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Tag Archives: Luther Vandross

Weekly Mishmash II: October 31 – November 6

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). I’ll say it now: I buy too many cheap DVDs. Another Big Lots! markdown find was the Busby Berkeley vol. 2 set, four 1930s musicals for a cool nine dollars. These honestly aren’t the greatest movies ever made, but they are fun and brimming with fizzy vitality. Gold Diggers of 1937 was a new discovery for me; the film is actually a slight improvement over the mediocre ’35 edition. Although the songs were getting a bit stale and unmemorable at this point, director Lloyd Bacon lends a lively touch and the plot retains a bit of the Depression-era grit that the classic early ’30s flicks had. The plot deals with sassy chorines Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell teaming up with insurance salesman Dick Powell to write a policy on a flighty millionaire (Victor Moore) that will net them the huge landfall they need to mount a Broadway show. The only catch is that the man needs to die to get the money. Somewhat routine overall, but Blondell sparkles in the lead (and she has great chemistry with then-hubby Powell), and Berkeley’s climactic “All Is Fair In Love And War” number is suitably huge and impressive. The DVD also contains two cute Merrie Melodies cartoons based on the film’s tunes and some fascinating early color footage from 1929’s Gold Diggers On Broadway.
Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross by Craig Seymour. This biography was a cheap find at the grocery store (free with a charity donation). Since it was written just prior to Vandross’ death in 2005, the hopeful note it strikes at the end seems a bit off, but otherwise it was a good examination of one of contemporary R&B’s finest performers. Seymour recounts the singer’s life from his years as a shy and overweight but music crazy kid to being a consummate arranger and backup singer in the ’70s New York music scene to solo stardom and his never fulfilled quest for lasting companionship. The subject of Vandross’ covert gayness is constantly alluded to but never dwelt upon, which oddly comes out in the book’s favor. Even if his writing style tends towards the pat and simple, I liked Seymour’s restraint and his admiration of the subject is obvious. A sense of total professionalism defined Luther’s career, and yet I also found myself identifying with the man consuming himself with work as a way of avoiding personal relationships. Another thing he yearned for and never got was a number one pop hit single, which surprised me at first. After listening to a greatest hits package covering his 1981-94 output, though, clues emerged as to why that chart topper eluded him. Although his voice is smooth and among the best of that era, his arrangements lacked a certain spark. Probably the most valuable part of this book is the discography of not only everything Vandross recorded, but his production, arranging and backup singing duties for other artists as well (this continued well after he found success in his own right).
Splice (2009). Creepy, ultimately unsatisfying sci-fi scare tale with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as a pair of rogue scientists who create a new lifeform. Brody and Polley work at a firm splicing together animal DNA to make creatures that would aid in medical research; when they secretly decide to make something using their own DNA, a tiny reptilian emerges. The horrified Brody wants to kill it, but Polley sees it as their surrogate child and decides to wait and see how it develops. It rapidly matures into a weird woman/reptile hybrid, and that’s where the fun begins. Director Vincenzo Natali sets up an effectively moody atmosphere at the start, placing the characters in an underlit, grungy world similar to David Fincher’s work. Also working in the film’s favor are the two leads, whom I’ve liked in earlier stuff and are perfectly fine here. Unfortunately, the film takes a bizarre/creepy turn midway through and subsequently bogs down in cliché-ridden dialogue. Not to mention an ending that defines ridiculousness. At least the Brody/Polley apartment had some nice decor: