The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the hot tub. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.
If this were a Joan Crawford movie she’d have given him the damn gold cigarette case by now.
Portrait of John Wilson by Sasha Gusov. Crawford goes Liebestod in Humoresque (Warner Bros, 1946). I go here.
Cantara, former ASCAP solfeggist and 70s porn actress turned screenplay writer, has fallen hopelessly in love with a man at the other end of the world, an English, middle-ranking orchestra conductor—who plays, on the side, Golden Age of Hollywood music and The Great American Songbook—by the name of John Wilson.
The Queen of Heaven smiles upon you, John. I have it on good authority.
Not because he’s a fellow creator (he doesn’t create, but reconstructs, orchestrates and arranges the music of others)—not because of his looks (he’s peaky, scrawny, blinky; his gray-green eyes lack luster; he’s got a facial tic, lousy posture, enormous feet, the limbs of a stick insect and the hands of a hod carrier; his nose is an equilateral triangle; his famous cleft chin, supposedly his best feature, always looks slightly askew; his ultra-short mousy hair can’t conceal the fact he’s already going gray; he sweats like a stevedore on the podium; and for the past few years he’s taken to wearing geek glasses)—and certainly not for his intellect (his fatuous pronouncement about the needlessness of lyrics in The Great American Songbook makes me want to smack the back of his head like the whippersnapper he is and send him home with a note).
So what is it about him?* I’ve only been aware of his existence since 30 April and in love with him since 4 May, 2018; since then my feelings have been an insane mixture of tenderness, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The tenderness I understand: I’ve spent enough time in Hollywood to understand the position he’s in… As far as gratitude, read “The Trolley Song: BBC Proms 2009″. Even the raging lust I get.
But whenever John gets himself in the way of the music it drives me nuts. It’s crystal clear to me the times he does this because I’m in love with him, dammit, and because he’s a musician I pay attention to the music. Truth to tell, the only times John really gets himself in the way are when he’s conducting his own hand-picked group which is dedicated mostly to music from Golden Hollywood & The Great American Songbook, and cannily named The John Wilson Orchestra.
Whether he gets himself in the way indeliberately or on purpose I cannot entirely tell, but I’m starting to. With a little patience he isn’t that hard to read, my bonny John Wilson. After countless times listening to his recordings and broadcasts; pouring over his interviews; watching him conduct (in video clips, mainly from the annual BBC Proms); watching him conduct other orchestras besides his own (ditto); and, most important, learning to separate the showman from the musician, I’m starting to understand his type of intelligence and his musical capability, which is actually pretty sizable. His ear (the way he hears things, not his purported perfect pitch) is intriguing and his industriousness is admirable. I am definitely not buying into the PR excess—he is not “a superstar”, “a guru”, “charismatic”, “legendary”, “a conducting icon” or, God help us, as proclaimed by the BBC, “the nation’s favorite” (!!!). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.
* Update 10 August 2019: I’ve just read up on what it is about him, and now I’ve got science to back me up. It’s John’s fault.
Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:
JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS
Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:
All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny…
Give a Girl a Break (trailer here) is a US 1953 musical comedy film starring Debbie Reynolds and the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion. Helen Wood, Richard Anderson, Kurt Kaszner and a young Bob Fosse have featured roles. At only 88 minutes, Give a Girl a Break shows residual elements of the big project it started out to be, with a passable score by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin, direction by Stanley Donen, and musical direction by Andre Previn.
Degree rule: You have to’ve personally worked with the person in the next degree. I worked with Damiano in his adult hit Linda; Damiano wrote and directed Deep Throat, which Helen Wood (as Dolly Sharp) was in; Helen Wood co-starred in the musical Give a Girl a Break, on which the musical director was Andre Previn; Previn worked on the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady with my beloved John Wilson.
Above Marge, Debbie and Helen: The overture to the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady, with John conducting The John Wilson Orchestra in his own arrangement of Andre Previn’s orchestration of the film score.
This past Daylight Savings (UK) weekend there was a sizeable rise in the number of visits to my blog, “I’ll Be Dead Before You Break My Heart”, and I attribute this directly to the kindness of some person/s in letting my beloved John Wilson know about that perfect screenshot of him at the Royal Academy of Music. Visitor #1 from the UK was particularly intriguing. Visitor #1 may have started clicking on my postings as early as Friday night, and was almost certainly the same person who came back for more the next night, Saturday, returning for three more hours on Sunday morning. What was most gratifying is that Visitor #1 actually seems to have taken the time to read my postings, especially my more thoughtful ones, the ones where I talk about John and his work in the Classical Repertoire. (Visitor #1 almost certainly was the one who also downloaded my memoir of the nutty Gyllenhaals, which was doubly gratifying.) Whether or not Visitor #1 is the #1 Reader I’ve yearned to capture for 2 1/2 years, I’m stoked, and I intend to go on writing, and writing better, for John’s sake—but also for The Old Man, Mamoulian‘s sake, who once told me, “Love with style, but also with a little sadness for the suffering involved.“
It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of his gig rather than as who you are, which is to say John Wilson. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching the pre-2013 Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.
No, I lie, it’s personal.
About ten, no, eleven years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My own son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.
So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask, truly stunned for a moment, and turned human, while MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely dislike the calculating little creep. MacFarlane’s an almost supernaturally gifted dealmaker, Stewie’s a pretty inspired animated character, and the guy seems to have a genuine fondness for the old styles…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard. If you could say that there’s such a thing as a Seth MacFarlane Tolerance Level, mine’s pretty low I guess.
Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset around here.
On another note:
As I said in an earlier post, I’m three degrees away from my beloved John Wilson with one particular MGM musical, Give a Girl a Break, as the bridge. But! I’m only TWO degrees away from the man I love with this MGM musical, Silk Stockings—from me to Rouben Mamoulian to Andre Previn to John.
Silk Stockings was adapted from the 1955 stage musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the film Ninotchka (MGM, 1939). It was directed by my old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, produced by Arthur Freed, and stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (who wound up as Mamoulian’s neighbor on Schuyler Road). Musical director was Andre Previn. It was the last movie my old boss Mamoulian, aka The Old Man, ever did (at 60—he died at 90), and “Stereophonic Sound” is one of the numbers on John Wilson+Orchestra’s 2014 Cole Porter album. But watch the clip instead. Janis Paige is the focus in this number but Fred Astaire at 58 is still a joy.
I don’t know what I’ve done to please the gods but this morning, somehow, I took a perfect screenshot of John conducting, while watching the (UK time) 7:30pm performance of the Royal Academy of Music (Finzi, Strauss). This I gladly release to the world. Only, people, if you let him know about this picture will you also let him know who took the shot?
Above perfectly rendered John: Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” (1983).
Gimadieva made her UK debut at the Proms with John and the John Wilson Orchestra in their program Hollywood Rhapsody, which included pieces by my favorite screen composer Bernard Herrmann. I’ve been a fairly knowledgeable fan of Herrmann since my teen years, but somehow I never got around to hearing the entire aria until—yes! yes! are you getting bored hearing this again?—I fell in love totally and completely with English conductor John Wilson and craved to hear all the music that he is part of. To my delight, he backed this brilliant singer well.
Above my beloved John making nicey-nice with a soprano for once: “O cruel!” (Salammbo’s aria) from the film Citizen Kane. Herrmann planned to write an entire opera based on this scandalous Flaubert novel but, daunted by the task, as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff before him, never got around to it.
And for good measure, here’s Gimadieva doing Donizetti’s “O luce di quest anima” with The Hallé the way I’d like to have sounded in my last trimester jury at music school.
Hosted by the Royal Academy of Music, this concert of their Symphony Orchestra, conducted by my beloved John Wilson, will be broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube from the Duke’s Hall, Friday, 23 October 2020, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. A link to the stream will be available here on YT shortly before the performance.
Above the San Francisco-based all-male choral group, Chanticleer: Gerald Finzi’s tuneful setting of English physician-poet Robert Bridges’s love poem to his wife, Joy.
My spirit sang all day
O my joy.
Nothing my tongue could say,
Only my joy!
My heart an echo caught
O my joy,
Tell me thy thought,
Hide not thy joy.
My eyes gan peer around,
O my joy,
What beauty hast thou found?
Shew us thy joy.
My jealous ears grew whist;
O my joy
Music from heaven is’t
Sent for our joy?
She also came and heard;
O my joy,
What, said she, is this word?
What is thy joy?
And I replied,
O my joy,
‘Tis thee, I cried,
Thou art my joy.
~Robert Bridges (1844-1930)
Here’s this weekend’s doddle before I finish and post my longer, scathing diatribe on Dorothy L Sayers. Yes Readers, I even have a bone to pick with the queen of snooty soooper-erudite classist-tainted romantic mysteries.
Mannix (1967-1975) was a long-running private-eye American TV show from the dynamo team of Geller-Link-Levinson. It was popular for several reasons, one being Mike Connors’s Hirsute Sex Appeal (here pictured); not to mention the show’s viscerally satisfying action scenes (Mister Beefcake gets beaten up a lot); its swingy, sexy theme composed by none other than Lalo “Mission: Impossible” Schifrin; and, not least, for Joe Mannix’s lovely secretary, Peggy Fair.
Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher) was a character very much in the tradition of capable cool-headed female helpmeets to the main investigator guy (think Della Street or Effie Perrine). In the mid-60s there was a bouquet of gorgeous black actresses in regular roles on prime time: Fisher; Diahann Carroll starring as Julia; and of course, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek. Not to mention there were frequent small-screen guest appearances by stage stars like Ruby Dee and Diana Sands and TV stalwarts like Mimi Dillard. And you know, looking back, I think I noticed these actresses particularly because they all reminded me of one particular black girl I had a crush on from her photos and her work, who’d died in the mid-60s only a few years after her historic stage triumph:
Above sweet Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), playwright, author of the seminal American stage drama, Raisin In the Sun: Lalo Schifrin’s tuneful syncopated 6/8 that’s the theme for Mannix, played by his orchestra.
Remembering the TV show Mannix also brings me back to something I quickly realized after moving to the Golden State: When you come to California, more sooner than later you will run into an Armenian. Heck, one of my first secretarial jobs in LA was for Tbilisi-born Rouben Mamoulian. Connors (1925-2017), who was born Krekor Ohanian in Armenian-strong Fresno, claimed to be a distant cousin of William Saroyan, author of The Time of Your Life and The Human Comedy, among other classic dramas of mid-20th century America.
Saroyan once made a memorable statement, “Wheresoever two Armenians meet, there is Armenia.” Which is something I’d like to apply to Filipinos as well.
Distressing to learn that John’s 5 November concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra has been cancelled. So as a small consolation, here’s John conducting this lovely and familiar Copland piece. Recorded on 13 November 2013 in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the Royal College of Music in London.
Originally drawn from music composed as incidental accompaniment to a play, Copland’s “Quiet City” has gained much more popularity as a concert work for orchestra.
John recorded this and other Copland standards for Chandos a couple of years ago but this rendition, performed by the next generation at RCM, is closer to my heart.
Anthony Burgess, my Number One Language Guy, was on Dick Cavett’s talk show late one evening during my first year at music school. The host had brought up the oft-told story of how Burgess, when in his 40s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told he would be dead in a year; consequently he returned home to England (he’d been in the civil service in Brunei) and was seized by a mania of writing that resulted in his completing a half dozen intriguing novels, all of which are still in print. Oh, and he didn’t die in a year. Referring to his name at birth—he was christened John Wilson, Anthony being his Catholic confirmation name and Burgess being his mother’s maiden name—Burgess commented, “We John Wilsons, we can be busy little beavers when we need to be.”
Dick Cavett and Anthony Burgess on my old B&W portable, a US knockoff made by the same company that cornered the 70s East Coast market in prepackaged noodle soup, Pho King. Above the interlocutors: A full audio recording of Burgess’s ’71 appearance on Cavett (the first half-hour) wherein he does an Ovaltine commercial as Shakespeare would have truly sounded.
Which is a remark that came to mind when I fell in love with John—my John, John Wilson the Conductor—and read how he spent 15 years transcribing the “lost” scores of MGM musicals, toting his Sibelius-programmed laptop around, listening to tracks in off moments, plugging in those thirds and fourths and damned glissandos as he heard them, passing on pub crawling or watching the telly to keep working on this gorgeous music…
First fruit of my beloved’s efforts: The MGM Jubilee Overture, which was performed for its 50th anniversary by The John Wilson Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 2004. (More information on the Overture plus tune credits here.)
Above my beloved John conducting this emotion wringer of a symphony: Barbirolli’s landmark 1958 recording with his own Manchester-based orchestra, The Hallé.
This is Stephen’s best movie, hands down. Whenever I think of Stephen and thinking of him raises my blood pressure remembering all the shenanigans he pulled on me, I also think of Waterland and (almost) all is forgiven between us, as far as I’m concerned.
That’s Lena Headey in her first screen role. Above Lena, Grant Warnock and Jeremy Irons: Carter Burwell’s gorgeous, haunting music from Waterland.
I’m not a huge fan of Graham Swift’s books, but I read his Waterland and Last Orders, and much prefer Last Orders as a novel but Waterland as a film, no matter how many trivial changes the screenwriter made. In Swift’s memoir there’s the amusing revelation that Steve got this assignment because although he was last on the list he was the only one available…yeah, that’s the Gyllenhaal Luck. Fortunately—really fortunately—Steve had with him a very good Director of Photography, Robert Elswit, and score composer Carter Burwell, whose music you can hear above.
I mentioned in another posting about his film work that “there’s a creepy, dreamy, nasty edge in almost all the sex scenes in Steve’s movies…” which certainly figures here. Not in the actual sex scenes between the teenage lovers, which are all lyrically rendered, but in that damn ABORTION SCENE in the woods, which never fails to get gasps from us females in the audience. Check it out. There’s a weird fairy-tale quality to this scene which is beautiful, but sooo the wrong tone.