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The Pride & Priggishness of ‘Metropolitan’

While it may be hard to believe that Larry Clark’s “Kids” just celebrated its twentieth anniversary, it’s not hard to believe that “Metropolitan” is turning twenty-five. Even at the time of its 1990 release, writer/director Whit Stillman’s inaugural feature about New York debutantes and their male escorts seemed to hail from another era. As a carefully worded eulogy for an American social caste, this was its whole point; these protagonists were so anachronistic that their courtships consisted of debates about Jane Austen, whose blithe-as-a-heart-attack formulations of romantic love proved an apt model for the film itself.

Though all of Stillman’s work focuses on the grave nostalgia of young people, only “Metropolitan” puts that concern front and center with a formality that is more literary than cinematic. With its unobtrusive Upper East Side interiors, unremarkable-looking cast (few of whom went on to pursue professional acting careers), and endless prattle about the decline of the “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” (a term one character devises to describe the “preppy class”), this film highlights the life of the mind as no other American coming-of-ager had done before and likely ever will again. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), the most pensive member of her group, and Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), an Ivy League ginger who has lost his trust fund and must, relatively speaking, live on his wits. (This entails him living on the Upper West Side and declaring himself an agrarian socialist while buying a secondhand tux.) Continue Reading →

Venus Retrograde Spares No Star

This may be the most annoyingly astrological and celeb-obsessed post that this former Us Weekly staffer will ever write but I can’t help being amused that Jennifer Aniston finally got remarried during the always-blighted Venus Retrograde. One look at the smug mugs she and her new spouse are sporting here and you just know that the reprieve from the sadsack single girl public persona she cultivated for 10 years is bound to be short-lived. As my grandmother used to say, “Good luck to you and the Red Sox!” Add in the recently announced Gwen Stefani-Gavin Rossdale and Ben Affleck-Jennifer Garner divorces, not to mention the resurrection of the rumors that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett (Smith) are on the rocks, and, Ruth, you know it’s the truth: Lady Venus spares no star. I can’t pretend I don’t take solace in this fact as she guides me through the burnt embers formerly known as my love life.

3 Lady Music Biopics to See Now

Music biopics – both documentaries and narrative features – are a dime a dozen these days. Even if your only claim to fame is cult status as a 1970s folksinger, chances are good someone has made a movie about you. That is, unless you’re a woman. Although 2013’s “Twenty Feet from Stardom” put the spotlight on ladies in music, biopics about female musical artists are still few and far between. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out these three documentaries about groundbreaking female singers that were released this summer. Happily, there are plenty of other reasons to do so as well.

“The Outrageous Sophie Tucker”
Few know who she is these days but in 1962, ninety-two percent of people polled associated the name “Sophie” with “Tucker.” That’s how popular the eponymous singer and comedian used to be in vaudeville, cinema, and television. A Ukrainian Jew who fled a restrictive Orthodox family, she first made her name performing in the Ziegfeld Follies but quickly became known in her own right as a larger-than-life presence in every sense of that term. Through rare footage and interviews with Carol Channing, Paul Anka, Michael Feinstein, Tony Bennett, and Barbara Walters (whose father Lou headlined Tucker in his nightclubs), director William Gazecki paints a portrait of the woman who referred to herself as “the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” Gazecki’s filmmaking is not especially innovative but this may work in his favor. It’s best to let the details about this pioneering woman speak for themselves: She was a self-marketing genius half a century before Madonna; a fat activist before Ms. Magazine was a twinkle in Gloria Steinem’s eye; an unabashed civil rights advocate, especially when it came to singers like Josephine Baker; a pal to the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover (the closeted cross-dresser asked to borrow her spangled gowns); and a highly sexualized being who had three husbands to her name and, this documentary suggests, many female lovers as well. She also was a highly innovative jazz stylist who mentored Mae West and Judy Garland. Bottom line: See this movie to know exactly who you should be thanking, ladies and germs. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy