Monday, February 13, 2012

My Weekend with Raquel Welch


The people in the row behind me talked. Loudly. It didn't matter because the movie wouldn't be starting for awhile; but I hoped they wouldn't talk during the film. It's an epidemic these days of ill mannered people who think that talking and texting during a movie is acceptable and, so help me, if any of them made noise during the film, I fully intended to turn around and belt 'em one. The lady in the row in front of me turned to them and asked "how was the q & a with Dick Cavett?" and the conversation grew extremely heated as one of the men behind me talked about how bad Cavett was and how he was past his prime. It was true - the interview was embarrassing. I piped in, saying just those words. The man behind me said "Raquel handled it very well. She was very gracious and she kept the interview moving, in spite of Cavett's agenda to flirt and just talk about his book."




"She's a lady," I said.


And that, she is.


We were all there to see the movie THE WILD PARTY. It was part of the Raquel Welch retrospective at the Lincoln Center Film Society. I had discovered the event the day before it started and simply sprinted to the box office to buy tickets to as many of the films as possible, especially the ones at which the great star was to appear. I call Raquel Welch a great star because she IS a STAR. She is also, though, an actress, a business woman, an author, a health and fitness expert, not to mention the things we are in life, like a friend, a mother.. a person.



And I wish more people recognized that.





I've been a fan of Raquel Welch since I was a teenage boy and went to see THE THREE MUSKETEERS at the picture show. I loved buckle and swash and I, especially, loved the Dumas novel; so I was destined to love the Richard Lester film - and I did. I loved it so much that, at least once a month, I say to myself --I think I'll watch The Three Musketeers. Sometimes I have the time to do that, others I do not; but it is a part of who I am, just like Raquel Welch is.





Since that first Raquel Welch film, I've been watching the lady work. As a teen I would go see her movies in the cinema, if they were age appropriate. That was the 70's. When I entered college in the 80s, my exposure to Raquel Welch was on television and vhs. The vcr had been invented and, through the miracle of modern technology, the late night movie and HBO, I was given the chance to see films that had been made before my movie-going days, as well as the television movies and special appearances that Raquel made in that era. It was there that I developed an appreciation for the actress - an appreciation that never waned and that made me so insistent on seeing the films at Lincoln Center this last weekend.




I met Joshua Strauss, who created the Raquel Welch retrospective and mentioned to him how much I admired his choice of films. Obviously, they couldn't show every one of the lady's movies; and he did a wise thing by picking (not only) movies that were important in the history of Raquel Welch's career but (also) movies that showcase her versatility as an actress. By watching, in one weekend, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, THE WILD PARTY, HANNIE CAULDER, KANSAS CITY BOMBER, 100 RIFLES, THE LAST OF SHEILA and (the film that really put Raquel at the forefront of the public eye) ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., the audience has a chance to see her in a variety of time periods, playing a variety of types. It really was an effective way to remind people that Raquel Welch was not just a "sex symbol" (the label that was given her at the start of her career and that has followed her, even into her 70s) - she was (and is) so much more, particularly a very good actress.




Raquel Welch did a lot of tv movies in the 80s that showcase her acting, tv specials in the 70s that showcase her singing and dancing skills; she appeared in Las Vegas and she has played Broadway twice (I was lucky enough to see her in WOMAN OF THE YEAR and she was simply marvelous - my signed poster from the show hangs in my office; it has, in fact, never NOT hung on some wall in my home). Raquel was, though, so much more. She is, obviously, super smart. She blazed trails in many ways, during her life. She was a single mother (she mentioned this during her q & a) who acted to support her children. She changed the role of women in film. She became an entrepeneur in a time when men were the business practitioners of the world. She brought yoga to the public consciousness at a time when the world was doing Jack LaLane, Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda workouts. She created jewelry and skincare lines, as well as the extremely successful wig company HairUWear. She has authored 2 books and done an exercise video (yoga, that is).




During the q&a sessions at Lincoln Center this weekend, Raquel Welch spoke openly about the struggle of coming along in Hollywood at a time when the studio system was dying off and stars had to make their own way. She touched on how stars had personas -- the Bette Davis persona, the Marilyn Monroe persona, the Clint Eastwood or Mae West persona; but there was no Raquel Welch persona. She was an actress. She wondered, aloud, if (had there been a 'Raquel Welch persona') her career might have been different, maybe a little easier. I was interested to hear that she had this question about her career because I feel like it (the lack of a Raquel Welch persona) has allowed her to give us a legacy of work that reflects a true actor. She had to make her way, playing these different parts and being chameleon-like. Yesterday I watched her Queenie in THE WILD PARTY, immediately followed by K.C. Carr in KANSAS CITY BOMBER, immediately followed by the titular HANNIE CAULDER and, dudes, the variety was extremely visible. This is an actress. Had there been a Raquel Welch persona, that may not have been as apparent. I think the Raquel Welch persona came out in her personal appearances, in interviews, in those entertainments where she sang and danced, not as a character, but as Raquel Welch. In the films, though, it's not Raquel - it is the character.


I was saddened by the q&a interviews this last weekend. Not all of them. It was certainly thrilling to see Raquel Welch and to hear her talk about her career; but, really, I want to know, where are the great interviewers? The oh-so charming Simon Doonan had the pleasure of interviewing Miss Welch before the screening of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and he had the sense to ask a question and then let the lady talk. He had a good set of questions about the movie and they had a good rapport; but most of the time it was a successful talk because he shut up and let the lady talk -- and we were all the happier. Miss Welch was frank and funny and even treated us to a spot on imitation of Miss Mae West. The Dick Cavett interview bordered on awful because he insisted on filling up the time with sexual innuendo and references to her breasts and her life as a sex symbol. The lady mentioned that she is in her 70s (please note that my photos, shot from the audience, are unretouched) -- why couldn't the famed interviewer treat her with more dignity and respect? She has earned the right to NOT be treated this way. It was embarrassing for the lady and humiliating for the man. She tried, valiantly, to get him to talk about the film THE THREE MUSKETEERS, which we were all there to see; but that was not to be. He spent more time mentioning his book and talking about his old interviews in the past than he did talking about the guest of honour's artwork. Following KANSAS CITY BOMBER, though, was a very respectful q&a with the creator of the retrospective, Josh Strauss. He was informed, he was respectful, he was to the point. That was a good interview which treated the audience to some real information, some trivia and some laughs. This cannot be said of Miss Welch's final interview of the weekend. A man I never heard of did a q & a in which he hemmed and hawed and told some pointless, lengthy, inane story about his days as a publicist doing a photo shoot with Denise Richards, much to Miss Welch's confusion and the audiences' discomfort. Then he argued with her about points in her own career, a topic about which (I am certain) Miss Welch has more knowledge than he. It became VERY uncomfortable but thank God, thank God, Thank God, Raquel Welch is a lady and a professional and she managed to bring the interview back to a place where the audience was laughing and comfortable and enjoying themselves. Raquel even got to talk about the fact that she would like to work more, that she would be open to doing an Indie (if the director were someone who, clearly, knew what they were doing); she talked about how actors NEED a director, someone to talk to and help them make the journey. She is a craftswoman, with talent and skill. I almost wanted to stand up on the spot and ask if she would do a voiceover for a documentary about marriage equality (I think it would be GREAT to have Raquel Welch be the narrator of our movie!) because an actor who wants to work should be allowed to work. They shouldn't have to NOT work just because of stupid things like perceptions based on age or celebrity. Give the actors jobs, people!

I always wished I could do a photo of Raquel Welch. I never did; but I am so thrilled that I got to do the ones I did this weekend. I know - they don't have my lighting (called, by some, the best in the business, to my great pride) but... they are enough. I will treasure these photos, always - and you won't catch me selling them on Ebay. These were done to nurture the photographer who still lives inside of me, dreaming of doing photos with the subjects he admires. See there? Even now, almost 40 years after I first saw her onscreen, Raquel Welch still brings gifts into my life.



I was happy to see how many people turned out for these movies. I hope it gives Raquel Welch a sense of how greatly her work is valued. People need to know.. artists need to know that they, that their work, is valued. I certainly value her contributions to the world of acting, to the world of health and fitness, to society at large as a trailblazer who redefined many aspects of our lives, just because she had to - because there was no precedent. She came along at a nebulous time and had to invent who she would be and what she would stand for. I was bummed that some of the people who were there were those creepy autograph and photo hounds who bother celebrities so that they can get an autograph to sell on Ebay. I hear celebrities can be on the defensive because of that kind of garbage -- and after the creeps I saw there this weekend, I can certainly understand that. I tried to not focus on them, though. I took note of the fans. I took note of the people who, like me, were there to hear the lady talk and to admire her artwork; the people who, like me, were there to learn something about the making of the movies and to watch the movies.

That's the artist's legacy: the people who WATCH the movies.




















(For the record, they also showed FANTASTIC VOYAGE and MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED but my schedule did not permit my seeing them). There are two days left of the Raquel Welch film festival. Today, Monday, February 13 they are showing THE THREE MUSKETEERS and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14 they are showing THE LAST OF SHEILA and 100 RIFLES. http://filmlinc.com/


1 Comments:

Blogger VJ Clay said...

Dear Stephen,

I appreciate your respectful & well written feature on the Lincoln Center Tribute to my favorite Star & Entertainer, Raquel Welch. It was my 3rd time seeing this great Lady in person... What an incredible opportunity it was to be in her audience for several days and also take in her films. Myself and two fellow lifelong fans made the journey to NYC to attend and it was simply magical! I very much agree with your recollections of the interviews and your reverence to her as an Artist & Human Being. About me - I too have been a Fan since the 70's and have collected many of her films, interviews, cabaret specials & tv appearances (I adore her!) Thanks for your wonderful article!

Best,
Clay

11:29 PM  

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