You May Never Take Another Bath
Fans of serious decadence (you know who you are) are vigorously advised to check out a curious, unsettling, darkly conceived and absolutely fascinating little film opening in a shroud of silence, called Buddy Boy . Not since Roman Polanski at the pinnacle of his European weirdness have I seen a film this strange and riveting. It was unveiled last September at the Toronto Film Festival and hasn’t been heard from since, probably because nobody knew how to market it (it’s resolutely resistant to the usual 30-second sound bites and 60-second trailers), but it’s worth your time and effort to check it out. At a time when most films produce yawns, Buddy Boy is the work of a gifted new American director, Mark Hanlon, with a unique and courageous cinematic vision that produces nightmares.
Aidan Gillen, star of the controversial and highly acclaimed British television series Queer as Folk and destined to become one of the finest young actors to emerge from England since Ian McKellen, makes a spectacular feature film debut in a starring role as Francis, a delusional, sexually frustrated and religiously obsessed introvert. Francis lives an impoverished life with Sal, his slatternly, alcoholic mother, a slovenly couch potato with a wooden leg (a lusty, fearless performance by the gutsy Susan Tyrrell) who abuses him endlessly. It’s no wonder he questions his faith in the existence of God. Suffering the cruelty of a tortured life at home with a monstrous mother who is having a drunken affair with an obese plumber and plodding through a boring day job developing film in a photo-processing shop, Francis’ fantasies turn to masturbation and voyeurism. When his attention turns to Gloria, a beautiful woman in a nearby apartment, he becomes a peeping Tom, observing the intimate details of her life through a hole in the tenement wall.
As Gloria’s sympathetic kindness for this lost boy turns into a romantic interest, Francis grows more confused. The relationship intensifies, his surveillance increases, his self-doubt and suspicion of God accelerates, and he sinks slowly into madness and paranoia that the audience finds contagious. Suddenly Francis, who retches at the sight of red meat, thinks he sees Gloria gnawing on raw and bloody steaks and chops although she’s supposed to be a devout vegetarian. In the shop where he works, he thinks he sees photographs of a kidnapped child on a milk carton and begins stalking the customer who left the film to be developed. Meanwhile, Sal may or may not be what she appears to be (you won’t believe what happens with that wooden leg). Francis cringes in mortal terror of germs and starts wearing a surgical mask on public buses. And there’s a wretched stench coming from the bathtub!
As the conflicts within his mind become more dangerously delusional, Francis implicates us in his insanity while Mr. Hanlon, who also wrote the screenplay, allows us access only to what Francis sees, until we are unable to tell the difference between reality and illusion. The result is a hair-raisingly different kind of horror film related in tone and intention to Mr. Polanski’s creepy, underrated masterpieces Repulsion and The Tenant . The comparisons to Mr. Polanski become more persistent since Gloria is played by the lovely, mysterious Emmanuelle Seigner, who in real life is Mrs. Roman Polanski. The effect is positively surreal.
To describe Buddy Boy as dark is an understatement. Its palette is the dark purple of a bloodstain, and a sense of tension and dread make the jaw-dropping twists in the terrifying finale doubly chilling. Not a film for everybody, to be sure, but the triumphant performances by Mr. Gillen, who is both poignant and grotesquely demented, and Ms. Tyrrell, who is broadly, blackly hilarious, turn this into a mesmerizing journey into modern-day Grand Guignol that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s a thrill to discover a filmmaker with a talent as uniquely inspired and original as Mark Hanlon’s. Buddy Boy leaves you shaken, with a penetrating vision as poisonous as gangrene.
After The Life , The Concert
The trip from Brooklyn to Broadway was long, arduous and full of potholes, but the dynamic Lillias White, who won the 1997 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and People’s Choice awards for her role as Sonja, the tired, worn-out hooker in the great Cy Coleman musical The Life , has left her mark on everyone who has heard her soaring voice or seen her warm, bighearted presence on stage. Now, in a glorious new act called From Brooklyn to Broadway , you can let her magic rub off at closer range in an intimate supper club setting. She’s appearing at New York’s most appealing new venue, Arci’s Place, through April 1.
In her first New York appearance since she went to Hollywood to film a role in the new Jim Carrey film How the Grinch Stole Christmas , it is crystal clear that it’s the Apple that makes her shine. “The Oldest Profession,” the song that stopped the show every night in The Life , is still the attention-getter here, and she belts it out with every ache and pain and fallen arch of every working girl on 42nd Street, until the audience screams for more. But that’s just for starters. With a voice big and rich and as elastic as taffy, she has the range and power and sensitivity to tackle everything from “Blue Moon” to “Dreamgirls.” She has eclectic tastes, too. Leading the audience in a robust sing-along of Harry Belafonte’s signature song “Mama Look a Booboo,” she sambas her way through the rhythms of Jamaica, then lulls you into a lazy mood on “Ooh, What You Said,” an obscure gem by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. That is as it should be, as her father was Jamaican and her mother is from South Carolina. Music has been pouring out of her like mocha since childhood, when she used to hibernate in her room in Brooklyn, play all kinds of records, look in the mirror and pretend her hairbrush was a microphone.
The result is a hot combination of torrid jazz and lusty soul, with more than a pinch of Broadway bazazz. She can hold a note longer than Carmen McRae, husk the silk right off the cob on tough, get-lost, “I been there and I ain’t never gonna be dumb enough to go back there again” torch songs, and sound like a cross-pollination of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington (whom she played, memorably, in the Off-Broadway musical Dinah Was ) on Erroll Garner’s classic “Misty.” She’s a gal with ample talent, and the ample proportions to project it. You can laugh, cry or get up and shake your butt, but you will not remain sluggish for long in the presence of her combustible energy. By the way, Arci’s Place, 450 Park Avenue at 31st Street, has the most delicious food of any cabaret room in New York, and Lillias White is pretty delectable, too.
The Cult Of Judy
Legions of Judy Garland fans are delirious with the advent of the release of what may turn out to be the most important CD of the year. Judy at Carnegie Hall , one of the most legendary concerts in the history of show business and one of the all-time best-selling recordings in the history of the recording industry, has now been released for the very first time in its entirety. It’s uncut, from start to finish, just the way it happened on that night of Sunday, April 23, 1961, when lightning struck Manhattan and pure pandemonium struck Carnegie Hall in the greatest comeback ever witnessed, by the most beloved performer of the 20th century.
The original two-record album on Capitol Records stayed on the Billboard charts for 94 weeks, 13 weeks at No. 1, and won five Grammy awards. But if you are one of the millions who own a dusty, dog-eared copy of this classic recording and think this is old news, you ain’t heard nothing yet. DCC Compact Classics has now released, for the first time, the entire concert, in its proper order, exactly the way it happened that night. On the original release, the tapes were speeded up to save time, fake echoes were added, as well as phony applause piped in from other sources. Now, on two 24-karat gold-plated disks, brilliantly remastered with every flaw removed, you get Judy’s voice “front and center,” not buried under the orchestra. You get every ad lib, every word of Judy’s dialogue with the hysterical fans, Rock Hudson lifting Liza, Lorna and Joey to the stage to join her mother, Judy, introducing Harold Arlen in the front row, the lost recording of “Alone Together” that was not on the original LP, and the endless, screaming ovations for an artist at the peak of her life and career. Nothing has been deleted. And because it has been meticulously remastered from the pristine-condition, three-track master recording tapes, you actually feel like one of the 3,165 privileged people who shared the genius of Judy Garland that night in 1961, reliving the heart-stopping excitement almost 40 years later.
I was one of those people, and I have never forgotten the experience. I remember the unflappable Hedda Hopper leading the standing ovations. I remember Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson pinching me to see if I was still alive. Phil Silvers, Polly Bergen, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Kay Thompson, Myrna Loy, Richard Burton, Arthur Schwartz, Dore Schary, Carol Channing, Henry Fonda, Julie Andrews, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn-they were all on their feet screaming. After two and a half hours, they were running down the aisles with the fans, reaching up to touch the Queen of Entertainment with their own hands, in the frenzy that overtook Carnegie Hall. If you are about to experience this miracle for the first time, I envy you. If you think you’ve heard it already, think again. This new 24-karat gold revisit is a masterpiece that will carry new generations of Judy cults, jaded old-timers and even nonbelievers over the rainbow and keep them there.