Bullets On Broadway?

Bonnie & Clyde 4

Mixing murder and mayhem with romance, sixties-style damn-the-man social justice and humor was an odd if inspired choice in Warren Beatty’s and Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde (written by David Newman and Robert Benton). It may not have had very much to do with the real-life escapades of the Depression era crooks, but it made for one hell of a good film that still stands up today.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow singing?

Now that may be pushing it a bit, even straining the notions of sympathetic anti-heroes past the broadest definitions.

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No, I’ve never seen the Broadway musical Bonnie And Clyde (script by Ivan Menchell, music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, with Emmy, Tony and Oscar nominations and awards among them). No one’s a bigger fan of dark, flawed anti-heroes than me. Do I fall for hapless fools in over their heads? Yep. Do I have a soft spot for mid-twentieth century crime sagas? If you stop by here at this site, you know better than to ask. But Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (to say nothing of Buck, Blanche and sundry lawmen) bursting into song after a bloody shootout? Hmmmm.

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Well, apparently it played well, starting in 2009 in La Jolla, California and then Sarasota, Florida, though the musical’s 2011 Broadway run was short-lived, closing after only 36 performances. Still, there was enough popular and critical interest to warrant overseas productions in Japan, South Korea, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic through 2016.

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No one’s saying gangsters and music don’t mix. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 Cotton Club is but one example, and I for one look forward to seeing the fully restored version of that film.  I honestly never minded the 1967 Bonnie And Clyde film’s romanticizing of those two rural southwest 1930’s nut-jobs, guilty of killing at least nine police officers, four civilians, and more inclined to rob small town grocery stores and rural gas stations than banks. I simply choose to appreciate the film as an entertaining work of art in its own right, divorced from the much more banal evil of the real-life crooks.

But sometimes theatre creatives have to understand that not everything makes for a good musical.

Thou Shalt Not…

Fake Production Code

You’ve seen this photo a million times, I’ll bet. But I, for one, hadn’t seen it credited anywhere before, till it popped into my feed from HistoryCultureEducation at Tumblr. That site says it’s a 1934 staged photo by A.L. ‘Whitey’ Schafer, poking fun at the new Hays Production Code, and shoehorning in as many violations as possible. Accurate or not, it’s still pretty amusing.

Gun Crazy

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Nothing to do with the iconic Joseph H. Lewis 1950 cult classic film noir Gun Crazy co-scripted by Dalton Trumbo for the King Brothers. These are selected images from the “Gun Crazy” series by photographer Vladimir Volf Kirilin.

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Bonnie And Clyde, 1991.

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Revisiting the work of photographer Peter Lindbergh, who passed away last week on 9.3.19. Shown here is his 1991 shoot with models Karen Mulder and Linda Evangelista as Bonnie And Clyde. The Depression era gangsters more or less mimic scenes and the ‘feel’ of the groundbreaking 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde produced by star Warren Beatty and directed by Arthur Penn, with Burnett Guffrey in charge of cinematography. Okay, neither Mulder or Evangelista look like the real Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, or even like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for that matter, but I could argue that Peter Lindbergh’s fashion editorial homage is no more historically inaccurate than screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton’s story was in that iconic film.

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R.I.P. Peter Lindbergh.

The Tommy Gun Dolls

The Tommy Gun Dolls

I always enjoy a surprise, such as discovering something unknown and unexpected on a comic shop’s graphic novel shelves. A recent example: Daniel Cooney’s The Tommy Gun Dolls, a handsome creator-owned hardcover graphic novel set in Prohibition era San Francisco, with both story and art by Cooney himself, assisted on inks and colors by Leigh Walls and Lisa Gonzales.

It’s 1928, and the city’s practically a war zone with rival Irish, Italian and Chinese mobs duking it out over turf, booze, gambling and prostitution. Meanwhile, at the bawdy Frisky Devil speakeasy-burlesque house (and its adjoining bordello), the showgirls and hookers endure the mobsters’ and customers’ abuse. When one of them is murdered and her grisly death hushed up by cops on the take and a tight-lipped coroner, the ladies take matters into their own hands, egged on by part-time grifter, part-time gambler, part-time snoop and full-time trouble-maker Frankie, the dead girl’s lover, and apparently a refugee from a Bob Fosse musical, complete with a black bob, derby and a complete Sally Bowles ensemble.

Oh yeah, and a tommy gun.

The Tommy Gun Dolls – Volume One: “The Big Takeover”  was a Kickstarter campaign project that resulted in a very handsome book. I don’t know the status of Volume Two – “Double Cross On Maiden Lane”, though the first book clearly was a ‘to-be-continued thing’, so I hope we’ll see that next book and more from Mr. Cooney soon. This is a pretty complex tale full of double-crosses and retro-decadence, all rendered in some mighty nice artwork. Not sure if I buy ‘proto-punk’ Frankie’s torn stockings and unlaced Doc Martens get up in the story’s opening scenes, but let’s give the artist some creatively anachronistic leeway there and just say they were World War One doughboy surplus gear. The boots, that is.

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Cigarette Girls

Cigarette Girl

Back in mid-May I mentioned Susanna Calkins’ new novel (the first in a new series, I think), Murder Knocks Twice, a period mystery set in early 1929 Chicago. Struggling to care for her ailing father, young Gina Ricci takes a job as a cigarette girl in a local speakeasy, only to learn that the girl she’s replaced was recently murdered, and the club’s brooding, mysterious photographer turns out to be an estranged cousin from the family that disowned her and her dad. When Gina witnesses that same enigmatic photographer brutally murdered, she obeys his dying words and takes his camera, then learns to process film, and that’s only the start of the multiple mysteries that erupt in Calkins’ novel, all of which is set against a backdrop of the Capone-Moran gang wars, the book’s final pages playing out just as the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs. It’s a fun read, leisurely paced (or methodically, depending on your assessment) and brimming with red herrings and subplots. Some may think Calkins’ tale is a little light on mayhem and Roaring Twenties decadence, considering the time, place and characters. But if so, it certainly didn’t detract from her good storytelling.

MURDER KNOCKS TWICE copy

Two things struck me as I read Murder Knocks Twice.

First: how Calkins used photographs and her hero’s urgent need to learn photography and film processing as a crucial driver in the narrative. That intrigued me, since it’s similar to things going on in both the first The Stiletto Gumshoe novel currently making the rounds and its sequel, still underway. A female protagonist, a Chicago setting — albeit with thirty years separating the two, my tale set in 1959 – it’d be presumptuous of me to say ‘great minds think alike’. I will say it was nice to see another author use photos and processing the way Calkins did.

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Second: Calkins wise choice of a nightclub cigarette girl for her main character (and what looks like a series character at that). It got me thinking about just how few cigarette girls have helmed mystery/crime fiction novels, when it’s such an obvious role. If you’re writing period crime fiction, which understandably may involve speakeasies, casinos, roadhouses and nightclubs, a cigarette girl is ideal for a character that needs to be right in the middle of the action. I’ve thought about it, I’ve browsed my own bookshelves and I’ve surfed online, but found precious few (if any) cigarette girl characters, much less lead characters, even among vintage pulps. So, hats off to Calkins for finally giving a vintage crime milieu fixture her proper due!

Cigarette Girl Pulps

And while we’re at it, congrats to her for a job well done. If you insist on non-stop gunplay, grisly violence or sizzling bedroom hijinks, (and frankly, I often do!) then Murder Knocks Twice may not be the next book you’ll consider. But, consider it nonetheless. It really is a good read.

P.S. Yes, that’s a young Audrey Hepburn in the cigarette girl costume in the quadrant of photos above.

 

Karla Ortiz

Karla Ortiz

Concept artist, illustrator and fine artist Karla Ortiz says she “paints her days away, and that’s how she likes it”, and she’s downright chatty at her blog (karlaortizart.blogpsot.com) about technique, the development of works from sketch through completion and more. Check out more of the artist’s work at karlaortizart.com

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Gabe Leonard

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Gabe Leonard came from Wyoming, studied art at the Columbus College Of Art And Design in Ohio, but ended up in California, originally making his mark in the competitive Venice Beach boardwalk art scene. Leonard’s distorted figures and skewed ‘camera angle’ scenes are often inspired by song lyrics, and are reminiscent of Hollywood crime films and westerns. Here are a few to browse, with originals oils and limited edition prints and other news at the artist’s site, gabeleonard.com.

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