This title’s from an instrumental on the Beach Boys’ 1966 Pet Sounds album; to present it, this clip's from a 2016 performance in Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour (over 100 dates throughout most of 2016-2017). Al Jardine’s the only other original Beach Boy in this band, wandering around the stage in the clip but seemingly not playing on the song, appropriate because most all of the instrumentation on the original album was done by a group of famous L.A. studio musicians (a documentary about them called The Wrecking Crew [Denny Tadesco, 2015; review in our April 2, 2015 posting] includes footage of those Pet Sounds sessions), although Brian played more on this record than the rest of his famous bandmates, mostly providing their individual vocals.
Review by Ken Burke
Love, Gilda (Lisa D’Apolito)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): As I always tried to note about documentaries, it’s hard to know what might constitute a spoiler for any given reader because most of what you’ll see in the film is likely already available in a number of sources (especially about someone who’s been dead for almost 30 years; even more especially if that someone’s already left us with most of what we see in the film within the written autobiography published just after her untimely demise) so I really don’t know what I can flag in the more-detailed-account just below to designative elements possibly distracting for those who’d like to see this well-made, impactful cinematic biography without ruined surprises (my apologies to anyone who’s bummed out by my review before seeing this charming film; to help sooth your sensibilities I've included my usual boilerplate spoiler warning process also just below, even though I haven't used that tactic at all this time—but maybe you won't notice). Basically—mostly in chronological order—we follow the life of comedian Gilda Radner from her upbringing in Detroit to a brief stint at the U. of Michigan, to a skip-college/move-to-Toronto-with-a-lover decision, to work with the Toronto Second City cast, to a career-defining-move to NYC for the National Lampoon Radio Hour, to her national breakthrough of immense stardom as an original member of the Saturday Night Live cast in 1975, to the challenging years of the 1980s where a few failed movies, a very successful marriage to Gene Wilder, and her sad death from cancer brought an early end to a life easily filled with great potential never allowed to reach its zenith. Much of what we encounter in Love, Gilda comes from her extensive diary entries and audio recordings in support of her own life-story-book, It’s Always Something, with a good bit of testimony from many familiar faces but mostly the memories and thoughts of Gilda herself, warmly helping us remember her even when mixed with melancholy facts of her now-long-ago-departure.
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
In my last posting (9/26/2018) I offered you a review of Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore) in which I used my standard structure of What Happens, So What?, and Bottom Line Final Comments because I felt there was enough complexity in the varied contents of that narrative (arguably unconnected for some of us, effectively linked by contextual resonance for others) for me to use that usual Two Guys critical approach; however, with Love, Gilda (simply taken from how she signed off various correspondences) I’m back to what would have to be seen as my likewise-usual-method with documentaries where I respond to them as a whole either because there’s just too much multiple-perspective-detail from the standpoint of a specific time period to keep clear in trying to follow point-to-point what’s on screen or because the sense of the whole is always there, simply illustrated by individual moments, which is how I perceive Love, Gilda: this film is intended to constantly verify what an endearing presence Radner was for just about anyone who was ever in contact with her while peeking behind her personal curtain to see the constant inner turmoil pushing her to be “on” most of the time, for the benefit of others as well as verifying a sense of self-purpose. In this film we’re treated to an abundance of personal insights from Gilda herself—extensive diary entries augmented with audiotape recollections, complied for the autobiography she wrote, It’s Always Something (1989), in clear awareness of her impending death from cancer just before her book was released. This wealth of confession gives a unique perspective on its subject as we’re treated to how she saw herself (filled with honest doubt along with pride at what she’d accomplished in her deadly-disease-shortened-life) instead of being mostly a parade of what others thought of her. We get a good bit of that as well (not as much as we might like from her former Saturday Night Live castmates—Laraine Newman's provided a good bit of testimony-time but there are minimal remarks from others of that era—yet, keeping the outside commentary to concise inserts probably makes this almost-90-minute recap of Radner’s life more effective rather than padding it with extensive-but-redundant-memories or extended versions of her SNL sketches [which I’ll offer a bit of below, in case you need to see those comedic characters in fuller context]).*
*Let me also admit one of my primary intentions in choosing this film to review this week was to “go away for awhile” from the intense partisan politics currently straining the stability of cultures worldwide but especially in the U.S. where ongoing debates on the propriety of Judge Brett Cavanaugh to be confirmed for the Supreme Court boiled over last week during the televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, both with the defiant testimony of (admitted-beer-aficionado) Kavanaugh and the unseemly diatribe of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), excoriating his Democratic colleagues for the manner in which the judge was being held accountable for alleged sexual misconduct in his youth. Maybe others of you—in the U.S. or around the world (as other countries deal with their own miseries from social divides over immigrants coming from Third to First World, political controversies over Presidential voting, natural disasters causing horrendous deaths and destruction, wars continuing their devastations)—are ready to keep consuming a steady diet of all this trauma, but after having to immerse myself in Moore’s unsettling attacks on Donald Trump and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder last week, then the Kavanaugh spectacle just after I got that previous review posted, I wanted to see something more life-affirming (even when death’s involved), so I consciously sought out Love, Gilda as representative of the short-term-break we could all use during this suddenly-allowed-FBI-exploration into charges against Kavanaugh, hopefully allowing all the public heat around his topic to cool a bit, even temporarily—assuming the investigation's done thoroughly. (Besides, as I note farther below, I had another selfish reason to get this material posted earlier than usual—even as I hope the FBI investigation drags out as long as possible—although personal trauma may be on the horizon on Wednesday night anyway as my beloved Oakland Athletics baseballers take on the mighty New York Yankees in a sudden-death-elimination-Wild-Card-game to see who moves on in the annual march to the World Series. All I can hope for is “Let’s Go, A’s!” as a birthday present for my wife, Nina [they won the American League Western Division on her birthday in 2012, last game of that season, so maybe there's magic again in 2018].)
Love, Gilda certainly provides all of the necessary biographical details on Radner’s life, although what’s I’m summarizing here is augmented a bit from other sources because the film does speed along from one main topic to the next at times, not dwelling on a lot of specific dates, associated events, and extensive testimony from others sharing those events with Gilda. In terms of historical facts, she was born in Detroit in 1946 (we get lots of family photos, home movies); had a marvelous relationship with her father who proved to be a regular, willing audience for her living-room-entertainments but the source of deep trauma after he died of a brain tumor when she was just 14 (adding to her other childhood challenge of turning to food to ease her emotional insecurities, leading to a doctor putting her on diet pills at the tender age of 10, despite which she continued to suffer eating disorders into adulthood); spent some time at the U. of Michigan in Ann Arbor majoring in drama before putting college aside to run off to Toronto with Jeffery Rubinoff, one of many lovers prior to her marriage to G.E. Smith (1980-’82), who’d end up for many years as SNL’s bandleader/guitarist; while in Toronto she performed in Godspell (with Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and Paul Schaffer) then joined Toronto's Second City comedy troupe, working with Dan Aykroyd and boyfriend Brian Doyle-Murray among others, until John Belushi encouraged her to come to NYC (here the film diverges from other sources: what’s briefly noted in Love … is an invitation to join the cast of National Lampoon’s off-Broadway Lemmings, a satire of the Woodstock generation;* yet, I find no evidence of her ever being in this play, although she worked for awhile [1973-‘74] with Belushi, Doyle-Murray, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Christopher Guest on the National Lampoon Radio Hour); her success with Lampoon resulted in her being the first chosen cast member for SNL in 1975, leading to 5 years of national fame before all the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players left the show, looking for new opportunities, although she’d already found a warm reception to her 1-woman-Broadway-production, Gilda Radner – Live from New York in 1979.
*While living in NYC in 1973 I saw National Lampoon's Lemmings at Manhattan's Village Gate starring people I’d never heard of including Belushi, Chase, and Guest; I enjoyed it immensely but, ironically, neither the faces nor the names of the leads stuck with me (see, memories can be selective, especially when there’s no particular reason for seemingly-insignificant-details to be retained) when they all came to fame later. All I really remember is a parody of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young’s “Woodstock” as “Lemmings Lament” sung by Freud, Pavlov, Adler, and Jung ("We are lemmings We are crazy" [this link also contains a Bob Dylan parody song, "Positively Wall Street']).
However, while others such as Chase, Aykroyd, Murray, and Belushi (prior to his death in 1982) enjoyed varying levels of success in that era, primarily (for me) in movies, especially Foul Play (Colin Higgins, 1978), Animal House (John Landis, 1978), The Blues Brothers (Landis, 1980), the several National Lampoon Vacation movies (beginning with Ramis, 1983), Trading Places (Landis, 1983), and Ghostbusers (Ivan Reitman, 1984), with Murray continuing a cinematic career well into our time (Groundhog Day [Ramis, 1993], Rushmore [Wes Anderson, 1998], Lost in Translation [Sofia Coppola, 2003]), Gilda would never be as big as she’d been on SNL (especially after winning an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in Variety or Music in 1977 for her work on that series).**
**In case you need a refresher on—or if you haven't known Radner’s iconic SNL characters—here are some examples featuring Gilda as the hearing-impaired, often-confused Emily Litella (1:20, 1976; before it finishes you get an option of watching more SNL clips), Baba Wawa (3:35, 1976; parody of Barbara Walters interviewing Henry Kissinger [Belushi]—again, more clip options at the end), Roseanne Rosannadanna (4:52, 1978; TV opinion piece on quitting smoking—and many other topics—followed by options of other Radner clips), love-struck-teen Lisa Luptner (8:22, 1978; with Mom [Jane Curtin] and boyfriend Todd [Bill Murray, Radner’s actual liaison at the time, despite his situation of having another girlfriend] on prom night, also offering options of more clips).
Unlike the hilarious scenes noted just above, though, Gilda’s life went through major ups and downs after 1980, with the first set of downs focused on movies that never connected with audiences and critics the way those of her male former-SNL costars did (duds of hers include Hanky Panky [Sidney Poitier, 1982], The Woman in Red [Gene Wilder, 1984], Haunted Honeymoon [Wilder, 1986]), followed by the ultimate downer, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 1986. The ups, though, involved instant romance with Wilder* (they met while co-starring in Hanky Panky, soon bringing an end to her union with G.E., followed by marriage to Gene in 1984), along with initial remission from cancer following surgery (nothing seems off-limits for home-movie-documentation in Love, Gilda including footage of her time in the hospital) and a celebratory appearance in 1988 on Fox TV’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Sadly, the cancer returned in late ’88, she died on May 20, 1989. She comes alive again—in a sense—through her copious presence in Love, Gilda with all of her commentary from various personal notations, some read by others on camera (such as more current SNL personalities Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Cecily Strong, to give Radner a contemporary connection to younger audiences in that these stars are awed by her accomplishments but didn’t know her personally—although we do get some memories from SNL producer Lorne Michaels and Radner’s long-time-friend Martin Short) plus many statements recorded by Radner herself, making it feel at times as if she’s narrating from beyond the grave, just like Joe Gillis (William Holden) tells us the story of his later life via voiceover in Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) even though we first see him floating dead in Norma Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) swimming pool. Yet, neither of these posthumous narrations evokes the tragic demise of the speakers because we've become so engaged with what they share with us.
*His soaring career also found its height by 1980 (then went on a slow decline) with his memorable roles in The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967), Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971), Blazing Saddles (Brooks, 1974), Young Frankenstein (Brooks, 1974—my favorite of both their filmic outputs), Silver Streak (Arthur Hiller, 1976), Stir Crazy (Poitier, 1980); while he never achieved such grand results again he continued to work as an actor or author almost until his death in 2016. As a tribute to his former wife he helped found the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in L.A. along with Gilda’s Club, a system of community centers helping cancer-sufferers and their families.
Another magical aspect of Love, Gilda is how D’Apolito shifts from simply panning across pages from Radner’s diaries to starting with an essentially blank screen onto which some words from these passages dissolve into place, followed by others matching the narration as if these crucial thoughts from their author are summoned back to us by an oracle, again emphasizing the presence of our cinematic subject rather than just getting more second-hand-opinions, especially because of those others we’d most like to hear from we know Wilder’s not with us any longer either while Murray refuses to talk publicly about his time with Radner (see the director’s interview in the Related Links section far below). My only “problem” with Love, Gilda is settling on a rating because I was moved by it but also felt it gave me just what I expected in such a biography, with the main surprise being all of those autobiographical inclusions. Ultimately, gut feeling won out over constrained snobbery so I went with 4 stars but others allowed similar restraints to kick in a bit (Rotten Tomatoes reviews are 86% positive [but just 65 of them, minimum coverage for RT]; Metacritic’s average score is 74%) while many potential viewers have little option to even see what I’m talking about because after 2 weeks in release for domestic (U.S.-Canada) theatres only 108 of them are showing Love, Gilda resulting in a paltry-box-office-result (so far) of only $416 thousand, indicating to me a hesitancy to market this film to the usual movie audiences who might think of her as being mostly from their grandmother’s generation (which I understand, being almost 71 myself) so in a way it’s a shame it took so long for this film to emerge, given its primary material (except the current testimonials) has been available (if not sought after) for almost 30 years (admittedly, there was an earlier TV movie about her life, Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something [Duane Clark, 2002], but I know nothing about it [except it’s a docudrama where actors portray many of the people noted in Love, Gilda, Jami Gertz as Radner], I can find little reference to or review of it, not even available on Netflix), so maybe if we’d had something like this much sooner Gilda’d be better remembered by more than just old farts like me and channel-surfers who stumbled upon decades-ago-SNL-reruns.
But some of us do remember this delightful entertainer, with the song I’ve chosen for my standard thematic-wrap-up-device of a Musical Metaphor being one that immediately came to mind after seeing Love, Gilda: Frank Ifield’s 1962 version of “I Remember You” (written in 1941, melody by Victor Schertzinger, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, first used in the movie The Fleet’s In [Schertzinger, 1942], sung by Dorothy Lamour; Ifield’s rendition’s on his 1964 Frank Ifield’s Greatest Hits album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQF-VsbMfDA, a simple video enhancing the song with images of old 45 rpm records, reminiscent of all the family photos, Polaroid shots, and other memorabilia used to illustrate this sweet, touching Radner documentary. These lyrics are most appropriate to Wilder reminiscing about his lost love (although he did marry again after her death as men often do), but for many others of us who followed Gilda faithfully in those early, insane years of SNL I think we could agree that when “the angels ask [us] to recall The thrill of it all [Gilda would certainly be among those recounted when we] tell them I remember you.” Toward the film's start we get a statement from Gilda, something to the effect of “Early on I realized I’m not a perfect example of my gender so I focused on entertaining others.” I hope any woman (or man) who hears (or reads) this will discard notions about any sense of perfection for any gender so that more energy can instead be put toward appreciation of the wonderful human being Gilda Radner was, an inspiration to all of us both for her abilities and her determination to rise above her inner and outer limitations, doing the best she was able against what she faced, conquering her fears as best she could throughout her shortened life, bringing so much joy to so many who appreciated her enormous talent and love.
My original plan for this posting was to continue the light-hearted-mood (acknowledging death from a horrible disease is no laughing matter, but focusing on the context of humor and sweet remembrance in Radner’s biographical movie gives us such fond memories of her) by offering brief comments on the new comedy Night School (Malcolm D. Lee), especially because I appreciate the humor of Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart (although I know them both mostly from media coverage of their fame or trailers of their films, with Girls Trip [Lee, 2017; no Two Guys review as I finally saw it on HBO—or wherever—long after its release] for her, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle [Jake Kasdan, 2017; I think I saw that one on an airplane ride] for him being how I’ve witnessed them best on screen). However, upon checking the critical consensus for Night School to find it gathered only 30% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes along with a surprisingly-higher (but still not very supportive) 43% average score at Metacritic I decided to save my money (even though Mondays are bargain days for seniors like me at my local theater) and time (in order to get this done before Wednesday, my normal posting day/night in order to be free for celebrating my marvelous wife, Nina’s, birthday [no age divulged, but as 71 creeps closer to me let’s just say I’m still a bit older than she is]). However, a good number of supportive audience members chose to make this movie become the domestic-box-office-champ last weekend ($27.3 million, plus another $5.9 million in international sales) so it’s proven its power with viewers not as swayed as I am by critical responses (and doesn’t need me for any help), successfully making back its $29 million production budget while providing extensive exposure (3,010 domestic screens) for its stars. If you’d like to know more you might want to visit the official site and/or the trailer (honestly, another reason confirming my decision to skip it), so I can’t really offer a Musical Metaphor for Night School, but I can run a couple of upbeat songs for you—just to help with this posting’s distraction from current events—by getting us back to where we started with the Beach Boys and their concert-ending-coupling (from their show at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on June 1, 2012—one Nina [an Oakland-born California girl] and I [a Galveston-raised faux-surfer-boy] joyfully attended, part of their 50th anniversary-as-a-group-tour, with all the primary members either live [Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnson, David Marks] or back-to-life-on-video [Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson]) of “Barbara Ann” and “Fun Fun Fun” (former on the 1965 Beach Boys Party! album, latter on 1964's Shut Down Volume 2), or, if you’d prefer, here’s just the foundational 5 just having big “Fun …” at a March 1964 show.
But, before you go, because I’m not reviewing a comic movie as I intended to do I’ll leave you with the funniest thing I’ve seen in the last week (although I know there are many who wouldn’t agree)—taking us back again (just like my circular tactics with the Beach Boys) to the realm of Gilda's strongest source of fame—the opening skit from the September 29, 2018 SNL broadcast (13:04) with Matt Damon in a satire on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent testimony before that Senate committee, which must have been a pleasure for the show’s writers because they really didn’t have to add or exaggerate too much on the actual event. Since the skit aired there’ve been complaints about using Damon, given he’s not been as forceful as many would prefer in his own comments about alleged or admitted sexual improprieties by various well-known-media-figures (especially long-time-friend Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother); however, while I see the validity of such concerns, in my mind at least (warped as it may be), this cluster of mixed-feelings about Damon makes him even more appropriate to portray Kavanaugh because those who have hostile attitudes toward Damon can easily channel them into similar negative responses about the growing allegations against this would-be-member of the Supreme Court while those not currently upset with Damon can just appreciate the parody he brings to this fiery/choked-up testimony (which may be fully sincere in the real testimony but seemed awfully calculatedly-rehearsed to me), undermining the attempted-spontaneity of the judge’s self-presentation. So, I’ve gotten us back to the infamy of current politics after all while attempting to avoid it (until I can't), but if you don’t care for the clip choice (or my left-wing-sympathies) just join Judge K. in another beer (maybe if he doesn’t make it to the top court he can become a spokesman for Budweiser) until everything feels like “fun, fun, fun” again. (As long as any fun is totally, clearly consensual; can we all accept that as a standard operating procedure?)
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Love, Gilda:
https://www.lovegilda.com (click the little box in the upper left of the link to access more details at this site)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DnvCbhcp9M (36:55 interview with director Lisa D’Apolito and assistant director/associate producer Nina Guzman [Nina’s not framed too well at first but soon corrected] explaining how much of the massive archival materials had become damaged, needed to be reconstructed through tedious work or replaced by other, similar elements from other archives)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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