The Legend Continues

01-197205XX 9For the past two weeks at the aptly titled Queens Theatre a 70 year old woman has been holding packed audiences spellbound nightly, and on 4 occasions twice nightly. The orchestra plays a medley of the tunes associated with her and finally she appears from the wings, immaculately gowned with a huge chinchilla coat almost carelessly draped around her. Her opening song ‘Look me over closely’ is an invitation that everyone in the audience takes up. We all looked closely, some through their opera glasses and those of us with the cash to sit in the front stalls could see with our own eyes that all was well, that the face looked exactly the same and the legend was still intact.

Marlene then spoke of her early days in films, how she auditioned with an American song, won the role of Lola and ended up in Hollywood. In this segment she gave us Porter’s ‘You’re the Cream in my Coffee’, ‘My Blue Heaven’, the rollicking ‘Boys in the Backroom’ and her song from ‘Stage Fright’ ‘The Laziest Gal in Town’. Strutting arrogantly to the wings she discarded her coat and returned to give us one of her best performed songs that evening ‘When The World Was Young’. I have seen this song performed many times but never so movingly, and perhaps this is part of the secret that she knows how to think and feel a song so well.

Her selection continued with ‘Go Away From My Window’, her touching version of ‘I Wish You Love’, the sombre ‘War ls Over’, a quite terrible ‘Boomerang Baby’ which bored me last time she sang it in London, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘Sentimental Journey.’ By this time the audience was so involved that when she announced the song from ‘The Blue Angel’ people were calling out various titles until she corrected them, announcing the rousing ‘Lola’.

‘Don’t Ask Me Why’, ‘Marie’, ‘Lilli Marlene’ and Seeger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ are all songs she used last time in London but somehow nobody seemed to mind. We were all happy being in the presence of this glamorous star personality. Her version of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ continues to confuse me and if anybody knows the significance of her repeat of the word ‘Rose’ perhaps they’d enlighten me.

When she winds up her 75 minute show with the inevitable ‘Falling In Love Again’ the audience rose to their feet in appreciation. Many people have wondered in the past exactly what it is about Marlene that attracts a predominantly gay audience of both sexes. Certainly on the night I attended there were many young men dashing up to the footlights to throw little posies at her feet and to clutch her hand. The more exhibitionistic of them held her hand for a longer while, some kissing it gallantly. One wonders about this hold she has on both young and old alike. Unlike Garland whose sheer emotional approach to songs was an obvious draw to the gay crowd, Marlene by comparison just stands there almost mockingly saying “take me or leave me – that’s how I am””… Finally you have to satisfy yourself that her attraction is made up of many things, glamour, a certain sense of high camp, but above all supreme artistry.

Hamburger’s Jesus

01-197205XX 9Mr. Hamburger and Mr. Darjean have provided Cliff with this bouncy ditty about Jesus, and all His wonders. Cliff warbles tunefully along, hardly missing a note, happily acclaiming the virtues and mercies of the Son of God. It’s bound to sell to all those festival-of-lighters, and I’m sure Peter Hill has a copy, and Prince Charles. I can’t imagine it going down very well though in the Rockingham Club in manchester or the Catacombs in London’s often exposed Earl’s Court. But to each his or her own. One doesn’t have to buy it, and Tony Blackburn never plays it.

Aznavour Laments

01-197205XX 9Dusty Springfield’s new single is an arrangement of a Charles Aznavour song, Yesterday When I Was Young. Dusty has always been a fine pop singer, and this song is perfect material for her. With a large string section busily and hurriedly soaring in accompaniment Dusty soulfully steers her way through the song. It at times reminds me of those heavy romantic sadies that were always in the singles chart a few years ago. Many of Dusty’s singles are classics of that period, along with Dionne Warwick’s first single hits and even Cilla Black’s successes on a few occasions.

Dusty’s interpretation of this weepy retains much of the feel of that period but along with greater technical know-how arrngers and the more mature soulfullness of her voice is very much a part of the small group of people who produce good, popular soft-rock. It might even encourage me to watch dreary Top of the Pops if I know Dusty is going to sing her new record.

Judy Garland’s daughter makes good

01-197205XX 9Currently at the Prince Charles Cinema they are showing the movie version of the stage musical CABARET, which was based on the Christopher Isherwood novel ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ which in turn was the basis of the stage play ‘I Am A Camera’ – are you still with me?

The cinema has thought up a very novel idea to put you in the mood for the film to follow. As you approach, loud speakers are blaring out what seats are available for which performance, and the doormen unpolitely shepherd the crowds into various queues. The whole thing reminds one of the days of the German prison camps in fact.

Inside the same procedure continues. The usherette on duty at the doors of the bar yells at you to “keep the doors clear” and inside the cinema the other usherettes are equally rude as they wave their torches in the direction of your seat.

The inevitable adverts and trailers begin and as usual an interval follows so that more refreshments can be sold. One feels these days that by the time the adverts, refreshment breaks and so on have taken place you have almost forgotten what your original intentions were in going to the cinema. I noticed the usherette selling goodies had some sort of symbol on her uniform which vaguely resembled the Star of David – seemingly even today the Jews are getting a bad break from the Germans.

The film finally begins and instead of a bright arrangement of the title tune there is only SILENCE. The names appear and there is a slight murmur of voices in the background. The screen changes from black shades to mudded colours, distorted faces fill the screen as the credits end and suddenly the grotesque heavily made-up face of Joel Gray as the MC appears full face, and the film begins.

We anre back in the Germany of the 1930’s and both the songs, sets and fashions are perfect in context. In her earlier scenes Liza Minelli struck me as a young girl playing at being a grown-up. A short while later I remembered that that is exactly what the role of Sally Bowles is all about. Already the talk in Hollywood is that she is a strong contender for next year’s Oscar and on this showing unless some miraculous female performance comes along within the comings months, I should think she will remain a hot favourite to win this coveted award.

Joel Gray, who won the biggest critical reception for his role in the New York stage production, impresses greatly on screen and its a shame that in praising Minelli so many critics seem to have overlooked his superb work in the film. Finally Bob Foss has overcome his fondness for the ‘freeze frame’ approach which marred his first directing stint ‘Sweet Charity’ and has come up with a first class movie.

Germany Comes to Town

Dietrich by Blossom

01-197205XX 9Last night, or should I say early this morning, John struggled over to my bed with a questioning whisper, “Bloss, are you asleep”.

“No.”

“Well, Gay News phoned and they want you to write a review on Dietrich”.

After about five minutes of moaning and groaning and self indulgent noises, I thought l had communicated my distress, and the fact that I had only ever written a diary and letters – and the occassional attempt at a book and a play that everybody seems to go through, so l shut up.

So that briefly explains what I’m doing heme looking at a blank sheet of paper thinking “Whatever I write will be a cliche…….everything it’s possible to write has been written.”

Anyway here goes.

The curtains open to reveal an unprepossessing orchestra of about twenty, they burst into a brief resume of her hits – the arrangements by Burt Bacharach, the playing isn’t – just as the whole thing starts to become a drag it stops.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Marlene Dietrich”.

Pause, where is she?

Then on she, well try to imagine a kind of gliding amble whilst clad in about half a hundredweight of white fox fur – try to imagine what Dietrich looks like covered in enormous splodges of shaving cream – anyway she’s there and that’s all the audience requires. She stands there accepting the applause, she’s been through this hundreds of times, it’s no surprise, but then neither is she.

Three songs later and the coat – or whatever it was – comes off, and she’s there again, vaguely covered by a peachy chiffon thing that glistens with rhinestones, again comes the applause and she stands there immaculately poised the legendry legs outlined by the thin silk. You know that every member of the audience has lifted their glasses in a half hopeful, hall fearful scrutiny, and she knows it, and it doesn’t worry her a bit. Whatever the need is that demands of her that she remains unchanged she’s up to it.

Song after song gets thrown at you intermingled with a brief biography, the only thing altered in the programme is the inclusion of a couple of songs, ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ and ‘White Grass’ and it’s these that bring the Dietrich to me that I personally feel is the one that is most neglected.

We all know about the legend that refuses to die, the Von Sternber film, the troop entertainment during the last war, the cabaret appearances, but I really feel that underneath all the glitter, there is great humanity and intelligence. l’d like to see her make another film, it’s ten years since ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’ and she’s been doing the present all for at least six. Forget the fact of her age and the whole sex symbol bit and try to suss her out. At the end of the show she collected her obligatory flowers and the dozen or so curtain calls, the legend was intact and the audience was satisfied, but there’s still more, I don’t know what or when but I’m pretty confident, but then I’m infatuated with her.

There’s a really good L.P. of her live the last time she was here. It’s called ‘Dietrich in London’ and it’s on Marble Arch Records.

Lots of love and cuddles, BLOSSOM.