Sunday, April 13, 2014



Our last Italian location, before leaving for Spain, was the Vatican City. The producers assured us that they had appropriate papal dispensation for us to fill a major dream ballet for Goodfollies inside Saint Peter's itself, a major coup. For this sequence, my character, Toni Soprano, wrestles for control of her spiritual life with significant figures from her religious upbringing. The college of Cardinals waltzes through the nave of Saint Peter's while Toni wanders lost and alone, always running from her evil mother, Lydia, until she collapses into the arms of her loving psychiatrist who makes the demons of Catholicism disappear with a flash of her prescription pad. Thousands of Prozac and Lithium tablets then rain down from the skies as Toni emerges triumphant and able to face the world of organized crime, thoroughly medicated. 

The shoot should have been simple but it was marked by a number of problems. We had to write Chris MacNeil out of the scene as every time she tried to bring little Regan into Saint Peter's her head would turn around and she'd vomit pea soup. Then Norma Desmond slipped in the emesis and fractured her hip and her scenes had to be done by a body double. Every time we'd get a shot set up, these men in these really gauche pantaloons would show up and start jabbering in Italian - something about a sacred liege and then all these old men in dresses would get in on the act as well. When I did my famous trampoline tap up onto the altar, you'd have thought they were going to have collective apoplexy. It's not like my taps dented the marble much. By the time we wrapped, my nerves were quite frazzled. I only had time to go see that sixteenth chapel, which was quite lovely, but didn't have the energy for the other fifteen - I had to get back to the hotel to rest. 

With my feet up and a room service tray, I decided to find a nice and restful, and possibly spiritual film for the evening. I had forgotten to bring any of my truly religious films like The Singing Nun or Change of Habit so I went for a more secular spirituality and chose the 1990 film, Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The film was the sleeper hit of that summer, arriving with little advance word or publicity and cleaning up at the box office with its tale of love and the possibility of afterlife. 

Patrick Swayze stars as Sam Wheat, a Wall Street Banker with a conscience. As the film opens, he and his true love Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) are creating an opulent living space in a TriBeCa loft rife with warm, earthy colors and angelic symbolism. How a junior banker and itinerant sculptor could afford such Architectural Digest surroundings is not explained. Sam has a best friend, Carl (Tony Goldwyn), devoted to him and Molly and full of juvenile elevator games. One night, as Sam and Molly return from an evening out, they are accosted in the street and Sam is killed by a low life with bad hair (Rick Aviles). Sam finds himself a ghost with unfinished business with Molly and with Carl. 

Sam starts to learn the rules of the ghost world from some less than helpful spirits including a scary subway rider (Vincent Schiavelli) and an old geezer (Phil Leeds) who hangs out in ERs in order to see who the new arrivals will be. He also learns that he can, with enough will and concentration, affect the world of the living. Desperate to communicate with Molly, who is in danger from the same forces that killed him, Sam stumbles across a phony Harlem medium, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg, in the role she was born to play). Oda Mae can actually see and hear him and Sam has to use her to communicate with Molly, avenge his death, and deal with the bad guys so his business can be finished and he can ascend to heaven where he belongs.

In the lead roles, Swayze and Moore have excellent chemistry. The pottery scene between the two of them, to the song Unchained Melody, became an instant classic of romantic cinema. Don't try it at home. It's difficult to get clay out of the sheets. They're straightforward and earnest in their roles, and Moore, with her smoky bourbon voice and glycerin tears, milks her big scenes for all they're worth, coasting on this performance for a decade. The true strength of the film, however, comes from the two supporting players. Whoopi Goldberg finally came into her own as a comic actress with her Oda Mae and won an Oscar for her efforts. Oda Mae is brilliantly droll, by turns underplayed and over the top and makes full use of Whoopis's off beat African American chipmunk look. When she's on screen, the film crackles and costume designer Kendall Errair gives her a couple of unforgettable outfits. Tony Goldwyn, in his first major role, makes an astonishing debut. He has to walk a very fine line between sympathetic and edgy and he pulls it off with aplomb. 

Bruce Joel Rubin's script can sink into the maudlin, especially at the end, but it's leavened with enough humor to keep it from becoming unbearable. Jerry Zucker, of the omnipresent sight gag, is actually restrained and uses his skills in the service of the story. He also makes excellent use of visual effects to clearly demarcate the rules of the ghost world. 

The film holds up well and remains entertaining. There's a good enough match between persona and role for former brat-packer Demi Moore to almost forget some of her later debacles. Swayze, with his dancer's grace, complements her well and it's too bad he never moved further up the A list. There seem to be a few too many knowing glances between him and Goldwyn, especially early in the film, to suggest the existence of a secret subplot between the two of them, but 1990 audiences were probably not ready for a romantic drama in which the now and forever tie was between two men. 

Autumn sunrise hair rinse. Moving penny. Subway train leaping. Living room pottery wheel. Little black scary things. Forged identities. Money laundering. 

No comments:

Post a Comment