Monday, June 17, 2024

Exclusive: Famed Directors, Pop Star First to See Oscar Buzzed Electrifying Documentary About Leonard Bernstein


Last night in New York, mega publicist Peggy Siegal was back in full force for a screening of an electrifying documentary about famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

Doug Tirola’s spectacular “Bernstein’s Wall ” — told mostly in the icon’s own words — was ready before Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro.” But Tirola’s producers wisely let that feature go first, paving the way for a deep dive into the man, the myth, the musician.

Siegal got top theater reporter Frank DiLella of Spectrum One to host, and brought in the A list for a screening at the Dolby theater on 55th St. and a dinner following at Jean Georges’ stunning new 425 restaurant — the heir apparent to the old Four Seasons. During the delicious dinner, DiLella and Tirola stood up and did an old school “conversation” that shed even more light on the subject.

No less than film titans Paul Schrader, John Patrick Shanley, and Julie Taymor kvelled over Tirola’s work. Taymor was accompanied by Oscar winning composer husband, Elliot Goldenthal. A surprise guest was Grammy winning pop and folk star Suzanne Vega, who told me when she got Siegal’s invite, she said ‘yes’ immediately. She also told me her connection to Bernstein: “He was sitting behind me once on the Concorde, but I was too scared to talk to him.” So she at least owed him her time now.

Also in attendance: newly minted Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award winner Rolonda Watts, plus original MTV VJ (and long time Sirius XM music host) Marc Goodman, as well as indie film king Ted Hope and Broadway stars — Tony winning actor Gavin Creel, and the great choreographer Warren Carlyle.

Tirola has about a dozen docs under his belt, but “Bernstein’s Wall” — produced by Susan Bedusa — is his masterwork. Like Cooper, he also worked with the composer’s three children, but was able to use unseen archival footage, home movies, and most importantly letters between himself and wife Felicia that reveal much more to their unusual relationship.

The director also unearthed lectures, selfies, and videos of Bernstein talking directly into the camera about his life that no one’s ever seen. His film is kind of mesmerizing he builds a profile of a self-possessed cyclone of a man who left few survivors in his wake.

“Bernstein’s Wall” must be released in 2024 to make the Oscar cut off, it’s that good. Begun in 2016, the film hasn’t been seen yet by distributors. But I think Neon, A24, Sony Pictures Classics — one of them will find a home for it soon.

PS A couple of exclusives: Vega told me during dinner that she’s working on a new album, and planning a tour for later this year. The hit singer songwriter of “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” should be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame already!

Also, Shanley is getting ready to direct a film version of his hit play, “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.” He’ll direct from his own screenplay — get an Oscar nomination for his writing the script for “Doubt.” The movie will star Sam Rockwell and Jurnee Smollett.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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