Jack Early b. 1962
What to Do with a Drunken Sailor? (2011)
Early’s latest foray into pocket-sized art, a tiny movie called What to Do with a Drunken Sailor?, lasts for four minutes and has only two characters, but it was made by a team of professionals, including a producer and a director.
Influenced by the late ‘70s TV late-night musical variety show The Midnight Special, whose guests included Diana Ross, David Bowie and Joan Baez, the movie at Forever & Today begins with an image of Early leaning on the railing of the Staten Island Ferry, staring across the water like so many New Yorkers have done. Later, he’s seen walking across a bridge with a sailor’s bag slung over his shoulder, a glamorous yet humble incarnation of a soldier returning home.
Cut to Early, dressed in shirt, tie and vest with his last name projected in block letters on the wall behind him, crooning his most successful composition, It Don’t Rain in Beverly Hills. Previously recorded by the pop duo Dean & Britta in their album, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol Screen Tests, the song has been frequently played on the radio and was even featured in a major TV show, but this is Early’s first performance of it.
The lyrics, both sad and optimistic, touch on the universal American fantasy of “making it” -- and then feeling that success is a fraud:
They said you belonged on the silver screen . . .
And they flew you out to Beverly Hills . . .
You read your lines you read them beautiful
And you smile, you always smile on cue
And you shine just like a star
When you're giving the best of you
And you cry and you're wondering why
And who will take the rest of you? . . .
It don't rain in Beverly Hills
No matter what they say
The pain never washes away . . .
Return the starfish to the sea
Take my hand return with me.
A bittersweet commentary on stardom once within reach, the film is now hidden behind a black curtain to keep the room dark during the day. During the opening, it could be seen from across the street, resulting in a series of eerie reflections of Early’s face floating on the gallery’s glass windows -- a light echo of an image already made only of light. A far cry from Pruitt’s extravagant rooms, stuffed with expensive objects, Early’s film is shining proof that less is often more.