NeverGonnaDance

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  1. If there is anything we have learned this month, it's that musicals are of their time. What do you think La La Land tells us about our time, and the relationships we have personally/culturally/politically, as a musical intentionally set in a vague time period somewhere between the old and the new? These are the interesting things to think about - how a musical, or any movie really, transports us to a specific time and place for a reason. Whether that is for pure escapism, subversive political/cultural commentary, relaying values, experimentation for disruptive reasons, or what have you, there are reasons for a film being what it is. Why is La La Land set in Los Angeles, for example? Why is the "theme song" somewhat lifeless? What is Damien Chazelle trying to depict about the nature of pursuing lofty dreams, life, love, and career? This is an award-winning performance from Emma Stone - what does that tell you about what we value in performers these days? While I do agree with you on the blandness insofar as comparing it to some of the golden-era musicals we have watched this month, I believe that doesn't necessarily make it worse. Rather, different, as you say. And there are some really fantastic throwback and homage sequences in the film that perhaps one can appreciate more now after going through a course like this. In 50+ years, someone will be watching La La Land with the same analytical eye and realise how "2010s" it was. It will be as obvious to them as it is to us watching Singin' In the Rain or Top Hat.
  2. As you look back to the masculine performances in musicals of past decades, what changes in male representation, and performance would you say are most noticeable? Most noticeable to me is the the change toward the male figure as a genuine and affecting storyteller, and not just someone who carries a song, dance, romantic plot, or represents masculinity in a very superficially "alpha" and emotionally inaccessible way. In the first clip, we have a musical number featuring a con man, Hill, trying to get everyone in River City to believe his story about the moral dangers of playing pool in their new billiard hall so that he can swindle them out of their money with the creation of a marching band for boys as a more wholesome and appropriate experience. On the face of it, this is pretty ridiculous. But Preston's delivery of this fast-talking and bamboozling tune is affecting because we believe that he believes what he is saying and are moved to want to rectify this situation just like the folks in River City - who come away from this scene mostly convinced of his concern for their welfare. He is not just singing a fast song or performing some choreography that captures our attention and interests us in the character of Hill. There is more depth and authenticity to this performance, although it is a less-than-honest one, than we have seen previously with males in somewhat silly and highly "musical" roles. In the second clip, we have a performance that we have not yet come across in the course which is a straight actor depicting a gay man. This is no easy task, and could be fairly easy to caricature, but once again there is an emotional depth and connection to the character that makes Preston come across as a genuine person. This is also a rather silly number with Toddy singing about "gay Paris" in a room full of men and men in drag, and as a straight male this could be played in quite an over-the-top way with the usual tropes present. Instead, we see a masculine figure with some feminine qualities delivering a comedic song and playfully digging at some of the patrons and others in his community. This again represents the transition to very honest storytelling from a male character. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips? Preston is clearly a very technically sturdy actor, and quite method in his ability to connect with the emotional truth of the part he is playing. He is able to find that balance between "just being entertaining" and delivering a genuine performance that encourages a deeper connection between audience and character - something that is still valued by audiences today.
  3. NeverGonnaDance

    DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #13 (From GYPSY)

    In what ways does this scene look backwards to classical musicals and how does it look ahead to new disruptions that we now know will happen in the movie musical? As this scene takes place during an audition for a stage show, we are immediately reminded of the Backstage/Show Musicals of yore and their focus on giving the audience a glimpse into how a show is put on. There are quite a few elements present in this scene that we can associate with these classical musicals, including the setting, the presence of a less-than-friendly producer, the over-worked and under-appreciated theatre musicians who have to keep up with everything going on, and the performer who is supposed to stand out or be the favourite for the part. But there are also a few newer elements in this scene as well which cater to the humour and ridiculousness of a vaudevillian lifestyle - especially as a child performer - and look ahead to the disruptive and rising sentiment of "sticking it" to whatever can be perceived as holding you back or attempting to control you. For example, the conversation between the director and producer is something we see happen quite often during audition sequences in older Backstage Musicals. But this time, the director lets the producer know that he is getting sick of taking his orders all the time and will give the slot to the talented one rather than the producer's favourite. The presence of the "stage mom" is also something we have not yet seen, but we know was most definitely present in Mama Rose's form, or worse! (Ethel Milne - Judy Garland's mother - is someone who comes immediately to mind as a great example of a real life vaudevillian stage mom trying to take her daughters to the big time). With her entrance, she disrupts the entire process of the audition, making executive decisions independent of everything that is supposed to represent structure and method in these situations in favour of what she wants to do. And she has no issues standing up to not only the big shots in the room, but also the other children. This scene is all about a humorous take on causing disruption and taking control of one's own destiny, while also paying tribute to what has come before by placing us in a familiar setting and ruffling the feathers a bit. This is the introduction of Mama Rose in the film. Comment on Rosalind Russell’s entrance and performance especially as a traditionally trained stage and film actress. Rosalind's entrance as Mama Rose is commanding and plays like an entrance in an actual theatre production. Mama Rose is clearly a well seasoned veteran of these situations, much like Rosalind Russell really was, and isn't about to let incompetence and unfairness get in the way of a good show. Rose is a strange maternal figure, but one that would have definitely been familiar to someone like Russell who would have always been around these aggressive types in the business. We get a sense that she can truly appreciate the ridiculousness of it all, and plays the entrance in a very "sincerely over-the-top" way. Audiences would have been familiar with seeing Russell in the fast-talking, take no BS, business woman role, so we can view this as more of the same albeit in an exaggerated and almost caricatured type of way. Her performance is backed by her experience with these characters on, and off, the screen, which only serves the believability of, and the genuine humour and sincerity in, someone who could easily be played as too brassy and unlikable. Pay attention to the song “Let Me Entertain You” in this scene. Is there anything you notice in Sondheim’s lyrics that are sly, subversive, or edgy? You can also discuss the song’s performance and staging as disruptive (or not). What's so great about this tune is that there can be a vastly different meaning associated with it depending on the situation it is used in and who is delivering it. When taken at face value, this is just a song about wanting to make someone smile with some silly antics. This is especially true when two cute kids are delivering it while doing high-kicks and cartwheels and turns. But place those children in a situation where they can be seen as being taken advantage of and suddenly it becomes something different. Now, "let me entertain you, let me see you smile...I will do some tricks" becomes more of a subversive and somewhat dark statement on child entertainers in general and how we view/use them. Fast forward to the end of the film when the reprise comes around at the height of Gypsy Rose Lee's burlesque career and the lyrics have transformed once again. Now, this song is all about holding the male gaze and enticing the audience in a not so innocent way. Throughout the film, Soundheim's clever crafting of these lyrics takes us from innocent stage tricks to burlesque, and as such they act as commentary on Gypsy Rose Lee's life from insecure and naive childhood to self-aware and confident womanhood.
  4. Agreed! This series is fantastic. Highly recommend.
  5. Does a movie that has as stylized a scene as An American in Paris’ ending ballet need to use a less-than-realistic, stylized approach throughout the film? This needn't be the case with a film that includes fantasy-like or stylistically strong elements, especially when those elements are mean to contrast with reality; however, with An American in Paris it is the case anyways. Because this was shot on a backlot in Culver City rather than in Paris, we are already seeing a highly romanticised version of what Paris looks like in reality. So the day-dreaming sequences, such as the beautiful ending ballet, surprisingly do not come across to us as too unusually placed in a film that already uses a highly stylised mise-en-scene in order to transport us to somewhere that perhaps we have never been to before. Because the ballet is Jerry's last fantasy about the woman he loves as she is driving away from him, it is of course going to be much more exaggerated than anything else we have seen, and the fact that it contrasts quite heavily in terms of its usage of colour, staging, and scenery, with the rest of the "this is happening on a typical Paris street" scenes, only serves its purpose in the film as a grand romantic gesture towards a person and a city. What keeps Jerry Mulligan from being completely unlikeable in a scene in which he acts pretty darn unlikeable? What saves him in this particular sequence is that he isn't the worst one in it! As obnoxious and American as he may come across, he does depict a genuine curiosity for other art and for the general beauty of Paris. As he is walking to his corner, he is seen taking in his surroundings while greeting other artists and stopping to admire their work a little - even greeting one by name and having a friendly conversation in French during which they do not seem to mind him too much as a person. Once the "third year" enters, she instantly becomes the more unlikeable one with her over-bearing American-ness and lack of culture. So much so that Jerry himself shoos her away for us. Then we have the somewhat suspicious "rich woman" that we feel may not have the most honest of intentions having just witnessed how Jerry reacts to those who he deems lesser than he - she also immediately wants to buy all of his paintings which takes Jerry by surprise. As such, the audiences finds themselves reacting in a cautionary way on Jerry's behalf since we feel like maybe he is the one being taken advantage of here. Had this scene not been taken up by other more unsettling and somewhat annoying characters, perhaps the outcome and how we view Jerry would be different.
  6. How do the pre-dance movements of O’Connor and Kelly compare to their actual dance movements? What's noticeable about how they set up their dance is that their actions are synchronised in the way that they are playing off of one another and sort of following the other's lead - although O'Connor comes across as more of the "gag man" with his starting off the whole thing and making funny faces behind the back of the professor. Even so, from the way they step in time to the way they move their hands and speak, it's clear they are in on it together. This synchronisation sets us up nicely for the tap routine, which is essentially much of the same type of thing. We have two very talented dancers playing off of one another, mirroring each other, and delivering one of the most entertaining and choreographically complex numbers in this musical. Watch the Professor all the way through and consider the role of the straight man. The professor plays a peripheral role throughout as the somewhat confused and helpless spectator who O'Connor and Kelly decide to have some fun with in the moment. The straight man in this sense appears to us as the stoic, constant, and somewhat square figure. Perhaps not one to break into song and dance, but one who is intrigued enough by the whole process to stick it out, even if they are the running joke of the matter. This ability to maintain a serious, upright demeanour and battle through whatever silly circumstance one finds themselves in is something the typical "straight man" would have been associated with doing. How do the representations of masculinity in all three men compare and contrast with each other? We can view the professor in the role of the square and stoic older man, "just trying to do their job", with O'Connor and Kelly representing what can be a bit more vibrant and youthful and off the cuff about masculine self expression - albeit in a "we're the crazy artists" type of way. O'Connor represents the gag man - a class clown, friendly type. He is the other beta male in this situation, with Kelly taking the alpha spot as the sturdy leader which really comes through in his dancing - a typical trait of Kelly's manly style. And thus we have 3 different men (the oldie, the class clown, and the man's-man) and 3 different lenses through which we can view the same subject matter. As an interesting aside - their behaviour in this number can be interpreted as matching their respective real-life ages when the picture was filmed; O'Connor is only about 27 years old here, with Kelly in the middle at around age 40. Their personas on screen are therefore somewhat appropriately hierarchical.
  7. Some food for thought / an intriguing look into what could have been and a compare and contrast exercise for those who are interested
  8. As you reflect upon female representation in the 1950s, where do you think this film character falls in the continuum? Why? In the 1950s, we typically saw a return to what was considered "ideal femininity", or what studios wanted to depict as the height of feminine appeal and allure and place within society - we were supposed to be getting back to "normal" after all, and studios needed to keep with the sentiments of the time. But because we had just come out of a depression and a world war, there had to be a delicate balance between what public opinion was regarding females and how they should present themselves, and how females felt about their own cultural growth and what that should really entail. As such, we got an interesting spectrum of female characters throughout the 1950s. On the one hand, we had someone like Betty Hutton who was blonde and beautiful and talented, but mostly played these sort of screwball female characters that hadn't grown into their femininity or sexual appeal as much as others, yet were still endearing for their focus on being themselves and trying to be seen as equals with their peers. On the other hand, we had Marilyn Monroe who was immediately sort of typecast as the silly blonde, oozing with sex appeal and feminine allure. Someone that men want to be with and women want to be, and always playing characters that were incredibly comfortable with their sexuality and at the absolute apex of everything a female-male relationship was supposed to embody at this time period. But then the are performers like Doris Day. Doris could easily have been either a Marilyn Monroe type, or a Betty Hutton, but the characters she portrayed throughout her career were much more vast and varied, and as such she falls somewhere in between the two. In Calamity Jane, we see her start out as someone who is desperately seeking to be seen as equal with her predominantly male peers. She needs to be both appealing and street smart in order to accomplish this goal since the men (especially Hickock) do not make it easy for her. But because she is a cute, blonde, talented actress, the likeability of this character is always present - and despite her best efforts to be gruff and masculine, her feminine appeal still shines through. So Calamity Jane is someone the audience would place as somewhere between the strong, resilient type that women have had to be through tough times, and the traditionally feminine, more demure type that they were supposed to be returning to. How do you think Doris Day grows as an actress in her various roles in the 1950s, before and after this musical? With Day's looks and persona, the possibility of being typecast was strong. But because she made the character decisions that she did, she allowed herself the chance to grow into a performer that is believable and likeable in anything. In this musical, she makes some choices which speak to her intelligence as an actress - and this theme runs throughout her career into her most successful period of work. As someone with a bubbly and cute persona, Day fits easily into both the musical and romantic comedy genres - this is why she was such a huge success in them - but her improvement in her more dramatic roles is also to be noted from this time period. On screen, she comes across as someone who can not only dance and sing to sell a plot, but also act incredibly well. And through her career she grows into this ability to balance her natural brightness and likeability with her talent for making us feel something important - which resulted in audiences associating her with "all-American" ideals and the embodiment of everything great about the nation at the time. Does Doris Day’s bright and sunny persona add or detract from the role of Calamity Jane in your opinion? Please defend your answer. This role calls for a performer who can make decisions that work for the character, and Day does that wonderfully in this film. Her bright persona only serves the likeability factor of Calamity Jane as she is instantly someone the audiences roots for. She fills the character with fun and an optimism that is needed if she has any hopes of achieving what she sets out to do. The way she carries herself with a forced gruffness and masculinity endears us to her cause, and is not over-the-top or insincere. The musical numbers in the film play to her strengths as a dancer and singer, but are staged so as not to distract us from how the character views herself and her place. All in all, Day carries this film beautifully and adds a charm to Calamity Jane that perhaps would not come through as clearly had the role been given to another.
  9. I am much more familiar with Depression Era & WWII Era musicals - so I am looking forward to these next couple of weeks since there are quite a few of them that I have never taken the time to sit down and watch from start to finish. Started with Gigi this evening, and would also love to try to get to all, or some, of: Calamity Jane, Annie Get Your Gun, Small Town Girl, Pal Joey, It's Always Fair Weather, and Silk Stockings.
  10. As you watch the interaction between the four characters in this scene, what do you notice about the way they include each other or relate to one another? How is it different from early musicals we have discussed? The way this scene unfolds makes it clear that there is not just one "star of the show", but rather four of them. As each character begins to bounce ideas off of the other ones, we see them constantly switching places within the shot according to who is singing about what. The movement and choreographic elements of this number are very simple, thus allowing for a "let's do this together" type of feeling to really come through as the dominant interaction between characters here. They are singing in unison for most of the time, which again denies one star voice to be the focus, but rather all of their voices act as one - reinforcing to the audience that they all have a say by keeping our eyes and ears on the group rather than an individual. We also do not see just one character on screen at any given moment - they all interact at some point and all of their movements play on someone else's. This is quite a different way of presenting a number than we have seen from earlier musicals. More often than not, we would see a dancer dancing and a singer singing as a way to play to the individual's strength as a performer. A musical like 42nd Street, for example, sees Ruby Keeler doing solo tap routines and Dick Powell singing by himself most of the time as a way to play up their talents to the audience. Even in earlier Fred Astaire films, such as Top Hat, we see him in his own big tap numbers and songs. Films had always featured multiple performers with varying and differing strengths - the main difference here being that we are now downplaying the individual in favour of catering to the group as one unit with no one player standing alone. What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific. It's curious to note that nobody's wardrobe stands out here, since we see them all dressed in matching neutral colours (navy, white, grey, black). Instead, it is the set that stands out as it is mostly composed of reds and greens, with the added touch of red on Lily's dress to tie it all together. Lily and Lester are wearing grey (they are a couple, after all), but Lester's tie is navy blue to match both Jeffrey and Tony. Although the colour palette of their wardrobe is somewhat subdued, there is a subtle nod to their individual personalities through their choice of garment - but not so overt as to have us focusing on one over another. What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song? The main thing I notice about the staging here is that the characters are singing and dancing mostly in unison. At the start, we have Jeffrey sitting Tony down with Lester and Lily to introduce some ideas to them for a play. As Tony and the lot warms to his approach, they all join in the fun by interacting with the set around them - keeping with the highlighted lyric of "the world is a stage, the stage is a world of entertainment". Each step and placement of their bodies ties them together as one single moving mass - this is especially prevalent in the final minutes of the number with the series of simple cross-steps toward the camera. The song culminates in a true "group shot" of the foursome with their arms outstretched to the audience having just demonstrated to us, and to themselves, that together they can accomplish what they set out to do. As an audience, we are left feeling like the efforts behind the scenes are perhaps more collaborative in nature than we thought, and that if we work together even the craziest of ideas can be brought to fruition.
  11. Our themes this week included nationalism and unity in pre-war, wartime, and post-war America. I encourage you to think about why you disagree with Dr. Ament's interpretation of their usage of blackface in musical numbers of this era, and what you would say was going on there instead. I quite enjoy the podcasts. It's difficult to not go off on "tangents" when there is so very much to be talked about. With a condensed course like this, we are only getting a tiny snippet of the plethora of interesting topics and information available to chat/think about when it comes to studying films of these eras. I find the podcasts to be stimulating in terms of reinforcing the week's key themes and films, and perhaps also leaving me with something to think about that I haven't considered before - whether or not that has to do directly with our notes/videos/other work for the week.
  12. I would always keep in mind that, much like anything, critical analysis is not something that can be perfected. There will always be some detail or other that you feel like you missed or could have done a better job explaining. This is mostly because we just never really have all the information we need when we need it. But that's okay! Analysis is not something that comes naturally - as such there is no proper answer on "how to do it". It takes years of practising putting yourself in the mindset to sit down and think differently about a topic. Baby steps and small victories. Focus on fleshing out one detail or topic or theme at a time, as best you can. Read what others thought, go back and see if you can pick it up once you know about it. Do you agree? Why? Do you disagree? Why? What do you think can be added/subtracted to someone else's interpretation? The beauty is that something always can. It starts with just putting your thoughts down on paper, and then some more, and some more, and going from there.
  13. What do you notice about the way the scene is directed as Petunia goes to Joe’s bedside and as we cut to her outside hanging laundry? What does this tell us about her relationship, and the connection to the song? The sentiments of the song are clearly genuinely felt by Petunia, and the way this scene is directed shows the audience that she needn't just be by Joe's side in a time of need in order to feel this way. Her love permeates even life's most mundane moments - such as airing laundry - and she probably feels like she could sing this song all the time and still mean every word. Her relationship with Joe is very doting, but not in a forced way as if she thinks she has to do this in order to maintain his favour as a wife. Rather, Petunia's life sincerely centres around him and she would gladly devote all of her time and efforts to him, caring for him and ensuring his well-being so long as he loves her back. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How? Because this is a woman singing about a husband, there is a lot of underlying meaning there in terms of loyalty, faithfulness/fidelity, and the type of love that this can be about. If this was a woman singing about her child, the kind of love this portrays changes quite a lot. As a mother, one is supposed to feel this type of unwavering support and kindness and genuine loyalty towards one's children - even when they stray from a path that is considered the right one. As a wife, one needn't necessarily feel the same way; however, Petunia does. This doesn't alter the fact that this song is about love in one of its most basic forms, but it does frame how we perceive the relationship between two people who don't really owe each other that type of devotion, yet choose to do so anyhow even when one has gone astray and made life harder for the other. That is a powerful message that would have been highly topical culturally, politically, and personally for audiences of the time. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era? This film seems to me a turning point, or at least the start of one, in how black America was portrayed to audiences on screen. Ethel Waters, who really carries the film, embodies her character with such depth of feeling and intelligence, both socially and personally, that she defies the portrayals of similar such characters that had come before her. The thematic elements of unity and diversity are heavy-handed with the making of this film, and I'm sure it helped the cause amongst black Americans who were enlisted or who had family enlisted at the time to show a larger audience that a beautiful story about life, love, loss, and loyalty can be carried quite wonderfully by a person of colour. This is a very humanising touch in a landscape which had previously catered to stereotypical and trivial representations of black Americans and minority groups.

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