I knew the songs from ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ before I knew the show. I was very aware of the popular songs out of context, and to be honest, I kind of did not like them, from the vantage point of their 60’s pop arrangements. When I met Sheldon Harnick, I told him I loved ‘Fiddler,’ everyone in our circle kept on telling him how much they loved ‘Fiddler.’ (I was the non-conformist who told him my favorite was ‘The Rothchilds’) It was only when I started getting deep into musical theater research that I truly appreciated “Fiddler,’ the show, and, really, I hadn’t seen any production of it since the 1990 revival. (I hadn’t really grasped the depth of ‘Matchmaker Matchmaker’ as a aong until I saw it on stage) When I started collecting cast recordings, I was amazed by how many recordings the show had and I devoured each one.
So it was wonderful to finally see Max Lewkowicz’s ‘Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles,’ as I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks. A friend of mine saw it and couldn’t contain his raves. And he is right, this film delivered for me in so many ways, a rare treat for a theater geek like me. It certainly showed how the musical became so beloved, and how it connected with a lot of people (Someone described it as ‘very Japanese,’) I loved how Lewkowicz traced the musical’s origins: Sholem Aleichem’s short stories and Chagall’s paintings, to its troubled out-of-town tryouts that made director Jerome Robbins ‘bludgeon’ the show to to the version that ran on Broadway for eight years. The documentary also touched upon how Robbins was a terror director, although the Master himself Stephen Sondheim in here also says doesn’t know a more creative person than Robbins. These are the kinds of anecdotes that make me live life better. I wish there were more, even as the film packs a lot of them.
After seeing the film, it inspired me to play the original Cast Recording again, and it even gives these songs more texture for me. I know all theater lovers will see this film, but I hope it casts a wider net pulling in people into rediscovering the show.
I waned to end Pride Month by writing about a movie that touched me deeply. Cecilia Aldarondo produced, directed and wrote the documentary ‘Memories of A Penitent Heart’ in memory of her uncle Miguel Dieppa, who dies from AIDS complications in 1987. She only remembers meeting him once, and very briefly, when he visited his family the Christmas before he died. Years after, Aldarando searches for Miguel’s friends, wanting to immortalize her uncle’s legacy. She was in for some kind of awakening when she met Robert, her uncle’s lover of twelve years. She found out how her family – her grandmother and even her mother – were in denial about Miguel’s sexual orientation, being devout Catholics. Furthermore, they were not very friendly with Robert – Christina;s mother even saying she never knew his last name that’s why she never contacted him. Furthermore, there is a big reveal wherein Miguel supposedly found out that his father was gay, after seeing him at a gay club in Puerto Rico. Aldarondo weaves these stories through interviews, the main one with Robert, who brought along envelopes of photos and memorabilia. It’s all so touching, and I remember hearing all these stories then of men whose last wishes weren’t being honored because of their families’ religious beliefs – I had a friend who wished to be cremated and his family refused to do it because they did not believe in it – the process was not really popular in the late 90s and early 90s. Most of all, I was glad that these stories of men who died from the plague are being told. I wonder sometimes if people would remember me after I die – I have no children and a lot of people probably deem my story as small and insignificant. But I can only hope that I touched people’s lives enough to be remembered.
Since I saw ‘The White Crow,’ I have been a little more interested in the life of famed ballet God Rudolf Nureyev, and I know that a documentary was released to coincide with Ralph Fiennes’ film, which only tells half the story. Unfortunately, while ‘Nureyev’ fleshes out a lot of the details of Mr. Nureyev’s life after his defection, the film by Jacqui and David Morris is a mess. There’s a lot of things going on, yet it feels hollow. While it was great to see a treasure trove of snippets from Nureyev’s performances (his estate provided tapes) the filmmakers are too in love with the subject that we fail to see a big picture. And while we do get a huge dose of his accomplishments, there’s not a lot of texture on it as it is skimp on his personal life. Yes we know he succumbed from AIDS in 1993, but we only get a PSA of how the disease is still here, which feels generic and stale. Still, I think this is a good companion piece together with ‘The White Crow.’ But together, you still don’t get the full Rudy.
I bet most people who lived in New York in the 80s has a Dr. Ruth story. She was everywhere – on the radio, on the television both day and night, and you went out the streets and I bet you saw here. I remember watching the Broadway musical ‘Crazy For You’ and she sat right in front of me. During intermission, everyone was going to her to have her sign their Playbills. She was in a lot of ways a super star.
This documentary shows the woman before and after that period. I did not know she was a Holocaust survivor – she was sent to a Swiss orphanage alogn with other children so they would be safe from the war, and the documentary shows how years later she finds out her father was killed at Auschwitz, and details of her mother’s death still unknown. She somehow ends up in Washington Heights and on a radio show in New York City becomes ‘Dr Ruth.’ (Westheimer) Sure, she was a cultural phenomenon, but she also opened he doors for sexual communication. As a gay teenager I remember listening to her I have to admit I got some information on safe sex from her. I loved her warmth and openness, and trusted the information she gave. This film captures her personality vividly, and her legacy as well.
‘Wigstock’ was born to prove that drag queens can show themselves during the day, and not just at midnight shows at The Pyramid, across from Tompkins Square Park, where the festival was heard. Part of the fun was that the people in the audience were encouraged to wear a wig, in solidarity with the performers. I wasn’t there the very first year, but I was there when the event still felt like a family thing. Now, of course, drag via ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race,’ is as mainstream as one gets, and drag nowadays is so commercial and finessed. During those time, drag was more about personality, and uniqueness – each queen had something intelligent and witty to say.
That, of course, is what ‘Wig’ tries to say. This documentary is as big as one can get – it is on HBO. and produced by a whole slew of people (Neil Patrick Harris and his husband among the eight listed) and has interviews with the OGs, like Lady Bunny and Linda Simpson. Sure, the message is repeatedly reminded, and shown (the archival footage from the 90s is special to watch) but the film is a bit all over the place. Did we really need all the footage of the new last Woodstock that seems so commercial and corporate? I guess they needed to prove their original point. But still, there are a lot of things that can be taken away from the film, and the children should be able to learn a thing or two from the ‘old queens’ who paved the way for them, so they can shamelessly watch ‘Drag Race’ now in the comfort of their couches.
I have this great fascination with all things 70s, and of course Halston defined American 70s fashion, so I was so looking forward to seeing Frederic Tcheng’s documentary ‘Halston,’ which is about his life and legacy. And we get a sense of that, through interviews with family members and people he worked with. The big framework of the movie focuses on how he lost access to his own name, and at the time it was a concept unheard of. Nowadays, it’s a pretty common occurrence – see Donna Karan, Jo Malone, for example. Plus, it was interesting that part of his ‘downfall’ was that he agreed to do a collection for JC Penney, which catered more for the masses, and nowadays every designer does capsule collections for H & M or Target. I wished they focused more on the fashion, for he was truly revolutionary int he way he ushered women away from tailored silhouettes to nice-free flowing dressed cut from the bias. I was at a screening the director said that what fascinated him was the business aspect of Halston’s legacy. I wish it focused more on how his style influenced the overall look of the 70s. (Thought there’s right mention of a great highlight – when Jackie Kennedy wore his pillbox hat during her husband’s inauguration, and I love the little trivia – of how she touched it and dented it and everyoen copied the dent) I loved how they interviewed Liza Minnelli and she refused to comment on their partying shenanigans, saying she will not do that to her friend (She does the same when she was being interviewed by Michael Jackson) I think there was a more conscious effort to cut a lot of the ‘personal’ stuff although Tcheng says there will be a ‘Director’s Cut’ wherein there’s more of Halston’s lover of fifteen years. But I still am glad this documentry exists. It may not be the most ideal one for me, but I hope it starts a conversation about this great man.
During the 90s Boy band craze, I used to work a block away from Times Square in New York City. And everyday, I used to see thousands of girls lined up outside the MTV Studios waiting for these guys to show up for the afternoon show Total Request Live (TRL) and I remember it would be such a pain to get to the subways because of all the throngs of people blocking the street. But don’t get me wrong, I was a fan of both NSync and Backtreet Boys. I listened to their albums, and collected their CDs. I knew enough about the bands to know they were both formed by Lou Perlman, but aside from that knew nothing about him. and here we are, almost twenty five-ish or so later, and Perlman has now passed (in jail) and the boy band members? Some of them have been interviewed for ‘The Boy Band Con,’ a documentary produced by Lance Bass, one of the member of one of those bands, NSync.
The documentary is part ‘Behind The Music,’ and part dissection of Perlman and how he achieved what he did, both in positive and negative terms. Aaron Kunkler, the director, presents the facts in a mostly straightforward manner. It tries to dig deep on how Perlman was able to embezzle money by interviewing some of his investors. At the same time, interviews with boy band members shed light on the bands’ rise and fall. While the documentary is insightful, it lacks focus. I admit to being more interested in the ‘boy band’ part, but the finance part should have appealed to me just as well. It seems drier here, and felt not as sexy as, say, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi schemes when basically they did the exact same thing. Part of Perlman’s ‘sins’ is his alleged sexual predatory of soem of the young men in the bands. Aaron Carter vehemently denies that here (his aggressive apologist stand seems alarming) but besides that is only briefly mentioned here. Even if the information in the documentary is varied, it felt to me like that there’s not much new.