Movie Madness

Although I try to see all the Oscar-nominated feature films, I've been on a bit of a documentary movie binge at home, where my comfy throw is nearby and the popcorn is so much better.   My most recent movie viewing explores the painful journeys that artists often have and the barriers they transcend to try to sustain their own creative vision.

Think it's easy being a singer...or a writer... or a fashion magazine editor?  Believe me, Tapping Veins 101 in nursing school has got to cause less angst.

Searching for Sugarman:  I did not know anything about the music of Sixto Rodriguez, a '70s folk-rock icon.  Despite rumors of his death by suicide, he has been living and working in his hometown of Detroit.  He has also been residing in the same house he bought in 1976 during a land auction.  Even his construction pals had no idea that this was a man who had recorded two critically-praised, yet unsuccessful albums.

Decades later, Rodriguez had also become the obsession of Director Malik Bendjelloul and South African music fans who longed to hear him perform again.

There are tender interviews with Rodriguez's grown children and the film clearly shows a humble, unassuming man who continues to play his guitar and make beautiful music.  This film captures and asks the question of how we measure success.  I found myself thinking that there was so much dignity in this seemingly "simple" man, who did not chase fame or money.  The filmmakers have a shot at an Oscar, and I hope that Rodriguez is more than a seat-filler.

Diana Vreeland:  The Eye Has To Travel From the down-to-earth to the full throttle life of fashion guru, Diana Vreeland...pronounced  "Dee-ana" as I found out in this delightful documentary, directed by the Granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, whom she never met.

Wow, what a unique woman who, for twenty-five years was the Fashion Editor of Harper's Bazaar, followed by an Editor-in-Chief position at Vogue.This woman, called ugly by her mother just one too many times, sure showed her.

Candid about her lack of education or any interest in schooling, Diana danced in Harlem nightclubs in the 20s, hung out with Coco Chanel in Paris, designed her own lingerie line and outfitted the Duchess of Windsor with a few custom nighties.  She then came to New York to try to find a way to get away from being a suburban housewife with two kids at home.

Her musings in the "Why Don't You" section of Harper's had me wondering -- Why don't I wear more violet velvet mittens?  She truly had her own smoky and original voice.

As her sons so eloquently opine, she apparently was no June Cleaver, and she couldn't be more "bored" if you asked her about her family.   I suspect that her kids may have made a different film....or, maybe not.

She had expensive tastes and shared this little ditty:  "Money is vital."  No kidding.  Were the wild stories she told about her life really fact or fiction?  Her son replies that she called them "Faction."  I think I'll use that someday.

Although she was happily-married for over forty years, she sorta lucked into her job at Harper's and brought her demanding style and witty ways with  her to the office.  Whether or not you believe all her stories, she sure kept my interest.  With footage from various television interviews, shared memories from actress Ali McGraw (a former assistant who she yelled at a lot!), Angelica Houston, designer Diane von Furstenberg, photographer David Bailey and several former models, "Mrs. Vreeland" made her mark.

Studio 54 and Hollywood came calling, and she never missed a beat in showing up to the party.  It is also fun to hear previously-recorded voice-over by writer George Plimpton and listen to the "Empress of Fashion" react to his questions with some great retorts like "The best thing about London is Paris."

Paul Williams, Still Alive:  Well, it was  in 1977 when Barbra Streisand accepted the Academy Award for her Best Original Song for "Evergreen" from A Star Is Born.  Her shaggy-haired blond co-writer was a 5' 2" creative dynamo named Paul Williams.  Yes, you probably have heard of his tune, "The Rainbow Connection" and many other great songs.

However, he was also a prolific presence on talk shows in the 70s and 80s (a favorite of Johnny Carson), variety shows and yes, even a "Circus of the Stars" show -- even Paul cannot bear to watch himself try to ride an elephant.   It is no wonder that filmmaker and fan, Stephen Kessler, wondered if Paul Williams was still alive.

I knew he was, and I also knew that he made it out of alcohol and drug addiction alive enough to become a licensed counselor to other addicts and their families.  Now, that is something to make a movie about.  Whatever demons plagued this talented and funny man, this film only skims the surface.  It is  poignant to watch the reaction of someone who experienced  the destruction of all-encompassing fame and money and found a way to come up for air.

Paul Williams is the man who tried to become a better husband, father, songwriter and as the perfect coda -- elected by his colleagues as Chairman of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

I can't help but think of my favorite song he wrote, foreshadowing the human struggle depicted in this movie, "You And Me Against The World."

Yes, "sometimes it feels like you and me against the world...when all the others turn their back and walk can count on me to stay."  Paul Williams is still very much alive.

Filed under: Kelly's Queue It Up

Tags: Oscar Season


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  • What a great essay, the wonderful world of documentaries!
    I am inspired, thank you Kelly for a reminder about fine film experiences that don't always involve car chases! Thank you Kelly.

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