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“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a charming gem of a film, sweet, sad and hilarious all at once, the more so because it’s based on a true story. The woman really did exist, and really did many of the things director Stephen Frears captured on film.


Jenkins was an heiress who spent lavishly on the classical music scene in New York until her death in 1944. Everyone owed her, even the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. And therein lies the price: the woman fancied herself as a great coloratura, even though she couldn’t hit a note with a 12-gauge shotgun and had a voice guaranteed to send cats running for their lives.


Meryl Streep plays Jenkins as someone so sweet, you can’t bear to break her heart, which is what saves the film from cynicism. We all want Florence to succeed -- and then she sings. Yet everyone around her -- from her husband St. Clair Bayfield (a perfect Hugh Grant; more on that below) to her vocal coach and her long-suffering accompanist, Cosme’ McMoon -- provides nothing but encouragement.


Divine though Streep is as Madame Florence, Grant is the one who steals the show. I wish he could be nominated for an Oscar for this; the man is pure charm as he protects Florence from the truth, as he persuades everyone to participate in the conspiracy, and yet the deep affection he actually feels for Florence is always there. Grant’s St. Clair makes you want to believe in Madame Florence. They have a May-December marriage of convenience. St. Clair was a failed actor who Madame Florence rescued from poverty. She pays his bills while he keeps her spirits up. Theirs is a platonic marriage, but the reason is a genuine surprise. The important point is that neither spouse comes across as exploiting the other. This story could easily have gone into “Sunset Boulevard” territory, but Frears keeps it on course.


There is no way to avoid discussing the singing. Streep, in fact, could have had quite the career in music had she chosen it. Knowing how good she is in real life when she goes into her recitals in the film makes it hilarious, the more so because the audience has to do its best to keep from laughing, which makes these scenes even funnier. As in real life, Madame Florence booked Carnegie Hall for what turned out to be her final performance. McMoon (a deft Simon Helberg) is quite properly terrified, telling St. Clair, “They’re going to murder us.” To which St. Clair replies, “Is there any other way you’ll play Carnegie Hall?” The look on McMoon’s face says it all.

In an interview, Frears said that he never told the extras in the audience what they were going to experience, and he had a hidden camera on the audience when Streep begins to sing. Those dropped jaws and amazed looks are not acting. They're the typical reaction.


To this day, Florence Foster Jenkins’ Carnegie Hall appearance is one of the most requested, and her recordings are considered comedy classics. (Give this one a try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMu9PKWthLE ) As for the film, don’t miss it.

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The time has come for the Democratic Party to face facts: it’s not the party of all the people anymore.

The reason Donald Trump won the election, I realize, is why I voted for Republican Phil Scott for governor of Vermont. Phil shows up. While his Democratic opponent was running for governor of northern Vermont, Phil actually paid attention to the southern half of the state. I interviewed Phil. Not once did I talk to Sue Minter.

That is what happened nationally. Hillary Clinton, essentially, ran for President of New York and California. Neither she, nor the Democratic Party generally, really did much to appeal to the rest of the country, and they felt left out. Democrats did not learn from Howard Dean and his 50-state strategy. Dean even went to Alaska to help the Democratic Party in 2006. He paid attention to the small states. There is a reason Dean is the best governor Vermont ever had; despite being a Wall Street brat, he understood Vermont better than anybody I ever met. This was a governor who returned phone calls.

And so, once again, we made the smart person’s mistake: assuming other people are smart. Not everyone votes on the basis of logic or even common sense. There is an emotional component that factors into voting, as well. That has to be taken into consideration. You do that by paying attention to every constituency. Everyone needs a piece of the pie.

Another mistake: thinking there would not be a last-minute dirty trick. In 2012, Benghazi was the dirty trick. This time around, the FBI’s blatant electioneering at the last minute lit the fuse. Had James Comey kept his damn mouth shut, we might not be facing the coming electoral and economic disaster. The Clinton campaign should have spent weeks telling everyone to expect cheating from the Republicans. Had they said, “Just wait. They’re going to pull something shady pretty soon,” Comey’s hand grenade would have been far less effective. It would have been seen for the partisan sabotage it was.

Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 by communicating with all the people. Until they that start doing that again, we are on the road to fascism and dictatorship.

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  • Sun, 09:07: Given recent events, the Republican Party is changing its symbol from an elephant to a goose.

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