Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Five Flicks With Elephants


Did you know that September 22, is National Elephant Appreciation Day?!?  Neither did I.  But now that we do know, I think we can all agree that it’s an excellent day to take a day to appreciate these gentle giants with one of the following films.

Dumbo (1941)  The fourth animated Disney film based on the children’s story by Helen Aberson revolves around Jumbo Jr. a young elephant cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo” by his peers for his big ears. But it turns out these ears can also help him fly!  Even despite the advent of WWII, Dumbo was still the most financially successful Disney film of the 40’s, and today holds a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in 2011 was named one of ‘The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films” by Time Magazine. It’s titular character has also become an internationally recognized icon.

White Hunter Black Heart (1990) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the film is based on the Peter Viertel novel of the same name; which was in turn a thinly disguised account of Viertel’s experiences working on the 1951 film The African Queen. Filmmaker John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) travels to Africa in the early fifties for a shoot bringing along young scriptwriter Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey of Wyatt Earp and The Seventh Scroll).  But once on location, Wilson neglects film preparations for his new obsession with hunting down a big tusked elephant -a goal he even acknowledges is sinful. It has an 88 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and has been described as Eastwood’s best work before Unforgiven.  

Born to be Wild (2011) David Lickley directed this nature documentary short about orphaned orangutans and elephants and the people who rescue them. It has a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie’s heart-warming story and nature footage that is both charming and really, really cute.

The Eyes of Thailand (2012) Windy Borman directed and produced this documentary about Soraida Solwawa who opened the world’s first Elephant Hospital. The Friends of Asian Elephants Hospital in Lampang, Thailand took in two elephant landmine survivors Motala and baby Mosha who had lost their legs. Solwawa and her team developed the first elephant prosthesis to help them walk again.  Besides celebrating elephant’s the film’s also a cautionary tale about landmines and won the Ace Documentary Grant.

When Elephants Were Young (2015) This French-Canadian documentary was directed by World Elephant Day (a separate holiday from Elephant Appreciation Day) co-founder Patricia Sims and narrated by Will Shatner. Twenty six year old Wok in Thailand has been caring for his elephant Nong Mai since she was three. Nong Mai was one of thirty five captive elephants in Wok’s village as part of a (now rapidly fading), tradition of elephant keeping. The family’s business is street begging with Nong Mai in Bangkok. The film follows how the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation offers to buy Nong Mai to reintroduce her to the wild. The film had its international premiere at the Palm Beach International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature.

Top photo: Bigstock

Spring in Bloem


Franz Bloem is a Dutchman with curiosity and without pretense. He came to cabaret relatively late in his life. As a young man he drove in a rattletrap car from Holland to India and Nepal where he found an interest in Buddhism. Speaking English, French, Dutch, German and Yiddish enabled him to earn his living as a tour leader for travelers – first in New York and later in dozens of other countries. His travelers encouraged him to serenade them in venues where they stayed – often in fine hotels where he would be supported by an orchestra.  His singing brought him unanticipated joy and, as best I can tell, he has abandoned the tourism trade for the performing life. Bloem performs with some frequency in Holland and New York and has built something of a following in Southeast Asia; indeed he boasts among his home towns, ChiangMai, Thailand, as well as New York, New York.

IMG_4730 BloemBloem is a fan and proponent of Charles Aznavour, and sings in a style reminiscent of Aznavour and Brel – with an apparent tremolo and all emotions worn on his sleeve. I started a skeptic, given the overt sentimentality of some of the material – “You Never Walk Alone” (O. Hammerstein II and R. Rodgers), “Help is on the Way” (D. Friedman), “Non Rien de Rien” (C. Dumont, M. Vauclaire), “What’ll I Do” (I. Berlin)) – but half way through the show I was won over.  Despite a history spotted with life’s occasional setbacks, Bloem voices appreciation for all that he has lived through and for all the people he has encountered along the way.  Indeed, on this warm, Memorial Day eve, he invited the entire audience to return with him to his West Village apartment for cocktails in the garden following the show,  repeating his address to be sure all who wished to do so would attend. The cabaret community at least will understand that ‘he is who he is, and he makes no excuses.’  And for this occasionally jaded New Yorker, he was both exotic and charming.

IMG_4834 BloemIn addition to a sonorous voice and emotional sincerity, Bloem brought to the stage his persona of Maxime in an elegant black gown with a blood red, feather boa. Maxime sang “Falling in Love Again” (F. Hollander and S. Lerner) and “What Makes a Man a Man” (C. Aznavour). There was no uncomfortable excess about Maxime and, while there was some laughter upon her initial appearance, for the most part the laughter was with her rather than at her.

Bloem also displayed a sense of humor and, while eschewing political commentary, appropriately invoked our current state of confusion and disarray when singing “Galaxy” (E. Idle and J. Du Prez, but known, if at all, as originating with Monty Python).  For those less familiar with the lyric, it concludes with:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

IMG_4911 BloemBloem greeted most patrons before the show, chatted with those stage-side during the show and displayed a general concern that all patrons should be enjoying themselves. It was perhaps a bit too much fussing for some but sat comfortably on Bloem’s shoulders, wholly consistent with the tenor of the evening. The show was rewarding musically, emotionally and philosophically; I found it wholly engaging.

Photos by Fred R. Cohen. To see more of Fred’s photos, go to his website.

Franz Bloem
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
May 27, 2016