The French-American film Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring my late husband, Dexter Gordon, as a jazz musician in Paris in the late 1950s, premiered in New York City 30 years ago today. As I near completion of Dexter’s biography, Dexter Calling: The Life and Music of Dexter Gordon, memories of the film come flooding back. They are bittersweet, as many of the performers have since passed away, most recently Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016), who died this past summer. Bobby plays Ace in the film and delivers one of its most memorable lines. In the hallway of the Hotel Louisiane, Ace is holding a bowl of jambalaya as Buttercup walks past. He says, about living in Paris, “It would be the best city in the world if I could just find some okra.” Dexter loved that line, and whenever he repeated it to Bobby, they would both burst out laughing.
One of my stay-at-home guilty pleasures these days are those detective-mystery series currently flooding the PBS prime-time airwaves. Based on popular crime novels featuring quirky murder-solving characters, these television shows typically originate in the United Kingdom and then make their way to America a few years later. There’s Sherlock, of course—a highly contemporized adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories that has become immensely popular on both sides of the pond—and over the summer I became addicted to two others: Grantchester (based on mystery stories, by James Runcie, about a clergyman in 1950s England who sleuths in his spare time) and Midsomer Murders (set in the English county of Midsomer, where upscale Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby solves crimes in adaptations of Caroline Graham novels).
Arguably the greatest movie musical ever made, Singin’ in the Rain is celebrated as much for its songs and dances as its behind-the-scenes lore: Gene Kelly’s 101-degree fever while filming the title number; Donald O’Connor taking to his bed with exhaustion after filming “Make ’Em Laugh”—only to have to reshoot it days later due to a camera malfunction; Debbie Reynolds rehearsing until her feet bled. But of all the “making of” stories, the most impressive is that Reynolds, only 19 at the time, learned to dance in just three months to play leading lady Kathy Selden.
Edward Snowden was the agent behind the 2013 revelations of the National Security Administration’s vast international and domestic spying operation. But Snowden claimed he didn’t want to be the focus of the story. In Laura Poitras’s extraordinary 2014 documentary, Citizenfour, Snowden twice demurs: “I’m not the story here,” he insists, and then, later, “I don’t want to get myself into the issue . . . where it takes away from the stories that are getting out.”
As a middle-aged woman navigating the back nine of life, I’ve grown increasingly used to feeling irrelevant in the face of new technological products, performance events, music, books and movies that I generally find uninteresting and quickly realize are not designed to speak to me anyway. So what a wonderful surprise it was to come upon Mia Madre, the new Italian film by Nanni Moretti about a single, female film director named Margherita (Margherita Buy) maneuvering her way through middle age. While Margherita struggles to make a socially conscious movie about violent labor-management confrontations in a factory, her personal life is fraught with sorrows: her mother lies dying in a hospital, her latest romantic relationship just fizzled and her adolescent daughter is floundering.
In a summer film season filled with duds and needless sequels, the best exception by far has to be Kubo and the Two Strings. This stop-motion animated standout was expertly produced by Laika Studios, released through Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal, and is currently still in theaters—which is good for you. Kubo could put a nice finish on a lackluster season’s doldrums.
Solace, the latest neo-noir police thriller from Afonso Poyart, has been called a cross between The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. Anthony Hopkins stars as John Clancy, a doctor with psychic abilities who, in a sort of good guy role inversion of Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter character, comes out of retirement to help solve a string of related murders. Gradually, Clancy learns that the serial killer, Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), is a clairvoyant himself—and a better one than Clancy at that. The challenge then becomes to predict the other’s movements before the other can predict his. In other words, it’s like Hannibal Lecter is chasing himself.