Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

West Side Story, The Electric Company, The Ritz, The Muppet Show

Rita-Poster.Just a girlRita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It is the documentary my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany recently. The IMBD summary reads, “A look at the life and work of Rita Moreno from her humble beginnings in Puerto Rico to her success on Broadway and in Hollywood.” It’s a bit more complicated than that.

For she loved growing up in her homeland. Hollywood, conversely was quite a bit more treacherous. It was stressful often being the primary breadwinner when you’re a teenager. She endured some abusive treatment during her career, from her bizarre pairing with Marlon Brando to assault from studio executives and a business manager of hers.

While she loved her small role in Singin’ In the Rain, she was often given the generically ethnic roles of Asian/Native American/whatever. At least she could use the same accent because the directors apparently couldn’t tell the difference, or care. Even her signature role as Anita in West Side Story she was unsure she should take.

When she won the Oscar, she gave a far too short acceptance. “I can’t believe it! Good Lord! I’ll leave you with that.” In the film, the older and wiser Rita mocks her younger self. For a time afterward, she largely stayed away from movies, choosing to focus on TV guest spots and stage appearances.

EGOT

The ’70s were good to Rita. In 1972 she received a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album for The Electric Company. “Hey, you guys!” “In 1975 she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz. She won her Primetime Emmy Awards in 1977, and 1978 for her performances in The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, respectively.”

The movie featured, as these things do, other performers speaking about her. A number of them Latinas such as Eva Longoria and Gloria Estefan, plus co-stars such as George Chakiris (WSS) and Morgan Freeman (Electric Company), and were fine. She was an inspiration to them all.

But the highlights of the film were Rita talking about Rita, warts and all. One of the few negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes says the movie “reiterates many… anecdotes, but it doesn’t tell us much that Moreno hasn’t divulged already in her 2013 memoir or in countless interviews over the years.”

For one thing, I didn’t read her book. For another, she seems to become more self-aware as she gets older. She looks great, but she’s fine letting the viewer know it takes wigs, makeup, and help to look that good. (She was 87 at a point in the film; she’s 90 now.)

She was involved in the remake of One Day at a Time, which ended in 2020. She’s going to appear in the reimagined West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg. It took her a good long while to get comfortable in her own skin, but surely she’s a wonderful raconteur of her own life.

Documentary movie review: 76 Days

Anonymous, and others

76 DaysCovid-19 started in the Wuhan province of China, with a population of 11 million, late in 2019. The film 76 Days documents how the hospitals there dealt with the pandemic in early 2020.

Initially, it was a rather brutalizing situation, with hospital staff dealing with a surge of patients literally trying to force their way in. The doctors and nurses covered with protective equipment from head to toe, the filmmakers kindly inserting names via subtitles.

Just as we saw in the American news coverage, these hospital workers were engaged in important, and exhausting, work. It was often raw and somewhat chaotic. Some got discharged, some didn’t make it.

Over time, fortunately, the viewer sees a sense of hope, and even humor, emerge. There was no narrative thrust to the film per se, particularly early on. Eventually, there were certain characters you start to identify.

The fisherman wants to go home before it’s safe for him and especially his family. The married couple is isolated in separate male and female wings. The new parents are waiting for their baby to finally come home.

The viewer also sees brief scenes outside of the hospital of people in lockdown, adjusting to the new situation. And finally, on April 4, 2020, horns blaring to mourn the dead.

Thumbs up

The documentary received 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. It was made by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous. To read how the film was made and why one creator is not identified, read this interesting article in Variety.

76 Days is a remarkable, and fortuitous, documenting of a historic, albeit awful, event. It’s less terrible when we see the bravery and compassion of the staff. And the final scene, in many ways, is the most touching.

This film is available on Paramount +, free with the subscription, or on Amazon Prime, for an additional fee.

Time: movie documentary review

60 years

Time amazon-documentaryTime is a black and white documentary film put together by the New York Times’ Op Doc folks, which I saw on Amazon Prime. It starts out as a series of snippets of home videos by Fox Rich, about her and her husband Rob, pursuing their American dream to start a clothing store.

Then things went south, financially. We discover Rob and a cousin decide to rob a bank, with Fox as the getaway driver. They are caught and both are given jail time. Fox, who was pregnant with twin boys, received a few years. But Rob got 60 years, without a chance of parole.

So the bulk of the film is about Fox trying to make sure her six sons remember their father while working unceasingly over two decades to get her husband out of prison. As the tag suggests, “this bears witness to the power of one woman to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds with the aid of her faith and family.”

Time was one of fifteen films that were considered in the “Documentary Feature category for the 93rd Academy Awards. Two hundred thirty-eight films were eligible in the category. Members of the Documentary Branch vote to determine the shortlist and the nominees.”

I’ll admit that it took me a while to see where the film was going. Once I picked up on the narrative direction, I found it fascinating and inspiring.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it received 98% positive reviews from the critics. But only 46% of the general audience felt the same. And I understand why, I believe.

This is NOT a story about persons falsely accused. These people clearly did the crime. Ought not they do the time? Perhaps. But 60 years?

Why is life so complicated?

Here’s a paragraph from an IMDB review from ferguson 6, 7 out of 10 stars. “There are some mixed messages delivered here, which is understandable given how complicated life can get. Perhaps the most vivid message is the impact incarceration has on a family.

“Fox is an extraordinary woman devoted to raising her sons as strong and smart young men. But she also decries that her boys have never had a father and don’t even know the role one plays. While Fox displays the ultimate in polite phone decorum despite her frustrations with an uncaring, inefficient system, we do see her sincerity as she stands in front of her church congregation asking for forgiveness of her poor choices.”

If you watch Time, please be patient. It probably won’t grab you at the outset. It’s only over the course of the film that you get to see the effect that  lengthy incarceration has on a family.

Documentary movie review: Rewind

home videos

RewindSasha Joseph Neulinger dug through a ‘vast collection” of home videos. He reconstructed the “unthinkable story” of a child “and exposed the vile abuse passed through generations.” What is remarkable is that the abused child was Sasha Joseph Neulinger.

Rewind is a difficult film to watch. Yet it was not as awful as it might have been. Piers Marchant of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette nails it. “The old footage of Sasha clearly cracking under the strain of his family’s betrayal contrasts poignantly with the strong, centered man he has become.” Making a movie as therapy, perhaps.

It is also a fascinating story about memory – what you remember, what you – possibly necessarily – forget. Indeed, there is a bit of the investigative reporter in Neulinger. He interviews his parents, psychiatrists, prosecutors, and the police to fill in the gaps in his memory. In doing so, he “builds a disturbingly precise picture, conveying both the cyclical nature of such secret horrors and the difficulty in prosecuting cases that involve children.”

There is a small piece of this tale I do vaguely recall because it involved a somewhat prominent person. Not incidentally, we discover yet again that the criminal justice mechanism is not always a level playing field.

Young Sasha was clearly pained in the home videos, but it was unclear to his mother why. What makes this tolerable to watch is the adult Sasha, who takes an almost arm’s length investigatory role. Despite the subject matter, Rewind isn’t salacious or grubby.

And – not really a spoiler – adult Sasha is OK, even thriving, and apparently not bitter. He has a new name and a mission to try to help others who were in the position he was in.

The 44 reviewers from Rotten Tomatoes all gave this documentary a thumbs up. I would thoroughly agree.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How Can You Mend a Broken HeartBarry Gibb says he can’t watch the entirety of the documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. He told CBS News’ Anthony Mason, “I think it’s perfectly normal to not want to see how each brother was lost, you know?”

But you should. I saw it on HBO last month. The film was directed by Frank Marshall.

This is the story of Barry (b. 1946) and his fraternal twin brothers Robin and Maurice (b. 1949), who lived in Manchester, England. They were more like triplets, Barry said, listening to the same music and by 1955, singing together. The family moved to Queensland, Australia, where they achieved their first chart success with Spicks and Specks, their 12th single.

They returned to the UK in January 1967. Producer Robert Stigwood began promoting them to a worldwide audience. They wrote and sang a series of hits, including To Love Somebody, Words, Massachusetts, and I’ve Got To Get a Message to You. But fame is not forever, and their excess lifestyles caused division in the trio.

461 Ocean Boulevard

A change in venues, to Miami, and the right compatriots, got them back on track. In fact, they lived at the same location that Eric Clapton had stayed when he created his “comeback” album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.

They created the Main Course collection, with the hit Jive Talking. Then the enormous, and unexpected success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And, coming along as a complementary artist, was baby brother, Andy Gibb (b. 1958), with hits of his own.

As dance music was co-opted, and pale imitations of it were created – think Disco Duck – a backlash ensued. It was epitomized by Disco Demolition Night, a Major League Baseball promotion on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

One of the ushers recalled that there were LPs of several non-disco black artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder among the recording to be destroyed. The fans rioted during the event, and the White Sox ended up having to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.

This time of changing fortunes, the brothers were able to pivot to becoming primarily songwriters, for Barbra, Celine, Diana, Dionne, Dolly, and Kenny, among others. This allowed them room to reach their next act in their careers. It was supposed to be with Andy Gibb as an official member of the Bee Gees. Unfortunately, he died on 10 March 1988, at the age of 30, as a result of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Barry, by himself

Then Maurice, the chief negotiator between Barry and Robin, died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at the age of 53. He suffered a heart attack while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine.

The surviving brothers bounced between solo gigs and the occasional duet. Late in 2011, it was announced that Robin Gibb had been diagnosed with liver cancer, which he had known about for several months. He died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure. He was 62.

The Bee Gees, though in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997, has been, to my mind, undervalued and unnecessarily vilified. Their resilience and reinvention over the decades alone are praiseworthy. Recorded music they’ve performed and/or written is in the hundreds of millions of units.

The documentary had a few new insightful interviews with other artists. Eric Clapton was also signed to Stigwood. Nick Jonas and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher amplified the tricky balance of performing with one’s brothers.

Barry is still performing and recording. But he noted that he’d give up all the fame if he could have his brothers back. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart indeed?

“I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.”