ameliajc

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  1. It's too simple to say that all films reflect their time. There is another factor, and that is the patterns in the way new technology is adopted. It's pretty typical that, at first, people don't quite know what the potentials and capabilities of the new technology might be, so they work with it in the way that they have worked in other mediums. A classic example is in photography. The first photographs tried to imitate oil paintings, including posing people in historical type scenarios to take the picture. Many early photographs really reflect more accurately a time that has already had its heyday and is actually passing. As cameras developed and could take pictures more quickly, it became clear that cameras were capable of capturing movement and more impromptu scenes in unplanned situations -- stretching the camera technology and finding its unique abilities. Cameras began to participate more directly in the currents of the time. I think that could also apply to the evolution of the Movie Musical. One big temptation is to simply film a Broadway stage play, which they did all the time -- but then they discover (quickly, it would seem) that movies can use more than one camera, layers of sound, post-production, etc. They adopted already-established art forms, like operetta and cabaret. But then they learn that films require different types of acting and sound can be miked, etc. I think that films can pick up on the feeling of an era -- the Zeitgeist, we might call it. But because of the time it takes to make a film, or just the isolation of Hollywood types, there might be a lag between when an idea or mood appears in America and when it is captured on film. I think that's why Indy films are more progressive, or more often the source of new ideas and approaches. But what must be said is that films are definitely of their time, no matter what exact confluence of technology / idea / talent is available. And when something is perfectly encapsulated in a blockbuster movie, it not only reflects the time period, but influences it also. So, I would say that every film reflects its time, but not all provide equally valuable information. Some are just doing same-old-same-old and could have been made in any time while others are the true "time capsules" that we cherish for their insight and trend-setting.
  2. I'm loving this discussion - thank you. I think the histories of film genres are at least loosely parallel. The Production Code would cut across many types of film, for example. Protesting against authority or focus on youth culture in the 1960s would show up in dramas, noir, romantic comedies, musicals, what have you. I think one theme for a course might be to take one of these periods and examine what's happening across several genres. A little bit harder, perhaps, for TCM programming, especially in the later decades where TCM doesn't own so many of the relevant titles.
  3. I think of a "remake" as comparable to the situation in the theater where they are constantly putting on the same plays over again -- because people want to see them again, or different major actors want to take on the role of Hamlet, or Sally Bowles. I think the current state of the media allows us to own copies of or constantly access already-made movie versions, but it didn't used to be that way. And why not see how a different person interprets the role? I like the idea of seeing a new interpretation of a production that still speaks to our time. Now, the question of whether A Star is Born or Showboat is still relevant to us... I agree that A Star is Born still tells us a story that interests us, about how people create their Show Biz Career. Showboat...well, that's a pretty artificial situation that would be much harder to re-interpret, and maybe not worth it. Just this past weekend I saw a local production of Cabaret and really appreciated it being live action, and seeing Somebody-Not-Liza interpret it. Was it as "good"? Maybe not. But was it worth it? Absolutely. Remake-Away!
  4. I would like to define “musicals” as broadly as possible, but I agree that it cannot simply be a film that uses music to help tell the story. As already observed, most films have background music in some form. So I would define a musical as a film that has music sung by the characters. This does not specify how much, or whether it’s diegetic, or whether it forwards the plot or explains the characters. It would therefore include animation (and I do regret that we didn’t look more seriously at that sub-genre) and would include filmed version of operas. So, upon reflection, that seems perhaps overly broad, and I don’t think that’s what most people mean when they talk about musicals. Choreographed dance movement is another element that we commonly associate with musicals (although every song doesn’t have to be and sometimes is not a dance routine). And even if the definition is broad, we can still talk about subgenres and evaluation criteria. For me, the BEST musicals are ones in which there is a significant amount of singing by more than one character, with dance movement included, where the songs move the story line forward and reveal or develop character.
  5. Everything's coming up roses!
  6. Saw the in-theater screening today of West Side Story and LOVED it. The use of the wide screen, the sound (no problems in this theater), the beauty of it. The choreography is mesmerizing, the music and lyrics are works of art in themselves. Plus, I love Ben's introductions -- I think you're expecting too much of these, maybe. How could only a couple of minutes capture the entire musical, anyway. I think emphasizing Rita Morena made a lot of sense. What bothered me consistently, however, was Natalie Wood. Sure she's a good actress and pretty, but the put-on Latina accent plus the dubbing of her singing voice -- and not always a very convincing job of lip-syncing. The other characters are cast true to ethnic type and she just stuck out. I enjoyed the outing -- it's like this class had a Field Trip. Thanks for the recommendations.
  7. In previous courses they have always made sure that one or two of the featured films every week is available in some sort of public access format. I agree -- couldn't do this without the Tivo / DVR, and even then, there's not enough space to keep them all. ...let's face it, TCM is hoping we'll buy a few of our favorites from their shop. And maybe I will!
  8. There's only one DONE button per day / module, and you have to mark it yourself.
  9. My understanding is that those voice-over scenes are attempts at reconstructing the original version. It had been cut, and they lost the visual but had the audio track, so they laid in the still photos they had from elsewhere. (I know I heard that on TCM at some point.) Whenever I watch A Star is Born, I keep trying to "unsee" those additions. I agree a little bit of cutting might have been helpful to that one. Sorry about the aside, we're supposed to be talking about My Fair Lady. I appreciated this scene, in which Audrey goes through such emotional transitions, but nothing can beat Ingrid Bergman when it comes to the fluidity of facial expressions. I think Cukor was trying to do something similar here. I just find this scene so frustrating in that Eliza can't seem to find any way of expressing the feelings that we can all see that she has. I think this scene is also great at underscoring that she is an Object, and Henry Higgins is the alpha male who controls everything, starting with verbally.
  10. Like others, I grew up with the cast album of The Music Man, so it's that precise, mellifluous voice that comes to mind with Robert Preston. This question is interesting in making me reconsider his personality in terms of gender codes. It strikes me that Preston is a throwback to that gentler, suave, intelligent leading man we saw earlier -- the consummately trained Fred Astaire - Dick Powell type. The performance is delicate enough that it can read as gay when necessary, but yes, deliberately not "flaming". Preston is a man who also has total control of his body, as a dancer would, in precise careful movements. As such, what sticks out more to me now as an anomaly in the musical theater is what the class is calling the Alpha Male -- burly, aggressive, bull-in-the-china-shop type, the Gene Kelly and Adam (Howard Keel in 7 Brides) as seen in the 50s. In a way, the demands of musicals requires the more subtle, smaller, and precise type of actor. I realize that it's actually more of a challenge to show masculinity in this context. It's interesting to see the solutions to the problem-- over-the-top, really aggressive masculinity, or a number of barely / badly singing leading males (giving the message, I'm not one of those frou-frou musical guys) like Omar Shariff or Rex Harrison, Lee Marvin & Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon. Masculinity is difficult to establish and maintain, it turns out. The clip showing how easily the males in the audience can be offended by threats to their masculinity makes the point very nicely.
  11. The answer to your first question is, unfortunately, it was quite common in the past to kidnap wives. The women coming to love and marry their abductors is EXACTLY the Roman story of the Sabine women. In the end, for just the reasons given in the movie, the Sabine women end up making peace between Roman husbands and Sabine fathers. It's called Marriage Diplomacy.
  12. Thanks for this post -- agreed, this is a troubling story. But the primary trouble with this musical is that it is a "remake" of the "Rape of the Sabine Women" story, which is very much with us still. It is the founding history of Rome and deeply embedded in our marriage culture ever since. I don't teach this film, but I have examined that subject in other courses I teach, and it's really complicated and needs to be contextualized... you could spend way more time on it than Prof. Ament does. To give her credit, she does actually use the word "rape" to describe what's happening, and points out that they are outraged in the film, too. Given that the 50s was deeply mired in these gender roles, I actually think 7 Brides is an interesting examination of the story, sexist as it was and is. I also agree that it wouldn't have hurt to spend a little bit more time in analysis of it. And it was part of the text she was reading in the film, and it went by pretty quickly, so maybe it got missed. (The text is actually from Livy, although I think in the film they say she's reading Plutarch, whatever.) It's true that the custom of carrying the bride over the threshold is meant SPECIFICALLY to recall that original Rape of the Sabine Women back in the day. So, if anybody is still doing that... maybe think again?
  13. Yes, but I agree with the point that Harriet was trying to make, also. It's a bit of a problem for orchestra audiences, in fact -- how do you maintain your focus on music only, without any, or limited visuals. I don't blame the movie director for trying to enliven the long piece. I also think that the fantasy element adds to character development -- one of the sub messages of this film is that (perhaps) artists need to be arrogant and self-centered to succeed in this world. As such, that runs counter to the theme of Cooperation that is being put forth as a characteristic of the musicals, and this clip is great at illustrating that -- having Levant play all the parts is not only not acceptable as an example of Egotism, but it really just isn't possible. The messages of this scene go beyond a "gimmick," I would say.
  14. I haven't rewatched this film for the course yet, so I'm not sure what I think about this (Hollywood) realism vs the fantasy ballet. Good as the fantasy ballets are, I've never much liked them -- fantasy, but also more reliant upon stereotypes than characters. But watching this clip as a set-up for the Paris art scene is really insightful. The walk up the hill is a catalogue of all the art types you'll see on the streets, and requires an amazing amount of knowledge just to create the 15 second scenario. The first artist is probably the most progressive -- doing the modernist stuff; the second guy kinda rehashing what's left of the Impressionist tradition (looking a little bit like Monet). Of course Winston Churchill, the Amateur Painter par excellence. The Third Year (Junior Year in Paris) Girl is an out-and-out satire, and perhaps off the mark, since those women (usually with better accents after all their schooling -- and who's he kidding, how good is Gene Kelly's French?) usually grow up to be women in gray suits with chauffeurs. But his dismissal of her tells me a lot about his character -- he certainly doesn't want to talk about painting, and he has an odd sales manner, too. For some reason, that conversation seemed to indicate to me that he doesn't really want to be an artist, that it's some sort of excuse. Nina Foch is standing in front of a real gallery, and that window display shows a variety of more legitimate art creations, but definitely past established styles. So, yes, her interest in art should be taken seriously, but only in her potential role as an Art Patron, and whatever ulterior love motives might develop. As an artist, Kelly is definitely working in a style prominent in Paris in the 1950s... a kind of continuation of Impressionist street scenes with a little bit of modern edge to them (the Third Year was correct -- playing with perspective gives a little more edge to the style). Bernard Buffet, Maurice Legendre, Utrillo. These definitely appealed to the tourists who wanted to remember their visit to Paris (and in the 1970s, we had some cheap knock-offs of this type of Paris street scene in our home, acquired as Home Decoration in the local grocery store). Quite frankly, vibrant as the Paris intellectual scene was in the 1950s, it was no longer the center of the art world, which was shifting to New York City. What I don't quite understand about Gene Kelly as an artist is why he isn't more successful. The artwork he is exhibiting isn't bad, and it's definitely of a sort popular to buyers. If he is to be believed that he has never sold a painting, it's because he is so thoroughly surly to anybody who wants to engage him a little bit. I mean, after all, part of the thrill of buying a cheap painting of Paris to take home with you is the idea that you got to talk to a Real Live Artist. If Kelly is trying to be a brash American, or one of those macho artists, he is certainly living up to that model. For me, it has always been a part of the story line that he wants to be great without playing the game, and without being so overwhelmingly talented or well-connected that he can get by without playing it. There might have been a lot of American domination in the world in the 1950s, and even in the field of art (NY Abstract Expressionism), but Paris is a a tough nut to crack. In this world, even Churchill is just another guy sitting on the sidewalk. Gene Kelly is friendly, sure, but his arrogance doesn't fit in -- unlikeable. He's cute, though, and maybe the audience likes him for the same reason as does Nina Foch.
  15. I appreciated the opportunity to consider the professorial straight man in this clip. Full disclosure: I am myself a professor, so I have a slight bias toward the profession. In the family, my dad was often the one who delivered the joke (okay, Dad Jokes), but he had some finesse and liked to wait until the timing was perfect. As such, he appreciated a good set-up, and I was often the one who would deliver. And he always said to me-- there's no shame in being a good straight man (or second banana); it's necessary to the act. So the Professor was really excellent at setting it up, letting himself be tweaked and draped upon. Where the kids have been without him? But reflecting a little bit more on the dynamic of the situation. The skills being taught are absolutely necessary to the new medium of Talkies, and so the elocution lesson is essential to the plot. It is not only funny, but realistic -- actors and singers do this sort of verbal exercise all the time to train the instrument -- and it works. I've been noticing in the musicals how good the diction is, how easy it is to understand the words. I think it's a tribute both to the technology and the performers' skill. You can't have a song move the plot forward if you don't understand what's being said. It may also be a reason why folks have more difficulty with the operatic styles of MacDonald-Eddy etc., it's just harder to understand the words, which are often more poetic and less direct to our ears. In the scene, it should not go unnoticed that the Professor is very capable, and can spit out those tongue-twisters with the best of them. Did he teach the boys anything, though? It's always difficult to tell in Musical World, because even in scenes where supposedly people are being taught (I'm thinking of Astaire and Rogers), it all happens pretty quickly and artificially. But for me, I got the impression that Kelly and O'Connor sort of already knew how to do these tongue-twisters, enough to be able to make fun of the professor. So, another message of the scene is that the Exuberant Youth of American just naturally, in the course of being themselves, already had all this Know-How and barely needed a stodgy Academic, member of the old guard, to tell them much of anything. Someone earlier referred to the Professor as a pseudo-Alpha Male, and maybe that's correct. But professors have rarely been Alpha Males, and the US especially has a very strong anti-academic streak. The Prof might be a representative of the old ways of book-learning, the outdated principles of education steeped in the classics that is no longer deemed useful in Post-War America. This comes through more in demeanor than content, the Professor's artificial, pseudo-British accent, glasses, suit and tie vs. the boys' casual collegiate sweater-chinos, although Moses is vaguely Biblical in tone. Back to the question of being a straight man: professors are invariably Straight Men, their role (especially Post-War) is to let the kids have their fun, and feed them enough so that they can get out into the world and do their own creative and dynamic thing with it.

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