Monday, May 31, 2004

TV: Elaine Stritch at Liberty

A documentary team led by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker captures the actress’ autobiographical one-woman show. The piece couldn’t be simpler; the wardrobe consists of a white shirt and tights, and the only prop is a chair. Yet the 77-year-old Stritch holds the audience rapt with tales from her life. Which is odd, because the show embraces every clichĂ© of the form and Stritch’s life isn’t all that interesting. A Midwestern Catholic childhood and a strange date with Marlon Brando are the highlights. Everyone she ever worked with was a genius. Even her battle with the bottle is described in a curiously circumspect way that cloaks as much as it reveals. Further proof that it ain’t the story, it’s the teller.

My favorite Elaine Stritch appearance came on the Letterman show. She wandered onto the stage several times during the broadcast in the guise of a society matron, highball glass in hand, addressing Dave as if he were the pool boy she’d had an ill-advised dalliance with. Brilliant, bizarre stuff. And Stritch was wonderful.

Movie: Jackass (2002)

The R-rated stunts in this compendium are disgusting. Quite a few of the others are just about embarrassing the Japanese. (Did Spike Jonze leave Sofia Coppola alone in the hotel so he could film episodes of this show? Suddenly LOST IN TRANSLATION seems even more piquant.) And the whole thing is deeply homoerotic. Johnny Knoxville and the boys don’t have to go shirtless as often they do.

But several of this movie’s bits are absolutely hysterical. Like Johnny testing out a pair of Wile E. Coyote rocket skates. Or Bam Margera waking up his parents with a fireworks display in their bedroom. Or the priceless Roller Disco Truck. Even when the bits fall flat, you get a valuable glimpse into the psychology of the American male when the guys stand around laughing their asses off as one of their buddies flails around in pain and humiliation. The only truly disturbing thing about this movie is how much more Rosemarie liked it than I did.

TV: Punk’d

The show that doesn’t go far enough. If the pranks they pull on celebrities were true, the worst case scenario would be that a few good-looking actors/singers/whatevers would be out a couple of bucks that they can readily afford. So they get stuck with someone else’s bar tab or knock over a vase at an auction. These people are rich. If Ashton Kutcher and his posse had any nerve, they’d hit these celebrities where it hurts. Tell Jennifer Love Hewitt that Fox wants to bring PARTY OF FIVE to the big screen without her. Or trick Kutcher himself into thinking he’s been nominated for a MTV Movie Award for his performance in THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT. Then we’ll see some fur fly.

TV: 10 Days of Madonna

VH-1 Hits goes all Madonna all the time. I wanted to say ‘all Material Girl’ a la ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT but thanks to Kabala she doesn’t answer to that anymore. When she performs the song on her current tour, she follows up the chorus (“‘cause we are living in a material world/and I am a material girl”) with “But not really!” Way to harsh everyone’s buzz, Madge.

I was never much of a Madonna fan. I tended to agree with the English commentator Clive James, who described her on FAME IN THE 20TH CENTURY by noting that she was a better singer than she was an actress, a better dancer than she was a singer, and we all know someone who dances better. But I’m beginning to change my tune. Madonna’s body of work bears up under heavy rotation, mainly because they’re not showing her movies. Her videos from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s still pack a punch, revealing just how callow her legion of imitators (this means you, Ms. Spears) are. In retrospect they do seem to offer authentic if half-formed and wildly commercialized ideas on female sexual empowerment. Maybe Camille Paglia was right all along. It’s worth noting that during this period Madonna was collaborating with talented video directors like David Fincher (‘Express Yourself,’ ‘Vogue’) and Jean-Baptiste Mondino (‘Open Your Heart’). It’s the later videos I can do without, the ones like ‘Ray of Light’ where she comes off like your friend’s hippie mom.