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The Suburbanite
  • PAGE STAGE AND SCREEN A few features based upon notable people worth looking at

  • Creating art based upon the lives of real people can be tricky business, particularly if the person telling the story is the story.  And, given that said attempts are at least based upon fact, perspective becomes the only reason to read, view or listen to more than one of them.

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  • Creating art based upon the lives of real people can be tricky business, particularly if the person telling the story is the story.  And, given that said attempts are at least based upon fact, perspective becomes the only reason to read, view or listen to more than one of them.
    This week’s Page Stage and Screen, however, brings a few worth giving a “new” look at or listen to. And all the better, each is available for free at your local Stark or Summit county library branch.
    Page  As he is one of the most recognizable — make that iconic — vocalists in American history, the story of Tony Bennett, told by Tony Bennett, is worth celebration. The first-person narrative “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Tony Bennett” (Harper, 2012) more than delivers the goods.
     As breezy, conversational autobiographies go, “Life” is pretty much everything a reader could ask for. Admirably steering away from a timeline-telling of his life, this is — as the title suggests — the story of Bennett’s philosophy on life. Including both drawings and Buddha-by-way-of-Brooklyn proverbs by the author, “Life” also captures an era when communication with the audience was key, from the perspective of one of its most prolific and profound voices.
    At 86, Bennett continues to school in that art of personal communication, with “Life” being a welcome addition to his curriculum.
    When the plain-spokenness of Bennett’s childhood memories runs up against passages such as those describing his surprise at a U.S. G.I’s reaction to his more “cutting-edge” jazz of the time (“They ate it up”), and advice given by Frank Sinatra (“It’s when you’re not nervous that you’re in trouble; if you don’t care what you’re doing, why would the audience care?”) it becomes an almost obvious epiphany that the voice of the-kid-from-Astoria, Queens and that of Tony Bennett-Superstar are truly one in the same.
    In other words, if given a chance to sit and rap with a music legend for 240 pages, how could one resist?
    Screen  As the look inside the artist as a man that it espouses to be, the film “Pollock” (Sony, 2000) falls a bit short. Performances from Amy Madigan,
    Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Marcia Gay Harden and Ed Harris, as leading Cold War-era abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, are all strong.
    But the real-life Pollock’s life as an artist was far more predictable (particularly in our current, post-reality TV reality) than was his wildly revolutionary, highly personal, and equally controversial paint-splatters-on-a-canvas art itself. From his mercurial rise to his death in a drunken driving accident at 44, Pollock’s history beyond the canvas was essentially proto-Behind the Music with a side of impasto.
    While the parts of “Pollock” that explore that artistic process, particularly in Harris’s able hands, are at times fascinating, the film eventually succumbs to reality — its exploration of the artist’s troubled relationships, battles with alcoholism and inability to reconcile his artist instincts with his growing commercial success covered in much more rote Hollywood fashion.
    Page 2 of 2 - Stage  It is arguable that a Sam Cooke performance could ignite romance between a pair of amoeba. “One Night Stand: Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963” (Sony, 2005) comes about as close to proving this hypothesis as any recording is ever likely to.
    Cooke would have turned 82 on Jan. 22, and the bizarre circumstances surrounding his shooting death in 1964 are still being questioned.  But this Jan. 12, 1963, performance, captured at the height of his career and less than two years before his death, finds Cooke in his most raw, real and hypnotic element.
    In front of an exuberant audience that instinctively performs its role as the extra band member, the grit, sweat, energy and — yes, soul — of Cooke practically drips from the recording.  With each of these qualities often overlooked in the slick, smooth, cosmopolitan image portrayed by Cooke to his public over the course of his all-too-brief career, “One Night Stand” stands as — ironically — an all-new look at the singer, for both the long-time fan and the uninitiated.
    Passionate performances of the famously familiar (“Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Having a Party”) share the stage with lesser-knowns such as “Feel It Don’t Fight It” and “Somebody Have Mercy” on a disc that accurately presents one of those increasingly rare “I remember Sam playing in 1963 at …” moments.
    The result is, one can assume, an equally accurate audio portrait of the real Sam Cooke — a simple man from Clarksdale, Miss., with a church-reared voice as real as the person in the pew next to you, yet somehow able to channel the angels.