A Shelly Sighting
I mention my friend and cabaret performer Shelly Goldstein here periodically (like this morning...), so I wanted to note her appearance today -- Monday, March 31 -- on Clifford Bell's video podcast. It's first airing is at 2 PM (Los Angeles time).
It's an hour-long interview, filled with at least half a dozen (probably more) videos of her singing Just clear here to watch.
The show isn't a live broadcast, so if you miss it, you can check it out anytime after 3 PM anyhoo.
Abner the Baseball
The baseball season has started, and today is the opening game for the Chicago Cubs. Huzzah! After 104 losing seasons in a row, this could be the year!! (It won't be -- with new management they're still rebuilding and are a year or two away from even contending -- but it could be).
In honor of this grand occasion, I was going to play a song about baseball that I love, but something else transpired today. The legendary comedian Eddie Lawrence passed away at the age of 95. (It turns out he died last Tuesday, but I didn't know about it until today when Mark Evanier wrote it about.) Eddie Lawrence wasn't a hugely recognizable name, but had a very long, successful career and is best known for this "The Old Philosophy" character, which had the well-known tagline -- often used by others -- "It's that's what's troubling you, bunky?" Mark has a video of him doing a monologue of it, along with some wonderful tales here.
(For those who have the cast album of the wonderful musical, Bells are Ringing, Lawrence was in the original Broadway cast and played the role of the con man, Sandor, who sings two songs, "It's a Simple Little System" and "Salzburg.")
But when I think of Eddie Lawrence, I think of a very old 45 RPM record I had as a wee kidling (and I believe still have) of something called "Abner the Baseball." This is what's officially known as "obscure." It's long (both sides) about 10 minutes, but I loved it dearly and have fond affection for the sketch, though I haven't heard it for years. Rather than try to track down my copy and digitize it, I found the thing on YouTube.
I don't want to give anything away about it -- it actually leads to a fun point (which alas the YouTube heading gives away some of, so if you don't want to know, avert your eyes...) -- but what I remember being so impressed by, even at that young an age, is how he humanizes a baseball, telling the story in first "person" about its life, and with such whimsy and humor.
This comes from another, almost mythical time now it seems when not only did 45s actually exist, but someone would do a 10-minute monologue about a baseball. And there would be an audience for it...
Last night, to honor the passing of Sid Caesar, the American Cinematique showed It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I went with Mark Evanier, and Shelly Goldstein and her husband writer-director Brendan Foley. Mark is one of the world experts on the film, and that's not hyperbole -- The Criterion Collection just released an acclaimed 5-disc set of different versions of the film remastered, and Mark is one of the people doing the commentary track. And no, he didn't give a running commentary throughout the screening...
(If you want to know more -- muuuuch more -- about the film, go to Mark's website here and do a search for the film. The wonderful results will joyfully occupy your time for longer than this long movie is.)
I will mention, though, a couple things that he's explained in the past. One is that, to me, the biggest comedy legend who leaps out for not being in film is Stan Laurel. Mark says that Laurel was asked, but he felt uncomfortable for two reasons -- 1) doing it without Hardy, and 2) being so much older and disappointing his fans. Also, has said that Peter Sellers was asked to play the role of British lieutenant-colonel (who picks up several of main characters and joins them on their journey) but asked for far, far too much money, so they went to Terry-Thomas instead. I’d have loved to have seen Sellers in the role, but I adore Terry-Thomas in it.
The movie has been wildly popular since it was released in 1963, though it's not to everyone's taste. But to watch it on a Big Screen, as it was intended, is a hugely different experience from seeing it on TV, even letterboxed. Moreover, to watch it with a theater full of people laughing takes a movie you've seen countless times and brings a fresh life to it.
One thing struck me early in this film, which for some reason never did before. But it's stunningly impressive how Ethel Merman YELLS ALL HER LINES through the entire movie. Obviously, it was intentional and the direction she was given by Stanley Kramer, but it's unrelenting, which is the reason it works.
I won't to through the whole film, but do want to mention an eye-opening observation I had a few years ago. For many years, when watching it on TV, they’d play it straight through, and the film was fine. But I always would think that it’s not as great as I remember it. Then a few years ago, I was watching it on Turner Classic Movies, and they ran it with the intermission, which I'd forgotten after all these years that the film had. And, my God, it was revelatory. Not one frame was changed, but having that intermission gave the film a structure, which is why it hadn’t lived up to my memory. With the intermission, all those crazy things starting to go totally out of control (the airplane flying without a trained pilot, the fireworks box heating up in the locked basement and about to explode, a car sinking in a river, Dick Shawn speeding in tears to save his Mama, a fight, Spencer Tracy's life crashing down on him, and more) and are building faster and faster, cutting back-and-forth, overlapping one another, and leading to a big dramatic moment when -- with everything spinning out of whack and it all going totally to hell -- we suddenly cut to black and the word, “Intermission.” And it’s all hilarious, dramatic and wonderful, and a big,emotional release. But in all those previous versions, without an intermission, those same moments are still going out of whack just the same…but then they simply continue on and are very soon resolved, and the movie simply keeps chugging ahead. There’s no sense of moment, no sense of structure, no dramatic point. Oddly, though not a single frame is changed in the story, as I said, the movie just leaps up to another level by simply adding an intermission. The point is that with the intermission, the movie has a structure. Without it, it's almost amorphous. A valuable lesson for both audiences and writers.
News from Lake Wobegon
It's been a quiet week, though one filled with thoughts on the sin of sloth and the 1965 World Series. Carl Krebsbach considers robbing a bank and receives a mysterious phone call, and Darlene worries that her cat may have rabies.
Ode to Much Joy
Last Saturday, shoppers at the busy Privoz Fish Market in Odessa, Ukraine, were met by an unexpected experience. An uncommon flash mob took over -- this one from the Odessa Philharmonic and Odessa Opera Chorus, slowly, instrument by instrument until the chorus exploded around them, performing Beethhoven's "Ode to Joy."
But this wasn't just an ordinary, albeit impressive flash mob. The "Ode to Joy" also happens to be the anthem for the European Union. The orchestra later explained to a local paper that they wanted to make a statement about Ukrainian unity. The conductor is Hobart Earle.
Not So Miserable
The other day, a friend sent me his list of "must watch" series that are on his list each week, and it was something like 8-10 of them. I watch my share of television, but there are only 2-3 primetime series that I have set my DVR to record. The number will drop by one after Monday night when How I Met Your Mother goes off the air.
I caught up with the series fairly early on, I think late in the first season, and I've been in awe of it ever since. I find the writing so clever, smart and inventive, playing around with the conventions of sitcoms, often tossing in fantasy sequences, musical numbers and using flashbacks (within flashbacks within flashbacks) like Picasso uses a brush. But the cast, too, was seriously impressive -- in fact, most of the members had respective movie careers before and during the show's run. So, I'll miss the series when it's off the air. (Okay, I'll miss new episodes, since reruns tend to proliferate like Starbucks.)
The cast appeared on Inside the Actors Studio last week, and alas I found out after the fact, but I'm sure it will get repeated. But one particular video excerpt has surfaced, and it's a hoot.
It comes at the very end of the program when someone in the audience asks Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel if they'd do the "Confrontation" number from Les Miserables, which is coming back to Broadway. (It was something the two would do on the set, and then back in 2006 when the cast was on The Megan Mullally Show, they were asked to perform it.) What's particularly impressive is that if you listen closely, Alyson Hannigan says to the guys, "You haven't done that for a long time." Yet without any time to talk it out or rehearse, other than trying to remember who played which character, the two actors launch into it instantly. Though their performance started life before the film version, it's clear that at this point they are partly channeling Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. And having a joyous time doing it.
Fun too is watching their fellow cast members enjoying watching it all, taking great pleasure in the spotlight being swallowed whole by others, without a hint of jealousy. And as the scene heats up, Cobie Smulders has the good sense to realize she's going to be caught in the cross hairs and wisely (and almost self-protectively)gets out of the way.
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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