features + interviews

event musings: moonstruck reunion: “they’re real but a little larger than life”

Norman Jewison watching over the panel chairs. Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Norman Jewison Film Screenings:
Moonstruck
Friday, October 8, 2010 at 7:00pm
event web page

A New York City fairy tale.  A story of family and old country and new country and big shoulders and big hair (heck it was 1987 Brooklyn) and Lincoln Center and opera and love and living in your own skin and embracing what you have.  Enchanted by “la bella luna”.  Yes I am and always have been.  And last night, in the city of the story and among people who love the movie, three people involved in the creation of this piece of movie magic convened to honor the experience and the director who helmed the enterprise.  Moonstruck.

This particular evening I am attracted to the panel portion of the program by the announced presence of Olympia Dukakis.  She basically rocks my little fan girl world.  On stage, on the page, anything she wants to do I’m a fan.  And the promise (unrealized it turned out, due to a family emergency) of Norman Jewison himself on stage talking about this movie.  Jewison of course directed some of The Judy Garland Show CBS series episodes and has spoken rapturously about her abilities and artistry and attributes as a human being — for that alone I planned to pay my respects.  In addition, the movie’s screenwriter John Patrick Shanley and the stage, screen, and television personality Anita Gillette were present.  And bonus — the movie itself was to be shown in a pristine 35 mm print.

So what will follow are some quotations from the panel discussion, and some favorite lines from the movie.  Because these artists and the movie should speak for themselves.

Panel discussion

Q: what was the inspiration for the film?

Shanley: while living in a “real shit hole” on 15th Street he lived across from a building that put up a full moon light.  His imagination was inspired, raising him above the “squalor of my actual existence”.  [Inspired by a street light!  who knew?]

Shanley: the language of the characters can be a little Biblical.  A little Old Testament.  He wanted to use elevated language in a way — “to share the excitement of a moment of life”

Q: discuss the relationship of the movie to opera.  it seems “a little more real than life” as opera does.

Shanley: “Other people have told me that it was like opera, bigger than life.  But it never seemed that way to me.”

Q: how did you get involved in the film?

Gillette: Was doing a soap opera at the time playing a lounge singer named Wilma.  Anita went to the audition in costume for Wilma (overwrought Dynasty era big shoulders dress and a little hat).  Once cast, and discussing with the wardrobe woman her character’s fuzzy pink tight sweater style, she was told that “Norman wants you to look like an over ripe cannoli.”

Dukakis: Was doing the play Social Security at the time casting was going on for the film.  Dukakis always thought Norman came to see Ron Silver in the play at that time — she learns in the course of this conversation that she was the draw.  And that Norman came to see her in that play twice.  She recalled that Norman never wanted to talk about “acting schmacting”

She thinks that her character Rose Castorini “was probably more Greek than Italian.”  Greek woman “hold their punches for when they want a knock out blow.”  “Greek women do revenge good.”

Dukakis: Norman “cast really good actors …. With people who show up … who really show up” great things are possible.

The entire panel discussed the final scene, the editing of that scene, and the preparation Norman had to do to get the group to raise the stakes, culminating with Nicholas Cage being so frustrated that he slammed a full cup of coffee down on the table before the cameras were on, which sprayed on Olympia, at which point Norman said “let’s shoot the scene”.  In the editing Shanley noted that “you have to leave room for the audience”.

Dukakis noted that her line in this scene to Cher’s Loretta “your life is going down the toilet” was the only ad lib in the movie. And she noted “that was my mother’s line”.

Gillette  noted that she came in to audition looking like Wilma the lounge lizard.  “I give good tits, I guess.”  Discussion revealed the length of Gillette’s stage career.  She was a chorus girl in Gypsy with Ethel Merman, for whom she has great affection.  “She taught me everything.”  Part of her loyalty to Merman stems from Merman’s loyalty to Gillette when she got pregnant during the run — Merman advocated for the producers to keep her in the show. Gillette noted that she was probably the only one of all the girls (and she suggested many pregnancies) to keep babies conceived during the run of the show.  “All those girls … wow … what an education.”

Shanley: the last name of the Cammareri brothers (Johnny and Ronny, Rose’s daughter Loretta’s love interests) came from the real location used — Cammareri Bakery — where Ronny is shown shoveling coal into the ovens and making “bread bread bread”.  Shanley grew up with someone who lost his hand in a bread slicer … Ronny’s situation.  The exteriors are locations in Brooklyn Heights; the interiors were all shot in Toronto.

Dukakis: the scenes with John Mahoney (a man her character meets at a neighborhood restaurant) were “just wonderful.  He is just a wonderful actor”. He is “there, in it, very honest”.  Norman had to fight for some of the extended scenes away from the leads (Nicholas Cage and Cher) to remain in the movie, including these scenes between Dukakis and Mahoney.  Shanley noted with wry humor: “The wisdom of the editing room — cut everything without the stars”.  Fortunately, they all recollected, Norman fought against that instinct in this case and won.

Shanley: Vikki Carr‘s song It Must Be Him was written into the script.  “It’s the kind of song that after a couple of drinks starts to make sense to you.”

Shanley: I enjoyed writing this.  I used to read pieces of it over the phone to people.”  These people aren’t fiction, not opera.  “They’re real but a little larger than life.”

Dukakis: Rose gets most of the wisdom in the script.  “When I grow up I want to be like Rose Castorini.”  “I always end up feeling happier after I see the movie.”  She says she has repeated often over the years “I would go anywhere for any size part for Norman.”

Screening: Quotes, Memories, Favorite Lines

  • Rose (Dukakis) to Perry (John Mahoney) after hearing his version what goes wrong in his series of relationship with college students: “What you don’t know about women is a lot.”  Later: “I can’t invite you in because I’m married and I know who I am.”
  • Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to Loretta (Cher): “I’m a wolf, you run to the wolf in me — that don’t make you a lamb.”  Also “Love don’t make things nice .. it breaks your heart. … We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and die.”
  • Rose and Loretta discussing Ronny, the bread baking younger brother of Loretta’s fiancé Johnny.  Rose: “Do you love him?”  Loretta: “Ma, I love him something awful.”  Rose: “That’s too bad.”

I love this movie.  What a joy to learn that the people involved in crafting it feel the same way.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 9, 2010)

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