Monday, September 30, 2019


My Judy Garland obsession began somewhere in the early 1980s with The Wizard of Oz. I drew pictures of Dorothy--in severe ballpoint ribboned-braids and heels, acted out Dorothy's antics in our rambling backyard forest, played the soundtrack on my Fisher Price record player over and over. All of this eventually caused Garland burnout in my family--eventually my vinyl record went missing. And there was likely a phobic-tinge in the reactions from my parents who barred me from dressing up in Dorothy garb and renting the film (that silver-stickered MGM label on the VHS is burned in my mind). Soon, still a child, I would get into Meet Me in St. Louis, pine for the VHS of 'Til the Clouds Roll By at Big Lots. And at some point, I stopped thinking about Judy so much--whether that was conditioned, or by choice, it's hard to remember exactly.

I come to this year's Judy, in a less-repressed state but also more world-weary. I recognize that Rupert Goold's film occasionally slips into a mawkishness (I detest the watery, glittery title font), is faintly slipshod, with awkward transitions, some stilted scenes--especially with Garland's young children--but, coming in with low expectations, I was lost in and mesmerized with Renée Zellweger's nervy turn. It's an audacious performance of course, especially from an actress who hasn't really proved herself as an aces singer (some of the notes she hits in Chicago make me wince), nor as an authentic-feeling actress--there's always a sense of ham (Cold Mountain) and visible determination interlaced with a deep, vulnerable insecurity (Chicago, Bridget Jones' Diary). But those seemingly out-of-depth facets of Zellweger's abilities and aesthetics lend themselves appropriately to Garland in this state of her life--a cyclonic ambling toward a sad finish line. I haven't seen it in some time, but in my memory, a better portrayal for both young and older Garland is Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows. Like its predecessor, Judy, could also have been easily nabbed as a TV-movie, but I'm grateful for Goold's film as a theatrical release--where it played well to my rapt, mostly older audience--as a reminder of Garland's talents and the brutal truths behind Hollywood's mythic gloss.

Here, we see Judy broke and homeless, desperately holding on to the custody of her children and her own life. She moves to London to make money through concerts, where, despite being in the midst of a more modern, swinging 60s of sprouting "flower power" shops, her popularity and appeal has sustained itself with certain audiences. In the era of her iconic wisp of short black hair and satin suits and heels, Judy can barely get through these performances, often in a fog of sleeplessness, pills and booze. We've seen two recent music biopics, Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, which showed manipulations from others while tracing the highs and lows of their subjects. In Judy, the subject is female and older, long victimized by her studio system since childhood--the possibilities of rising again limited; a joke about her being with the Rolling Stones sounds like a beautiful pairing now, but in the context of the times, probably impossible. This self-destructive shade of Garland, which encompasses much of this embracing but deeply elegiac film, is not a particularly flattering one, and one that many choose to psychologically bury under the weight of her sparkling filmography and discography. But it feels like a necessary one to occasionally delve into--the promise she held in her final years as an actress and entertainer. It is quite startling that she passed at 47 (many in the theater gasped, though it's all known history), as she looked so frail and much beyond her years.

Zellweger is captivating to watch. It's the kind of high-wire act you breathlessly prepare yourself for a fall, but she's convincing throughout. I preferred Zellweger's guttural, imitative warbling over lip-synced tracks of Garland's vocals. The make-up and hair designs aid in the recreation, as do the brassy costuming by Jany Temime (the teal knee-length wedding dress and hat!). Gabriel Yared's quietly effective score adds to the somberness. Maybe I felt more attuned to and forgiving of this film than others may, because of my interest in Garland. Like those childhood ballpoint drawings, it's impossible to recreate such a one-of-a-kind legend, but try as we might through the limitations of whatever artistry we may hold. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, September 12, 2019


A couple weeks ago at Ruthie’s Boutique in Provincetown, I bought a used CD of the Jennifer Lopez 2011 album Love? The cashier held it up, studying the cover and said to me coyly, “Now look at her! She just turned 50. May we all aspire to be that.”

Weeks later in a packed theater in Jersey City, on a humid, misty night, you could sense electric crackling when Jennifer Lopez takes to the pole, cash flying about, to the tumbling (and apt) Fiona Apple song “Criminal.” In the same way Brad Pitt’s over-the-hill, how-is-he-still-shaggily-stunning? handsomeness is utilized in Quentin’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in Hustlers--the deliriously entertaining film by Lorne Scafaria--Jennifer’s magnetic appeal and statuesque beauty adds to its allure. Lopez plays Ramona, a ringleader of sorts, who, along with a few other women under her wing, drugs and embezzles money from rich Wall Street types through the strip club she works for. Because of how elegantly Lopez creates such a compelling, yet compassionate (“climb into my fur” she says, sprawled out in chinchilla and studded heels) figure—its easy to see how club newcomer "Destiny" (played beautifully by Constance Wu) would be so enamored.

Based upon a lauded New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, Hustlers strives for on-the-nose social relevance: business going bust after the stock crash of ‘08 is the main impetus of Ramona’s enterprise of schemes du rich dude doofuses. The movie, with its brazen, of-the-moment ensemble (a very fun Cardi B and flute-tootin' Lizzo feature in bit parts), flashy, brand-heavy costuming (by Mitchell Travers), and the slick soundtrack of twinkling Chopin piano pieces interspersed with late- 2000s into early-2010s shiny house ephemera tunes (for me, Britney’s “Gimme More” has always conjured the bubble-about-to-burst American economy, hearing the song thumping at a midnight sale of her album Blackout in the now-shuttered Virgin Megastore of Union Square). Hustlers is Scorsese-light in that it never gets too sprawling nor too grim, but Scafaria shows chops as a gifted, polished storyteller. This is a movie that glaringly embraces its capitalistic glow, deviously celebrates its hollowness and leaves us with a smarmy strip club announcer to call us out as the lights go up again and we go out aspiring to be whoever we want to be. ***1/2

something keeps calling

Video for Raphael Saadiq's "Something Keeps Calling."

Saadiq's excellent new album Jimmy Lee just dropped.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

i used to be normal

"What's a life without a big major chorus?" This is a key, hard-to-argue-with philosophy dropped by one of the subjects from the lovely, buoyant little doc, I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story. Directed with heart and empathy by Jessica Leski, the film looks into the lives of four different women from four different areas around the globe, who experienced rhapsodic obsessions with particular boy bands from their teenage eras and still harbor enduring attachments. The main objects of affection here are The Beatles, Take That, the Backstreet Boys, and One Direction--an interesting mix indeed. The Beatles first ushered in a consumerist pop mania as a goofily-attractive foursome creating and performing indelible ditties that would later morph into more experimental, yet still endearingly catchy pieces of art rock as the 1960s wore on. Take That and the Backstreet Boys experienced success at the peak of music video television and physical media. One Direction in the time of new forms of social media and YouTube (the title comes from a viral video of one of the girls--howling out the way her life was before she became obsessed). Even though the particular genius of The Beatles' rock songwriting has yet to be duplicated, footage of ecstatic, screaming legions of fans has. There's a mix of joy in this, the ability to release and scream in a super-dome, but also some sadness: girls longingly caressing the bangs of One Direction; a Backstreet Boys cruise where fans can day-drink and interact, to a rabid degree, with their idols.

While it could be easy to make fun of these subjects and their fanatically wallpapered rooms of clippings (most, in adulthood, displaying their memorabilia in more toned-down, tasteful and aesthetically-pleasing ways), Leski keeps the focus upon the lives of these women, and how their dreams were sometimes kept at bay either by misfortune or by parents and societal biases that still persist.

There is something both ebullient and melancholic in the way these women thought their idols were speaking and singing directly to them, that these women sometimes shaped their lives in order to get closer to their boy bands. All of them sooner or later grow wiser, understanding the impossibility of their desires, but embracing the joy the imagery and music gives to them. I appreciate how thoughtful the director and doc are in their rapport. The photos and Maira Kalman-esque illustrations by Rebecca Clarke, animated by Leath Mattner, add a whimsical touch. ***

-Jeffery Berg


A new mix posted of film scores. Different eras, different styles.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

rumours rave

Just stumblin' upon Fleetmac Wood, a female DJ duo, who do excellent live sets of Fleetwood Mac remixes. Love this re-work of the 1977 Rumours album. The spirited hand-clap vibe of "Never Going Back Again" is particularly infectious.

Thursday, September 5, 2019


Here's another poem of mine that was first published in audio form on the podcast Other People's Flowers. I was inspired by Mary Pickford.


-after Mary Pickford

Like the dreams of Fontaine
in Rebecca, up the brick drive,
doors of high gloss red, the hide
of a zebra—up past the portrait
of myself lit by candelabras—up
the cream carpeted stairs—
a hushed cocoon where I sit
in my yellow silk armchair.

I am in moonlight raising the dickens.
I am in a walk in the woods, black
heels clicking upon rock, I stop
before a stream and suddenly Fairbanks
lifts me, carries me across. I am in

a flowered hat, aglow in the Belasco.
I hold the crowd in the palm
of the end of my mind. I temper

the gestures of the five cent picture
gutter players—playing it light
with a side eye glance, an unexpected
laugh up at the sky. My clothing light—
not like Midwest locomotives
or mother’s sewing machine
hammering in moonlight. I wrap
my body in a white glittered cape

for the bulbs. Beverly Hills,
how can you be so cheery—
auctioning my mountain of loss?
They paint me in profile—a yellowbird
on my fingertips. A spitfire

of cascading curls in a tattered ragdress.
I kick a hat in the dust. Smoke over hills,
over the fallen, over the paper tipis.
Pianos tremble rag. The hushed cocoon
of the biograph crews. D.W. Griffith’s
spittle on the silvered lip of his megaphone.

Once I pulled myself back from the top
hotel window—transfixed
by pavement. Not too long after
the world would begin to leave
me behind for sultry, silt, and sound.

For the crowd, I hold up one foot
of Chaplin’s and Fairbanks holds
the other: artists united. I am easy
to be forgotten in overalls with one
strap undone. Five feet tall, a fighting

American. I dust off my gloves
and carry on.The audience roars.
High in Beverly Hills, the eighteen acre estate—
me and Amelia Earhart out chit-chatting
on the lawn. All the little ittybitties to watch us
in the whirring reels. In a rewound shot,
I am a daughter kissing myself as a mother.

Hear her golden voice, reads the marquee.
Blonde bob, lipsticking and mirror-posing –
poofed skirt, jeweled clutch dangling,
I open a box of flowers from Michael Jeffery,
and I clasp my hands, and I look up, to say,
in my cutesy voice of gold,
“Aren’t they just adorable.”

Can one be corroded by alcohol
and fear? Shares sold. Holed up
in Pickfair. This was the face
of the most popular woman
in the world. Tempting to say
“America’s Sweetheart”—
dolls and curls and apples
bit into. Termites have infested Pickfair,

says Pia Zadora. And the dead.
Pia Zadora of “When the Rain Begins to Fall”
from Voyage of the Rock Aliens. Pia
of Butterfly and The Lonely Lady.
I am one of the ones from the dead—
the a lady who can’t leave it alone
who drives Pia Zadora to tape
an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories.

People in Hollywood holding up
poster-boards—Help us save Pickfair.
Not too many people to care
in these glossy passing cars
of twenty-twelve and maybe it’s better

to raze it, Zadora then to keep it
as something else—a palladium
of your ornaments with a sensibility
of the nineteen-eighties (the height
of your stardom)—a decade I just missed,
Thank God. Sooner or later the rain

begins to fall—wind-whipping rain
and things begin to disintegrate
and I begin to drink—and why shouldn’t I?
Sooner or later you can’t take it, Zadora.
I raise the dickens and you raze it, Zadora.
Burn it to the ground.

-Jeffery Berg


Have only heard great things about this one. Looking forward!

Monday, September 2, 2019

the flying fish

Turkish artist Murat Sayginer's animated short, The Flying Fish, is a dazzling achievement of music and visuals. Schematically, the film is a metaphysical journey of life and death with sleek geometric representations--from spheres wriggling sperm-like to a neon-drenched afterlife. Scintillating, metallic textures and imagery abound, juxtaposing the ancient and pure with slick and occasionally glitchy, computerized sheen.

One of the most compelling images was a skeleton hunched within the cage of an overturned shopping cart--an obvious metaphor linking death and consumerism--but the image sticks and is brilliantly evoked in a desert wasteland of scattered bones. Highlight for me in The Flying Fish was the "The Safe Zone" which includes pulsating crystal rectangular bars lit in hyper colors with Sayginer's effective score pumping at shiny synth heights. Riding off into a neon sunset, it becomes a comforting closer to Sayginer's dense menagerie.  ***

-Jeffery Berg