Thursday, March 20, 2014



Fillies goes before the cameras tomorrow. I'm starting to get very excited. In fact, I haven't felt this positive about a project since I filmed the Born in a Trunk sequence for my first major film role, many years ago. Norman tells me that if I throw up on the way to the studio tomorrow, it will be a sign of good luck; I should just try to miss the chauffeur.

Last night, Norman and I made a special appearance at a Hollywood charity gala and auction. I was somewhat disappointed in the reception of our auction donation item. The lovely little starter home, which I had picked up for a song at our previous maid’s estate sale, went for only about half of market value, probably to some speculator. Meanwhile, Anne Francis, who also donated a house (and hers was not in nearly as exclusive a Rancho Palos Verdes neighborhood) saw hers go for top dollar. Maybe if the real estate photos we had taken hadn't emphasized the neighboring strip mall with the adult arcade quite so much. I was stunning in my Bustopher Jones gown, from my GlamourPuss collection, at least until the cater waiter tripped and sent a tray of hors d'oeuvres sailing down my front. I had to retire to the ladies lounge and make the stuffed mushrooms look like a button motif and sponge crab dip out of the yak hair. Luckily Julie Andrews was there and had a bottle of soy sauce in her purse. That did the trick.

My choice of film for the evening was predicated on my recent immersion in vocal music. After discarding a number of musicals as too light hearted, I happened across Don Boyd's production of Aria from 1987 and popped it into the home theater. Aria is one of those experimental art-house films which is far better in concept than in execution. On paper, the idea of recruiting a number of idiosyncratic film directors and having them each develop and shoot a short piece to a famous piece of operatic music (sort of an opera music MTV video thing) was probably marvelous. Putting the resulting mish-mash of textures and styles together into a coherent film would stymie anyone. It's the problem that plagues almost all omnibus features.

On the other hand, where else in 90 minutes can you see Teresa Russell in male drag as King Zog of Albania, a young and nearly unrecognizable Elizabeth Hurley (pre-nose job, hair dye and Versace) get naked to Eric Korngold, the cast of Robert Altman's Beyond Therapy dressed up as 18th century lunatics, the late lamented Anita Morris, Beverly D'Angelo and Buck Henry cavorting at the Madonna Inn, and more arty symbolism than you can shake the proverbial stick at?

The film is tied together by a soulful John Hurt, doing Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice wandering around a decaying Cremona and its opera house. As he stops and ponders life, love, and the universe, we fade in and out of the other vignettes, until he transforms himself into Pagliacco and lip synchs to Caruso's Vesti la giubba. No, I don't know what it's supposed to mean either.

The most successful of the vignettes are the ones which use the music to launch a skeletal plot or where the music contributes to a powerful emotional mood. Julien Temple does the best with his sex farce at the Madonna Inn, an infamous ode to kitsch designed as a resort hotel, all set to Verdi's Rigoletto. By the time we get to the Elvis impersonator singing La Donna Et Mobile, we're giggling too much to care. He has sharp, experienced comic actors as his leads so the segment's a gem. Three other segments work quite well for emotional reasons. Ken Russell uses some interesting, wild imagery to Puccini's Nessun Dorma to turn the apparent glorification of a woman by Nubian handmaids into something else entirely, and it fits both music and libretto. Franc Roddam (a director I have never particularly cared for) uses Wagner's Liebestod  from Tristan and Isolde to give us a tragic tale of young love in Las Vegas (with a very young Bridget Fonda) and, despite some Skinemax Friday night flick stuff, it resonates. Derek Jarman creates a simple elegiac image of an elderly woman looking back on young love to Charpentier's Depuis le Jour, showing both the satisfactions and regrets of a life fully lived.

The other vignettes are less successful. Robert Altman dressed up the cast and crew of Beyond Therapy in 18th century attire (you can recognize Julie Hagerty and Jeff Goldblum under the make-up if you look closely). He then had them play the lunatics invited to a performance of Rameau's Les Boreades. We never see the stage, only the audience. The Hogarthian imagery is momentarily fun but goes on far too long. Bruce Beresford uses Korngold's Die Tote Stadt for a simple love duet. It has lovely shots of Bruges, not so lovely shots of a naked Elizabeth Hurley and is dull. Charles Sturridge uses Verdi's La Virgine Degli Angeli from Verdi's Forza Del Destino to tell an ironic tale of juvenile delinquents. The only problem is that you won't get the irony unless you know the music. Nicolas Roeg dresses up his wife as King Zog, for no apparent reason other than he can, and does a foiled Viennese assasination plot to Un Ballo In Maschera. The segment should work better than it does. It has some lovely camerawork and shots of Vienna in winter but remains curiously uninvolving. The less said about Jean Luc Godard's naked maids and Gold's Gym body builders to Lully's Armide, the better.

The DVD contains the film and the filmographies of the directors only. As it arrived from Netflix, I do not know if it comes with a handy little booklet of notes giving background on the operas and why these particular arias were paired with these stories. I would hope so as this would make the film more enjoyable to those without a classical music background. If not, there are many excellent opera references available.

Operatic gunplay. Operatic car fires. Operatic naked cleaning women. Operatic amateur porn tapes. Operatic dovecote. Operatic birdcage headdress. Operatic casino players. Operatic windshield crown. Operatic wave frolicking. Operatic bass drum.

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