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DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #9 (From THE BAND WAGON)

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Welcome back everybody. Here is the forum for Daily Dose of Delight # 9. It is for The Band Wagon. Recall that you watched the number "That's Entertainment." The emphasis is on community and the ensemble in the musical number and the movie musical in general. Please post your comments in this forum.

 

Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own)

  1. 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?
  2. What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific.
  3. What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song?

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1) It is like a well oiled machine each lead the others to the next bit and no one is left behind. In the earlier musicals to me it always seems like there is one standout and the rest back the person up. Here everyone is included.

2) The men are all in suits but they are not extremely dressy suits and the lady is in a fairly nice dress. No one is more outlandish or more dressy than the rest which makes the scene symetrical yo me.

3)It is a sense of fun to me because in some cases they are doing funny things to make the audience laugh like the ladder that keeps going and he is at the beginning  and at the end of the ladder. The girl is very seet and the other guys are more talented dancers and this stands out to me.

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I agree with Barbara c .

the costumes are more subdued. Less bright colors and appear to be coordinated. Also the dance steps appear to be more coordinated so you focus on the entire group

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They are performing as a group. There is no leading singer or dancer. All have equal importance.

They are all dressed in very various shades of gray, black, or blue. The group blends together. It makes a nice comparison with the reds used in the scenery.

In staging, no one is given center stage. Truly a group endeavor. 

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They work well as a group without a leader. They have a common goal & working together will produce a hit of a show. As far as the costuming, they're all dressed in business casual in subdued colors of the day/time period. No one person stands out as leader & it works well for their common goal. The interplay of the group again stresses the fact that if they work together their show will be a hit. The "world" is a stage & anything goes. The "Ladder" scene is an example of the playfulness between the members of the group. Again, if they work together cooperatively, they can overcome any obstacle & have success.

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Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times: “That wonderful talent for satire which Betty Comden and Adolph Green possess, and which was gleefully turned upon the movies in their script for last year’s Singin’ in the Rain, is even more gleefully let loose upon the present-day musical stage in their book for The Band Wagon.” Crowther, who could be a curmudgeonly reviewer liked all of the performances (even Cyd Charisse's rather weak acting) and all of the talent behind the camera too. “This literate and witty combination herein delivers a show that respectfully bids for recognition as one of the best musical films ever made.” Crowther thought "The Band Wagon" was better than SITR!

Comden and Green were good at taking a catalogue of songs from a particular songwriter, for example, Arthur Freed of the Freed Unit at MGM, and spinning a plot to make use of those songs in a musical. With respect to SITR, Comden stated that when they got the assignment to write the book, all they knew was that they had to use Freed's songs, and that "someone would be singin' and that it would be rainin'."

They took a similar approach to The Band Wagon, by taking an idea for a thin plot, and spinning a book out of the songs.

As for Jack Buchanan, he was a well known star of the British music hall. He was an accomplished dancer who had a dance act with his wife. Modern audiences can see a bit of his music hall-type performance in "The Winslow Boy" (1948).

1.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 opening of the "That's Entertainment" song reminds me of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies in which they solve one problem or another by "putting on a show!" Those efforts from the late 1930's and 1940's also utilized some ensemble acting, singing and dancing, all within the structure of the actual story, the show within the show, and the backstage drama which forms the plot. The instructor posits the idea that this type of production number is unique to the 1950's musical. What we see in this clip is that, like the earlier musicals, the problem to be solved is Astaire's flagging career, which needs a boost from a good Broadway musical show in which he can star. As did Rooney and Garland, they decide in the context of this song to solve the problem by "putting on a show!" 

Buchanan's character is the leader of the song. He is a pretentious, somewhat untalented director who is trying to sell the others on his ideas to create a play. Some think he is based on a combination of Orson Welles and Jose Ferrer. The married couple is of course based on the writers Comden and Green (although married, were not married to each other), and the Astaire character is actually based on himself. As such, Buchanan orchestrates the plot ideas, Fabray, who could sing and dance, contributes her talents as the lady of the scene, Levant, a pianist in real life, can carry a tune and supplies some comic bits, and Astaire is the one to whom they must sell all of their ideas to "put on a show!" The characters relate very much this way to each other throughout the scene.


2.What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific.

The audience expects Astaire to be dressed elegantly, and he is in a dark blue suit and nifty white pocket handkerchief, perfectly squared. After all, he is Astaire, the star of the film, and the star of the show within a show. Levant is dressed in tweeds, just like the audience of the time would expect to see a writer attired. Fabray is costumed in a "new look" style dress, with a suggestion of decollete, and a red flower on one hip. She is the lady in the song and needs to look feminine, but she is also Levant's partner, and a writer, so she can't look too gorgeous. Finally, Buchanan is dressed like a pretentious, artistic type, in a turtleneck and kind of lounge coat, something only an Artist would wear. This is the sort of attention, Minnelli would pay to the way in which his characters are dressed to signal information to the audience. 

3.What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song?

As stated before, Buchanan is the leader, trying to convince Astaire to trust him to revive his career. As the ring leader, he is also the tallest member of the group, and the most masculine looking one in the song. Although he interacts with Astaire on equal footing throughout the production number, he initiates the idea to "put on a show!" and gets the action going toward that goal. Fabray and Levant are trying to cheer Astaire up, as he is discouraged about his career. They run with Buchanan's idea and contribute lots of comic business in order to amuse Astaire and give him hope that he can have more stage success. Although the audience knows Astaire is the star of the film and an amazing dancer, Minnelli has him hold back because of his depression and need to be convinced of the advisability of joining in to "put on a show!" Therefore, the great Astaire does some modest hoofing with the others during the song, and does not really emerge as the dancing star the audience knows he is. His reticence is consistent with the plot.

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1.  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?

This performance plays out like a conversation set to music. The characters are each giving an example of how a simple idea, can create a show. As an idea goes out, someone else has another one. They are convincing Astaire's character, becoming more motivated until he is in. In earlier musicals, the idea is set and characters revolve around the director and what they want. 

2.  What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific.

No one in the ensemble stands out. You have the Lily who is dressed according the standards of the time, casual and everyday look. Tony's look is sharp, even though he is not working, he still dresses the part. The Pin Stripe suite is great. Jeffrey's jacket, makes you think of a stage/movie director. 

3.  What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song?

Thru out the performance the characters stay close by each other. They are observing what each other are doing and reacting to it.

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The first thing I noticed about how the four characters included one another was the color scheme for their clothing. They are paired off and have coordinating outfits which visually at least for me is pleasing as well as telling me that they are part of something together somehow. The married couple are wearing grey, all the men are wearing something with a shade of blue in it, and to make the solo female counterpart stand out just a little bit they place a dash of red onto her dress. I also noticed how they casually touch one another, keep themselves physically close to one another, and face each other when they are singing often.

I noticed that the staging and interplay between the characters was to show a unity with their passion for song and dance. It was also incredibly playful and very refreshing to see especially with Fred Astaire. Such a fun and truly entertaining performance by these four talented actors. 

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As I was watching the daily dose, it reminded me of the scene in the Producers where they are trying to convince Roger Dupree to make the musical, Springtime for Hitler. I looked for the scene and the song was "Keep it Gay". It has all the color of the band wagon but many more characters. Roger Bart and Jeffrey Cordova both have that aristocratic delivery. The Producers, though not a great movie musical of a great (or at least very fun) Broadway show, is also a time capsule of when it was made of the changing attitudes in America.

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1. This number and the corresponding lyrics allow each person to jump in and out of the song with equal weight. The number is set up so that no one is shown as a better dancer, better singer, better comedian, etc. Each takes a turn to carry each role as you would find in a play. They work in circles around each other as they sing to Fred. Each line of the song is passed on to the next person who then passes it back. The same is true with the gags. 

Earlier musicals has featured numbers that showed off specific talent whether it was Fred and Ginger in a signature number or Eleanor Powell spinning and tapping. This time we have more of an ensemble feel where we know each person might be more talented in one area or another but by themselves they could never pull off a show. They need to draw on each person's talent to make the show a success. 

2. With the exception of Nanette's red rose, the costuming is toned down. Even though the suits are different, the men are wearing all shades of blue and gray. That ties in with Nanette's blouse and dress. It's a very cohesive palette that adds to the ensemble feel.

3. As mentioned above, each character gets a play every role...the singer, dancer, comedian, gag artist, etc. They play these roles regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. Oscar Levant is no singer but he takes his turn without hesitation. They can make fun at each other, work as a team and draw each other out. This number is all about convincing Fred to join in and it is obvious that they convince him that "the sum is greater than the parts."

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The costuming was all done in subued and neutral tones.  No one stands out in the group.  Also, except for Levant leaving during a couple of dance steps, the group is all singing and moving together.  No one is a lead singer or dancer.  They are working together to come up with a show where each person will have a part, but you can't tell from here who would be a star or a leader.  Each is contributing.

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The horizontal egalitarianism of the choreography puts everyone on the same level quite literally. There is a level of evenness to every scene punctuated by Levant's hysterical horizontal carrying all by himself of both ends of an exceptionally long ladder. The ladder isn't going up but sideways...forever.  Height disparity is minimized such that no character is above the other save the scene in the "castle" with a brief pyramid choreographed.  With that exception, there is no verticality. Additionally, there are no brief solos within the group routine featuring particular talents or standouts. It is all group, all the way. This most certainly underscores the theme you highlighted of community over the individual.  

Only Levant plays slightly out of this zone -- as the clown -- the typical function of the clown in theater.  Yet even his clowning feeds back into the equalizing of all. His participation deflates any grandiosity of the number or the players and as such allows him to play the foil of sorts, but it is minimized in comparison to what he does in "An American in Paris." Interactions amongst the players is supporting of the whole.  Gestures, steps, are very tight and cohesive rather than expansive.  Again, only Levant wanders off camera for the briefest of moments. 

This unity is carried through visually in absolutely neutral tones in costume.  The only color that pops is a single red flower worn at the belt of Nanette. No individuality here.   Astaire's typical urbanity which normally sets him apart is minimized in this number.  There is no standout here. No one is set as the focal point with supporters cast.  To pull this off, each is essential in equal measures. 

I find the set purposefully more artificial than most musical numbers admit. The concept of "That's Entertainment" is that everything is a stage or possible prop. The set emphasizes the artificiality of musicals while the words bring life to the team's use of props to bring life to the story. Levant's elongated ladder pokes at the artificiality of the props, but his joke causes the genuine entertainment.  Levant, again, brings a handkerchief on the set from nowhere and it is seamlessly threaded into the Astaire's moves. The duality of such a "chicken or egg" question is part and parcel with the lyrics. It is the device of allowing viewers behind the scenes of how the magic is made that we have seen in other musicals as a type of musical.  Here, it is taken to a higher level of artificiality even while it is overtly stating that art makes it real in as much as entertainment breaths life into any idea or event in ordinary experience. 

 

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  1. 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 characters are very aware of  each other.  They interact with each other by singing and dancing with each other.  It's like they are talking to each other.  Comments like watch me now states that they are working together.  This musical is different because music is telling the story, because Astaire And Cyd Charrise are in this film they use dance to tell the story.  Since they are putting on a musical on Broadway the songs are seamless.
  2. What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific.  They are wearing about the same outfit.   It is casual for the time.  The dress is simple and the suits are classic.  It is saying we are telling the story, but there is no costume change.
  3. What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song?  They scene in which they look like an acrobat and Levin walks away states that this musical is a comedy.  Even when he is carrying both sides of the ladder shows comedy.  The song, "That's Entertainment" is telling you that they are here to entertain you.

 

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The costumes are all blended, in that no one performer really stands out in the number.  Also, there is the definite feeling of 'teamwork' and 'we need to do this together' in the clip.

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Every male person is treated as an equal even though the female tries to be seen as an equal. Some of the lyrics in the song are showcasing how entertainment is when a girl is seen as overtake by a strong, masculine figure. Some of the earlier musicals were still seen as dominated by men. However, during WWII women were showcased as being able to take care of themselves as men went off to war. Cohesiveness is shown in all their costumes being on gray and neutral tones. This makes the number appear to be more equal instead of singling out the woman with a vibrant dress. All the characters joke around with each other, especially the men. There are also two men that are fighting over the girl. 

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They all are wearing some variation of blue and gray. Their costumes are street clothes. What I noticed most about the number is the tempo--slower than I remember from the documentary made later "That's Entertainment." It's more "acted" than danced.  Every character has a "bit" in the number. 

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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 scene allows each character to lay to their potential.  No one is the star, everyone in in the spotlight.

What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific.  Astaire is dressed as he should be, elegant, stylish and completely up-to-date.  Buchanan is dressed in what we seem to feel in the quintessential director attire, the precursor to the leisure suit, Levant is dressed as he would depict himself, down-to-earth tweeds, and Fabray brings along the feminine touch with her 1950's appropriate skirt, heels and white blouse w/rose, adding a subtle pop of color to the scene.

What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song?  No one is the star in this scene, each performer showcases his or her best talent.  If something might be a bit much of one of the actors, it is handled without putting anyone on the sidelines.

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1).  I notice that the number is very 'community inspired'. They are all working together to inspire and encourage Fred Astaire's character.  They want to let him know that he can do this, and that together they can create a show that will accomplish his comeback.

2).  The costuming is casual as opposed to being glitzy as it may have been in a musical number that was being staged as a 'musical number', as it were. This number is part of the story, and as such the members are dressed as they would be dressed in their ordinary lives. Nanette Fabray wears a daytime skirt and blouse, Oscar Levant wears the casual suit coat of a writer, Buchanan wears an even more casual type coat of a creator, and Astaire is dapper as always.

3).  The number is very team oriented. They are all members of the 'company'. No one is highlighted or made to stand out. It is very egalitarian. I find it a very pleasing and 'feel good' number.

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This is a classic ensemble. All members get along and can pick up the line where the last person let off. They know all the bits and everyone is an equal, regardless of gender. 

The clothing isn’t showy- just suits and a dress, again nothing to make one person stand out more than the others. Also, flashy  costumes are for the performance- this is behind the scenes. 

On an unrelated side note, this song always makes me smile- we sang a couple of the other versus at the end of my dance recitals every year. 

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I don't know if I could identify a single person as "the lead" in this scene.  Indeed, take this number out of the film and ask someone who has never seen the film who is the lead, I don't know that they could answer.  They all appear to work communally to convince us that they are all equally entertaining.  

As I formulate a response to the costumes, I realize that I really don't remember much about the costumes, which might be the point.  They were all well dressed, but there was nothing obvious or flashy or distinct.  The male costumes in particular did nothing to highlight or accentuate the bodies or the physiques.  And Fabray's costume is pretty, but not extravagant.  

The song seems staged to allow us to focus on both the lyrics and the props.  The first things that spring to my mind when I recall this scene are the lyrics ("killed his father / and caused a lot of bother" as one example) and the usage of the props: ladder, doors, etc. I see this song and dance number as figuratively building the stage for the future numbers.  Here they are stagehands helping with the pre-production, which is just as necessary as the production.  

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They are all dancing with and for each other now, in unity. You still see their own individualism but they are united as a whole. Definitely seeing the swing to a different era in group dancing and cooperation. I also definitely noticed the story in the musical being told between themselves then it jumped to entertaining us the viewer obviously knowing it’s all to entertain us, but a story in a story.  

We don’t see in this number anything flamboyant in costuming as the emphasis is definitely on the song and dance.

Each one seems to play off another’s talents and then tends to elaborate onto themselves and off it goes. It’s just simply an entertaining musical story that shows what goes on behind the scenes, which I think is a big draw. What’s an everyday experience for them is an enlightening glimpse for us. The song just elaborates what it takes to be able to work together but it makes sure each one has there time to shine  

 

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1. The color of the outfits as well as the scene is mainly neutral. They all have equal time during the scene, even though they aren’t all on the screen at the same time. As alway Levant is the comic with his stunts, think of him carrying the ladder across the set. The one thing I notice not one of them dominated the scene. 

2. None of the actors costumes stood out during the scene. The men were all in suits. Their suit coats were a little different in design but the color was still everyday business. Her dress wasn’t flashy or dressy. It looked like something that she could have bought at a department store. 

3.  No one stands out from the group. They complimented playfulness through their dancing and in song. None of them tried to out do the rest of the group.  

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I notice that all in this scene is coordinated. From coreography, to the elements of mise-en-scène, to the colors and shapes of their costumes, everything matches perfectly, which gives us a sense of harmony and unity.    

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  1. The interaction of the characters in the scene seems to be more of an ensemble and cooperative - playing off one another rather than just performing next to each other or as individuals. This is different from earlier films where actors played to their own strengths and at times didn't even acknowledge that another actor was on screen with him or her.
  2.  Everyone was dressed in the same color palette. Two of the men were dressed in regular suits and one was dressed in a less formal version of a suit. Nannette Fabray was dressed in that same color scheme so that there was a sense they belonged together even though they were not dressed exactly the same. She did have one spot of color on her waist - red that matched her lipstick. 
  3. The movements were all relatively cooperative or in sync so that no one person stood out. A cigarette was lit for one gentleman by another. One character even helps himself with the ladder. 
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1.    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? During the first minute, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant & Jack Buchanan pull Fred Astaire to a seated position to “audition” their ideas (clowns, sex, divorcees) for him; Vincente Minnelli keeps adjusting the mis-en-scene, often with whoever has the lyric moving so we’ll watch them. Once Astaire agrees to participate (at :56, “It could be Oedipus Rex”), they work together to work in every vaudevillian & theatrical routine they can think of. They often branch out, then re-group, as when they build what seems to be a cheerleader pyramid (but Oscar Levant walks away, showing it was an illusion). We see that putting on a show requires the creativity and collaboration of many artists.

Stylistically, this most matches the title number atop the Empire State Building in On the Town (1949), with all the friends working together to express enthusiasm, sometimes branched off in twos or threes and often all together breaking the fourth wall to sing to the viewer. It’s certainly different than all the songs-within-a-show that are supposedly for a diagetic audience in the early ‘30s Warner Bros. musicals (42nd Street, the Gold Digger films, etc.). In this one, though the characters are not always chummy throughout the film, they are in this number as they realize what fun they could have putting on a show for us.

2.    What do you notice about the costuming of the characters that indicate cohesiveness of the ensemble, as opposed to setting anyone apart? Be specific. Their costumes blend visually, as the characters eventually do. Jack Buchanan’s blue jacket stands out and his ascot suggests a pompous artist. Nanette Fabray’s wide geometric patterned skirt helps define her as the female lover in all their micro-dramas (“The dame who is known as the flame”). Her splash of color is the red bow, which matches the curtains and table. Levant has a navy tie and Astaire has a navy suit; they’re dressed quite formally for a backstage setting.

3.    What do you notice about the staging and interplay between the characters that helps define the relationships between the characters in the song? Levant skips the dance routine the other three do as the music’s tempo increases. We see that the three have playful sides as they mock trying to step in front of each other. Levant is usually on his own, such as with the gag of being both at the front and the end of the ladder. This is interrupted by Fabray’s running gag of flirting by smiling and popping her hip in time to a drum beat. Astaire and Buchanan are often teamed up, at one point knocking each other’s derbies off. Levant is the gag man again popping out from behind the flat painted to look like a red brick building with a green door to light Buchanan’s cigarette and surprising us by walking in step with Astaire and Fabray (we didn’t see them get back there). The four become a chorus for the next few lyrics, eventually reaching their arms out to us, the audience.

thatsentertainment_thebandwagon.png

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