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Posts Tagged ‘Bette Midler’

Desi Arnaz, L:ucille Ball

“LUCY AND DESI” My rating: B+ (Amazon Prime)

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

By virtue of its having arrived three months after “Becoming the Ricardos,” there will be a tendency to view the documentary “Lucy and Desi” as a sort of supplement to Aaron Sorkin’s fictionalized approach to showbiz power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Actually, it should be the other way around.

“Lucy and Desi,” directed by Amy Poehler, covers much the same territory as “…Ricardos,” but its impact is vastly more emotional and its aim much more focused.

This is a real-life love story that many of us — thanks to our familiarity with the iconic “I Love Lucy” TV show — will approach as shared family history.  That it has more than a few elements of tragedy only makes it more a more piquant experience.

Superbly scripted by veteran documentarian Mark Monroe, the film was made with the cooperation of Lucy and Desi’s daughter, actress Lucie Arnaz,  and draws from a treasure trove of home movies, “I Love Lucy” clips and archival films and photos.

Especially effective is a collection of never-before-heard audio interviews in which the two stars speak with remarkable candor about their lives and careers.  

Lucie Arnaz also provides numerous talking-head moments, and she appears to be a straight shooter, a woman who loved her parents but doesn’t attempt to whitewash their story.

Other celebrity contributors include Bette Midler, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear and Charo who, like Desi, honed her performing chops at the feet of Latin music legend Xavier Cugat. Curiously the Arnaz’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr., has virtually no presence here, despite the fact that the “I Love Lucy” episode about his birth was the most-watched program of its era.

While I enjoyed Sorkin’s film, I found much new information in Poehler’s effort. Of course we all recognize Lucille Ball as a comedy genius.  Especially revelatory, though,  is the case the documentary makes for Desi Arnaz’s role as a television giant and innovator.

Before this I didn’t realize that he invented the summer rerun…to placate fans who demanded a “Lucy” episode every week…even if they’d already seen it.

And then there was his stewardship of Desilu Studios, which in addition to the “Lucy” show was the home of “The Andy Griffith Show” and its spinoffs, “Star Trek,” “The Untouchables” and a seemingly endless stream of boob tube  classics.

Ironically it was the pressure of running a studio that broke up the Ricardos’ marriage — Desi turned increasingly to drink, which undoubtedly led to bad decisions in the out-of-marriage sex department (not that Desi was unfamiliar with infidelity; for the first five years of their marriage, after all, he led the life of a touring musician).

There are dark elements to this yarn, but “Lucy and Desi” is far from being a downer.  As their daughter notes, the two went on to happy second marriages that lasted much longer than the Lucy/Desi pairing.

And yet we leave the doc with the unmistakeable impressions that Lucy and Desi were the great loves of each other’s lives, and with the sobering knowledge that sometimes even great loves cannot go the distance.

| Robert W. Butler

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Julianne Moore

“THE GLORIAS” My rating: B 

139 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias” isn’t your conventional biopic.  Often it seems to be less about Gloria Steinem the person than about the Women’s Movement as seen from Steinem’s perspective.

The results are hugely informative (and required viewing for all young women) but, for most of the film’s long running time, emotionally remote. Only in the  final inspiring moments (featuring footage of the real Steinem addressing the “Pink Pussy” women’s march on Washington early in the Trump presidency) does the enormity of Steinem’s contributions hit home.

Based on Steinem’s autobiography My Life on the Road,  the film is nevertheless classic Julie Taymor.  The story is told with a shuffled chronology with four actresses (Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore) portraying Steihem at various stages of life.  Occasionally the older Gloria will share the screen with her younger selves in a series of interior dialogues.

There are animated sequences and lots of cinematic sleight of hand; the images shift from black-and-white to color (and sometimes just a splash of color in an otherwise b&w palette).

As is usually the case with Taymor, these inventions are arresting, sometimes shockingly dramatic, and provide sly commentary on the action.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if in the end they tend to push us away from her subject; “The Glorias” may be too busy for its own good.

But we do learn a lot about Steinem.  Like her childhood of near constant travel with a father (Timothy Hutton) who was a sort of benign con man (“If you don’t know what happens tomorrow, it could be wonderful”) and, later, her adolescence as caregiver to her emotionally fragile mother (Enid Graham).

There’s her lifelong love of tap dancing, presented here as a musical number unfolding in a black barber shop in the 1950s.

We see her post-college sabbatical in India, where young Gloria (now played by Vikander) is sensitized to the harsh lot of women.

Her writing career flourishes despite the myopic outlooks of her male editors. She becomes a household name for donning a Bunny suit to report on the lives of women working in the Playboy Club; thereafter she must endure being cast as the movement’s resident sex object. In fact, she fights for most of her life not to be viewed as the movement’s voice. Ironically, in the early days she was terrified of public speaking.

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