Artistic intent versus audience interpretation

Ray Liotta is a working actor, but we’re not paying his bills.

new-yorker-cover-bert-ernieOne of my favorite Pete Townsend solo tracks is Let My Love Open the Door from his 1980 album Empty Glass. I recall that there was some conversation about whether the song was religious in nature, as Townsend occasionally hinted. or a romantic song.

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter. Whatever the artist’s vision of the work, how the audience perceives it will usually carry the day.

So I found the whole rather vigorous discussion of whether Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street were gay – it made several mainstream news stories – as rather beside the point. As Muppeteers Frank Oz and the late Jim Henson came up with them, the characters reflected their friendship.

When Sesame Street scriptwriter Mark Saltzman noted in an interview that he wrote Bert and Ernie with his longterm relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman, that was his process. He clarified to the New York Times, “As a writer, you just bring what you know into your work. Somehow, in the uproar, that turned into Bert and Ernie being gay. There is a difference.”

The Sesame Street folk responded, initially awkwardly. Ultimately, the audience decides what it chooses to believe.

Another showbiz buzz this month involved Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens found working at a Trader Joe’s market. Beyond the pushback against some trying to shame him is a more basic reality; you don’t always get that next job in the entertainment world.

It’s not for me to judge if GoodFellas costar Ray Liotta does a commercial for Chantix, an anti-smoking drug. He’s a working actor, but we’re not paying his bills. If he needs the money or loves the product or both, so be it.

Working actress Blythe Danner is still in those ads for Prolia, an injection to fight osteoporosis. Ditto for her.

That said, I STILL wish the flood of pharmaceutical ads would end in the US. But we’re quite unlikely to see that genie put back into the bottle.

MOVIE REVIEW: I’ll See You In My Dreams

The critics really liked the movie I’ll See You In My Dreams more than the public.

ill see youBefore I can even begin to write about the movie I’ll See You In My Dreams, which The Wife and I saw on a Tuesday night at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I have to talk about the MAKING of this film.

It was a Kickstarter project, in which Brett Haley, a 2005 University of North Carolina graduate, was able to promise Blythe Danner and Martin Starr to be in his film. Haley managed to raise $61,365, or 102% of the $60,000 goal. All 127 people who have put in $100 more, were listed in the end credits.

In recent years, Blythe Danner is probably best known for plugging Prolia, an osteoporosis drug for a condition she is said to have had. Too bad: in the Northeast US, she’s known as a fine stage actress, on Broadway, and especially on the stage of the Williamstown (MA) Theater Festival, where my spouse had seen her perform more than once.

The first time I ever saw Blythe Danner was on Adam’s Rib, a 1973 “TV adaptation of the Tracy/Hepburn classic” film, where she played opposite Ken Howard. Howard, incidentally, would go on to play the coach in the high school basketball series The White Shadow; the executive producer of that show, and of the hospital drama St. Elsewhere, was Bruce Paltrow, Blythe’s husband until he died in 2002. They had two children, Gwyneth and Jake.

Martin Starr, I first saw as arguably the geekiest of the Freaks & Geeks on that too-short-lived TV show. Here’s a short scene from that show.

I mention all of this because I’d be fascinated to find out how Haley got Danner, a woman now in her early 70s, and a widow for about a dozen years, to play Carol, a woman in her 70s, and a widow for a few decades.

The critics really liked the movie I’ll See You In My Dreams (94% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), more than the public (72% positive), and I think I know why. It’s rather well-acted, particularly by Sam Elliot as the charming Bill, and Rhea Perlman from Cheers, Mary Kay Place from Fernwood 2night and June Squibb from the movie Nebraska as Carol’s friends. But the script, by Haley and Marc Basch, is perhaps too subtle. too low-key.

Somehow, I think the story might have fared better as a play. The movie, as good as it was, had a low-budget feel. Other than a scene on a boat, a few golf scenes, and a walk home from the supermarket at night (which easily could have been replicated), it might have been better on stage.

The story had some interesting twists, including conversations between Carol and the directionless pool man Lloyd (Starr), who interestingly seemed to be somewhat in the same boat. I never felt quite as invested as the narrative suggested I feel, about the tricky nature of aging.

At 92 minutes, I was glad to spend the time seeing pros at work but was left wanting more…something. On the other hand, I always cared about Carol’s specific journey, and on that basis, I mildly recommend the film.

Drug Ad Interdiction

My favorite celebrity ad featured former US Senator (R-Kansas), and 1996 Presidential candidate BobDole for something called ED.

 

One of my colleagues REALLY hates those commercials featuring non-medical celebrities who hawk prescription medicines. For instance, if she develops osteoporosis, she’s not going to use Boniva just because actress Sally Field has recommended it in a series of advertisements; I assume she actually has the condition. Among other things, some Boniva ads are misleading, according to Consumer Reports. Google Sally Field Boniva and you’ll see Sally Field – The Boniva Drug Pimp, and other less than flattering characterizations.

Now, actress Blythe Danner is plugging a similar product, Prolia, for a condition she has. The elaborate staging of Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom is unconvincing from a viewer’s POV. Actress Janine Turner, who has chronic dry eye, used to promote Restasis.

Of course, my favorite celebrity ad featured former US Senator (R-Kansas), and 1996 Presidential candidate BobDole for something called ED. The initials are made up by the pharmaceutical companies, in part to avoid addressing embarrassing topics, in this case, erectile dysfunction, a/k/a impotence, for which he was taking Viagra after prostate cancer surgery. But initials are more memorable in pharmaceutical advertising. Indeed the direct-to-consumer drug ads prompt patients ask their doctor for various prescriptions, generally more than what is medically necessary.

I so wish the flood of pharmaceutical ads would end in the US. But we’re quite unlikely to see that genie put back into the bottle.