The Italians didn’t invent the virgin/whore dichotomy but they believe in it more literal-mindedly than anyone else. Their patriarchal and Catholic-guilt-ridden culture is a strange subject for Hollywood. I’ll admit I’ve never seen Fellini’s 8½, but it’s the source of all this foolery, every cliche – the saintly mother, the long-suffering wife, the vulgar mistress, the friendly neighborhood whore, the token crass American, the nebulous muse. At least Fellini had the excuse of drawing from his own life. Who thought that turning this material into a lavish musical was a good idea, I don’t know, but everything about the film Nine is misguided, from Daniel Day-Lewis’s Chef Boyardee accent to the sight of that sexless old hatchet Judi Dench dolled up Folies Bergere style. First problem, the songs aren’t very good. Second, insurmountable problem, none of the leading ladies can sing. The only one who doesn’t make an embarrassment of herself is Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, who just happens to be a professional pop singer. The third terrible problem is terrible, terrible miscasting. Nicole Kidman wears more padding than Eddie Murphy in a futile attempt to evoke Anita Ekberg. Kidman doesn’t have the figure for it – she’s tall, lean and flat-chested, all straight lines and angles. Nor does she have the personality of a sex-kitten. She’s at her best playing refined, neurotic intellectuals. I like her very much, but she’s simply not the coochy-coo type. Marion Cotillard’s spurned wife is all doe-eyed and weepy. Kate Hudson is a useless piece of flotsam dredged up to add a bit of extra celebrity wattage to the marquee. Sophia Loren, as close to a living goddess as anyone could get, is given nothing to do except stand there, looking saintly and wise. The only good thing about the picture is Penelope Cruz. Although her yowling and jiggling begs for one of those cartoon hooks to whisk her offstage, at least she’s having fun. She’s only actress perfectly cast – playing passionate, sensual and needy is right up her alley, and she musters enough enthusiasm to act as though she were in a real movie. Is that worth the price of admission? No. Go rent Elegy or Volver.
What is there left to say about Bryan Ferry that I haven’t said before? That his debonair romanticism makes my stony heart melt? That he’s got impeccable taste in everything from neckties to younger women to other people’s songs? Yeah, I’ve said all that before. Here’s another perfect song from another perfect album. But sometimes the interesting thing isn’t what you came for. This is a pretty typical Bryan Ferry song, and Let’s Stick Together is a pretty typical Bryan Ferry album. Like a lot of Ferry’s albums, it’s a lively mix of originals and well chosen covers. Among the covers are gems from The Beatles, Jimmy Reed and The Everly Brothers. And this little track by somebody called Gallagher and Lyle. Who the heck they were I don’t know, and this song doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. But there they are on YouTube, playing TotP like they’re real pop stars, dated June 1976, only a few months before Ferry released his album. From which I surmise that it was either a huge, huge hit in the summer of ’76 and Ferry just had to get his paws on it. Or, possibly, it’s older than that and Ferry heard it and liked and decided to do a cover and Gallagher & Lyle found out and scrambled to get some free publicity from having a genuine famous person take an interest in one of their songs. Not that it matters either way – people still listen to Bryan Ferry, but who remembers Gallagher & Lyle? Now, watch Gallagher & Lyle’s video and see if you don’t get a snicker two. It would be laughably dated, except that it’s not. That could be yesterday’s hipster darlings playing Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (or whomever the fuck hosts Late Night nowadays). It’s all there; the sappy earnestness, the meta-pretension of their every-schmuck persona, the doofy grins, the soft strumming, the dumb little hats and beards. They could be the very hipsters you see promenading about the farmers’ market on a Sunday morning. It’s like time stands still. Just shows you, if your lame sensitive-dude act goes out of fashion, just wait forty years and it’ll be good as new.