Archive for July, 2011

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The Tragedy Of Amy Winehouse

July 23, 2011

I am looking all over for my copy of “Back To Black.” I can’t find the cd anywhere. It’s been a couple years since  I played it last and with the death of Amy Winehouse today I want to give it a deeper listen.

I love the fusion of  sound that came out of her…rock, blues, pop, a sound which was mature beyond her years. She channeled Dusty Springfield, I thought, with her husky Brit soul vocals and that sky high beehive hairdo.

The body of work she leaves behind is not a large one, just two albums, right?  And one hit, Grammy winning anthem that sums up her life sadly and brilliantly, the autobiographical “Rehab.” It’s the place she went to often but never stayed long enough.

She will be more remembered I’m sorry to say, for the train wreck performances that are oh so well documented on the internet: staggering, incoherent, paranoid, and agitated. In watching clips of her meltdowns she seems to twirl round and round in a drunken haze, barely aware of her fellow musicians and the audience that seemed inevitably to lose its patience and turn on her. She was booed off the stage at the opening concert of her comeback tour in Belgrade this summer. The rest of the tour was immediately canceled.

That alone showed what dire shape she was in: launching a “comeback” tour at age 27, when she already seemed too far gone.

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Where Great Art And “ON THE SCENE” Meet: Emmy Noms for OTS Alums

July 19, 2011

When I read the list of News and Documentary Emmy nominees  I saw some well deserved projects that have crossed paths with “ON THE SCENE.”

“Smash His Camera” is nominated, the documentary on paparazzo Ron Galella. It’s a fascinating, compelling look inside the mind, motivation and technique of the man widely considered to be the original American paparazzo. I interviewed Ron at his home last fall around the time “Smash His Camera” was released. For a clip check out my reel on http://www.johnbathke.com and search last year’s blog archive for more on the film and my impressions of Ron.

The Galella doc has some tough competition from “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” The documentary drew worldwide critical praise and though it had a successful theatrical release it was dissed by the Oscars. The filmmakers, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, deserve this Emmy nomination. I remember seeing this film for the first time at its Tribeca Film Festival debut, with Rivers and the filmmakers present. I had interviewed Rivers for ON THE SCENE shortly after filming was finished. I’m really interested to see if either film wins.

And I emailed my friend Roger Ross Williams with congratulations today. His “Music By Prudence” short documentary, which earned him a Best Director Oscar last year, was nominated for it’s television release by HBO for best music and sound. I interviewed Roger for a live audience at a screening along with Prudence Mabhena, the film’s subject.

There seem to be a lot of documentaries being filmed these days, but the ones that illuminate, that truly shine a light on the many facets of a personality or issue remain very few, indeed. These are three films that did that and more.

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Interviewing Richard Belzer

July 12, 2011

I just got home from interviewing Richard Belzer for ON THE SCENE. We taped the interview on Long Beach Island, New Jersey in the little town of Beach Haven, at the Surflight Theatre there. Belzer performed a benefit stand-up comedy show put on by Catch A Rising Star to help save the Surflight which is bankrupt.

I’ve written before about not knowing what to expect when I interview certain artists, but this time, I really had no clue. I didn’t know if he’d be funny, caustic, political, annoyed..how much is he like his character John Munch on “Law & Order?”

He was a little of all those things, at moments, but he is also willing to go just about anywhere in conversation. I asked him if he sees himself as more of an actor, or a comedian and surprisingly he told me that he thinks of himself as a journalist.  He feels he’s documenting and exposing political and social ills as a performer…but the result is a type of journalism. That’s his interpretation. He was, in fact, a newspaper reporter before he got into acting so maybe he’s holding on to some of that.

This interview will air later this month in the same episode as the Rita Rudner interview. Talk about contrasts.

 

 

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The Betty Ford Legacy

July 9, 2011

Betty Ford did more good for society than any other First Lady before or since. And she dared to do it through her personal example and openness.

There has been a “stand by your man” mentality…or is it a mandate?…with every First Lady in modern times. Be an asset, don’t detract from the President’s message, champion non-controversial causes like obesity prevention, foster grandparents programs and volunteerism. Smile.

Betty Ford was different. She was a human with ideas of her own, flaws, disappointments , health problems and demons. What sets her apart is that she talked about them.

There are those rare public people who cannot live their life any other way, but honestly. When you look back on interviews with Mrs. Ford whenever she was asked what she thought about something, she told them:  “Yes, there should be a Constitutional amendment that guarantees women’s rights, yes abortion should be legal.”  No big hoopla, no defensive posturing or attacks on people who thought otherwise, this was her point of view.

I was just reading how, for the first time, the use of mammograms surged immediately after she went public with having breast cancer and a mastectomy. It was just a few weeks after she became First Lady and she did interviews from her hospital room about what she’d been through and how other women should get screened. It seems her effect on breast cancer awareness is very similar to what Katie Couric has done for colon cancer testing today.

Of course, her most difficult struggle is the one she is most remembered for and where her impact will endure…addiction. People make jokes about celebs checking into the Betty Ford Center. But making rehab chic was a smart thing. It wasn’t something to hide anymore, not the shame of the family name. Treatment became a path to living healthy. And Mrs. Ford embodied that.

 

 

 

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Did Beyonce Really Sing That? Steve Martin’s Bluegrass And Fireworks Memories

July 5, 2011

Channel surfing the July 4th fireworks celebrations right now in Washington and New York (plus the ones my neighbors are blasting off in the yard).

Did Beyonce really sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA?” Did she? Just now on NBC? I have never heard anyone sing that song besides Greenwood. It’s just not a song I’d expect her to sing.

The Macy’s fireworks in New York is spectacular, but watching the PBS show from Washington D.C. brings back more memories for me. I was there one year, in the 90s when I was just out of college and living in Washington. I don’t remember who performed that night , I was just so awed by the massive crowd and then the incredible fireworks on the National Mall. I still can see the Washington Monument with blazing fireworks cascading around it. It was the most patriotic moment I could have ever imagined.

I think “The Capitol Fourth” show is an important showcase for America’s musical talent and I like the marriage of patriotic music with other American genres…Broadway, Steve Martin’s bluegrass set, and rock n roll.

If you’re a performer a July 4th concert is not the time or place to take risks. But that’s as it should be. July 4th is about everybody else who took risks so that we can all be here, watching the fireworks.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber And Why It’s The Music Of The Night

July 2, 2011

I was just watching Andrew Lloyd Webber on Piers Morgan and he was asked why Broadway is doing well right now. His response was interesting even though he didn’t answer the question. Webber (“Cats,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera”) said he thinks people go to Broadway because they crave the live experience and seeing other people respond to what’s happening. He likened it to going to a restaurant and enjoying the food and people watching.

That is the answer a theatre professional always gives to that question.  The “live theatre is indispensable,  lifts us from the depths of despair, gives people a shared moment in time and so they will always come” answer.

No, they won’t. 

Broadway is expensive, a long trip for most of the people buying those tickets, and they want to be entertained.  Their showing up is not a given. It’s only worth it to them if they like the show.

If Broadway has edgy, compelling, entertaining shows that people actually want to see, then it’s no problem selling tickets. It’s the best thing for all of New York City and the best thing that can happen to American theatre. “Book of Mormon” is the perfect example. It’s appealing to men and women, who seem to find it hysterically funny in equal measure, yet  it doesn’t care that it offends some people.

When Broadway has fresh material that takes risks but gives people a story that they can get into and puts entertainment first…well, that’s the definition of a hit.  A show that doesn’t, that’s what you call a flop.  Or if it’s off-Broadway, an experiment.

If I wanted a history lesson I’d take a class. If I wanted to resolve angst over the moral wrongs of the ages I’d  meditate with the monks.

When I want to be entertained, moved, swept away into another place and time and marvel at the talents of my fellow human beings,  I go to the theatre.