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Campion's 'Bright', Poetic Romance

Set in the 19th century, Jane Campion's Bright Star centers on the unconsummated affair of John Keats and his Hampstead neighbor. Reviewer David Edelstein says the film doesn't have a single less-than-perfect performance.

05:46

Other segments from the episode on September 18, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 18, 2009: Interview with Larry Gelbart; Review of the newly remastered Beatles catalog; Interview with Amy Poehler; Review of the film "Bright star."

Transcript

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Larry Gelbart, Writing For Laughs

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting
in for Terry Gross.

One of TV’s all-time best writer-producers died last week at age 81.
Larry Gelbart was most famous as the man who took the book and movie
“M*A*S*H” and adapted it into a long-running hit CBS comedy about Army
medical personnel during the Korean War.

On Broadway, his credits include co-writing the deliriously funny
Stephen Sondheim musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum,” and his movie screenplays include the popular Dustin Hoffman
comedy “Tootsie.”

But Gelbart’s entire resume, especially on television, was no less
eclectic. More than any other writer, his work stretched out over many
decades and types of television. In the 1990s, for HBO, he wrote the
magnificently funny, fact-based “Barbarians at the Gate,” about the
hostile corporate takeover of a tobacco company. In the ‘70s and ‘80s,
he had “M*A*S*H,” and in the ‘50s he wrote for Sid Caesar, not for “Your
Show of Shows” but for Caesar’s subsequent variety series and specials,
where he worked alongside such other budding comedy writers as Mel
Brooks and Woody Allen.

Here’s a sample clip from that era, from “Caesar’s Hour.” Sid Caesar
plays a jazz musician, and Carl Reiner plays the pompous host of an
equally pompous arts anthology TV series. A jab at a show and a host on
TV at the time, “Omnibus” with Alistair Cook.

(Soundbite of television program, “CAESAR’S HOUR”)

Mr. CARL REINER (Actor): (As Aristotle Cookie) Good evening, ladies and
gentleman. The program is “Ominous,” and I am your host, Aristotle
Cookie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) Tonight we’d like to turn our “Ominous”
spotlight on music, more specifically the modern school of jazz, and to
help enlighten us, we are proud to have with us this evening one of the
foremost authorities in the new sounds in jazz. He has gone from the hot
jazz to the cool jazz and now developed it into the frozen school of
jazz. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Progress Hornsby. Mr. Hornsby.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) Good evening. Well, good evening, Mr. Hornsby,
and welcome to “Ominous.”

Mr. SID CAESAR (Actor): (As Progress Hornsby) How are you, Cookie?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) Let’s say we cut out the formalities, and we
will just use the first four bars of my name, Progress. Mmm, I think I’m
floating around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) Progress, I understand that you use the name
Progress and being symbolic of the way you feel about everything.

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) Man, I’m for moving ahead constantly forward.
If I had to back up my car, I’d sell it. Because going on route to the
reverse is the worst, man, you know what I mean? Then you’re really in
danger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) I must say, Progress, that your clothing is
rather unusual.

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) Oh, you dig my dry goods, don’t you, huh, man?
It’s a little thing I picked up in Rome.

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) Italy?

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) If that’s where Rome is, then that’s where I
picked it up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REINER: (As Cookie) I must say, Progress, like your music, it is a
most unusual suit.

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) Oh man, this is not the suit, this is just the
underwear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAESAR: (As Hornsby) My suit is out being fed. Would you like to
move with me? I’m going somewhere.

BIANCULLI: Terry spoke with Larry Gelbart in 1996 and asked him about
his days with Sid Caesar.

TERRY GROSS, host:

What was it like writing for “The Sid Caesar Show” as a group? Was it a
collective process?

Mr. LARRY GELBART (Writer): It was a totally collective process. We were
all locked in the same room together. Every Monday morning, from 10:00
until 6:00, on a Monday morning we’d say, well, what do we do this
Saturday night? And we - by Wednesday we had written an hour show.

That would have been one or two or three or four sketches, perhaps a
mime routine, perhaps some special musical material, and by Thursday Sid
was in the rehearsal hall with the performers rehearsing the material,
and it was broadcast live - that is to say in front of an audience,
without laugh machines, without tape machines, without any, you know,
mechanical help. By Saturday night at around 10:00 it was all over.

We had Sunday to relax and to either enjoy or regret what we had done on
Saturday night, and then Monday it started all over again. But there we
were, all in the same room, pitching jokes like crazy.

Neil Simon captured it amazingly accurately and affectionately in a play
he did a couple years ago called “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

GROSS: In an article in the New York Times a bunch of years ago, you
described the writing room as super-charged, marvelously competitive and
literally violent. I’d like to hear about the violence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: Everybody wants to hear about the violence. A lot of the
violence was directed at Mel Brooks. Mel – God bless him is the proper
cliché at this moment – Mel is a vastly unique and talented man. He
could not get to work on time. He was always late, and we resented it,
and he knew we resented it, but it didn’t stop him from being late. And
so there were times when we would burn him in effigy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Literally?

Mr. GELBART: Literally. We would have a hat, a shirt, a jacket or
something of him, set fire to it in this office building in New York
City on 57th Street.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: We would throw – Mel once rapped me on the bottom of my
feet with a ruler. I was sitting up, with my feet up on the desk, and
for some reason he just smacked me across the bottoms, and they really
hurt, and so when I – first chance I could get, I threw his shoes out
the window. He had taken them off because he was napping or something,
and so he had to go downstairs barefoot and buy a new pair of shoes.

There was an awful lot of, you know, ambivalence in the room, and the
negative side of it often, you know, resulted in that kind of violence,
although not continuously, and we didn’t even have time for that kind of
nonsense, truly, but we took a moment or two to vent our collective
spleens.

GROSS: I imagine there was a lot of ego and a lot of neurosis in the
room.

Mr. GELBART: Probably more neurosis than ego because when you’re in what
amounts to a dugout of writers, you know, a battery of writers, you’re
punching away. You don’t smart because one joke, you know, wasn’t
accepted by the others. You come up with another one.

When there’s a good one, fine, then you’re one joke closer to having a
sketch written, say. So while we all had healthy egos – what was the
other…

GROSS: Neurosis.

Mr. GELBART: Neurosis. Oh, that we were. We were all very neurotic, very
neurotic. We all – I like to think we all still are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And proud of it.

Mr. GELBART: Yeah, but no one more neurotic than Sid. I mean, you know…

GROSS: Well, how did Sid Caesar’s neurosis get expressed, and how did
you deal with it?

Mr. GELBART: Well, Sid was really kind of, you know, walking around
encased in rage for a lot of years. I mean, he’s talked about his own
demons, you know, his substance abuse and stuff. I don’t want to
elaborate on that, but Sid was a mess, and there were times he would
come to the office wearing a – carrying a revolver.

GROSS: You’re kidding.

Mr. GELBART: A Magnum revolver, yeah.

GROSS: Like, loaded?

Mr. GELBART: He was, and the gun was too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: No, no, Sid did not drink until after 6:00. So we all used
to try to get out of there about five minutes to 6:00.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: But Sid had a lot of anger, a lot of anger and, you know,
Sid was like a refrigerator in a sports jacket. He was a big, big man.
You know, Sid – Mel Brooks used the joke in “Blazing Saddles,” but once
Sid was riding in Central – horseback riding in Central Park with his
wife Florence, and Florence’s horse threw Florence to the ground, and
Sid got off his horse and punched Florence’s horse right between the
eyes, and the horse went down. I mean, we’re talking about that kind of
strength and violence that was, you know, set to go off at any second.

GROSS: So when he would bring his gun to work, would he brandish it, you
know, at the writers? What would he do with it?

Mr. GELBART: Oh, no, no, no. Sid – there was a time – for a while…

GROSS: Oh, I know what he’d do. He’d hold a gun to his forehead and say
– oh, he’s just hold out the gun, and he’d say: Those jokes stink. If
you want to kill me, use this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: No.

GROSS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: No, there was a time – Sid went through a paranoid stage
where he thought that Otto Skorzeny, the famous Nazi provocateur, was
after him.

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

Mr. GELBART: So he was really carrying it in self-defense. Now it
becomes understandable, I hope.

GROSS: Right, that he was having paranoid delusions.

Mr. GELBART: Yeah, that the man was going to surface in a submarine in
the East River and come over to 57th Street and get Sid. I don’t – Sid
felt no violence towards us. He really did then and still does have a
healthy respect for what we did with and for him.

GROSS: Well, let me ask you. If he thought that someone was out to get
him who clearly wasn’t, did you ever worry about how he was going to
perform live on television?

Mr. GELBART: No. Sid – we never worried for one second. The only thing
we knew that Sid would not be sure of was being able to say good evening
to the audience as Sid Caesar.

Once he got into any sketch, any prepared material, once he could do a
monologue, once he could do a mime, once he could play a character, he
was fine. The only person in the world he did not know how to play was
Sid Caesar. He had a neurotic, persistent hack. He would cough. It would
be good eve -

(Soundbite of coughing)

Mr. GELBART: He could not say good evening ladies and gentlemen. That’s
what we worried about. We thought that would be the whole hour, Sid
saying good evening.

GROSS: So would you have him say good evening in somebody else’s
character, just to get him through that?

Mr. GELBART: No, he had to be himself for a second.

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. GELBART: Sid was often not himself when he was off-camera. You know,
we talk about it in that session that we had. When we got together, we’d
talk about the fact that for almost a year, Sid spoke with a Polish
accent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: Yes, he pretended to be a Polish janitor, a maintenance
man, and that’s the way he said good morning. That’s the way he had
lunch with you, and that’s the way he said good night.

BIANCULLI: Larry Gelbart, speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s 1996 interview with Larry Gelbart,
who died last week at age 81. Gelbart was on Sid Caesar’s writing staff
and developed “M*A*S*H” into a hit TV show. He also co-wrote the book
for the Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum.”

GROSS: Larry Gelbart, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”
is based on the plays of the Roman writer Plautus, who was born in 254
B.C. So this guy wrote a long, long time ago. What’s the connection
between Plautus and “Forum”?

Mr. GELBART: Total. We read the 26 plays of his which still exist, 27
plays of his which are extant, and we selected a character here, a
character there, a bit of a story line here, and another one from
another play, and then started adding our own connective tissue and our
own Plautean-like complications.

So it’s a direct line from work that is, you know, over 2,000 years old
to what they’re doing on Broadway today. There is one line in the play
which was done in 200 B.C., where Miles Gloriosus, the braggart warrior,
says to his admirers, he says: I am a parade. And it always gets a
laugh. Steve worked it into a lyric, and that line, as I said, is about
2,500 years old.

GROSS: Was Plautus the Roman father of low comedy?

Mr. GELBART: He was the Roman father of low comedy. I got in trouble
writing a piece recently for the New York Times in which I said he
invented it all. The truth is, he adapted a great deal of it from the
Greeks, from Menander and others, but he was certainly one of the first
people to introduce comic conventions.

I mean, one would think comedy was always with us, and in fact it has
always been with us, but these were people who organized that comedy.
They gave us stereotypes. They gave us the hen-pecked husband. They gave
us the moonstruck young lover. They gave us the wily slave, the hen-
pecked husband and the braggart warrior, and situations, situations,
mistaken identities, all sorts of comic conventions which have not been
changed or improved upon in two millennia.

GROSS: You were the principal writer for “M*A*S*H” from 1972 to 1976.
You’re the guy who developed it from the film. Did it seem to you when
you were starting on “M*A*S*H” that a mobile surgical unit in the Korean
War was the perfect subject for a TV sitcom?

Mr. GELBART: No. I think it was the perfect setting for a television
half hour. I don’t think that “M*A*S*H,” I never have thought of it as a
sitcom, truly.

GROSS: As a sitcom.

Mr. GELBART: Because – only because of what sitcom has come to mean, you
know, the hello-honey-I’m-home kind of show.

GROSS: Laugh.

Mr. GELBART: Laugh – well, yeah, well, yeah, three-camera tape, studio
show. You know, in a funny way, “Forum” is more of a sitcom than
“M*A*S*H” is because all the laughs in that show are situational. They
all derive from situation. No, I just thought that “M*A*S*H” as a weekly
show could address an area of human behavior that would lend itself to
comedy, and more, a comedy in a minor key, much as the theme song…

GROSS: “Suicide is Painless.”

Mr. GELBART: Yeah. But yes, I did think it was going to be something I
would enjoy writing.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite episode?

Mr. GELBART: I think my favorite episode is the least-written episode,
and that was the one that was sort of my valedictory episode. It was the

last episode of the fourth year, and it was called “The Interview,” and
it’s in black and white, and it consists of a series of interviews with
the actors, in character, talking about the war, how they feel about it,
and I think it was rather a remarkable document, if I can be so
immodest. I can be so modest because a lot of it was improvised. A lot
of what the actors said was not written for them. They came up with it
themselves.

GROSS: You’ve written a lot of drag humor over the years. You co-wrote
“Tootsie.”

Mr. GELBART: Yes.

GROSS: Of course, Klinger was in drag during a lot of “M*A*S*H,” and
there’s some drag humor in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum.” What’s so…

Mr. GELBART: Well, you can see how far drag humor goes. You know, that
was taken from, you know, the convention that began…

GROSS: In ancient Rome.

Mr. GELBART: In Plautus’ day, yeah. So you mean what’s the attraction
for me?

GROSS: Yeah, and also, what’s so funny about – I mean, we’ve all, you
know, laughed, but analytically, which I figured you might analyze this
as a writer, analytically, what’s so funny about a man in a dress,
particularly if it’s, like, a straight man in a dress?

Mr. GELBART: I don’t know. I’m sitting in front of a mirror now in a
dress, and I don’t think it’s very funny. I think it’s very attractive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: What’s funny is it just knocks the props out of any kind
of, you know, ridiculous, masculine ego. It just lets us be, because
it’s just such a reversal of what we think we are and what we hope to
come off as. I mean, that’s not a very scholarly response, but I think
that’s going to have to do.

GROSS: Your family moved to Hollywood when you were a kid.

Mr. GELBART: Yes.

GROSS: And your father was a barber.

Mr. GELBART: My father has a rare distinction of having been a barber to
both JFK and Harry Ruby.

GROSS: Wow. Harry Ruby, the songwriter, Harry Ruby?

Mr. GELBART: No, Harry Ruby – Jack Ruby, excuse me, Jack Ruby.

GROSS: Oh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: And his son has the rare distinction of having Alzheimer's
before his father.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: No, Jack Ruby, who of course shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

GROSS: Wow. When the family moved to Hollywood, your father started
cutting the heads of movie stars like Edward G. Robinson, Gregory Peck,
George Raff. How did he become barber to the stars?

Mr. GELBART: Well, we were in – we were living in L.A., in Hollywood,
and it just happened that the shop where he finally was able to practice
his trade was heavily populated with name people. It was called
Drucker’s Barber Shop(ph) in Beverly Hills, above a very exclusive men’s
haberdashery called Jerry Rothschild’s(ph), and all these people came in
there, all of them, from, you know, from the stars to other stars, you
know, to gangster stars: Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen, people like that.
And presidents.

GROSS: The story of your father cutting the hair of celebrities I think
segues perfectly into the story of how you became a professional comedy
writer. So let me let you tell the story.

Mr. GELBART: Well, one of my father’s clients was Danny Thomas. We are
now, of course, talking about 1940 - what, ’45, ’46. No, before that,
’43. And he told Thomas that – Thomas was appearing on a radio show
called “The Fannie Brice Maxwell House Coffee Time.”

My dad, quite on his own bat, because I had never, ever, ever thought of
writing as a living or even something I could do, writing comedy – I was
the typical sort of high school showoff who put on plays and whether it
was in the auditorium or, you know, geography or history class, I was
always cutting up, mostly to cover up the fact that I had not done my
work.

But anyway, he said to Thomas, my son is very clever. Would you like to

have me – would you like to have him write something for you? Thomas
said sure. I mean, what did it cost him, you know? And so I wrote some
material for him, and Thomas was impressed enough to pass me along to
the head writer of the show, a man named Mac Benoff(ph), and Mac put me
to work on the staff. I was 16.

GROSS: Do you remember anything you wrote for him?

Mr. GELBART: I wrote a – I remember a joke because I remember standing
in the control booth again and hearing it read by an actor at a
microphone and having an audience laugh, and that was the first time
that that ever happened to me.

I don’t know what the build-up was. Somebody was being charged with some
heinous crime, and the punch line, the man at whom these charges were
directed, said: I said I was sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GELBART: I mean, I know that doesn’t sound funny now, but that was
the – look at that. It’s still getting a laugh. I feel like Plautus.
That was the joke, and I remember, you know, all these years, that that
was my first taste of this kind of reaction.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Larry Gelbart, speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. He died last
week at age 81. The finale of “M*A*S*H,” the series which he developed
for television, drew an audience rating that has never been equaled by a
regularly scheduled television program and probably never will. I’m
David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR. Here’s Stephen Sondheim’s
opening song to “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,”
“Comedy Tonight.”

(Soundbite of song, “Comedy Tonight”)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Singing) Something
familiar, something peculiar. Something for everyone, a comedy tonight.
Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, a
comedy tonight.

Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns. Bring on the lovers, lions and
clowns. Old situation, new complications, nothing pretentious
(unintelligible). Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.
..COST:
$00.00
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..DATE:
20090918
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Remastering, And Re-Appreciating, The Beatles

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

The Beatles are hardly obscure, and the release last week of their
entire catalog of recordings in new remasterings, as well as the
Beatles' Rock Band game, has thrust them into the news again. Sales
numbers from the first week are now in. News of 626,000 albums sold. And
those box sets, by the way, they're counted as one unit.

Our rock historian, Ed Ward, has spent the past couple of decades
without a single Beatles record in his house but has used the occasion
of the re-release to listen to them all again.

(Soundbite of song, "Rock and Roll Music")

THE BEATLES (Rock Band): (Singing) Just let me hear some of that rock
and roll music. Any old way you choose it. It's got a back beat, you
can't blues it. Any old time you use it. It's gotta be rock roll music.
If you wanna dance with me. If you wanna dance with me. I've got no kick
against modern jazz. Unless they try to play it...

ED WARD: My relationship with the Beatles has always been sort of tense.
When they first appeared on the scene, I'd already been through my rock-
and-roll period and rejected it, when all the plastic Bobbys and Fabians
began to appear. Instead, I'd turned to folk music, which was more real,
more important, and more grown up. I had, after all, just turned 15.

And there was another thing: My sister, who was three and a half years
younger than me, loved the Beatles. No 15-year-old boy is ever going to
share the taste of an 11-year-old girl, for heaven sakes.

But a couple of years later, I went to college and was beginning to
change my mind. A friend's brother said he had a protest song he wanted
me to hear and played me "Satisfaction." A number of my folk idols were
plugging in, as I'd already seen Bob Dylan do at Forest Hills tennis
stadium. So when the Beatles came out with "Rubber Soul," I felt they'd
met me halfway.

(Soundbite of song, "Nowhere Man")

BEATLES: (Singing) He's a real nowhere man sitting in his nowhere land,
making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Doesn't have a point of view.
Knows not where he's going to. Isn't he a bit like you and me? Nowhere
man, please listen. You don’t know what you’re missing. Nowhere man, the
world is at your command. He's as blind as...

WARD: And hey, they were writing protest songs too. So, realizing that
folk and rock could coexist peacefully in my life, I continued with
both. But unlike with the Rolling Stones, I never went backwards into
the Beatles' catalog and never paid it much attention. I was far more
interested in the innovations they were coming up with, which always
seemed to be just in advance of the rest of the world catching on.

Like everyone else, I celebrated "Sgt. Pepper" and wondered about
"Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." But suddenly, there were
so many interesting groups that the Beatles just became one of them.

For me, this changed in 1969. I'd been writing for a new magazine called
Rolling Stone, and they asked me to review the new Beatles album, which
was a real honor. They didn't even know its name, but within a few days
I did. In a move that's inconceivable now, Capitol Records sent me a
copy of "Abbey Road" three weeks before it was going to be released so I
could listen to it and write about it, which I did.

The thing was, though, I didn’t like it. Surely, I wrote, they must have
enough talent and intelligence to do better than this. And so Rolling
Stone, which could have scooped the world, held on to the review until
someone could be found to write a very positive one. I don't even think
I listened to "Let It Be" when it came out, and then the Beatles were
history.

And so, my record collection, and then my CD collection, was Beatle-
deficient until just recently. When the remasters were announced, I
decided this was my opportunity to re-hear the Beatles in their
totality, from their first recording session to their last. And if the
mastering job was as good as it should be, maybe I'd actually hear them
for the first time. American pressings were notoriously bad, and I could
never afford the British ones.

(Soundbite of song, "You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away")

BEATLES: (Singing) Here I stand head in hand. Turn my face to the wall.
If she's gone I can't go on. Feelin' two-foot small. Everywhere people
stare each and every day. I can see them laugh at me. And I hear them
say. Hey, you've got to hide your love away. Hey, you've got to hide
your love away. How can I even...

WARD: The first good thing about the remasters is they follow the
British releases. American publishing fees limited the number of songs
on an album, so until "Sgt. Pepper," all the Beatles albums were missing
tracks. This meant that odd compilations were released from time to
time, albums made up of tracks from here and there. So "Beatles For
Sale" and the original "Help" album are far more coherent artistic
statements than their American equivalents, "Beatles '65" and the
"American Help" soundtrack.

The curve of the band's development was suddenly clearer to me, and
"Rubber Soul" didn't seem like such a radical move in context: it was a
natural musical progression, and somewhere along the way they'd learned
to write decent lyrics.

The second good thing about the remasters, of course, is the
remastering. Meet the Beatles, warts and all. Not only do the chiming
guitars chime brilliantly and Ringo's drums go off like bombs, but the
occasional mistake shines through, and the really bad stuff, like the
White Album's "Revolution 9," is there for all to hear, the emperor
standing naked.

But there isn't much really bad stuff, although the White Album could
use a good edit down to one disc, and the new sound quality seems to me
to be the best these recordings have ever sounded and that's without
hearing the mono mixes, which in some cases are probably even better.

And the third good thing, of course, is that it's all here. A double-
disc called Past Masters collects all the stuff that wasn't on albums,
from the early singles to the utterly redundant B-side "You Know My Name
(Look Up the Number)." The black box is like a coffin, or maybe an
archive box which closes with a satisfying magnetic clunk. Here are the
Beatles, it says. Make of them what you will. Millions have and millions
will. I finally got to hear it all, and I have to say: I like them
better than ever.

BIANCULLI: Ed Ward lives in the South of France.
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Amy Poehler Talks About The Funny Business

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Last night, Amy Poehler scored a rare primetime TV doubleheader. She
guest starred the season premier of NBC's "Saturday Night Live: Weekend
Update Thursday," anchoring the fake news with Seth Meyers. And then,
immediately after that, she starred in the second season premier of her
own NBC sitcom, "Parks and Recreation." She plays Leslie Knope, the
deputy parks director in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.

Amy Poehler was a regular cast member of "Saturday Night Live" from 2001
to 2008. In her final year at "SNL" she received a lot of attention for
co-anchoring "Weekend Update," her portrayal of Hilary Clinton during an
election year, her Sarah Palin rap, and her increasingly evident
pregnancy. Terry spoke with Amy Poehler in May.

Here’s a clip from last night's show. Poehler, as Leslie, imported a
pair of penguins to be married in a special ceremony at the local zoo,
except, she mistakenly selected two penguins who were male. An angry
constituent comes to complain.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Parks and Recreation")

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actor): (as Leslie Knope) Well what can I do for you
and those fine people at the SFSF?

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as Marsha) Well, you could resign...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) ...if you’re up for it.

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) Oh, you’re serious?

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) When you performed a marriage for gay
penguins, using taxpayer money on government property, you were
symbolically taking a stand in favor of the gay marriage agenda.

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) Oh, I'm sorry. But hold on a second
there, Marsha. That was not my intention at all.

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) Well, why else would you marry penguins?

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) Because I firmly believed that it would
be cute, and it was.

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) Leslie, are you married?

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) No. Not yet, Marsha. Soon. Probably. I
have a plan, but no. Not now. Not dating anyone yet. Focusing on my
career.

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) I thought so. So you couldn’t possibly
understand about when gays marry it ruins marriage for the rest of us.
So either you annul the wedding or I’ll publicly ask for your
resignation. You know what? I'm so terrible with directions. If I'm
headed to the parking lot, do I make a left out of here or do I go
right?

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) Make a left. Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) Thank you.

Ms. POEHLER: (as Leslie Knope) You’re welcome.

Unidentified Woman: (as Marsha) Annual the wedding.

GROSS: Amy Poehler, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you here.
Let me ask you to describe your character on "Parks and Recreation."

Ms. POEHLER: Well, Leslie Knope is a misguided optimist. She's kind of a
person in local government who believes that things can happen really
fast, and big changes should happen. So she's kind of - I refer to her
often as an open-faced sandwich. She's very easy to read and a little
sloppy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: She's a - I really like playing her because she over-
promises, but she's also very kind of well-intentioned and doesn't -
there's nothing cool about her.

GROSS: One of the things I like about the character is that her
ambitions are so small. Like when she gets her own sub-committee...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's like she's been elected president of the United States.

Ms. POEHLER: Right. Well, Leslie has a life plan, and you know, when she
explains it, it's over very small little increments, you know. She talks
about how her next step is getting on the city council and then, you
know, becoming perhaps, you know, the right-hand man of the lieutenant
governor of Indiana, and then that governor dies, and then she takes
over, and then, you know, after a scandal she runs for senator, and it's
just a very slow process for Leslie, and so these small little victories

are low stakes but high excitement for her.

GROSS: "Parks and Recreation" was created by Greg Daniels, who also
created the American version of "The Office." And there are similarities
between the two shows. They're kind of companions, one set in a paper
office and the other in a small-town government office, but they're both
in that mockumentary style. Have you watched "The Office" a lot, and on
a whole, is it better to have seen or not seen much of "The Office"?

Ms. POEHLER: Ever since I knew that I was doing this show, I stopped
watching "The Office," which was hard to do because I love that show and
the performers on it. But I had to stop because, well, it's hard to
enjoy comedy in general right now, when you're on - it's very hard to
watch comedy for me, when I'm doing a comedy show, because I either
watch a show and I love it, and I'm jealous, or I watch a show and I see
all the problems with it, and I'm angry that I watched it. But that's
for my shrink and not for you, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: But yeah, I was a huge fan, and then I had to stop just
because it's kind of too weird to kind of watch it at the same time.

GROSS: So do you miss "Saturday Night Live"?

Ms. POEHLER: I do, I do. I mean, I think it's kind of the most exciting
job I will ever have in many ways, and I certainly miss that
exhilarating pace of it, but the opportunity to kind of stay in one
place and play, you know, a character that grows and changes is really
exciting as an actor.

And SNL, there's this very - you know, it's a machine. And when you jump
off the train and it speeds away and you kind of get the dust in your
face and you cough and you wave goodbye to your friends, and you think
oh no, you know, there it goes, what a ride while I was on it, but I
might need to, you know, I might need to walk by the side of the tracks
for a while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: But I do, I do. I miss it a lot, and the people that work
there are tremendous at their jobs, and so yeah, I do.

GROSS: Now how did you get the part of doing Hillary during the primary?

Ms. POEHLER: Well, I think I started doing her in, like, 2004 or 2005, I
tried to do her a couple times. And certainly it probably was just I was
- it was a process of, you know, sometimes when you're doing an
impression on that show, it's just kind of because you maybe have a take
on that person, or you sound or look like that person. I think that I
probably got the job because everyone else just wasn’t paying attention
that week, because I certainly don’t sound like her. We’re similar but -
in the way we look, but - and I didn’t really have a take on her. So it
took a while to figure out how to play her.

GROSS: One of the sketches you did as Hillary Clinton was a debate
sketch, in which Obama was depicted as someone who the media really
pampered and catered to, and as Hillary, you pointed that out. And then
Hillary Clinton, the real Hillary Clinton, took that and ran with it…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …basically quoted it…

Ms. POEHLER: Right, right.

GROSS: …in her stump speeches and said look, you know, this is what
“Saturday Night Live” is saying.

Ms. POEHLER: Right.

GROSS: And then she shortly after that appeared on “Saturday Night
Live…”

Ms. POEHLER: Right.

GROSS: …in what was called like an editorial response.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Right.

GROSS: She basically said I was told not to be flattered by this and
that this is not an endorsement…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And let me play the sketch that ensued after that, when you and
she were together on stage.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Saturday Night Live”)

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): (as presidential
candidate) I still enjoyed that that sketch a great deal because I
simply adore Amy’s impression of me.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh well, my ears are ringing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. CLINTON: How are you?

Ms. POEHLER: Good, thank you.

Sec. CLINTON: Well, I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh, yeah, well, thank you for coming. I love your outfit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. CLINTON: Well, I love your outfit.

Ms. POEHLER: Well, thank you.

Sec. CLINTON: But I do want the earrings back.

Ms. POEHLER: Oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sec. CLINTON: Do I really laugh like that? Yeah, well like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Sec. CLINTON: Oh, the campaign, it’s going very well - very, very well.

Ms. POEHLER: Right.

Sec. CLINTON: Why, what have you heard?

Ms. POEHLER: Nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s Hillary Clinton with my guest, Amy Poehler, on a sketch on
“Saturday Night Live.” So what was it like to be on stage with Hillary?
And I should mention you were, you know, dressed identically in brown,
tweed jackets…

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah.

GROSS: …with black piping. .TEXT:

Ms. POEHLER: Much, much kudos to our wardrobe department, who makes
those jackets in about 45 minutes. These people are geniuses at what
they do, and, you know, you’ll get a call, you know, so-and-so, you
know, someone’s going to play Donald Trump, and he has to be a vampire,
and this has to happen in 20 minutes. And like any live show, the people
are so great because there’s no – it’s like an emergency room. There’s -
no one stands in the middle of the room and starts screaming, we’re
never going to do this. This is never going to work. It’ll never happen.
We don’t have enough time. It’s just okay. Everyone says okay, and it
gets done over and over again in the best way. But - sorry, I forgot
your question.

GROSS: Oh, what was it like to be on stage with Hillary Clinton?

Ms. POEHLER: Well, it’s always strange to be dressed like someone and
stand next to them. That’s always strange, unless you’re, you know, a
twin and your parents - your mother dressed you for the day. But - so it
was exhilarating. It was fun.

GROSS: Can I point out, not everything that you did about her was
flattering. So was that – was that awkward?

Ms. POEHLER: You know…

GROSS: …even making fun of her laugh, which you did onstage with her.
Did you feel, like, okay, I’ve said some things and done some things
that are probably a little offensive to her, and here we are together?

Ms. POEHLER: Yeah, that certainly happens. You know, there would be
times when, like, I heard that that, you know, that her camp would have
- were excited about something they saw, and I would say uh-oh, be
careful because you might not be excited this week, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POEHLER: Oh boy. You certainly have that moment where you’re like oh
boy, sorry about that or not sorry about that, you know, depending on
what you do. But it’s interesting that you point out the laugh just

because that, I think, is an example of - she doesn’t really laugh like
that. But the perception of her laugh was interesting, that people
believed that she laughed like that. She didn’t.

She actually has a kind of like a very inclusive and open laugh, and
it’s kind of warm. But that laugh came from her trying to keep things
down and kind of not being able to believe all the stuff that she had to
deal with. And so that’s how that laugh came to be, but it really isn’t
anything like how the way she laughs. So it’s kind of interesting, too,
because I don’t really do a very good impression of her. So it was kind
of an impression of the impression of her that was - seemed to working
or seemed to be getting laughs.

BIANCULLI: Amy Poehler speaking with Terry Gross in May. Poehler’s NBC
comedy series “Parks And Recreation” began it’s second season last
night.

Coming up David Edelstein reviews the new Jane Campion film, “Bright
Star.” This is FRESH AIR.
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Campion’s ‘Bright’, Poetic Romance

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

New Zealand-born writer and director Jane Campion is best known for her,
1993 drama “The Piano.” Her new film is “Bright Star,” named after a
poem by John Keats. The Australian actress Abbie Cornish plays Fanny
Brawne, the object of Keats’s affection and the woman for whom he wrote
that poem.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Having seen many BBC literary biopics, I’ve come to
think of the romantic poets as lyrical fops lolling on verdant lawns,
their musings interrupted by bronchial spasms, directed into tastefully
blood-spotted handkerchiefs. Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” is in a
different league. Set in the 19th century, the movie centers on the
unconsummated affair of John Keats and his Hampstead neighbor, Fanny
Brawne. And it has a palette and rhythm all its own.

Campion tells the story in brief yet tortured scenes, her texture rough,
abrasive. Every quick exchange suggests violence, emotional violence but
with physical consequences, as if blood could truly be poisoned by
lovesickness and a heart could literally break. The film is that vivid.

Abby Cornish plays Fanny, a flirty young woman who sews her own clothes
— flouncy things, with ruffles — and is instantly smitten with Ben
Whishaw’s Keats. The poet is wan and impoverished, unappreciated by
critics, and stricken over the wasting away of his younger brother from
TB. He can barely give Fanny his full attention — even when she asks him
to tutor her in poetry.

The movie has a third major force, Keats’s friend Charles Armitage
Brown, played to the unnerving hilt by Paul Schneider. He hates Fanny
and openly mocks her. He says he wants to keep the fragile Keats pure,
ever primed for the visit of the muse — but his behavior suggests an
abandoned lover.

“Bright Star” is as near as Campion has come to what Keats dubbed
negative capability, which he describes in this movie as when a person
is capable of, quote, “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” What I mean in
regard to Campion is that she abandons her usual arty mannerisms and
agenda — which is to dramatize the ways in which women are punished by a
patriarchal society for wanting to control their own bodies. Here, both
Fanny and Keats suffer at the hands of a culture that leaves the
penniless poet too bereft and ashamed to make the bond with his true
love a formal one.

That said, Campion does have a modest feminist agenda: to salvage
Brawne’s 19th-century reputation as a loose woman who overtaxed the
energies of her brilliant lover and had the tastelessness to publish his
demonstrative letters after his death, when his reputation soared. The
movie leaves no doubt that the world is better for those sublime
letters, snatches of which we hear. And Campion dramatizes how deeply
Brawne longed to enter Keats’s inner world.

(Soundbite of movie, “Bright Star”)

Mr. BEN WHISHAW (Actor): (As John Keats) I had such a dream last night.

I was floating above the trees with my lips connected to those of a
beautiful figure, for what seemed like an age, flowery treetops sprung
up beneath us and we rested in them with the lightness of a cloud.

Ms. ABBIE CORNISH (Actor): (As Fanny Brawne) Who was the figure?

Mr. WHISHAW: (As John Keats) I must have had my eyes closed because I
can't remember.

Mr. CORNISH: (As Fanny Brawne) And yet you remember the treetops.

Mr. WHISHAW: (As John Keats) Not so well as I remember the lips.

Mr. CORNISH: (As Fanny Brawne) Whose lips? Were they my lips?

EDELSTEIN: The emotions in “Bright Star” are never tidy. Abbie Cornish
struggles to maintain her poise in a way that’s most un-Keira-Knightley-
ish. And she’s a touching mess lying on her bed, on yet another day with
no letter from Keats.

(Soundbite of movie, “Bright Star”)

Mr. CORNISH: (As Fanny Brawne) No letter, not today.

(Soundbite of creaking)

Mr. CORNISH: (As Fanny Brawne) My love. This love? I shall never tease
the (unintelligible) again.

EDELSTEIN: The movie doesn’t have a single less-than-perfect
performance. I especially loved little Edie Martin with her swarm of red
ringlets as Fanny’s sister Toots. She has a luminous deadpan. The one
off-note? The closing credits, over which Whishaw reads the poem “Bright
Star,” in pear-shaped BBC syllables, too refined given what we’ve lived
through. It’s beautiful but embalmed, while the film is unruly and
alive.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can
download the podcast of our show at freshsir.npr.org.

For Terry Gross, I’m David Bianculli.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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