The Gambit asks a perfectly valid question – what’s your favorite depiction of New Orleans in TV and film? – but it then asks it at a showing of a few episodes of Frank’s Place.
I initially thought it was an invitation to Gambit readers online to head over here and answer this question, but a favorite depiction of New Orleans in film and a favorite New Orleans moment in film can be two different things. What were the people interviewed at NOCCA going to say? “A Streetcar Named Desire. Now that was the ultimate New Orleans flick.” It wasn’t that kind of crowd. We were all there to appreciate Frank’s Place, and a glorious appreciation it was.
That up there is Lolis Eric Elie, Treme writer, journalist, author, and natty dresser, giving the cooks at the reception a hearty thank you for the incredible job they did with the food. I had a good fried chicken drumstick and some shrimp and grits and wished I could have sampled absolutely everything that was offered, but I was too busy waiting with Adrastos‘ lovely spouse Dr. A in the lines at the drinks table to get the last of the Chimay offered. I even got to take my glass home, which I had to carefully handle as the Adrastoi and I took our seats in the theater.
Truth of the matter is, in the late 1980’s I was fast on my way to being an art fool. I dived right into my first year of high school as a visual arts major in a school not unlike NOCCA and gave my all to it, so TV didn’t register much for me until I was plucked out of that high school to another one much further north after my sophomore year and, in my first summer up there, started to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes on late night MTV. I remember some sort of flap about Frank’s Place, but I truthfully had no idea what I’d missed – until I saw those episodes at NOCCA.
Now I want more. I really do. As a special treat, we were shown a third episode, “Dueling Voodoos”, in which the marvelous actress Lynne Thigpen guest-starred, and I was rolling on the floor. It was a bunch of little, hilarious disasters all revolving around one difficult woman who chased all the other tenants out of a four-plex Frank Parrish’s father owned – all because Frank himself wouldn’t be deferential to her powers – and when he is, the trouble really starts. You won’t think of birds the same way after that one, to be sure. And I sure wish everybody knew what I was talking about except for the die-hard audience the show had developed over a mere 22 episodes.
The one who had me in stitches the most, however, was the creator of the show, Hugh Wilson, a bright, wickedly funny man with shades of Les Nessman in his demeanor, but a voice that drawled so deeply it snapped me right back to the Southern roots on my mother’s side of my family. He described CBS’ reaction to his decision not to have a laugh track on the show as being “like the swim team’s goin’ naked” and talked about how being on the West Coast wrought changes in his demeanor (one of the reasons why he eventually moved back east) by saying, in reference to one of the stars he later directed in The First Wives Club: “In the old days, I woulda killed Bette Midler.” He chatted about the finer points of the show, the behind-the-scenes stuff, and his and Tim Reid’s lives after Frank’s Place with the panache only great raconteurs bring, and he and Reid seemed to get such a kick out of each other, still.
And the audience was right there with them as if, after all these years, the show had been on for ten seasons instead of one. Just a great night all around.
Anyway…New Orleans on film & TV, or New Orleans moments on film & TV. The good, the bad, and the so-damn-ugly-it’s-maybe-all-right. Spill it in the comments. We got to do something ’til Sunday comes ’round.