Midge and Birdie and Me

I am a child of the late sixties and seventies.  What this means is that I grew up at a very opportune time. 

There was a social and cultural revolution going on in America and I was young enough not to have to worry about getting drafted but old enough to enjoy the tail end of hippie culture, rock ‘n roll music, the second golden age of movies and the takeover of America by a new generation.

OK — but we did have to deal with the turtleneck/plaid suit combo

Never mind that these people were merely the older brothers and sisters of my friends, or their aunts and uncles, most of whom I didn’t admire and none of whom I could see leading me anywhere I particularly wanted to go.

At the very worst they’d be mere placeholders, warming up the expensive seats until me and mine would make everything better, or at least a lot more fabulous, fun and fair.

So, how’d we do…………..????

OK ignore this

This is why while I enjoy looking back on films, television and music from those days I also find it, well….a little depressing.  Especially when I stay too long.

I love The Graduate, The Godfather and Cabaret and have watched them a zillion times but at this point it’s hard not to walk away disappointed that no movies these days, or for many decades since then, can measure up i.e. have quite the same impact on me. 

Same with the music of The Beatles, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Motown.

Let’s not even start with Laugh-In, Carol Burnett or the early shows of Norman Lear.

And the first time I saw a then-unknown Bette Midler perform on The Tonight Show in 1971 on my teeny tiny black and white screen TV. 



Yet I have no baggage for anything that was made, or takes place, prior to that time. 

If it’s great, or fun or thoughtful or silly I can live there as long as I like and not have it mess with my psyche.  It lingers in my mind safely and I can enjoy it as many times as I like and for as long as I like any time I need some cheering up or to even think about contemporary issues without touching too much of an experiential nerve.

I think this explains my fascination with two samplings of TV and film this week set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Enter Midge Maisel

The first three episodes of the fifth and final season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the Turner Classic Movies Festival showing of the film version of Bye Bye Birdie, which began with a live on-site interview with its still very much alive triple-threat star, Ann-Margret.

Thanks TCM and Amy Sherman-Palladino & Co. for making these trying times fabulous and fun while softening the blow, via your use of full flashy color, that life has never been, nor ever will be, consistently fair.

See, it’s not that either that series or movie don’t address the issues of their day.  It’s that they do it in a way that I can take right now.  They engulf me in somebody else’s baggage and allow me to drift off to another time that reminds me of what it must have been like before there were Orange ex-presidents, rampant assassinations, especially school assassinations, and a strange aversion to network prime time variety shows on television.

plus hats!

Full Confession:  The fast-paced, delicious world of former NYC housewife and now aspiring comic Midge Maisel is not totally foreign to me.  My family didn’t have nearly as much money as hers but I was close to the age of her youngest kid.  Also, the incessant, fast-paced shreying (Note: Yelling in Yiddish) and whining in her household is not a tempo or type of patter unfamiliar.

But Midge’s world is a Technicolor interpretation of something familiar, backed by a soundtrack of period singers crooning recognizable tunes from the great American songbook, that is told with wit, creativity and thoughtful integrity.  It’s out of life the way any screwball-styled comedy is yet at the same time it refuses to steer clear of the human frailties of its characters or totally let them off the hook for their actions or reactions.

Amen, Midge.

In this 1950s/early 1960s world men can rule women for only so long before they bite back and win.  The children of neglectful parents also get to have their say, as do other discounted, marginalized people who have been forced to stand on the sidelines in the past.  In this world, it pays to be a little strange, a little off, and also a lot culturally Jewish, and perhaps that is why I like it as much as I do.  Or perhaps it’s merely that it takes place in a time that is a gauzy idea I barely recall.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s simply funny, inventive and in its final season.  Once inventors of top notch series that haven’t stayed too long decide on their end point, they do some of their most satisfying, if not best, work.  This was the case with Mad Men, another set in that era, and so far seems the case here. 


It costs us nothing to see Midge go out as a star and will give us infinite pleasure as we watch her stumble over every living thing in her way to get there. Her life clearly won’t be without consequences, if the first three episodes of season five are any indication, but when you get to be funny and sass back the jerks while some of the best music ever made plays in the background, how bad can your life, or ours, really be?

At almost 82 years old, Ann-Margret has had quite a life.  But it’s the present and her declaration that she has as much energy as she’s ever had that she claims keeps her going.  This could account for why she’s recorded an album of classic rock ‘n roll tunes, Ann-Margret: Born to Be Wild, that’s now available to download or to purchase on Amazon.  Or why when she confesses to an audience of film lovers at a movie theatre in Hollywood on a Saturday afternoon that there is the me you see here, and the me you don’t see with all this….energeeeeeeeee, and nearly jumps out of her demure sitting stance while doing it, that we absolutely believe her. 

Love herrrr

The thing about Ann-Margret is that she’s always been a bundle of energy and honesty.  You can see it in her breakthrough lead role in 1963’s Bye Bye Birdie as well as her Oscar-nominated work in such films as Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Tommy (1975).

In Bye Bye Birdie, set in the late 1950s, she plays a teenager picked to give a symbolic kiss to singing star Conrad Birdie, a fictionalized version of Elvis Presley, before he goes into the military.

The movie musical, based on the hit Broadway show, embraces a somewhat cartoonish, larger than life comedic tone, but the sensuality and sincerity of her scenes and dance moves still electrify the screen and bring us back to a fictional moment in time when the drafting of a teen idol into the military was billed as the principal concern of teenagers (okay, mostly young female teens) in this country.

Fetch me my wind machine!

Would that it was ever so and nice to remember it actually was partly true, especially these days.

There are some politically incorrect moments in the film by today’s standards and its view of America was at best a fictionalized construction of the era that would soon get deconstructed by the end of the 1960s.  But I was barely alive in 1958, the year it was set, and there is plenty to see and read from that time that balances what this type of movie shows us.

Aside from Dick Van Dyke at some of his singing and dancing best (Note: Do NOT think or say a bad word about one of my personal faves) it also gives us a joyful look at a more innocent moment in the American story.   That would be an era where a parents’ version of wild offspring involved teenagers staying out late, dying their hair and maybe, well, riding a motorcycle.  


Much like Ann-Margret did onscreen back then and still does to this day in real life.

Can you imagine?

Well, you don’t have to because that’s what movies like this are for.  To not take ourselves so seriously that we fail to recognize that hypersexual singing stars and kids who play dress up as something other than they are is just camp.

And at the end of the day it isn’t camp that is dangerous for kids and teenagers.  The real danger lies in the retribution that adults heap on their kids when they do what every generation does with camp at their age – enjoy it.

Ann-Margret – “Born to Be Wild”

Pre Oscar Buzz

The Oscars will be held this coming weekend and it’s time for some random observations.


Well, we finally got our complete response from Chris Rock and it did not disappoint.

It was broadcast Saturday night on his live Netflix comedy special, Selective Outrage.

If you did not tune in, just know the entire set is great – smart, candid and brilliantly written and delivered.  

But most importantly, it’s really funny.

Oh he did not hold back

Nevertheless, it was the last 10 minutes that viewers will most remember, one that built to a well-earned mic drop to the question most of us have been waiting a year for him to answer:  

What was it like and how do you feel about being slugged really hard on live TV in front of 16 million plus people at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the world by one of the biggest stars in the world because he couldn’t take a joke? 

Well, first of all – it REALLY HURT.

And birthed an A+ NY Post headline

In terms of movies, think of it as the big guy who played Muhammad Ali (Smith) slugging the skinny kid who played Pookie (Rock) in New Jack City.

His words, not mine. 

But that was just the start.  Suffice it to say that in 10 minutes every ounce of massaged and manicured new age apology offered in pretty much any context by Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was expertly shredded into origami and virtually shoved down their throats.

And we love a good shredding

But more importantly, it served to neuter the need for whatever obligatory dumb jokes that had been scheduled to address last year’s incident on the show, thus freeing this year’s ceremony to be as clever, dull, silly or timely as it chooses to be on its own.

Score one for team Rock and know that the festivities will likely achieve only two of the above four.

#2 – EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE OSCAR NOM-NOMS – This film grew on me and deserves the best picture and director wins it is clearly going to get next Sunday night.

James Hong sealed the deal at last week’s SAGs

I confess that after I viewed it the first time, barely holding on to middle age me didn’t quite get all the hoopla.  I mean, it was okay, but…huh? 

However, after watching it a second time it quickly became one of my favorite films of the year and, by any standards, one of the most original. 

Those of us who are not into multi-verse realities (Note: This includes myself AND most of my middle-aged friends) were a bit lost with EEAAO’s scattershot approach to reality.

But at its heart the film is actually nothing more, or less, than a very clever contemporary take on The Wizard of Oz.  Who doesn’t want to run away from a family that doesn’t listen to them when they are never truly seen?  On the other hand, what do you do when you suddenly realize that you are the one who is equally not seeing OR listening to them?

That’s one way to describe the multiverse

That’s a pretty good hat trick to pull off thematically, especially when the Mom who is substituting for Dorothy has to alternate between being a martial arts master, a glamorous movie star and a tired-looking working stiff, not to mention the voice of a googly-eyed rock.

A different kind of Oscar Rock this year

Here’s hoping that Michelle Yeoh makes history and wins a well-deserved best actress Oscar alongside the sure thing supporting actor Oscar win for Key Huan Quan as her sweet, put-upon husband. 

I think she will and that we’re looking at a big EEAAO sweep of all the top honors it’s nominated for in the making.

#3- THE VAGARIES OF THE VAGUE – There is something going on with films in the last few years for this viewer, aka ME, and it’s much more than having to watch EEAAO a second time to truly get it.

It seems there is a groundswell among critics and many industry-ites, nee Academy and other guild members, to go crazy for movies that feel slow, undone and vague.  Two examples this year are the multi-Oscar nominations for Tar and the near lock Women Talking has for the screenwriting award.

And we know how the Chair feels about ol’ Lydia Tar

Both films deal with the power struggles of women in unusual but incredibly obtuse ways.  Both are interesting looking, well acted and well made.  Yet both lack narrative details, drive and urgency, often choosing to stay mired in a miasma of talk and pretension.

It simply feels odd that Women Talking is a shoo-in for a best adapted screenplay win for writer-director Sarah Polley and that Tar’s Cate Blanchett is the top contender to snatch the best actress Oscar away from the more deserving Ms. Yeoh.

Don’t put that out into the universe!

This is especially true when two far superior films about women and their struggle for and against power, She Said and Till, were totally ignored by the Academy, 

Having seen all four films it’s hard not to conclude that the clear, well-crafted narratives of the latter two were judged not hip or happening enough for accolades by film critics and voters that believe something different always means something better.

I wonder what Miranda would have to say about this

For them I say, there’s a reason I can still wear the classic white shirt I bought at Agnes B a full 35 years ago but long ago gave away my beloved purple Armani suit that at the time I was convinced would be perennially flawless.

 #4 – THERE IS NO BEST ACTOR THIS YEAR – All of the people in this category, not to mention in most categories, are great.  But anyone who can say for sure whether Austin Butler will win for his startlingly shape shifting performance in Elvis or Brendan Fraser will take home the Oscar for his raw, heartbreaking acting turn of a lifetime in The Whale, is lying.

Some years it’s simply a tie.  Or an upset for Colin Farrell, who could squeak in for his subtle work in the much Oscar loved Banshees of Inisherin.

A tight race

Put a gun to my head and I’d say it’s probably Austin Butler’s ability to not only physically resurrect but also sing beloved Elvis Presley back to life.  On the other hand, I’m not gonna publicly deny one of the best male performances I’ve seen in years, by George of the Jungle, no less, from getting his much deserved Oscar win.

Which brings me to:

#4B – Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale received a handful of Oscar nominations but has received middling critical reviews pretty much across the board.  I don’t get it.  It’s one of the best, if not most disturbing, movies of the year.  It’s a tough watch but watch it.  It’s the anti-hip and happening and vague film stylistically (Note: Lucky for us) though ironically it seems to me that its in your face emotional rawness is exactly what we need in the world right now.

Not an easy watch — but should it be?

And finally:

#5 – THE OSCAR ARE ICONIC BUT…As fun as they are for all the right and wrong reasons, at the end of the day they don’t mean a lot.   And they’re often wrong.

I watched a double feature this afternoon on Turner Classic Movies of Born Yesterday (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

One of the best lines ever

They are classic movies at their best – superbly entertaining, perfectly crafted and more than able to stand the test of time against most of their contemporaries.

Judy Holliday won the lead actress Oscar in Born Yesterday for recreating her much acclaimed Broadway performance.  But let’s remember in doing so she beat out Bette Davis, who gave one of the best female performances in film history as Margo Channing in All About Eve, and Gloria Swanson, who created one of the most enduringly iconic as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

All tea no shade

As for Some Like It Hot, it’s a movie that has been consistently rated by writers, directors and critics as one of the top five comedies of all-time, if not THE top.  Yet its only Oscar win was for best costumes and it failed to even receive a nomination for either best picture or best director.

The film that received the most Oscar nominations that year was, um,…Ben Hur.  And it was awarded the best picture, best director (William Wyler) and best actor (Charlton Heston) Oscar, among others.

Yep, this.

Try sitting through all 123 hours of Ben-Hur after watching Some Like It Hot.  And if you manage to, report back to us on which one you liked best.

“Running Wild” – from Some Like It Hot