I feel like I've been living in a funhouse for the last month and a half. Some of the scenes have been a complete nightmare (like the Trumpers post election still denying covid, the day when we thought we were losing my mother for good) and other things amazingly good, (like being home with my parents for Christmas today). But by the end of it, I'm not sure I'm the same person anymore.
My elderly parents both came down with Covid-19 in mid-November and have been in the hospital literally on death's door (more so for my mother with her breathing ailments). Thankfully, miraculously they both made it back home in Ohio and are slowly on the mend. I'm now in the Cleveland area helping them out.
So I've missed pretty much all the Cher stuff. Which has been quite a few things I will need to catch up on in the coming months: the Cher tour cancelled, Cher on The Late Late Show, the "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" video, all the Kaavan stuff, the bobble-head movie, all the press interviews, the scam gargoyle I got on eBay in a moment of weakness, a piece that was purportedly a Sanctuary item but is nowhere in the catalogs and is assuredly nothing Cher would have in there. All the things.
But I didn't want to let Christmas go by without a Moonstruck post. It's been such a success this year.
Moonstruck has turned out to be quite the non-holiday Christmas holiday movie. For a movie from 1988, it's been on people's minds all year, partly due to Covid's shut-in blues and partly due to the new Criterion restoration and re-release on Blu-Ray this Novembre.
Way back in April 3, 2020, there was “The Most Enjoyable Image I Can Think of Right Now is Cher Kicking a Can” by Alison Willmore in Vulture.
She loves the movie “beyond its general rom-com hall-of-fame excellence” because of “its dedication to making romance look decadent. Romance, in Moonstruck, is the emotional equivalent of digging into a chocolate cake for the sheer, gluttonous deliciousness of it, calories and future stomachaches be damned. It’s unapologetic about its big passions, which, it allows, can look silly, and which can be destructive, and which are never less validly felt for any it.”
She calls Loretta’s relationship with “Johnny Cammareri, played with wonderful schmuckiness by the late Danny Aiello” as having “such an embalmed corpse of a relationship.”
Nicolas “Cage was at a point in his career in which he was balanced right on the edge between allure and absurdity, which makes him perfect for the role.”
Then she talks about the can kicking scene:
“Loretta is heading home alone in the morning along the Columbia Waterfront, kicking a beer can down the street. It’s barely a scene, really, more of an interstitial between the clinching crescendo of the night out and the familial breakfast confrontation that’s about to come. Yet somehow it feels like the most luxurious slice of the film, this walk of non-shame. Loretta’s still in her Lincoln Center–ready finery, having given in to Ronny’s fervid plea the evening before and gone home with him once again. She’s left her lover listening to his favorite aria, one he turns up right before the movie cuts to her, as though knowing she’d need adequately opulent accompaniment for the shot that follows. And there she comes around the corner, swanning down the sidewalk in no particular hurry, Manhattan laid out behind her as a backdrop."
[I love that word, swanning.]
"It’s an image that’s so pleasurable it feels almost demented, this interlude with a character who’s just blown up her staid, orderly life in an uncharacteristically grandiose way. The camera takes a second to close in on her red glitter pumps as she steps down the empty street, idly punting a piece of trash along the pavement. The whimsical playfulness of what she’s doing is a part of the scene’s appeal, but there’s also the expression on Cher’s face, one that wants and tries to be contemplative but that keeps slipping into something closer to satisfaction despite itself. It’s the look of someone who’s done something that she suspects might turn out to have been dumb, but that in the moment she can’t stop privately smiling about. Loretta’s walking down the same familiar blocks that have always been there, but it’s clear that everything looks bright and new to her. It looks new to us, too, maybe because the film’s cozy corner of Brooklyn Heights hasn’t been shot from this particular angle yet. Suddenly it seems cracked open, the whole city, with all its million other stories unfolding behind it, always there but never shown this way before."
She calls the movie “…truly transporting comfort viewing in times of stress” and talks about her particular experience with covid-isolation and the quiet NYC mornings she misses:
“The longer you live in New York, the more quiet mornings like that you can accrue…. it can be so lovely out when most everyone else is still asleep. Being shut up inside leads you to start missing people, inevitably, and bustle and noise and contact. But what I hadn’t expected to miss so much was the possibility of the city, delivered in such a concentrated dose in those images onscreen. There’s the possibility that you could wander your way back to your doorstep, or you could keep going, and see what’s waiting around the next corner, and the next one.”
This is a great piece, worthy of a full read. It’s part of a series where Willmore also discusses the movies Casino, Citizen Kane and When Harry Met Sally.
In Nov 17, 2020 there was “Why ‘Moonstruck’ is the Movie We Need Right Now” by Moira Macdonald in The Seattle Times.
Macdonald talks about how unusual this rom-com is to be taking place in a bleak November, “gray and cold” and “everybody’s shivering.” “It’s not a hopeful setting” she says. She talks about the “remarkable ensemble cast” and how this has “long been my go-to movie when things seem dark.” She talks about the “charms of Moonstruck” including “an exquisite Cher and an absurdly young Nicolas Cage.”
Again she mentions the can kicking scene,
“the movie’s loveliest scene, Loretta, a Cinderella after the ball….The music—ethereal, longing, celestial—seems to float around her; you know that she’s hearing it, reliving it, changed by it. Into her mother’s kitchen she sweeps, whirling to the music only she—and we—can hear, letting herself gently fall back down to earth. (Earth arrives quickly: “What the hell happened to you?” barks Rose.)”
She also calls the final scene “a small masterpiece of comedy” including everyone’s funny, repeatable lines.
“The film is full of rich detail, such a s the way the Castorini home looks like it hasn’t been updated since Rose and Cosmo were newlyweds, the way that moon lights up every corner….everyone we meet….seems to have a story; Jewson and Shanley….create a warm, welcoming world.”
This is also a series where Macdonald talks about the movies Sense and Sensibility, Mudbound and Bull Durham.
Then we had Emily VanDerWerff’s own essay in the Blu-Ray (November 19, 2020) “Moonstruck: Life in the In-Between” from Criterion.
VanDerWerff comes to Moonstruck with a new transgendered perspective and talks about the power of Cher’s makeover scene, how she’s making herself over for herself alone at home and not for Johnny Cammareri’s benefit. She’s pleased with herself before her lover ever sees her.
“She transforms alone. Unlike in most other makeover sequences, there is no one else present to appreciate how beautiful she has become. She sees herself in the mirror, and she seems free of the shackles of expectation, superstition, and routine that have defined her life so far.”
VanDerWerff also talks about Cher’s iconic status and how that affects the film:
“...her downplayed, earthy beauty is meant to stand in contrast to what we know of Cher, the woman playing her—famous for her love of brazenly unusual red-carpet fashions, and for her outsize personality.”
Later VanDerWerff says,
“When he had performers game to explore larger-than-life characters, Jewison could be one of the best actors’ directors Hollywood ever produced. His work with Cher and Cage is of note here. Cher, at the time, was known for her bigness. True, she had been nominated for an Oscar in 1984 for a lower-key performance in Mike Nichols’s Silkwood, and her work in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1985 film Mask is similarly down-to-earth. (If you say nothing else about Cher’s acting career, you can at least say that she tended to work with amazing directors.) But the biggest hit she had appeared in before Moonstruck was another 1987 film, George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick, in which she plays a sexy, glamorous witch who is far more in keeping with her offscreen persona as an over-the-top diva with a huge appetite for life.
On the surface, the beginning of Moonstruck offers an example of what some call deglamming. Cher’s unusual and potent beauty is muted, and costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge places her in baggy, nondescript clothing to emphasize Loretta’s supposed dowdiness. What makes the performance work, what makes it so that you never think of it as a gimmick designed to win awards (as deglamming so often is), is the way that Cher’s natural star power shines through everything Loretta does. The character is simply waiting for someone to see her in the right way, so she can shed the ill-fitting costume she wears and become her glamorous self.
The ability to use a star’s natural persona in service of a role they would not normally play was one of Jewison’s strengths…”
Of Cage, she says, “Every choice he makes…is a little bit too much…[he] possesses a raw, dangerous energy…[however] Ronny is not a cartoon. He lives operatically and he charges headfirst into the movie’s naturalistic, understated tone in a way that races right past your defenses.”
She calls Patrick Shanley’s script airtight and
“a masterpiece of screenwriting….Shanley came to the film from the stage, and his skill at playwriting shines through here. The scenes are generally long for a screen comedy of the eighties, taking their time to get where they’re going and leaving in all of the air a contemporary film might cut out. …Each individual scene tells its own story, so you become as invested in the offhand meeting between Rose and Perry (Mahoney’s character) as you do the movie’s larger love stories. This quality is also what makes the movie infinitely rewatchable; you can join it at any point, take in a single scene, and walk away with a well-told story."
She says the movie is “in love with its characters” and “Opera is a crucial touchstone for the film." She also notices the films many binaries:
“The gender roles in Moonstruck are very old-fashioned, defined by a strict sense of what it means to be a man or a woman, with little room in between. The film also draws a distinction between the high-class digs of Manhattan and the working-class Italian American neighborhood of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, where Loretta lives.
Even David Watkin’s cinematography (some of my favorite in film history) draws sharp contrasts between light and shadow, particularly in the interior scenes.” Also, “These are people trapped by their own polarities. Things are either right or they are wrong, and luck is either good or bad.”
And again, there’s mention of the can kicking:
“The sequence that is perhaps the film’s quietest and most beautiful, lit with understated precision by Watkin and featuring Loretta kicking a can down the street as she makes her way home after a passionate night with Ronny, notably takes place at dawn, one of those very liminal realms.”
And talks about New York City’s role in the movie, especially Carroll Gardens,
“Likewise, the opera itself becomes a kind of window into another life for Loretta, who falls in love both with the art form and with Ronny seemingly at the same time. Jewison and Shanley structure the film to build to what amount to arias for every character. The dialogue is naturalistic, but in that old-Hollywood way, where everybody is just a bit cleverer than they might be in real life. (They always know just what to say in an argument, at least.) The film is endlessly quotable without ever feeling quippy, and even its most famous line—'“Snap out of it!'”
Caity Weaver then did a piece called "Cher Everlasting" for the New York Times Magazine:
Some notable quotes:
"As stay-at-home orders began creeping inward from the coasts in March, people were drawn, with tidal force, to 'Moonstruck.' Search data from Google Trends indicate interest in the film remained unusually robust throughout 2020, compared with the waxing and waning search cycles of previous years. In April, New York Magazine’s entertainment website, Vulture, anointed “Moonstruck” the “Morbid Spaghetti Rom-Com We All Need Right Now.” The movie trended on Twitter on a fluke Wednesday in June. By the time summer hit, the Criterion Collection was working to release a digitally restored edition of “Moonstruck” in time for the holidays…. moments of happenstance the movie portrays so enchantingly; without relying on the explicitly supernatural, it conveys a feeling of magic, like sparks cast into winter darkness by a staticky blanket."
"The film constructs scenes of normalcy with a fetishist’s care. The semipermeable privacy of a table for two in a crowded restaurant; the afternoon-devouring nature of insignificant errands; the frequent entrances and exits of extended relations…"
"The most realistic aspect of all is, improbably, Cher, who slips into the role of Loretta with such quiet efficiency that certain moments — a scene in which she buys $11.99 worth of Champagne, for instance — play almost like documentary footage."
"To appreciate the scale of the central miracle of this film — the Loretta Castorini-ty of Cher...You see a woman who talks with her hands in a way entirely different from Cher, who also talks with her hands. Loretta’s hands grab her words by the lapel, are centimeters away from strangling them; Cher’s hands run through her words like water. You see a New Yorker the way New Yorkers are in real life: polite until threatened or delayed, unflappable in the face of screaming strangers, brisk, sentimental, assumed to be Italian.
The chasm between Loretta and Cher was the point, for her. “Dowdy” was not a state of being Cher experienced outside major film productions, where costumers and hair and makeup artists were hired for the unnatural task of dressing Cher down. In an interview published in 1987 in The Los Angeles Times, Cher, from the set of “Moonstruck,” explained that she preferred playing the head-down gray-haired pre-makeover Loretta to the carefree raven-tressed prancing version immortalized on the film’s poster."
“'Moonstruck' is a film that never winks at its audience; it seizes them in a firm embrace, kisses them on both cheeks and forces them to sit down and eat something. As a result, people hold back tightly to it, whether they first encountered it in the theater, as a VHS tape, on Hulu or on DVD. Coming across it is like finding a dollar on the sidewalk."
There are also hours of great extras on the Blu-Ray. I don’t have time to highlight everything interesting but there are hours of them including:
+ Cher talking about the film at an AFT screening double header with Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night. Leonard Maltin introduces her with some comments about the film, including the fact that the 1980s were not a high mark for RomComs. Cher tells some funny new-to-me stories. She calls Danny Aiello a “big baby.” She talked about rehearsing with Robert Camilletti and being "the unknown factor." She told a funny story about the cinematographer with narcolepsy. She calls it a "great movie."
+ There’s some really good, very generous extras with John Patrick Shanley talking about writing, one from July 2020 and an audio interview from 1989. He talks about how his writing education evolved, how the script came to be as a requested vehicle for Sally Field and how it ended up with Norman Jewison. He even breaks down the scripts major influences. He talks about how characters come to be, how you need to give characters room to be or not be the hero. He says neither Cher nor Cage wanted to do the long snow scene. He says he needs to write fast. He starts with the geography of the place and some characters and sees where they want to go. With this movie it was the family house, the neighborhood restaurant, the woman in her mid-30s, the professor. Shanley saw himself in the pragmatic mother and his father in the grandfather.
+ Cinema scholar Stefano Alertini talking about Puccini's La Boheme and the role of opera in the movie and how Puccini was the "father of the modern movie soundtrack." He also talks about the Italian and Italian-American ideas about death and the presence of death in daily life. And the pride of opera for Italian-American immigrants.
+ A Norman Jewison interview right after the Oscar nominations that year were announced (Moonstruck got 6). Some interesting comments about Cher using Moonstruck crew to film a new video "We All Sleep Alone" with choreographer Kenny Ortega. The interviewer is a bit condescending about Cher. Jewison talks about the economics of Oscar nominations and John Huston as his role model. He talks about choosing the cameramen for the story. One of them says, "It's hard to imagine Cher being any hotter" meaning more popular not smoking hot. Jewison talks about her persona and charisma.
+ Very brief Today Show interview with Cher and Nicholas Cage which highlight the outdoor scene at the Met. Cher talks about how comedy is harder than drama. She says because of the spontaneity required.
+ In the interview with Danny Aeillo, he calls Cher a "gifted actress" and a “great person” and has a funny story about them filming the scene though the tunnel to the airport and they both fell asleep. He said behind the scenes, without makeup, she was a different person, nothing like her public persona. He also talked about how nervous he was about doing comedy and how Jewison was the first person to take that chance with him. He called the final kitchen scenes one of the most difficult scenes he's ever done. Like opera and the Italian family, the movie is heightened reality he says, showing arguing as an art.
+ I feel like I remember the 2006 program "At the Heart of the Italian Family" from the first DVD special release. You can see a funny picture of Cher's glam headshot here. "Cher is called an "extremely realistic grounded actress" with "great beauty and value...anchored to the earth." Cage was called a "tormented" actor. It's also said Cher picked up the Italian accent easily because she was a musician/singer. Someone calls the kitchen the center of the Italian family, "the table is God," the "heart of the family." Shanley calls Moonstruck" the golden pavilion of his magical cities."
+ There’s also a new documentary about the film score by Dick Hyman and how the first viewing didn’t get any laughs because the opening opera music didn’t signal that the movie was a comedy and how all the characters had operatic roles. Cher was the Soprano. Cage was the tenor. Olympia was the contra-alto. The bass baritone was Danny Ailleo and the grandfather was the Greek chorus. Every character has an aria.
Everyone said Cher was great to work with.
I'm always surprised this was a hit movie, because it has an art-house or foreign-film feel. It's why I enjoy it anyway.
That's all for now. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. 2020 WTF.