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Posts Tagged ‘Mel Brooks’

They showed the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors on television last night.  It’s always an interesting show, highlighting the careers of some of the most enduring and venerable performers and entertainers.  A virtual who’s who of our culture over the last half century.

For me, this years group of honorees was as good as it gets across the board.  You had high culture with operatic hero Grace Bumbry, jazz culture with the ever hip piano of Dave Brubeck, rock and roll with Bruce Springsteen, the world of comedy from Mel Brooks and the ultimate in dramatic acting from Robert De Niro.  What an incredible group.

One of the highlights for me was the absolute look of joy on Dave Brubeck’s face as his four sons joined in to play a medley of his compositions.  The night fell on his 89th birthday and he seems to be a testament to the longevity of those who are able to follow their passion.  I don’t know squat about jazz but what I feel is that Brubeck’s work has appeal across the spectrum of listeners out there.  There’s enough stellar playing and complicated rhythms to satisfy real jazz fans yet it’s incredibly accessible to the less savvy, like me.  Great stuff.

Of course, the other was the tribute to Bruce Springsteen.  I’ve been a big fan for well over 30 years and it’s been interesting to see how he has transformed into an elder statesman of  popular music.  I think that Jon Stewart hit it right on the head for me when he spoke of Bruce’s willingness to empty the tank for his audience every night as being the thing that most struck him and influenced him as a young fan.  I know seeing Bruce when I was younger made me hungry to find something, anything, that would make me feel that same passion and commitment in my own life.  Something where, like Bruce, I could give everything I had.  The medium wasn’t important.  It was all about the spirit of the effort, the total dedication to your own vision.  That is always in the back of mind when I see him, even today.

I remember writing a letter in the 70’s (long before e-mail) to Dave Marsh, the Rolling Stone editor who had just written an early bio of Bruce, describing how the music affected me.  I was working in a factory and couldn’t see anything on the horizon but when I listened to Bruce I was no longer a loser, a factory drone.  I had hope.  It was very much how Jon Stewart described his own experience.  Marsh responded with a lovely handwritten letter, that I still prize today, telling me how he was moved by my letter.  That, too, served as inspiration to search further, to give more.

Thanks, Bruce, for the inspiration.  You deserve this honor…

Here’s nice version of My City of Ruins from night’s show, performed by Eddie Vedder.  Enjoy.

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Sometimes when you think about what you might write down on a list of your favorite movies there are some that evade your memory until you see it again and, like a desert flower, blooms again in your mind.

Such is the case with 84 Charing Cross Road.

It was on TCM last night and we flipped it on just to glimpse a few moments and ended up watching the whole thing.  I was immediately reminded of how much I like the film.

From 1987, it’s a movie about books and the written letter.  Hardly an action-filled two hours.  It’s the true story of writer Helene Hanff and her 20 year correspondence with a London bookshop, Marks and Co., located at 84 Charing Cross Road.  In 1949, Hanff an aspiring and struggling NY playwright responded a small classified ad from the bookseller.  She was seeking obscure British literature and was unable to locate her desired works in shops.  The movie follows the correspondence between Hanff over the next 20 years with the staff of the shop and how they effected each other’s lives with small acts of kindness and humor.  Hanff never made the trip to London until after the manager she primarily corresponded with had died and the shop had closed.

It’s a small quiet film that celebrates two things that are racing to obscurity- books and the posted letter.  Just a lovely and charming film.

The great Anne Bancroft stars in the film as Hanff and as usual, is wonderful.  I have had a longtime crush on Anne Bancroft to the point that when I think of Mel Brooks I don’t think of his great movies but instead find myself thinking what a lucky bastard he was to have married Anne Bancroft.   It also stars Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel, the main man at the bookshop and Judi Dench as his wife.

If you love the feel of an old book and still get excited when you receive a hand-written note,  you most likely will enjoy this film.  It remains one of my sometimes forgotten favorites.

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The Producers 1968There are different scenes in different movies that I’ve come to know when they fall in the film’s timeline, so much so that I will tune in at just the moment the scene I enjoy most appears.

One of my favorites is a scene from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, the 1968 original, not the newer and far inferior remake.  The original is a great piece of comedy with great performances from Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars (all shown in the photo above) as well as the rest of the cast.

dick shawn as LSDBut the scene I tune in for, even if I don’t have time to watch the whole film, is the one where they are auditioning actors for the cast of their ill-fated Springtime For Hitler and Dick Shawn appears onstage as Lorenzo St. DuBois – LSD.

In his audition he does a great song, a very period piece, called Love Power backed by a female band reminiscent of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love.  Shawn’s delivery, costume and dance make me laugh every time I see it.

See if it does the same for you…

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