In Sally’s eyes, as played by Imelda Staunton in the 2017 National Theatre revival of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies directed by Dominick Cooke, you can see madness, pain, a dream slipping through her fingers, curdling into nightmare. It’s Sally’s folly in the back part of the show, the ghosts of the past not so much stalking her, her pathetic and unfaithful husband Buddy, her former best friend Phyllis, and the object of her desire Ben, so much as creating a phantasmagoric vaudevillian performance space which forces them to confront their ills. This is “Loveland”, as the hoofers tell us, draped in idyllic, too perfect to be true baby blue lighting, silky curtains, and costumes that uncannily resurrect the past. It’s so much sadder than being deranged because reality is just at the edges.
It seems significant that Sally’s number, quiet and rumbling compared to the vivacious pastiches of everyone else’s, including their former selves, is called a “torch song”. Minimalist where the others’ performances are maximalist, she sits by a vanity, her nightgown, her skin, her hair milky and shimmering in a way it hasn’t since she was a showgirl. She’s starlight, but she’s dying. A flame that’s burned eternal, the blue at its base wavering in the wind but still alight. Imelda Staunton’s rendition of “Losing My Mind” simmers at first until she douses herself in kerosene, her continued, desperate and mad pining for Ben, even when he’s once again spurned her, the ultimate kind of self-immolation.
It’s telling that Bradley Cooper begins his version, the fourth, of A Star is Born in a drag bar. A drag bar is, in not precisely insulting but at least somewhat paternalistic, not like other bars, even though, for his needs, it served alcohol. Queens in full face and wig line the bar, and then Lady Gaga comes out, her angular face also painted in drag makeup, as the one resident AFAB-queen. It’s commonly agreed upon that drag is about artifice, but it takes a little more thought, maybe more camp or irony, to get at artifice being a gateway to truth. So, Ally sings “La Vie en Rose” and Jackson sees the beauty and truth of her artistry not because or augmented by this drag, but in spite of it, an artistic purity that seems to be stifled by the fake eyebrows and harsh, accentuated faux contours. And when the well-worn star is birthed and begins to eclipse Jackson’s gravely country dulcet tones, via pop stardom, the movie, too, begins to view her genre stylings as just another form of drag. Read the rest of this entry »
(Author’s Note: This originally appeared on Harlot.)
A rad Off Broadway musical, a parody of the sci-fi/horror ilk that Roger Corman (its original creator, of sorts) churned out, and, perhaps, most of all, a sweetly poisonous satire on race, class, and the American Dream. Frank Oz’s adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashmen’s cult musical (which was in turn based on a low budget 1960 film) is a delectably deadly apple concerning a boy, a girl, poverty, and a foul-mouthed carnivorous plant. Read the rest of this entry »
As Nick Pinkerton’s review notes, the musicals that have come and gone in the last couple of decades have – through form and, to some degree, theme – noted, “They don’t make them like they used to.” But La La Land does try earnestly and effortfully to make them like the used to, “they” being the likes of Jacques Demy or Vincente Minelli or Stanley Donen. I can’t help but wonder why Damien Chazelle, an incredibly proficient director, wanted to “make them like they used to”. Is he just a caustic nostalgist? Read the rest of this entry »
I don’t know what, exactly, my mother was thinking showing me Grease when I was three or four. Next to Bringing Up Baby, it was the single film that I watched the most, playing on a loop for most of my childhood. I know the film as well as well as Jan knows the toothbrush jingle. And that other people have connections to Grease not dissimilar to mine is indicative of the cultural influence the film had, and perhaps of how not-actually transgressive it is. Is it that my/our parents just sort of looked past its discussions of sex and peer pressure in favor of its catchy songs? Or is it because, by the ‘90s, it had nothing interesting to say about the very subject matter it wanted to be “radical” about?