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Kate Mz

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  1. Thanks for this conversation, all! First, I just want to reiterate what Click5 is saying, that it was Broadway that was considered old-fashioned, not The Beatles: Also: I completely agree that the upheavals of the 60s-70s caused the disruption in musicals, not the other way around. What I was trying to ask is: how did the degree and nature of that disruption differ for musicals as compared to other genres? Musicals were experiencing a sort of passing-of-the-torch from the first generation of its creators (exemplified by the Freed Unit), and this is surely a critical moment for any genre. (Granted, this is a bit of an artificial distinction, since we've already gone through several "generations" of stars. Now it's not just Fred Astaire who's aging out, it's Gene Kelly too. Still, there was a fair amount of continuity, from the 30s to 50s, in terms of big producers, studio heads, decision-makers.) So, musicals were experiencing this generational shift at the same time as studio power was dissolving at the same time as Broadway was losing influence at the same time as the turbulence of the 60s. If sound technology had been developed, say, 20 years earlier (or 20 years later: how weird would that be?), the genre would have been in a different place in 1960. (Ugh, just kick me if I’m being too hypothetical.) Maybe I’m making too much of musicals as distinct from other genres, since the Golden Age of Hollywood was a Golden Age across genres. Still, the fact that, for musicals, this passing-of-the-torch happened at an already-explosive social moment surely made it less a passing-of-the-torch and more (even more than it would otherwise have been) a throwing-of-a-grenade.
  2. Great point! And one of Jordan Peele's influences was Night of the Living Dead (1968) which was a big disruptor in its own time--both for its story and because the hero was a black man. (Confession, though: I rely on friends to educate me and tell me which horror movies are worth my while because I have a hard time watching them. I need to really psych myself up. What's funny is that I'm perfectly willing, even happy, to go through the psychological tension if I consider the genre "suspense" or "thriller" or "science fiction." Darn those genre labels, they really mess with my mind!) Back to defining disruption. Maybe a more practical way to look at it is to pick a film (any film) and ask: could this film have been made, could this story have been told, 10 years earlier? 5 years earlier? 1 year? Not just could anyone have dreamed up the story, but would anyone have fronted the money for this kind of story? How would it have met or disrupted audience expectations? What sort of risk were the creators taking? I look at Cabaret (1972) and I can’t imagine it being made much earlier, despite the fact that it’s inspired by a book from 1939 (shout out, Christopher Isherwood!). Sure, the Production Code wouldn’t have allowed it (it ended in 1968), but would the culture/audiences/a viable studio have been ready any sooner? It gives me goose bumps to think how Cabaret is about this explosion and flourishing of culture that is about to get brutally suppressed, and that the story needed to wait around and simmer and morph for a few decades--for a time when artists were free to be a bit explosive themselves--before anyone could imagine it as the truly weird thing it would become.
  3. First, thank you for weaving together all these ideas under one umbrella! Second, I finally got around to listening to Monday’s podcast (the optional one that pairs with that day’s lecture notes), where Dr. Edwards makes a fascinating point about genre: “The musicals are being disrupted because there’s no longer this single idea of what the musical may or may not be. . . . I start to see and feel experimentation here. I start to feel that after we saw the 30s, 40s, and 50s play out, what ends up happening frequently in the evolution of any genre, is we’re now back into an experimental era. That after a classical high point, a kind of modernist play, a kind of desire to either go more baroque or to go more avant-garde or to just play with the forms, which happens in almost every genre, historically. . . . Part of the inexhaustibility of genre in general is that very time a genre hits a high point, it can come back in for reinvention and re-envision.” (Richard Edwards, lecture podcast 6/25) What I’m getting from this is that the cultural and political disruption of the 60s (the questioning of traditional authorities and orthodoxies--which is always present, yes, but there was surely an upsurge in the 60s and 70s, reaching a sort of critical mass) coincided with this specific moment in the genre--when artists were experimenting within the form, and thus fragmenting it. So we’re fragmenting into different types of musical, some of which appeal to niche audiences, but some still going for a broad audience (trying to evolve the classic Hollywood musical into something even bigger and better, hence the comparison to a baroque style). So my question is: is this coinciding of events a true coincidence? Did it just so happen that the musical genre reached a maturation/saturation point at this historical moment? Are other genres experiencing the same thing--or perhaps the same thing to a different degree? (Part of me thinks other genres might be “disrupted” less, since other genres already had more time to mature--not needing to wait around for sound technology. But part of me thinks the musical genre should be “disrupted” less, thanks to the fact that it’s such a specific sort of beast. That is, its conventions are so well-defined that it makes for a surprising amount of continuity.) But maybe both are true. The “more disruption” fits the experimenters, things we might barely recognize as a musical (but we could have fun arguing about it), and the “less disruption” fits the creators who are trying to evolve the already-great thing that we all recognize as a Hollywood musical. And in both groups we have people using this weird and wild and oddly-specific form (the musical) to tell a greater diversity of stories--about people that old Hollywood marginalized or overlooked. And that's the best kind of disruption I can imagine.
  4. The Blue Angel / Der Blaue Engel - Marlene Dietrich Bringing Up Baby - just the one song, but how can you go wrong with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, a dog, and a leopard? Sabrina The Man with the Golden Arm The Red Balloon Do the Right Thing Strictly Ballroom The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Muriel’s Wedding (what is it with ABBA in Australia in 1994?) Empire Records Trainspotting Run Lola Run Amélie
  5. Beautifully said. Your words remind me of this little piece: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/11/10/sing-street-and-fighting-bullies-with-art . Another thing about Cabaret is it shows how evil can seep in to a culture in the guise of beauty. The first time I saw it, I was blown away by how the staging of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" takes the naïve viewer on the same journey that an observer in Weimar Germany must have experienced. Chilling.
  6. Gosford Park (2001): set in 1930s England, one of the characters is Ivor Novello, a popular Welsh songwriter and actor of that time. He's played by Jeremy Northam and is frequently called on to provide music for his fellow guests at the country house party (much to the chagrin of the cranky Maggie Smith!). One of the key scenes plays out as he sings the wistful "The Land of Might-Have-Been."
  7. 1. I agree about the wonderful Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)! 2. Adding to the list of popular jukebox musicals: Moulin Rouge! (2001). Baz Luhrmann is one of those "love him or hate him" directors who depends on big spectacles, and music is a key part of all his work, so it's natural that his most popular film (at least I think it is) is an actual musical. 3. In the category of "odd attempts at a musical where the songs seem unnecessary to an already-fantastic story," I nominate Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). As I recall, the songs are intended as intimate asides where the main characters (Peter O'Toole and Petula Clarke) reflect on their emotions. But since most of the film plays as a standard drama, every time someone starts singing, it seems a bit . . . much. Maybe it's because genre conventions are so strong that it jars me when a film tries to blur them. Still, Peter O'Toole is wonderful. 4. The Great Muppet Caper (1981) includes a tribute to (and parody of) the whole Esther Williams/Bathing Beauty (1944)/water ballet craze: As a bonus, the film also features the great Diana Rigg and a hilarious scene with John Cleese. I love anything that pokes fun at British stereotypes (and Americans' sort of exaggerated notion of what it means to be British). 5. That reminds me . . . the role of Ivor Novello songs in Gosford Park (2001) which is set in 1930s England.
  8. You’ve all made such great points about the power play in Gaslight and MFL: how Cukor helps us identify with the woman, showing how a man manipulates her emotions. The difference, I think, is that Higgins believes in his own illusion. He believes he is the benevolent teacher, out to better humankind through the gift of speech. In fact, he has the whole household brainwashed. When his servants sing “Poor Professor Higgins,” it is played for comedy (in stark contrast to Gaslight). But then we get the lead-in to this darker scene, when even the gentlemanly Pickering congratulates H. instead of Eliza after the ball. But Higgins is always having to prove to himself that this self-portrait is true. He’s always making these ridiculously-false assertions about himself (“I’m an ordinary man”), and when anyone calls out his hypocrisy, as Eliza does, he blusters. When he objectifies her and treats her as if she isn’t even there (“Oh, so the creature’s nervous, after all?”), he’s trying to assert control. And superficially, he’s still in control of the space (Eliza’s speech is truly powerful, but she’s not in control of her anger or her self as she gestures and moves about the room), but there’s a lack of control in his voice (the pitch rises) and in the way he taps his fingers against the furniture. He seems momentarily nervous too. That Higgins believes in his own illusion (as benevolent teacher) comes through in an earlier speech to Eliza: when they’re working and exhausted and frustrated at 3 a.m., just before she “correctly” recites “The rain in Spain.” In that scene, he finally takes the time to acknowledge her experience: “I know your head aches; I know you're tired; I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher's window. But think what you're trying to accomplish. Think what you're dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it's the greatest possession we have. . . . And that's what you've set yourself out to conquer Eliza. And conquer it you will.” Despite the power dynamic here (all-knowing teacher, willing student), he’s finally talking to her as a human being. And she responds. Instead of simply mimicking a set of physical commands, she stops, considers what she’s doing, and slowly, deliberately, speaks in a new voice. In the clip for today, Eliza pushes back, using both her reason and her passion. But Higgins reverts to his self-centered performance (the all-knowing teacher). He’s not yet ready to change his character or behavior to accommodate the new Eliza, but at least he (and we) start to see her. For Higgins’ self-portrait to work, he needs an audience: the crowd at Covent Garden; Pickering, who is both his partner-in-crime and his student; and his ultimate student/creation, Eliza. Whether or not Higgins and Eliza can achieve a real, human relationship depends on whether he can break out of the role he has set for himself--just as, in this scene, she breaks out of the role he set for her.
  9. Anything from My Fair Lady--probably 'cause so much dialogue is straight outa Bernard Shaw! The whole influenza/gin conversation makes me laugh so hard I cry--especially "Them as pinched it, done her in," and "Gin was mother's milk to her. Besides, he poured so much down his own throat, he knew the good of it." Also, Lerner does a superb job bringing details from Pygmalion into his lyrics, like putting Eliza's love for chocolate into "Wouldn't It Be Loverly." Two of the funniest lyrics stand out to me because of how the listener starts anticipating what the next words might be, but we get a surprise instead: at Ascot, when the completely-unruffled spectators sing "I have never been so keyed up"; then when Eliza imagines telling Henry, "You, dear friend, who talk so well, you can go to Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire."
  10. Really interesting! I'd love to see it played that way. Making the gender ambiguous adds to the risk not just for the film but for Garner's character. Raising the stakes in that way would, I think, make it more interesting to watch.
  11. I love what y’all are saying about the precision of Preston’s movements (in both clips) and his skill at working a crowd. What I want to add involves the play between tradition and change in the two films. In The Music Man, Harold Hill is appealing to tradition (“Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule”; he also tries to win over the mayor and other authority figures), but if he succeeds in conning them, the whole town will be upended. (Just imagine: when they discover they’ve been duped, the bickering and finger-pointing of the school board will spread all over town.) But it turns out that “tradition” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Anyone who defies conventions is ostracized and gossiped about. Marion is treated with scorn and suspicion because she is an independent, intellectual woman. (Plus she had the audacity, as an unmarried woman, to befriend a man--a man who also “didn’t have a friend in this town.”) So the happy ending for The Music Man is to allow the town to unify behind its “small town values,” but also to change those values--to allow a space for people like Marion. (Plus those wild teenagers--especially the low-class kid with the Eastern European name. Great honk!) In the clip from Victor/Victoria, Toddy (Preston) reminds us that the past has not always been as “traditional” as we think. Gay Paris has always been “gay,” in all senses of the word--and so, by implication, has everywhere else (at least in private, on the fringes, in the closet). The change the film is advocating is for visibility--for public acceptance, acknowledgement, even joy. Not to mention more flexible borders between masculinity and femininity. Still, for all its breaking of boundaries, the film takes care not to disrupt too many expectations or ruffle too many feathers. The primary love story is heterosexual, and the "man" who performs as a woman (just a little too convincingly) turns out to be a woman after all. And most importantly, the leading man (played by James Garner) does not, in the end, have to upend his own more rigid sense of masculine identity by entering a relationship with another man.
  12. Great topic! I'll have to look for the original songs from On The Town. (I think the moral is: if Leonard Bernstein is good enough to write you some music, please keep it in the show!) On The Sound of Music: I adore the film, but I wish they'd kept the song "No Way to Stop It." It shows the divide between the Captain's response to Nazism (resist) and his rich, cynical friends' (appeasement). Plus it gives Max and Elsa a chance to show their stuff. It's upbeat and catchy, which shows that just because something is aesthetically pleasing, that does not make it ethical or desirable (something that Cabaret demonstrates much more dramatically).
  13. Other than Holiday Inn, I confess to having very little exposure to Fred Astaire. Then I watched Top Hat and came out with a ton of appreciation for both him and Irving Berlin!
  14. You know those dancers--all show and no substance! At least that's how the film has it: that Bing's singing has all the meaning and emotion, so he deserves his first choice in love, but Astaire's dancing is all style and flash, so he doesn't. What's funny is that in that early number, which shows off their rivalry, I find Astaire's section, with its upbeat, playful tempo ("wait until you get a load of my dancing"), more interesting to look at AND to listen to than Bing's more languorous lyrics (which always strike me as too showy). Still, I have such a positive impression of both performers, I find it hard to root against either!
  15. Thank you for all the thoughtful posts on this topic! Another thought on why the light/dark opposition plays out differently in Cabin in the Sky. Petunia, played by the darker-skinned Ethel Waters, is loyal, modest, and godly. She also (mostly) follows the rules--not only of religion, but society and propriety. She "knows her place." Georgia, played by the lighter-skinned Lena Horne, is always breaking the rules, breaking boundaries, threatening the status quo. In the film, that status quo is a close-knit African American community, but in America at large, the status quo is controlled by whites. So her lighter skin-tone is threatening because it calls into question the inherent difference between "white" and "black"--and why one group should have power over the other.
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