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Can An Esther Williams Swimming and Sonia Heinie Skating Film Be Popular Today?


im4cinema2
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Two types of movies we no longer see today.  The swimming saga of an Esther Williams or the skating saga of a Sonia Heinie.  Why?  When they are so popular during Olympic times.  I'd love to see an updated film where the star is able to swim and skate through a reasonably plotted movie today or based on yesterday.  I thought a film based on the romance of Billy Rose and Elanore Holm at the 1939 World's Fair Aquacade would go over big.  Ya know?

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Two types of movies we no longer see today.  The swimming saga of an Esther Williams or the skating saga of a Sonia Heinie.  Why?  When they are so popular during Olympic times.  I'd love to see an updated film where the star is able to swim and skate through a reasonably plotted movie today or based on yesterday.  I thought a film based on the romance of Billy Rose and Elanore Holm at the 1939 World's Fair Aquacade would go over big.  Ya know?

 

Well heck, im4! I guess you must have missed catchin' HAIL, CAESAR! when it was at the cineplex a while back, eh?!...

 

;)

 

 

I loved that movie, and couldn't understand why anybody with a love of studio era films didn't. I laughed throughout it.

 

(...but aah...maybe this wasn't exactly what you had in mind here, huh)

 

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Well heck, dude...or ma'am as the case may be! I guess you must have missed seein' HAIL, CAESAR! when it was at the cineplex a while back, eh?!...

 

I loved that movie, and couldn't understand why anybody with a love of studio era films didn't. I laughed throughout it.

 

I laughed a bit LESS, since I remembered the old 70's days when the "Smoke number" from Million Dollar Mermaid was the straw-man whipping-boy of all "happy" 50's MGM musicals, back when we were all depressed and angry about Watergate, and wanted to punch any old MGM movie in the face for being so danged happy.  (Fortunately, we had Carol Burnett to do it for us most of the time.)

 

Perhaps, to be more accurate in context, I should say I laughed more at the Village People's "YMCA" version of it in Can't Stop the Music, than I did at the Coens' deeply-issued version.  Certainly that one didn't have the gas attack (yuk yuk), causing the set assistant to remove the mermaid tail with an audible "pop" (oh, my sainted aunt's sides).

Like the old comic saying goes, "Nothing kills the joke faster than the bloodthirsty desire to TELL it", and given the sheer amount of hard, calisthenic sweat, milking and effort they put into a joke--no, make that three jokes--about Danny Kaye shaving his back, some people are just born to kill.  

We come out of the movie hoping Joel & Ethan at least feel better now.

 

As for the real Esther, I'm assuming the Coens' jokes came from the days when we had never actually SEEN any of Esther's musicals, and thought they didn't have actual A-B plots, but were just Elvis-musical like excuses to write in some idea to toss her into a pool.

(My blogged theory on the subject:  http://movieactivist.blogspot.com/2016/08/august-8-2016-gotta-dance-seriously.html )

Williams was a (reasonably) good contract singer, dancer and actress, back when studio variety stars were groomed to be all three, just that she had a stage-variety specialty act that made her an exclusive.  You could do a musical about swimming, like Mermaid or Dangerous When Wet, or you could do a generic musical like Fiesta or Pagan Love Song, and have a money-scene with swimming IN it.  These were business decisions producers got to make when moguls let them.

 

im4cinema2 Why?  When they are so popular during Olympic times. 

 

Nearest comparison I could think of is when we got "American Anthem" to try and find movies for the 1984 LA Olympic gymnast stars, but that was a marketing deal, not a studio contract.

("Gymkata" was a bit less fortunate.)

 

Of course, nowadays, we can WATCH the Olympics, so we don't need movies or newsreels to provide them for us.

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Hi Eric. Yeah, I remember having this difference of opinion about the Coen Bros' most recent film a while back with you. And while you may have a point about this film "trying too hard" or even being "obvious", I still say that those aspects to it might be the very reasons I, and as I said below, laughed throughout it.

 

(...and besides...when's the last time you saw a Soviet era submarine in a comedy other than THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING X2, huh?!) ;)

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Hi Eric. Yeah, I remember having this difference of opinion about the Coen Bros' most recent film a while back with you. And while you may have a point about this film "trying too hard" or even being "obvious", I still say that those aspects to it might be the very reasons I, and as I said below, laughed throughout it.

 

 

Well, it's sort of like back when I tried to explain to people (fifteen years ago, seems so long, now!) why Shrek's Disney-issue "fairytale parodies" weren't funny, just FOR having such deep rooted personal issues:

"There's a difference between 'fracturing' fairytales, and going after them at the knees with a lead pipe."

 

General deep-seated hatred of Old Movies--as opposed to the gently clueless early-80's parody of "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"--again, seems to be anachronistically stuck in the 70's, when we started to become aware of them, but still laughed at them for showing with used-car ads at 2am on the backwater stations.

What the Coens have, however, seems to go a lot.....DEEPER.  Like, trying punish entire historical social eras for having movies in them.

 

(And, of course, whenever anyone did have Issues with old movies...they'd always go after the danged Esther ones.)

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What the Coens have, however, seems to go a lot.....DEEPER.  Like, trying punish entire historical social eras for having movies in them.

 

 

THIS is where we might have our greatest disagreement about this film, Eric.

 

Now, unless I've misunderstood your point here, I got the impression that the Coens were NOT attempting any sort of "punishment" aimed toward "social eras for having movies in them", but instead the film was actually more an appreciative homage TO the idea of not only having movies during those eras but also to the Hollywood studio era filmmaking process itself.

 

Sure, they make fun of it all, but I felt deep down in their hearts they had a reverence for it, and as exhibited by not only the fact that Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix could not tear himself away from the industry, but also that final scene where George Clooney's Baird Whitllock delivers an amazingly moving performance on the movie-within-a-movie set, and after portraying his character up until then as a buffoon.

 

(...well anyway, I doubt we'll ever agree with each other about this, and so what say we get back to the OP's premise here?)

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Sure, they make fun of it all, but I felt deep down in their hearts they had a reverence for it, and as exhibited by not only the fact that Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix could not tear himself away from the industry, but also that final scene where George Clooney's Baird Whitllock delivers an amazingly moving performance on the movie-within-a-movie set, and after portraying his character up until then as a buffoon.

 

Until they use it for the movie's 15th iteration of the "Classic Old-Hollywood movie scene....until the jerk actors make a mistake and blow the take" gag.

I am honestly stumped as how anyone can watch this movie and NOT see the utter belaboring of every deconstructionist gag (no, please, J&E, we beg of you, make the "Cowboy diction lesson" scene run a little bit longer--Just tell it a few more times!) as deep burning hostility toward.........something, and like the bystander victims of passive hostility, we feel a bit unnerved what.

 

As to the topic, I sat there through the movie thinking, "Esther jokes, J&E?  Seriously?...We're going there?  Yeah, I'm about the same age and remember them too, but....Esther jokes??"

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Until they use it for the movie's 15th iteration of the "Classic Old-Hollywood movie scene....until the jerk actors make a mistake and blow the take" gag.

I am honestly stumped as how anyone can watch this movie and NOT see the utter belaboring of every deconstructionist gag (no, please, J&E, we beg of you, make the "Cowboy diction lesson" scene run a little bit longer--Just tell it a few more times!) as deep burning hostility toward.........something, and like the bystander victims of passive hostility, we feel a bit unnerved what.

 

As to the topic, I sat there through the movie thinking, "Esther jokes, J&E?  Seriously?...We're going there?  Yeah, I'm about the same age and remember them too, but....Esther jokes??"

 

Ya see, this(the above highlighted line) is where we differ, again. The longer that scene went on, the more and hardier I laughed.

 

Yeah sure, I got the idea for the joke the very first instant Ralph Fiennes walked up to Alden Ehrenreich and attempted to get him to drop his Oklahoma twang and affect a more sophisticated accent, but the manner in which it continued to play out and the acting done by those two, that yes went on and on, just made me laugh more.

 

(...I dunno...maybe I was thinkin' somethin' like, "How in the world can those two keep a straight face here for so long?")

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Yeah sure, I got the idea for the joke the very first instant Ralph Fiennes walked up to Alden Ehrenreich and attempted to get him to drop his Oklahoma twang and affect a more sophisticated accent, but the manner in which it continued to play out and the acting done by those two, that yes went on and on, just made me laugh more.

 

(...I dunno...maybe I was thinkin' somethin' like, "How in the world can those two keep a straight face here?")

 

 

I must've been thinking something different.  Like, "Uh...what EXACTLY is being nudge-nudge-wink-wink historically roman a clef parodied, here?--Gary Cooper being MGM-groomed for dramatic roles?...In 'The Great Waltz'?  Could we please get a hint??"

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...Could we please get a hint??"

 

So basically I'm getting the idea that you're categorizing the characters in this film with, say, all the characters Will Ferrell plays in HIS "comedies", right?! Now, talk about "obvious" and seeing the joke coming down main street because his characters are always portrayed as so constantly clueless.

 

(...btw...you DO know we're gettin' mighty off-the-track here with all this, doncha?!...how about one more reply from you regarding all this, and to which I'll then refrain from any further replies...I'm sure the OP will appreciate that)

Edited by Dargo
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Great question!

 

Well the Syracuse Cinephile Society shows Sonja Henie movies every other year as our season "closer" in mid December and it is actually highly anticipated!

 

For whatever reason, these films play really well with an audience- Esther Williams swimming movies, Sonja skating & Doris Day singing- no matter how schlocky they may seem when watching home alone on DVD.

 

It forever amazes me how these "fluff" films can still entertain over 60 years later. And we have an audience of mixed ages from teens all the way on up. This year's entry is MY LUCKY STAR '38.

 

I always roll my eyes when reading it on the schedule, but we always leave with big smiles on our faces!

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The only "modern day" figure skating films I can think of("Cutting Edge" and "Ice Castles") deal mostly with the "behind the scene" drama and not having any "big show" elements.

 

The same would go for any movie dealing with a swimmer.  I doubt that any movie in which people would pay to sit in a theater to see a show like the ones depicted in a Williams movie, or any theater would battle the expense and logistics of erecting a pool of water large enough to put on that kind of show, which has many elements to it that the audience, which would be seated in FRONT of the pool could only see if they were seated OVER it and looking down would fly in this day and age.

 

These days, what might work would be a movie in which an olympic swimmer has to deal with any problems that might affect their being able to compete, or life altering situations that might have a detrimental effect on some "Ice Capades" type skater.  AND possibly a showing of their perormance.

 

 

Sepiatone

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Sadly I am under experienced with Sonja. Haven't seen enough of her to give a good critical assessment.

 

Regarding Esther, I have seen all of her aqua-musicals and some of her others, which... in a curious way... could be repeated in today's era since there are plenty of "cottage" genres that are popular today but may be viewed old fashion decades in the future. Examples include the Pixar knock-off funny animal feature, the cgi-effects ridden super hero actioner, the Hunger Games knock-off, the live-action remake of a Disney animated feature, etc. I really do not see a huge difference between an Esther aqua-musical and Jurassic World and the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. Cut and paste an eye popping musical number with divers jumping as trapeze artists out of smoke that you-can't-possibly-duplicate-elsewhere here. Plop a cgi effects beastie gobbling explorers there.

 

I think her performance in Take Me Out To The Ball Game is an excellent example of an out-of-the-water comedy performance that should have been pushed further in her later career, since she could hold her own in a Doris Day sort of way. Audiences flocked to see HER even more than the aquatic musical numbers. Gene Kelly's trickery and Esther's getting even in that film was a sort of fore-runner to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies a decade later.

 

Comparisons to Elvis musicals are adequate in some ways since he too was charming on screen even in his worst products. They do have similar plots and the occasional remake isn't as good as the original: Pagan Love Song isn't exactly a remake of The Pagan apart from the same music used, but I will take Ramon Novarro over Howard Keel anytime.

 

Of course, Esther's films were more A-budget products of the 1944-54 period with everybody in production committed to producing the very best possible within a cookie cutter format while Elvis' were B-budget of the 1956-1969 period that were, more often than not, generally lacking HIS commitment. Some like MGM's offerings, Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas, obviously got the creative juices flowing more than usual and these stand out as the titles you enjoy watching multiple times. Also some of his attempts to get more dramatic like Flaming Star and Wild In The Country are note-worthy. While few of Esther's films are "great" works of art, they are more consistent than the Elvis batch. Only a few like Fiesta are downright dull. The others have at least one memorable moment in the water and there is always some hilarious dialogue. Too bad budgets were so low in the sixties that there was no attempt to have Elvis perform with cartoon characters like Esther did with Tom & Jerry in Dangerous When Wet.

 

My favorite parody of Esther was Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper. Then again, Jim Henson was a huge fan of old Hollywood and referenced the very best on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show repeatedly.

 

PIGGY-IN-THE-POOL.jpg

 

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There is a renaissance of sorts in musicals, with millenials and younger, as the success of "Glee" and other tv shows, attest.The popularity of some of the reality shows featuring performances is a part of this. So it can be possible for a performer to carve out a career doing niche musicals a la Williams or Henie.

 

Btw, Sonja Henie's MY LUCKY STAR will be on FMC in a few days. This syation shows her films oftsn, as she did the vast majority of her dozen or so films for Fox. They also regularly show other bright, schlocky musicals, with the likes of Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Vivian Blaine, June Haver, Mitzi Gaynor, etc.

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There is a renaissance of sorts in musicals, with millenials and younger, as the success of "Glee" and other tv shows, attest.The popularity of some of the reality shows featuring performances is a part of this. So it can be possible for a performer to carve out a career doing niche musicals a la Williams or Henie.

 

Btw, Sonja Henie's MY LUCKY STAR will be on FMC in a few days. This syation shows her films oftsn, as she did the vast majority of her dozen or so films for Fox. They also regularly show other bright, schlocky musicals, with the likes of Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, Vivian Blaine, June Haver, Mitzi Gaynor, etc.

 

SlOW DOWN on that keyboard there, Art!  ;)

 

BTW:  I have a niece that was once trying to learn to be a figure skater.  She was over once when one of Sonia's movies was on and laughed at it.  "Is THAT what they called figure skating back in THOSE DAYS?"  she asked.  She also found it incredble that Sonia Henie actually won Three Olympic gold medals doing what she called "Beginner-level figure skating".

 

Damn PUNK!

 

 

Sepiatone

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I really do not see a huge difference between an Esther aqua-musical and Jurassic World and the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. Cut and paste an eye popping musical number with divers jumping as trapeze artists out of smoke that you-can't-possibly-duplicate-elsewhere here. Plop a cgi effects beastie gobbling explorers there.

 

Thing is, as I'd said--qv. the Miss Piggy number--the Smoke Number unfairly takes the rap for ALL the excesses of every "happy" overproduced MGM musical ever made.  Even some of the RKO ones, too, since most people can't tell the difference.

That it has the quote-fingers "silly" idea of being built around Esther's aquacade was icing on the cake, but even so, it's still Busby Berkeley's kaleidoscope-legs dancers that get most of the retro giggling from modern cynics, since it's blurred in the memory with Busby's Warner musicals.

(And as we all know, this was about as stylish as it ever GOT for Busby at the conservatively "classy" MGM, which held back more of his traditionally abstract ideas.  Once he got to go over to Fox to do "The Gang's All Here", we saw his old full-tilt abstract-fantasy Warner chops start to emerge again...)

 

It's not just "They made a musical about a swimmer, the heck??" that gets all the laffs, it's the cynicism of the non-film-fan generation still trying to paint musicals as "weird" for being So Danged Happy.  Which, if you watch all the way to the end of MDM, it really isn't (which was a bit of a jarring ending.)

 

Arturo

There is a renaissance of sorts in musicals, with millenials and younger, as the success of "Glee" and other tv shows, attest.The popularity of some of the reality shows featuring performances is a part of this. So it can be possible for a performer to carve out a career doing niche musicals a la Williams or Henie.

 

 

I actually blogged on that idea, too--

With it being almost impossible to film a Broadway movie for most of the entire 80's and 90's (there was a LONG space between "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Chicago"), we had a generation that grew up literally not understanding the suspension-of-disbelief of a movie musical--stage or studio--and went around Millennially deconstructing "I mean, why would people sing in public, that's weird!"

Then, when they discovered their own 90's-00's "tributes" to musicals, like Glee, "High School Musical", the Buffy episode, "La La Land", the Woody Allen musical, or (eesh!) "Moulin Rouge", they thought they'd suddenly hit upon the touchstone for a new entertainment form where it made sense that people would sing and dance and it wouldn't look embarrassing.

 

If you look at Dancing With the Stars or America's Got Talent, between and during the numbers, every other shot is of the audience or the panel.  We're not watching the show, we're watching the audience watch the show, and then watching them pass judgment on the performers.

The new generation wants to be entertained like the old one was, but they also want to reserve the power of life and death over them. 

That's one reason the traditional variety show died out, and why we keep trying to bring it back by remembering how neat it was that Mary Martin played Peter Pan in  live-broadcast TV musicals.

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Nice points here, Eric.

 

Perhaps another point to be made in these regards is(well, at least I've noticed it about myself anyway) that in many cases the older one gets, the more they somehow begin to notice and appreciate the talent it took for those entertainers of yore to entertain us.

 

(...and somehow the idea of them or the picture itself being "lame" or "hokey" seems to fade) 

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Nice points here, Eric.

 

Perhaps another point to be made in these regards is(well, at least I've noticed it about myself anyway) that in many cases the older one gets, the more they somehow begin to notice and appreciate the talent it took for those entertainers of yore to entertain us.

 

(...and somehow the idea of them or the picture itself being "lame" or "hokey" seems to fade) 

 

The one that always sticks out in my mind is the Cypress Gardens spectacular in Easy To Love. I get nauseated thinking of all of the potential accidents that could have happened during its filming.

 

The whole point of a musical is To Put On A Show. Unfortunately a storyline had to be stitched around the musical numbers and unfortunately the storyline is how each one is judged. Ziegfeld Follies is probably the kind of musical that MGM would have preferred making. No story. Just acts. Even Esther had a segment in that one.

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The whole point of a musical is To Put On A Show. Unfortunately a storyline had to be stitched around the musical numbers and unfortunately the storyline is how each one is judged. Ziegfeld Follies is probably the kind of musical that MGM would have preferred making. No story. Just acts. Even Esther had a segment in that one.

 

 

Although have to remember, the integrated Musical With a Story didn't really catch on on Broadway until the late 30's with Show Boat and early 40's with Oklahoma.

Up to that point, shows were varieties, Romberg/Herbert operettas, or were happy boudoir plays with musical love-song interludes.  The early-talkies musicals like "Broadway Melody" were little more than stage-bound filmed records of variety shows, and were practically considered dead in the industry before 1933's "42nd. Street" re-energized them into dramas with uniquely cinematic numbers.  

And even then, there was no plot excuse for a musical number except to do a backstage story and either see a song in rehearsal, or get them all at once on the Big Opening Night.

(And frankly, Ziegfeld Follies didn't do that well, since preview audiences felt "worn out" from spectacle without plot.)

 

Later, with the "old-catalogue" musicals of Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon and all those songwriter-bios, plot was all they HAD, and they had to make it up, since there were no more itinerant Tin Pan Alley songwriters to draw new songs from, or they were all working on story-shows.

Even so, everyone knows "If you want to get someone hooked on movies, show them Singin'", and it's not necessarily the songs that always gets 'em.

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Most movie musicals these days just seem to be filmed versions of well known Broadway musicals.  Nothing wrong with that, but the days when a movie musical was an original conception also seem to be long over.  At least those that aren't animated.

 

 

Sepiatone

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As far as appeal for the masses goes, I don't think a swimming/skating musical film would do well today. If you are appealing towards older people who remember these types of films and appreciate them for what they are, this type of film could do decently well. I also think tastes have changed to an extent, as far as movies are concerned. There seem to be a lot more superhero/fantasy movies that are being released now, as opposed to more musical films. 

 

I agree with previous posters; movie musicals nowadays seem to be Broadway shows turned into films, or live TV performances of particular musicals. I'm going to be quite honest here, I definitely think some of these were more enjoyable than others (some of these modern day movie musicals should not have been made, in my opinion). 

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