Monday, November 26, 2007

A Lotsa 'Splainin' Tribute to The Sopranos

The Sopranos, one of the best shows in television history, is now over. On the theory that a tree is best measured when it's down, I'd like to give my awards in the category of Best Actors in Roles Playing Themselves on this landmark show.

A lot of people showed up on The Sopranos playing themselves. Nancy Sinatra sang a song to a bunch of gangsters in one episode. Her brother Frank Jr. was in on the big poker game, as were football legend Lawrence Taylor and musical embarrassment David Lee Roth. Jon Favreau has a meeting with Chris Moltisanti when Chris first wants to break into the movies. Janeane Garafalo and Sandra Bernhard are also in that episode. Other actors show up as themselves in the shows about the movie Cleaver.

But the winners are Sir Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall in the episode titled Luxury Lounge. These fine actors did a great job in this episode, most especially with obscenities. If you watch the episode on DVD with commentary, writer Matthew Weiner tells us that Miss Bacall's obscenity laden reaction to being robbed was completely ad libbed. ("She swears like a longshoreman." declares Weiner.) Sir Ben's star turn with the epithets comes upon seeing that Moltisanti will be in the first class cabin with him on the flight out of L.A. Sir Ben's personal assistant asks if he would like to take another flight, and Kingsley lets loose with a sound somewhere between the word "fuck!" and the caw of a large raven.

But what makes this particular pairing of wonderful actors a thing of interest here at Lotsa 'Splainin' is the other thing Sir Ben and Miss Bacall have in common.

Gigantic child brides.

He has one. She was one.

Here is a picture of Sir Ben and his lovely fourth wife, aspiring Brazilian actress Daniela Barbosa. At the time of the wedding, she was 32 and he was 63. She is also listed as being slightly taller than he is.

His lovely third wife was also described as statuesque and aristocratic. She described Sir Ben as boring and overbearing during divorce proceedings.

European aristocrats. A category best to be avoided if you ask me.

And then, of course, we go back in history for Bogart and Bacall. He was 45, she was 18, and depending on the listings she was one or two inches taller than he was.

But, Matty Boy, you might say. Look at the picture! She's not taller than he is. Surely you must be mistaken, because pictures don't lie.

I now smile the half smile I employ when a polite and earnest student is in error. This still is from the Golden Age of Put Him On A Box Cinema. Women were only taller than men if a visual joke was needed. In all other cases, the guy was standing on a box or the woman might have to walk in a ditch. Monty Python did a skit about this dealing with a production of Scott of the Antarctic.

While I don't have a problem myself with the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, the classic of Put Him On A Box Cinema has to be Boy On A Dolphin, with tiny Alan Ladd and the earthy, enchanting and enormous Sophia Loren. She plays a Greek sponge diver, and the iconic scene is her is a wet shirt coming out of the water. But the scenes between them are hilarious because no box can mask the difference in sheer size between these two people.

Here's a still from the movie demonstrating the problem. While his head is above her head, it looks smaller than her head. (Because It Is!) He's only standing a little behind her, but perspective is not the thing that makes her look bigger than him.

There's a famous scene where Ladd and Clifton Webb are having a conversation, and Webb is about a head taller than Ladd. Sophia Loren enters the scene and suddenly they are all about the same height. She leaves the scene and Ladd is back to being shorter than Webb.

Webb played most of his career with a sneer on his face, but in this case it's hard not think the sneer was about the production values.


The song playing in the background is from the first soundtrack album for The Sopranos series.

Now playing: Frank Sinatra - It Was A Very Good Year
via FoxyTunes


dguzman said...

Gable had to stand on the box lots of times too.

And holy hell, is there anything sexier than Lauren Bacall in her day? Smokin' hawt.

jolie said...

good way to know when the height deception trick is being employed is to check out where the actors' waists are in relation to each other. note in both the ladd/loren & bogart/bacall pairings that the women's backs are longer than the men's.

conventional ideas of beauty & prominence are hard to kill. witness, for example, most all interviews of elizabeth & dennis kucinich. you can almost read the interviewer's mind, "how'd he bag HER??" (among other similarly rude thoughts ....)

I love a lot of what kucinich is saying in this campaign. and I believe that if obama or edwards were saying them, the ideas would have more traction. kucinich's tininess works against him. I hate that.

Karla said...

Hah - the tall-is-good prejudice seems to be completely hardwired.

I'm reading a book about brain mapping and mirror neurons, very cool, and it mentions a study where people are given computer avatars and asked to negotiate for money with another avatar (which is connected to another human subject).

But without telling people, they fool with the heights. And you know what your own height is, because you can gauge yourself against the height of your partner's avatar.

It turns out that no matter what your real height is, the height of the avatar in relation to the partner is the determining factor in whether you will come out of the negotiation with a fair deal.

When people's avatars are taller, they negotiate more effectively, and get more cash. But when they are shorter, they accept absurd compromises and end up with relative bupkis.

As a short person with a short husband, I gotta tell you - we have to be smarter, faster, funnier, and better than tall people in order to get the same treatment.

But that's not too hard, because tall people are unnaturally elongated, and are easy to topple!