FRIDAY, February 16 2018
“YOU ARE like a gorgeous serpent, insinuating yourself through the movie!”
That’s what somebody said to the great actress Patricia Clarkson on Monday night at the party following a Cinema Society screening of director Sally Potter’s pitch black comedy “The Party.”
Okay—that “somebody” was me. I know—but I couldn’t help myself. Clarkson does indeed glide through the movie, tossing off mildly uttered, straight-to- the-marrow insults and saying more with a mere roll of her eyes than other can actors can convey in two pages of dialogue.
I enjoyed this film so much, not the least of it was the brevity (71 minutes) and the evocative and necessary—to me–black and white cinematography. Speaking of brevity, the director, Ms. Potter told me that the entire shoot took a mere two weeks. Sure, all the action takes place in one London flat, and nothing explodes, crashes or requires excessive digital fiddling, but I found that timeline and economy still to be an extraordinary achievement.
“The Party” stars Kristin Scott Thomas, giving a celebratory dinner to mark her election as Britain’s new Minister of Health. Things swiftly go awry. Everybody’s got a problem or a secret; her husband (Timothy Spall) and a tight gaggle of friends (Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz, Cillian Murphy and the abovementioned Clarkson.)
The machinations, evasions and lies—over-the-top, theatrical and almost surreal—unravel swiftly. It’s a chamber piece that has the feel it originated onstage (it did not.) It’s satire with some neat observations on political and societal hypocrisies thrown in for good measure. This is a “real” movie, despite the deliberate absurdities; one that you have to watch and listen to. Every performance is delicious and spot-on.
“The Party” won’t change your life. You won’t ponder the fates of the various characters. But for just over an hour I lost myself in a rich, witty casserole, quickly devoured, totally satisfying.
AS FOR Patricia Clarkson, she has racked up about 90 acting credits since the 1980’s—including three memorable appearances on the New York stage (“House of Blue Leaves,” Eastern Standard” and “The Elephant Man”). She seems to have been in everything, from guest shots to TV films, to features to acclaimed series such as “House of Cards” and “Six Feet Under.” She is inevitably a stand-out, completely unique in manner, unerringly expert in delivery. She has been grossly under-awarded, in my opinion, although at least she has Oscar and Tony nods (“Pieces of April” and “The Elephant Man” respectively.)
In any case, she didn’t mind at all my comparing her to a serpent—a gorgeous serpent—and she was in a very merry mood, a mood that matched her flirty, fun dress, which was trimmed with feathers. “This is the most surprising thing,” I said to her. “You don’t seem like the feathers type.” She laughed, but didn’t comment on whether or not she was a feathery kind of woman in general. But she was pleased I noticed her trim. (I’m a feathery kind of guy—big surprise!)
“The Party” drew an eclectic mix to the Metrograph Theater, down on Ludlow Street, and the gathering that happened right upstairs. Among those on hand were Alan Cumming…Sergio Kletnoy…Ellen and Chuck Scarborough…Scott Gorenstein…Will Cotton…Mick Jones…Isiah Whitlock Jr…Arianna and Charles Rockefeller and the divine Kathleen Turner (Oh, if only I could repeat the conversation we had about somebody who attended Liz Smith’s memorial—such wicked fun!)
But the best encounter I had came early in the evening. Just as I was alighting from my cab, approaching the theater, I noticed a small blonde woman with a big pocketbook, also heading for the door. Although her face was in shadow, I caught a glimpse of an unmistakable profile—Debbie Harry, Blondie herself! We entered together. I introduced myself, and she sweetly pretended to remember we’d met at various events over the years and that I’d interviewed her and Chris Stein at one point. I told her again, as I had back then, how stunned I was when I saw her perform in concert—her voice was so pure and perfect that at first I thought she had to be lip-syncing. Debbie laughed and answered just as she had ten years ago, “Are you sure I wasn’t?” (She wasn’t. Believe me!) She also had the grace to mention Liz, “She was always so lovely to me, always wrote the nicest things.”
As much as I enjoyed the movie, the night could have ended right there with the living legend herself, the epitome of cool, wry, ironic sex-appeal and unparalleled excellence in her music; and a lovely person to boot.
I did have another conversation about Liz Smith, with the formidable and eternally glamorous columnist Cindy Adams. Cindy was talking to a younger woman and as the woman left, Adams playfully swatted her on the rump. “Cindy! I am going to have to report you, if that poor, traumatized girl doesn’t. Sexual harassment, Cindy! These are new days!” Cindy said she didn’t care.
Cindy asked how I was doing. I said fine, and added, “Liz adored you.”
“No she didn’t.”
“Cindy, she did!”
“No, she didn’t. I know more than you do!”
“Cindy, I worked for Liz for 36 years, I doubt you know nearly as much as I do. But seriously, she always spoke very well of your professionalism and glamour and tenacity.” (And that IS the truth.)
Adams mulled this for a second, and said, with a sly little smile, “Okay, I’ll take that!”
ENDTHOUGHT: This was a difficult column. Not because of its content. I simply didn’t want to write today. Whenever something terrible happens—something terrible that makes the news, because terrible things happen every day—I feel less than human, insensitive and foolish, writing up “entertaining” news.
Two things struck me most sadly about the school shooting in Florida. One—there is almost no shock or surprise. Whereas once you might sit in gaping horror at the TV—and in equal distaste at the crass news idiots trying to squeeze every ounce of graphic information out of witnesses and survivors–now you move on with the day—another mass shooting, as uniquely American as apple pie. Nothing is more horrible, more threatening to our souls, than a shrugging, hopeless acceptance of an evil that can be prevented.
But I was made most unhappy with the knowledge of how distinctly and terribly well-planned this attack was. It could be no mere happenstance that this act was committed on Valentine’s Day. This ancient holiday, this day of love, with its early religious and notably romantic origins will forever be an anniversary of horror for the families of those murdered. The word itself—valentine—which can occur anywhere at any time will bring it back, in all manner of mourning, agony and questioning.
Where are we? Where are we going? And must we continue on this road?
P.S. A huge admiring shout-out to Bess Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel. Kalb reacted to every Republican politician calling for “prayers” with a tweet showing exactly how much money this or that Senator or congressman accepted on behalf of the NRA. Brilliant! And a strategy Democrats should definitely employ this year, and in 2020. But nooooo…they will all continue pounding Russia, Stormy Daniels, the president’s hair, his literacy skills, etc. and pushing for impeachment.
However—and I never thought I’d write this!—people better listen to what reality TV creature and recent White House émigré Omarosa has to say about everybody so hot to unseat 45. Our current president might be a bad deal in many ways, but Mike Pence as commander-in-chief is a literally terrifying concept.