Jim K

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  1. Jim K

    Showboat

    IMHO, James Whale's Show Boat is vastly superior to the 50's remake. It shows the uglier side of racial discrimination that is written into the script, was part of our culture in the 30's, and is still evident in our society today. Segregation is clearly shown as blacks enter and exit the theater through separate entryways, they must sit in the balcony, and they are not allowed in the church when Magnolia and Ravenal get married. The 50's remake glosses over this at a time when our society was still segregated -- Rosa Parks' bus ride was a few years after the remake was released. Compare the treatment of "Old Man River" in the two films. William Warfield's interpretation seems to stress Joe's weariness with life. But Paul Robeson's interpretation stresses a racial double standard ("get a little drunk and you land in jail") that still resonates today. Not to take anything away from Warfield who is excellent, but Robeson's performance is much more profound. And that, to me, is the main difference between the two films as a whole. The 50's remake just does not hit the depth of profundity that the earlier version handles so well. James Whale liked to use actors from the stage in his films, and he hit gold in Show Boat. Many of the actors had played their roles on stage before they appeared in the film: Allan Jones, Irene Dunne, Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Hattie McDaniel, Sammy White (Frank). Maybe their familiarity with their roles contributed to the depth of their performances. But I think the real difference in the two films is that James Whale doesn't shy away from the story's social issues. His version is a soulful look at an ugly page of our history, while the 50's version is a colorful greeting card. Having said all that and how much I love the 30's version, I must say that I cringe at Irene Dunne singing Galavantin' Around. It is not just that she is in blackface (though that alone would be hard enough for me), but she also plays African American stereotypes. It is an odd moment in a film that otherwise treats African Americans with dignity.
  2. It seems to me that a four week course could focus each week on a different actor, maybe something like this: 30's: Katharine Hepburn 40's: Bette Davis 50's: Marilyn Monroe 60's: Audrey Hepburn I mean this just as an example. I realize that most of these people span multiple decades. And one could spend another month with the men.
  3. I think adapting is a loose term too. When Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for WSS, he adapted the stage play for what he thought would work on the screen. He moved songs around, assigned one song to someone else to sing, and made adjustments to the script. But though his adaptation was not identical to the stage script, it was close enough to it that we did not feel that he had distorted his material. His adaptation of Sound of Music goes even farther in reassigning songs, moving songs around to different uses in the film, reducing the roles of some of the supporting characters, and opening up the stage play for the screen. We recognize that he did all this, and we enjoy the film just as much as the play. On the other end of the spectrum are the musicals that take on a different score than the stage production when they move to screen (Anything Goes), replace all or most of the original songs with songs of another composer (Babes in Arms), or simply remove the songs altogether (Irma La Douce). And these really are so far from their original source that we think of them as new compositions. The movie of Cabaret is quite different in many ways from its original stage version -- we can probably agree that Cabaret is an example of a reinvention that worked. One adaptation that I have never quite liked is the movie of South Pacific. The play opens with Emile and Nelly and introduces their romance in an extended scene that includes "A Cockeyed Optimist", "Twin Soliloquies", and "Some Enchanted Evening". The first scene focuses on the romance and plants the seeds of bigotry -- Nellie thinks the children are the children of the Polynesian butler. All this comes later in the film, and the film opens with Lt. Cable arriving on the island and another extended scene that includes "Bloody Mary". In the film, our introduction to the story stresses the wartime conflict over the romance. I much prefer the stage version.
  4. That's all true, except that I disagree about the value of restaging. But I don't see anything in the Vanity Fair article that indicates that he is either restaging it or reinventing it. The only hint to his intentions is that "he's dreamt of adapting this material 'for decades'." And the 60's movie is already an adaptation of the 50's play. It is impossible to tell from this article what Spielberg has in mind. I would love to see the glorious "Somewhere" ballet restored. And recent revivals have successfully addressed racially-inauthentic casting that marred the original cast and the movie. As long as Spielberg is doing it, I prefer to hope that he will do it well. Then there was that odd casting in the 80's CD where Maria was played by a New Zealander (Kiri Te Kanawa) and Tony was played by a Spaniard (Jose Carreras). 🙂
  5. True, but that was in 1947. When it was filmed twenty years later, the story seemed a bit naive. And it didn't help that it opened the same year as Oliver! and Funny Girl, which were getting all the attention at a time when the public was less interested in movie musicals. Though it does have some marvelous songs. I don't believe that it made 11.6 million when it was initially released. If that number comes from IMDB, they report the gross amount to date, including reissues, television sales, video, DVD's, etc., and they may have adjusted the amount to today's equivalent value. I think the movie made a profit in its initial release, but nowhere near a profit of 8 million. P.S. I thought JFK's favorite musical was Camelot. He must have been fickle. 🙂
  6. I think there have been some others that followed that route. These are a few I can think of: Ninotchka --> Silk Stockings (Broadway) --> Silk Stockings (movie) Nights of Cabiria --> Sweet Charity (Broadway) --> Sweet Charity (movie) Smiles of a Summer Night --> A Little Night Music (Broadway) --> A Little Night Music (movie) Little Shop of Horrors (1960) --> Little Shop of Horrors (Off-Broadway) --> Little Shop of Horrors (movie) Hairspray (John Waters) --> Hairspray (Broadway) --> Hairspray (movie) One could argue that The King and I was based on the screenplay for Anna and the King, and My Fair Lady was based on Shaw's screenplay for Pygmalion. Look at My Fair Lady, then Look at Pygmalion and you will see that the script for Pygmalion is pretty much the same as My Fair Lady without the songs. But these two don't credit the movie as the basis of the Broadway show.
  7. Let me just add that watching a whole lot of movies each week doesn't leave much time for reflection, especially if you have other commitments during the day. I have a DVR, and I didn't look at a lot of movies each week. I looked at all of the uploaded videos and occasionally recorded a movie that had been mentioned in one of the lectures and peaked my interest. It seemed to me that the thrust of the course was to look at each film as a reflection of its time and by doing so we learn something about the time and about the film. It's an approach one can learn with a few or with many films. Does watching a lot of films in the course of one week improve the learning process? Maybe, but it seems to me that at some point the emphasis shifts from learning to watching. Watching only a few films each week allows more time for thinking about what one has seen and learning from it.
  8. To some extent, the similarities were built in. Cabaret and Chicago were Kander and Ebb musicals on Broadway. In Cabaret, they told their stories using the constructs of a night club. In Chicago, they used the conventions of vaudeville. Add to that that Bob Fosse directed Chicago on Broadway, and much of his choreography was retained for the film.
  9. I love the West Side Story film, and I also welcome a remake. There are a few things about the 60's film that make it a little difficult for me to see today. On the plus side are the exciting Jerome Robbins choreography, the Leonard Bernstein score, and the marvelous Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn. On the minus side are the color unconscious casting (this was not so important to me in the 60's, but is really difficult for me today), the dubbed voices, the dated slang that is quaint now, and the colorful costumes that do not look anything like what a street gang would wear. And I really do dislike turning "A Place for Us" into a love song. In the stage play it was a fantasy moment when all the jets and sharks dreamed of a world without hate -- a much stronger and resonant moment. Hopefully Spielberg will make this musical classic appealing to a younger audience and keep the rest of us on board too. West Side Story has been successfully restaged for the stage over the years. Why not in the movies too?
  10. That, or they were confusing Broadway with the touring company. Chita Rivera played the title role in the Sweet Charity touring company.
  11. Or its use as one of the highlights of Born Yesterday.
  12. I think she mentioned that The Maltese Falcon was better in the remake. I don't remember her mentioning The Front Page, but it has been remade several times.
  13. A tidbit about "Second Hand Rose" that might be of interest. The song was a sequel. Fanny Brice introduced the song "Rose of Washington Square" in the Ziegfeld Follies. It was so popular that when Ziegfeld put together his next version of the Follies, he asked the songwriter to write another "Rose" song for Fanny Brice, and that became "Second Hand Rose".
  14. I really like the song that Meryl Streep sang in Postcards from the Edge. Meryl sang it well, but I prefer Reba's version from the Academy Awards.
  15. Love All That Jazz and Pennies from Heaven. I'll add The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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