Monday, April 23, 2012

Dirt Will Be Dished

Everyone has secrets. Whether or not they are willing to share them depends on how acutely embarrassing or confidential they might be. Some like to unearth hidden secrets; others like to share them with a public that could not have been present at a key moment in time.

The world looks very different when seen from a young person's perspective. Over at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a program of shorts entitled Youth Media Mashup has revealed some promising work by aspiring filmmakers.

Created by Brian Birchett, Patrick Manning, and Nick Liem, History In These Streets visits several Oakland addresses that mark important moments in the early days of the Black Panther Party. The film is not only curious for its dedication to researching a forgotten (or purposefully neglected) moment in Oakland's history, but for the makeup and motivations of its creative team.

Ben Kadie's hilarious short, Secret Club, captures a high school student's coming of age with a great deal of adolescent charm.

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The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco recently presented Rex Reed's musical revue entitled The Man That Got Away. Dedicated to the lyrics Ira Gershwin wrote without his brilliant brother George, the evening’s high points include Reed’s explanation of how, after E. Y. "Yip" Harburg was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Ira Gershwin was quickly drafted to replace his childhood friend and write the lyrics for A Star Is Born).

During his career, Ira (whose first songs were published under the name “Arthur Francis”) worked with such greats as Vincent Youmans, Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, Arthur Schwartz, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, and Jerome Kern. Although the evening featured a talented quartet of veteran performers (Linda Purl, Sally Mayes, Kurt Reichenbach, and and Gregory Harrison), it proved most notable for the two burning talents who were not onstage.

Poster art for The Man That Got Away

Obviously, Reed's revue was dedicated to the songwriting genius of one of them. However, to my mind, the unsung star of the evening was Tedd Firth, whose arrangements glistened with a wit and brilliance to match Ira Gershwin’s lyrics.

Despite a roster of songs ranging from 1934's Life Begins at 8:40 to 1941's Lady in the Dark -- and from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 to a medley of Judy Garland's songs from A Star Is Born -- I found myself most entranced by Gershwin's lyric for a peculiar number from Kurt Weill's short-lived 1945 musical about the famous Italian sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, entitled The Firebrand of Florence. In the following video clip, Will Roland demonstrates Gershwin's great talent as a songwriter with his rendition of "A Rhyme For Angela."

One of Reed's most interesting recollections had absolutely nothing to do with Ira Gershwin. When That's Entertainment was released as part of MGM's 50th anniversary celebration, Reed and Fred Astaire found themselves seated at the same table at an industry event. Famous for his celebrity interviews, Reed asked Astaire if there was anything he had always wanted to do but not yet experienced. The dance legend gave a simple and honest reply.

Astaire then turned the tables on a startled Reed, who confessed that, like many men and women, he had always dreamed of dancing with Fred Astaire. When the legendary hoofer pointed out that there was still time left, Reed stammered "But, I don't know how to follow." Astaire's response was priceless: "I made 10 movies with Ginger. Believe me, I know how to follow!"

And that's now Rex Reed's dream came true.

Host and raconteur, Rex Reed

A great deal of the evening's style came from the show's music director, Mike Renzi. The following video (from when the show was originally produced at the 92nd Street Y) gives a sense of the musical gems contained in Reed’s homage to Ira Gershwin.

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Nearly 15 years have passed since I first saw Varla Jean Merman perform at Josie's Juice Joint in the Castro. That was back in the day when she was merrily squirting Easy Cheese down her throat while singing songs of love.

Have you ever stopped and wondered how many 6'2" drag queens boast a fierce falsetto, are sponsored by, and star in commercials for Fleet Naturals? Some industries may be ripe for outsourcing, but Varla Jean (the pride of New Orleans) is definitely not one of them.

Varla Jean (a/k/a Jeffery Roberson) returned to the Rrazz Room this month with a new show entitled The Book of Merman. A tireless performer with the energy of Bette Midler and the innuendo of Mae West, Roberson is that rare songstress who can wrap her lips around a "moyl" and a "Shar Pei" in one lyric.

Having mastered the fine art of using Apple's Ocarina app to play the Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute on her iPhone, Varla Jean always takes great delight in trying to gross out her audience. Her hilarious videos keep adoring fans distracted during costume changes.

Full of handy tips about mastering the latest technology from Apple, Varla Jean proudly demonstrated how -- whether you're wearing white linen or black leather gloves to a social event -- you can access the data on your iPhone by swiping a frankfurter across its surface. Having progressed from gurgling Easy Cheese to singing directly into a leaf blower (the standing floor fan she had planned to use on her hair just didn't have enough "oomph"), Varla Jean proceeded to wow the rowdy crowd with a new video that showcased her army of bedbugs.

Be honest: How many entertainers are breathless bombshells who can make their properties man come onstage dressed as a giant unraveling foreskin? How many sopranos are accompanied on the piano by former porn star Tom Judson?

The good news is that Varla Jean's new feature-length film, Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads, will be screened at the upcoming Frameline Film Festival in June. I laughed so hard while watching a preview copy that I almost fell off my recumbent exercise bicycle. Here's the trailer:

1 comment:

Humaun Kabir said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.