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About mjbreuer

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  1. Dr. Edwards, the course has been so much fun. I appreciate the time and effort that has gone into creating this experience, and am truly enjoying myself, discovering a few new films while revisiting some old favorites. The insights from the lecture videos have been great, and I’ve seen quite a few of these films in a new way from the course content.
  2. 1. 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? As the song begins with Petunia at Little Joe’s bedside, the meaning of the song comes across as an urgent prayer for his recovery and the care she shows her husband in his time of need. Here, it is particularly appropriate that the character is “Little” Joe, as Petunia’s treatment of her husband is very nurturing, much in the way a mother would care for a sick child. Later, as the scene shifts outside to the line of laundry, we see that Petunia’s devotion to her husband carries over into her domestic duties; Petunia’s happiness, as the song suggests, comes from her love of Joe. As a result, she is willing... more than that, she finds joy in the daily chores that help support and bring comfort to her husband’s life. This is seen later in the film as well, when Little Joe’s gift to Petunia is an electric washing machine. She is brought to tears over the gift, a tool that will help her better care for herself and her husband, which will only increase her joy. The song is beautifully sung by Waters, despite the statements the scene makes about a married woman finding happiness in her blind devotion to her husband and the problematic racism of the stereotypical dialect/slang used in the lyrics. 2. How would the song change if it was a woman singing about her child? Does the cultural meaning change? How? In many respects, Petunia’s behavior towards Little Joe is similar to the way one might expect a mother to treat her child. However, even if the performance might not have appeared much different, the cultural context and meaning of the scene would change quite a bit if Joe were a child. Rather than being a song about a woman’s devotion to her husband (or nation, as the subtext suggests) in spite of his troubles, a song directed toward a child would suggest the themes of selflessness and sacrifice. Petunia finding happiness in a child called Joe would set up the idea that she is setting aside her own ambitions in order to build a better future for her son. 3. 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 film is a problematic mix of its technical quality and the racial stereotypes it portrays when viewed through a 21st century lens. Waters is magnificent here, and the musical and dance talent that is assembled in the cast is a “who’s who” of top African American performers of the day. For me, the most problematic scene of the film that illustrates the film’s assets and it’s critical flaw is the “Shine” sequence. The song is an expertly-choreographed and executed dance number, worthy of praise on the part of the filmmakers and the performer. Minnelli’s mise-en-scene is flawless, and “Bubbles” (John William Sublett) gives a stellar dance performance. However, the lyrics and the stereotypical, affected delivery are so overtly racist by modern standards that the scene is difficult to watch. Is is amazing? Is it appalling? Yes to both.
  3. Yes, I understand who Cedric Gibbons was, and the studio custom for assigning credit to works. Gibbons’ participation in the listed films from the notes is not being questioned. My point stands that the lecture notes contain an error, which is all that I was clearing up. By listing the 1944 version of Kismet as one of the “movie musicals of the 1940s,” the professor either mislabeled Kismet (1944) as a musical, or got the decade wrong, as the 1955 film is the musical version.
  4. I just wanted to post a correction to the lecture notes for anyone who is keeping track of all of the films mentioned in the course, as I have been. In the note about Cedric Gibbons, there is the following bullet point: His works is evident in many of the movie musicals of the 1940s, including Strike Up the Band (1940), For Me and My Gal (1942), Cabin in the Sky (1943), Best Foot Forward (1943), Bathing Beauty 1944), Kismet (1944), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Anchors Aweigh (1945), The Harvey Girls (1946), Good News (1947), The Pirate (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Words and Music (1948) Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), and On the Town (1949) The 1944 version of Kismet is mislabeled as a musical; the musical version of Kismet was not released until 1955. Cedric Gibbons did work on both the 1944 and 1955 versions, however. I understand this is nitpicking, but I’m trying to see every film mentioned in the course, and figured I’d share with anyone trying to do the same. I’ll probably try tracking down both versions, although the 1955 musical seems more appropriate for the course (and easier to watch, since it’s on TCM on the 19th).
  5. 1. Thinking like a director and editor, describe how each shot spotlights key actions. Each shot spotlights key actions by placing the camera in the right place to capture some physical cue/gag that goes along with the action of the story (i.e. Sinatra tossing the ball for a game of catch after Garrett sings for him to “play ball with [her]”) and by keeping the focus on Garrett as the dominant force in the scene. Having the camera retreat with Sinatra as he tries to evade her advances (often framing him in profile or from behind), while keeping Garrett’s face in view throughout much of the scene increases her aggressiveness and the tone of the sequence. 2. It’s interesting to examine how musicals segue into musical numbers. How does this sequence prepare us for the singing? The sequence sets up for the upcoming song by carefully choreographing the blocking during the scene in the locker room. The score, which begins in the locker room, sets the mood for the upcoming song, and the actors’ blocking matches the rhythms of the score.
  6. 1 What was the first Judy Garland film you recall watching? What was your impression of her? The first Judy Garland film for me, as it was for many people, was THE WIZARD OF OZ. I was a child, and I remember finding her very relatable and engaging. I see this same connection as I watch the film now with my young daughter, who has made it one of the most requested screenings in our house. Her voice and expressiveness are among her greatest assets, making a song like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” incredibly iconic through her delivery and emotion. 2.How do you view her differently after viewing these clips than you might have viewed her previously? I have seen both of these films before, so I’m not sure that I really view Judy Garland any differently than I had before; however, I do appreciate the way the lecture notes call attention to the way that Judy is able to do all of the little things right—like reading the music as well as reading her partner—adding an honesty and balance to the scene. It is also interesting to consider her growth as a performer when viewing her career from a chronological perspective. 3. 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? From her later career, the standout Judy Garland performance for me is A STAR IS BORN. The film is a showcase not just for her tremendous voice, but also her great talents as an actress and emotional performer.
  7. 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. The scene’s opening, with Cohan’s walk through the White House before his eventual meeting with the President utilizes costuming and mise-en-scene to develop the nationalistic tone of the film. As he walks up the stairs, the walls are adorned with patriotic portraits of past Presidents, while Cohan himself wears an American flag pin on his jacket. Once in the Oval Office, the office of President is treated with reverence (even Cohan, a seasoned performer, admits he is nervous); FDR is filmed from behind so that the suspension of disbelief between the real President and the actor portraying him is blurred. 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 dialogue is very nationalistic in its focus as well. During the conversation on the staircase, the valet name-drops another iconic American President: Teddy Roosevelt. The play in which he saw Cohan perform was George Washington, Jr., another patriotic piece. Once in the Oval Office, FDR and Cohan discuss the President’s stereotypical love for the patriotism of Irish Americans, which Cohan claims he hasn’t lost. Cohan begins his flashback by citing a Fourth of July parade, filled with the very flag waving that the two men are discussing and the film as a whole is trying to promote. 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. Opening with the scene in the White House creates a frame narrative, where the story that will bookend the biopic provides a modern context and relevancy for the film. It also provides an explanation for some of the film’s patriotic overtones; Cohan is the guest of FDR, and is looking to make a good impression on a man he admires. All of the flag waving that goes into Cohan’s account of his life, then, can be seen as a way of telling the story in a way the President would appreciate. Opening with the Fourth of July parade would eliminate this frame narrative, and might not have given the audience the same sense of relevancy to the contemporary audience.
  8. 1. What other aspects of battle of the sexes do you see indicated in this clip or in the film Top Hat? In the clip, we see the “battle of the sexes” played out as a competition, with Rogers’ character matching Astaire step-for-step, proving her independence and that she is second to no man. This reminded me a lot of the old “Anything you can do, I can do better,” Nike commercials from the early 2000s, where male and female athletes would try to one-up each other in various athletic feats. Unfortunately, the clip also fails to push the envelope very far, and we still see Rogers resigned to the role of following in Astaire’s footsteps, rather than cutting her own path. They may be similarly-attired and matching each other’s steps, but this still feels like Astaire’s show; he chooses the step, and Rogers follows along, as much as she’s appearing to resist his advances. Fred does not have her in his arms, directing her where to go (which is a step forward for the equality the clip tries to show), but it would’ve been a bit more satisfying to see Ginger one-up Astaire’s moves with some flashy steps of her own. Nevertheless, the clip manages to be romantic by playing itself off as decidedly platonic, which is a fun reversal of the usual ballroom routines. The ending of the clip with a sportsmanlike “good game” handshake rather than a romantic kiss is a final, perfect punctuation on this competitive dance sequence. 2. How does this film distinguish itself from other Depression era musicals we have watched or discussed this week? The film distinguishes itself from other Depression-era musicals by blending genres to incorporate more romantic/screwball comedy elements that strengthens the story and moves away from the backstage musical. The film is much more cinematic than many early musicals, which retained a staged feel, but the choreography is not geometric or elaborately complex, like some of Berkeley’s more famous numbers. Most importantly, perhaps, having two equally-matched, engaging dancers in Ginger and Fred creates a competitive balance where no one lead is carrying the plot or dance sequences. This is unlike today’s lecture on Born to Dance, where we see Eleanor Powell dance circles around James Stewart. 3. 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? As gender dynamics were changing in society, the movies had to follow suit. The increase in poverty and unemployment during the Depression created an environment where everyone had to be more self-sufficient and independent, and this resulted in independent, self-confident women being depicted on stage and screen.
  9. 1. 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)? The “Lubitsch Touch” is a delicate, expert display of show-don’t-tell storytelling and characterization. Instead of using dialogue (or, in the silent era, a title card), Lubitsch is able to insert drama into the scene with a few carefully placed visuals. We see the garter, the gun, and desperate tugging at the door, and are already clued in to what is going on before Chevalier dutifully announces, “Her husband.” The set design, costuming, and use of props (like the drawer filled with prop guns, suggesting this is a routine trick from Chevalier) all point to the character’s roguish charm. 2. 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. While the use of sound and dialogue is still very much being worked out in this film (there are plenty of hiccups, including some dryly-delivered lines and some clunky, unrealistic sounds), the use of sound here adds a depth not possible in the silent era. If the sight of a gun and smoke sent audiences running in the silent Great Train Robbery, then the sound of a gunshot (particularly so early in the film) must have brought a shock and excitement to the scene. Furthermore, the casting director is able to make use of accents for the first time, as Chevalier’s thick French accent no doubt added to the romantic charm of his characters. 3. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression-era musicals? As we see here, the playful romantic escapes of high society would continue to be popular with audiences in the 1930s musical. We see similar costuming and comedy/romance blending in the other films pairing Chevalier and MacDonald, as well as in the popular Astaire-Rogers films. People in the midst of the Depression liked the escape of seeing the carefree, romantic, and high society life. **Although it comes on the heels of Jolson’s famous, “Wait a minute...” in The Jazz Singer, the fourth wall breaks here can’t help but feel ahead of their time. Lubitsch carefully uses the break for the sake of character development, as Chevalier’s break of the fourth wall establishes a playful tone that accentuates his roguishness. This works much in the same way that we come to love Ferris Bueller through his endearing fourth wall breaks, understand Michael Caine’s title character in Alfie, or feel uncomfortable by Haneke’s breaking of the wall in Funny Games. Having the first line spoken directly to the audience invests us in Chevalier’s story and endears him to the viewer.
  10. 1. What do you notice about the interaction between the characters in these two scenes? Please give specific examples. In both of the scenes, you can see the impact of the film code in the characters' interaction. Everything between Eddy and MacDonald is lighthearted and safe, with a very chaste portrait of courtship. In the first clip, Eddy croons romantically while MacDonald playfully rejects him by poking fun at the sincerity of his lyrics. In the second clip, we see the discomfort of MacDonald's character when attempting to "lower" herself to the level of barroom revelry. She is out-of-place in this environment, and we see her attempt to avoid Eddy's gaze when she notices him enter, as though she is ashamed of her current position. Not only is everything between them kept safe and saccharine, any attempt at risque behavior is immediately portrayed as either comical or awkward. 2. If you have seen either or both of these actors in other films or television shows, please share your perceptions about them. Having previously seen Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald together in Naughty Marietta, I was not surprised to see that Eddy seemed to suffer from the same performance woes I'd seen from him before. Although his voice is quite powerful, everything about his performance feels rather unnatural and stiff, and he's never really worked for me. MacDonald has a unique voice that has taken a while to grow on me, but one that I have come to appreciate, and she is clearly more natural in front of the camera than her co-star. Unfortunately, seeing her with Eddy here only had me wishing the clip was from one of her far-superior partnerships with Maurice Chevalier (The Love Parade being a personal favorite). Chevalier's charm and charisma offers a much more pleasing counterpoint to MacDonald than anything I've seen from Eddy. 3. 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? These clips suggest that the tasteful, appropriate manner in which male/female relationships were portrayed during the Hollywood Film Code era. As for the supported norms, traditional values (modesty and morality) were exalted by the Code, and characters who engaged in unsavory behaviors were portrayed negatively, with some of the worst transgressors killed off on screen in order to punish them for their misdeeds. This led screenwriters to develop safe, playful relationships like the one seen in Rose Marie between Eddy and MacDonald. They were comfortable, familiar, and ruffled no feathers with the censors.
  11. 1. Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? The clip certainly presents a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic. For a Depression-era audience, seeing a character like William Powell's Ziegfeld give away five pounds to the doorman, accompanied by a carefree quip about trying to "lose weight" makes light of the financial struggles that led to unprecedented poverty and unemployment. Although money may be a metaphorical "weight" on the shoulders of many audience members, the cinema offered an opportunity for viewers to lose that weight for a few hours. Furthermore, the competition between Ziegfeld and Billings over the talented Anna Held is kept light-hearted and sportsmanlike, with Held being swayed into a major business decision with a bouquet of orchids. 2. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression-era musicals? The biggest theme that I picked up from this and other Depression-era musicals is the treatment of wealth, competition, and stardom. Even in the depth of the Depression, Anna Held, an immigrant, has come to the United States with the promise of being discovered and making it "big." She clings to her talent and the dream that being discovered by right wealthy backer will make her a star. The chorus-girl-to-star trope that began with 42nd Street is presented similarly here with Held's character. 3. Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples. A few key areas where the scene could have been changed in a pre-code film are Held's stage performance and the following scene in her dressing room. On the stage, pre-code writers could have heightened the sexuality of her performance, giving Billings and Ziegfeld yet another reason to fight over her affection. This could have been done with both costuming and the lyrical content of the song. Later, in the dressing room, a pre-code film may have shown Held in a state of partial undress as she received the flowers, again playing up her sexuality while also more accurately depicting the purpose of a dressing room. A pre-code film may also have gone more deeply into the story of Ziegfeld and Held, not shying away from some of the details of their relationship; without the oversight of the production code, we may have gotten a film that was more willing to show more of who "The Great" Ziegfeld really was.
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