ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

JER'S TURN: SINGERS/ MUSICIANS IN FILM- THE HITS AND MISSES

JER: After a weekend of watching some classic films on Labor Day-long television, including THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON with Errol Flynn and WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL with Doris Day and Brian Keith, it made me think of this generation of Hollywood stars and where they are coming from … or where they are going?

“Stars” was a term used to express a level of sophistication and studio priming to bring an actor to a certain level of publicity worth! They graced the covers of popular magazines, made big studio films, wined and dined in the most popular places to be seen and they were considered West Coast royalty.

Like the film industry, something got lost along the way… today’s actors do not have that level of respect and make it to a tabloid cover faster that the extend of their short- lived careers. Is talent so sparse that Hollywood opens its doors to the music industry for thespian assistance? It definitely has been the case for about 60 years… which now brings me to this week’s topic of discussion. I wanted to focus on the music industry’s gift of talented (or untalented) offerings that have had their hand in acting, including the hits and misses!

To begin with, I would like to recognize a handful of musicians/ singers who have successfully made the transition to respected actors amongst their peers, critics and the viewing audience.

ELVIS PRESLEY: Like it or not, the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ made a total of 31 films in his short lifetime… some were hits and some were definite misses… but the sum outweighed the limited talents. Eddie Murphy once joked that Elvis could just sing his dialog. The song hits kept coming and Elvis kept churning the movies out. He played an Army specialist (G.I. BLUES), a stock car driver (SPEEDWAY) and an innocent cowboy (CHARRO!). Was his acting chops considered a hit or a miss? Seeing that the King has been dead for over 30 years and is just as popular today as he was in his hay-day, well, I will leave that to your conclusion…

DAVID BOWIE: Ever since his grand debut in the 1976 cult classic, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, the ‘Thin White Duke’ has contributed his unique acting abilities in over 25 films. The native London boy has made a very distinctive nitch with a number of pop- culture favorites including the aging vampire John (THE HUNGER), Jareth the Goblin King (LABYRINTH), Pontius Pilate (THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST) and Andy Warhol (BASQUIAT). Like the characters that Bowie has played on stage between his embodiments of Ziggy Stardust and the Duke, his attention to details have translated to film when it comes to his acting abilities. This is a man who can do great music and great films… period!

DIANA ROSS: Although better known as Motown royalty, Ms Ross did dabble into the film industry and garnered much respect including a 1972 Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES. On the heals of her nomination, Ross would give a solid one- two punch with her following film as Tracy in 1975’s MAHOGANY. Sadly enough, attention was better spend in the studio instead of in front of the camera. Her unique take on Dorothy in the 1978 film version of the Broadway hit THE WIZ wasn’t considered a box office hit. A strong woman that only needed a few films to make her mark on the silver screen.
View this clip of Diana Ross from MAHOGANY

CHER: You may only remember her in her most recent return to film with the 2010 clunker BURLESQUE, but Cher’s career is longstanding with a number of solid performances that earned her a well- deserved Best Actress Academy Award for her 1987 portrayal of Loretta Castorini in MOONSTRUCK. I would want to bring your attention to such films as 1983’s SILKWOOD, 1985’s MASK, 1987’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK with honorable mentions towards SUSPECT and MERMAIDS. From her humble beginnings as a sidekick to Sonny Bono in the 1960’s, Cher would show strong legs by standing solo in the music industry and be taken as a serious actress in the decades to come. An interesting point to mention was that Cher was born in El Centro, CA…which is but a 10 minute drive from my hometown of Calexico, CA.

MARK WAHLBERG: Who can ever forget the one- hit wonder “Good Vibrations” when he was better known as Markey- Mark! Well, it would be but a few years later until Mark would drop the Markey and pull up his below- the- waist pants and begin an illustrious career as an actor. My attention was immediately caught in his chilling 1996 lead actor debut in FEAR. He would get added respect and recognition as the infamous Dirk Diggler in 1997’s BOOGIE NIGHTS. Personally, I would have had the pleasure of working with Wahlberg in 1999’s THE THREE KINGS. On set, Mark with a calm and cool individual who went out of his way to bring forth the best performance he could deliver. Other films worth mentioning are THE PERFECT STORM, THE ITALIAN JOB, THE DEPARTED and SHOOTER. Today, Wahlberg is not only a respected actor but a very successful television (HBO’s Entourage) and film (THE FIGHTER) producer.

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: Already having created a name as a songwriter in the late 60’s, Kristofferson would begin singing and performing his songs in the early 70’s. At just about the same time, he would star alongside fellow singer Bob Dylan in 1973’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID followed the male lead in director Martin Scorsese’s 1974 ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. Other late 70’s films would include A STAR IS BORN with Barbra Streisand and the truck driving Rubber Duck in CONVOY. 1980 would mark a controversial turning point by starring in director Michael Cimino’s disastrous HEAVEN’S GATE. The film would be responsible for the bankruptcy of United Artists. Kristofferson would continue work in television, but would make a comeback as the cult figure Whistler in the vampire BLADE series starring Wesley Snipes.
Here's a great music video to Kristofferson's CONVOY! 10-4!


WILL SMITH: ‘The Fresh Prince’ could probably never had believed how his acting career would had blown up after having appeared in the critically- acclaimed SIX DEGREES OF SEPERATION in 1993. Within the next few short years, the blockbusters would quickly follow. BAD BOYS, INDEPENDENCE DAY, MEN IN BLACK, BAD BOYS and I, ROBOT are just a small selection of films that has had Hollywood dubbing him “the million- dollar man." My personal favorite and highly recommended film: SEVEN POUNDS.

Other honorable mentions would go to DOLLY PARDON (9 TO 5, BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, STEEL MAGNOLIAS) and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE (ALPHA DOG, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, BAD TEACHER),

Here’s a look at some actors that should maybe stick to the music biz instead…

KEITH RICHARD: Only having just appeared in two films playing Captain Teague in THE PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN series. Jack Sparrow was better off not introducing us to his father. I have seen livelier Pirates in the Disney park attraction! Yo Ho that one!

L.L. COOL J: With appearances in TOYS (1992), DEEP BLUE SEA (1999), ROLLERBALL (2002) and SWAT (2003) it is safe to say that L.L. needs to stay out of making films and pick up the microphone again with another ‘rapper turned actor’ comes crawling out of the sludge.

ICE CUBE: I had much respect for what he presented in music during his N.W.A days…even d├ębuting in the very powerful BOYZ N THE HOOD in 1991! Having appeared in Walter Hill’s (48 HRS, THE WARRIORS) TRESPASS in 1992 and 1995’s HIGHER LEARNING, it would almost seem as if ICE’s career was going to continue climbing sky high. A turn towards the comedic FRIDAY series was well accepted, but some doubtful choices were made (ANACONDA, BARBERSHOP, ARE WE THERE YET?) starting creating a very soft, almost dumbed- down reflection of characters he was allowing himself to play.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA: It would be unfair to say that the Pop Princess show be judged by a single film, but BURLESQUE is that one film she elected to make her start with. I think she could develop to a much better actress if allowed to expand her horizons a little more…maybe more dramatic roles. Not a good start, Chris.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Great topic this week Jer and your line-up of musicians / film actors here is hard to beat. I do have a list of my own that I would also like to share with our readers in hopes to offer a larger array of talent to our segment this week. So, as they say.....Ladies first.

BARBRA STREISAND: is a slam-dunk winner in this category. From "Funny Girl" and "What's Up Doc" to films such as "Yentl" and "The Mirror Has Two Faces", Streisand has proved to me, time and again, that Hollywood has got her all wrong and that she will always have the last laugh. Her talent as a singer and performer are second to none and her knack for genuine and honest performances in front of the camera also remain at a high level. Unfortunately, "Meet the Fockers" was her most recent appearance on screen and that was duly forgetful.
Enjoy the trailer from YENTL starring and directed by Barbra Streisand

BETTE MIDLER likely would be next for me in the female category. Films such as "The Rose", and "Beaches" are definite stand-outs where she received an Oscar for the first, and performed the entire soundtrack to the latter.

Now, I must go with your on your selection of CHER. Here is a true diva that was not only Oscar worthy in “Mask” and “Moonstruck”, but her music has always been daring to the point of truly pushing the envelope. It is a shame that Cher has virtually disappeared from the screen over the past decade.

MADONNA is also worth mentioning. She was pretty decent in her roles in both "Dick Tracy" as well as "Evita" and although her singing ability probably outweighs her acting talents, both are noteworthy for the purpose of this discussion.

I must also agree with you on your selection of DIANA ROSS in this category, Jer - as "Lady Sings The Blues" was certainly the film that launched both her acting and singing career (post-Supremes) to another level giving her true "diva" status. As you mentioned, Jer, I highly agree that her role in "The Wiz" should also be marked as a career highlight on screen.

Honorable mentions in this category would go to: Judy Garland and Julie Andrews. I cannot make a case for Jennifer Hudson (singing talent is vastly overrated in this critic's opinion) or for Mariah Carey (her acting talent seems limited as well as the quality of her films......"Glitter"???)

Changing gears now, let's take a look at some of the “gentlemen" musicians who have blessed us with their screen presence.

Off the top, your selection of ELVIS PRESLEY, Jer, is an outstanding one that must be honored. His talents both on screen and as a musician for nearly three (3) decades are second to none. Films that immediately come to mind ranking among my favorites are: "Viva Las Vegas", and "Jailhouse Rock.” The mesh between Elvis and Ann Margaret cannot be stressed enough - pure excellence. Ann Margaret, by the way, is another who should be given at least honorable mention in our blog this week.
Here is a scene from the 1957 JAILHOUSE ROCK

CURTIS MAYFIELD was such a talent both musically and lyrically and cannot be overlooked for his work on screen especially in many of the black-sploitation films including the unforgettable and ever-funky "Superfly".

How can we not ride the bandwagon of DAVID BOWIE my good friend? The films you listed sums up his film career quite well, and this is a performer who is not only a pure talent as a musician, but an actor who I would really like to see re-surface in starring roles over the next 5-10 years.

FRANK SINATRA is a must on this list. As a singer, nobody ever has or likely ever will match his ability to transform a standard with such phrasing and class. As an actor, 'Blue Eyes was just magnificent. We often think of "Ocean's Eleven", but there were so many other roles where he shined including (but not limited to): "Pal Joey", "The Manchurian Candidate" and "The Joker is Wild". Perhaps I am a bit biased residing in Las Vegas and being a lover of this town's history, but Frank was more than a singer and an actor - he was the ultimate legend in performance.

Few people are really aware of how many songs that Kris Kristofferson was responsible for writing. His "Me and Bobby McGee" later performed by Janis Joplin probably takes the cake, but there were so many other hits. Remember the record that Travis Bickle purchased for Cybil Shepherd in "Taxi Driver"? Kristofferson is making a true comeback in film these days and his musicianship and lyrical talent influenced by Cash and Dylan have endured over the past four (4) decades. His performances in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (highly recommended by J. Chazz) and ”A Star is Born" (Streisand yet again) are unforgettable along with recent work with John Mellencamp and writer Stephen King (last week's blog.) Having recently watched "Bloodworth" was also a treat and the songs in that film are still inspiring and reminiscent of a tremendous career for this country / folk singer.

Now, this final list may sound like a bizarre combination, but I must give honorable mentions to: Dean Martin, Ice Cube and Willie Nelson for their roles as musicians to also make outstanding film appearances.

JER:  Honorable mention to Ice Cube? Why? As previously mentioned, the only film worth mentioning would be BOYZ N THE HOOD. Other minor mentions would be THREE KINGS and maybe FRIDAY… that is about it!

How could I have forgotten Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler? Frank Sinatra? Ugh… I cannot believe these names didn’t come to me automatically.

I will mention that I personally feel that Mariah Carey redeemed her GLITTER performance with her role in PRECIOUS. GLITTER is a very guilty pleasure of mine and I accept her as she is.

With Mariah Carey mentioned, I can say that there is a category I would create that I would call: MUSICIANS I WOULD ON THE FENCE ABOUT WITH THEIR ACTING CHOICES! So, let me bring you some last- minute selections I came up with…

JENNIFER LOPEZ: Great films like SELENA, U- TURN, OUT OF SIGHT, THE CELL and MONEY TRAIN will outweigh clunkers like GIGLI, JERSEY GIRL, MAID IN MANHATTAN and ANGEL EYES. The bad has been the late and the good is appearing to be more historic! Too bad…

JANET JACKSON: Great films would be POETIC JUSTICE and FOR COLORED GIRLS while some bad choices have included THE NUTTY PROFESSOR II and WHY DID I GET MARRIED? Can she act? Yes and she proved it early on in her career by doing television before making the transition to film. Does she need to make better choices? Definitely!

NEIL DIAMOND: Even though is only officially recognized for his role as Jess Robin in the 1980 remake of THE JAZZ SINGER, he also made an appearance as himself in the comedic SAVING SILVERMAN. Personally, I enjoyed THE JAZZ SINGER, but many Diamond fans didn’t and thought the film was an injustice to the original Al Jolson version. It was campy fun with a great soundtrack performed by Diamond.
A classic moment from THE JAZZ SINGER with Neil Diamond

We can keep squeezing the fruit for more juice but I will get is just the rinds! Is there anyone we left out that we need to recognize under this category? We are always open to your comments and suggestions. Please let us know what you think and we always look forward to bringing you great topics and discussions. Check in with us next week as we explore more unique and intriguing topics of conversation…as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Elvis was king both in the movies and on stage. There will never be another like him. He was definitely the best musician and singer to ever be in the movies. - Dan (Alameda, CA)

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