"AND SWEET Lucretia, so young and gay/What scandalous doings in the ruins of Pompeii?"
Cole Porter's famous lyric in "Where is the Life That Late I Led," from his greatest Broadway show, "Kiss Me, Kate." (And sung to perfection by Alfred Drake!)
WHAT DO Manhattan celebrities do on a freezing night, hours before a huge snowstorm? Why, they go see a movie about a hot volcano popping its top. Last week, despite the inclement weather, The Cinema Society bravely went ahead with its special screening of Tri-Star's "Pompeii" and stars such as Justin Theroux, Paul Haggis and Judd Hirsch, doffed their winter woolies and donned their 3-D glasses to watch director Paul W.S. Anderson destroy the fabled ancient city.
"Pompeii" 2014 is pretty much what you might expect from the genre and current times, though don't go expecting to wallow through Showtime or HBO-style exhibitions of the flesh. No great loss. This is PG-13 and we've all seen naked people before. Aside from the sizzling last 40 minutes of the movie, which is all about Vesuvius getting really angry, the most impressive aspect of the film is star Kit Harington's six-pack. His abs deserve a special credit. In 3-D his rippling torso is almost as visually stunning as the volcano. (On TV's "Game of Thrones" Harington is usually bundled up in bulky furs, befitting his role prowling the Northern side of Westeros. But as "Pompeii's" gladiator he wears much less, to fine effect.) Kiefer Sutherland pops up as a Roman senator, of all things. He is convincing, Brit accent and all. (Nobody had a Brit accent back then. It was all Greek -- or Latin -- to them. But everybody who makes this kind of period film goes for some sort of accent.) Sutherland turned the film down at first, thinking it was a too-obvious romance/disaster epic -- "Titanic" with lava; but he found the script "beautifully written" and changed his mind. I, however, have not changed my mind about 3-D. It's still an unnecessary gimmick. (Critics will probably say the script doesn't miss a cliche, but come on, there hasn't been a new idea since -- the last days of Pompeii.)
I won't spoil anything, but there is an aspect to the movie that defies the genre, going against the grain, which gave it a bit more oomph as the ashes settled. There was a party afterward at The Standard, but we passed. Snowflakes were already in the air. Grey Goose Vodka was one of the evening's sponsors. I'm sure those who made it to the party were grateful for a shot or two. Although a Hot Toddy would have been my choice. Maybe if this dreadful winter continues The Cinema Society should take on Hennessey as a sponsor for its next screening.
Oh, and I suppose it's kind of a tie-in, but Pompeii, the city, is on the cover of Archaeology magazine this month, exploring the "Villa of Mysteries." Always something new to be found in the city that Vesuvius hammered, in 79 A.D.
People always ask me why the capital city of Texas -- Austin -- is so popular. Thinking it over, I believe that it's the one big city in the Lone Star State that isn't dominated by so-called "society." Dallas is dressy, rich and social. Fort Worth, run by the philanthropic Bass family, is less dressy but rich people have dominated it to its own artistic good. Houston -- very big money, big business, big art and (I think) charmless. San Antonio has its own romantic essence, harking back to history (The Alamo) but has local "society." It also has foreign atmosphere and lots of charm.
Austin, on the other hand, is more flexible and ever-changing. Totally American! There's nobody "running it" for money and position because whatever it has -- state, government, politicians, students of U of Texas -- it will always change. Politicians come and go, students invariably move on and power shifts. There is no "First Family" in Austin. Even LBJ and Ladybird eventually moved to D.C. As the state capital it has no force called local "society." Just politicians supplanting each other. The governor's mansion is a place where a new governor stays a little while then moves on.
This changeability allows Austin to be "down-home," a second to Nashville, experimenting with young talent, famous for food and fun, while big business and big money thrives elsewhere. That's why almost everybody loves Austin. It's a moveable, flexible feast!
MY FRIEND Taki, the golden Greek/American, writes a diverting column each month in Quest magazine. Now, this man-about-women-and-total-enjoyment has put down his feelings about his daughter, Lolly, who he says has become "engaged" to a wonderful English gentleman. Taki, peripatetic about romance, sex and women, approves totally. But he does level one little critique in all his joy and I want to engage it word for word:
"Yes, even nostalgia is a great joy. The languorous sorrow for things that are lost such as sportsmanlike conduct, Gardnar Mulloy comforting his opponent, Dick Savitt, in Centre Court at Wimbledon, with Savitt going on to win, Or growing up in Paris in one's 20s being on the tennis tour without any pressure, when the tour was amateur and fun. Today's unfettered vulgarity and narcissism do pose a problem where joy is concerned. No matter how above it one tried to be, it is humanly impossible not to hear the cacophony that passes for music, see the gratuitous violence and utter horror of movies, or read the pompous frills and meaningless jargon of contemporary literature.
"Peoples' lack of manners deprives us from the joy in life. And yet, if one is made of the right stuff, one needs to ignore it, condemn it and go on being a gent or lady. It seems to me that whenever I see very angry people -- and no one is angrier than Americans today -- the fix is in!"
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
'Pompeii' -- the volcano or Kit Harington's abs, you decide what's better in 3-D
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