Meryl

What a national treasure is Meryl Streep! Almost eighty films, nineteen Oscar nominations over a career spanning four decades and she’s still going strong. Nothing could demonstrate that fact more fully than her performance in Florence Foster Jenkins. She plays the title character, a wealthy New York socialite in the 1940s who is determined to sing opera, even though she cannot carry a tune. Streep is a trained singer, who once pursued vocal training in opera. For someone to consciously hit as many wrong notes as she does in this film is indeed a wonder.

Dressed in what appears to be a matronly fat suit, sprouting wrinkles and a wig that always seem to be slightly askew, she presents a delightfully eccentric, frumpy woman careening dangerously close to parody.

Beneath the humorous and almost over-the-top presentation, however, lies a tender love story between Florence and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, solidly played by Hugh Grant. St. Clair has his own apartment, complete with mistress, but as the story progresses, this secret life gives way to the devotion he and his wife share. Their relationship steals your heart.

Streep takes chances like few actresses do nowadays. I will be so bold to say that she’s the finest actress of hers, or any generation. Julia Child (Julie & Julia)Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady), Sophie (Sophie’s Choice), Helen Archer (Ironweed), Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), and Ricki (Ricki and the Flash) are just some of the performances that show an actress with more range and depth than anyone working today, Perhaps ever.

This movie isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may feel it’s too broad and flirts with lampoon, but let Streep work her magic, and you’ll come away marveling at a portrait of a sympathetic and warm woman who only wanted to sing.

At the end of the film, Florence says something to the effect that people may say she couldn’t sing, but no one can say she didn’t sing. Sing out, Florence!

GIVE WAY SOME LIGHT

In Act III, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Danish prince asks the Players to enact “The Murder of Gonzago.” Hamlet provides some additional lines in order to implicate Claudius in the death of the former king. The additional lines depict the murder of Hamlet’s father, which had been revealed by the Ghost in the first act of the play. When Claudius sees the events unfold in front of him, he jumps to his feet and shouts “Give way some light.”

I’ve never played Claudius, but lately, while viewing contemporary films and television shows, I’ve come to appreciate his admonition. For some inexplicable reason, lighting designers and directors have forgotten the fact that films and TV shows seek to play upon not only our sense of hearing, but also our sense of sight. We all are well aware of sound systems that make many films audible from two blocks away, but on too many occasions we are left in the dark when it comes to seeing what’s going on in front of us.

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A Word About the Porkpie

porkpie hatMy fictional private eye, Eddie Collins, wears a porkpie hat, a specific type of headwear that dates back to the 19th Century. They’re called “porkpies” because of their similarity to a type of meat pie. But there the similarity ends. As to why I chose to have Eddie wear a porkpie: the argument could be made that since he often views life through the prism of the movies, he was influenced by Gene Hackman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the legendary Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. I won’t dispute the influence, but in the long run, I think Eddie just likes wearing hats. Other notable people famous for wearing a porkpie are Buster Keaton, the great stone-faced comedian of early silent films. The irrepressible Ed Norton, played by Art Carney on the landmark television series “The Honeymooners” topped off his usual tee shirt and vest with a porkpie. The hat has also been a cherished wardrobe piece for Fozzie Bear of the Muppets. Actor Bryan Cranston, in his alter-ego mode of “Heisenberg” in the classic AMC television show “Breaking Bad,” relished his solid black porkpie. As quoted in Wikipedia, fashion writer Glenn O’Brien says, “the porkpie hat is the mark of the determined hipster, the kind of cat you might see hanging around a jazz club or a pool hall, maybe wearing a button-front leather jacket and pointy shoes.” Eddie is no stranger to a game of pool now and then, but as for the pointy shoes and button-front leather jacket, his secretary Mavis would probably veto those wardrobe choices.

Shamus Award Nomination

Thoughts on the Shamus nomination: I’m a retired actor, and therefore an Oscar junkie. Having done the Hollywood Hustle for eighteen years, I’m very familiar with the mantra “It’s an honor just to nominated.” However, I discovered the truth of that statement when I learned my debut novel MURDER UNSCRIPTED had been nominated for the Shamus as Best First PI Novel. Gobsmacked, as the Brits say, is the best way to describe my reaction upon hearing the news.

I hadn’t planned on attending Bouchercon in Albany, largely because of the distance. A New York City trip earlier in the year to see a friend on Broadway convinced me to think twice about undertaking a cross-country jaunt again. But when the news came, I thought it best to hop on a plane–actually several planes–and attend the awards banquet. Getting from Medford, OR to Albany, NY is not a task for the weak of heart. A three-hour delay getting out of O’Hare was made tolerable by meeting and talking with Joe R. Lansdale.

Bouchercon itself had its shortcomings, mostly due to the cold and cavernous Empire State Plaza and lack of a central hotel. The Shamus banquet on Friday night, however, was special. Bob Randisi’s penchant for staging the affair in unusual venues didn’t disappoint, This time Shamus was bestowed in the Linda, now a performing arts center, but at one time a bank. No doubt plot lines presented themselves to the assembled writers as we dug into our plates of pasta.

My cab ride to the event took less time than expected, so I waited at a nearby Subway, where I met David Housewright. He was also having a cool drink while waiting for the doors to open. I’m familiar with David’s work, and our conversation found that we had friends in common from my time living in Minneapolis.

Once inside the Linda, I confess to feeling a little like the guy wearing sneakers with a tuxedo. Parnell Hall I knew, so we chatted. Then in walked Lawrence Block, whose work has probably felled as many forests as the newly-departed Tom Clancy. Several other writers I knew by reputation and their books, which only reinforced my awe at being in the same room with them.

As I stood along a wall, Diet Coke in hand, PWA’s own Christine Matthews took me under her wing and invited me to sit at the table with her and Bob Randisi, along with PWA’s President Steve Hamilton. Joining us, and sitting next to me, was one of my competitors, Michael Sears, who turned out to be the eventual winner for his novel BLACK FRIDAYS. In retrospect, I perhaps should have done something sinister to his pasta, but the look on his face when his name was announced made any thought of mayhem inappropriate. My congratulations to Michael. Well deserved.

During dinner, I revealed that I had spent most of the last forty years as an actor. Steve Hamilton then said he thought he recognized me from something. Yeah, right, Hamilton. Been there, done that. But he was right. I mentioned that I had appeared in the Johnny Depp film “Ed Wood.” Bingo. He hit the nail on the head. Steve, your books shall forever be in my library.

As the slate of nominees for Best First PI Novel was read, anticipation rose, and then quickly dissipated. But no problem. I’m still in awe to see my name among the nominees. The recognition from a group who I can now rightfully call my peers will always be there. I’m proud to be a member of the PWA and will look forward to subsequent Shamus award banquets…and who knows, maybe even another nomination.