Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rick Santorum Gets Joansmacked

Don't you wish Joan Crawford were around to smack some sense into our politicians?

Surprise. She is.

In my last post, I fantasized about interjecting a virtual Bette Davis to spice up live theater, just as Tupac Shakur was resurrected for a recent concert. A reader of that post, Paul, told me about a YouTube video in which Joan Crawford listens to Rick Santorum's televised babblings and lets him know exactly what she thinks.

Here's the video. Joan, you go, girl!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tupac Shakur or Bette Davis? I Vote for Bette

On Sunday night, the late Tupac Shakur performed "live" in concert with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Resurrecting the rapper, who died in 1996 after being shot in Las Vegas, was accomplished by special digital effects from Digital Domain, the company that made Brad Pitt look old and ugly in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Tupac's likeness was projected onto a piece of glass on the concert stage, which then bounced the image onto a Mylar screen. Apparently, the effect was awesome: Through technological magic, Tupac was alive and well and singing to his fans once again.

My first thought was: Look at those abs. Tupac should've changed his name to Sixpac.

Sixpac Shakur

Then I thought: Who else would I like to see, digitally resurrected from the dead and interjected into a live performance?

Bette Davis, for starters. Let's say you're watching a Broadway play, and there's a scene in which two pretentious characters start speaking French to one another. Suddenly, in vivid black and white, there's Bette Davis, as Margo Channing in All About Eve, quipping "Enchante to you, too!" That would perk the audience up.

Bette Davis in All About Eve
In fact, you could make a hologram Bette Davis a recurring gag on Broadway. Audiences would never know when or where Bette might appear and make a bitchy remark. In Death of a Salesman, now running on Broadway, Bette from The Little Foxes could suddenly materialize and say coldly to Philip Seymour Hoffman: "I hope you die. I hope you die soon. I'll be waiting for you to die."

Or how about this? Immediately after a love scene in a play, suddenly there's Bette from Of Human Bondage, shrieking contemptuously: "After ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH!"

I'll say it first: hologram Bette Davis = viral sensation. 

Some other late, great, dearly missed performers I'd love to see 'live' on stage, in no particular order:

* John Gielgud, from Arthur

John Gielgud

* Dixie Carter, from Designing Women

Dixie Carter

* Marty Feldman, from Young Frankenstein

Marty Feldman

* Madeleine Kahn, from any movie she ever made

Madeleine Kahn

* Edward G. Robinson, from any movie he ever made but particularly Key Largo

Edward G. Robinson

* Joan Crawford, in her circus performing drag from Berserk! Imagine Joan suddenly popping up in a Cirque du Soleil show.

Joan Crawford in Berserk!

Your turn. Which performer(s) would you love to see resurrected again on stage?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Did You and I Perish on the Titanic?

Toward the end of Titanic in 3D, I had a sinking feeling. Could I be the reincarnation of someone who perished on the ocean liner 100 years ago? An Irish passenger, specifically?

I know you just rolled your eyes; I could see it. In fact, I just rolled my own eyes. I'm not a huge believer in reincarnation. But I don't actively disbelieve it, either. And there must be some reason why I've felt this strong emotional connection to the Titanic saga for so many years.

In the mid 90s, before James Cameron's epic spectacle Titanic was first released, I became completely absorbed by the Titanic. I read numerous books, devoured old movies (especially A Night to Remember). I even joined the Titanic historical society. I became a Titanic geek.

I can account for my Titanic obsession logically, to a point. I'm still fascinated by all the mistakes that were made, before and after the iceberg collision. I mean, they didn't even have a pair of binoculars in the ship's lookout tower at the time the iceberg approached!

I'm also a wee bit drawn to disaster tales. For this, I have Irwin Allen, the producer of all those 1970s disaster epics like The Poseidon Adventure, to thank. And the rapid technological changes occurring at the time of the Titanic's sinking, such as the advent of the telephone and automobile, fascinate me as well.

Isidor and Ida Straus
Then there are all the human dramas that unfolded on board Titanic the night of April 14-15, 1912. One that touches me the most is the well-known story of the Strauses. Isidor Straus, Macy's co-owner, refused to get into a lifeboat while there were still women and children aboard. His wife, Ida, remained with her husband, though she was offered a lifeboat seat. "Where you go, I go," she reportedly told him.

Last weekend, as I watched the ship sink in 3D, I felt flooded with sadness. Not because of the movie's love story, which I still find contrived. Not because of the 3D effect, though certainly it made everything more vivid, like a dream turned into nightmare. I've never gotten choked up during a disaster movie in my entire life (not even when Stella Stevens died in The Poseidon Adventure). What was going on?

The Titanic picked up 123 passengers in Ireland, most of them poor emigrants; only 44 survived. I have strong Irish roots, certainly on my mother's side. Could it be that I'm the reincarnation of an Irish passenger who died on the ship?

There's another explanation, of course. I recently turned 54. Could it be that disaster stories are no longer just the "cool" spectacles of mass destruction they were for me when I was younger? Given my stage in life, am I more emotionally attuned to the loss of life?

Because I'm a relatively practical person, I'll go with option number two.

And yet, amid all the Titanic anniversary commemorations going on now, it's important to remember that 1,517 people died. The tragedy created countless widows and orphans; it changed more lives than it ended, and for decades to come. Maybe you and I weren't on board the ship 100 years ago. But isn't it possible that the ship's sinking had some unknown impact on who we are today?


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Memorable Meal at the Dementia Diner

In tragedy, there is always comedy. If you ever doubt this, have dinner with the residents of your local Alzheimer's facility.

Ruth and her grandson Stafford
While I was in Greensboro this week, my nephew Stafford and I visited with my mother, Ruth, during the evening meal at the 'memory care' facility where she lives. There were three others at the table. One was a rather blank-faced woman who, on previous visits, I've seen rocking back and forth in her chair, taking her glasses on and off, on and off. She didn't wear glasses this time but still rocked back and forth, though not as much as before.

Next to her was a man who wore thick glasses, hunched over his meal, barely made eye contact, and didn't say a word.

The third resident at the table was a petite, jovial, bespectacled woman with white curly hair and a love of song. She asked if we knew the song Yankee Doodle Dandy and then promptly began to sing it, punctuating each lyric by thrusting her index finger at me.

"Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni."

What Does a Feather Have to Do With Macaroni, Anyway?

The woman laughed and said something like, "My sister and I used to sing that all the time when we were kids, and I always wondered what a feather had to do with macaroni?"

"That's a good question," I replied, not really knowing what to say. 

Stafford and I were trying to get Ruth to eat her dinner, which was carved-up chunks of grilled chicken and the most dreadful vegetable ever devised, cauliflower. Ruth ate a few bites, reluctantly, as the floor show resumed.

"I used to love My Melancholy Baby," the songbird continued, immediately launching into a rendition.

"Come to me, my melancholy baby
Cuddle up and don't be blue
All your fears are foolish fancies, maybe
You know, honey, I'm in love with you."

She paused to recollect something her father used to say about the "foolish fancies" part and continued:

"Every cloud must have a silver lining
Just wait until the sun shines through
Smile, my honey dear, while I kiss away each tear
Or else I shall be melancholy too."

Just as I was thinking how amazing it was that this chanteuse could recall that much of an old song, my mother looked at me and rolled her eyes extravagantly. The woman, unaware of Ruth's disapproval, happily concluded her song:

"So smile, my honey dear, while I kiss away each tear
Or else I shall be melancholy too."

A Hand, Moving Stealthily Into My Peripheral Vision

Stafford and I applauded. About this time, I saw a hand moving ever so stealthily into my peripheral vision. The hand belonged to the woman to my right, the one who tends to rock back and forth. For whatever reason, she gingerly placed a chewed-up piece of chicken on top of the cellophane-wrapped Easter cookie Stafford and I had brought Ruth. When the woman wasn't looking, I slowly moved the cookie away and shook off the masticated meat.

And so went another meal at the "Dementia Diner." Forgive me for having a little fun here; humor is what helps me endure this situation. I'll leave you with one more example.

 Earlier that day, two of my sisters and I spent a chunk of time with Ruth in her room at the facility, answering the same questions repeatedly. Ruth kept asking, "Was I married?" "Who was my husband?" "Is he still alive?," and so on. At one point, Ruth asked how old she was when she married.

"You were 20 years old, and Dad was 28," I answered.

"Twenty years old?," Ruth exclaimed. Then she looked at us and asked, "Why did y'all let me get married so young?"
My mother, a few years ago, horsing around with my niece Marcy. The wheelchair was for my mother, but she pushed Marcy all the way down the hall in it. Just for laughs.