A starry, starry Sun­day

From Jackie O to Chris Rock to the real deal in Vir­ginia, our colum­nist’s pre­vi­ous Sun­day was not short of stars.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Brenda Bene­dict star2@ thes­tar. com. my

LAST Sun­day, I knew Natalie Port­man wouldn’t be at the Os­cars. A girl­friend had sent me a link to a news re­port on DC street clo­sures for the film­ing of Jackie, a biopic of the iconic for­mer First Lady and widow of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy.

And 34- year- old Port­man, who plays the tit­u­lar role, would be re- en­act­ing som­bre scenes from JFK’s fu­neral pro­ces­sion in DC, along­side her “brother- in- law” Robert Kennedy, played by Peter Sars­gaard. Set af­ter the pres­i­dent’s as­sas­si­na­tion on Nov 22, 1963, the film is ex­pected to air next year.

Hav­ing missed Satur­day’s film­ing, I hot­footed it down to DC’s 15th Street be­tween New York Av­enue and “E” Street, lo­cated just round the cor­ner from the White House. Given his ad­van­ta­geous height, my hus­band was put on star spot­ting duty.

Al­though film­ing had al­ready be­gun in Paris in Novem­ber 2015, it was re­ported that set could sat­is­fac­to­rily du­pli­cate DC’s unique cityscape and ar­chi­tec­ture, thus ne­ces­si­tat­ing the two- day film­ing here.

Pass­ing the White House, we no­ticed heav­ier po­lice pres­ence than usual. En­ter­ing 15th Street, we en­coun­tered “mourn­ers” on ei­ther side, dressed pre­dom­i­nantly in black. The ladies es­pe­cially caught my eye: el­e­gant in pea­coats and kit­ten heels, their hair fash­ioned into bouf­fants or bee­hives.

We were on set – but only briefly. “Ex­cuse me folks, you can’t go fur­ther any­more be­cause we’re film­ing a pe­riod drama. You folks can stay here and watch and then keep go­ing once the scene is over, all right?” ex­plained a friendly crewmem­ber, sport­ing a mul­ti­colour pas­tel man bun.

We were shep­herded to var­i­ous cor­ners, which I pre­sume were out of the record­ing span of the cam­eras to en­sure that the scene wouldn’t be marred by wind­breaker- wear- ing, iPhone- tot­ing on­look­ers who had yet to ex­ist in the 1960s.

We had ar­rived on time to watch the shoot­ing of the pro­ces­sion just af­ter it had passed the White House. The ex­tras were touch­ing up their makeup, the horses draw­ing the cais­son that car­ried JFK’s cas­ket were be­ing brushed, while the cas­ket it­self was be­ing draped with the Amer­i­can flag.

Ev­ery­one won­dered if Natalie Port­man was there, amongst the mourn­ers. Af­ter al­most 15 min­utes of wait­ing, there was some bus­tle as a quar­tet of um­brella car­ry­ing men came on set, with Port­man and Sars­gaard in their midst.

Stand­ing on tip­toe, I man­aged to catch a glimpse of the ac­tress dressed in a black skirt- suit, pill­box hat and veil. And I mar­velled at how diminu­tive she ac­tu­ally was.

Even­tu­ally, we were told to hush, as the di­rec­tor yelled, “Ac­tion!” The pro­ces­sion be­gan and lasted all of five min­utes, be­fore he yelled, “Cut!” and the scene was re­peated. We stayed for three more takes, dur­ing which we moved to where the pro­ces­sion came to­wards us. I saw Port­man through her veil look­ing woe­ful dur­ing the scene, and break­ing into a ra­di­ant smile af­ter.

As we left, I en­coun­tered an el­e­gantly dressed “mourner” who gamely posed for a photo with me. We also saw crewmem­bers along an­other street, busy re­mov­ing mod­ern signs at­tached to the old lamp posts to pre­serve the city’s 60s at­mos­phere.

That same evening we at­tended an Os­cars view­ing party. Hosted by my hus­band’s col­league, the glam­our of the event hit us as we “walked the red car­pet” that she had un­furled from the pave­ment to her front door. As we min­gled with other guests, it be­came ap­par­ent that we were all mainly in­ter­ested in host Chris Rock’s open­ing seg­ment.

As 8.30pm EST drew near, ev­ery- one bagged choice spots in front of the wide screen tele­vi­sion, and the chat­ter died down as Rock’s mono­logue oc­ca­sion­ally touched a nerve.

Like when he re­ferred to black Amer­i­cans hav­ing more fun­da­men­tal mat­ters to fight in the past: “When your grand­mother’s swing­ing from a tree, it’s re­ally hard to care about Best Doc­u­men­tary For­eign Short.”

Or when he hit the nail on the head: “Ev­ery­one wants to know: Is Hol­ly­wood racist? Is it burn­ing- cross racist? No. It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of racist ... Hol­ly­wood is soror­ity racist. It’s like, ‘ We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hol­ly­wood is.”

The non- Amer­i­cans among us nod­ded know­ingly as we were re­minded of “net­work­ing” – which is a big deal in DC – and which also of­ten hinges on “who” in­stead of “what” you know. As we had a rental car, we left be­fore Leonardo DiCaprio won Best Ac­tor.

How­ever, the night skies of Vir­ginia pre­sented an even pret­tier spec­ta­cle for our jour­ney back to DC: count­less stars that one can’t quite ap­pre­ci­ate in the city.

A fit­ting end to an al­ready starry Sun­day.

Brenda Bene­dict is a Malaysian liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton DC. She’s al­ways had a weak­ness for Jackie O glasses. Fol­low her at face­book. com/Sam­balOn­TheSide.


Host Chris Rock held noth­ing back at the live tele­cast of the 88th Academy Awards.

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