After hearing about the December 30th DUI arrest of Diana Ross, my first thought was: "Wow, talk about Lady Sings the Blues!" And then it occurred to me that the film, which earned the Supremes lead singer an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of doomed jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, came out three decades earlier. That was a really good year on the silver screen, in fact; 1972 witnessed the release of several classic dramas, including The Godfather, The Emigrants and Sounder.
With the Golden Globes just two weeks away and Academy Award hopefuls to be announced February 11, the current crop of pictures - About Schmidt, The Hours, Adaptation and such - all seem worthy. But popular entertainment from 30 years ago continues to emanate a curious afterglow. So many of the industry's luminaries are still making movies - or at least headlines.
Ross ultimately lost to Liza Minnelli, who won the best-actress statuette for her role in Bob Fosse's Cabaret - which swept many of the top prizes. Judy Garland's often-troubled daughter also enjoyed an interesting 2002. Her celebrity-studded wedding to promoter David Gest and subsequent return to show biz kept the tabloids busy.
Cabaret, based on a play written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, later re-turned to Broadway for a revival that continues to this day. The musical depicts Berlin's decadent underbelly just before the Nazis took power. Kander and Ebb were also the talented composers of Chicago, another Fosse theatrical triumph and now a movie generating buzz about possible awards.
The most illustrious contender in '72 was The Godfather, winner of best film, best actor (Marlon Brando) and best adapted script (Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola). Despite being nominated in the same categories as the Mafioso masterpiece, John Boorman's even bleaker Deliverance got nothing at the Hollywood glitterfest. Nonetheless, this saga of city slickers whose weekend lark in the rural South is interrupted by unspeakable horror - no, not Trent Lott - remains a seminal moment in cinematic history.
Vilmos Zsigmond was behind the camera for Deliverance. He had no credits last year, but serves as cinematographer on Jersey Girl, the upcoming Kevin Smith comedy that pairs Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. These real-life lovebirds got even more tabloid ink in 2002 than Minnelli and Gest.
Conrad Hall was the director of photography in '72 for a lauded but since forgotten look at small-town losers, John Huston's Fat City. Last year Hall made waves with Road to Perdition. The gritty drama spotlights Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, a septuagenarian who happens to be in line for a Golden Globe later this month.
Hall already had an Oscar from 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in which he reunited with Newman after their collaborations on Harper (1966) and Cool Hand Luke (1967.)
Some say the greatest failing of Fat City is the lead, Stacy Keach, as a boxer on the skids. Apparently, Huston's first choice for the part was nixed by his producer, but the rejected actor went on to grab the gold: the godfather himself, Marlon Brando. ("Grab" might be the wrong word, since he sent a surrogate to the Oscar ceremonies as a protest of how Native Americans are treated.)
Among the less enduring fare from 1972, Travels With My Aunt may still resonate with contemporary audiences. It's based on a book by Graham Greene and directed by the legendary George Cukor. The star, a young Maggie Smith, is now the venerable Dame of Harry Potter fame, though her supporting-actress Oscar bid last year was for the prune-faced character she played in Gosford Park. Long before teaching magic to wizard wannabes or conniving with the English aristocracy, however, she too lost to Liza.
The late Greene revisited the screen scene in 2002 thanks to a movie version of The Quiet American, his novel about Vietnam in the 1950s. Michael Caine, now a Golden Globe nominee for his portrayal of a British journalist covering Southeast Asia, also gave a celebrated '72 performance: He and costar Sir Lawrence Olivier became Oscar rivals for their leading-man performances in Sleuth, a mystery loved by the public and the critics alike.
If your head is spinning from all this time travel mixed with degrees of separation, just think about poor Diana Ross. After Lady Sings the Blues, one of her two other thespian ventures was The Wiz in 1978. Kind of a dud, it may be best remembered for a hit song that should have become the diva's DUI mantra: "Ease On Down the Road.