Saturday, July 22, 2023

"Because of You" by Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, one of the last and greatest crooners, died yesterday at the age of 96. In tribute to him I then thought I would share what was both his debut single and his first no. 1 hit. "Because of You" was written by Arthur Hammerstein and Dudley Wilkinson in 1940. The first recording of it was by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra, who recorded it on December 12 1940. The song did fairly well, ranking no. 95 for the year 1941.

Tony Bennett recorded his cover of "Because of You" on April 4 1951. Percy Faith did the orchestral backing for Mr. Bennett's version of the song. "Because of You" by Tony Bennett proved to be a massive hit, reaching no. 1 on the Billboard chart and remaining at no. 1 for 10 weeks. It is easy to see why it was such a huge hit. While it was Tony Bennett's first single, on the record he already sounds like an accomplished singer. His rich, expressive baritone is already apparent in his version of "Because of You."

Tony Bennett continued to perform "Because of You" for the rest of his life, and it was part of his repertoire even in his final concerts. According to Tony Bennett's team, he was still singing at his piano the day before he died. The final song he sang was "Because of You."

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Late Great Tony Bennett

Legendary crooner Tony Bennett died today, July 21 2023, at the age of 96. In February 2021 he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Tony Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3 1926 in New York City in Long Island City in Queens. He took to singing when he was very young, and he was only 10 years old when he performed "Marching Along Together" at the opening of the Triborough Bridge, standing beside then New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. His father died when he was only 10, but had an enormous impact on young Tony, giving him both a love of art and literature and a sense of compassion. Tony Bennett attended P.S. 141 and the School of Industrial Art, but had to drop out when he was 16 years old to help make a living for his family as a singing waiter.

Tony Bennett was drafted into the  U.S. Army in 1944. While in the Army he took part in the liberation of the Kaufering concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau. He would eventually be assigned to Special Services where he sang with a band until he was discharged in 1946. After his service he returned to New York City where he studied singing at the American Theatre Wing on the G.I. Bill. He worked as an elevator operator and sang in nightclubs under the name Joe Bari.

It was in 1949 that Bob Hope saw him open for Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village. Mr. Hope asked Tony Bennett to be his opening act at the  Paramount Theatre in Times Square. It was Bob Hope he suggest that he change his stage name, maintaining "Joe Bari" was not a very good pseudonym. He told Mr. Hope that his given name was Anthony Bennedetto. It was then that Bob Hope decided he should be "Tony Bennett."

In 1950 Tony Bennett was signed to Columbia Records by the legendary Mitch Miller. His first single, "Because of You," was also his first hit. It went to no. 1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1951. Throughout the Fifties he had several more hits, including "Cold, Cold Heart," "Rags to Riches," and "Stranger in Paradise." His first studio album, Because of You, was released in 1952.

The Sixties saw Tony Bennett have fewer hits on the Billboard Hot 100, largely because of the British Invasion and the growth of rock music. He still regularly hit the Adult Contemporary chart throughout the decade. It was in 1962 that his signature song, his version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," was released. It peaked at no. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, but spent around a year on various other charts. His 1962 album featuring the song went to no. 5 on the Billboard album chart.

Unfortunately, as the Sixties progressed and into the Seventies, Tony Bennett struggled to maintain his career. None of his songs charted on the Billboard Hot 100 during the decade and only a few charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. By the end of the Seventies, he did not have a recording contract nor did he have a manager. Fortunately, his career began to rebound in the Eighties. He once more had a recording contract and his first album in years, 1986's The Art of Excellence, went to no. 160 on the Billboard album chart. In 1986 the song "Life in a Looking Glass," which he performed, from the movie That's Life! (1986), was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song.

It was in the late Eighties and early Nineties that Tony Bennett's comeback continued and he began to attract younger fans. He appeared on several television shows, including Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Muppets Tonight, and several different MTV shows. He even voiced himself on The Simpsons. Once more, his albums regularly charted on the Billboard album chart. He sang duets with several contemporary artists, including k.d. lang, Billy Joel, Michael Bu Bublé, Amy Winehouse, and, most famously, Lady Gaga. Tony Bennett continued to perform until 2021, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. His final album, with Lady Gaga, Love for Sale, was released on September 30 2021. In total, Tony Bennett released 61 studio albums, 11 live albums, and 83 singles. He won 20 different Grammy Awards.

In addition to his many appearances on variety shows and talk shows throughout his career, Tony Bennett also took some acting roles. He made his acting debut as Cousin Stephen on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show in 1959. He also guest starred on the shows 77 Sunset Strip and Evening Shade. He guest starred as himself on numerous shows, including The Doris Day Show, Remington Steele, Cybill, Suddenly Susan, Cosby, Entourage, Blue Bloods, 30 Rock, and The Simpsons. He played himself in the mini-series King. He also appeared in the movies The Oscar (1966), The Scout (1994), Analyse This (1999), Bruce Almighty (2003), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).

Tony Bennett also wrote and co-wrote several books. He also painted under his given name Anthony Bennedetto. His artwork was displayed in galleries around the world, and he has paintings that are parts of the permanent collections of various museums around the world.

In addition to being a talented singer, Tony Bennett was also an activist. He was outraged by the treatment of fellow music artists such as Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington, who were often not allowed in hotels or even concert hall dining rooms due to their race. When his friend Harry Belafonte asked him to join him in the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s protest march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama, he eagerly accepted. At the Stars for Freedom rally that took place in Montgomery, he performed for those who had marched alongside such artists as Joan Baez, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, and many others. He later participated in the boycott of apartheid South Africa and performed for Nelson Mandela when he made his first visit to Britain as South Africa's president. For his work with the Civil Rights movement, Tony Bennett was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.

If Tony Bennett saw so much success and had such a long career, it is because he was such an talented singer. He had a rich baritone and could sing songs with a diversity of emotions, from sad ballads to more upbeat, happy songs. His voice was also powerful. At various concerts over the years he would sing one song without a microphone and was still able to be heard at the back of the room. In 1965 Frank Sinatra himself said in an interview with Life magazine, "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He's the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more." It is little wonder that his popularity cut across several generations. Of course, he was also a truly great man, given his service in the United States Army and his dedication to the Civil Rights Movement. Tony Bennett was one of a kind, and we will never see his like again.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

I Support the WGA and SAG-AFTRA

It was on May 2 2023 that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike as part of a dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). It was on July 14 2023 that the WGA was joined by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The WGA last went into strike during 2007 and 2008. For SAG-AFTRA it has been even longer. The last time they had a major strike was in 1980 This is the first time since 1960 that both the writers and actors unions have been on strike at the same time.

There are many reasons the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have gone on strike, but foremost among them are higher pay and better residuals. Sadly, I have heard some people complain about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike because they think all Hollywood writers and actors are rich. Now this might be true of top stars like Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio, and top writers like Terry Rossio and David Knoepp, but it is not true of the average actor or writer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average actor makes $27.73 an hour. That is far below the average hourly wage in California of $36.70. On top of that, one also has to take into account other factors impacting actors as well. First, many actors have agents and managers who receive a percentage of their pay, reducing the money they make even more. Second, because of the nature of their work, actors can go without a job for periods of time. Third, because the film and television industry is primarily based in California, many actors live and work there, where the cost of living is much higher than other parts of the country.

Like the average actor, the average writer is not paid particularly well by the film and television industry either. According to ZipRecruiter, the average pay for television writers is s $22.53 per hour, which, like actors, is below the average hourly wage in California of $36.70. Movie writers are paid a little better than either television writers or actors, but they still only make an average of  $38.77 per hour, only slightly above California's average hourly wage. The plain truth is that many of the people complaining about the WGA and SAG-AFTRA being on strike probably make more than the average writer or actor in Hollywood.

As to residuals, I suspect they are not particularly good for the average writer and I know that they are not good for the average actor. My dear, late friend Vanessa Marquez, who played Ana Delgado on Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, once told me that she had received residual cheques as low as a few cents. Despite starring in a classic movie and a hit television show, both of which have been shown regularly since their original releases, Vanessa never made a lot of money from residuals. Jennifer Anniston might make millions of dollars in residuals from Friends. Actors with recurring roles on the show will make much, much less and bit players will get no residuals at all.

The amount of money paid to the average writer and actor can be contrasted with what the CEOs of the studios make. David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery, who I believe many would agree is not a good CEO, made $39.3 million in 2022. Bob Bakish of Paramount Global made $32 million in 2022. Bob Iger, the head of Disney, can expect to earn $27 million this year. Not only is this more money than the average writer or actor makes, but it is more money than most of us can expect to make in a lifetime. Of course, what is really scary is that the CEOs of the various studios actually make less than CEOs in other industries.

Of course, much of the concern of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA goes beyond the average writer's and actor's meagre pay. Quite simply, they worry about being replaced. Artificial intelligence has been in the news of late, and both unions have their concerns about AI. The WGA's concern is that producers will use AI to create source material and write or re-write scripts. The WGA then wants strict regulations regarding the use of AI. As to SAG-AFTRA, they also have their own concerns about AI. Allegedly the AMPTP proposed that bit players could work for a day and afterwards their images could be generated by AI. According to the AMPTP, the bit players would have to give their consent and if their image generated by AI is used later they would be paid a "minimum wage."  Naturally, SAG-AFTRA rejected such an idea outright. Of course, my thought is that no writer or actor should ever be replaced by AI. Given it doesn't really take talent to do their jobs, I could see where CEOs could be...

Bob Iger of Disney called the WGA and SAG-AFTRA's demands "not realistic." Well, I hope Mr. Iger reads this, because as a fan who pays his salary through watching movies and television shows, I think their demands are both realistic and reasonable. After all, when I pay for a ticket for a movie or watch a movie on a streaming service, I want my money to go to the writers and actors who made it, not an overpaid CEO who has little to no artistic input into movies and TV shows. The plain truth is that throughout the history of Hollywood, the average writer and actor has made very little in the way of money, often barely to live on. The plain truth is also that historically the studios have made money hand over fist. In 2022 alone studio revenue was more than $220 billion. It is time some of that wealth went to the people who actually make movies.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Godspeed Jane Birkin

Actress, singer, and Sixties style icon Jane Birkin died on July 16 2023 at the age of 76.

Jane Birkin was born on December 14 1946 in Marleybone, London. Her mother was Judy Campbell, an actress best known for her work in the theatre. Her father, David Birkin, was a British Naval officer. She grew up in Chelsea. Birkin attended Miss Ironside's School in Kensington and  Upper Chine School on the Isle of Wight.

Jane Birkin made her film debut in an uncredited role in The Knack...and How to Get It in 1965. She had a brief, but notable nude scene in Blowup (1967). In the Sixties she also appeared in the films The Idol (1966), Kaleidoscope (1966), Wonderwall (1968), La piscine (1969), Slogan (1969), Les chemins de Katmandou (1969), Sex Power (1970), Alba pagana (1970), Cannabis (1970), and Trop petit mon ami (1970). She made her television debut in 1967 in an episode of Armchair Theatre.

In the Seventies she appeared in the films Devetnaest djevojaka i jedan mornar (1971), Romansa konjokradice (1971), Trop jolies pour être honnêtes (1972), Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme... (1973), La morte negli occhi del gatto (1973), Projection privée (1973), Le mouton enragé (1974, Dark Places (1974), Comment réussir... quand on est con et pleurnichard (1974), La moutarde me monte au nez (1974), Sérieux comme le plaisir (1975), La course à l'échalote (1975), Catherine et Cie (1975), 7 morts sur ordonnance (1975), Je t'aime moi non plus (1976), Le diable au coeur (1976), Bruciati da cocente passione (1976), L'animal (1977), Death on the Nile (1978), Au bout du bout du banc (1979), Melancholy Baby (1979), La miel (1979), and Egon Schiele - Exzesse (1980). She appeared on television in the TV movie Melody and the mini-series Les Maudits Rois Fainéants.

In the Eighties Jane Birkin appeared in the movies La fille prodigue (1981), Rends-moi la clé! (1981), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Nestor Burma, détective de choc (1982), Circulez y a rien à voir! (1983), L'ami de Vincent (1983), Le garde du corps (1984), La pirate (1984), L'amour par terre (1984), Dust (1985), Le neveu de Beethoven (1985), Leave All Fair (1985), Le neveu de Beethoven (1986), Soigne ta droite (1987), Comédie! (1987), Kung-fu master! (1988), Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988), and Daddy Nostalgie (1990). On television she appeared on the TV series Médecins des hommes.

In the Nineties she appeared on television in the mini-series Red Fox and the TV movie Cinderella. She appeared in the movies La Belle Noiseuse (1991), Divertimento (1992), Les cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (1995), Noir comme le souvenir (1995), On connaît la chanson (1997), A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998), and The Last September (1999).

In the Naughts Jane Birkin appeared in the movies Ceci est mon corps (2001), Reines d'un jour (2001), Merci Docteur Rey (2002), Mariées mais pas trop (2003), La tête de maman (2007), Boxes (2007), 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup (2009), and Thelma, Louise et Chantal (2010). In the Teens she appeared in the movies Si tu meurs, je te tue (2011), Venuto al mondo (2012), and Quai d'Orsay (2013). She appeared on the TV miniseries Les Saisons meurtrières.

Jane Birkin also had a recording career. In 1969 her controversial and sexually explicit duet with Serge Gainsbourg,  "Je t'aime... moi non plus," was released. An album of the same title was released the same year. From 1973 to 2020 Jane Birkin would release twelve studio albums and six live albums.

Throughout her career, Jane Birkin played a variety of roles. Two of them were in adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. In Death on the Nile she played the bitter maid Louise Bourget, whose own actions lead her to become the movie's second murder victim. In Evil Under the Sun she played the villainous Christine Redfern. Her role in the horror movie Dark Places was very different from those two, that of the ill-fated governess Alta. In Wonderwall she played Penny Lane, a photographer's model who becomes the object of obsession of scientist Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran). In La piscine she played 18 year old Penelope (Miss Birkin was 22 at the time), a character who was equal pats awkwardness and calm. Jane Birkin was an enormous talent and capable of playing a wide variety of roles.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Silent Sundays at the Academy Museum

Harold Lloyd dangling
from a a clock in Safety Last!
Nearly from the beginning of Turner Classic Movies in 1994, silent movies have aired on the channel on Silent Sunday Nights. Since 2019 Silent Sunday Nights has been hosted by Professor Jacqueline Stewart, who is also Academy Museum Director and President. Beginning on July 23 2023 the Academy Museum will be showing silent movies every Sunday at 2:00 PM Pacific. Silent Sundays will showcase movies ranging from well-known, American classics to forgotten films to classics from across the world.

It was during the Silent Era that the language of cinema evolved, so that movies made during the era still have an influence on movies made today. Sadly according to a study conducted by the Library of Congress in 2013, 75% of the movies made in the Silent Era have been irrevocably lost. Both Turner Classic Movies and the Academy Museum are dedicated to shining a spotlight on silent movies as an important part of cinema history.

Below are the upcoming movies being shown for Silent Sundays.

July 23, 2023--Earth (1930) at the Ted Mann Theater: Also known by its original Ukrainian title Zemlya, Earth was directed by legendary Ukrainian director Oleksandr Dovzhenko. The film focuses on the process of collectivization during the Soviet Union's first Five-Year Plan and its impact on farmers. Earth was banned by Soviet authorities only nine days after it was released and various scenes were cut from the film. It was not until 2012 that the film was fully restored. Earth at the Academy Museum will feature a new soundtrack created by Luke Corradine by order of the UFACE association.

July 30 2023--Fanchon the Cricket (1915) with Rosita (1923) at the Ted Mann Theater: This is is a double feature starring Mary Pickford. Fanchon the Cricket is notable as being the only movie in which all three Pickford siblings appear (Mary, Lottie, and Jack). Fanchon the Cricket was long thought to be lost when a copy was discovered at the Cinémathèque Française. Rosita stars Mary Pickford as a street singer in Seville who catches the eye of the King of Spain. It is notable as the first Hollywood film made by director Ernst Lubitsch. Rosita was restored in 2016. Both films will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.

August 6 2023--Flesh and the Devil (1926) at the Ted Mann Theater: Flesh and the Devil is the film that made Greta Garbo an international star. She plays opposite John Gilbert, then at the height of his career. Greta Garbo and John Gilbert's chemistry was such that the two actors made three more movies together. They would also have an off-screen romance. Flesh and the Devil will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.

August 13 2023--Tokyo Chorus (1931) at the Ted Mann Theater: Its original Japanese title is Tōkyō no kōrasu. Tokyo Chorus was directed by legendary director  Yasujirō Ozu. Amazingly enough, it would not be released in the United States until 1982. The film has much in common with the classic silent The Crowd (1928) in that it focuses on common people. Themes related to everyday life would continue to appear in Ozu's films for the entirety of his career. The movie will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.

August 20 2023--The Racket (1928) at the Ted Mann Theater: The Racket is an early and influential gangster movie directed by Lewis Milestone. The movie proved controversial in Chicago because of its portrayal of corrupt police and government officials, and was banned in the city for a time. Regardless, The Racket was nominated for the Academy Award for Outstanding Picture at the 1929 Academy Awards. The Racket was thought to be lost until a copy was found in Howard Hughes's personal collection. It was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2016. The film will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla.

August 27 2023--Safety Last! (1923) at the David Geffen Theater: This is a 100th anniversary showing of one of the most famous and most popular silent movies of all time.Safety Last! stars Harold Lloyd as the Boy, who moves to the city to "make good," only to experience misfortune as things go from bad to worse. The scene of Harold Lloyd hanging from a large clock is still one of the most famous images from silent cinema.

For information on tickets, visit the Academy Museum's page on Silent Sundays. The Academy Museum is located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036.