jimmyrae

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  1. I think what's key in the actual performance of 'People' is that Fanny is not delivering a performance per se - it's a song as part of the film story. She's sharing her feelings with Nick, rather than performing a number to the audience at Ziegfeld's, and as a result, she's sharing her heartfelt emotions. Those emotions aren't being belted out to the back row; they're being shared to the man in front of her, and for the first time she understands how she might need someone to care for, and someone to to care for her, rather than just applause, in her life. Nick watches Fanny as she sings, and if you're a background watcher, like I am (I like to see how the overall scene is put together), at this point in the movie it's as if he's still trying to figure out how he wants to play Fanny. Does he use her, since she so naive? Does he continue on his path? Either way, does he stay completely detached? Meanwhile, Fanny tries not to, but she emotes her heart out in this song. I was interested in the comments about "People" during the daily reviews; Barbra Streisand in interviews has said that "People" has been one of her greatest hits, but "My Man" was Fanny's signature song so she tends to hold that one back, just as Judy Garland held "Over the Rainbow" in reserve for emergencies. I'm not surprised at all about the staging; it's focused on Barbra and she looks perfect, while (whether this was intentional) Omar is really a quiet prop in the background. I read a book by Bob Mackie describing Barbra snatching a pair of shoes out of his hands mid process to dye them herself - she's that level of perfectionist - and in this scene, her (presumably home selected, after Ziegfeld show) makeup, hands, clothing, not to mention lighting and blocking show it. I'm sure she must have been difficult to work with, but what talent. The closeups as her awareness of her potential loneliness, and the staging as she walks up the stairs bring her talents to the fore, and highlight her skills. Excellent scene.
  2. I think both My Fair Lady and Gaslight involved women who were, initially at least, easily molded or controlled by men. In the case of My Fair Lady, the decor of Henry Higgin's home is completely tailored to his Victorian-era bachelor needs. He finds women annoying, so of course he hasn't done anything to make her comfortable; he's only hired the jewels she's wearing. In Gaslight, Gregory takes away anything that Paula might enjoy, until the home is sparsely decorated, accusing her of losing things as part of his effort to drive her mad. Cukor uses lighting, closeups, and careful editing in both these films to make the women authentic and sympathetic, and position the men as either roughshod or villainous (rather than subtle) from almost our first encounter. Although Rex Harrison is authentic in his role as the oblivious male, his is a comedic role, and Charles Boyer is obviously a villainous role, while the women receive the three-dimensional attention and camera angles. It's clear, from this scene and the "I could have danced all night" number (the number where we can all tell that Marni Nixon was singing - dreadful transition), that Eliza is in love with Higgins, but Higgins is - as is his role here - completely unaware, and should have been socked in the head with one of those slippers. She is frustrated that what she has accomplished appears to have no clear path - she has no money to open a flower shop, and she can't stay with two bachelors. Higgins had no plans after the ball, no expectations, and had no idea that he should. He might wake up in the morning with some idea, some concept of what the future should hold for Eliza, or for the two of them, or it might take him another week while he continues to bask in the glory of his accomplishment (and need another slipper in the face). The authentic feelings of Eliza come through, and the confidence that Audrey shows in conveying them - knowing that she looks lovely while doing so - is readily apparent. I think that is much of what Cukor did as a director; made actresses, and sometimes actors, feel confident that he would show them at their best, so they could focus on acting.
  3. As we look at male performances in musicals, it seems like over time they've become more natural, less stylized. In later years, when the performer shows emotion, it's a more comfortable emotion, one that you as a viewer can understand and with which you can identify - in fact, the emotions show a complex human being, rather than a 'good' guy or a 'bad guy. I think back to the Jimmy Stewart part in Rose Marie, for example; it's clear that he's just a kid gone wrong, while Jeanette and Nelson are clearly the heroine and hero, respectively. Not much nuance there. Comparing those roles to the roles of Lesley Ann Warren or Robert Preston, Julie Andrews and James Garner seems ludicrous, which says something about how roles overall in musicals have changed and matured over time. Although you can categorize what Robert's role is in each of these clips - in the Music Man he's a faith healer/flim flam man, and in Victor/Victoria he's an aging homosexual - there is much more of that valuable commodity, nuance, in both roles. In the Music Man, during the clip, we see Henry Hill run through a patter that we can tell has been been very successful in the past. He can obviously ad lib quickly, work with a crowd, and loves what he's doing. In Victor/Victoria, we see that Toddy is a mature stage performer - not a star, and he's certainly not trying to be one, but a he still can sing and dance - going through the same patter he's been doing for years, but he's just a little bitter. He's not singing because he loves it, but he's still up there singing. In both of these parts, Preston plays a man who is comfortable with who he is. I loved Robert Preston in Beau Geste; found him to be a trifle wooden in his Cecil B. DeMille movies (Union Pacific, North West Mounted Police, Reap the Wild Wind, the last being the best - but my impression is that DeMille directed spectacles, not actors, and didn't give the actors any rope to rehearse or refine their performances). He was excellent in Whispering Smith and fine, but didn't show much depth, in How the West Was Won. From what I've seen, I think his best work was in Victor/Victoria. I wish I had seen him in Lion in Winter on stage.
  4. In this scene of Gypsy, we have the fundamental elements of the backstage musical - an audition. Within less than a minute, we see little girls auditioning for a show, an overwhelmed stage manager, a corrupt production manager, and an overbearing mother. I have to believe this one of the key reasons that Gypsy was not successful is that it took so long for a likable character in the form of Natalie Wood's Louise to appear. But this film is hint of the hyper-realism of the 1970's, where characters are not likable, where the stage isn't pretty, and where fairy tales don't come true. Unfortunately, I'm not sure who the audience for Gypsy was supposed to be - perhaps the men who went to burlesque shows who also liked musicals? Unfortunately a movie based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee wasn't likely to attract a family audience. I have the utmost respect for Rosaline Russell - loved her in everything from China Seas to His Girl Friday, to Mame, to The Women. I loved her voice on the Broadway cast track of Wonderful Town. I find her deeply annoying in this movie, and I think I'm supposed to. She's loud, she interrupts, she uses her dog and her father's social affiliations as props. I've seen her wear clothing like a model, but here, you only see ambition with every step she takes. Does she overdo it? Perhaps - but her performance fits the description in Gypsy Rose Lee's book. June Havoc claimed that book was exaggerated for effect. Regardless, that behavior would get the job done - you want to either throttle Mama or do what she wants to shut her up. It's a new role for Rosalind. I have limited exposure to Sondheim - this movie and 'send in the clowns' (sorry) being about it. This song seems to be one big double entendre to me and always did. Having small girls perform in short skirts with frilly underwear seems designed to attract purient interest. It is repeated throughout the movie, as in the old musicals - like Broadway Melody's 'Forgotten Man" - I just wish it was a little more noble in subject matter.
  5. As a child, I found the imaginary ballet scene in An American in Paris to be a bit jarring. I just didn't understand the transition: Jerry looked at the paper on the floor and then found his way inside to a world filled with painting styles and Gershwin. But back then, I was fascinated only with words and music, not film and dance. I think every film is stylized to a certain extent, whether you have each step choreographed in a baseball game, the costumes defining relationships and the scene, or the colors carefully offsetting each other. That's all basically unrealistic; life isn't like that. For An American in Paris, I think the build up to the last ballet scene is constant, with every song a peak of romanticized, unrealistic, style - whether 'our love is here to stay' on the "seine" or the 'stairway to paradise' in the typically overdone Parisian show. All that helps make An American in Paris an amazingly stunning film. As for Jerry, he's abrupt with the third year student - so we learn he's not patient, or tentative in how he deals with other people. His style is set, he knows who he is, and his philosophy is purchase or move on. He's not diplomatic in how he deals with things he doesn't like - definitely rough around the edges - but he's frank, open, his explanation makes sense, and he has a likable friendly face, which makes up for a lot. (Gene Kelly - who wouldn't like that face?)
  6. This is a delightful scene, and the energy levels that O'Connor and Kelly maintain are incredible. I think the pre-dance movements are as choreographed as the dance movements themselves, with both men literally running circles around the instructor. I have always thought O'Connor is a slightly tighter dancer - while Gene is a little looser - and it's interesting to watch the two next to each other in such an exuberant scene. The professor holds sway only through his title - he's in no way an alpha male, so once the student shows competence, any control the teacher may have is gone. He gives Donald a chance to imitate him, make monkey faces, and in general fulfill his role of class clown. Every clown needs a straight man, someone to play off of, and it takes the professor a few minutes to catch up to what's really going on. And by that time, The alpha and his buddy are off and running. That alpha is Gene; it's Gene who is receiving the benefit of the speech training. And ultimately the professor loses all personality while Gene and best buddy Donald get carried away dancing around the room, using whatever props are available, amusing each other, and bouncing off each other. The professor is no longer a straight man - he's just another prop - as Gene and Donald end the scene by stacking furniture on top of him. Gene can pronounce his vowels just fine, thank you!
  7. Calamity Jane is one of those 1950's movies that takes women down the path that only men used to trod: playing a role that matures, and finds the proper place in life during the the movie, all while competing directly with men. We see Betty Hutton take that path in "The Greatest Show on Earth," and 'Annie Get Your Gun.' Women competing directly with men (literally for the spotlight), while searching for their own path. We see Jane Russell do the same in 'The French Line': trying to find her place (always at a man's side, but nonetheless, looking for the right man who will really love her in spite of her money, and doing it independently) during the film (oh, and while wearing lovely clothes). With Calamity Jane, similar to Annie Get Your Gun, we have actual historical characters as the basis; the studios have taken a great deal of historical license (not sure if there's much left of actual history in the story we see, particularly with Calamity Jane), but the theme of independence remains. We've come a long way from the girls who are forced to work only because they must contribute to the coffers of the beloved family during the depression. With this particular movie, Doris Day moves from playing a daughter (Tea for Two), an assistant (The West Point Story) or a niece who isn't allowed to say 'yes' (On Moonlight Bay) to an independent woman, competing directly with men, with ideas of her own. She's only two movies away from Love Me or Leave Me, the biography of Ruth Etting (again, with some license, but still a dark story), and more dramatic roles. With her sunny personality, Doris is excellent as Calamity Jane - the songs are perfect for her - and she's one of the few actresses who can "guffaw" with some authenticity. Her earliest musical (Romance on the High Seas), I think, suffers from her endless cheer, but she does better as time goes by. I could see Shirley Jones or Nanette Fabray in the part - but neither star had the stature at the time to carry the role, and Doris Day is very effective.
  8. In The Bandwagon 'that's entertainment' song has four stars with varying talents, but none of them are jockeying for the starring position; instead they're playing off each other's talents. Fred, Jack and Nanette each dance delightfully, while Oscar wanders in and out comically. It seems like a great example of what we can do working together - a key factor of the 1950's - versus having a single star, or a leading role which was prevalent in earlier years. That may have been easier to stomach in this movie since we did have a large ensemble cast with names we were comfortable with as stars from the past. The costumes show the different roles each play in the movie: Jack has on a belted director's jacket, Fred a tailored suit that a successful star might have, while Nanette's skirt and Oscar's grey suit make up a set, just as their roles as lyricist and writer match. However, the colors of all these different outfits do not clash; instead they play off each other just like the roles themselves do. We have an ensemble of greys, blues, and black, with a highlight of red in Nanette's belt and the set - no clashing here. Levant is the one who has the gags you have to watch for - the ladder that appears circular thanks to editing - just like his personal sense of sardonic humor. I thought it was interesting that Jack Buchanan introduces the song, and leads the lyrics, which makes sense in his role as director of his show. Fred is the delighted participant, while Nanette and Oscar are part of Jack's entourage, like acolytes, wanting Fred to sign on because the show will be so successful - as we all hope because that's entertainment. We know, though, that a successful play will require that everyone get together to put on a show - that's really what will make it work.
  9. Such an interesting reminder of the times. Petunia had an epiphany with Joe's injury; all the issues that she's had with Joe throughout the movie - his unreliability, his gambling, his inability to put food on the table - vanished when he was hurt. She realized that her happiness was wrapped up in him. She could forgive him anything, as long as he was alright. (In contemporary times, any friend of Petunia would be helping her nurse Joe back to health, writing down his every annoying habit while he's sick, then dumping Joe on his mama's doorstep.) In the scene with the laundry, we see that she is contented, if not downright happy, just to continue caring for him, and is doing her share of the work to maintain the household joyfully; there also must have been some passage of time because she is outside the house (as is he, in a chair) instead of by his bedside. The question about Joe as her partner versus as a child takes contemplation given our current 'enlightened' outlook - I think we as an audience would be much more understanding of Petunia's forgiving a wayward child than of her endless accommodation of a wayward man (again, dump that guy!). The scene would be more poignant and the song as well. I think, during WWII, that there were a series of values that were viewed as critical in supporting the war effort. Movies underscored those values. Movies supporting, repairing, or propagating conventional family life - because boys at war needed parents, wives, sisters to support them. Movies encouraging people overtly or obviously to fill the many jobs available to help the war effort, regardless of race. Movies encouraging people to support, rather than critique, the war effort, and have faith that good would prevail. "Cabin in the Sky" is an example of such a movie; a movie targeting what was perceived to be the African American community, in order to draw more Americans into the WWII conversation.
  10. In "Take Me Out to the "Ball Game," we have the ideal chase scene, with Frank Sinatra coming out of the locker room happily playing with a baseball, completely obvious to any potential disaster. The music changes as Betty Garrett begins blocking his escape routes. He's not interested - but she's determined, as we see in shot after shot, from the long underground hall, to field, to bleachers (what a trouper, running up and down in those shoes!) to back wall, and back down again to field. The movements build, sway and jerk in perfect time to the music and must have been a nightmare to film. She sticks to him in spite of his many efforts to escape, so we know she's serious...we just don't know why she's not giving up on this man that isn't falling down at her feet. It's only through song, though, that we discover her actual feelings; otherwise we can only guess why brazen Betty is determined to chase after someone who is so disinterested in her ("it's fate, baby"). And only through song that we hear his feelings, and get the final results of the chase. The build up is entertaining, but we need the song to get through to the next scene. And without the build up, we have no reason for the song. I enjoy this scene - Betty has the perfect 1940's novelty voice, like Virginia Wiedler in the 1930's, and she later plays a pivotal role in the movie, saving the day. This isn't one of my favorite movies - Esther doesn't have the nice big production swimming scenes (but you do get some completely irrelevant Irish dancing to make up for it) - but it's fun.
  11. My first Judy Garland film was Wizard of Oz, on black and white television, so I missed the transition of Oz to color. I was too young to appreciate the songs, or Judy; I didn't even understand that the key characters were back home on the farm - but I was terrified of the witch, and hid behind my older brother's chair whenever she appeared. Handily we had a LP of the Wizard of Oz movie, with songs, so I can recite almost the entire movie now. (If only we had LPs of Shakespeare.) It's hard for me to view her with a fresh eye, since she's always been a part of my musical world - she's been singing at Christmas all my life. I think we all started with Wizard of Oz because it was broadcast on TV - her movies didn't get as much broadcast play (I'm so glad there's TCM now!) but music filled the breach. I've seen both films from which the clips are pulled before on TCM many times; although I'm not personally a fan of the "Me and My Gal" story, I do like the music. (I find Gene to be a little stagey still, and the story goes too far before redemption.) I do love Easter Parade (doesn't everyone?) - the Berlin songs are perfect, Ann Miller a delight, Jules Munchin so nice to see, and Judy doing comedy in comfort is a gem. I've always been impressed with her ability to process so much to do in a few minutes. I do enjoy the 'swells' number and like the contrast between quiet Fred and boisterous Judy. I think Judy had key capabilities that other traditional musical stars lacked: she consistently conveyed that she felt every word she sang. You can see this from the beginning of her career (when she sang to "dear mr. gable") through her later years when she was singing "friendly star" in "Summer Stock." She was also willing to make fun of her acting personae - as she did with the incredibly talented Mickey Rooney in "Girl Crazy." And she could dance like a house afire - "atchison topeka" one-take Judy. Those are things you could say, with less superlatives, about an actress like Mitzi Gaynor (she could sing, dance, looked like a postcard, and cry on cue) - but it's laughable to compare Gaynor to Garland. Judy was far more compelling in every area. Little Frances gave everything she had in every performance. Perhaps that's why, as she herself said, it was much harder to BE Judy Garland as she got older than it was to work with her. I think my favorite movie is "Meet me in St. Louis," - all round perfection; favorite look for her is "the Harvey Girls" - her make up is stunning and outfits are beautiful (and I also love how Angela Lansbury looks even tho she so young). I think her "get happy" number from "Summer Stock" is the performance to remember her by. A good example (sorry, this is probably an easy example) of her storytelling ability is "the Trolley Song" in "St Louis" - it's a literal story she draws the trolley audience and the rest of us into with her growing excitement as she sings.
  12. Patriotic? We start out our clip with George M. Cohen making a quiet walk through the the nation's home: the White House. What could be more nostalgic, more comforting, more thematically American, than a friendly escort, by the kindly butler who recalls the Cohen song "You're a Grand Old Flag," through the house of the national leader? We walk up the carpeted stairs, past portraits of our Founding Fathers. We get to the Oval office and look past Roosevelt's shoulder's to see the American Flag, and (accurately) sailing ships - because we remember Roosevelt started as Secretary of the Navy - and a busy covered desk. The dialogue supports qualities that are patriotic and militaristic: to paraphrase Roosevelt: "You do me better than me" and "I admire you Irish Americans, you wave the flag openly" - making these features admirable. Cohen recalls his father running off to join the civil war, and checking on his mother who was giving birth between theatre acts, making his father's desire to fight at a young age, and strong work ethic while in the theatre, equally laudable. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is purely a biographical film, but using the White House as the introduction, with the look backwards, gives the opportunity to underscore certain desirable behaviors. Had the film begun at the parade, or just with a date and the tap dance with Walter Huston, that message would have been lost. The film would have been just as fine, moving forward without that brief retrospective, but no opportunity for enforcement of patriotism. It''s subtle, yet once you're looking for it, incredibly powerful, messaging.
  13. I love how the costumes present our two protagonists on a near-even footing, from the very beginning of the clip. Where else, in 1935, are you going to see a woman in pants, facing off with a man? If it were pajamas, you'd still see the woman at a disadvantage - jodhpurs give Ginger a literal sporting chance. And the dancing starts with Fred doing a slow walk, but once he discovers that Ginger can match his every step, he increases the pace until they're doing a mad dash. It's better than Bobby Riggs versus Billy Jean King. Interestingly, this clip isn't half so decorative as the other films we've watched this week - it lacks the gowns and glamor of The Great Ziegfeld, the props and privilege of Friml, and the scenery and songbirds that hit us on the head in Rose-Marie. It does offer witty dialogue and a rueful humour between equals. That rueful humour may be just what the man, and woman, on the street was looking for viewing endless glamor in movie after movie during the early 1930's. You can't eat cake forever - sooner or later you need some basic bread. And during the depression, everyone was looking for a dime. Women - poor, single, immigrant - were entering the workforce and needed independent role models, the realization that they weren't alone. Escapism definitely had a place, but the girl next door who overcame obstacles and helped her family - that was a winner. I was really interested, to compare the dancing styles of Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell. I've never watched them side by side before and the dancers' physique definitely has an impact on style. Eleanor makes use of her whole body to dance in a more statuesque style, while smaller Ruby is a natural hoofer. Ruby had cuts in her dance, which was shorter; the filming cut away from both dancers' feet, which Astaire negotiated against. A really interesting exercise.
  14. I've heard of Lubitsch as frothy, but I can't say that I saw the clip that way; perhaps "frothy" means "lots of interesting props to see." The props, dialogue and especially staging seemed to combine together to convey that we had a handsome young rogue dealing with that jealous woman - perhaps she was justified - but we must indulge him because he's just too delightful not to share his charm with everyone. (Just like in the "King and I" - man must be like the bee, and go from flower to flower.) When things get out hand, it's not surprising that the scene becomes more dramatic, and then goes right over the top into humour. Because Alfred is too charming to endure too much drama - and even the threat of having to return home is not too unpleasant. I thought it was interesting that the scene not only used the concept of a gun loaded with blanks, something that would have been difficult to convey in a silent film, but also added external sounds after the shots. Those sounds, showing the existence of gathering passers by, underscored the message of the ambassador on the political embarrassment Alfred had caused Sylvania (regrettably, this reminded me of Sylvanian Family toys) by being in a theoretical love triangle. Without the noise and the insert of the crowd, the situation might have gone unnoticed. The incoherent babble of French was also very effective in conveying the hysteria of Alfred's quixotic lady friend. This clip, like the clip we saw of the Great Ziegfeld, gives the depression audience another chance to escape the bills that require paying and the sewing, cooking and cleaning that has to be done. In the segment we saw, the rooms are enormous; people are leading exciting lives filled with emotional drama, fun, and no realism, and I bet they're looking forward to more of the same. This (in marked contract to the Great Ziegfeld), in spite of the fact that, had the motion picture code been in effect, they'd be still be editing that scene.
  15. The interaction between the two characters in the canoe is interesting. We have to assume that we're in a very quiet point on the lake - no wind, no paddling noises whatsoever, and Rose Marie is able to hear Mountie Bruce just fine, regardless of which way she's facing. That said, putting our rapt audience hat on, they're bantering away like comrades, rather than developing a romantic relationship - which we know will develop, come hell or high water, because this IS a movie and they MUST sing together. But it's not surprising that they're a little less than cuddling, since many of us have seen the beginning of the movie and know that she's hiding something and he's trying to figure it out. He doesn't, right now, seem to view her as an object of affection - she's more of a study. He's joking about many love interests and the way he gets them, while she plays along. All that changes when he sees her sing next to the dance hall girl in the second clip. I've seen Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in several movies together (I regret to say I cannot remember them), as well as separately. Nelson I remember vaguely in frontier movies ('stalwart' seems his natural forte), and Jeanette I remember in "Three Daring Daughters" (she plays mom) and "San Francisco" (doesn't everybody?). When I was younger I loved them together, but have no memory of plot, and I'm not sure that was my fault. Regardless, Jeanette seems stamped with the "lady" label, while Nelson seems not only stoic, but possibly limited by his acting range. But I think Nelson does show a bit of range in the saloon in Rose Marie. That scene was filled with little threads of conflict: Nelson seeing what a real lady looks like, versus those floozies; the bad saloon girl showing Rose Marie how singing in a saloon is done; and our heroine trying, then realizing "how it's done" just wasn't the right thing to do. A lady staying a lady no matter what - even if she has no money, no prospects - that has motion picture production code written all over it. And of course Mountie Bruce was realizing that a real lady was a cut above all those bad girls he'd been spending time with - the production code would never allow happiness for bad girls. Turns out it's a good thing life isn't like the movies! (I have to acknowledge that saloon scene in Rose Marie was remarkably similar to the scene in "San Francisco," where Jeanette MacDonald allowed love of "****" lead her down the road of singing in a sinful style. In that movie, the production code had an earthquake teach sinful Clark Gable a lesson.)

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