StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on January 19, 2010

I saw Marianne Faithfull at Lincoln Center last Wednesday.

Even in her mid-Sixties, she hasn’t lost her grit – a raspy old Eurydice looking back on how her passion for the young Orpheus plunged her into Hades.

She did a brilliant version of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” with lyrics by Shell Silverstein.

It appears on her “Broken English” (1979) album. I didn’t know she’d made a video for it in 1980. I posted it above.

Here are the lyrics – bittersweet and wistful, as expected:

The morning sun touched lightly on the eyes of Lucy Jordan
In a white suburban bedroom in a white suburban town
As she lay there ‘neath the covers dreaming of a thousand lovers
Till the world turned to orange and the room went spinning round.

At the age of thirty-seven she realised she’d never
Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.
So she let the phone keep ringing and she sat there softly singing
Little nursery rhymes she’d memorised in her daddy’s easy chair.

Her husband, he’s off to work and the kids are off to school,
And there are, oh, so many ways for her to spend the day.
She could clean the house for hours or rearrange the flowers
Or run naked through the shady street screaming all the way.

At the age of thirty-seven she realised she’d never
Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair
So she let the phone keep ringing as she sat there softly singing
Pretty nursery rhymes she’d memorised in her daddy’s easy chair.

The evening sun touched gently on the eyes of Lucy Jordan
On the roof top where she climbed when all the laughter grew too loud
And she bowed and curtsied to the man who reached and offered her his hand,
And he led her down to the long white car that waited past the crowd.

At the age of thirty-seven she knew she’d found forever
As she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair …

(“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” Marianne Faithfull, 1979; lyrics, Shell Silverstein)

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Irina Palm

Posted in Film by streetlegalplay on October 22, 2008

This was a WONDERFUL movie. A sleeper of the first rank. I picked it up several weeks ago from Reel Life Video and have been turning it over in my mind ever since.

Irina Palm is a Brecht drama for a new century.

Marianne Faithfull plays Maggie, a frumpy widow who lives in a village in the exurbs of London. Her grandson Olly is dying of a rare disease for which he can only receive treatment in Melbourne, Australia. Yet Olly’s parents are working class and cannot afford the cost of travel and other expenses. Maggie takes it upon herself as grandmother to raise the money even though she has no work history and almost no collateral by which to secure a loan. She goes to bank after bank and placement agency after placement agency in London, but nobody will give her a job or a loan.

That is, until she wanders into Sexy World, a sex club in the Soho District that is advertising for a “hostess.” Maggie meets Miki (actor, Miki Manojlovic), the club-owner who explains that, at Sexy World, “hostess” is a euphemism for “whore.” He asks Maggie if he can see her hands. Reluctantly, she complies and Miki finds himself favorably impressed by their texture before Maggie pulls her hands away. She walks out of the interview mortified but, recognizing the gravity of her grandson’s condition, returns the next day.

With evident misgivings, Miki offers her the job and takes her into the room where she will be working. It will be Maggie’s job to give handjobs to paying customers from the other side of a glory hole. With some training, Maggie finds that she is a natural at her new line of work and, by her second week on the job, men queue up all the way down the hall for her favors. They don’t see Maggie and thus do not realize that they’re getting their rocks off in a matronly grandmother’s hand. (The film does not show any penises and, as far as I can tell, the handjobs were simulated.) Within a short time, johns of all stripes agree that the faceless woman behind the wall has “the best hand in London.” Miki cashes in on Maggie’s fame by setting up a flashing marquee featuring Maggie’s newly assigned stage-name, “Irina Palm.” Upon inheriting this sobriquet, the hitherto unemployable widow finds herself pulling down 600 to 800 pounds a week.

At first, Maggie keeps her sex-worker status a secret from family and friends. Actually, it would be a stretch to call the women in Maggie’s social circle friends. They’re little more than a band of gossipy, bourgeois village housewives with whom she plays bridge once a week. They freeze Maggie out of their small talk, show little concern for updates on her grandson’s failing health and make it clear that, as a widow with dwindling resources, she is no longer of their station. Still, having no other friends, Maggie has somberly endured their company throughout the years. Now that she harbors a secret life as Irina Palm, however, she is too discomfited to return any of her frivolous friends’ phone calls or even speak to them on the street.

Her grandson’s health soon takes a turn for the worse and the family can no longer postpone his surgery. Maggie goes to Miki and divulges the crisis at hand. He informs her that, unbeknownst to her, he has “tried her out” and knows her talents. Naturally, this news dismays Maggie but she puts her mounting chagrin aside to press Miki for a 6000 pound loan for 10 more weeks of work. After much prodding, he agrees to her terms. Maggie gives the money to her son Tom (Kevin Bishop, L’Auberge Espagnole) and his wife in a lump sum, all the while refusing to reveal where and how she got the money.

After performing many unsuccessful interrogations, Tom resorts to tailing his mother on the commuter train to London and the Tube to Oxford Circus, only to find her walking into her job at Sexy World.

I won’t reveal what erupts as a result of this climax in Irina Palm (!). I will, however, disclose that ironically, as a result of her smutty practices, Maggie steps into her power and discovers that she contains the strength, valor and love to defy society in order to save her grandson’s life.

In two particular scenes toward the end, Maggie’s newfound strength emboldens her to renounce her outworn associations with the village women more powerfully than Hester Pryne and Proust’s Odette de Crecy, combined. If I ever manage to tell someone off like that, I don’t know how I’d keep the buttons on my shirt.

Irina Palm is a true, if unlikely, triumph of the human spirit.

And who better to play Maggie than Marianne Faithfull? After Mick Jagger made a mockery of their love in the late Sixties and The Rolling Stones cheated her out of royalties as co-writer of “As Tears Go By” and “Sister Morphine,” she grappled with the travails of addiction, depression and even homelessness. Faithfull is an artist who plummeted to and pulled herself out of the depths more impressively than any other major voice in music. She is a chanteuse sans pareil who sings from a soul marked by abysmal defeat and soaring redemption. What she’s lost in beauty since the days when London was her kingdom and Mick her king, she has recouped a thousandfold in soul and substance. Marianne Faithfull is a Brechtian goddess and she delivers a devastating performance as Maggie.

Even her speaking voice is exquisite, a rare trait among singers these days. If I could swing it, I’d walk around speaking in her smoky, raspy trill all day long. In fact, I tried a few weeks ago but Julius threatened to have me committed to Bellevue. Alas, that ended that phase.

But not even Julius could deny the greatness of Sam Garbarski’s Irina Palm. We both heartily recommend adding it to your next round of rentals.