July 1, 2014
While I was rummaging around in the dusty archives of this blog, I came across a post I wrote in May 2009 concerning a plan by Martin Scorsese to oversee a film about the life of Frank Sinatra. The particular thing that had caught my attention was a report by Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke to the effect that, while Scorsese had Leonardo DiCaprio in mind for the title role, Universal Studios preferred Johnny Depp. I’m not an authority on these matters, but it doesn’t seem to me that either of those actors quite matches the description of Sinatra offered by Debbie Reynolds in a film they made together: “kind of cute, in a beat-up broken-down sort of way.”
I had forgotten about that post, and coming across it made me wonder what had happened to Scorsese’s project. From what little I’ve been able to find out with no more effort than a couple of Google searches, Scorsese typically has several projects in the works at any one time, and the Sinatra movie is among those still turtling along. The most recent report I could find was posted in December 2013 on a site called The Playlist, and all the post added was Scorsese’s confirmation that “that project’s still going strong.” I understand that construction on the Cathedral of St. Peter in Cologne was begun in 1248 and completed in 1880, so I suppose everything is relative, as I was telling Professor Einstein just the other day.
I also read an August 2013 report by Mike Fleming Jr. on deadline.com to the effect that Universal had assigned Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) to write the screenplay and that the several prospective producers would include Sinatra’s daughter Tina, Peter Guber, and Cathy Schulman. “It was Guber and Schulman who brought in the project to the studio,” Fleming wrote, “after they secured life and music rights from Frank Sinatra Enterprises, which is a joint venture of the estate of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Warner Music Group.”
In a certain sense, I’m not interested in any of this. I have an aversion to movie or television biographies of folks who were my contemporaries and whose personalities were as strong and pervasive as Sinatra’s. Whether it were DiCaprio, Depp, or Danny DeVito, I wouldn’t be able to accept the actor as Sinatra. I had that experience when Brad Garrett played the title role in Gleason, a 2002 CBS movie biography of Jackie Gleason. Garrett did a creditable job in the part, I suppose, but he simply wasn’t Gleason, and I couldn’t get past that. Ask me to buy Howard Silva as Benjamin Franklin and I’m good, but not with someone who was a constant presence in my own lifetime.
This is exacerbated, too, by the fact that I live in New Jersey, where by common consent we maintain the fiction that Sinatra was our guy, accept no substitutes. Oh, sure enough, he was from Hoboken and did his first singing in that neck of the woods — a figurative term even then — but he was much more of a Mr. Hollywood and Mr. Vegas and even Mr. Manhattan than he was a Mr. Hudson County. Perhaps he took Jimmy Durante’s remark too seriously: “I went to Hoboken to forget, and then I had to go to Hackensack to forget Hoboken.” That was before Hoboken was the high-rent district it is today.
The issue of Sinatra’s connection to New Jersey came up in 1975 when I interviewed a playwright named Louis La Russo II who had written a gutsy play entitled Lamppost Reunion that initially ran for 77 performances at the Little Theater in New York. The play was set in the sort of fictional Lamppost Bar where the owner and a few of his friends reminisce about the days when they sang in a group with a character named Fred Santora (get it?) who is about to make an appearance at Madison Square Garden. After nearly forty years, I don’t remember the details very well, but I know that at least a couple of guys were proud of their background with Santora, but one of them was nursing some undefined resentment. Of course, while they’re discussing all this, Santoro walks into the bar, and the past becomes the present and at least one ugly secret comes out of the dark. In that first production, Danny Aiello played “Biggie,” owner of the Lamppost Bar, and Gabriel Dell, who was a well-known comic actor back then, played Santoro. I believe that play is still produced now and then.
When I interviewed Louis La Russo, he told me that Sinatra’s “people” had let him know that they weren’t crazy about the resemblance between his character and Mr. Vegas, etc. I think La Russo was more amused than anything else.
Although I never met Sinatra — what with him being All It and me being just this guy in Jersey —I did, through a process somewhat related to the “degrees of separation” phenomenon, socialize with his father, Anthony Martin Sinatra, known variously as Tony and Marty. Because of a mutual friend, I had dinner with the elder Sinatra on several occasions in the early 1960s at the Clam Broth House, a Hoboken landmark that was condemned in 2004. I was in his company for several hours before I realized who his son was, because Marty, who ostensibly had been a paid fireman in Hoboken — in Hudson County, it’s best to use the qualifier when talking about folks who hold public-sector jobs — was an unassuming guy who was content with his own persona.
Eventually, he did tell me about his boxing career and about a mutual acquaintance, Jackie Farrell, who, Marty said, had put the arm on the owner of a local gin mill to give Frank and his companions their first paid job. Jackie, an amiable and helpful guy, weighed about ninety pounds and usually wore a brown suit. I knew him when he constituted the public relations department for the New York Yankees when the team was still being run like a mom-and-pop grocery.
Among Sinatra’s musical moments on film, my favorite is his duet with Bing Crosby in High Society (1956). It starts at about 4:18 at THIS SITE.
February 27, 2010
So Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” opened in London, and Chris Tookey of the Daily Mail says it’s long on visuals and short on story. Tookey’s take — get it? — is that Linda Wooverton diluted the project with her attempt to write a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books instead of re-telling the original stories — or, at least, one of them. So everybody — including Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen — looks great, but has nowhere to go.
“The story becomes a very different beast from the ones Lewis Carroll created,” Tookey writes. “It’s a tale of feminist empowerment, with an entrepreneurial, pro-capitalist ending that is unlikely to endear it to readers of the Guardian.” In other words, it’s a 3-D version of the health-care summit.
According to Tookey’s account, a central issue in this tale is that the Red Queen has enlisted the Jabberwock, the Jubjub Bird and the Bandersnatch as enforcers in her reign of terror. In Carroll’s dream within a novel, of course, these were characters in a poem, not “real” creatures. Alice reads about them in a looking-glass book, which means a book in which the print is backwards so that one has to hold it up to a mirror in order to read it.
This poem, which Carroll meant as a parody of overblown poetry and pointless criticism, has been subject to so much serious study that it’s a shame Carroll didn’t live to see it. G.K. Chesterton remarked on this in 1932: “Poor, poor, little Alice! She has not only been caught and made to do lessons; she has been forced to inflict lessons on others.”
“Jabberwocky,” incidentally, is a particular challenge to translators who want to make “Alice” available to the non-English-speaking world. There’s a French version that begins: Il brilque: les toves lubricilleux / Se gyrent en vrillant dans le guave …. A German translation begins: Es Brillig war. Die schlichte Toven / Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben ….
Chris Tookey’s review of Tim Burton’s film is at THIS LINK.
July 3, 2009
Amid all the tsurris about Michael Jackson’s death bubbles the question of how long his fame will endure. He will have done well, it seems, if the public fixation with him lasts as long as its interest in John Dillinger, an anti-social holdup man and murderer who was shot to death 75 years ago. Once Independence Day is out of the way, we can focus our attention on John Dillinger Day, an observance that commemorates his death, which occurred on July 22, 1934.
There are those, of course, who say that it wasn’t Dillinger who was gunned down outside a movie theater in Chicago, and I suppose we’ll have to live with those who will claim that Jackson didn’t die in Los Angeles last week but is living in Buenos Aires with Adolph Hitler, Emilia Earhart, and Elvis Presley. At last, a fourth for bridge.
The reviews in the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post are unenthusiastic about the movie “Public Enemies,” in which Johnny Depp portrays Dillinger. Dan Zak writes in the Post:
There’s no excitement in the bank-robbing, no thrill of the chase, no emotion over justice served or thwarted. Depp’s Dillinger is neither charming nor despicable, nor does he occupy that delicious gray area between the two. His spree unspools dispassionately, cold as a Colt .380.
Peter Rainer in the Monitor writes:
Mann’s hero-worshipy treatment of Dillinger is undercut by the film’s dreamtime existentialist aura. In reality, the working poor cheered Dillinger’s bank raids but in “Public Enemies” the Depression is just a prop, and so Dillinger’s populist hero status, what little we see of it, makes scant sense. (This is probably why we see so little of it.) Missing, as a result, is the knockabout tumult of a time when gangsters could ascend to the same stardom as the movie actors who played gangsters. Dillinger was, for a while, every bit as big as Jimmy Cagney. Mann pirouettes around the twin realities of the Depression and the star culture it engendered and offers instead a moody blues doominess. It’s a vacuum filling a vacuum.
So Depp becomes neither Clyde Barrow nor Robin Hood. Maybe, in his old age, he can play Bernie Madoff.
May 14, 2009
It’s a sure sign that the semester is over that I’m spending my time reading Hollywood bloggers. And that’s why I came across Nikki Finke’s report that Universal Studios prefers Johnny Depp to play Frank Sinatra in a Martin Scorsese biopic about the kid from Hoboken. Finke says Scorsese has his eye on Leonardo DiCaprio for the role. Pay attention – this is important stuff!
I don’t know that I’ll be patronizing this movie, because while I like a lot of his films and records, I’ve never been able to summon much interest in Sinatra as a person. If I do see this movie, it will be because I’m curious about the challenge it’s taking on. Sinatra is such a strong and pervasive personality that I wonder if it will be possible to accept DiCaprio or Depp or any other actor. As it is, Finke says the actor – whoever he is – won’t have to sing, because the songs will come from Sinatra’s recordings. No one would buy another voice as Sinatra’s. The question is, will anyone buy another mug as Sinatra’s?