Sunday, February 12, 2017
As mentioned, I'm listening a bit to the You Must Remember This podcast during my commute, and moved on to a 6 episode run on Joan Crawford. One of the topics covered toward the end of the series is how much of an impact Mommie Dearest (starring Faye Dunaway as a cartoonish Crawford) had on the popular conception of Joan Crawford, surpassing the image the actress had worked tirelessly for decades to make herself a star and retain her star status for decades past those of her contemporaries.
Humoresque (1946) should probably be thought of as a John Garfield picture, first and foremost. He's certainly got the most screentime and the longest character arc. The actions of the other characters in the film are focused upon what focused on their relationship to Garfield.
He plays Paul Boray, a violinist who rose from working-class roots in the streets of New York to become a national sensation within the high-class world of classical performance. The film is a melodrama, no doubt, and an examination of a man of extraordinary talent and passion and the women in his life, including the girl-next-door, his mother and the wealthy society woman who elevates him from nothing to star status, but who carries an incredible amount of baggage.
Everyone has the idea of the 1930's big, splashy movie musical in their head thanks to clips used in other movies and television, and I'd argue that Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) is the platonic ideal of this sort of film. I really don't know much about what was going on at the real Ziegfield Follies or on Broadway in the 1930's, but it seems that what Hollywood was doing at this point was bringing over the basic template of fluffy stories about two young lovers trying to make it work as the excuse for a lot of song and dance. But with the ability to put the camera wherever they wanted, visionaries like Busby Berkeley would redefine what audiences could expect in regards to cinematic spectacle.
Produced at Warner Bros. (I know, I had to triple check it wasn't from MGM), the movie stars a lot of those names you hear about from Hollywood's Golden Age, but who I haven't seen in that many movies. Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler... and certainly other players who were the "that guy" actors of their day.
All in all, the movie is a bit of fun and nothing too challenging to the audience, storywise. Light comedy interspersed with those unbelievable visuals of dozens of dancers creating geometric patterns or almost surreal visuals (20 cops on rollerskates chasing a baby).
Sunday, January 29, 2017
It's difficult to say how or why I wound up watching all of Saturday Night Fever (1977) on a Saturday night. I will also very quickly disabuse you of the idea that I watched the movie ironically. After roommate CB showed me the movie in college, I realized it's actually a straight up decent movie about a young man realizing what is and is not important as he crosses the threshold from youth into adulthood.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
It's literally impossible to imagine this movie getting made in the last ten years. A studio film that's a musical wherein the leads are actually lip-synching to mostly tin pan alley versions of 1930's era songs, and, by the way, it's more or less a depressing late-1970's story that maybe is deconstructing the conventions of the movie musical. Cheerfully titled Pennies From Heaven (1981) and starring the lovable duo from The Jerk, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.
We wanted to see it as The Alamo Drafthouse had included clips in the La La Land pre-show as a modern musical we might not have seen. And I was curious why I had heard of the movie, but it's not discussed much and I don't recall anyone ever telling me to check it out.
I think if I'd been clued into any of this before the movie, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. But I spent the first thirty minutes trying to figure out what I was even looking at, and then adjusting to what they were doing.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Before the year (and my break) ended, I wanted to watch a couple of films as we say good-bye to a pair of women we're all going to miss.
No write up. It was actually great seeing them both in their pivotal roles again. We'll have these films forever, even if we've lost the women who made them.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Actor, singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds has passed. This would be something we'd cover under any normal circumstance, but, of course, Reynolds was also the mother of actor and author Carrie Fisher who left us just yesterday. We can only imagine the tremendous loss Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourde, is experiencing at this moment. She has our sympathies.
Reynolds is most famous for her part in Singin' In the Rain, one of the best remembered musicals of any era in Hollywood (and a heck of a film). A few years back she appeared in Behind the Candelabra, a Liberace biopic, playing Liberace's oft-referred to mom. She was honestly pretty great.
Here's one of the show-stoppers from Singin' In the Rain, with Gene Kelley and Donald O'Connor.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Utterly shocking if it weren't 2016 - today we found out that George Michael, the famed pop singer, had passed at the age of 53.
A lot of other people are going to memorialize Michael better than I could. As much a singer and entertainer, the last couple of decades I've been impressed with how Michael pushed back on the MTV machine and made it through when his personal life was exposed in an era when coming out of the closet was something that could kill your career.
I liked some of George Michael's songs despite the fact he wasn't exactly in my wheelhouse, but my favorite was always Freedom! '90. That's one of his "doesn't matter your genre of choice" songs. It's just solid.
Let's remember George Michael today by wrapping up Christmas Day with some of his best.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
We'll sign off for Christmas Eve with Darlene Love performing her classic "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)".
I've said it before and I'll say it again - seeing Ms. Love perform this live was one of the greatest live music experiences of my life.
Merry Christmas. May we have peace on Earth and goodwill to all.
Friday, December 23, 2016
The fact that La La Land (2016) even exists may be the most stunning thing about it. In a movie that should draw out superlatives about near every aspect of the film, that in an era of pre-awareness and Oscar Bait that usually equates to "who can tell the saddest kinda true story (but we cut so much stuff out)?" filling theaters in December - really, it's astounding to see anyone financing something there's no guarantee anyone will show up to see. While Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are two of the best of their generation, the era of "star power" guaranteeing a hit is long over.
Hollywood still puts out the occasional musical, adapting a Broadway show here or there (example - Chicago or Hairspray), or the forthcoming melding of CG and live action with Beauty and The Beast. Moulin Rouge may be the last original musical, and that was a collection of pop songs sung in period dress.
But this is a new movie, not an adaptation. It's a fantasy of Los Angeles as the epic backdrop large enough for the widescreen adaptation of lives as they play in our heads, saturated in Technicolor, all the other players happy background roles as we cast ourselves as the protagonists in the romantic, astounding story of our lives. And that's more than okay.
Before we even get started, I'm curious what JAL has to say on this film, as I thought of him many times during and afterwards as I've worked on this write-up.
Look, I don't know much about dating. It's been a while - but if you're looking for a movie to see with someone you just started seeing? Hot tip: La La Land.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Christmas is a holiday that impacts all the senses. Twinkling lights, the smell of wassail, the chill of the air against the skin, the taste of peppermint. Sleigh bells, of course. And, man, the music.
I have my Christmas favorites. White Christmas, Rudolph, and a surprising number of non-secular songs I sang growing up Lutheran. If you've never been to candlelight service on Christmas Eve to sing Silent Night, you're missing out on a great, not-often-mentioned holiday tradition.
But this isn't a list of my favorite Christmas songs. If it were just a list, it'd be quite long, and kind of pointless. A playlist needs to be curated. It's the heir to the mixtape. Song content and order need to work together. It can't just be your holiday tunes on shuffle (although serendipity can create some amazing combinations).
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
I don't know how to categorize this. It was a two-hour television "event" on Thursday night, in prime time. It's a sort of "TV movie", but it's in the manner of one of the live musicals the networks have been doing. Only, it wasn't live.
It also wasn't... very good.
Look, no one has remade this movie to date because the original is lightning in a bottle. It was a movie that's still relevant, but a lot of what was taboo or edgy in that film has lost it's subversion as elements have become or are becoming more mainstreamed. Putting a play/ movie about themes that were still considered unmentionable in the 1970's and turning it into fodder for channel flippers on a Thursday night was going to be difficult - but I almost felt like, Laverne Cox aside, most of the cast didn't really know how this was supposed to work. And, frankly, it didn't feel like the director or producers knew how to do this, either.
To maybe throw some context on this: the show/ movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, a name that's not exactly household for me, but he was the brains behind High School Musical. And, boy howdy, does that explain a lot when you're watching the thing.
Really what struck me while watching this was: Hot Topic.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Show Boat (1951) is one of those movies you see classic movie buffs referencing a lot, but which I'd never seen and didn't know anything about. Except that it stars Ava Gardner (bonus!) who doesn't do her own singing (...yeah...).
It is, indeed, about a big paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi that acts as stage and home to a troop of river-bound performers in a sort of vaudeville show, and the story of the Hawks family that runs the show.
Familiar faces include the aforementioned Ava Gardner, Agnes Moorehead playing a tightly wound matronly figure (shocking, I know), Joe E. Brown as the ship's owner and stage producer, and Kathryn Grayson as the daughter of Moorehead and Brown, who wants to be a performer herself.
Friday, July 8, 2016
The first time I saw Oklahoma! (1955) was in Spring of 1994. I was sitting on my bed/ couch (it's hard to explain, but anyone who ever lived in Jester at UT understands), when my roommate, Peabo, burst in through the door.
"Oklahoma! is on TV! Right now!"
And we turned it on and watched the whole thing, complete with commercial breaks.
I don't know that I saw it again for a few years, but I saw a rendition of the stage play at the Paramount in Austin circa 2000, and we own the DVD and have seen it at least twice.
Jamie's actually from Oklahoma (the state, not the musical), and her mom was a big fan of the show, so when Jamie arrived, part of the package was a baked-in enthusiasm for the music from the Rodgers & Hammerstein production.
Tuesday night Jamie and I hit The Paramount Film Series for the first time this summer (along with Cousin Sue) to see the movie on the big screen.
Whether you've seen Oklahoma! or not, it's a bit like Westside Story or other big musicals - you've heard the big hits whether you know that's where they came from or not. And in the case of Oklahoma!, the big hits are nigh every song in the show. So, even as bits in a commercial or co-opted elsewhere, you've heard 'em. The album has been a #1 record in both the US and the UK (circa 1957), certified multi-platinum and is consistently in production. If you don't know the music, I assure you - your parents do.
A lot of it's pretty damn catchy.
What's weirdest to me about Oklahoma! is the utter disparity between the sunshiney image of the movie - complete with upbeat music, sweetly naive bumpkin characters, hokey imagery - and the really pretty dark story at the middle of the play, as well as some pretty adult content. In short, you absolutely could not perform this play in a middle school without a lot of cutting.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
I watched On the Town (1949) just last year at The State Theater downtown, so there was no good reason to watch the movie again. But, Ann Miller. Sometimes these things happen.
Here's my write up from last time.
|best not to think on it too much|
Friday, July 1, 2016
Sunday, June 19, 2016
I've written here and there about my love of the Talking Heads. I don't know exactly when I decided I liked them, but my interest in them goes back to middle school, and I started picking up an album here or there in high school, really becoming interested my Senior Year when Sand in the Vaseline hit the shelves and gave me more of an overview of their "greatest hits". I've seen both Byrne solo and "The Heads".
My first memory of the existence of True Stories was a subway poster for the film I saw hanging in a deli in Dallas while on a church youth retreat when I was 15, but I never came across a copy of the film (kids, there was a time in the long, long ago when all media was not instantly available just because you thought about it). But circa 1996, I located and rented True Stories (1986) and gave it a whirl on the ol' VHS player I shared with my two roommates at the time.
Living in a place, sometimes you have a hard time knowing what it is that makes that place unique or special. It can be the outsiders perspective, what they see as the difference that can really resonate in its own peculiar way. I don't think a non-local could have made Slacker and captured the particulars of Austin in summer in the late 1980's, but it's hard to imagine anyone local to Texas seeing Texas in the light True Stories captures - a ridiculous cartoon of a film that still, somehow, seem absolutely true.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Obviously near-post-silent German film isn't my usual deal, nor Brechtian musical comedy. The closest I'll get to that is a fondness for Fosse's Cabaret and that I have all of the albums by The Dresden Dolls. And, you know, Tom Waits and others have carried through the spirit of the movement through to the modern era.
I haven't seen much in the way of G.W. Pabst's directorial efforts, although I'm well aware, from film school, he's one of those names you're supposed to be able to drop. He was a giant of German cinema in the pre-Nazi days, and brought Louise Brooks out of Hollywood and over to Weimar Germany, and I've seen Pandora's Box. A contemporary of Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, going to the pictures in Germany back in the day must have been something.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
There were many things I enjoyed in the Star Wars prequels, but the parts could never quite match the whole of what I was hoping for. Among the bits I enjoyed - Williams' scores stayed up to snuff. But I figured when Disney picked up the franchise, he'd be retired. Little did I know.
I was delighted that, in his 80's, he was willing to come back to Star Wars. He's not a kid, and we should be quite grateful that he's not just alive, but still, if the Force Awakens score is any indication, still as good as ever.
I loved Rey's theme.
It's difficult to talk about, as I lack the vocabulary for discussing music properly, but it has a Williams-ian adventure hook, but it's also got some lighter bit in the woodwinds, "feminine", lighter, more "humble" than anything. She's a - as the track is called on the soundtrack "Scavenger". She's one of these desert people scraping by. She doesn't even have an Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and pleasantly domestic existence - but she also can't leave, even if she doesn't entirely understand why. Luke sought the great expanse beyond his twin suns. Rey wants someone to come to her, but, instead, she has to go.
The music goes from simple woodwinds to orchestral sweeps, just as she goes out upon her adventure. It's a complex piece, to my ear, as Rey is perhaps a more complex character than Luke was before her - at least at the beginning of her story in comparison to his own in Episode IV. There's a lot more going on there for her here in Episode VII, with 6 movies of history preceding her, and a history that's taken place between those films.
As Luke's theme was what we think of as "The Force" theme, Rey's theme merges with The Force, and the next part of the Star Wars saga begins in earnest.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
"I can't believe you haven't seen this movie," my boss said to me. "It's terrible."
And, me, never one to shirk from a challenge, saw that it was, indeed, free on Amazon Prime.
Hubris is always punished, my friends.
To complain about a movie that convinced a group of people to found The Razzies is a somewhat pointless endeavor. But, yeah, you can absolutely see how this movie would have convinced someone to make sure the ineptitude of the filmmaking got its own special notice. It's a movie so bad, you kind of feel like maybe you'd go crazy if forced to watch it two or three times in a row - a designation I reserve for a very few films of the Manos: The Hands of Fate variety.
In some ways, it feels like a 1940's Mickey Rooney/ Judy Garland film, as a songwriter (Steve f-ing Guttenberg) and former model (Valerie Perrine) put together an act and put on a show, recruiting their upstairs neighbor (who happens to always dress as a a Native American stereotype) and some guys they know from the disco (a portion of what is to become The Village People). The old-timey tone may make sense when you find out it was directed by Rosie, the Bounty Towel pitch-lady/ Rhoda's mom/ comedienne who appeared with Mickey Rooney in films, Nancy Walker.