Vicky Cristina Barcelona & ‘Tis Autumn

Vicky Cristina Barcelona & ‘Tis Autumn featured image

Vicky Cristina Barcelona Woody Allen, director & writer. Starring: Scarlett Johansson (Cristina), Rebecca Hall (Vicky), Javier Bardem (Juan Antonio), Penelope Cruz (Maria Elena), Chris Messina (Doug), Patricia Clarkson (Judy), Kevin Dunn (Mark)

‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris Raymond De Felitta, director, writer and narrator. Feature documentary starring: Jackie Paris, Anne Marie Moss, Jeanie Paris, Michael Paris, Stacy Paris, Billy Vera, J.D. Ehrhard, Harlan Ellison, Ruth Price, James Moody, George Wein. Vocal Performances by: Peter Bogdanovich, Frank Whaley, Nick Tosches

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Charm is a hard quality to define. Most people would say that you’ve either got it or you don’t. In the case of Woody Allen, the terms “charm” and “effervescence” seemed to disappear from his lexicon after his controversial break-up with Mia Farrow and subsequent marriage to her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Even successful comedies made after that time, like Mighty Aphrodite and Bullets over Broadway, had a somewhat acrid air about them, the hangover of the scandal casting a shadow over his wit and choice of characters.

Now, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the old charming Woody has reemerged. His new film has the brevity, structure and pacing of a fine short story or an old-fashioned three act play. The advantage it has over either form is that it is shot in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. (In a canny move, the city of Barcelona and the Catalan regional government contributed $1.5 million Euros, 1/10th of the budget for the film; they’ll get it back in tourist dollars next summer.)

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two beautiful young American tourists traveling in Barcelona for the summer. The charismatic Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) blatantly picks them up at a restaurant, after having wordlessly flirted with Cristina at an art gallery opening earlier in the evening. Despite Vicky’s objections, the three go off to a gorgeous Catalan town, Oviedo, for the weekend. Predictably—the story must have twists, after all—Cristina falls ill and it is Vicky who falls for Juan Antonio’s charms.

When they return to Barcelona, though, it is Cristina whom Juan Antonio pursues because Vicky is engaged to Doug (Chris Messina.) The basic conflict arises: should the conventional, but deep, Vicky throw off her nice, practical American lover for the romantic Spaniard?

Meanwhile, Cristina moves in with Juan Antonio only discover that she has become unwittingly involved in a triangular relationship. Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, the crazy but artistic Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) has a breakdown and moves in with them, apparently to recover from her depression. Can it be more obvious? Cristina, a maverick American embraces bohemian values and Juan Antonio finds himself to be a very happy man.

How does it all resolve? Hey, that goes against the reviewer’s creed! Suffice it to say that Woody Allen plays fair with all of his characters and the resolution is quite satisfying.

As for charm: the iconoclastic Gaudi buildings, his acclaimed Park Guell and the old districts of Barcelona make impressive settings for this light, bohemian comedy. Two performances stand out: Penelope Cruz is superb as the passionate Maria Elena and Rebecca Hall—in real life, the daughter of opera singer Maria Ewing and theatre director Sir Peter Hall—gives off sparks as the more conservative Vicky.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a summer treat, the low-budget blockbuster for cultured, romantic adults. If you fit that category, forget The Dark Knight. Go to see this lovely film.

‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris

Who was Jackie Paris? I know; you never heard of him. But Charlie Parker, Lenny Bruce, Charles Mingus and Anita O’Day did. And they thought he was the best jazz balladeer of the early Fifties. Not Frank Sinatra. Not Tony Bennett. And, yes, you never heard of him. Even at the time, not too many did.

Filmmaker Raymond De Felitta has set out to rectify the situation—five decades too late. Treating the Jackie Paris story as a mystery, he leads us on his 15-year quest to get to know the man who first recorded the bop classic “Round Midnight” and had his only hit with a smoky heartfelt interpretation of the Hoagy Carmichael ballad “Skylark.”

When De Felitta first heard an early ‘50s Paris recording forty years later, he was amazed at the strength and subtlety of his “boppish” approach to great American songs of the period. De Felitta tried to find out more about him and discovered that all of the key be-bop cats—Bird, Diz, Monk, Mingus—considered him to be great. Even Sarah Vaughn thought he was brilliant. And yet Paris was a skinny Italian from New Jersey—like Sinatra—not necessarily the kind of guy to command respect from the American black community.

But Paris was “hep,” even cooler than “hip,” and the cognoscenti loved him. He toured with Charlie Parker, the legendary Bird, for six months, and collaborated with other great jazz artists. De Felitta discovered that, at his height, Paris ranked in the top #10 among vocalists in Fifties Downbeat polls.

He was young, handsome and white. But, the filmmaker discovered, nothing went right for him. Jackie Paris had an abrasive personality, which alienated the record company executives and booking agents across the country. Even though his performances were excellent, no label—from MGM to Impulse—wanted to keep him.

Then the Sixties and rock’n’roll happened. Jazz artists who had reputations survived. Those who didn’t fell by the wayside. De Felitta found a reference to Paris’ demise in 1977.

So that was that.

But it wasn’t true. After languishing in obscurity for decades, Jackie Paris surfaced in 1993. The filmmaker met and befriended him. Paris had a successful engagement at New York’s Jazz Standard club.

De Felitta took the opportunity to continue his investigations. Now that he’d gotten to know the older, affable but mysterious Jackie Paris, what had happened fifty years previously that denied him a shot at stardom?

‘Tis Autumn follows that quest. And even if the mystery—like all good ones—remains unsolved, the recordings of Jackie Paris and the image of the lively septuagenarian remains with the viewer. Jackie Paris was, indeed, brilliant. The fates—or his youthful cantankerous personality—may have denied him fame, but the recordings, and this film, survive.

Raymond De Felitta has made a fine, heartfelt jazz documentary.

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