WEIRDLAND: Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing at All

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing at All

Directed by Alex Gibney, Sinatra: All or Nothing at All is a two-part, four-plus hour documentary film about the life and career of Frank Sinatra through various archival footage and interviews from the man himself as well as those who knew him and biographers that wrote about Sinatra. Inter-cut with footage from Sinatra’s first retirement concert in 1971 in Los Angeles where he sings a selection of his iconic songs which serves as chapters to each part of his life. The film revels into the many highs and lows Sinatra endured as an entertainer and as a man. The result is a fascinating yet elegant film from Alex Gibney. If there was one vocalist who was pretty much the standard bearer of the 20th Century, it was Frank Sinatra whose voice captured a generation, becoming the master crooner who would rule the charts from the 1950s and 1960s. The documentary doesn’t just tell the story of Sinatra’s life but it is told through the songs that made him a legend as he performs them in his first retirement concert in 1971 that is shown through rare footage that hadn’t been seen for many years.

With the aid of cinematographers Antonio Rossi and Samuel Painter along with visual effects supervisor Raul Ortega, they would recreate pictures and old stock footage to play into the impact Sinatra had not just in popular culture but also in American society. Even where he would have a reputation where it is flawed as it played into a man full of contradictions and such that makes him far more compelling. Then there’s the music as the songs that are chosen to represent each part of his life play into who he is as a performer and why he’s never caught on into any trends—singing something that is popular doesn’t mean anything to him if he can’t connect with it. It says a lot to the man as there’s clips of him performing with other acts including Elvis Presley where it represents the old guard passing the torch to the new generation where the two definitely show common ground when singing together. There are moments that showcase that he is willing to sing at any place including a prison in Washington D.C. where it proves that man cares for the people and is willing to give them their times worth for a performance. Sinatra: All or Nothing at All is a phenomenal documentary from Alex Gibney. The film is definitely not just a captivating portrait about one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived but also managed to show more of the man as just a man rather than the legend he’s known for. Source:

Outside of politics and megacorporations, we’re a hedonistic culture that has been the way we represent ourselves to the world. That was Vegas in the sixties; It was another world, a dream world, the Sh-Boom Sh-Boom Room where everything is mellow and cool. The soft pink glow from the little lamp on your table, champagne on ice, a torch-song paradise. It’s my version of the American Dream: the gold-plated pink Cadillac, the handmade sharkskin suit, the Italian shoes, the diamond cufflinks. Vegas was the Rat Pack’s Camelot, and Vegas, let’s face it, was a hell of a lot more fun than Camelot. That’s why JFK hung out with Sinatra at the Sands. Then this new revolution started happening—he called it “funny music”—in other words, rock ’n’ roll. But Sinatra was such a legend, he’d been a big star since the ’40s—so it didn’t really affect him the way it did other crooners. In a way, rock ’n’ roll enshrined him. We all looked up to this Sinatra Rat Pack because in the beginning that’s all there was—at least until rock and roll broke out.

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There were the spectacular showgirl acts called production shows at the Stardust, the Lido, and the Copa Room. The showgirls would often open the show at the Copa Sands. Shirley Ornstein—who later came to play a small part in my life—was an eighteen-year-old Copa showgirl until she caught the eye of Burt Bacharach. Barbara Sinatra, Frank’s last wife, started out as a showgirl at the Copa, too. These shows were big-production numbers with lots of elaborate sets and costumes, the showgirls with their big feathers like erotically plumed birds in skimpy outfits and long sequin-studded gloves. Vegas in those days was the kind of place you never wanted to leave. You wanted to live there forever. That’s the way I felt when I first walked into the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel in 1959. Vegas in the old days was very theatrical. Every night was a spectacle. You’d go from the showroom—packed with out-of-towners there to see the big stars, comedians, and showgirls—into the casino. It was not uncommon to see Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra taking over from the dealers and handing out cards to the guests, visiting stars from L.A., high rollers and so on. There weren’t tourists in Vegas in those days the way there are today—it was an exclusive group of people and the gaming areas were small.

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The people were elegant, and there were real movie stars there, and then Kennedy and other personalities would secretly come in. It’s not like today with the generic attractions and rap bands. It was cool, and elegant—very different from what you see today in Vegas, with the mobs of tourists in madras shorts and trainers. You have to remember there were only five hotels there back then—and beyond the strip just desert and sagebrush. The mob-type guys that were running the casinos were everywhere then, but they didn’t look like the gangsters you see in the movies. They were businessmen and behaved like gentlemen—unless you were skimming or pocketing markers. Early in the ’60s, you’d see a classic mob guy like Johnny Roselli in the lounge. I’d sit with him at the bar after my show and he’d say things to me like, “Keep your nose clean, Paul, be a gentleman,” giving me advice you’d expect to hear from an uncle of yours at Thanksgiving. Funny, because “Handsome Johnny” Roselli was a mobster connected with the Chicago clan that would get involved in the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In the beginning, I was essentially a crooner—my idols, after all, had been Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, and Johnnie Ray; not Chuck Berry or Little Richard. You couldn’t put hard rockers like Eddie Cochran or Gene Vincent in a nightclub in those days. Bobby Darin was the most talented of the Sinatra wannabes, and he certainly got Frank’s attention. Darin had that kind of chutzpah that kept him going on for a long time. He truly was a force of nature in the 50's music scene, along with Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley—those were the guys who would have great careers, whatever happened. Sinatra couldn’t stand the sound of rock music, he never wanted to sing it, and he hated the sound of Bob Dylan’s voice. He never got any of that stuff. And yet, there was Dylan at Sinatra’s eightieth birthday celebration, singing “Restless Farewell.” Go figure. Apart from the cowboy, another great American type is the boogie-woogie man, the crooner, the entertainer, the rock and roller, the guy you go to hear who’ll take you away from everything, put you in some kind of trance, and let your mind float free. 

Vegas was almost a state of mind in the 1950s and early 1960s. Bob Maheu, who was Howard Hughes’s right-hand guy, changed the atmosphere forever afterward. Hughes lived upstairs in the Desert Inn, but we never saw him. He was the ghost in the penthouse controlling everything, the invisible man pulling all the strings and very soon we started feeling a big change in Vegas. We knew when Hughes was in town because of the nutty TV programming. You’d get back to your room, turn on the TV at two in the morning and Ice Station Zebra would be playing. At 5:00 A.M. it would start showing all over again. There was limited programming on TV anyway, but this was ridiculous. People were asking, “What the hell is going on?” Howard Hughes had bought a local TV station and you’d see Ice Station Zebra showing continuously. What probably appealed to Hughes was the movie plot featuring a frantic search for a traitor who's out to sabotage a mission. Hughes was very paranoid. For instance, the Silver Slipper burlesque theater had placed a woman’s high-heel shoe as part of their sign and Hughes believed there was a photographer hidden inside the toe, taking photographs of him in his bedroom from there. Howard Hughes was so eccentric that things got nutty pretty fast in Vegas. 

It was Sinatra who gave Vegas its tone. He was its social atom, and gave the place its zing, its glamour. But Frank went through very bad periods. During one of those bad spots, he was suffering a serious bout of depression and then his break-up with Ava Gardner wrecked him. That was a very turbulent time in his life. He liked beautiful women, but at the end of the day he said he never understood them. And, to be honest, it is very hard understanding women. Frank never got it. But then again why would he? When Sigmund Freud was asked on his deathbed if there was anything in his life of studying human nature he hadn’t solved, he said “Yes, I could never figure out what women want.” Sinatra was sophisticated and educated in a way you wouldn’t expect. And beneath all the swagger, he was vulnerable. A bit like Buddy Holly was. Sinatra was a totally different creature from Elvis, although the ironies and the paradoxes of life prevailed, and Elvis was always fascinated by Frank Sinatra—even by Frank’s rejection of him. Sinatra clung to his tough-guy image, but he was a soft man when you sat down and talked to him because many of his insecurities came out. It’s hard, I know, to believe in such a thing as a soft Sinatra, but that’s the way he was. I was very lucky to get to hang with those guys in that special era.  —"My Way: An Autobiography" (2013) by Paul Anka

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