up for the polyvision finale.  There was only one place where the intertitles describe a missing scene, when a poor Napoleon makes boots from cardboard.  This was necessary for the following scene to make sense, when his boot falls apart after being splashed with water.  In a few places, a border appeared on the left side of the image where the soundtrack area was blanked out, but it wasn’t distracting.

I was surprised by the film’s humor—not broad slapstick, but funny little humanizing moments, often from extras around the edges of the film.  In one crowd scene, when the people on the streets have trapped Napoleon in his apartment, cheering his success, a young soldier holds up a woman to see.  Then he sets her down, and they have a long kiss against the wall.  One of the biggest laughs comes when an English naval officer spots the small craft carrying the entire Boneparte family from Corsica to France.  He asks his captain for permission to sink the suspicious craft.  The Captain says, “No, Nelson, it’s not worth the powder and shot.”  During the battle of Toulon, Marcellin the drummer boy (Serge Freddy-Karl) terrorizes enemy soldiers by moving around the mud, hidden under his battered drum.  Two clerks try to save victims from the guillotine by surreptitiously eating the condemning documents.   A lovestruck Napoleon sees Josephine’s face in a world globe and kisses it; the actor coaching him in romance asks if he’s kissing Paris.

Maybe I shouldn’t have found it funny when Napoleon’s enemy Salicetti (Philippe Hériat) glares at him with intense hatred, especially in his huge plumed hat, but it’s one of the delights of the film.   I was also delighted by the many animals—eagles, horses, dogs, a parrot, and even a big white rabbit.  The first eagle is boy Napoleon’s pet, and eagles keeps reappearing at key moments throughout the film.  It’s a nice touch when Josephine’s dog nips at her jailers when they’re putting her into a prison cell.

I’m not a huge fan of color tinting, but it’s used to good effect.  Night scenes are blue, battle scenes a deep red, and many other parts are golden yellow.  Napoleon and Josephine’s wedding night and the Victims Ball (complete with flower petals and partially nude dancing girls) are tinted lavender.  During the last part of the polyvision finale, the three screens are blue, white and red, forming the French flag.

We clapped and cheered when the curtains parted for the finale.  I know I grinned like an idiot for the entire polyvision sequence.  When the action across the three screens was one continuous shot, they didn’t match up too well at the seams, and the color on the far left panel was often a slightly different shade than the other two, but it was all wonderful and very effective.  It was also powerfully emotional with the score thundering to a climax.  I was wiping away tears by the end.  I was very tempted to get out my camera, but I resisted until the film was done, when Carl Davis and the orchestra were getting their well-deserved applause.  Others in the audience were not so conscientious.  I saw a few digital screens, and a fellow right behind me used a flash.  It didn’t ruin anything for me, because the whole day was an amazing, unforgettable experience.  Merci, Mr. Brownlow, Mr. Davis, and Monsieur Gance!

There are three more screenings of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, and I can’t recommend it enough.  Some tickets are still available, so go if you can.  It’s a bargain at any price.

“When you’re silent, you’re irresistible.” — Josephine to Napoleon

 

Taqueria “Art”

San Francisco has a lot of great taquerias, and I love a big vegetarian burrito with lots of sour cream and guacamole.  While the food is great, the art on the walls is sometimes…questionable.  This masterpiece is above the salsa bar at a place on Haight Street.  I often eat my burrito and study it, wondering what happened to this woman’s other breast.

I did wonder if this image was too “mature” to post, but honestly, it’s on the wall in a public place!

Ramin Karimloo’s “Thank You” Gig

Helsbrownie was one of the lucky few chosen to attend Ramin Karimloo’s special performance last night.  150 fans were invited to an intimate show as a way of thanking them for their loyalty and patience, since the release date of his new CD has been delayed more than once.  Here is her exclusive report:

You don’t get much for free these days, so when someone offers you something for nothing, I find it best to grab it with both hands.  On that basis, Monday night found me in a hot and sweaty basement bar near Oxford Street awaiting Ramin Karimloo’s “thank you” gig.

My verdict: anyone heading to the upcoming tour is in for a real treat.  We heard a few songs from the album including Constant Angel and Coming Home as well as a new composition, tentatively titled Here I Go, which has a Sheytoons-esque feel.  I was thrilled to hear some Sheytoons material which I hadn’t been expecting, given Hadley Fraser’s absence. But the highlights for me were the covers.  Everyone went mad for Raining in Baltimore by the Counting Crows, but my personal favourite ended the night: Green Day—Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  The song suits Ramin’s voice beautifully, with a little country music addition in the middle by one of his guitarists.  Ramin stayed away from any musical theatre numbers, which was the right choice as they wouldn’t really have suited the venue, although Bring Him Home would have been stunning in the intimate space.

I think Ramin’s voice is incredible.  His ability to adapt to different musical styles effortlessly puts him in a class above other performers who try to vary their repertoire.  He is a performer comfortable in his own skin and clearly has a genuine relationship with his band, thus creating a lovely atmosphere for the audience.  There was an awful lot of talent on the stage—the band included two guitarists, keyboard, percussion, two violins and a cello, as well as Ramin varying between guitar, banjo and keyboard.  I very much hope some, if not all, are joining him on tour.

Ramin had asked that no-one record the gig (not that this stopped at least one disrespectful guy) and instead passed round his own video camera.  It is definitely worth keeping an eye out for that official footage to appear, once he has edited it.

Overall, I was very impressed by Ramin’s performance and his general attitude.  While he clearly used the gig as a rehearsal for his upcoming tours, he was generous not to charge for entry and he obviously spent a lot of time organising it—he had to send around 150 individual emails to those of us attending.  Most impressively, at the end, he stood at the door and said goodbye to everyone individually—like a line-up at a wedding!  When I approached, he knew my name (I cannot understand how) and seemed genuinely keen to know if I’d enjoyed the gig. Suffice to say I left on a high, both from that meeting and from the music.

Roll on the tour!

Thank you, helsbrownie!   We’re grateful to you for sharing your experience, not to mention envious of your good fortune!

Something Phantastic This Way Comes

This past year, I’ve had a number of guest bloggers contribute to The Ugly Bug Ball.  It’s fun for me to let others do the work!  Here’s a review of Love Never Dies from my friend Dragonfly (aka Nelia).

“Try to deny it

And try to protest

But love won’t let you go

Once you’ve been possessed”

First, may I say that the direct feed of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies to cinemas was simply STUNNING! It was fun and exciting to share this special event with a dozen friends in Denver.  I trust that my review can be fair and objective as I also had the opportunity to see the original London production several times, as well as viewing this filmed version of the Melbourne production twice.

I was personally fascinated by the grainy film clips in the video introducing “The Coney Island Waltz” for the 2009 London press release.  Between Ramin Karimloo’s poignant “Till I Hear You Sing” video and the Waltz, I was immediately hooked on the show’s premise.  The draw was so powerful; I simply had to go the London to see this production with Ramin and to meet him.  I adored seeing Love Never Dies and have been a loyal supporter of the production and cast since it was introduced.

The London production of Love Never Dies gave me the impression that the sparsely furnished and populated sets had “tour” in mind.  Lots of digital projections lent an air of shadowy nostalgia with the funky, vintage Coney Island film footage.  Overall, my memory of seeing LND is essentially grey tones, muted colors and some bright metallic elements.  Perhaps if the Australian production’s imaginative and colorful stage/costume design had been introduced in London, the show would still be successfully running at the Adelphi, and perhaps on Broadway.

The Carousel (Australia)

Carousel in The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

A vibrant, beautifully crafted and edited film,  Love Never Dies has a good balance of close-ups and long shots; the Felini-esque result doesn’t look or feel like a stage production, but somehow more expansive than the physical limitations a theatrical stage would impose.  This LIVE performance (not dubbed) was filmed over four days, and includes some minimal audience response.  The original cast score, which was recorded a year before the London opening, is beautiful, brilliant, and sophisticated.  It’s a magical, musical rollercoaster ride of intrigue, passion, kidnapping, mystery, and secrets revealed.

The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

The basic plot remains essentially the same as the original London production, with a few important changes.  I really liked the new opening scenes:  Phantom performs “Till I Hear You Sing” in the Prologue; then the story opens with “The Coney Island Waltz” in present time, which I think provides a positive and energetic momentum, allowing the story to unfold seamlessly, rather than having London’s essentially depressing, bleak look-back on what had been—before the tragedy…

It would be difficult to discuss all of the wonderful scenes here, so I’ve selected one, from both productions, that stands out:  “The Beauty Underneath.”

The Beauty Underneath

The Beauty Underneath (Australia)

Australia:  A beautiful and fascinating, complex forest of structural elements, and tall glass cases containing a variety of living creatures from a mermaid, to freaks and oddities of all sorts.  I especially liked having a stage full of ensemble players, which lent a frenetic energy and dynamic to the scene as a whole.

The Beauty Underneath (London)

The Beauty Underneath (London)

London:  The Aerie, Phantom’s workshop high above Phantasma, featured many of his bizarre magical, mechanical, and artistic creations.  Phantom and Gustave are essentially alone on stage for much of this scene.

THE PLAYERS

Ben Lewis (Australia) has a trained operatic voice; he’s not a copy of Ramin, but stands firm on his own merit.  Ben’s delivery is technically precise, he’s an intense, anguished, mysterious, menacing, and remote Phantom – reminds me a bit of Gary Oldman’s strangely sensual Dracula when gliding around in his elegant full length robe.

In this filmed version, we don’t get much of a look at Phantom’s disfigurement, which is disappointing, especially after all the time and energy spent in creating and applying the make-up and complicated prosthetics.  We want to see what all the fuss is about…

Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis in the Australia production

Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis (Australia)

Ramin Karimloo’s unique voice is unequaled in its straightforward, energetic raw and sensual passion, untrained rock delivery, and uninhibited honesty resonating on a primal level right into my heart…

Anna O’Byrne (Australia) and Sierra Boggess (London) are equally excellent as Christine.  Each is classically trained, beautiful, feminine, and comfortable in the trappings of the Victorian era costumes and hairdos.

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (London)

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (London)

Sharon Millerchip (Australia) is a perky, petite, energetic, talented dancer and singer with a broad emotional range, and perfectly cast as Meg Giry, Ooh La La Girl.

Sharon Millerchip as Meg (Australia)

Sharon Millerchip as Meg and the Ooh La La Girls in Only For You (Australia)

I’m passionate about film; I enjoy comfortable stadium seating and the magic of an image flickering on the silver screen in the dark.  Being on the less than tall side, I’m generally plagued with a “HEAD” obscuring view of the stage, especially when I’ve spent $100 for a theatre ticket.  I believe that digital technology has now opened up a new avenue, offering an unequaled opportunity to experience stage productions and other special events via live feed and edited film, and it’s definitely here to stay.  I’ll line up early and often to enjoy an unobstructed view for under $20.

Australia’s Love Never Dies run is coming to a close; we’re so fortunate that a record of this amazing production has been captured, and that we can own a piece of it via this filmed version.  I think the possibility of a Broadway run at this point is remote—the success of the DVD could change that outcome.

I’m in LOVE with LOVE on stage and screen….

Thank you, Dragonfly!  Your passion certainly comes through here.  Love Never Dies has its US DVD release on May 29, 2012.

All the images used here are from press sources.  The Australian production photos were taken by Jeff Busby.  No copyright infringement is intended.

A Menu Goof

Menus are great for finding amusing typos.  Here’s a new favorite, from a Burmese/Thai restaurant.

Thai restaurant menu

(click to read sharper version)

(Darn it, now I’m hungry!)

Chuck And Bob Campbell

My post on Creepy Dolls hit a real nerve with several friends.  One of them told me she couldn’t stand ventriloquist’s dummies.  Well, I don’t like them either, but I sure did love Bob Campbell on Soap, which premiered on ABC in 1977.  I sent Jay Johnson (Chuck Campbell) a fan letter during the first season, and I received this wonderful autographed 8×10 photograph.

Jay Johnson won a Tony Award recently, and Bob was inducted into the Smithsonian’s collection of pop culture icons in 2007.  I hope Bob still has his puka shells!

Jay Johnson and Bob Campbell

(click to see larger version)

John Carter

My friend treated me to a matinee of John Carter today.  My friend loves Taylor Kitsch.  I like him a lot.  My friend really enjoyed the movie.  I had a pretty good time, but I won’t remember much about it in a week.  My favorite part was the polliwog-monster-dog-thingy.  I never did figure out what they called him!  Mr. Kitsch looked mighty fine once he lost the shaggy beard and shirt, and I always enjoy seeing James Purefoy.  The movie was too long, although my friend thought it was fine.  We debated whether there was anything that could have been trimmed out, but for me it was just about picking up the pace, especially at the beginning.

I will remember John Carter for one reason: it’s my very first 3D movie.  It’s hard to believe I’ve avoided 3D for so long.  I’m too cheap to pay the extra cost, and I was afraid that I’d get a big headache.  I have sensitive eyes.  I didn’t get a headache, but I’m not a fan of the effect.  I understand the technology has come a long way, but having parts of the image at several different depths doesn’t come close to the smooth gradations that the human eye perceives in three dimensions.  It doesn’t look more real—it’s just a different kind of unreal.  For me, it was more of a distraction than an enhancement.  I have no other 3D experience to compare to John Carter, but every time they had a bright desert scene with large light or white areas, there was a dingy layer in the middle ground.  I kept wanting to reach up and clean the glass.  It reminded me of watching movies at the drive-in through a dirty windshield.  There was one scene that looked totally silly.  It was early on, when Carter is taken to a military outpost in Arizona.  The rough wood-paneled walls looked ridiculously fake, like something from a ride at Disneyland.

When my friends go to the movies, I always make them tell me about the trailers.  It’s only fair that I do the same! We saw trailers for Chimpanzee, MIB 3, The Avengers, Brave, Madagascar 3, and Battleship.  The Chimpanzee trailer made me teary, and it looks gorgeous. I was excited to see The Avengers one because I like Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth.  Battleship doesn’t look like my kind of movie, so unless my friend buys me another ticket, I will probably avoid it.  I was disappointed there was no 3D trailer for Titanic, because I’m really curious about how it will look.

I made this collage for my friend as a thank you for treating me to the movie:

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter (click to see larger version)

Creepy Dolls

I was talking to a friend about a certain child singing sensation who reminds me of a creepy life-size doll.  It brought to mind these photos, taken in London and Ireland.  Why do some dolls look evil, or at least like they’re plotting against us?

Dolls in Donegal, Ireland

Dolls in Donegal, Ireland

The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London

Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, London

Kony 2012

Some things are far more important than being entertained.  I just spent 30 minutes watching the Kony 2012 documentary on YouTube.  I’m sharing it here, to help spread the word about an important cause. (This video is better seen on YouTube in a higher resolution.)

This is a powerful film that works on an emotional level.  There are critics of Invisible Children’s support of military intervention who are also hard at work on the internet.  I trust people will look at what both sides are saying and make up their own minds about how best to get involved.

Rest in Peace, Joan Taylor

Actress Joan Taylor passed away on Sunday at the age of 82.  She played store owner Milly Scott in seasons 3 and 4 of The Rifleman.  As a love interest for widower Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors), she brought mature intelligence and warmth to this classic western.

Joan Taylor on The Rifleman with Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford and Paul Fix

Joan Taylor on The Rifleman with (clockwise from top) Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford and Paul Fix

Okay For Now

Okay For Now by Gary D. SchmidtIf you can force yourself to get past the harshness of the first couple of chapters, the teen novel¹ Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt blossoms into a moving story about…well, a little of everything.  Doug Swieteck is an eighth-grader who moves to a small town in upstate New York in 1968.  He’s the youngest boy in a family of abusive males, with the oldest brother off fighting in Vietnam. Imagine hiding what you care about to keep it safe from your own family, knowing that eventually it will be found and taken away.  This pretty much sums up Doug’s family life.  A new town should mean a fresh start, but Doug is too unhappy to notice at first.  Then he discovers Audubon’s Birds of America at the local library.  The arctic tern, diving straight down into the water with a “terrified eye,” captures his imagination.  Honestly, this is one of those books that you don’t want to ruin by telling too much about the plot.  Out of context, it might sound silly, and it’s not.  There are a couple of things that are farfetched, but by that point you’ll be under the book’s spell and willing to suspend your disbelief.  I recommend Okay For Now, especially to anyone old enough to remember the Apollo 11 mission.  Just for the record, my father dragged me out of bed to witness the moon landing, even though I was only five.  He wanted my brother and me to watch and remember, conveying to us how really amazing that moment in history was.  Well, this book isn’t quite as amazing as that, but I’d still like to drag you over to it, put it in your hands, and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

¹Children’s book?  Middle school novel?  Who even cares?  A good book is a good book.  
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