This Week: Ray-Bans & Rolling Stones Celebrate Milestone Anniversaries

I was so crazy yesterday that I forgot to do the one thing I really wanted to do. This season does that to you. I wanted, expected, ached to attend the Ray-Ban: 75 Years of Legends event at The Darby last night. The Flaming Lips performed. I will attend the Rolling Stones concert as they bring their 50th anniversary tour to the Barclays Center on Saturday. It’s amazing that we are celebrating something that started 50 years ago and another thing that’s 75 years of tradition.

On this oldie-but-goodie tip, we have the wonderful Beatles cover band, the Newspaper Taxis, performing Revolver at the Red Lion, 151 Bleecker St. According to my pal Brian August, The Beatles never performed any part of Revolver live. My ex- wife Jennifer Hamdan did cover “Tomorrow Never Knows” when she was signed to Next Plateau Records. Her track failed to make it to any plateau, but it was fun. Still on the oldies tip, Gary Spencer will celebrate his 50th birthday with a bash tonight at  his Hanky Panky attachment to Webster Hall. Oldies but goodies – the prodigy producer/mixer Neil McLellan and good ol’ Andy Rourke (The Smiths) – will DJ, and The Darling Darling Music Company will perform live.

Older than Methuselah, Marty Abrahams told me about his solo exhibition “Break On Through” at the Salomon Arts Gallery, which will happen on 12/12/12 from 6pm till 9pm. If I’m not at that mega, super duper, ginormous Sandy relief concert at the Garden with Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Roger Waters and all those other old guys, then I will attend Marty’s thing.

Somebody who never ages and whose humor is timeless, Murray Hill, will bring his annual “Murray Little Christmas” to us next Saturday the 15th, from 8pm to midnight to Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. Murray is amazing, amazing, amazing. Here’s the scoop:

“Expect an evening of hilarious and wacky skits with the cast, a sleigh full of cheesy holiday songs, plenty of nuts, fruits and tree trimming. This year’s special guests:

BRIDGET EVERETT (carnal chanteuse and fearless cabaret star), ERIN MARKEY (wacky performance artist), CARMINE COVELLI (a.k.a. SEBASTIAN THE ELF), THE NYC BURLESQUE CHOIR (conducted by Shelly Watson) with live swinging holiday music from Murray’s band THE CRAIG’S LIST QUARTET (Jesse Elder–piano, Kenball Zwerin–bass, Matt Parker–saxaphone, Arthur Vint–drums and rimshots). Set design by Steven Hammel."

Anne Hathaway and Alan Cumming Are Headed for a Broadway Revival of ‘Cabaret’

Oh, no. No. No. According to the Daily Mail, Anne Hathaway is reported to star in the upcoming Broadway revival of Cabaret alongside Alan Cumming. She will be taking on the lead role of Sally Bowles opposite Cumming’s Emcee and for the love of all things sacred, I cannot get behind this. Back in 1998, Cumming performed his Tony Award-winning run as the Emcee alongside Natasha Richardson in what was the closest thing to perfection that the musical can possibly get—save Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey of course. 

The 1930s Berlin set psychosexual political drama of a musical, made famous by Bob Fosse’s 1972 cinematic adaptation, is the epitome of everything I love in a musical, movie, or maybe just life. Haunting and shimmering, Minnelli spoke about the film back in January, joking that before it went into production they had no idea how to sell it, saying—"How are we going to advertise this? The Nifty Nazi Follies?’ Seth Cagin once wrote that Cabaret was the only major film of the period to "consider the flip side of political awareness, detailing the allure of decadence and self-indulgence, and the abegnation of social and political responsibility in the face of looming catastrophe a denial which nonetheless becomes an upbeat philosophy in the film’s crowning metaphor: Life is a cabaret!" 

But what I’m trying to get at here is: it’s not like Anne Hathaway can’t be seductive, it’s not that she can’t go dark, it’s not that she isn’t immensely talented or have an Oscar-winning voice—and I mean, this is just a musical after all—but she’s not a Sally Bowles. A Velma Kelly? Perhaps. A Roxie Hart? Bleach that pixie cut and maybe? But Sally, no. And although last fall she did perform numbers from Cabaret at Joe’s Pub to a warm reception, that’s all fine and dandy, but a Broadway turn in the iconic role it does not make.

Well fine, I can get past this just knowing that Cumming will be hitting the stage again in his greatest role as the devilish Emcee, that’s thrilling enough in itself. So, for now, let’s just watch some videos of him performing in the late ’90s. Enjoy.

Also, watch HERE and HERE.


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Berlinale Unveils Classics Retrospective Lineup

Sundance may have come to a close this week, but the annual Berlin International Film Festival kicks off Thursday and will host the premiere of a plethora of new films, running until the 17th. And just in, the festival—which shows about 400 films per yearhas announced an expanded retrospective titled, Berlin Classics. With each film presented by a prominent festival guest, the retrospective will screen recently restored classic films, featuring the European premiere of the 3D Dial M for Murder and the world premiere of a new restoration of On the Waterfront. Yesterday we saw the cast of Cabaret reunite on the Today Show, marking the 40th anniversary of Bob Fosse’s masterpiece musical. Some of the films in competition at the festival include the long-awaited Before Midnight, Camille Claudel 1915, Night Train to Lisbon, Prince Avalanche, Child’s Pose, and In the Name of. Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster will be opening the ceremony. 

Here are the five films included in the Berlin Classics. 

Cabaret, 1972
Directed by Bob Fosse

On the Waterfront, 1954
Directed by Elia Kazan

dial m
Dial M for Murder, 1954
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague), 1935
Directed by Arthur Robison

Tokyo Story, 1953
Directed by Yasujirô Ozu

Watch Liza Minnelli & Co. Reunite for the 40th Anniversary of ‘Cabaret’

There is nothing I love more than a 1930s-set psychosexual political drama—and if it takes place in Berlin and is a musical, there’s quite possibly nothing better. So for me, Bob Fosse’s 1972 film adaptation of the Broadway musical Cabaret hits just about every one of my cinematic sweet spots and works, not only as a perfect musical, but the ideal way one translates that to the screen. And this morning, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film, stars Liz Minnelli, Joel Grey, Marissa Berenson, and Michael York reunited on the Today Show to discuss the masterpiece they all brought to life four decades ago.

Like a post-expressionist painting come alive, backlit by a thousand glittering bulbs, Cabaret is "darker than it is light" said Grey this morning. He and Liza, who clearly has not updated her wardrobe since 1978 (NOT COMPLAINING), held hands while speaking about the studio’s concerns before shooting the film—"how are we going to advertise this? ‘The Nifty Nazi Follies?’" Looking to the darker side of the film, writer Seth Cagin once said, "Cabaret was the only major film of the period to consider the flip side of political awareness, detailing the allure of decadence and self-indulgence, and the abegnation of social and political responsibility in the face of looming catastrophe a denial which nonetheless becomes an upbeat philosophy in the film’s crowning metaphor: Life is a cabaret!" 

Unfortunately, Liza didn’t break out into "Maybe This Time" and no one really seemed enthused enough to stun us with a musical number—especially Michael York, who is pretty much unrecognizable compared to his boyish good looks of the past. But be that as it may, it was still wonderful to see the ol’ gang together again—even if just for six all-too-brief minutes.

Check out the video from this morning below and watch some musical numbers from the film and leave your troubles elsewhere.


‘Les Misérables’ and the End of the Movie Musical

I love musicals. I (mostly) can’t get enough of them! I realize that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but, then again, I’m not particularly fond of sci-fi or fantasy films, so, to each their own! But I think it’s time to come down hard on the new wave of musical movies that have managed to shimmy their way onto the big screen in the last decade. Yes, Les Misérables, you have put the final nail in the coffin of this dying genre.

Here’s the thing about Les Misérables: even the show itself is not that great. It was part of the new wave of musical theater in the ’80s in which spectacle took precedence over good writing. As a friend told me recently, “Les Misérables is so dull and boring that they had to put a giant turntable in the middle of the stage just to keep people awake.” I’d like to blame the British for this, particularly producer Cameron Mackintosh who, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, turned Broadway into a string of poperas with tolerable music intermittently coming from an orchestra pit filled with cellists and violinists who were scared for their lives as explosions and fire pits and chandeliers crashed above them on the stage.

So now it’s on film, and it is bad. Well, it’s fine. It’s just fine! For every good part of the film (Anne Hathaway, the sets, the costumes), there’s a lot of bad (Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, the direction, the cinematography, the CGI butterfly that director Tom Hooper seemed to think we would want to see as much as we’d like to hear Anne Hathaway’s sobs and dry-heaves during “I Dreamed a Dream”). It’s another example, of course, of the modern movie musical: overblown, overwrought, stuffed with moderately talented actors who, if not Autotuned, sound like they’re doing karaoke, and lacking any sort of levity and, well, fun.

But do movie musicals even work anymore? Perhaps they could, if only directors stopped trying to “turn the genre on its head.” The greatest movie musicals are, generally, joyous and and massive experiences: Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man, West Side Story, The Sound of Music (which I begrudgingly include, as all of Rogers and Hammerstein’s catalog makes me want to rip off my own ears), Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver. In most cases, these great films were not somber occasions. Sure, a few of them have unhappy endings (for example, the exodus from Anatevka isn’t exactly cheery), but for the most part even a movie featuring singing Nazis can manage to leave an audience member in a good mood.

But remember in the ’90s when Evita was primed to bring back the movie musical? Madonna, who can sing and dance, couldn’t even make a melodramatic stage musical into a movie that wasn’t completely dull and dour. And then there were Chicago and Moulin Rouge, which are essentially musicals for people who hate musicals and, thusly, not to be respected. The former relied heavily on editing to give the illusion that its cast (other than Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is herself a seasoned stage actress) could dance, while the latter picked up on Broadway’s lead and just stuffed a bunch of already-popular songs into a musical narrative, because that way average moviegoers could say, “I know that song! And I know that song!” (This is why Glee is so popular and also so cloying.) I’m still blown away that even fans of musicals have accepted Chicago as a good film, even though it painfully pales in comparison to the postmodern anti-musicals Cabaret and All That Jazz, both of which take the conceit of putting all of the musical numbers onto a stage setting so that it’s not as jarring to the viewer. But Rob Marshall is no Bob Fosse, which I think the insufferably bad Nine proved just a few years after Chicago won Best Picture.

But as long as Broadway moves toward “serious” (read: somber) musicals, Hollywood will continue to adapt the crowd-pleasing shows into sub-par films. Tom Hooper, bless him, did his best with Les Misérables, and while I respect his decision to have his actors sing live, it mostly proved distracting. It’s one thing to see a natural singing performance on film, which is usually hindered by dubbing. But the singing should be pretty; it’s pretty much the foundation of musical theater. The sad fact is that it’s going to be pretty hard to get a good performer to be in a big-budget movie musical, because good performers are not famous enough to carry a film. If that were the case, we would not have seen (and heard) Russell Crowe desperately warbling through Javert’s numbers. Crowe himself defended Hooper’s vision, saying that he “wanted it raw and real.” But musicals are not real, because people do not burst into song accompanied by a soaring orchestra.

So what’s wrong with the movie musical? Well, we can blame it on a lot of things. The subject matter is too serious for an audience to suspend belief and accept that those sad characters would express themselves in light-hearted tunes. The Hollywood system has weeded out great talent, leaving the crop of A-list actors without the abilities to hit notes and land dance moves. Genre films aren’t respectable, so directors now eschew specific conventions for middle-of-the-road tactics to please as many audiences as possible. And we can’t forget the audiences themselves, whose attention span and gradual distaste for musical theater conventions have encouraged the demise of the genre. The bottom line is this: it may just be time that we accept the musical as a dying animal, and put it out of its misery rather than making it tap dance and fan-kick for our own entertainment. 

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Personal Faves: Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s ‘Snow Angel’

Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, Tyler Coates shares his love for Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s cabaret performance Snow Angel.

I started an earlier version of this piece last week before heading home for Christmas. Here’s how it started:

I was first introduced to Mx. Justin Vivian Bond in John Cameron Mitchell’s 2006 film Shortbus. Bond, who has since chosen “V” in lieu of gender pronouns such as “he” or “she,” is also well known as one-half of the duo Kiki and Herb. In the years since they disbanded, V has gone solo, recorded two albums (2011’s Dendrophile and Silver Wells, which was released earlier this year), and wrapped up 2012 with Snow Angel, a show that I was lucky to see at 54 Below last Monday. Billed as a holiday show, V’s performance was a wondrous event, combining personal stories, observations, and original songs as well as covers of tunes written by singer-songwriters Melanie and Joni Mitchell and hip-hop superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West. Bringing in the Christmas spirit in V’s own way, Bond sang “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” although with the original lyrics penned for Meet Me in St. Louis (which Judy Garland refused to sing, suggesting that “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, for it may be your last” was too depressing). “I think the ending of that movie is actually depressing,” Bond said, “since they don’t get to move to New York and have to stay in St. Louis.”

On Christmas morning, I saw that the New York Times reviewed V’s show. Of course, my first response was to scrap my own recap of Snow Angel; after all, how could my writing compare to something in the Times

And then I read the piece, and was pretty shocked at how music critic Stephen Holden described what sounded like a completely different performance. For example, Holden brought up the "bone-deep ambivalence that is the essence of Mx. Bond’s being." That wasn’t the Bond that I was in awe of, or the Bond that I wrote about in that first unpublished draft. And I wasn’t surprised that V has responded to Holden’s piece with an angry blog post:

It may look rather innocuous at first so let me break it down for you.

Mr. Holden decides to open his hate-fueled review with this gambit:

“at 54 Below, Mx. Bond imagined that his/her self-described freakishness was caused by…”

I never called myself a freak during the show but with his twisted worldview Mr. Holden translated my observations about the “nature vs. nurture” argument and my open and direct discussion of my life as a transperson and my queer identity as “self-described freakishness”. I do not have a problem with the use of the word “freak” but when it is used as a tool to pave the way for a blatantly transphobic personal attack cloaked as a “critique” it gives me pause.

According to Mr. Holden once I have described myself as a freak I continue with my “proudly abrasive” performance in a “blonde chignon hairpiece”.  (I only mention the “chignon hairpiece” because there was no hairpiece  and it was not a chignon.  I style my own natural hair into a French Twist.)  Like my hair, I am real. Mr. Holden continues with a vague reference to a character I portrayed very successfully on Broadway several years ago and for which I received a Tony nomination, then goes on to compare me to Kim Novak -all of which is apropos of nothing.  Except for the constant barrage of insults most of this ridiculous piece is, in fact, apropos of nothing because Mr. Holden shouldn’t be writing about contemporary cabaret.  He has no understanding of it and he has no context for it.

This could easily be read as an artist’s angry response to a negative review, but that’d be a pretty narrow reading. What surprised me most about Holden’s review was not just that he blatantly ignored Bond’s desire to eschew masculine and feminine pronouns for "V," but he tossed out the phrase "he/she," which sounded not like an easy catch-all for a transperson and more like an offhanded, offensive remark. Bond has been pretty vocal about journalists who refuse to use "V" in print, perhaps most famously in response to a 2011 New York profile penned by Carl Swanson (which also referred to V as a drag queen). I’ve had friends suggest that changing grammatical rules to suit one person’s decision to create a pronoun is too difficult to do. My response, generally, is that it’s not that difficult or confusing, and I agree with Bond’s response to Holden’s review: "If you can’t honor my preferred pronoun then it’s best not to hazard a guess. If you aren’t sure what pronoun to use then don’t use one!" (Also, I can image that using "V" instead of "he or she" is a lot less difficult than, say, being a transperson in our society. Just sayin’!)

But enough about the brewing controversy behind the NYT review of Snow Angel. What blew me completely away was not just Bond’s tremendous talent—that voice, for starters, which goes up and down in various registers, never losing its power; the quick wit with which Bond shared stories from V’s childhood, alluding to the uncomfortable nature of growing up as a misunderstood transperson in a society that, for the most part, treats such an identity as inherently wrong or a narcissistic expression that threatens others (rather than an acknowledgement of being impeded against). What I love most was Bond’s comfort, grace, and glamour, as much as V’s personable nature after the show when greeting fans. Talking to Bond for a few minutes felt like talking to an old friend—someone who was funny, endearing, encouraging. And that comfort and contentedness is not only admirable; it’s also something I wish most people could achieve, especially myself. 

I identify as a gay man, and I recognize that I have it pretty easy. I came out to friends first, of course, and my parents a few years later. I emailed my parents one evening in January 2008, a week after discovering that my father’s cancer had returned. At the time I was terrified to tell them about myself, but I understood that it was time to do it because the time with my father was running short. “I don’t think that you’d be angry or hate me because people who would feel that way toward me are, frankly, idiot assholes,” I wrote, “and I do not think either of you are idiot assholes.”

Over cocktails recently I told my mother that the only thing I regretted about the way I came out (other than via email, which in hindsight was impersonal), was that I also told them that I didn’t think it defined me as a person, or at least made me a different person than the one they had raised. The latter is true, but the former… Well, that’s trickier.

In the nearly five years since, I’ve come to realize that one’s sexual identity—especially those who do not fall into the heterosexual category—will always define them. That’s a sad truth about being in a minority; the majority has all of the power, because they are the supposed “normal” persons in our society. I’ve never been particularly comfortable or courageous enough to break free of that, but I’ve grown to admire those who are able to express their sexuality, gender, lifestyle (however you’d like to put it) very plainly and openly. And when my mother said to me, “I’ve started to realize that just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean they are wrong,” I felt proud that someone important to me, someone who has had to confront that firsthand, was able to come to such a conclusion.

I don’t know much about what it is to be transgender, and as far as I know I don’t know anyone personally who has had that experience. But that doesn’t mean I should reject it completely, or make a point to not understand it. As a writer, the most interesting part of my job is learning how people live and create art and conveying what I have discovered to others. 

That’s what I love so much about Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, and what is so disheartening to see in Stephen Holden’s review in the New York Times, of all places. Rather than criticizing the art, Holden criticized the person making it. That does not encourage others to make art, but it especially doesn’t encourage any sort of self-expression when the self does not fit into the normalcy of a straight white man’s world. There should be more people like V, and less of people like Stephen Holden to express their own narrow-minded views in respected venues under the guise of arts criticism. 

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