I watched a film last night. A period piece from 1976 called Next Stop Greenwich Village. It featured a cameo by a young Jeff Goldblum, and lots of other good supporting actors including Shelly Winters as the oedipal mother of the main character. Bill Murray is in there too, unaccredited, and I totally missed him. But Antonio Fargas ; Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch was instantly recognisable. He plays Bernstein a flamboyant (typecasting alert) gay man, who turns tricks to get by. Lenny Baker is the central character, Larry Lapinsky, an aspiring actor who has moved from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village in search of fame. Sadly Lenny Baker died aged 37, his life cut short by AIDS in the early eighties.
There’s a great scene where Shelly Winters and Bernstein dance to swing music (to the mortification of Lapinsky). The film comes alive in that moment, but at other times its flat. Its not up there with the greats. But I can see elements of the Coen Brothers Inside Llewyn Davis. Although cats merely feature as bit players in Next Stop; and Greenwich Village is not the haunt of Folk Singers. The setting is 1953: all Modern Jazz, Beat Poets, Abstract Expressionists and Actors.
watch out plot spoilers are coming !
Although the film is about Larry Lapinsky, the character played by a young Christopher Walken, almost steals the show for me. He’s a charismatic, womanising poet, who maybe is just a fraud. His acting is pared down, almost contemporary (21st Century). He’s like an alien visitor to 1950s Greenwich Village. If this were a film review then I’d say all the characters are frauds. Larry gets a job by pretending to be a street kid (well he’s acting). The oedipal mother is actually crazy dancer. Bernstein, is not Bernstein, that’s just part of his invented bio. The fake suicide woman (Lois Smith) actually commits suicide. Sarah, Larry’s girlfriend (Ellen Greene) leaves him; and Walken’s character, Robert, never reads a poem.
If this were a film review I’d probably go into the story a little more, but its not. My concern is with the lack of poetry in the film. Ok so Walken’s character is a poser, so maybe he’s not actually written any. There’s a book called Joe Gould’s Secret by Joseph Mitchell. It chronicles the life of a New York Character Gould or Professor Sea Gull. A precursor to the Beats. Who was supposed to have written an Oral History, an account of modern life. Small extracts were published in the 1920s. But the book never materialised. Mitchell inherited the man’s notebooks, and discovered Joe Gould’s Secret: he just kept on rewriting the first few chapters again and again. Maybe Walken/Robert is a 1950s Professor Sea Gull. Maybe.
Anyway I’m going to reel back my rod now. At the end of the line is a great fish. It’s the music that featured in Inside Llewyn Davis. An intrinsic part of the film. You see I wanted to see a coffee shop or club where poets were the entertainment. Like early 1950s Greenwich Village, but all we got were people drinking coffee, or booze, and talking. I suppose I wanted a performance outside of the story, like the lost cat trope in Llewyn Davis.
When Richard Yates published one of his last novels: Young Hearts Crying. Michael Davenport, the suburban poet/playwright who descends into madness, is never given voice. He speaks but his poems are absent. We get the title of his first and greatest ditty, but nothing more. The novel was criticised because it was about a poet, but contained no poems. It’s a valid point.
Ok Next Stop Greenwich Village is about an actor, and we got lots of acting. But I wanted more than the music of Dave Brubeck, and tortured acting classes. I wanted someone reciting verse in a dimly lit place. A cliché, like the first reading of Howl. Where a large bottle of wine is passed about the audience by some dissolute author. I wanted a film about Robert, not Larry Lapinsky. I wanted to tag along with Robert, Sarah and the guy who I think was Bill Murray and visit the carvings in Mexico. Not travel to Hollywood with Larry. But that’s how it ended.