Archive for musical

THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2018 by cdascher

Broadway_Melody_posterThis is the story of a pair of sisters who hit the Broadway circuit and attempt to make it big. The film is interesting in that it was pre-Code, and the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, in 1929. This was also the second year of the Awards. The film features Anita Page as Queenie and Bessie Love as Harriet “Hank” Mahoney. Hank prides herself on her mind for business and her talent; Queenie is lauded for her beauty. This sets up a tension in the relationship, both professionally and personally. Eddie, who is engaged to Hank, starts the film off by telling two chorus girls he’s brought the sisters to New York to perform a vaudeville act with him in the latest revue being produced by Francis Zaneville. The chorus girls seem a little jealous and wish they’d have a shot at the gig, but Eddie in his charm still manages to stay in their good graces.

In the next scene, we see the sisters hanging out together and waiting for Eddie. When he arrives, we realize he has not seen Queenie since she was a girl. This part was a little confusing to me, since he’s engaged to Hank and clearly aware of their act as a sister duo, but I tried to suspend disbelief. He’s very taken with her immediately; so much so that it was rather uncomfortable to watch as a viewer – particularly because I liked Hank and her pluck so much.

The timeline of the characters’ backstory may not be the biggest wrinkle in this movie- but we’ll get to that in time. The Broadway Melody was the first talking picture to win Best Picture, and the second overall. I’m not sure if it was the first-ever feature musical, but it was definitely one of the first, and I’ve very much been looking forward to seeing it. Released sixteen months after The Jazz Singer, it is from a time when talkies were a novel artform. In any survey of film history, the introduction of synchronized sound always gets a mention. The Transition to Talkies has become the stuff of legend in Hollywood lore, with the stories of stars like John Gilbert, Clara Bow and Buster Keaton inspiring later classics like Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard. But while those later dramatizations are perennial classics, the actual output from this period is little-seen, making it something of a Hollywood ‘dark ages’. And there is something utterly irresistible about an artifact from a dark age. Continue reading

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2017 by cdascher

P00292H.jpg“My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”

I can’t tell you how many times I watched this film as a child with my sister. We were obsessed with every actor, every plot twist, and every song (well, maybe not the one the head nun sings – “Climb Every Mountain” was an awkward skip track in the movie for us and we would giggle at the weirdness of delivery as we would fast forward our way through). It was a treat to get to watch this with Mouse for the first time. Even David seemed to get excited for some of the songs – he recognized “Do a Deer” from his Rhythm Babies music class which was an added bonus!

I don’t know how you talk about this film without just saying it is a must-watch classic. I will say, though, that I did recently read a piece on “Edelweiss” that posed some questions about potentially troubling connections it could have to nationalistic white identity. In the film, that song plays the role of a beautiful, defiant protest anthem, so it was sad to grapple with. I still need to do a little digging on that. However, my heart exploded watching the Captain, father of the Von Trapp family, tear up a Nazi flag. Very appropriate for the world we currently live in.

I want someone to make me a GIF of Christopher Plummer pulling down the Nazi flag tearing it apart so I can watch it over and over. Get on it, readers!

I signed off our last entry expressing gratitude we’d ‘sort of’ pulled something lighter from the Randomizer. And yes, The Sound of Music is easier to take in than Platoon; a family oriented musical about finding love and happiness, photographed in beautiful bucolic locations. But there is an unmistakable dark current through the movie: the rise of National Socialism, culminating in the film’s third act concerning Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich and the von Trapp family’s escape.  A few years ago, Nazis seemed like stock baddies from a bygone time. Now their presence in the movie feels a lot closer to home. It may be unrealistic to think America is going to turn into Nazi Germany sometime soon, but we have seen the rise of political movements that embrace scapegoating, contempt for democracy, fawning servility toward authority figures, and overblown macho personae – the characteristics of the worst modern governments, like the one depicted in the film. Continue reading

CHICAGO (2002)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2015 by cdascher

chicagoI was in for an awesome surprise with this film! One of the actors featured in a fabulous musical scene was Mya Harrison – who I went to high school with. I didn’t realize Chicago was a musical when we first chose it as our next film to watch – but I was definitely pleased. The songs were numbers I had heard before, and the choreography and showmanship was fantastic. Having a familiar face pop up on the screen was just the icing on the cake!

 But I am getting a little ahead of myself. Chicago is the story of Roxie Hart, a young woman bored in her marriage who wants more than anything to be a performer on the stage. She gets wrapped up in a torrid love affair, thinking that the man she is involved with might be able to get her an in in show business. When he announces he is leaving her and that he never had any real connections to help her with her career, she loses it. They have a confrontation and he tosses her against the wall. She gets a gun from the drawer and shoots him, killing him. It is against this backdrop that our story begins.

Let’s see if I remember this right: this film is adapted from the Broadway musical that was in turn based on the play, itself inspired by real events and the basis for a contemporary silent film. Taking place in a stylized version of Jazz Age Chicago, it aspires to historical accuracy about as much as a typical Halloween costume. Thematically, though, the film nails a few things perfectly. The decade of the 1920s saw the birth of modern mass media and popular culture as we know them. It is the perfect setting to explore themes like trial by news media and the pursuit of fame as its own end, by whatever dubious means. Bear in mind that in the real Chicago of this time, crime boss Al Capone was actively courting media attention, contriving a public image. It was also a time of tremendous change for women in society, coming right after the first generation of the Women’s Movement.

It’s been pointed out that Chicago is the first musical to win Best Picture in 34 years. But I think it’s really more of a danceacal. The elements of the film are, in descending importance: dance, music, character, plot. In fact, the music I found a Continue reading

OLIVER! (1968)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2013 by cdascher

Oliver!_(1968_movie_poster)England in the early Victorian Era! Crushing urban poverty! Child abuse! Crime! Singing! Dancing! Oliver! A musical about 1830s England, or as Ted Cruz calls it, “Utopia”.

I like musicals. Well, not every one, but there definitely is something about the form that intrigues me. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a catchy song. But more than that, there’s just something about the uniquely stylized way of telling the story. How curious, when one stops to think, is a situation where individuals and groups burst into song to express their circumstances and conflicts, how divorced from the real world. Musical theater is one thing- when I watch someone on stage acting out a story, it’s expected that real life is on hold and my imagination will have to carry some of the weight. But then there is the movie musical. This is a funny thing. When so much of classical cinema has been about obscuring the artifice of film, here is a movie that takes a paradoxical approach. One on hand, it creates a fictional world that resembles the real world as much as possible. Then it has the characters take the utterly bizarre action of spontaneously singing, with each other and to each other. And so it becomes a case study of how convention defines perception. Movie musicals are incredibly weird when you stop to think about it- which no one does because stories have been put to film this way for as long as there has been sound, and for long before that on the stage.

One of the really weird things about a lot of musicals is you sometimes know the songs without having the slightest idea HOW you know the songs. The second we turned this film on, I realized that was the case for me. I’d not seen it before – I hadn’t even read the book – and yet I knew these tunes, somehow. And now, a few days after seeing the film, I find myself singing them still. I’m not sure if that is a good thing – I know if we had watched CATS, Mouse probably would not think it was a good thing (I would though – I love that Rum Tum Tugger).

The biggest takeaway I had from this film was how much I preferred the Artful Dodger, our pickpocketing youngster cameo, to our purported hero Oliver. Oliver seemed unabashedly pitiful Continue reading