Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Dreamed of Africa


I am exceedingly put out with the producers of the Hip Hop awards. I have informed my staff and handlers never to book me there again. I know that there was some confusion over MNM versus Eminem but I wowed that audience with my audacious tap/rap routines. They were so moved that they just sat there afterwards, too emotionally exhausted by what they had witnessed to applaud. I looked forward to seeing the televised highlights and when I went to look, I had been completely edited out for commercials for Big Macs and feminine hygiene products. I was incensed and am looking into a breach of contract suit. I would have gone marching right into the production offices and done a little tap on a few backsides but I'm currently in Denver, having taken an early morning flight to get my next project ready.

I'm here meeting with the lovely Carolyn and Walter of Mangiotto productions about the next stop on the tour. They wish to produce The Ssssoundssss of Ssssilence as Lester! Live at Red Rocks! and tape it for use as a PBS fund raising special. They've already gotten John Tesh to agree to play back-up synthesizer. I'm going to work a few John Denver covers into the set like Rocky Mountain Viper for the home town crowd. We also thought it might be nice if we had the Nature Conservancy send over some homeless local reptiles and I could make a tearful plea from the stage about finding them a better life and education.

After the meeting, I retired to my hotel, the opulent Stanley up in the hills and dreamed of adoring throngs and saving the animals and I was reminded of the film I caught on cable the other day, Hugh Hudson's I Dreamed of Africa with Kim Basinger in her first post-Oscar role. The film is based on a book about the interesting true life adventures of Italian socialite Kuki Gallmann after her relocation to Kenya with her second husband.

Kim plays Kuki, not as an Italian socialite, but as a southern matron from some Atlanta suburb who strikes poses in front of stunning African vistas between visits to The Pottery Barn and Smith & Hawken. The film covers some fifteen years of her life and all the other characters age around her but Kim remains a frozen thirty-nine who obviously has access to a 55 gallon drum of Breck shampoo and the rural Kenya branch of Elizabeth Arden as her make-up is always perfect, no matter what natural disaster has just befallen her. She gathers an occasional artful cheek smudge that's supposed to let us know that she suffers, but her eye liner remains so lush and her eyes so vacant, that it's all for naught.

The plot, such as it is, follows the outlines of the real Kuki's life. In Italy, she and her young son meet Paolo Gallmann (Vincent Perez), something of a rascal, and she marries him and moves off to Kenya to start a ranch with him over the objections of her mother (Eva-Marie Saint). Over the next dozen years or so, personal tragedies, official corruption, natural disaster and the like take place with monotonous regularity and Kuki meets all of them with the same vapid stare. I think this is supposed to suggest that she falls in love with this beautiful land but the end effect is a bunch of stills from an Oxfam brochure. The film ends with Kuki, despite all calamities, remaining in Kenya and becoming something of a local legend.

Basinger is a wonderful actress in the right role and with the right director. Here, however, she just poses like a fashion model for the latest Banana Republic catalog. None of Kuki's motivations or passions come through. Good times and bum times are met with the same tosses of the head, to show off the hair, full of bounce and body, and tired looks. Her co-stars come off a bit better but they're given less to do so they don't have to stand around and pose quite so much. It's nice to see Eva Marie Saint in a film again - perhaps next time her agent will find one for her where they've written a human being for her to play rather than a one note foil for her daughter.

Hugh Hudson has always been a great visual director (Chariots of Fire, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan) but he's never been particularly strong on story or character and he doesn't realize that photo-shoots for International Wildlife do not a good film make. The script (Paula Milne) is episodic at best and very little is done to try and tie one ravishing vista to the next, other than to have Kim Basinger walk through them so we know it's still the same film.

The real Kuki Gallmann is supposed to be a warm, wise, and wonderful person. She deserves better than this tepid effort.

Elephant chasing. Tractor shed collapse. Snake bite. Gratuitous corrupt African officials. Rainstorms. Balance beam party. Mud ruined shoes. Naked Vincent Perez.

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