The other day, I wrote here about this week's episode of the IFC faux-documentary series, Documentary Now! and posted a video of it. The show was a parody of the famous documentary by DA Pennebaker on the making of the Broadway cast album of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Company.
I hope you got to see it -- it was absolutely wonderful, even if one hasn’t seen the original it’s spoofing. Though if you have seen it (and if one knows Sondheim’s reputation for being obsessively meticulous), it’s a total joy, full of tiny, throwaway moments that are gems, down to the wardrobe for the character who’s supposed to be like Elaine Stritch.
The good news is that if you missed it, I believe it will be available On Demand starting tomorrow, March 1, in the IFC section listed under Season 3. But if not (or if you don’t want to wait until then or until it is eventually available On Demand), you can watch it online by signing into the IFC website using your cable company username and password by clicking on this link here.
The show was co-written by standup John Mulaney, who I like a lot (and who plays the Sondheim-ish character) and Seth Meyers, and they both did the song lyrics, as well.
If you haven't seen the original documentary, I embedded it here a few years ago, though it's no longer available online. However, you can get it on Netflix. It’s great to see for itself, but most especially in conjunction with this. This is the Netflix link)
And here's a fun clip from near the opening of the show. That's Taran Killam of Saturday Nigh Live as the music director who is producing the album.
To all those dancing little jigs (like "Fox News") that yesterday's House hearing revealed nothing at all about "Russian collusion," there are two very important things to keep in mind --
1) The hearing wasn't actually about Russia. In fact, even more to the point, it specifically and very publicly made clear they were avoiding it, at the request of Robert Mueller so that there wouldn't be a conflict. Indeed, if you were paying even semi-attention, the Republicans on the committee spent much of the opening complaining that there wasn't enough "transparency" because there were areas (like Russia) that were off-topic. (As if any Republican on the committee would have wanted to spend much time talking at length about Russia...)
2) Even in some imaginary fantasy world where there is no "Russian collusion" -- where Russia didn't even exist as a subject of investigation or even as a country -- fraud, obstruction of justice, felonies, and other crimes are still actually crimes. Indeed, they are significant crimes that would set most people's hair on fire were it any other normal president in the history of the U.S. And they are all likely highly impeachable.
"Okay, sure, you convicted me on embezzlement, blackmail and witness tampering, but you didn't get me on bank fraud!! Ha, ha, ha!!!" is small comfort on those long, cold, empty nights in prison.
And while I'm sure that Al Capone is thrilled that the feds never were able to touch him on murder, but just the paltry crime of tax evasion, he did end up spending the rest of his life in jail for it.
And again, this is the imaginary fantasy world where there is no "Russian collusion." And the very real world were there are already six guilty pleas and convictions and 36 indictments -- and we haven't even seen the Special Counsel's report yet. Or the results of the even more wide-open investigation by the Justice Department's Southern District of New York. Or all the individual lawsuits against Trump and the Trump Organization.
But sure, dance. Dance away. Because a hearing that intentionally avoided the subject of Russia didn't come up with anything about Russia.
Which leads to one summary observation:
What leaped out most to me from yesterday's hearing is that Republicans members of the House Oversight Committee spent their time almost-exclusively trying to discredit a witness about one aspect of his past and movie deals, rather than try to find out if in fact he had any viable information about whether the U.S. president committed crimes.
This is no longer about Trump. It is about the elected officials of the Republican Party who enable him.
You may recall that a couple weeks ago, I wrote a massive rave about a new book by my friend Vicki Riskin, a double memoir about her parents, the actress Fay Wray and Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Riskin, called, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Love Story.
(Yes, yes, I know that yesterday was the Big Hearing in Congress, but I did write about it twice yesterday, albeit briefly. But mainly, hey, Vicki is my friend, and I have my priorities...)
Anyway, among a great many things that I wrote in my lavish praise of the book was this paragraph --
"But the main reason I loved the book is that it did in a memoir what I look for when reading biographies of any sort. I tend to wade in very warily when I read biographies, most-especially celebrity biographies. What I like in any memoir is not so much that it's just nice tales of famous people's lives, but that it's as much a history book of the times with "edges" and shadings that give context. And to my great pleasure, this is that. It is not a mere collection of stories by a loving daughter putting her family world in the most-shining light, but rather about the Depression, the Golden Age of Hollywood, world war, McCarthyism (with her father being a target, despite his work for the government's war effort) and more -- at the center of which are the two separate lives of the author's parents pushing through it all until they finally meet. Fascinatingly, that meeting doesn't even come until the last third of the book, so it's like following a winding path of successes and major hurdles before simply getting to that point."
My biggest concern with my rave was that people wouldn't believe me, that they'd think it was just my friendship kicking in and biasing my opinion, no matter how much I bent over backwards to explain why I was trying my best to be objective and honest, that being otherwise would risk(in) my credibility for future reviews. Sometimes I am, admittedly, biased, but I state that. In this case, I was being absolutely objective and honest.
I now point you to the first paragraph in a review of the book by the Associated Press, published yesterday.
"If there was an Academy Award for movie books, Victoria Riskin would be making room beside the Oscar her father won for writing the romantic comedy classic 'It Happened One Night.' Part biography, part Hollywood history, part love story, Riskin’s memoir about her parents is captivating and poignant."
And it ends with --
"A psychologist who turned to writing and producing for television, Victoria Riskin enhances her family history with delightful (and sometimes damning) vignettes of movie people. With readers she shares a special sense of discovery: seeing a parent try to find their place and hoping to love and be loved when they get there. Just like in the movies."
And if that isn't enough, here's the first paragraph of the book's rave review in the Wall Street Journal --
"To know Fay Wray was to adore her. She had a joyous, jubilant personality and retained her can-do outlook to the end, living until she was 96 despite a life that offered more than her fair share of problems. In 'Fay Wray and Robert Riskin,' Victoria Riskin remembers her parents with warmth and a perceptible touch of melancholy.
Told you so, told you so, told you so.
It really is that wonderful. Honest. If you want to read the full, glowing review by Douglass K. Daniel, you can find it here. I'd give you the link to the Wall Street Journal review, but you have to be a subscriber to access the full thing. Oh, okay, for those who are subscriber's, it's here.
The book is really terrific, and it's now officially be published, as of a couple days ago. For those interested in getting it, or want to check out more about the book, you can find it here on its Amazon page.
And again, yes, the book is really terrific, with a double emphasis on the "really" -- not just as an adverb to reinforce "terrific," but to mean...HONEST. It really is.
Though this isn't at all an exact connection to the news today, there's a close enough overlap that made me think of it and decide to repost it. And besides, any opportunity to post something from Fiorello! is one that I'll take. (I originally posted this when I had my Second "Elisberg Industries International Film Festival" on the musical.
This is the classic "Little Tin Box" number which concerns an investigation into political corruption -- hence why I thought of it. And the best thing of all is that the video is a re-creation of the Broadway number with the show's original star, Howard DaSilva.
DaSilva is admired but little-known because he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Years and therefore was in few films and TV broadcasts. He did have an acclaimed theatrical career, though, notably starring in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! as Jud Fry, and also years later in the original Broadway production of 1776 (whimsically for a man who had been blacklisted) as Ben Franklin -- a role he did get to re-create in the film version, though he's not on the Broadway cast album, having suffered a heart attack before the recording was made. He did open the show and later returned to it. (Not a bad achievement, by the way -- starring in two Broadway musicals that each won both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, 1776 and Fiorello!)
All of which is why it was such a treat to find footage completely unexpectedly of Howard DaSilva recreating his "Little Tin Box" number in full costume, set and cast!!! It came in 1980, 20 years after Fiorello! opened, as part of an HBO special, Standing Room Only: Showstoppers.
(For those who want a little background into how the song fits into the show, here's a brief explanation. Though Fiorello LaGuardia lost in his race for mayor against the crooked Tammany Hall Machine, it turns out that a crack in the organization was in the near horizon. And a court case brought many of their illegal dealings, graft and payoffs to light. The newspapers reported all the strained explanations from the Tammany officials and regulars, down to some trying to insist that they had simply save their money and kept it safe in a "little tin box." That brought about one of the showstopping numbers in the musical, "Little Tin Box," performed by Howard DaSilva, as Ben Marino, the head of the local Republican Party who'd been pummeled for years by his rivals of Tammany Hall.)
I've seen a lot of performances of "Little Tin Box" over the years -- as I said, it's a showstopping number for it's wit, charm, cleverness and pointed theme. And most of them are generally very good and done very similar. This is an uncommon interpretation among them all, unique. In most versions, the character of Ben and his cronies are all being deeply sarcastic, and ridiculing the deep trouble that Tammany Hall is in. It's done as a big, broad piece of derision. Howard DaSilva takes another tack completely -- rather than looking at the troubles of Tammany Hall from the perspective of the plot, making fun of those in troubles, he takes it on from opposite end, from the personal point-of-view. He sings it as a man simply filled with utter joy that his whole life has just changed, and the criminals and thugs who have been blocking him and his party for years are at last going to jail. And he's just as pleased and quietly-giddy about it as a man can be.
Here then is that performance, the original Ben Marino -- Howard DaSilva -- singing, "Little Tin Box."
(You can ignore the introduction written for host Tony Randall, since it has the story completely wrong, described in a way that would instead be less convoluted for the audience and therefore seem to make sense, even if backwards. The real story, as noted, is that DaSilva and his pals are the good guys, ridiculing the criminals in court.)
Which is another thing that brought today's House hearing to mind...
For all the Republicans who said "The American People don't want this," my immediate thought was -- "We are having this hearing because the American People voted the Democrats in to control the House of Representatives because they specifically wanted it."
One of the biggest challenges Republican have in today's hearing is that so many of them are using their time to point out that Michael Cohen is a convicted perjurer -- something that pretty much everyone knows. So, they are just restating the obvious. That's a problem since it's largely all they can do. A friend asked me why Republicans on the committee didn't challenge Cohen on his presumption that Don Jr. whispering to his dad was about the Russia meeting. I said because they likely know Cohen's presumption was true and they didn't want it repeated.
So, that largely leaves only being able to restating what is known and obvious.
And it bears repeating that while it is a fair principle of law that if someone has lied once under oath, one may presume that they have lied about everything -- that is a totally separate matter from the person actually lying about anything else, let alone everything.
Best quote of the day thus far: Cohen to Republicans on the Committee trying to protect Trump. "i'm responsible for your silliness because i did the same thing you're doing now - for 10 years"
So, Trump finally goes to Viet Nam. Much as I know he loves these things for the pomp, personal attention, and ability to screw the United States in secret, I'm nonetheless surprised he didn't get the White House doctor to write him a note explaining he has bone spurs so he can't make it. Or at least his personal physician, Harold Bornstein who is on the record willing to sign pretty much anything.
But then, when you really get right down to it, if I was Trump, I would want to leave the country when Michael Cohen was testifying in public, too.
PUBLIC WARNING: After Michael Cohen has finished testifying, do NOT play a drinking game where you have a shot after each time Trump's spokesperson says the phrase, "The White House denies." Or says "Michael Cohen is a convicted liar." Public drunkenness is a crime and dangerous.
Note: Mr. Cohen is indeed a convicted liar. The difference between him and his former client on this matter is therefore important and pronounced: Trump has not yet been convicted. Merely established, repeatedly, 8,718 times over the past two years at last count by the Washington Post. On the other hand, the audio tapes that Robert Mueller has confiscated and the documentation and corroborating evidence the Special Counsel has and which Cohen himself is expected to provide at the hearing has neither been convicted of anything nor lied.
It's also worth clarifying the reality that court ethics say that if a person lies under oath about one thing, one may presume is lying about everything. However, realty is that just because one may “presume” someone is lying about everything doesn’t mean they are. So, saying, “You have lied under oath and that means I presume you are lying today” is Totally Different from saying “You have lied under oath and that means you are lying.” Further, if Republicans want to presume that Cohen is lying about "everything," then they must therefore presume that "everything" includes when he previously defended Trump under oath as having done nothing wrong.
Again: no drinking games. Be safe...
In case you missed it, John Oliver had a wonderfully funny and scathing 20-minute takedown of TV psychics this past Sunday. While it's a pretty easy topic to do so -- something he acknowledges (but notes that it's just plain fun) -- it's also a valuable one since this is a $1 billion scam industry.
I'm going to embed the actual tweet from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) rather than type it out, because otherwise you might not believe me and think this is just a joke
Yes, you are seeing and reading that right. In order to make a point, Republican Senator John Cornyn quoted Benito Mussilini.
My first reaction was that of being totally gobsmacked. But then I realized something. For the past couple of years, I have been writing here about how Trump and his administration are fascist. So, in the end, I guess It's not actually surprising to see a GOP senator bring that into the open.
That said, it's nonetheless important to regularly note as often possible that this is not normal. And that it's still fascist.
And it will likely (and should) be used against Cornyn when he runs for re-election in Texas in 2020, perhaps against Beto O'Rourke..
Still, as fascist as the Republican Party has become, supporting and enabling Trump, it's still a very bizarre thing for Cornyn to post publicly. The only thing I can figure as to why he did post this from a fascist is my deep hope that he hated the sentiment and totally by complete mistake in a dazed or drunken stupor confused the name "Benito" with "Beto."
Alas, I doubt that that's the case, and most likely Cornyn just intentionally chose to quote a fascist ally of Hitler in support.
The other week, John Mulaney was a guest on Seth Meyers' show, and the bulk of their very entertaining conversation centered on this week's upcoming episode of the IFC fake-documentary series Documentary Now!. The faux-work this week, titled Original Cast Album: Co-Op, takes a look at the making of the album of a fictitious Sondheimesque Broadway musical called Co-Op -- all of which itself is a spoof a classic 1970 documentary (Original Cast Album: Company) about the making of the album for the Stephen Sondheim musical Company. As readers of these pages may recall, I embedded that original D.A. Pennebaker documentary here back in 2017.
Seth Meyers is an executive producer of the TV series, and Mulaney is one of the main writers of the episode, which Meyers helped out on with some of the songs. After their conversation, actor (and Northwstern graduate) Richard Kind enthusiastically performs one of the songs from the show. (Yes, it's a requirement that I mention that. In large part because I had a nice conversation with him at the wonderful "A Starry Night" NU fundraising event that I wrote about here last year, where we spoke among other things about Larry Gelbart, Stephen Sondheim and Kind's classmate Shelly Goldstein who wrote the show.) Both parts of the video are all a lot of fun, and the full episode airs on IFC this Wednesday at 11 PM on the East Coast and West Coast, an hour earlier in the Midwest.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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