Wednesday, Sep 28, 2016
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Harry, Ziggy: Looking for links

You have heard of the eerie coincidences between the lives of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy: one was elected in 1860, the other 1960; both were killed by three-named assassins, both on a Friday; one was shot at the Ford Theater, the other in a Ford Lincoln; and so on.

Maybe you've heard rumors of how Michael Jackson and Diana Ross are suspiciously never in the same place at the same time; or how Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon” acts as an oddly ideal soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. (Just huddle the kids around the lava lamp and hit “play” on your CD the moment Oz goes from black-and-white farmstead to color.)

But have you heard of the truly spooky coincidences to be found between beloved puberty-poster boy Harry Potter and strung-out, glam-rock icon Ziggy Stardust, that most famous of David Bowie alter-egos? Neither have I, but sitting at my desk the other day, a small pile of DVDs staring out from a mound of paperwork, I had a pop culture revelation on par with that Isaac Newton gravity thing with the apple: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros., $29.95 DVD, $24.99 VHS), due tomorrow, and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (Capitol, $34.98), a newly remastered edition of D.A. Pennebaker's 1973 concert film of Bowie's farewell to the Ziggy persona, are virtually kissing cousins.

Virtually. Let's start with their names: Both Harry and Ziggy have five letters in their first names, double consonants, and both end in a “y.” Both are Brits with precociously tousled hair; or rather, both are imaginary characters born of British imagination. When not at school, Harry lives in the boring county of Surrey; Bowie is a native of the drab London neighborhood of Brixton. Harry's creator, J.K. Rowling, was born in 1965; Ziggy's creator, Bowie, was born in 1947: digits in both years add up to 21. (I got the chills on that one, too.)

Harry has a lightning bolt on his forehead; Bowie had a fetish for clothing with lightning-bolt motifs, and his most famous makeup was a giant lightning bolt painted across his face. Harry lives with a boring family part of the year; Ziggy lived during the early 1970s, an especially dull moment in rock history. Ziggy's band was the Spiders from Mars; in Chamber of Secrets, Harry confronts a legion of giant spiders in a barren Mars-like forest clearing.

Of the two Harry movies so far, Chamber is the darkest, an oddly inert fantasy with flashes of wonder; compared to other concert films, Ziggy Stardust is so literally dark and murky-looking, there are times when it appears to be a bootleg recording. The leader of the Spiders of Mars was Mick Ronson; Harry's best friend is Ron Weasley. Both know emaciated imps: Harry runs into Dobby, Chamber of Secrets' digital waif; Bowie hung out a lot with Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop.

Spooky, no?

Maybe not.

A note about the DVD extras: Harry fans definitely don't want to hear this, but those 19 deleted scenes on Chamber of Secrets amount to 17 minutes of brief moments, arguably five of which are long enough to be called scenes. The rest include a brief interview with Rowling and some click-around games. Ziggy includes a commentary track from Pennebaker.

Normally, I feel pretty, and witty. And bright. Thanks to the new two-disc edition of West Side Story (MGM, $39.98), and the winter-to-spring ascendance of Chicago, at the moment I also feel like a raging musical fiend. And MGM's set is a bit of a disappointment, too, especially after the archival bonanza of last year's Singin' in the Rain DVD. Robert Wise's stylized 1961 Broadway adaptation is still pretty square - 40 years later, Natalie Wood as a Latina continues to boggle the mind- but the songs and choreography remain beautiful. Notice how Wise shoots the performers' entire bodies dancing; whereas regardless of how successful the device is, Chicago's Rob Marshall chops every number into zillions of edits that suggest the illusion of movie stars dancing.

The picture on this new disc edition isn't much of an improvement over the last DVD edition; and the sound is fairly flat despite a 5.1 Dolby surround mix. But the movie is compulsively watchable, a spectacle first. Likewise, the meat of the extras amounts to a decent 55-minute documentary that includes Stephen Sondheim providing smart historical perspective. But it's the slick packaging you remember: a lovely red case that holds the discs and an impressive 156-page book that includes the screenplay, a reproduction of the theater program, and even a list of the New York City shooting locations. What you don't get is a good understanding of how or why West Side Story marked the end of Hollywood's love affair with the musical. Maybe that's a question to ponder when they do the inevitable remake.

NEW ON VIDEO: Paid in Full (Remember when raw low-budget indie filmmaking was the mark of something special? Me neither. Mekhi Phifer leads a young, enigmatic cast through a typical gangsta-falls-from-grace bit of raw low-budget indie filmmaking).

BEST BETS OF THE WEEK: L'Atalante (New Yorker Films, $29.95) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Fox, $19.98). There's an old Hollywood saying that only two things always look good on film: trains and snow. To that, let's add: ghosts, or at least, translucent ghostly images. L'Atalante director Jean Vigo seems to have shot through mist and clouds to make his 1934 romance, which many critics consider one of the 10 best films ever made. As memorable images go, its scenes of newlyweds clutching on the deck of a barge as it moves up a dreamy Seine river is virtually synonymous with movie love. Vigo himself had something of a ghostly life, shooting only four films and dying young, a story recounted on the DVD's excellent 87-minute documentary.

A more literal take on phantasms is Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the sweetly spooky 1947 romance starring Rex Harrison (as a ghostly sea captain) and Gene Tierney (as an iron-willed widow), given a loving treatment as part of the impressive Fox Studio Classics series. Included is A&E's Biography on Harrison, as well as commentary tracks from Mankiewicz's biographer, and the estate manager of legendary composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho), whose moody soundtrack could be retitled “Music to Haunt Your Moor By.”

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