Thursday, December 28, 2006

After the Holidays

My girlfriend has a blog on blogger called Jungle Dream Pagoda. I actually don't know how to link it. I may try with this entry but it may fail miserably. It's a great blog, all about her trifting hobby, her beautiful family and home and her adventures as an actress (occasionally this comes up but MOSTLY the blog is about her home, her family, her hobbies). I read her once a week, at least. The holidays, though, kept me busy and today I got to go to her blog and catch up. One of her entries was a challenge:

Write a Christmas Haiku.

I never wrote a haiku before but I was willing to give it a try. This is a copy of the reply I gave her--the reason it is ending up here is because part of the challenge was to spread the challenge by posting it on my own blog.


My Christmas Haiku:

Christmas is over.
The decorations are down.
The spirit lives on.

It was a very soul searching holiday for me. I am excited and proud that I came through to the other side with lessons learned and great optimism. In certain ways, I am a different person today.

sidebar: Every year we name our Christmas tree. It is a tradition started by Brady Schwind, one of the years he spent Christmas with us. Over the years there have been Aldonza Gillian, Grizabella Marmelstein, Rubba Rubba Ruth (all named by Brady), Wilma Featherstone (named by Pat) and this year (seen above) we had Tallulah Toffelmeier (named by me). Aint' she purty?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I've Got No Secret

I'm so base.

I cannot help it; I just am. The best I can do is own it. I love looking at Daniel Craig coming up out of the ocean in CASINO ROYALE and I have photos of Matthew MaConaughey all over my fridge, to remind me to not eat and to work out. And I have the crush of the century on Dave Lieberman (he cannot, surely, eat all that rich food he cooks, for he looks very fit!).

But, as crushes go, it's much easier to have one on someone you know that (if you ever met in person) you might stand a chance with.

Billy Bean is famous to baseball fans and famous to homosexuals for coming out after achieving fame as a sports figure. He is in real estate and he is a motivational speaker. He is a charming panelist on the game show I'VE GOT A SECRET and he has the most delightful smile and dimples this side of Mario Lopez.

Whether onscreen or in a photograph, it's always the same. I see Billy Bean and I cannot breathe.

What's the name of that movie? Waiting to Exhale?

After I finish this blog and leave the other room, I will exhale...

please note that I did not do the photos seen above. I hope to, one day, get a photo shoot with Billy Bean but, as yet, it hasn't happened...

Christmas Should Be Spent With Loved Ones

I have watched all my Christmas movies! Every one of them, have I watched. There have been Christmases when I didn't make it through the pile of videos and dvds but this year I did it! Good for me! So now, as I work around the house, I have been watching movies that are not Christmas movies but that are INCIDENTALLY involving Christmas. There is a portion of STEEL MAGNOLIAS that takes place at Christmastime. It's the holiday season during EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. A MIDWINTER'S TALE takes place during the Yuletide. And my favourite.. LOVE, ACTUALLY is not really a Christmas movie but without the Christmas holiday there would be no movie. And I don't want to get into a review of the film because almost everyone has seen it and appreciates it. To state the obvious: Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy. Does it get better than that? I will state the opinion: Hugh Grant is so charming--I don't think he gets the respect he deserves. What timing he has! I will state my pride: I was behind Laura Linney when she was working on the New York stage and wasn't the darling of the movie going world. Ditto Colin Firth, whom I have loved since ANOTHER COUNTRY. I will state the base: Rodrigo Santoro... grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I will state the musical: what a phenomenal soundtrack (note to self: buy the cd). I will state the obscure: cameos? By Elisha Cuthbert, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, Ivana Milicevic, Shannon Elizabeth AND writer/director Richard Curtis? Then there are non cameos but small roles filled (beautifully) by Rowan Atkinson and Billy Bob Thornton.. What freakin fun!

I love Richard Curtis. I truly do. He and Audrey Wells are my new beloved film makers, joining Stanley Donnen on the short list of my favs. Richard is responsible (in one war or another) for THE TALL GUY, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, NOTTING HILL, the BRIDGET JONES movies, BLACKADDER's, MR BEAN's and THE GIRL IN THE CAFE. He is quite brilliant.

The storyline, the film making, the fluidity, the deleted scenes (!).. so much about LOVE, ACTUALLY delights my soul, not the least of which is the message. It is all about love, in all its different forms.

And then there are love affairs started (for me) with this movie. My deep abiding love for Kiera Knightly (with whom I am obsessed, thanks to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), Martine McCutchen (we actually do not call the movie LOVE, ACTUALLY--we call it "Natalie"), Andrew Lincoln (marry me, please, right now) and Thomas Sangster (the coolest child actor around these days). Oh, and did I mention Olivia Anderson, who plays Joanna, the coolest girl in school and the singer of my favourite Christmas song, ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU? And yes, that is her doing the singing... Have mercy.

Yes. LOVE ACTUALLY is one of my favourite movies and favourite Christmas movies. I'm lucky my mom sat me down and said "watch this with me, you will love it" and I am lucky that I have watched all my traditional Christmas films and got to squeeze this one in. You know, I cry every time Aurelia and Jamie meet face to face and he says "You learned English" and they kiss for the first time and that three note chord is struck. It is magic. The kind of magic we need in our every day lives. We don't get that kind of magic every day.

Good thing we each have our LOVE, ACTUALLYs.

Merry Christmas youse all. I wish on everyone, those I know and those I do not, a little more magic; for the holiday and for every day, for as long as it can happen.

please note that I did not take the above photos of the LOVE, ACTUALLY cast, Kiera Knightly, Thomas Sangster, Andrew Lincoln and Martine McCutcheon. I lifted them off the internet; no photo credit was available. I WISH I had taken them, though....

Friday, December 22, 2006

At Long Last Love

I have fallen most hopelessly and irrevocably in love.

I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that I have not read any Jane Austen in my life. Ashamed because I have been an avid reader since I was a small boy. Mosher family lore tells that my mother received a phone call from my Fifth Grade teacher, concerned because I was reading James Michener's Hawaii. A similar call with graver concerns came from the headmaster of St Columban's when I was discovered, in the 7th Grade, to be reading the racy THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. Both times, my mother derided the educators for dispairing over a student who reads...

I have prided myself for being well read; and I have disparaged myself for not making more time to read. I have loved the works of literary greats like Wilde, Fitzgerald, Capote and Waugh and relished the works of more modern day authors like Sheldon, Conroy and (my recently declared favourite) Cunningham. Yet in all my time in the pages, I never read any Jane Austen. I even owned a set of Jane Austen novels from the beginning of the last century. They were beautiful and I would, from time to time, take one down and hold it and smell it and treasure the feel of it. I did not, though, read them; I started to read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY but found that the pages were attached. They had never been cut. Every two pages were still connected. Afraid of depreciating the value of the books, they stayed on display. I wanted to read them, badly, but figured I could pick up a paperback for two dollars. I loved those books. I also love my apartment and food and when I found myself flat-out broke, I sold them to a book dealer for a few hundred dollars. That few hundred dollars went far in my household.

Now, having seen and loved the film SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and (frankly) having seen and loved, even more, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I am a devout fan of the storytelling of Miss Austen. I admit that my obsession starts with the extraordinary film version of the latter named film because I am in love with every single frame. I am in love with every single character (even the horrible ones, for they are so wonderfully horrible as to make the story even better). I am in love with the actors who create the characters. I am in love with the cinematography, the art direction, the score. It is, for me, a completely perfect movie. I am in love with Kiera Knightly, with Matthew Macfadyen, I am in love with Simon Woods, and I think Donald Sutherland will have to be placed on my list of my favourite actors. Do I need to even mention how much I love Jude? My friend, Dame Judi Dench, who does not like being called Dame Judi Dench, is always stunning in every movie, play, tv show or tv commercial she does and this film is no exception.

In short; I am in love.

I am in love with the language. Did I say that?

"I have the utmost respect for your nerves, my dear. They have been my constant companion these twenty years."

"I can't help thinking that at some point someone is going to produce a piglet and we'll all have to chase it. "

"From the first moment I met you, your arrogance and conceit, your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you were the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.

"You have bewitched me body and soul and I love, I love, I love you..." OOOHHHH!! Have mercy.

When Matthew Macfayden says that line I fall to pieces, every time. Notice his discomfort and vulnerability and the way he faulters, blinks, and lowers his head on the last declaration of love. And there are times when Kiera Knightly looks at him, at his statue, at a space where he was and no longer is and you can see it all, right there: love, sorrow, regret, anger, longing. Pat told me that Donald Sutherland has called her the great actress of her generation. Sigh. I love these people.

I love Jane Austen. Yes. Jane Austen. You see, I have started reading the book PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I stand on the subway, looking all ghetto in my hoodie and shorts and work boots, on my way to the gym, reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and laughing...LAUGHING. And I notice people watching me--usually older women who smile at the fact that a young person, and a man, is reading this incomparable work of literature. I am so grateful for the fact of this book and for the works of Miss Austen which I will read, presently. For, you see, as much as I love every frame, every actor, every character and the book I am reading. I must love Miss Jane Austen more; because she gave me the greatest love to come out of this whole adventure.

Miss Elizabeth Bennett.

How can any actress NOT be champing at the bit to play her? I actually own the box set of the series done with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth but have never had a chance (read: the time) to watch it. I will do it, now. And I will seek out the version with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, too. I am sure there are others but I will focus on these three versions, returning (I am sure) repeatedly for the one for which I first experienced such love.

My friend, Liz, is a big fan of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, too. She has mentioned it to me several times, not to my surprise because she has impeccable taste. I believe this about her. I wonder if this means I have taste, too. Well. I don't really care if I have taste. All I know is Jane Austen has gotten me.

And, it would appear, I get her.

please note that I did not do the photo seen above

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Time To Make The Donuts

I had a day off work yesterday!!!

I have my regular work as a photographer and I have had some really cool clients lately. The last two were a male couple--only one is gay and one is straight. They are each other's best friends. It's sort of like me and Jimmy Nelson. I call him my heterosexual and he calls me his homosexual and I love him, dearly. That was this couple. They came in to split a photo shoot and the results made me SO happy! But one picked up his pics and the other's pics were shipped to him at home, out west, where he has gone to be with his family for the holidays.
There are no other clients with whom I am dealing, currently.

Then there is my work as a personal assistant. Neither of my bosses needed me yesterday.

I made it to the gym.

And my work as Housespouse/Trophy Boy is all in order.


I got up at four am and began baking. For the last 20 years I have given homemade baked goods to the people in my life, at Christmastime. There are cookies and brownies and muffins for anyone who comes in my home; cookies have been presented to the people who print my pictures, my lawyer's office (though I stopped doing that a few years ago because he told me not to bring him any more of "those Goddamned brownies--I hate them"), the girls at the bank, the Super, the Chiropractor's office, the post office workers, the girls at Food Emporium and Rite Aid and whatever office Pat is working for. So it's a big day for me--it has, in fact, usually been a week of baking. However--I am so busy these days that I had to crammmmmm it into a day. I started at four am and by the time Pat had arisen at seven, I had made:

--Chocolate break (dark chocolate, toasted almonds, dried cranberries and tangerine zest)
--Chocolate bark (semi sweet chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter and broken Oreos)
--10 Dozen Holiday Nuggets (those powdered sugar cookies everyone loves)
--20 Dozen Chocolate chip oatmeal peanut butter cookies
--1 pan of Katharine Hepburn brownies without nuts
--1 pan of Katharine Hepburn brownies with nuts

And after he went to work I got started on:

--10 Dozen Oatmeal raisin cookies
--10 Dozen Holiday Fruit Drops (my mom's recipe and my favourite cookie...YUM!)
--3 Dozen Peanut Butter cookies (for certain people who don't like chocolate)

The kitchen being completely and totally like a sauna, I placed every freshly baked item into the living room, where the windows were opened and the Vornado filling every nook with cool air. They would be ready to pack by three pm. It looked like Amy's Bread or, better yet, La Guli! I had to stop, though, before I could do the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins, the Oatmeal Lacies and the Chocolate dipped Hazelnut cookies. I simply ran out of time, ran out of steam and ran out of focus.

I packaged up the cookies in Chinese food containers, little tins, tupperware and ran around town like some demented Christmas Elf. Mind you, I had my Ipod on some good Christmas music (All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey--on repeat) and the day was bright and brisk and the lights twinkly and shiny. I made a lot of people happy and that is my favourite thing to do.

I managed to get away with only eating about five cookies, myself. That's my other favourite thing to do.


I'm not sure I can do it again, next year. If I am going to be a health and fitness fanatic, I should probably eschew this kind of cooking and eating, altogether. I think that, next year, everyone will be given vegetable baskets or huge batches of Tilapia.

Merry Christmas to them...

And a healthy New Year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Little Slap

It's been quite a week.

Well, truthfully, it's been two weeks. I've been balancing out the work that I do for my author, the work he and I are doing on the Florence Klotz estate; I have been hired by the executrix of the Florence Klotz estate to help organize the personal matters, aside from my work on the business matters. I have had to continue my work with my photographic clients; and I continue my work as the best housespouse in Manhattan. And the gym. Leave us, never, forget the gym.

I also threw my friend, Marci, a birthday party. To prepare for this party I decided to paint the kitchen. Have mercy. I had a week to do it. I knew that the week before the party would be spent cooking and cleaning--and there was limited amounts of time to do that because of my dayjob(s). So one night on the way home from the gym I asked Pat if we could stop at Home Depot. We spent a long time looking at different options for wall decorating. There are these beautiful shades of colours in this material that you scrape on with a trowel and then you scrape on a lighter or darker shade, later, to make a marbled effect. It was just what I wanted. But it was too complicated, too much work and too much money. So we bought paint and a roller.

I have painted rooms before, to disastrous effect. It never works out for me. I just make a mess. But this time I was determined.

That very night I began stripping old paint off of a window sill. I had done this before on two different doorways and never finished. It is a long and boring process and I HATE it. You strip with either a liquid paint remover or a heat gun; and in a New York apartment you are stripping YEARS of paint and many different coats. UNadvisable. The doorway to the living room remained unfinished, as did the door to The Happy Room and, now, the window from to the a/c shaft. Ech. More on that later, I decided and I began to paint. I was going to paint the walls to that kitchen, hell or high water. So I went to bed with the paint stripping project in full force and the next day, when Pat left for work, I began to paint.

Pat chose the colour. It was a beautiful sunflower-y colour that would make the room bright. I was happy with it and I hoped he would be, too. Well, he was. After the initial shock of going to work with dingy grey/white walls with cracks and nail holes and velcro sticky from wall hangings from the past and coming home to bright yellow walls, he stood in the middle of the room and said it made all the difference in the world.

The next day came the hard part. The trim. I had white paint, which I used on all the baseboards. Then I ran to the paint store for a few quarts of red, blue and pale green paint that I splashed on these paints in various places around the baseboards. Well. I didn't splash them on. I took painstaking care to paint them on in fine lines--blue over here, red over here, etc.. And for the doors I chose a colour and a technique and painted them. One was a rag-on technique, the other was rag-off and the other was dragging. I taped and painted and pulled. I found a way to use the unfinished stripping to create a (seeming) purposefully unfinished look. It took days and days and, finally, on a Sunday morning, Pat went for a massage and I promised myself that I would paint the ceiling and have the kitchen finished by the time he got home.

When he walked in, it was as though the room had always looked that way. The only thing left to do was hang the wall hangings. I knew that I wanted to hang one of my grandmother's sketches and some real artwork--paintings and drawings. I knew that I wanted to hang a photo of Pat and I with our son and I knew that I wanted to hang a photo of my idol, Brian Kinney. Naturally, the portrait of my mother would stay where it was; and I thought it would be good to hang my letter from Katharine Hepburn over my desk. Ah. My signed photo from Mae West (my grandfather's onetime employer) would go nicely, there, too. And the colours in the mask Jennifer Houston made me for Christmas a few years ago would be perfect against the yellow wall. And that tiny watercolour I had bought at that auction that summer I saw Nancy LaMott sing in upstate New York. A photo of Tom and me would be nice...but the origami swan he made me would be more interesting. And the huge P and S that Tony and Jim gave us HAD to be incorporated into the room. Mom and Dad brought me some trivets from Portugal and they gave me an olive oil jug expressly to go in my Tuscan kitchen. I had all the fixins. Just needed to hang them up and place them around the room... AND wait for the ones to arrive from Texas!

I called and asked my mom to send them. One is a painting she, herself, did; I have always loved it. The other two are paintings my parents acquired in Portugal; she gave them to me when I went to college. They are going to look perfect in my new kitchen. I hope that soon, the landlord might give us new flooring, new cabinets and a new stove. I doubt that it will happen. He has been promising us these things for three years, going on four. And when one is a renter, there isn't a whole heckuva lot one can do, especially on a limited income. The best one can do is keep the place as clean as possible and cut your suit to fit your cloth. But at least I have the peace of mind in knowing that I can do something new, something important.

I can take control of my space and make it more live-able, more comfortable, more home-y.

And I know the truth:

I could never have done it if not for the film UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. It was my inspiration and my guide, my beacon of light.

In so, so many ways....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chick Singer

It was today. I know it without looking; and I have a terrible head for dates. I forget friends' birthdays, anniversaries, even dates I have with friends. Once, I forgot my father's birthday and it is two days before my own. For that matter, once I forgot my own birthday.

But I always remember that Nancy LaMott died on December 13th, even though the days just before I find myself thinking "was it today? or was it the 13th?"

On one of my other blogs I began a story, years ago, a serial in which I told the story (or stories, if you will) about how I met LaMottski and how we became friends and some of the adventures we shared. I never finished that serial. It seemed too final. To tell the whole story would be to be finished with Nancy LaMott.

I don't ever want to be finished with Nancy LaMott.

She is with me every day, even though I may not listen to her music every day. I don't have to actively turn on a LaMott cd to hear her. Her music is embedded in my soul. I have a LaMott playlist in my Ipod. It is called, simply, Nancy, Naturally; and it is all the songs that I think a person SHOULD know by the girl who called herself (because Tony Bennet did) 'chick singer'.
Perhaps that is a good way to honour her on this day. The songs in the playlist are, in this order:

Child In Me Again from the BEAUTIFUL BABY cd. It's Nancy and a piano. That's all it needs. That voice... Heavenly.

Moon River from COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. There are four essential recordings of this song, for my money. The one and only, the immortal Miss Audrey Hepburn; the only uptempo version to be accepted, by Nancy Wilson; my own recording that I did live for my cd SIMPLE (and I am really proud of the fact that I attempted this song and did it well) and Nancy's. It is a unique recording.

Laura from MY FOOLISH HEART. It was the first time I ever heard the song and, now, whenever I hear someone else sing it, I hear Nancy.

Blue Skies from BEAUTIFUL BABY. You never HEARD jazz this good.

Stay With Me from JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS, the only REAL Christmas cd that matters and my favourite.

With Every Breath I Take from BEAUTIFUL BABY. This song and Stay With Me are from the musical CITY OF ANGELS and Nancy just purrs and growls and sounds as smooth as my mama's french silk frosting...

That Old Black Magic from COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. Did you know that this is the song I sing in the shower? Every time. Sometimes I sing Marilyn Monroe's version, sometimes Sammy Davis Jr.s. But not Nancy's. That would be attempting Everest.

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby from BEAUTIFUL BABY cd. It must be heard to be believed.

My Foolish Heart from the cd of the same name. This was the first time I ever heard Nancy sing and it was halfway through the song that I took all my Barbra Streisand cds and moved them to the back of the shelf...

Help Is On The Way from BEAUTIFUL BABY, the most uplifting song of hope I will ever know..

The Days Of Wine And Roses/Whistling Away The Dark from COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. Can you believe it? In one song I get Nancy, Mercer, Mancini and references to my favourites, Lee Remick and Julie Andrews. I would never have imagined combining these two songs but Nancy never played by any rules, anyway.

Have You Got Any Castles? from LISTEN TO MY HEART. Nancy LaMott at her jazziest, cleverest, most tongue in cheek feminist fashion. This is the song a non-LaMott listener should hear, when hearing Nancy for the first time.

A Child Is Born from JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS. It is midnight. It is starting to snow. The true meaning of Christmas is right here and now, if only you will listen.

We Can Be Kind from LISTEN TO MY HEART. It is a message that I believe and that I believe we should all observe. I have heard others sing this song but no one has got the message across quite the way Nancy does.

Goodnight Moon from the Kathie Lee Gifford album DREAMSHIP. Nancy does the harmony with Ms Gifford and makes a lovely recording extraordinary.

Rhode Island Is Famous For You from MY FOOLISH HEART. I once heard someone say that this is Nancy at her best. It is a snappy tune with clever lyrics, Nancy and a musician or two. I'd have to say, he was right, the man who said this. You don't need to dress up something this great with frou frou arrangements and a 21 piece orchestra.

PS I Love You from COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. We should all be so lucky to get this letter, from anyone.

No Moon At All/Old Devil Moon from MY FOOLISH HEART. This was the medley I read on the back of the cd to make me buy it, the first time I saw it. My first LaMott cd and the one that hooked me, forever. She made these medleys a trademark and, boy, when she trademarked something, no one should try it again..

I'll Be Home For Christmas from JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS. The simplicity and emotion. It was what Nancy was all about. She once told me that if she hit a wrong note in performance, she didn't care, as long as the emotion was real. That was the greatest lesson she taught me: honesty.

Talk To Me Baby from COME RAIN OR COME SHINE. Maybe my personal favourite. I can still see Nancy at the Oak Room, doing this number live, flirting with Chris and Jay...that is...with their instruments. Nancy stuck between two men, a cello and a piano. Whew!

Out of This World/So In Love from LISTEN TO MY HEART. I had seen Nancy do this number (she called it the Obsession Medley) several times and when she was recording the cd there was a chance she would not do this piece. It was one of the few times in my adult life that I actually prayed for something other than guidance...

All Those Christmas Cliches from JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS. The morning Nancy died it was snowing. I cried a few tears and I went Christmas shopping. Life must go on and she knew it. They were playing this song at the HMV at 72nd street and the clerks were all ashen in the face. In fact, almost every record store I went into on that day was playing Nancy. It is simply not Christmas without this number.

Ordinary Miracles from LISTEN TO MY HEART. I loved Miss Barbra Streisand since I was a boy. I love her recording of this song. Nancy's proves that Barbra is not the living end. Besting Barbra Streisand is some great way to go out..

I Love A Piano. This is from an audio bootleg I got my hands on and the first time I heard it was in the car. I was driving and listening to a live recording and each song was something I had already heard. Then this tune happened and I had to pull over. I was crying and I could not breathe...

Where Do You Start? from MY FOOLISH HEART. The saddest song ever written has been sung by everyone. But remember.... Nancy specialized in honesty...

Listen To My Heart from the cd of that name. It was her signature tune. No LaMott collection is complete without it.

In Passing Years from BEAUTIFUL BABY. This song reminds me of my friendship with Nancy and with my dear friend, Mary Margaret. It is a simple song and it touches my heart, the way they do.

I'll Be Here With You from LISTEN TO MY HEART. It is Nancy's song for Peter Zapp and my song for Pat and each couple's song for each other. I can hear no one else sing this song. Literally.

Some Other Time from NANCY LAMOTT LIVE AT TAVERN ON THE GREEN. Comden and Green gave us this simple message and Nancy got it and delivers..

Oh Wow. This was a demo Nancy did that few people get to hear. I wish they could.

No One Is Alone/Not While I'm Around was recorded by Nancy and Christ Marlowe as part of a gift for a friend and it is, exactly, as special as you might imagine..

Another Mister Right Left is a demo of a David Zippel song, the kind of bluesey torchy song that Nancy understood and put forth in a way that was all her own.

As I Remember Him from the Portia Nelson cd THIS LIFE. It is the last song Nancy ever recorded and you can hear that she was sick. It uplifts me and breaks my heart, simultaneously. I think she knew it was the last thing she would record.

The Things That Matter is a demo that Nancy gave me. It might be my favourite recording of hers because of the message that 'the things that matter are very small' and the way that she believed it.

The Waters of March ended up on the TAVERN ON THE GREEN cd but this is a version that I like better, one that was played on the radio. NOBODY sang this song like Nancy. NOBODY.

Downtown from the WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT GOODBYE cd. After she was gone, this cd was released. I was at the HMV on 5th avenue and saw it and rushed to the listening station and it was the first song I went to. She sounds so happy, so alive. I stood in the store, tears rolling down my face, and laughing....

Nancy LaMott is my favourite singer. She came along and forced me to make the distinction that she was my favourite and that Helen Reddy was the singer I had loved longer than any other. Nancy LaMott was a dear friend, one with whom I spent not enough time. I have many stories and a few photos but they are all I am left with, other than these recordings. She was taken too soon and everyone who knew her and loved her, and many who didn't, are grateful she came out way. The photos featured above are digital pics of photos that have hung in my home: one is from the LISTEN TO MY HEART album cover sessions, one is a shot of Nancy and her husband, Peter Zapp and one is of Nancy recording THE LADY DOWN THE HALL for her final album. I will not show the only photo of Nancy and me together..

One day, during her final months, my phone rang.

"Hi, it's LaMottski. What are you doing today?"

"I don't know, what ARE we doing today?"

"Meet me at this address and bring your camera...."

I joined Nancy at the wigmaker's. Kathie Lee had bought Nancy two wigs; one synthetic and one made of human hair. She was having them fitted. She decided that since her hair was coming out, she should just shave it off. We did pics of her laughing her ass off as her golden locks were shorn and she took on the look of GI Jane, then we did the photos of her having her Nicole Kidman TO DIE FOR wig fitted. She looked gorgeous. After that we went to lunch at John's Pizzeria on 67th (I think). During lunch we were talking about her boyfriend, Peter, the man who would end up marrying her on her deathbed. I said "He's a good man."

Nancy looked at me, simply, and said "you're a good man."

I can see her eyes and hear her voice, still. It is one of the only times I have accepted a compliment, absolutely, for I wanted that endorsement; and it has kept me going during dark times.

A few years later, I got out the photos of Nancy at the wig shop. Laughing, head shaved, watching the wigmaker in the mirror. The mirror. There, in the mirror, you see a man whose face is hidden by the camera through which he is looking. Ha. I had discovered it, the one and only shot of me with my girlfriend and you can't see my face. Ha. I remembered the time Nancy said to me "no one has ever photographed me the way you do, Stephen." The only picture of us together and all you could see of me was a camera in front of my face.

I laughed out loud.

How perfect.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

One of the Best Laughs in Hollywood

It's so random.

I was just thinking about how much I love this woman. I don't know why I was thinking about her. I just was. I love her acting. I love her looks. I love her brains (I have read interviews with the woman. I love her brains.)

I loved her commentary on the dvd of THE LAST OF SHEILA.

I loved her as Whipper Cone on ALLY MCBEAL.

I have loved her since as long as I can remember and I have no analysis of why. I just do.

In HEAVEN CAN WAIT (Oscar nominated supporting actress), she is so funny; and she has a scene that is so memorable that, from time to time, either Pat or I will just (randomly!) say

"You locked me in a closet!!"

Dyan Cannon, wherever you are, I love you.

please note that I did not do the photo seen above

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I Miss You So Much

Flipping stations yesterday and landed on MIXED NUTS. It's not a great movie but it can be enjoyed. There she was though.

The funny thing is, she is someone I am aware of every single day of my life. I may not, actively, think of her.. But she is always there. She's like the cross I wear around my neck and the diamond in my ear; I don't always notice they are there because I have gotten used to them--but I know they are there. Or my tattoos. Sometimes I have to go to a mirror and look at the one on my back because I haven't seen it in awhile; but I know it is there.

That's how it is with her.

She's always there...

please note that I did not do the photo seen above

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thread Retread

Do you think the film makers of the world are bored? No, really. Are they bored? Because I know it cannot be that there is a lack of new material being written. There are movies being made, every year, that are completely new ideas. Remember ADAPTATION? How about BEING JOHN MALCOVICH? There is always STRANGER THAN FICTION. LOVE, ACTUALLY was a film written to be a film--and it is a most original piece of storytelling. People ARE writing new stories and scripts for movies. And when they aren't busy trying to come up with completely new ideas, they are searching for existing works to turn into movies. Since they have turned all of Stephen King's novels into films, they have dipped into his short story collection. They are turning Broadway musicals into musical movies. We have novels like RUNNING WITH SCISSORS and films based on old, old writings like when they turned the Maugham book THEATER into a beautiful movie called BEING JULIA. There are people writing, out there, for the screen.

So why the propensity for taking properties that have already been preserved on film.. And to perfection or near perfection.. and remaking them?

I had heard that they were doing a remake of THE LION IN WINTER. It was announced a couple or three years back that Showtime was doing the James Goldman piece with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Mmm Hmm. That's what I thought when I heard the news. Mmm Hmm. I love me some Glenn Close. She is one of my absolute favourites. I can rattle off the movies on my favourites list that she has been in but, instead, I should just direct you to the IMDB site. I've worked with the star that they call Glennie and I have declared her to be one of the most generous and loving and beautiful people I have encountered in my travels. And as far as Patrick Stewart goes, I have only two things to say. Well, three things: 1--the man is one of our great actors, unquestionably. 2--Thank you, Patrick Stewart, for making men without hair sexy and allowing me a chance to be considered attractive. 3--Woof. Ok? The man is movie star handsome. Good thing he is not just a damned fine actor but a damned fine movie star. I had great hopes for the new THE LION IN WINTER.

Oh, did I mention that THE LION IN WINTER is my favourite play? How about THE LION IN WINTER is my favourite movie? I mean, I know everyone knows that Katharine Hepburn is my favourite actress but did everyone know about me and THE LION IN WINTER?

I loved the piece even before I knew what the heck was going on in it. I saw the film on Channel 11 in 1984. I had my very first vcr and I taped it on a Kodak videotape (back when they were heavy and sturdy and came in the heavy cardboard black and yellow box) and watched it over and over again, trying to memorize the crackling dialogue so that I could talk like that in my real life, impressing people with my sharp wit and educated mind. Never mind that I didn't understand all the political jargon and machinations (I was never very good at hisory or social studies in school), I worshipped the filmmaking, the camera angles, the art direction (the realism of those rustic sets!), the music (this film introduced me to my first strains of John Barry music and made him into my favourite film composer, for the rest of my life), the acting. Every piece of the puzzle was in place. I have spent my adult life watching this movie and learning new things, seeing new moments (just two nights ago I turned on my dvd and Pat and I both saw something we had never seen before -- in the scene where Eleanor says 'I'll scratch a will on this!'), having new revelations.

I was lucky enough to see Stockard Channing and Laurence Fishburn do the revival on Broadway. I had never seen THE LION IN WINTER onstage before and I had a good/terrible time doing so. Naturally, there are preconcieved ideas and I tried, valiantly, to throw them out. I managed to get behind the production values for the production. I had to do no work, whatsoever, to support the great Miss Channing and Mr Fishburn. The children, though, ...
Well, the less time spent talking about that, the better. Especially miscast, misdirected and downright bad was the actor who played Philip Capet.

I played Philip. Twice. In college I was asked to do the tapestry scene. I wanted to play Philip and Ann Gerity asked me to play Philip. Pat was playing Henry. He was too young for the part but I was just right for mine. In a college situation, in a directing class, age did not matter--only talent. And Pat Dwyer has always been my favourite actor, he has always had a talent that captured me, heart and soul. Playing that scene with him is the most fulfilled I have ever been, onstage. The second time I played the part was at the Grand Prairie Community Theater. Laura Wells was playing Alais, Scott Latham was playing Geoffrey and I do not remember the names of the other actors. In my personal life, I loved our director. Professionally, I had to work at trusting his judgement and respecting his wishes. The production was fraught with difficulties and unhappinesses, not the least of which was the substandard talents of our king and queen (he, more than she). Each day, Laura would pick me up and we would make the drive from Dallas to Grand Prairie, in virtual silence. To break up the impending doom we felt, as we approached the theater, we might gossip about life or we might kvetch about the production. We were elated to be together, even if we only shared the stage, briefly, for a few moments; we were, further, excited to be working with her paramour, Scott, who was a wonderfully fun and exciting actor with whom to share a stage. However, to balance out the misery of getting to say those glorious lines in a sinking ship of a production, I had to watch at least ten minutes of the film, each day, to remind myself of why I was doing it: to get to say those glorious lines. Even in a bad production of THE LION IN WINTER, happiness can be found.

And the new film version of THE LION IN WINTER is a bad one.

Go ahead. Jump all over me. I will defend my opinion to the death.

I will start by re iterating that I love Mr Stewart and Miss Close. I will even say that I have enormous floods of respect and admiration for Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who played Philip). I know nothing and care to know nothing about the other actors who appear in this movie because they bored me out of my mind. I don't think I could sit through another movie by the man who directed this film because I, simply, cannot invest the time or the respect. It's important that I be clear about this film: I hated it. Oh, I know that it was nominated for a bunch of awards. I also know that it won a couple. I don't care. I don't care if everyone in the world says that it was the best movie they ever saw. I will continue to maintain that it was lumbering, plodding, boring and ham fisted.

THE LION IN WINTER is a comedy! Did everyone forget that? I know, I know... It's hard to remember that it is a comedy with so much plotting and fighting and drama turning up all over the place. I understand everyone's confusion. I always thought that THE SEAGULL was a boring melodrama--until I saw Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline and (sigh) Natalie Portman in it. It's a comedy. Somebody dies and it is STILL a comedy. It's like life--laughter and tears in the same breath. Some years ago I awoke irritated because I knew I was seeing HEDDA GABLER that night. I was loathe to see another production of that boring-ass melodrama but I was going because I adore .. wait.. ADORE .. there, that's better Kate Burton. Well now I really adore her because she FINALLY made me see why I hated HEDDA. I hated HEDDA because every production I had ever seen of it made it a plodding drama (albeit, one time, a riveting plodding drama). Only after seeing La Burton play Hedda did I realize that IT is a comedy TOO!!!

If you watch the Anthony Harvey film version of THE LION IN WINTER, you will laugh. You will laugh out loud. You will laugh at crackling dialogue and humourous performances. You will laugh at absurd situations where people who love each other hate each other; they are a family and trying to hurt each other. The are playing a game--and games are meant to amuse. Oh, and how we are amused. The pace snaps along and the characters say things straight out and quickly because there isn't enough time to waste with pregnant pause. They have 24 hours to outwit, outsmart and outlast; they don't have a month to get it right-it's now or never. The actors understood this and the director drove the cart properly. That was in 1968.

In 2003 the director and actors seem to have been so determined to make it into some lush melodrama (complete with sets by Ikea--that is the cleanest G-D castle the middle ages ever saw!) filled with facial mugging worthy of THE PERILS OF PAULINE. Every thought, every emotion is so telegraphed that even people who haven't seen the piece could guess what the character will say or do next. I don't think the director trusted his audience (and maybe rightly so; people today are so dumbed down by reality tv, talk shows and game shows that they cannot formulate an intelligent thought of their own. We need closed captioining to be able to follow along with even Roma Torre, the most inept of tv newscasters), so he had to hammer every thought and activity into our heads with the sledgehammer at the county fair that one uses to hit the bell and win a prize. The actors are trying so hard to NOT be Peter O'Tool, Katharine Hepburn and (especially) Anthony Hopkins that they have turned in performances that make a person (alright, THIS person) roll their eyes impatiently, waiting for the next sentence. Mr Stewart DOES fare the best--this language is like cutting an ice cream cake with a hot knife for this great actor--but even he could move it along. Out of respect for the great Glenn Close, whom I admire as an artist and like as a person, I won't go into detail with regards to my thoughts about her performance because I believe the director is at fault! Glenn Close is not only a great American actress, she is one of the greatest actresses in this world. I have been, openly, pissed off that the Academy has never given her an Oscar and been elated when the theater community gave her four Tony awards -- oh, wait, it is only three Tonys but it feels like she should have four, five, six, seven! I MUST be clear on this point: I love this woman and her talent. I also hate her performance in THE LION IN WINTER, with respect for the enormity of her talent. It is not her fault. The director seems to guide every actor in this movie to a style that demands that they act like an elephant making its way back to the pen after doing four shows with the Ringling Brothers. You could drive a convoy of 18 wheelers through each and every pause between lines.

Oh. And, briefly: Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I adored him as ELVIS. I believe in his talent and cannot wait to see all he does. As Philip, though: what a faggot. Timothy Dalton didn't play him like a Chelsea Femme Boy. I doubt Christopher Walken did it in the original Broadway production either. I won't speak of my own performance because it isn't important enough to mention. But when you are put on film, it's out there for everyone to see. They shoulda had him playing Quentin Crisp. Tch Tch Tch.

Am I being harsh? Yes. So I should stop picking on the 2003 remake of THE LION IN WINTER and go watch the 1968 version (which, by the way, clocked in at 134 minutes, according to IMDB, while the recent version is 153--what does THAT tell you about pacing?). Nobody is going to like everything. You can't please everyone and, this time, you certainly can't please me. It's too important to me; too close to home. So, sorry THE LION IN WINTER 2003, you will have to get some love somewhere else. This road, as Eleanor of Aquitaine would say, is closed.

Pat says to me that remaking a great film is a chance for a new filmmaker and new actors to attempt the work of art from THEIR point of view. It is a chance to see it through new eyes, to take a new approach at something. People do it in the theater, all the time. Revivals of plays turn up in regional theaters and on Broadway. The canon of great operas and musicals is repeated so that people of today's society can see what CARMEN and OKLAHOMA are like onstage. It is a chance for people to experience something new. I can understand that, where the stage is concerned. It is live theater and there will always be an element of the unexpected at a live performance, a unique and individual thrill--even in the concert world. People still pay to hear Betty Buckley sing in person, when they could listen to a cd of her doing MEMORY. It is a thrill to see or hear a performer live. There is no thrill in watching a TV movie of the week version of a great film. When do expect they will remake CITIZEN KANE? How about GONE WITH THE WIND? CASABLANCA? We've already suffered through (both film and tv) remakes of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ON GOLDEN POND and PSYCHO. On television they have upset musical lovers with remakes of BYE BYE BIRDIE, MUSIC MAN and GYPSY, all of which had perfectly lovely film versions, while leaving us stuck with bad versions of MAME, A CHORUS LINE and MAN OF LAMANCHA. IF filmmakers insist on doing remakes, why can they not remake the movies that were bad the first time, instead of tampering with the perfected ones?

I know. After all, I wanted to say those glorious lines onstage. Someone else wanted a shot at THE LION IN WINTER. I don't blame them. I blame them for doing it badly. If they had done it well, this story might never have been written. After all, I happen to like the remake of SABRINA (and I am a die hard Audrey Hepburn fan). And my other favourite actress, Lee Remick, did a tv remake of the Bette Davis classic THE LETTER. And there have been countless remakes of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. No one will ever stop them from doing remakes, I guess. It's a fact of life and one with which we must live.

Just don't let them near THE WIZARD OF OZ or THE SOUND OF MUSIC.


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Artist Speaks

I awoke this morning singing to myself.

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Flammis acribus addictis!

I sing this to myself from time to time, as I hear it in my head, as I heard it in my head in 1984.

The first movie I ever saw in my life was CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. It was my favourite movie throughout my childhood, my teen years and up to my 20th year. Then there was a changing of the guard and I chose a new movie to be my favourite. It wasn't a movie, though; it was a film. I did a complete 180 and switched from a whimsical children's movie to an intellectual, grown up movie, heady as hell and about something that was so far beyond my comprehension that I had to focus, really focus, if I thought about it. I didn't know from the classical music world and I, especially didn't know from opera. But the film AMADEUS was so accesible--it made the jargon and the specificity of that world secondary to the story that was being told--the story about art, longing, disappointment, love and hatred. Well. That meant it was right up my alley.

I was a student at North Texas State University. I had few friends and was alone, a lot. I was obnoxious and irritating, so no small wonder that I was alone so very much. I didn't drive but Denton was a small college town. I could walk or take cabs; no big deal. I walked, one dusky winter's eve, to the movie cinema and chose to see AMADEUS, even though I had no knowledge of the story and no interest in classical music. It was a completely random act.

It is a cliche to say this but it is true: the movie changed my life. Maybe it didn't change my life in earth shattering ways but it did change my life. It was my first grown up movie. It became the first movie poster one sheet that I would ever buy. For a long time that one sheet was the only real artwork that hung in my house that said I was no longer a child--I had chosen that artwork, made the money to buy and frame it, chose where it would hang in my home to best showcase it. That poster hanging in my apartment was proof that I had my own personality, my own tastes, my own intellect. I was no longer a child whose home was decorated with paintings my mom had given me and wall hangings from my childhood. I was a man, smart, intellectual and deep. It was one of the first times that I made a decision based, solely, on what it meant to me and not on what it might make others think of me.

I loved that movie. I loved the story, the art direction, the cinematography, the music, the acting, even the lip synching. I loved the characters. I loved Tom Hulce as Mozart so much that I attempted to affect a braying laugh so that I could be more like him. (That didn't last too long--it irritated people and it hurt my vocal cords. Isn't it funny how we, in our young and dumb days, find places from which to piece together a personality, distilling ourselves into some crazy quilt, until our real selves emerge?). The film AMADEUS definately changed my life.

It has been years since I saw the picture. I own the dvd but do not watch it. A few years ago there was a limited release of the movie, in which the filmmakers restored cut footage. Pat and I saw a screening, then. Not since then have I gotten down my dvd to look at it. I have, nevertheless, always put it on any list when asked what my favourite movies are. AMADEUS has remained an important part of my history and my make up.

Even though I did not understand, fully, until the year 2000.

Pat and I went to see the production of the play version when it played the Music Box theater with David Suchet and Michael Sheen. It was, quite frankly, a lackluster production. I do not like David Suchet as an actor and he is, hands down, the most unpleasant celebrity I have ever met. I have not one good thing to say about him, he is (in this artist's humble opinion) rude, mean, inconsiderate and ego maniacal; indeed, I would say that the human parts of him are missing. This knowledge came to me, only, after I had seen the production and (at that point, without having met him and learned about his true nature) I still didn't like his performance as Salieri.

Michael Sheen, though....

Michael Sheen. I will always remember that name. I will, forever, respect the actor. I will never be able to forget his performance in the play AMADEUS because he showed me the truth. He found, in pockets of his person, untold aspects of the character he played in this award winning piece. He opened my eyes to sides of Mozart that I hadn't seen in all my previous viewings of the film. I don't want to detract from one frame of Tom Hulce's performance on film. I consider that it a simple matter of this: I was young, very young, when I saw the movie AMADEUS. I had (and have) changed so much by the time I saw Michael Sheen's performance onstage that my perception of the character was, vastly, different. When I saw the movie, I saw that Mozart was a genius, that he was a heavy partier, that he was unappreciated, that he was conspired against, that he was egotistical, that he was selfish, that he had an unhealthy relationship with his father, that he was off the beam a little, and then a lot, that he died early because he lived a harsh life, because he did not care for his body. I got it all. There are many layers to the character.

Michael Sheen simply added one more.

Mozart went crazy because he percieved he was a failure.

In the film, he is simply arrogant and petulant. He is angry because his opera closed after nine performances, because the Emperor wanted some notes removed from SERAGLIO, because the other musicians didn't appreciate his work and because they conspired against him. Onstage, Sheen took the opportunity to show me (oh, yes, this was JUST for me--the other audience members were just lucky to be there to see it) that his descent into madness was because he wanted approval and couldn't get it; he went mad because he thought he was talented and percieved that no one else did--that no one thought he was any good. He lost his mind because he couldn't get a break; he lost his mind because he was butting his head up against an unbreakable brick wall. His father had set him up to be perfect and he spent his life creating artwork to get approval and no one ever gave it to him, absolutely. Perhaps it was because his personality was irritating and people could not give him their full approval because they didn't like HIM, not the music. Perhaps it was that he tried to break too many boundaries. Maybe it was just his perception. Maybe people praised him but it wasn't enough praise. Maybe he couldn't hear the praise. Perhaps it was praise with condition. Who knows? The fact remains, though, that (in his own eyes) Mozart was a failure.

I know a little about that. Maybe I had to live the life I have lived to understand the character a little more. It could be that the combination of my life's experience and Michael Sheen's performance had the right chemistry to bring a new perspective to the role. As I saw it, though, Mozart was just jumping through hoops, trying to get someone to say 'you done good', trying to make a living at his artwork, and failing. The funny thing is, Salieri felt he was a failure, too, because he could not match the artistry that he admired in Mozart. Poor fellows. Each one a success, in his own way, and unable to see it. Salieri had financial reward and the respect of the court, while Mozart created artwork that was revered but no money. Is one more preferable to the other? In a perfect world, an artist works and gets paid and that, as they say, is that. We live in an imperfect world. What a shame.

I am in the fortunate position of understanding both characters. I have envied other artists to the point of obsession, as Salieri does in the piece. I have felt mediocre and wished for greater gifts, as does Salieri in the piece. I have loved and hated someone, equally, for their talents. I have, also, felt that I was an underappreciated genius (it doesn't happen often--but there are times when I look at a photo I took and I say it right out loud: 'damn, I am good') as does Mozart in the piece. And it is no secret to anyone who knows me or reads what I write: I consider myself a failed artist. No, no. Please, no arguments. I simply cannot tolerate compliments and disagreement with regards to my status as an artist. It only gets on my nerves, as I explained to my dear friend (and agent) Mitchell, two nights ago. It seems insincere and false; and nothing anyone says will change my PERCEPTION of my life, my work and my failures. You see, the thing is, I'm fine with all of it. I am happy in the life I have. Every success, every flop, every joy and every pain, every experience has made me the person that I am, whoever that may be. And I think that if I met myself; if I were introduced to me at a party or on the street, I would probably say to myself 'that guy...he's alright.' I might have failed at my career as a performer, I might have failed at PARTS of my career as a photographer; but I didn't fail at all of it. I turned in some damned nice performances when I was acting. And I continue to produce some damned beautiful headshots for some beautiful actors who need beautiful headshots (at beautiful prices). I am fine with my life as one of the masses. I don't need celebrity. I don't need praise .. well, not like I used to. I just know where to find it, and when to believe it, now. But imagine how empty my experiences with the film and the play AMADEUS would have been, had I not experienced what I have, in this life? I am so grateful for the opportunity to STILL learn new things from a piece of artwork that I have loved for, literally, half my life.

I awoke this morning singing to myself.

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Flammis acribus addictis!

Naturally, I did what I always do when I am reminded of an old friend. I paid the friend a visit.

There was dust on the dvd of AMADEUS when I pulled it down from the highest shelf and opened the box, the shiny disc inside, ready to be loved, once more...