Tag Archives: Charles Grodin

Songs Of America

Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 television special, Songs Of America, was not quite what original sponsor Bell telephone hoped it would be. The scene where trains carrying the bodies of assassinated leaders JFK, RFK and MLK were a bit much for them; ditto the look at “real America” that Paul and Artie wanted to discuss. The conglomerate wanted a concert. The artists wanted a message.

Bell pulled out. Alberto Culver stepped in, and after some haggling CBS aired the program once. It was stomped in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice skating special and never re-broadcast. Go figure.

The recently re-issued Bridge Over Troubled Water package includes the original special, plus a new documentary about the making of the film, and they are both fascinating. The documentary (The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water) features Paul and Artie looking back at the times along with some of the critical participants in the film. I hadn’t even realized that comic actor Charles Grodin was the behind the project; he is interviewed along with musicians Hal Blaine and Joe Osborn and engineer Roy Halee, among others.

I mentioned that I have learned to appreciate well made documentaries, and this certainly qualifies. Beyond being an entertaining look at the making of one of the most seminal albums of its era, it’s also an opportunity for Paul and Art to re-evaluate their own history. Friends since childhood, their split seemed partially acrimonious, and perhaps it was. I couldn’t understand it at the time; it seemed like a terrible move for both. But one of Simon’s comments put it all into perspective. They were transitioning from the Everly Brothers – inseparable parts of a whole – into The Beatles, where each personality had its space. And like The Beatles, whatever rose no longer converged.

It was heartwarming to see Paul pay genuine tribute to Art’s majestic voice, while Art seems as ethereal and cosmic as ever. Seeing the members of The Wrecking Crew also reminded me that Simon followed that same path in his solo career when he surrounded himself with Steve Gadd, Richard Tee and other skilled New York session players; an East Coast equivalent of the old days.

Bridge Over Troubled Water remains as timeless and majestic as it was forty years ago. The reissue, combined with the films, is a must-own.

A steal at under fifteen bucks.

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Dave

Ever flip channels and stop on a movie you’ve seen a few times, but you settle in to watch it anyway? Of course you have. And when it’s heavily does with commercials, and you’re thinking “I have that DVD” but you sit there anyway? Okay…maybe that’s just lazy…but that must be one good movie. Usually it’s a broad comedy I can quote line for line, like Caddyshack or Major League or Animal House. It usually isn’t a plot-driven movie.

But tonight that happened to me with Dave. Again.

The plot, simple but brilliant – a corrupt administration finds a look-alike to double for a critically ill President so they can continue their illegal agenda. Kevin Kline as the titular character is the head of a temp agency, a nice guy who puts others before him and a dead ringer for the incapacitated President. At first agreeable to follow orders, he soon sees both the diseased plans of the ambitious Chief Of Staff (Frank Langella, great as always) but also the opportunity to do something for the right reasons.

Director Ivan Reitman had stumbled badly after a winning trifecta (Meatballs/Stripes/Ghostbusters), but this film resurrected his credibility. The cast is uniformly brilliant, with Sigourney Weaver, Ving Rhames and Kevin Dunn providing excellent support. Don’t even get me started on the brilliance of Kline, surely one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Great cameo roles for Bonnie Hunt and Laura Linney. And a Charles Grodin sighting? That’s bonus points, son. And kudos to Gary Ross, who also scripted other movies with big heart like Big and Pleasantville.

The only sad thing about Dave is that it makes me wish our leaders had those same unselfish, uncorrupted qualities. Much like Dennis Haysbert’s performance as President Palmer on the early episodes of 24, I came away wishing that just this once, fantasy could be reality. But they don’t, and it’s not.

But there I go again, talking about the deeper meaning of a film that is ultimately a redemption story about second chances and good triumphing over evil. Sometimes, even in the guise of light comedy, deeper points can be made. And when flipping channels on a Monday night, sometimes a well made movie can be appreciated for being  just that.

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