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Revisiting Good Times and 3614 Jackson Highway

Good-timesI totally missed this when it happened in 2017, but there's been a re-release of the movie Good Times. My friend Dave alerted me to the situation while we were in Amoeba Records in Los Angeles this spring. It's quite amazing and has me rethinking the movie.

It's extras include an interesting interview with William Friedkin describing how he came to the project and how it all came together. Friedkin talks about their guerrilla film-making (they had no permits) and how they filmed skits first in studio. Afterwards, they only had 45 minutes of film, so they padded it.

There's also a fabulous commentary track across the movie with film historian Lee Gambin who highlights things you’ve never noticed (or at least I never noticed): Friedkin’s mark on the movie, for instance with the chaotic edit of the wrestling scene, typical angles and shots, and subversive low shots. He comments on George Saunder’s "faustian" performance.

He categorizes all 1960s films into dark films, Elvis films, avant guard cinema and rock docs. He feels Good Times is very meta.

He references the western skit to the spaghetti western Ringo movies of 1965, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. He labels Friedken as a  documentary realist at that time, who dabbled in fantasy (The Exorcist). Sonny liked the hard edge of Friedkin and shared his sense of humor (note the Los Angeles parking signs on the Western street). He notes the crane work and says that, in fact, Good Times went crane happy.

He notes the "incredible dancing" in the western musical, saying the choreographer (who's name I couldn't catch: Andre T?) was one of the sharks in West Side Story. I like how they keep the whole body of the dancer in frame and long shots of the whole dance, which was the unfortunate issues with dances in Burlesque.

Gambin says the movie got a few good reviews. The LA Times said there were moments of Woody Allen brilliance and The Hollywood Reporter said it was the best directorial debut since Coppola. It might shock fans to hear that.

Gambin calls it a fun tributes to genre movies, full of beautiful colors. He said originally a Sonny & Cher fan was to write initial script but that took too long.

He describes he movie as a tension between artistic integrity vs. commerce, turning artists into commodities which is exactly what they don’t want to become. Cher is trying to get control of her own trajectory. S&C are reclaiming their turf. They are decidedly here not a rags to riches story, although I think it's curious that their variety show would recycle a rags to riches mythology for its “behind the scenes” fake documentary reels and skits.

Gambin relates the movie to the backstage musical similar to Vincent Minnelli's The Bandwagon, a genre about The Hollywood Machine. As always, Gambin insists that Cher owns her own presentation. He also doesn't deny the camp sensibility of the "It's the Little Things" video reel, and use of Batman iconography.

He also loves the studio lot scene where Sonny & Cher discuss their dilemma with the big studio and play with backstage costumes and props. Gambin calls this a place "where costumes have lost their meaning." The Hollywood Tzar, the studio wants to fix them." Note the part where they tell Sonny, “This nose will have to go” and remember the ongoing teasing Sonny gave Cher's nose on their variety show four years later. Interestingly, Gambin says that women in clown garb is rare. Is this true?

He equates the S&C script scene here with the one in The Exorcist.

Jungle Geno is Mikey Dolenz. I always wondered about that. Gambin notes that all Tarzan movies always had a “boy” who was young and athletic. So their elderly son is a joke on that convention. Animal trainer Ray Halfaster was used and Gambin says he was better than some (I'm assuming he means regarding abuse of his animals). Gambin reminds us that Saunders' role in this skit is a nod to the Great White Hunter and his coldness and malevolence. He notes the moving camera work in the chase scene.

He notes Sonny's interesting phrasing and chord progression in his favorite musical number, "Don’t Talk to Strangers."

Gambin says the detective story is a nod to Film Noir and was also the seed of Cher's Vamp. He likes the texture palette in this skit.

He says some Friedkin fans feel the songs in this movie drag on the momentum. But Gambin feels they give film time to breathe and are like soliloquy moments. They give the characters space to grow.

Overall, Gambin notes Cher's fiery acting performances in strong female roles (Jimmy Dean, Moonstruck, Silkwood, Mask) and says she is underappreciated as both a vocalist and an actress, having worked with many greats including Friedkin, Altman, Nichols, Bogdanovich, and Jewison. He says, "Cher songs are institutions" about race relations, the occult and people on the fringe.

After this, Gambin says, Sonny & Cher were hired to do the Speedway movie, but were replaced by Elvis and Nancy Sinatra.

I also noticed two things in rewatching this movie. First, how their LA house (in Encino) is surrounded by undeveloped land! Second, this is another movie with Cher playing herself and showing a disinterest in show business. What an amazing foreshadowing of the Cher story, as if her life were scripted. Gambin talks about how she later reinvented herself as a multi-medium business woman decades later.

20190612_144147There's also a new release of 3614 Jackson Highway on purple vinyl.

The same Ward Lamb essay from the CD re-release booklet years ago is also included in the vinyl release. 

 


R.I.P. Franco Zeffirelli

Zeff

One of Cher's directors has passed away: Franco Zeffirelli, most famous for his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. 

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/jun/15/franco-zeffirelli-obituary

Many Cher directors have passed: Robert Altman, Mike Nichols, Peter Yates, Franco Zeffirelli, Paul Mazursky and Sonny Bono (if you believe he was really the direction behind Chastity),  These are the Cher's directors still with us: William Friedkin, George Miller, Richard Benjamin, Ol Parker, the Farrelly brothers...

 


Fashion and Fumes

20190612_141854Cher is soon to launch a new perfume,  a scent she’s calling ungendered and named Eau de Couture (not quite the sparkle the name Uninhibited had). But Cher’s got a great nose for a perfume as we know. Musty old bottles of Uninhibited are still smelling nice are still selling on eBay. Someday the liquid will run out and maybe 10,000 years aliens will find it.

Speaking for myself, my Cher she-shed shelf is stock full of Cher product. I will find room.

Cher’s been working on the project for four years with with perfumer Clément Gavarry. More info: https://wwd.com/beauty-industry-news/fragrance/cher-plots-fragrance-and-discusses-emojis-retirement-1203133815/

20190612_141835I love perfume. My favorite is Flower Bomb right now. Recently my friend Christopher bought me the Bob Mackie brand. It smells very strong with the following notes of pineapple, raspberry, peach, tuberose, orange blossom, narcissus, jasmine, ylang-ylang and roseand. Very floral and yet it smells very gendered to me. 

Cher-perfWhen I was going online looking for a preview of the new Cher bottle (another aspect of perfume I love), I couldn’t find one but I did find this perfume called CHER. Did anyone know about this?

Shouldn’t CHER be trademarked by now.... if it wasn’t for being such a common French word?

My friend Christopher has also been sending me subscriptions to Cosmo magazine and InSTYLE magazine. A month or so ago InSTYLE magazine had a picture of Sandra Oh wearing this Gucci dress. Does it remind you of anything?

Oh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


...like these Bob Mackie dresses Tina Turner and Cher wore in the late 1970s?

Cher-tina Cher-tina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I was kind of shocked by that.


Revisiting Cher's Catalog & Rock Status

Cher60s2

Cher has a pretty big musical catalog, with over 30 studio albums alone, forget about soundtracks, live albums, rare bootlegs. Recently reviewers have been taking a look back.

Rolling Stone did a light but nice tribute story on Cher's endurance.

Christopher Muther at The Boston Globe recently did a fabulous piece revisiting her best covers. I have to quote a lot of it because it was so surprising and mind-blowing:

He starts by asking, "Did you ever associate the pop goddess with Bob Dylan, the Kinks or James Brown? Bruce Springsteen, Bee Gees…"

And then he goes through some less-than-successful covers, including the album Dancing Queen which he feels was rushed karaoke music, except "Fernando" (the only track produced by ABBA's own Benny Andersson) which he says “almost rivals the rebellious spirit of the original.”

Here are other songs he liked:

  • Eddie Floyd's Knock on Wood: “shockingly good disco-funk interpretation of Eddie Floyd…seriously sensuous swagger."

  • Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe: "the dangerous side of Cher. Can deliver the drama on film and through the song."

  • Marc Cohn's Walking in Memphis: "soulful take on Cohn’s milquetoast song….sings rings around the choir and makes a rather mediocre song memorable."

  • Loving Spoonful's Do You Believe in Magic: "delicate and funky take on the bubblegum original….her vocals lazily stretch out over the chorus…a witchy spell."

  • Donovan's Catch the Wind: "imbues it with urgency and power." Cher76

  • Michael Bolton's I Found Someone: "sexy cougar anthem"

  • James Brown's It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World: "a pleasant shocker. Cher flips the script on Brown’s chauvinistic slow cooker…you know the sexist proclamations are ridiculous…because they’re coming from Cher."

  • Judy Garland's The Man That Got Away: "Cher’s bluesy interpretation offers a cheeky 1970s take on Garland’s impassioned version."

  • The Walker Brothers' The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Anymore: "hitting the chorus full-throttle, and then crumpling back to despondency when she cuts to the line…'lonely, without you, baby'"

  • Buffalo Springfield's For What It’s Worth and the 3614 Jackson Highway album: "filled with gems….criminally overlooked."

  • Bob Dylan's All I Really Want to Do: "approached like a Phil Spector, Wall of Sound spectacular. The Byrds come off as detached storytellers, Cher’s version has true heart."

It's interesting to me how much music critics love Jackson Highway and how fans always love on Stars more or Backstage.

And then last month, Sirius Radio had about a two-week Cher channel that my friend Julie hooked me up with. More on that later because I wrote down all the songs they played for 7 days and it's pretty interesting what made it in and what was left out. Coming soon. I'm dong real scholarship on it...with like a spreadsheet an all. Nerd alert.

RockFinally, over Christmas I was given the book Women Who Rock, an encyclopedia of 100 women artists edited by Ed Evelyn McDonnel. 

It's also interesting to see who made it in the book's list and who has fallen by the wayside. It includes gospel, blues, country, folk, pop, Latino, Caribbean, rap, Motown, SoCal, Experimental, New Wave, Punk, R&B and rock artists and includes Darlene Love, Carol Kaye and June Millington (which is great) but not Pat Benetar or the Indigo Girls. 

The intro essay says the book focused on "game changers" and leaders vs. geniuses and survivors in the wake of rape, bad contracts, sexual exploitation, anorexia, bad management, Svengalis, addiction, suicide and murder. For instance, they couldn't put in every singer-songwriter (like Carly Simon, who didn't make it in either).

The Cher essay was written by Lucretia Tye Jasmine, who summarized Cher as a "singer, actor, comedian and business woman" and calls Cher "woefully underrepresented and unappreciated in the canon, that she "kicked down doors and painted flags" in music, feminism, fashion and social justice. 

She smartly picks up on this very important angle regarding Cher being cast as a Vamp: "sex was a joke but she was not the butt of it." She says Cher made theater of social issues with "Half Breed," "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," songs about outcast and the condemned. 

With her "crooked teeth and low voice" she was always "strong, in narrative control" with an "elaborate self-presentation" that signaled "a trust in one's own experiences." Honestly, I'm not sure what that last phrase means, but she calls it a "panache of glitter" and says she "commands the stage." 

She admires Cher's decision in the "Turn Back Time" video to use a Navy ship, "the bastion of masculinity." Most importantly she had the "ability to withstand and transcend critics."

Jasmine also elaborates on Cher's musical record breaking stats: only artist with a #1 single in decades from the 1960s-2010s, oldest female artist with a #1 US Billboard song, only three artists of five with a US#1 hit single and an Academy Award. Plus a Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe awards, an Icon Award and a Razzie. 

Rock2

 


Cher's Latest Tour Getting Universal Raves

Set
So much to catch up on, it’s been kind of discouraging and I’ve been avoiding it. Now that I’m getting back into a routine with work, we can get back to this multi-year-long period of Cher awesomeness.

The concert tour is doing very well, both sell-outs and fill-ups. View the attendance and receipts.

It's been a challenge for me to describe Cher-mania these days. I’m enjoying it but it feels so suddenly over-the-top. Like if we had gradually gotten here...I don't know. Maybe for fans so used to rooting for this underdog, praise never fully lands. I mean outside of acting raves (which were a new venture) Cher has never received raves for her concerts or albums.

Not that it’s undeserved praise, but still odd to get your head around it, historically speaking.

I mean, when a reviewer says “Cher’s still got it!” the first thing I think of is "when exactly did you admit Cher had it in the first place? I'd like to go back to that time and enjoy it." So why now are we getting a kind of make-up history that Cher has always been "triumphant." And there's a tone in the press that they've always thought Cher was great (which is complete revisionist history). I mean, I'm so glad we're finally here but I don't think they should be so self-satisfied in their phrase. Pretend like all that shade didn't happen.

I think what’s really going on is a new generation of people are reviewing Cher shows and possibly making the assumption that prior reviewers must have seen the obvious amazingness.  They did not. So, if you’re writing that Cher is dazzling, triumphant, fantastic, timeless, tour-de-force, force of nature, camp queen, fierce (my favorite compliment), masterful, bringing the sass and style, triumphant...(all from current review headlines), if she's indeed slaying the dragon, this is all news to me. Not that Cher is doing it, but that the press is saying it.

I keep thinking of this alleged quote from Willie Nelson: “If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.”

Truer words could not apply to what we're seeing right now.

I've caught up on my concert reviews and if you want to bask in some good Cher press, here you go: https://www.cherscholar.com/concert-reviews.html

Warriors


Broadway's Cher Show Holding Its Own

Broadwaycher

Here's a Playbill video of Carol Burnett and Nancy Pelosi among others, talking about the larger meaning of the Cher Show. I found this clip really, really moving. Especially the Carol Burnett part.  Verklempt City!

This hilarious GQ article is called the "Real life diet of totally ripped Sonny Bono from the Cher Show" and it showed up on my Twitter feed. 

Jarrod Spector has been doing some really great interviews about how he captured the characterization of Sonny Bono without going campy or shallow. Here's a great video interview.  

And a positive review on the show from Forbes magazine.

The show receipts initially showed a fill capacity in the 90% and 80% range, recently dipping into the in low 80s and sometimes high 70%. My friend Christopher (an entertainment stats-tracker hobbyist) has been tracking the show with me to check on the health of the show. Originally he told me a show needs to hover in 80% to stay viable. So I was concerned with the recent dip. But he still thinks the show has legs due to the Tony nominations and the built-in fandom.

The show received three nominations, one for the elder-Cher, Stephanie Block (lead actress, musical), Bob Mackie (costume design) and on nomination for lighting design (musical).

BlockLast night both Bob Mackie and Stephanie Block did win Tony awards and the Cher Show performed:

Cher was recently on Today and Tonight Show promoting the Broadway Show (I guess her own tour needs no promotion!).

Today-show-jenna-bush Today-showOn The Today Show Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of former President George Bush II) interviewed a lovely looking Cher and commented that the interview was one of the best nights of her life. Which is pretty incredible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6BVVVoQcv8 (first segment)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf06M-SS86M&t=201s (later in the show, they aired an extended interview with Bob Mackie)

Bush remarked on how the Broadway show's depiction of Cher's vulnerability and Cher says parts were hard and painful to watch. They also talk about the theme of never giving up. "I’m not a tough woman truthfully. I’m a strong woman. I’m one of us." When asked about Sonny, Cher says it was "more than love."

The same day, Cher appeared on an incredible episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, who also appeared quite beside himself to be hosting Cher. This is a new generation of adulation and it's definitely intense.

Backstage Tonight-show In-chair

 

 

 

 

Backstage / Jimmy and Cher lip-syncing to Cher karaoke / Cher in the chair 

Some clips of the show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEfWjCnwu1Q (the opening)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_ot8SvZJSE (the lip sync challenge) - Cher looked a bit disturbed by this, but always the trooper with the new style of games on these shows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HLkCUd44iU (Cher talks about being shy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE-urfyC0CY (Cher talks about Cher impersonations)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVt40fhq6E8 (All the Chers on the couch) 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ3DoTuw6kg (All the Chers sing "Turn Back Time") 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5y_XT0tRow (this is adorable! Cher singing "IGUB" with the fake Sonny!)

Chers Cher-fake-sonny

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Chers singing / Faux-Sonny & Cher

While looking up photos of the show, I found photos of Cher on The Tonight Show through the ages:

The-tonight-show-sonny-cher-1975-everett

1980-tonight-show

80s-tonight-show

Cher-anchor

 

 

 

 

Mid-70s / 1980 / Mid-80s / Current, Cher taking over the desk while Jimmy walks on with his Cher strut

 

 

Cast-recording

Most exciting, the cast recording is out! You can order it on CD or vinyl. 

(There are now only two albums missing from vinyl: Living Proof and It’s a Man’s World, two great albums!)

There's not much dialogue on the cast recording unless it happens inside of medleys. But I really wanted to hear the show again in order to think about how the show was constructed.

The song "TBT" was an obvious first song. Where else would you put it, unless Cher truely had regrets, which she doesn't seem to. It was illuminating to see "Half Breed" used to talk about Cher's childhood and feelings of otherness to the point of freakishness: her fatherlessness, trouble in school. Early on the theme of fear is developed and of not being accepted.

"Shoop Shoop" is put in for the 1960s ambiance. During the song, Cher meets sonny and we're shown an early relationship and, importantly, how Sonny’s acceptance of her as talented and worthy forged a very strong bond.

IGUB provides their Top of the Pops moment of breaking into show business. "When the Money’s Gone/All or Nothing" was also an interesting medley choice for their first career dive. Nice mashup, too.

I was surprised to hear "Ain’t Nobody’s Business," not a song famously associated with Cher but, if you're a fan, you've seen it as a Cher favorite (to get the press off her back and responding to criticism of her clothes and lifestyle). She's covered the song in live shows and TV specials from the late 70s to the early 80s. These lines are indicative of the tone: “It I took the notion to throw myself into the ocean, 'aint nobody's business if I do” and Cher sings the chorus with not a little bit of bite. It reminds me of her 1980s off-quoted quip in defense of plastic surgery rumors: “If I want to put tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.” This is the big Bob Mackie costume show-stopper, one-third of the way in. 

It's also the Cher hand-off from Micaela Diamond to Teal Wicks. "Living in a House Divided" is given different lyrics here to make the Sonny & Cher breakup more personal. And it's presented as a duet between Cher and Sonny and shows Cher's fear of leaving him.

"Bang Bang" is slotted here to illustrate Sonny's unwillingness to give Cher a 50/50 stake in their business. They also have slightly different lyrics. And this all begs the question: if these are not the same songs, is this purely a jukebox musical? At what point do they become the musical's music? Because you could stretch a song pretty far from its origins...

"Believe/Song for the Lonely" is a medley where all three Cher’s confer for a big halftime finish, while they debate Sonny's merits and flaws and the fear to persevere.

The second act returns with Sonny & Cher doing their unacknowledged Emmy-worthy performances as a happily married couple on TV, while they sing "All I Ever Need is You." 

"Heart of Stone" is used (along with the character of Lucille Ball, to show the parallel between their respective careers and relationships) to give Cher the guts to leave Sonny. Note how much time is given (and songs) to Cher's struggle to leave Sonny, which illustrates the importance of that in Cher's own depiction. Gregg Allman doesn't get nearly that much time and, in fact, I can't really remember their breakup in the show.

"Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" hands the show over to Block and depicts Cher's show TV solo. This pass-off seemed pre-mature to me. Cher was still clearly 70s Cher up until the late 70s, maybe even until the acting years.

"Midnight Rider/Ramblin Man" are two external songs (from Gregg Allman and The Allman Brothers) added in for the story of husband number two. It feels brave to add them next to Cher songs. And good.

"Dark Lady" is amazingly creative: a duet between Sonny & Gregg  (as Cher struggles between career vs. love). It shows Sonny's powerful presence as a continual contender for Cher's attention and respect. The duet between the men is genius. And brave, too.

"Strong Enough" is with Sonny, Wicks and Block. Allman gets dumped but again, I forget how this is referenced in the show.

Then we go into the Acting years. "The Way of Love" is a surprising choice to show Cher emoting to Robert Altman in her first audition. The show reminds us it was then two long years to Mask (in career time this was probably painful, but felt fast in fan time). Cher is scoring acting hits and reviews but no nominations because she is the “bad girl with the mouth.” The irony of actors thinking of Cher as a "bad girl" is that the rock establishment didn't consider Cher nearly bad enough to earn credibility there either.

During "The Beat Goes On" (so late in the timeline here!), megastar Block gives the show back to Diamond because she is the babe who always wanted to be an actress. The show allows young Cher to bask in the glow of good reviews and movie offers. This is one of the most touching moments of the show, which has also explores her fear of being bad at acting.

"I Found Someone" is all about Robert Cameletti and the evil paparazzi/press pressure. He disappears without much fanfare either. And I don't think these abbreviations are good. Cher did suffer greatly with these two breakups as well, maybe if not to a Sonny degree. They're weren't painless or easy and the show could have lingered on them a bit longer.

"You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me" finds Cher looking for solace in her work but she is beset with Eptstein Barr (and maybe a bit of depression?), The three Cher's support each other. Then Sonny dies and we get a bit too much of the recreation of the eulogy. 

And then boom, the finale. Her mid 50s and 70s are not covered. "Believe," "Strong Enough," "Woman’s World," and "All or Nothing" are given a good ending mashup.

I have to say, it wouldn't be a big deal if whole decades were missing in a show about a small piece of Cher's life. But in a review of all the years, it feels conspicuous. Something had to have happened in there. But these are small quibbles. The show pulls it off despite the gaps.

The cast recording comes with a booklet including a similar read-a-long synopsis of the show.