The Vardathon Continues, and the Oscar 10
plus "Crazy" Eddie, Huey "Piano" Smith, and the Sea Cruise drag queen
I have a big post in the works on the assault and death by suicide of Amanda Kuch, who was bullied and assaulted by fellow students, and then victim-blamed by her school superintendent, who is now collecting a $200,000 paycheck to not work, until 2025. But I do not want to feed my rage right now, so I am going to write about some wonderful things I’ve been up to.
The Vardathon Continues!
I watched Cléo from 5 to 7, and I had not seen it before! I was confusing it with Belle du jour, and this is a very different kind of movie. Agnés Varda’s first big feature after Le Courte Pointe is set in Paris, and follows a singer who awaits a cancer diagnosis from her doctor. As the title suggests, we follow her around the city for two hours as she tries to distract herself from the shock of mortality. It’s a love song to the City of Light, and this being Varda, we do not focus on the beautiful singer entirely; she watches a street performer swallow frogs, meets a flirtatious yet respectful and charming young man who helps her while away the time and face her fear, and the story ends on a life-affirming, if ambiguous note. After all, we do not know how much time we have. I highly recommend this one. All Varda’s films seem very modern and undated, and while this is very obviously set in Paris in the ‘60s, it feels fresh and alive.
Two people shuffled off this mortal coil recently. One of them was Eddie Antar, a not-so-legitimate businessman who ran the Crazy Eddie’s electronics franchise. It is best known for its TV commercials led by radio pitchman Jerry Carroll, who was often mistaken for “Crazy Eddie,” despite him saying, “Crazy Eddie! His prices are in-n-n-nsane!” and not “my prices.”
Brian Donohue of News 12’s Positively New Jersey had a short interview with Antar’s biographer:
If you’re less interested in the criminal side of the business, but in how the infamous commercials came about, this NY Times article is a fun read.
Huey “Piano” Smith also died recently, a New Orleans piano player best known for the rollicking, infectious tunes “The Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and “Don’t You Just Know It.” I found out about his death through Christgau’s substack post, which serves as an excellent bio and tribute to the man. Smith eschewed the label of “rock ‘n roll” for jazz, blues, and R&B music:
“Huey first saw the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in a 1954 issue of Jet magazine. He didn’t like it. ‘Well, how they get to naming it?’ he asked. To begin with, musicians in his circle moved indiscriminately between blues, rhythm-and-blues, and jazz. ‘We all that all the time, not that you go’ call this “this” and that “that.” It’s music.’”
I find myself appreciating Smith’s feelings on this, as humans over-categorize everything. I first heard his music through my mother Maggie and my uncle Paul. I didn’t know he sang “Don’t You Just Know It.” These songs have a novelty feel, but they aren’t gimmicky; they rely on clever lyrics and good riffs and beats, much like the Chuck Berry tunes that inspired “Rockin’ Pneumonia.”
How can you not like that song? “Don’t You Just Know It” is a little more of a novelty tune with its chorus that sounds like Sesame Street’s Count, and while I still enjoy it, it’s been used so much in movies like A Bronx Tale that I can hear it in my head and not need to hear it played. A lesser-known dance song, “Pop-eye” was a small hit for Smith as well. But his biggest writing credit was snagged and given to an Italian-American Louisiana singer who used the stage name of Frankie Ford… “Sea Cruise.”
I won’t share Ford’s version, because it’s also a novelty tune and quickly becomes grating. The original was sung by drag queen Bobby Marchan, who sang with Smith and John “Scarface” Williams, in a band called the Clowns. Marchan’s voice files off the grating novelty of the song, in my opinion:
If you love New Orleans music, Bobby and Huey are a great place to start.
As for movies, I’ve watched all of the ten Oscar Best Picture contenders except for the Top Gun sequel, because I can’t imagine it being enjoyable high or sober. I watched the new Avatar under chemical enhancement, and it did not help at all. It’s just terrible, the same hackneyed story as the first one, with slightly greener Na’avi with webbed fingers, and a couple whales that looked designed by an AI. It’s boring, unimaginative, and three interminable hours long.
What did I like? Surprisingly, Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. I’ve lost that loving feeling with Spielberg, but this one was a good story, and an unflinching look at growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Good acting all around, and it’s a people story, and people are messy things. I’ll give the rest a quick rundown; Triangle of Sadness is the least expected one, about two Instagram influencers on an ill-fated luxury cruise. I really liked that one, despite some ugly scenes. Oh, I didn’t watch Elvis either, because the trailer was enough. Tom Hanks doesn’t look like the Colonel, and he deserves his own biopic. Everything Everywhere All at Once has a lot of steam behind it, and I would like it to win. It’s wildly imaginative, even as it tells a familiar story of immigrant parents who don’t understand their child; it’s a funny, wild, and daring mash-up with some great performances, and if it beats The Fabelmans I’ll be surprised, but happy for all involved.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a good war movie, but it’s just another war movie. The Russian invasion of Ukraine makes it seem more important than it is, in my opinion. The Banshees of Inisherin was a wonderful, unexpected story. It’s another one I wouldn’t mind winning. Tár is gripping and daring and held together by Cate Blanchett’s performance, and the abuse of power is always a prescient topic. Another one that could cinch it, with no complaints.
Women Talking is a good film, but I did not find it great. I wanted to. I know the real story it is based on, but I have not read the book it is filtered through. It felt like a fable, crossed with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which is at odds with the horrific reality that the real women endured. Sarah Polley apparently wanted to make a story that happened in an Old Colony Mennonite community more universal, and as a fiction writer I won’t criticize her choice to use reality as a basis for her story, but it made it difficult for me to be objective. I’ll share thoughts by Mary Gaitskill on what rubbed her the wrong way about the movie, and Mennonite Jennifer Sears on both the movie and the book.
Women Talking has a lot going for it, but it always felt like a movie. The women did not feel like they were on a remote religious commune, to me. What did work was depicting all the different ways we react to trauma. The writing, and the acting, portrayed that well. Anger, panic, dread, action, resignation… there was a character for each, which gave it an aspect like Pixar’s movie about anthropomorphized emotions, Inside Out. But any movie that generates conversation has something going for it. I wish She Said had gotten the nomination: the docudrama about how two women journalists found many of the victims of rapist movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and together, they took him down. I’d read the journalism that inspired the movie, just as I’d read the news story of the Mennonite women assaulted by men in their community.
That’s a lot of movies. Sarah treats the Oscars like March Madness or Fantasy Football, so I’ll be watching the Best Acting, Documentary, Screenplay, Foreign, and Animated films in the coming weeks. I really liked Turning Red but I think Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio will win. What I’m most looking forward to? The donkey movie, Eo. And one last movie mention: the movie adaptation of The Sisters Brothers isn’t bad, but it doesn’t capture all the absurd joys of reading the book. The direction lacked something. But it was better than the Coen Brothers’ self-parody, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
I’m a bit movied out. I’m reading a few books at once, and just added Stephanie McCarter’s new translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to that list. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time.