As a car-show widow for the last few days, I invited a friend over Monday night for dinner and a movie – “Bright Lights,” the Carrie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds HBO documentary that was rushed into release after you-know-what.
The film was just fine, an enjoyable tour through the past and present of both women, along with Fisher’s brother Todd, who comes across here as an amiable fellow who mostly escaped the family curse, but never learned it’s not appropriate to wear a baseball cap with black tie. The clan is (was) obviously close and loving, while at the same time a bit tetched in the head, as they say, but that’s showbiz. There’s marvelous, well-preserved archival footage of Carrie and Todd as children and teens, perhaps some of it from the famous MGM publicity apparatus. The various glimpses of magazine covers and newspaper clippings give younger viewers a hint of how ferocious that was at guarding and cultivating a very particular image of the various show ponies in the stable. The studio ran your life. Lots of people were happy it did. (As for me, I want to know where I can find the black-and-white dress Debbie wore in the birthday-party clips.)
Of course, the reality was as squalid as it appears to be now. Eddie Fisher not only left Debbie for the sexiest dish in town (Liz Taylor), he was shooting methamphetamine, which he referred to as “vitamin shots.” (It was very likely supplied by a studio doctor.) A brief scene of him at what had to be the very end of his life was painful to watch. And while the kids grew up with every advantage, as we like to say, it’s hard not to see how doomed they were, especially the pretty daughter called onstage at 14 by her mother to sing — we see a weird version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — as part of mom’s cabaret act.
Carrie Fisher was renowned as a great writer and wit, and the latter is on full display here. She’s also an interior decorator nonpareil, and I would watch another documentary where the camera just poked around her house for a while.
But people, I gotta tell you: If you wanted a clearer, more sobering case against a life of smoking, drinking and related drug abuse, you couldn’t do better than Carrie Fisher. That fresh-faced gamine who played Princess Leia was only a year older than me, but you could hardly see the plucky leader of the rebel alliance in anything but her quick wit. The smoky-lens eyeglasses seemed to be hiding something, her hair was thin (I know she took medication to stabilize her mental illness, and I know it has side effects) and her lovely face looked badly used by too much ill-advised plastic surgery. Required to exercise under the gaze of a trainer for a part in the latter-day “Star Wars,” she struggles on an elliptical like someone far further down the road. We often refer to Hollywood as the beautiful people, but there has to be a better way to grow older.
This seems a good place to drop in this wonderful moment from “Postcards From the Edge” – Shirley MacLaine in the closest thing to a Debbie Reynolds impersonation you’re likely to find on YouTube.
Just a bit of bloggage today: A useful, deeply reported profile of Jared Kushner from New York magazine. The family history alone is fascinating.
Finally, a simultaneously hilarious and infuriating piece by Neal Pollack on the trials of educating one (1) kid in modern America. At least if you aren’t wealthy:
The school gave him math homework where the first problem was “1-0,” even though he already knew long division. And his teacher sent home an information sheet that began “To many times, their are students who …”
We pulled him out after two weeks, instead enrolling him in a “progressive” charter school that was only a 15-mile drive from our house. This school, located in a former mental hospital at the edge of a toxic waste dump near the airport, was so radical that it didn’t have a principal. Parents ran everything. The cinderblock buildings didn’t get washed very often. Supplies were in short supply. They combined fourth and fifth graders into the same class, which led to bullying problems. We spent three hours a day in the car, hauling Elijah back and forth.
At the end of the first semester, in lieu of a Christmas concert, the students performed a winter solstice dance in the midst of a freezing, stick-strewn field, like something out of a Lars von Trier film. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “no more.”
The kids I tutor in the after-school program where I volunteer frequently work from typo-strewn materials, too. Charters, almost to a person.
OK, good midweek to all.