Showing posts with label Donyale Luna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donyale Luna. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

"Priscilla" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new Priscilla Presley biopic "Priscilla" as well as the documentary biopic "Donyale Luna: Supermodel." The Book of the Week is Sly Stone's autobiography "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"]

"Priscilla" (2023)

Priscilla Presley's story about meeting and marrying Elvis.

There are those who might make the case that director Sophia Coppola is a Nepo Baby, that her career as a director is because of her famous director father, Francis Ford Coppola, whose "Godfather" films shot him into that stratosphere called Greatest Directors Of All Time.  But all one has to do to smash that case against her is to see her films ("Lost in Translation," "The Beguiled," "The Virgin Suicides.")  Where her father's films were mostly big and epic, hers are smaller and quieter and moody.  She creates an atmosphere that engulfs you.

Based on her 1986 memoir, "Elvis and Me," this is Priscilla Presley's story about meeting and marrying Elvis.  It's a cautionary tale that illustrates the aphorism "Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true."  

Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) met Elvis (Jacob Elordi) when she was 14 and he was 24, serving his time in the Army in Germany where Priscilla's father was also serving.  She was a 9th grader and like most 9th graders in 1957 had a crush on Elvis.  And like most of those young girls with crushes on Elvis, she fantasized about being his girlfriend or even his wife.  I can relate.  I wanted to marry Paul McCartney.  But here's the problem.  You marry a star and you become a satellite. In many cases, it's a lonely life because your star is off shining brightly elsewhere while you are supposed to "keep the home fires burning."  And that was the case with Priscilla Presley.

What does a 24 year old man see in a 14 year old girl, you may ask? 

Uh... I am not going to go there, but let's just say this film had some cringey moments.  Elvis clearly wanted a malleable girlfriend and there is nothing more malleable than a googly-eyed underage girl. After their first meeting, Elvis and Priscilla didn't see each other again for two years but they kept in touch by phone until somehow Elvis talked Priscilla's parents into letting her move to Graceland when she was 16.  Though "chaperoned" by Elvis's dad and stepmother, Priscilla was basically a sixteen-year-old girl sleeping with a 26 year old man, a 26 year old man who liked to pillow fight, but also hang with his buddies and take drugs. To be clear, supposedly nothing really untoward happened between them until Priscilla and he married when she was 21. However, when she got pregnant and had Lisa-Marie, Elvis appeared to lose interest in Priscilla.  That tells you something right there. 

This film, adapted from Presley's book by the late Sandra Harmon and Coppola and directed by Coppola, takes us behind the scenes of Priscilla's and Elvis's marriage, and if it hadn't been co-produced by Priscilla Presley herself, you would think this stuff was made up.  Elvis loved Priscilla and molded her into his perfect woman -told her how to dress and how to wear her hair - but he also cheated on her and had a bad temper. It's all here. Though she loved him, her life was not her own and she found the courage to leave him when she was 27. Five years later, Elvis was dead at 42. Presley maintains she never stopped loving him.

Coppola captures the era from the mini-skirts and the bouffant hair to the cars with the big tailfins, so the film is fun to watch but the highlight of the film is the tour de force performance of newcomer Cailee Spaeny who is 100% believable as Priscilla from the first time we meet her at 14 to when she leaves her marriage at 27.  All of the longing and loneliness of her young life with a living legend is written all over her. And Elordi is a nice, big, handsome Elvis.  Both of these actors are ones to watch.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...a truth is stranger than fiction love story and Spaeny's performance is not to be missed.

Donyale Luna: Supermodel (2023)

The life and career of Donyale Luna.

Never heard of her?  Neither had I. I am always fascinated by documentaries about people I've never heard of and then discovering why.

Model Donyale Luna was born Peggy Ann Freeman in Detroit. Though she was American, her popularity as a model was mostly in Europe in the 1960's but she is credited as being the first black supermodel.  She was also the first African-American model to appear on the cover of British Vogue.  Strange how someone who was once so famous has been forgotten.

Donyale grew up in a middle class family in Detroit and had two sisters.  She was a sensitive artist type growing up in a turbulent home situation (her parents married and divorced four times and her mother eventually shot her abusive father), and it was also a time rife with racism. She was also bullied at school for her exotic looks.  She was very tall and lanky with long arms and legs. It was in high school that she adopted the name Donyale Luna and started speaking with an accent of her own making, probably wanting to create a persona to hide behind.  She was a dreamer, who was known for walking around outside barefoot, which is odd for Detroit, and creating fantasies about her life. Her own sister thought she was weird.

Photographer David McCabe discovered Donyale, and when she left Detroit and went to New York City, she was introduced to fashion magazine editors and photographer Richard Avedon, who signed her to an exclusive contract. A sketch of Luna appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 1965, the first time in 98 years that a black woman appeared on the cover but it was a sketch that was "ethnically ambiguous." But then Luna appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 1966, the first time Vogue put a black model on the cover.

But despite success, Luna also experienced racial prejudice which could explain why she always downplayed her racial identity, saying she was multiracial, that her biological father's name was Luna and her mother was Mexican and Afro-Egyptian. She claimed Irish and Polynesian heritage. She also told tall tales and wore blue contact lenses in an attempt to recreate herself. But that's what racism can do, make people deny their own roots and try to create another world for themselves. 

Despite some initial success in New York, there were complaints about her appearances in the magazines and some designers wouldn't allow her to wear their clothes.  She lost her contract with Avedon and eventually had a nervous breakdown.  But after her recovery, she moved to Europe where she was embraced for her exotic looks, and by 1966 Vogue named her "Model of the Year," and she worked throughout Europe, becoming a muse for Salvador Dali and acting in Fellini's "Satyricon," but her demons (depression, drugs and possibly mental illness) eventually caught up with her and she died at 33 of a drug overdose in 1979, leaving behind her 18 month old daughter.

Along with archival footage, Luna's daughter reads from her mother's journals and Donyale's ex-husband, sister and fashion icons who knew Donyale weigh in, giving her credit for her impact on the industry.

Directed by Nailah Jefferson, the film is about Luna, but it has a larger context, that of the color barrier that existed for models (and for most people of color in most professions in those days). She was also eccentric and died young. That is perhaps why Luna has been mostly forgotten today.

But Donyale Luna mattered.  She not only paved the way for other black models but was loving and kind to all who knew her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating story, and a sad one, that is perhaps not for everyone, but it's yet another reminder of the prejudice that African-Americans have had to endure, not just in modeling, but in many facets of life and the pain that racism creates. (Max)

***The Book of the Week***

"Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir" by Sly Stone (2023)

Singer Sly Stone relates his story.

It's difficult to believe that with everything Sly Stone got himself into, he is still alive today at 83.

Front man for the sixties pop-rock-funk group Sly and the Family Stone, Sly was also a songwriter known for such hits as "Everyday People' and "Family Affair."  He was a memorable performer in the 1960's and 70's and caused a huge buzz at Woodstock.

But he was also an addict.

In this memoir, Sly relates the ups and downs of his life and career.  He started as a radio DJ and record producer and made his way to the top of the rock music industry in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but his personal life has been mostly a mystery until now, and he has been out of the public eye for years, some of those years broke and homeless.  

So how did Sly's highs become so low? 

Written with Ben Greenman, Sly is candid about it all, especially the drugs that brought him down. And it's not clear if he is really clean, even now at 83. A recent interview with family members recounts how they literally had to keep the drug dealers from the door to protect him from himself.

Rosy the Reviewer fans and music enthusiasts will enjoy this, especially if you have wondered whatever happened to him. (check it out at your local library)!

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

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And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!