Two Right Royal Evenings

CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre.

I once knew an obscure silent film star whose every other sentence involved famous people. She’d speak of meeting Scott Fitzgerald at a dinner given by the King of Spain, but on asking further questions about them, she had very little else to say. I was reminded of her whilst watching CROWN MATRIMONIAL as the first scene set in Marlborough House has the Queen Mary asking her son, on his return from the continent, “How was George of Greece, and did you see Carol of Rumania?” This sort of name dropping is all very well provided it is going to lead somewhere, but apart from a few words, nothing further is mentioned of these famous personages.

Likewise I felt at times as if I were visiting Madame Tussauds, so much did these players resemble the real people in face and dress. Although the plot is familiar, interest is held throughout by the course of events and the dialogue given to the stage Royals. Who can presume how these characters would act and talk when in the privacy of their homes. The author Royce Ryton has used his imagination well. Aided by Wendy Hiller, portraying Queen Mary, one senses the feeling of royalty and grandeur in her every move.

Peter Barkworth playing Edward 7th reminded me of that monarch’s smile and warmth, whilst Amanda Reiss received an ovation on her first entrance for her uncanny resemblance to our present Queen Mother at that time. I was less happy with Andrew Ray’s impersonation of George 6th, feeling he was too young for the role, but in his one big scene he was extremely moving. Lastly the costumes and sets are first rate, and just how I would imagine the interior of a Royal household would look.

I AND ALBERT at the Picadilly Theatre

When one reads of delays of an opening night, hears stories of early previews over-running by 45 minutes, and of the leading man being taken ill and the understudy taking over at short notice, then the signs are surely there that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’, or in this case at the Piccadilly Theatre.

What possessed that fine director John Schlesinger to become involved in all this? I would call it ‘a pageant with music’ as it turned out to be the most talkative musical I’ve yet come upon. The musical score manages to range the entire field of music in one evening, commencing with an oompah pa song about naughty London in the early 1800’s (did I detect some rather risque lyrics well hidden under the blaring orchestra?), a syncopated modern style tune that owed a lot to the song ‘The best is yet to come’, all the way to a tender ballad sung by Prince Albert. The title song ‘I and Albert’ is tuneful, and the ‘Victoria and Albert Waltz’ is a haunting theme used when they first meet. Somewhere in the second half Disraeli stops the show whilst performing conjuring tricks and singing with great panache the sung ‘When You Speak with a Lady’. But this song is out of place with the character and plot so that it takes several minutes to settle back into ‘the plot’ … and oh how that plot goes on and on without really reaching any point. Polly James plays Victoria competently enough, ranging from young womanhood to old age, though one wonders what became of her middle years. At one time the character she portrays was aged around the late 50’s, but there she was giving an impersonation of a woman of 70 – no in-between, alas.

Sven Bertl Taube makes a handsome leading man as Prince Albert. He has a good singing voice and is suitably stiff and solemn as the part calls for. Aubrey Woods and Lewis Fiender play two roles each during the evening as Victoria’s ministers and bring light comic relief to the proceedings. The show would be lost without the two stairways placed on either side of the stage and a great deal of the action is performed on them which involves the cast running about on them ’til one gets almost dizzy watching. After Albert dies, the stage is draped in black mourning, both costumes and curtains are black and there is a feeling of ‘death in the family’ which is almost prophetic of the show itself.

Agonised And Irrepressible

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
SADLERS WELLS OPERA at the London Coliseum

The agonised and irrepressible twins Cav & Pag returned to the London Coliseum last month in John Blatchley’s production for Sadler’s Wells, which up-dates both operas to what appears to be the fag-end of the 50’s. They are both set in the same Sicilian village, and the action of each opera now takes place only six months apart. The agonies of rustic life in what are the most famous examples of operatic ‘verismo’ are on the surface, therefore, not given a fantastically realistic head-start. With this as background, one might be forgiven for thinking that life in rural Sicily is unrelentlessly tragic. (Imagine two such dramatic deaths in a community of just over a hundred in only six months!)

But no matter how often these operas are performed, or in what manner, they still make an incredible dramatic impact; they still continue to work on an audience. There is a lot in this production, which I thoroughly respect. Many points have been rethought and re-interpreted, points which truly add to the audience’s understanding of the operas. One in particular seems completely successful — the deletion of the ear-biting as a form of challenge before the duel. Instead, Alfio flashes his flick-knife, an action which sets the matter into immediate perspective.

The production was mounted in September last year during a period of financial austerity at the Coliseum, but Blatchley has made it plain in an interview (published as part of the programme notes) that this had nothing to do with the austere style of his staging. (One gently raked platform does for both Cavalleria and Pagliacci, and the fluted, metallic grey back-drop remains throughout the evening.) Around 80 per cent of audiences in this country watching a performance in the original language does not understand what is being sung. Blatchley believes that too often these audiences have in the past been compensated for their lack of understanding of the libretto by “over-described decoration” and “an over-expressive, larger than life style of acting”. He feels that this style has permeated all operatic production in Britain, and is himself seeking to establish a subtler approach in the confines of the Coliseum, where one hopes every word may be understood by the audience.

There are two basic premises behind the stark, uncolourful staging. First, the obvious notion that without the fussy detail the audience will be nudged into concentrating on the work itself and not on the pretty accessories.

The second idea raises more interesting and far-reaching questions. Blatchley holds that the events of Cavalleria are “essentially plain and classical”. And with this I would agree. Certainly, it cannot be doubted that the earlier opera does have greater dramatic strength than the play within a play of Pagliacci. It’s true, too, that if we interpret “classical” as meaning Greek classical, then it is certainly true that Cavalleria displays the dogged singularity of plot and dramatic purpose typical of Greek drama. It has no intricate Shakespearean (or perhaps more aptly Verdian) sub-plot, and respects all three unities of time, place and action. But does “plain” simply mean thin? Is opera always more effective when it tells a clearly delineated story?

Even without John Blatchley’s programme notes, his economical staging (which incidentally includes such props as a child’s pram, bicycle, cash register and what looks like the remains of a World War I ambulance lorry from which the actors perform in Pag) after an initial shock reaction does justify itself and intensifies the drama. Blatchley is well served by a sensitive and highly musical cast.

Margaret Curphey sings Santuzza with an exceptionally poignant lyricism and appropriate sense of desperate fatalism. While I had gone to the Coliseum still expecting to hear Rita Hunter’s sharp-edged, powerful and always deeply dramatic soprano, my disappointment was quickly quietened by Margaret Curphey’s achingly pathetic interpretation of the role.

While occasionally, both she and Robin Donald, who plays Turiddu, sounded strained in some of the higher passages, she lacked none of the committed passion so vital to the part. The big test of “Voi lo sapete” was encountered with masterly “breadth” and drive, though lacking to some extent in articulation, and phrasing. My only regret is that she is made to look so dowdy. One wonders how the ‘heart-throb’ of the village would have taken it into his head to rob her of her virginity in the first place!

Ann Hood, playing Lola, both musically and dramatically seductive, is unfortunately decked out in a costume more appropriate for Olympia in “The Tales of Hoffmann”. She sings her delightful little solo, which contrasts so pungently with the harsh tone of the Santuzza-Turiddu encounter, with pure tone, and characterful delicacy.

Raimund Herincx gave a startlingly aggressive edge to his portrayal of Alfio, the murderously jealous husband, whose all-consuming hatred is aroused by Santuzza, who then quickly regrets her passionate outburst. There is no doubting Herincx’s musicality, and here, as in the Coliseum production of Berlioz’ “Faust”, in which he stunned us with his account of Mephistopheles, he gets to the very heart of the character, and clothes its every movement and involuntary twitch with a breathing reality.

Roderick Brydon drove the Sadlers Wells Orchestra to even greater and more exhilirating heights, getting every ounce from Mascagni’s big “production numbers”, and moving orchestral interludes.

Pagliacci seemed to me less of a triumph. Although I applaud some of the production details, (the narrator of the Prologue, here magnificently sung by Derek Hammond-Stroud with every syllable crystal-clear and true, appears in actor’s dressing-gown instead of the usual clown’s costume, for example), the dramatic conviction carried by all the central characters in Cavalleria has not spilled over into its successor.

Anne Evans as Nedda has a more accurate soprano than Margaret Curphey, but somehow her voice seems less subtle, less flexible, less moving. She certainly looked every inch the part, but she failed to capture the audience’s sympathy, and her final murder seems less of a tragedy than just deserts.

Canio, too, seems here more of a pastiche of a Chicago hood than a man tragically consumed, possessed, by the image of one woman and her infidelity. Gregory Dempsey gave tremendous energy to the part, but vocally he lacked the dynamite declamation necessary to bring off the final solo “Pagliacci non son”.

One singer, however, seemed completely in control of his part, both dramatically and musically. It’s a pity then that Silvio, though central to the plot, has relatively little to sing when the part is interpreted with so much artistry as by Norman Welsgey. The rich timbre of his baritone voice reverberated into every niche of the auditorium, he phrased every line with matchless understanding for musical line and dramatic effect, and beguiled Nedda with truly glowing sonority.

Orchestrally, the opera is near impeccable under John Barker’s precise yet passionate direction.

Dilly ‘N’ Starr

HULLA BALOO at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly

Good news for fans of those talented drag artists Rogers and Starr is that they are now to be seen in the West End in a new revue HULLA BALOO. Harold Fielding had the unusual idea of pitting the combined talents of these two with local comedian Jimmy Edwards and that ‘Laugh-In girl’ Chelsea Brown, and it works well.

The curtain rises to show a public convenience with 3 cubicles on either side of the stage and that more or less sets the tone of the humour for the rest of the evening. Rogers and Starr score early on with one of their popular numbers ‘Rape’ and again in the second half with their famous ‘Beyond the Freud’ number which was so popular with the audiences at the Hampstead Theatre Club where they had 2 successful seasons of late night revue 2 years running. Roy Starr repeats his amusing ‘Dear Marje’ takeoff of Marjorie Proops, and Michael Rogers follows with his rather cruel Dietrich impersonation, descending the toilet stairs impeccably gowned in a transparent salmon pink shimmering dress.

In the second act the two of them proceed to demolish ‘Gone With The Wind’ with their hilarious portrayals of Mammie and Prissie the maid. It was interesting to note how enjoyable Jimmy Edwards can be when he stops ad-libbing. His talk on gardening ‘Are you listening, Mary Whitehouse?’ involves some useful information on the growing of roses: ‘First get your beds ready, go easy with the trowel and don’t give ‘er more than 5 inches to start with…’ and he gets good participation from the audience with his song about Enoch Powell. Chelsea Brown looks good and has several numbers to sing, including the title song, an obscure Duke Ellington number ‘Tulip or Turnip’ and one of Michael Rogers’ own songs ‘Powder My Back’.

Giving good support to the stars are two goodlooking boys, Ted Merwood and Roy North, and the talented Marcia Ashton, well known to fans of the Roy Hudd Show on TV and to anyone with a long enough memory as the star of the original production of ‘Cranks’ – nice to see her back in town. The finale involves a hilarious song all about Bums, titled THE END – AND A SONG IN PRAISE OF IT featuring Rogers and Starr in fabulous white creations cut low at the back to expose both their pretty behinds. A fun evening tinged with blue humour, but nothing to really offend anybody.

Editorial

The last few months seem to have passed extremely quickly, for here we are at our 10th issue. We’re as surprised as we are sure some of you must be. Nevertheless we’re rather pleased and hope that we will be around for some time to come. And we would never have come this far if it hadn’t been for you — our readers. You persevered with us through our amateurish first few issues, providing the encouragement and criticism we so badly needed. You were undaunted by the fact that issue 3 was a week late arriving. And were apparently impressed enough with our first 16 page edition (GN6) to help almost sell out our following issue. Now your articles and comments help fill and improve each 16 page edition we regularly bring out.

More Expansion

To tell the truth, we are beginning to find that 16 pages is a little restricting. If all goes well in the next couple of months we expect to go up to 20 pages. But we don’t want to rush into anything we may not yet be able to fully cope with, so we’ll change when we feel competent enough to keep to a consistent standard.

Reviews and The Arts

We hope that you find the review section of the paper comprehensive. We have tried to establish pages for most forms of commercial entertainments and will attempt to enlarge the areas already covered as the paper grows in size. But we would consider it too wasteful to expand this area of the paper any further at this stage. As news and articles become more forthcoming we will be able to grow with the amount of material available. Also we’ll want to keep you informed and up to date with all that is happening in the arts, whether commercial or otherwise. If you have any comments to make on the coverage we give at the moment, please let us know. And we welcome reviews from the areas we don’t yet include. Gay people seem to have a greater awareness of these things, perhaps some of you would like to tell us, in your opinion, why? Or maybe you disagree entirely. Let’s hear from you either way.

SELFRIDGES
OXFORD STREET
                           10th October, 1972.
Gay News,
19, London Street,
LONDON, W.2.

Dear Sir,

         Thank you for your letter of 22nd September and the three copies of your newspaper "Gay News", which is of no interest to me.

         I would like to point out that, under no circumstances, are Selfridges to be quoted on any publications.

                    Yours faithfully,
                    for SELFRIDGES LIMITED

                    T. S. Gregory
                    Buyer.

Not All Gayness

Because Gay News is primarily for homosexual people it has been only natural that the pages of our first editions have been usually filled with gayness of one sort or another. But gay people, like heterosexual people, are interested in everything that goes on around them in this world. So now that we have estab lished ourselves to a certain extent we feel that it would only be right to feature articles on matters that are not just significantly gay in content. In the future we will feature items of general interest and their inclusion will be judged solely on their literary and interest merits. No doubt you will be in touch with us if you think we are altering the paper too much or too quickly. Remember, we are no different or better in reality to ‘straight people, so it would be wrong to be continuously concerned with our own sexual preferences to the exclusion of everything else.

Open To All

Gay News is certainly not averse to criticism, we would never have made it this far without it. But some of you, when criticising or objecting to a particular article, tend to think that just one item is determining the general policy of GN. This is not so. In our pages you will find many differing opinions on equally diverse subjects. Many of them written by contributors not closely associated with the editorial collective, if at all. As the paper is open to all of you, it is bound to happen that you will strongly object to some points of view. But we like to think our pages are open to more than just a few types of people or opinions. This is a position that few other papers enjoy, that of being a completely unbiased newspaper, that is attempting to make itself interesting and informative to well over 6 million gay men and women, and to all the heterosexuals who want to gain a true understanding of us. Perhaps ‘straight’ society could do with such a medium, they don’t appear to have one at the moment. Most national newspapers for instance seem, if not openly, to be the organ of communication for one definite viewpoint or political stand. Gay News isn’t, it’s for all people, no matter what their own personal convictions are. Or rather, it is if you want it to be.

Same Old Story

In the columns of this editorial you will see a letter we received from Selfridges, after approaching them to stock Gay News in their periodical department. We were rather taken aback with the reply, so we rang them up. The gentleman who signed the letter was a lot calmer on the telephone and told us that the store was not continuing to stock magazines and papers that didn’t sell above a certain percentage. We mentioned that we hadn’t yet been stocked by them, and we were informed that they were not taking on any new publications and also had no room for them anyhow. We at GN have heard that before and have come to realise that there are reasonable refusals and that there are excuses, ranging from clever through to paranoid. Read their letter and judge for yourselves. If you come to the same conclusion that we have, perhaps you would always make a point of asking the periodicals department of Selfridges for a copy of GN whenever you are visiting the store.(One wonders what would happen it all the gay customers and staff of this long-established emporium stayed away for a while.) Please keep on asking for us at W.H. Smiths too, it provokes some wonderful reactions, some of them unprintable.

In conclusion, thanks from all of us to each and every one of you for making this 10th issue possible. We’ll try our utmost not to let you down.

Eye-catching covers/Ear-waking music

04-197208XX 10The Eagles : Asylum SYTC 101
Roxy Music : Island ILPS 9200
Fritz the Cat (Original Soundtrack Recording) : Fantasy V4U6

Although the musical styles on these three albums are completely different, there is one thing that connects them. Each has a fairly spectacular cover, depending of course on your own particular taste that is. Great, album covers should be pictorially and colourfully interesting; we pay for them don’t we, along with the slim pieces of plastic inside.

Unfortunately, some record companies exploit the fact that some people will buy records whatever their covers look like, thus the first album by an American group called The Eagles has a double cover and an interesting inner sleeve but we are charged an extra 26p for the pleasure of listening to the group and having something pretty to litter the carpet whilst the disc is playing. Strangely enough though. Island Records can present us with the fascinating and as expensive sleeve that the Roxy Music record is encased in, but charge us no more. Now it seems to me that if the record companies have enough sense to realise that a graphically successful cover receives, in time, more attention and acclaim than an uninspired one, then they should surely bear the cost. They make a big enough profit on a successful ‘product’ anyway, and wrapping doesn’t fool anyone anymore, it’s the ‘goods’ inside that matter. Eventually this exploitation of well designed sleeves will fall flat on the record companies that indulge in this practice; and also will damage the chances of new groups trying to find an audience, especially unknown foreign groups. People will get fed up with having to fork out so much money, and it’s the disc firms, as well as the groups, that will suffer.

Back to the music. The Eagles, a new band on a new American label (Asylum), have produced a well-balanced, not over-ambitious album. Musically they are a step above most other groups into the soft/heavy rock style that is very much a part of the 70’s pop scene. The band play and sing well, using a mixture of their own and other people’s material. The Jackson Browne songs, and the Gene Clark/Bernie Leadon classic from the first Dillard and Clark album, ‘Train leaves here this morning’, are very fine, whilst their own material varies from excellent to just passable. But the goodies well out-weigh the near misses. Repeated listening brings out the many striking moments of harmonising and faultlessly layered back-up playing.

Roxy Music, sounded at first to me like the return-of-the-son-of-King-CrimsonThat’s a little unfair to say now perhaps, but first listenings to this album proved difficult and the music remained slightly inaccessible, much like the recent recordings of King Crimson. Maybe it has something to do with the producing of ex-Crimsonite Peter Sinfield. But after hearing the album a number of times, the originality and strengths of the group begin to emerge from the multi-styled and influenced world of sound that they work in.The varied and unusual vocal styles are at first a little hard to take, but they do eventually fit into the overall sound. One continuing grumble I have though is that the group do not use more of the late fifties/early sixties influenced material that they demonstrate on the last short track of this album. I think it’s likely though that we shall hear more of this on future albums. Sales of the record are good, being in the bottom thirty of the album charts, so seeing 1 am not alone in my liking and excitement for this record, I would suggest that you have a listen, it’s sure to turn some of you on.

Roxy Music’s cover is one of the year’s best, using model Kan-Ann in a striking lengthwise pose across the double cover. The inside reveals the group in poses and clothes best left for you to discover. (Grinspoon’s fallen in love with both Paul Thompson and Eno.)

The soundtrack recording from the first full-length X-rated animated feature ‘Fritz the Cat’ seems to be of interest primarily to those who have seen the film. The music is a good reminder of scenes from the cartoon along with the colourful cover depicting characters and events from the film’s story.

The music is a mixture of styles and artists. A number of tracks are hip/soul pieces, others are cinematically psychedelic, complementing action and moods. There’s a track from the late Billy Holiday, a Bo Diddley rock classic, and the camp ‘You’re the only girl (I ever really loved)’ sung by Jim Post. The album is a good cohesive jumble of sounds, but the music is best heard in the context of the movie before forking out any cash.

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.