Liz Smith: Shirley Bassey and James Bond — The Legend Continues

Shirley Bassey

And more from our Gossip Girl: Ronnie Spector’s Christmas gift to NYC …  Jodie Foster dominates Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”


Who can forget Shirley Bassey blasting her way to international fame, singing the title song of the third James Bond movie, “Goldfinger,” released in 1964?

Miss Bassey — Dame Bassey, actually — went on to record two more Bond themes. She belted out “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker.” In years to come, artists such as Carly Simon (“Nobody Does It Better”) … Paul McCartney (“Live and Let Die”) … Nancy Sinatra (“You Only Live Twice”) … Tom Jones (“Thunderball”) and even Madonna (“Die Another Day”) put their mark on various Bond soundtracks. But it is the sassy Miss Bassey whose voice is forever associated with 007.

Now, here’s the tidbit. Bassey actually recorded a song, titled “No Good About Goodbye,” for 2008’s “The Quantum of Solace.” This was Daniel Craig’s second turn as Bond. The song was rejected. In its place was a Jack White/Alicia Keys duet, “Another Way To Die.” That, well … died.

You can find “No Good About Goodbye” on Bassey’s album, “The Performance.” It’s great. In the first place, Bassey’s voice is virtually — no, perhaps, literally — unchanged since 1964. This woman takes care of her instrument! Second, it is such a “Bond” sound. Suggestion to producer Barbara Broccoli: when the time comes to score “Skyfall,” the latest Bond film — use Bassey’s song. Or write her a new one. The image of Daniel Craig as 007 and the sound of Shirley Bassey: a great mix of 20th and 21st century pop culture.

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SPEAKING OF hot singers — the great Ronnie Spector rings in the Christmas season yet again with her fabled “Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever!” event. This happens on Dec. 16th and 17th at The Cutting Room on 44 East 32nd Street. (Ronnie has been giving this seasonal gift to Manhattan for more than 20 years.)

Ronnie will sing her famous versions of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Sleigh Ride,” along with pop classics such as “Be My Baby.” She will also perform her much-admired cover of the Amy Winehouse song, “Back to Black.” Ronnie, along with her Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Crystals, Bob B. Sox and the Blue Jeans, were all part of Phil Spector’s legendary 1963 “A Christmas Gift To You” album. (Mr. Spector, a genius but strange to the max, remains jailed for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.)

To see Ronnie make merry this year, call 212-691-1900.

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WAY BACK in 1966, Elizabeth Taylor underwent a much-publicized “de-glamorization” for Mike Nichols’ screen adaptation of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” She gained weight, wore a graying frowsy wig and had some extra puffiness put around her eyes. She still looked pretty good — as the Mad Magazine parody of the movie put it — “maybe you wouldn’t want to be married to her, but you’d sure want her as a girlfriend!”

I was reminded of this as I watched Jodie Foster in Roman Polanski’s screen version of Yasmina Reza’s stage play, “God of Carnage” — now titled simply, “Carnage.” Not only does Reza’s play bear some structural resemblance to Edward Albee’s classic — two married couples meet, battle, and tear away at each other — but Miss Foster allows herself to be deglamorized in a fashion Miss Taylor wouldn’t have dreamed of, and which few actresses would dare.

I thought Charlize Theron went pretty far this season with “Young Adult” — allowing herself to be so unattractive physically and as a character. But that’s nothing, now that I’ve seen “Carnage.” Foster appears onscreen with an apparently naked face, harshly photographed in brutal daylight (the action takes place over one afternoon in her and hubby John C. Reilly’s Brooklyn apartment). The other couple is played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz. Heightening the effect is that Foster portrays the least appealing of playwright Reza’s characters. None of these people turn out to be especially nice — although one can’t help being charmed with the wry, icy honesty of Waltz.

But Jodie Foster’s Penelope is a monstrous, uptight, turn-off from the get-go. Applause to Jodie for not allowing one bit of actressy vanity or sentimentality to compromise playwright Reza and director Polanski’s vision. If anybody could take an Oscar nomination from this, it would surely be Jodie Foster.

“Carnage” is a black comedy. It worked onstage. As a movie, however, one truly has to suspend disbelief that these people would ever spend more than the required few minutes it takes for them to discuss the physical altercation between their young sons — the incident that brings them together. Of course, if that were the case there’d be no play or movie. Unlike “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” there’s no sexual tension, nor are the revelations/observations terribly shocking. Although tongues are loosened by liquor — Foster softens up a smidge after she has a few glasses of scotch, and Winslet’s prim character becomes rather slatternly. (The big laugh comes when Winslet shrieks at the self-righteous Foster, “I don’t give a shit that our son kicked the shit out of your son, and I wipe my ass on your human rights!”) Waltz and O’Reilly hold their liquor somewhat better. The intended satire might be elusive to some audiences, who’ll come away feeling the film is much ado about nothing. Except as a showcase for four fine actors — three of whom have won Oscars. It runs only 80 minutes, however. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to suffer long.

That said, everybody is splendid. If great performances are your cup of tea, you’ll appreciate “Carnage.” The critics in Venice certainly did, awarding it with the Leoncino Prize.

Roman Polanski’s latest will be loved or loathed (unlike last year’s gray, moody thriller, “The Ghost Writer,” which everybody seemed to admire.) To the negative point of view, one person left a recent “Carnage” screening and made but a single comment: “Another reason to have him arrested.”

5 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Rho says:

    I really like Shirley.  I remember once at the Concord Hotel in the Borscht Belt, she was performing, but the airline lost her luggage.  She had to go the Concord’s store to buy a gown.  She was really upset, but her show was fantastix.

  2. avatar Rho says:

    I mean fantastic.  Sorry about that.

  3. avatar Rho says:

    I left a comment, what did I say wrong?

  4. avatar Rho says:

    Very strange, I see it now. 

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rho…

      Shirley Bassey’s lost luggage.  That was probably a pretty great show you saw.  She was furious throughout!   And there’s nothing so vocally amazing as a furious Shirley Bassey.