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Josh Ruben

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  1. How might Streisand’s performance of the song “People” have felt different in the film, had she been more theatrical and expressive, perhaps even belting her song more? The context matters. Belting on screen is always a dicey affair given the intimate nature of film vs. stage which often requires a belt, even in intimate moments. Wyler is trying to make this a love song, and even though Sharif doesn't sing with her, it still has that feel give the way it's shot. Her belting in this context would have been inappropriate. Note the emotional transition moments in this scene: how do the two characters relate to each other as the lyrics are sung? She is often embarrassed and feels out of place. This is in keeping with her choice to play Fanny as self-aware about her appearance. He, in turn, is captivated by her. The cuts back-and-forth show him enrapt and the final image of him in the background, watching her on the final notes emphasizes his emotional connection to her. How does the direction and editing of this scene support Streisand’s performance? Be specific about blocking, reaction shots, etc. She starts off timid, and slowly moves away from him. The camera tracks her and only cuts back to him when necessary. He never moves, never detracts. As the song builds and her confidence is established, she plants herself on the stair - an ersatz stage - and belts out the final notes. The camera stays on her and he reveals him in the background. She is the star here and throughout.
  2. Explore any common themes and filmmaking techniques in a very different movie also directed by George Cukor, Gaslight. (If you are not familiar withGaslight, compare and contrast Cukor's theme in this scene and his techniques with another musical you have seen during this course) In both, women are in a beautiful, lush, middle to upper-class environment. Despite the surroundings, they are essentially prisoners of a world created and controlled by men. Note the emotional transition moments in this scene, how the actors portray them, and how Cukor supports them. As each character has a moment of realization (often referred to with the Stanislavski term: a "Beat"), there is either a close-up or 3/4 shot of that actor alone. This focuses our attention on his/her facial and body expression as the emotional tone changes. What do you notice about the relationship between Eliza and Higgins that seems enhanced by Cukor’s direction? Higgins is always upright he stands throughout the scene while Eliza is downcast and either sitting or laying down. She hardly ever looks at him but off in the distance. He, in turn, is always watching her. This conveys her sense of disconnection from others ("What's to become of me!?") and his trying to understand what she is complaining about ("How on earth should I know what's to become of you?").
  3. 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? There is no longer the black and white stereotype of masculine traits being strictly for a man and feminine traits being specifically for the woman. Men are more introspective and analytical about themselves. In the past, a male character who does this is regarded as either comical or inconsequential to the story. Now, leading characters are allowed to show sensitivity. What other specific qualities do you notice about Robert Preston in either or both of these clips? In both, he is truly connecting with the audience. There is an intimacy he creates as he looks for reactions from both the River City folks and those in the nightclub as he performs these songs. He doesn't just "sing to the rafters" in either, but creates a sense that he is singing to just one person even though he is addressing a large crowd. Have you seen any Robert Preston films that are not musicals? If so, what do you notice about his characters and his approach to acting, now that you are more aware of his dedication to working his craft outside of his stage or film work? One of his last films, "The Last Starfighter" could have easily been written off as a silly, sci-fi hack film. In many ways, it was. However, his performance as the alien recruiter brought out a sense of tenderness and humor that made the film work.
  4. 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? It looks backwards in that it is a scene about the roots of the American Musical Theatre. It looks ahead by showing various perspectives. We see the backstage melodrama, the show itself (albeit, in rehearsal), and get a glimpse of what motivates those that produce musical theatre. We see the stylized production elements in the costumes worn by Mauldin and the kids, as well as the "real life" elements of Rose, the musicians, and producer. 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. True to form, there is nothing low-key about her. Stage actors are trained - due to necessity - in being big and broad. Too subtle or "natural" can read as bored, untrained or not be read at all! Russell commands and dominates the scene as a true stage performer must. 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). The forthcoming double-entendre meaning is evident in the works "let me make you smile." The duality is brilliant, and a little disturbing. We all smile at a charming child eager for our praise as he or she sings and dances for us. However, the adult Gypsy Rose Lee has a completely different intent as she almost dares us to watch her. Our smile is not just from her charming personality, but from her other ... assets.
  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? No. The contrast is essential because Art is a driving force, even another character, throughout the film. The Visual Art that Mulligan does, the Musical Compositions by Levant's character, even the Performing Arts are all on display as driving forces for the characters. Their "real lives" are shown in a less stylized way so that we see the stylized fantasy their lives may be. Levant does it in the concerto scene just as we see in the ending ballet sequence. What keeps Jerry Mulligan from being completely unlikeable in a scene in which he acts pretty darn unlikeable? His passion to his art and his honest infatuation with Caron's character. He still is pretty much a jerk in the restaurant, but we forgive him because Milo is clearly trying to use her wealth and influence to seduce him. Socially (and maybe even Politically), this makes her unattractive to us because it is non-traditional for women to be so aggressive.
  6. How do the pre-dance movements of O’Connor and Kelly compare to their actual dance movements? There is a natural fluidity to the way a dancer walks and moves. O'Connor, in particular, is great with his hands and uses them to great effect in his dialogue scenes. Sammy Davis Jr. once described watching another legend, Fred Astaire by saying (in essence), just watching Astaire walk into a room was worth the price of admission. Watching O'Connor and Kelly move, even without dancing, evokes the same spirit. Watch the Professor all the way through and consider the role of the straight man. While the frame is very staged for the audience, having the Professor in the shot (or just off frame) is vital to convey the humor throughout the piece. These characters are old buddies and seeing them joke around - and jerk around - the professor conveys their relationship while also being very funny. How do the representations of masculinity in all three men compare and contrast with each other? Kelly and O'Connor were two of the greats that danced like MEN! Sure, there are the touches of flair with an arm or a hip, but there is nothing effete about their moves or choreography. Kelley, in particular, is the alpha "jock." O'Connor is the beta "side-kick." Both trade-off making goofy faces and being silly, but each represents traditional masculine themes. The professor represents the stuffy, snooty old-world mannerisms and mores. This is appropriate as he contrasts well to the rough-and-tumble "American" attitude of the other two.
  7. As you reflect upon female representation in the 1950s, where do you think this film character falls in the continuum? Why? This is a new incarnation of the "tough broad" we see in the character roles of the 30s and 40s. Only instead of her independence being put away once a man comes along to rescue her, Jane maintains her core identity after she falls in love. She makes adaptations - all characters change - but she doesn't completely reject who she is just for a man. This isn't Sandy in "Grease." How do you think Doris Day grows as an actress in her various roles in the 1950s, before and after this musical? She is no mere ingenue. She displays a maturity, a worldliness, and more than a bit of sexuality as she develops both as an artist and as a person. Does Doris Day’s bright and sunny persona add or detract from the role of Calamity Jane in your opinion? Please defend your answer. Comedy is always one of the greatest challenges for an actor. Musical comedy is about as hard as it gets. She's a damn good actor. Her own personality comes through in various scenes, which serves to make Jane a charming goof. Then, when she goes through her transformation and softens up, Day is able to make that believable through her combination of talent and her own personality.
  8. 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 camera never leaves her, except for when we see the "approving" angel fade away. The cut to the laundry conveys that everything she does, including everyday chores, is all geared toward building a life with Joe. Throughout the song, we see that she is dedicated to him emotionally, spiritually (hence the aforementioned angel), and physically as when she drapes the arms of the shirt around herself, beaming all the while. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How? The love of a mother for her child is assumed, in all cultures, to be unconditional. Therefore, I think the meaning would be changed significantly. Because Joe has "wronged" her through his gambling and relations with another woman, one might assume that Petunia's feelings towards her husband would alter, unlike that of a mother towards an errant child. Because she is so happy that he returns to her, we see a woman so needful and appreciative of love that she is willing to accept him, despite his behavior. What other thoughts do you have about this film, the issues of black Americans during WWII, and this film’s importance in this era? The ideas of loyalty, a life filled with toil and strife, and how there is an ever watchful spirit that guides our decisions are very elegant, even poetic, themes associated with this wartime era.
  9. Thinking like a director and editor, describe how each shot spotlights key actions. Wider and full-body shots are used to display the choreography/larger movements. Tighter close-ups (3/4 shots) are used to focus on the intimacy she is trying to force him into. It’s interesting to examine how musicals segue into musical numbers. How does this sequence prepare us for the singing? There is a fanfare-type of musical intro that plays as they enter the scene. The "keep-away" they play only heightens the action and thus, the music. As he runs into the bleachers, she actually shouts, "Hey!" almost as a cue to the orchestra, and the song starts. No dialogue is used as it is clear through their facial and body language what each thinks of the other. As the music builds, either a kiss or a song is up next.
  10. What was the first Judy Garland film you recall watching? What was your first impression of her "Easter Parade" - I was amazed at her humor both in songs like "A Couple of Swells" and in the banter she did with Astaire. How do you view her differently after viewing these clips than you might have viewed her previously? I must confess that these clips didn't enlighten me about her. I was already a fan. Her heartbreaking gifts for drama, her charm as a comic actor, and her versatility in all things musical convinced me long ago about how great she is. What films in her later career come to mind as examples of her increasing ability to capture an audience’s imagination as a storyteller when she sings a lyric? "A Star Is Born" cemented her, in my mind at least, as one of the most under appreciated dramatic actors of all time.
  11. 1. Describe how the scenes in today’s Daily Dose were designed to promote American values for audiences during World War II. Be specific. Refer to props, set design, settings, etc. in your answer. As Cohan enters the White House, there is a soft, somber tone to the lighting. The conversation between him and the butler recalls a cordial relationship between strangers that share a common bond: love of country. They ascend the steps to the oval office, evoking the elevated (even, god-like) status of the president. They pass portraits of past presidents, with Washington (of course), at the very top. Inside the oval, we see images of naval war ships of the past. At first, these seem commonplace. But they are appropriate given FDR's was once Secretary of the Navy. In context, of course, they evoke the recent attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. History therefore serves as a guiding principal both for the narrative (the film is a flashback, after all), as well as keeping the story relevant in context of the recently declared war. 2. Listen carefully to the dialogue in these scenes. In what ways does the dialogue and/or the screenplay work to boost American morale? Quote specific lines of dialogue in your response. The butler refers to the various presidents he has served and how "Teddy Roosevelt got me a seat up in the balcony" to see "George Washington, Jr." As he describes Cohan's "You're A Grand Old Flag" he adds "[that song] is just as good today as it ever was." Inside the oval, FDR compliments Cohan's portrayal of him on stage and says, "I heard you knew all the answers." To which Cohan replies, "Nowadays, I wish I did." The implication of this comment references the sense of confusion and fear the entire country is experiencing. 3. Since this is the opening of a biographical musical, how differently do you feel this film would be if it opened with the Fourth of July Parade scene in Providence, Rhode Island vs. the opening with FDR in the Oval Office? Defend your answer. Starting with the Oval Office scene creates a sense of relevancy as well as grounds the audience in the "here and now." Rather than offer a bit of escapism and patriotic flash from the outset, we are immediately told that this story is going to relate to the current state of the world. Instead of a tale of the past, it is a story that is relevant and vital to the present.
  12. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat There's always a profound level of intimacy. Even though Fred and Ginger do not even touch each other throughout this number (until almost the very end), there is clearly a very intimate relationship. Fights of all kinds demand and depict intimacy. Whenever the couple engage in ways except physically (such as arguing, flirting, and of course, singing), there is always a level of intimacy. Ginger may not be in love with him, but she's willing to engage with him. That's intimacy and it's soooo fun to watch. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week? Unlike many of the other women, many of whom were strong and independent, Ginger's character makes it clear from the outset that marriage is not her ultimate goal. This way of thinking is often the male character's purview. What possible reasons might there be for the changes in roles between men and women depicted in these screwball comedy musicals that distinguish themselves from earlier musicals in the 1930s? Women had to take an active role in earning money and thus became more independent in this era. While not yet to the level of "Rosie the Riveter" that she would assume in the war years, a woman of this time could not be as dependent upon the man to be the sole provider. Jobs were scarce and women had to contribute. This tough, independent role is reflected in many of the female characters of the screwball comedies. It still was (is?) a man's world economically and politically, but women were beginning to assume a more equitable role with men in the social sphere.
  13. Powell has a more refined "on your toes" style of dance which matches her more "legit" vocal style of an operatic soprano. There are also clear elements of ballet and other classical training her her dance style. Keeler is a rough-and-tumble Vaudeville hoofer. Her technique is about getting the sound and rhythm out, regardless of how it looks. Similarly, her vocal style is reflected in her brassy, belted alto.
  14. What do you notice about the Lubitsch touch? How do the props, the dialogue, and the staging help you understand the character of Alfred (Maurice Chevalier)? In improvisational comedy, there is a quality of storytelling called "hightening." A concept or theme is introduced and then the actors then build upon that concept to "highten" the emotional intensity or bring about a comedic result. Lubitsch uses this idea of "hightening" when Chevalier shows one garter (a scandal in itself) explaining it must be hers. She then hikes up her dress to reveal her exposed legs and the fact that she's wearing two garters (hightening the scandal and thus the humor). The same is true with the gun; once Chevalier takes possession of the harmless - yet dramatically utilized - weapon, he tosses it into a drawer full of (we assume) similarly harmless handguns. This gag "hightens" the emotional use of the gun and again, yields a comedic result. In these examples, this idea of building up a concept, or "hightening", is a key component of Lubitsch's work. Based on this scene, what are some of the things you notice about the scene’s use of sound? Describe a specific sound or line of dialogue you hear and what you think it adds to the scene’s effectiveness. The fact that we hear the argument behind a closed door without ever seeing them fight sets up both the story as well as Alfred's character. His first line, "She's very jealous." delivered with a wry smile and charming demeanor conveys so much. Then there's the use of the gunshot. When she seemingly shoots herself, we hear the shot so we will recognize it later. Then, when the husband shoots Alfred and we hear the sound, Chevalier doesn't even blink. We are both confused and amused because we just saw the wife "die". Without the gunshot, the gag that the gun is one of many loaded with blanks would not be effective, or even make sense. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression-era musicals? The masculine lothario is going to be elegant, humorous, and charming. We are going to like him, despite his misogynistic behavior. Violence is almost always to be used as slapstick or in someway will have a comedic result. Above all, love, romance, and even sex, will always be playful and rarely tragic. The man and woman will fight, but eventually, all will work out in the end for them.
  15. What do you notice about the interaction between the characters in these two scenes? Please give specific examples. The music is treated as a source of attraction. Eddy starts to woo McDonald with a romantic song in the canoe. When she compliments him on the quality of his singing, he doesn't acknowledge the compliment. Instead, he asks if she's impressed with the romantic nature of the song. She, playfully perhaps, is offended over his using another woman's name. Later, as McDonald tries to sing in the saloon, Eddy is clearly smitten with her voice as well as her appearance. If you have seen either or both of these actors in other films or television shows, please share your perceptions about them. They always come across as innocent, straight-laced, and classy. Even though they are older, well beyond college age, each regards romance as young teenagers. In addition, there is always a sense of playful whimsey between them. What do these clips tell you about the male/female relationships as they are depicted in the films during this era? What norms might you expect are supported under the Hollywood Film Code? A clear distinction is made between the acceptable girl (McDonald) and the debauched floozies in the saloon. Romance is always depicted as sweet and innocent. There is a flirtatious element, but it is playful and funny rather than sexual.
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