Friday, June 11, 2021

Weekend videos: tortured artists and critical musings

Andrew Gelman's recent post on Phillip Roth opened up a conversation about art coming from creators who were so often horrible people and tortured souls. That got me thinking about the pros and cons of suffering for one's art.

The voices are by Carl Reiner. A couple of years later, the director would collaborate with Reiner's best friend on a similar piece

The film was reportedly inspired by an actual incident. In 1962 Mel Brooks attended a screening of an animated short by Norman McLaren. It featured surrealistic, abstract imagery. During the screening of this short, Brooks overheard another audience member "mumbling to himself", an old immigrant man who was voicing his disappointment at the lack of a plot. Brooks was inspired to create a film out of this experience.

Brooks contacted Ernest Pintoff, who had experience producing animated works such as Flebus.[4] They agreed to create a short film based on two points: the visuals of the film had to be fashioned in a style similar to that of McLaren, and Brooks would have no specific warning of the content. He intended to improvise his monologue. Pintoff and animator Bob Heath completed the visuals as agreed, then Brooks watched the result and improvised his monologue for the accompanying soundtrack.  

p.s. Also glad to hear that Richard Burton comes off well in Bloom's autobiography. Burton's a favorite actor of mine and I've always had a positive impression of him as a person as well. If you're interested, this Cavett interview is highly recommended. 

Years later, Cavett passed along one of the great Burton anecdotes:

A much-missed friend, the late and wonderful Jerry Orbach, best known as Detective Lennie Briscoe for so many years on “Law & Order,” is a main player in the story.

Jerry and his wife had just come to New York, hoping to “make it” in the big time and the Big Apple. It was before Jerry got his break in “The Fantasticks,” from which all followed.

The Orbachs were invited to a party in Manhattan and, virtually on their way there, learned that it was a birthday party — to their distress, since buying any sort of present would tax their meager holdings.

Passing a sort of novelty store, Jerry’s wife, Marta, spotted an inexpensive but decent-looking small kaleidoscope. “We’ll tie a ribbon around it,” she said, “and let it be our present.”

Arriving at the party, they noticed that the assembled guests included quite a few theater notables, including — to their amazement — Richard Burton, the birthday boy himself. He was starring in “Time Remembered” on Broadway, with Susan Strasberg and Helen Hayes. Susan was at the party.

The Orbachs submitted their present and passed into the kitchen in time to catch a scene out of soap-fiction.

A half-dozen women had Susan surrounded and were berating her vehemently with such dialogue as “You’re ruining your life” and “You’re mortgaging your future happiness.” The subject: her current affair, while still in her teens, with an “older, philandering, womanizing, married man.”

The birthday boy.

While she was absorbing these presumably — or shall we say, possibly — well-meant and (just possibly) jealousy-inspired psychological body-blows, the villain himself entered the kitchen.

He began a brief but eloquent monologue, beginning, I would guess, with something like, “Jerry, I fear it it may exceed my verbal capacities to sufficiently thank you for your thoughtful, marvelous gift.”

The room fell silent, as it usually did when the Welsh organ tones began to sound, and Richard went on to say that he had never had or held a kaleidoscope before. You’ll have to imagine the spontaneous poeticism, lost to the ages, as he compared the colored-glass-filled instrument to life itself, in its constant, changing, variety; its unexpected, startling delights, its ability to — like life itself — dazzle and surprise in its random, colorful spectacle, etc., etc.

No kaleidoscope ever had it so good.

The kitchen occupants stood rooted and mesmerized, the female berating team as breathless and taken as everyone else. Richard finished and exited, as Susan said, “And that’s just the talk.”

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