Thursday, June 30, 2022

Lempicka: The Musical

For the first time in years, I was excited to be able to attend a “live” theatre production at the La Jolla Playhouse, Lempicka - A New Musical. Based on the life of one of my very favorite artists, Tamara de Lempicka, I REALLY wanted to like it. I attended the show during preview week, when one expects a few rough spots before the actual opening. Afterwards, I found it hard to categorize my thoughts about what kept the play from being as innovative as its subject and why it seemed beyond fixing.

For one, the opening set piece (below) is about as much as you will actually see of Lempicka’s art; the rest of the play uses empty frames and words to flesh out the striking portraits that brought her to fame in the 1920s and 1930s. Were there copyright issues? Or was it a deliberate choice because the audience would be too busy seeing the distinct differences between the cast and the people in Lempicka’s paintings? Either way, without being able to experience her art, the “character” of Lempicka falls flat.

The Mozart musical biography “Amadeus” is a favorite movie of mine, even though it blends in a large amount of fiction dealing with composer/Mozart rival Salieri. Portraying him as a hack and a murderer, the story becomes more riveting, albeit at the expense of Salieri’s real-life reputation. With “Lempicka,” the dramatic license taken does a disservice to the people portrayed and does nothing to help the story.

Carson Kreitzer wrote the book and lyrics, stating in an interview, “She is bold; she is someone who devoured life in a way that I wish I could emulate.…I love her hunger for so many things, for beauty, for love.…[This is] the first enormous musical I have ever had the great joy to work on.…I’ve spent my life as a playwright bringing to the stage stories of women I wish I had known about growing up.”

Kreitzer’s main focus is the lesbian affair between the already married Tamara and one of her models, Rafaëla, culminating in a forced dramatic “who do I choose?” moment. Lempicka’s biography (written by her daughter Kizette) barely gives Rafaëla a mention other than to describe when the artist and the model met (“She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen”) and the conversations between the two during the painting sessions, which centered around Rafaëla’s lust for needing men and her inability to live without one. The model fell in love with a neighbor of Lempicka’s and eventually married him. The painting below, “La Belle Rafaëla,” is the most famous collaboration between the two. While it seems that the torrid and illicit (for the time) affair between Lempicka and Rafaëla was mainly a plot device, it does provide a showcase for the one interesting character in the play. As portrayed by Amber Iman, Rafaëla is the only person I found myself wanting to know more about. Iman stole the spotlight from lead Eden Espinosa (who played Lempicka) with her two show-stopping solos.

The love triangle falls flat as well, since Lempicka’s husband has been written as a spineless philandering dolt. It is difficult to understand why Lempicka has a hard time choosing between the two. The play hits us over the head with commentary about equality for women and the discrimination experienced by gays, but does so in a way that falls far short of its predecessor, “Cabaret.” The story and characters (other than Rafaëla) are neither revolutionary or endearing, causing the 2 hour and 45 minute play to be somewhat of a snoozer. The songs fell flat for me, too. One number is sung by a woman dying of leukemia. It seems odd for someone on their last gasp to be belting out a showtune. Restraint can go a long way.

Just in case the audience misses that Lempicka is actually a statement about contemporary times, the plot begins as Tamara and her husband must flee Russia because of the Revolution, and later Paris as Hitler comes to power with World War II. I know, war sucks, and it’s typically caused by people who hate and are fueled by prejudice. I get it. I just don’t need to sit through 2 hours and 45 minutes of a less than compelling story to understand, especially when it has been done better already.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical had different actresses effectively portray the singer throughout her life. Lempicka has a separate actress portray Tamara in her younger years who also does some questionable interpretive dancing that only seemed to inflate an already bloated story. Since that actress did not appear to be much younger than Espinosa, I found myself questioning why she was necessary. While a good actress, Espinosa is unable to capture the quirky nature of the real-life Lempicka, who was calculating, driven, and did not let the social constraints of the day fence her in. To have written her that way would have made a much more interesting and triumphant story as opposed to handing the audience a stereotypical victim of hatred and prejudice. Tamara de Lempicka succeeded in a world dominated by men and did exactly as she pleased; wouldn’t that be more inspirational than the story of a woman forced to pick between a drip of a man and a woman who beds men for a steak dinner?

I first encountered Tamara de Lempicka when I saw an Art Deco exhibit in San Francisco back in 2004.

This painting, The Young Lady with Gloves (1929/30), captivated me and has inspired me in so many ways.

My suggestion? Read the book, skip the musical, which tries too hard to be too many things and doesn’t quite succeed at any of them. You will find more inspiration with the real Tamara de Lempicka.

See more Daveland photos at my main website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Temple Tuesday: Anatomy of a Deleted Scene

Since the advent of home media, the ability to watch deleted scenes from contemporary movies has become commonplace. Most DVDs/Blu Rays have a few deleted scenes as extras, often with director commentary explaining why it was decided to remove that particular scene before the film’s release. Classic Hollywood enthusiasts classify deleted scenes as some of the most coveted pieces of “lost film,” turning the search for them into something akin to the Holy Grail. While the actual scenes may never be found again (due to the film studios literally trashing them or because of the flammability of nitrate film), it is often easy to find little remnants of these never before seen gems. Today’s post presents an example from Shirley Temple’s 1938 film, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” As always, The Colonel (aka Melissa) has done the majority of the legwork in piecing together what this deleted scene may have included. 

According to the script dated October 2, 1937, the day after she arrives at the farm, Rebecca wanders into the farmyard to explore and spies a hen with her brood. Delighted, she picks up two of the chicks and turns to the mother hen, who is protesting violently. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Hen, I won’t hurt your babies.” She rubs the chicks against her cheek before setting them down on the ground. At that point, she hears a squeal and the script continues with the pig-caught-in-the-fence scene. 

Often, promotional photos taken during the filming of a movie are used even if the scene that they represent was removed before release. The still shown above goes along with the scene Melissa has described. The photo below was taken from the trailer for “Rebecca.” Back in the day, it was commonplace to find little snippets of deleted footage used in those promotional trailers.

Based on the studio numbering of their stills, this shot of Shirley with costar Gloria Stuart would have been next.

Back to the script:

When Rebecca chases after the pig, she encounters Homer and Aloysius dancing together and introduces herself. Homer describes himself as a caretaker and Rebecca isn’t sure what that is. He says he’s practically the boss but he can do a week’s worth of work in one day and then spend the other six resting and playing his kazoo. She asks Aloysius if he’s a caretaker and he says he’s a hired hand but he can dance too. Homer starts playing “Old Straw Hat” on the kazoo and Aloysius starts to dance. 

Here is another frame of film from the trailer showing Bill Robinson from this deleted sequence:

This leads to a production number with twelve scarecrows. They disappear by the end of the number and the three are left to dance alone.

This is a bit of a mystery. For the actual deleted sequence, perhaps the twelve scarecrows were replaced with four farmhands, as seen in the publicity stills shown below:

Aunt Miranda comes out and tells Rebecca she should be ashamed of singing “trashy songs.” Homer tells Aunt Miranda that it wasn’t Rebecca’s fault that they were singing. 

Below is another frame from the trailer, illustrating Aunt Miranda’s arrival on the scene:

Fingers crossed that some of these classic gems will reappear one day!

See more Shirley Temple photos at my main website.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Marmont Monday: Entrance Changes

This recently acquired vintage 1987 shot of the exterior of my fantasy home-away-from-home (and Willis’, too), the Chateau Marmont, initially shows very little change (other than growth of the landscaping) from the photo below that I snapped in 2016.

Upon closer look, other subtle differences come to light. A small portion of the brick wall at the entrance still remains, mainly the pillars on both sides. The light globes are gone though, and the wall to the right seems to have been completely rebuilt (as well as painted). The neon sign seems identical, other than its placement. I am guessing that the growth of the vines/trees necessitated the movement so that it could still be visible to those entering the hotel. I believe the sign stays on 24 hours now, rather than being turned off during the day (don’t quote me on that one). The small table/stand at the entrance has been replaced with the valet/check-in stand and a tent where guests can hide from the paparazzi as they await their limos.

In the 1987 image, TV antennas clutter the chimney stack:

By 2016, POOF! They are no longer necessary and have been removed. 

These are the details that I obsess over. What are yours?

See more Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard photos at my main website.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Melinda Goes to Universal

Daveland reader Melinda S. noticed that my collection has a huge void of 1980’s photos and generously donated these images to the cause! Her collection included shots from her June 1980 trip to California. Today’s post features her photos from Universal Studios. Melinda’s memories of Disneyland (coming soon!) are more vivid, but what she doesn’t recall is made up for in these vintage shots! As she remembers:

We took this trip somewhere in the middle to end of June 1980. I would have been 9, my sister 5. The Universal Studios tour was neat and being able to pick up the van all by myself was pretty darn cool - I do remember thinking it was still pretty heavy and almost not being able to do it!

Some of Melinda’s images you Universal nutz will have to fill in the data for, as I do not recall what they are from, either.

I really love this overall view of the backlot:

A closeup of the Town Square area that was used in “Back to the Future” and so many other movies:

Compare with my shot from 2004:

While very similar, there appears to have been some movement and rebuilding that occurred over those twenty years, most likely because of having to be rebuilt due to fire(s).

Back to Melinda and 1980! Another backlot view:

A quiet little seaport town. But wait…what’s at the bottom of the frame?

That dastardly shark, Bruce from “Jaws”!

I don't remember meeting the Cyclon, but my sister says she does.

I’m sure Universal was thrilled to have Melinda’s family wearing Disney merchandise! I LOVE it!!

All locked up and no place to go:

Compare with this September 1969 shot from my collection:

Back to 1980 and Melinda enjoying those oversized props.

Here’s another feat of strength from Melinda. As she remembers:

The jail 'bars' were rubbery and really easy to pull apart.

I am going to guess there was some kind of “attraction” at Universal where you could see a snowfall, something Southern California is not known for.

From my collection, the same set in November 1965:

One of the shows Melinda and family went to was a trained animal show:

And another family favorite, the stunt show!

Stay tuned for more from Melinda S.!

See more Universal Studios photos at my main website.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Korakia Pensione

I have had my eye on the Korakia Pensione Bed & Breakfast in Palm Springs ever since a few friend recommended it to me. Finally, after two years of perusing their website, I booked a room.

Here is a photo of the Moroccan Villa in its original state when it belonged to artist Gordon Coutts and was known as Dar Morroc (“Dar” means “house” in Arabic):

From the Gordon Coutts website:

1918 found Gordon in Pasadena, California, where he met Gertrude Russell, a music teacher. They married and spent the next several years living and painting in Spain, where daughter Jeane was born, and then in Morocco. During this time, annual trips to Britain were made to exhibit Gordon's Orientalist landscapes and portraits at the Royal Academy and other galleries.…Gordon's bronchial troubles required attention, and in late 1925 the family moved to California. Discovering Palm Springs, and its healthful climate, they had a gallery/studio/home built there in the style of a North African villa they named 'Dar Morroc.'

The villa Dar Marroc was modeled on Moroccan residences that Coutts had seen when he lived abroad. He was a successful artist who hosted Rudolph Valentino, Errol Flynn, and Grant Wood (just to name-drop a few!) at his villa. It is rumored that Winston Churchill (also an artist) painted in the villa’s Artist Studio…which just happened to be the room that I rented. Here’s a photo of Coutts:

…and Coutts painting outside his beloved Villa:

In the 1930s, actor J. Carrol Naish owned a home near Del Marroc. It was eventually joined with the neighboring Gordon Coutts House to form the Korakia Pensione.

Enough history…let’s take a look at this stunning property today!

As soon as you walk through the stone arch you are transported away from the cares of your daily routine.

There are pools at both the Moroccan property and the Mediterranean complex:

Plenty of areas at both to relax and congregate, too. The fire pits are great for the cool desert evenings.

Me sitting outside my Artist Villa; I could get VERY used to this place.

The interior:

Imagine waking up to this view of the property with the San Jacinto mountains in the distance!

Crosley phonographs are in each room, playing 33 1/3 vinyl records.

Not surprisingly there was an easel and painting in progress inside the Artist Villa:

A fresh mug of coffee is silently put outside each room every morning. Little touches like this are so welcome, as the pandemic practically wiped out any kind of customer service that had previously been in existence.

Inside the Santorini room, which is part of the Mediterranean property, the bathroom includes a sunken tub AND shower:

I loved the branding which extends to the parking spaces:

HIGHLY recommended by Daveland, Korakia Pensione is the perfect place for relaxation or a romantic getaway.

See more Korakia Pensione photos at my main website.