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Fame-ous faces

Just a few shots of some funny faces, courtesy of the last scene of Alan Parker’s 1980 film, Fame.

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Year of the month: 1932

This month’s banner comes from Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, one of my favorite recent discoveries.  (You may recognize Maurice Chevalier, at the peak of his goofy-Parisian-romantic-lead string of roles.)  I’ll post more about it later, but for now I’ll entice you with the opening scene from the film.  Watch it, and you’ll realize that Bjork has nothing on Mamoulian’s inventive use of natural sound as the basis for a song’s rhythm.

1932 is the inaugural year for what I hope will become a long-lived “Year of the Month” project.  Lots to explore in 1932, as cinema keeps nudging its way out of the silents and into sound, always a bit hesitant to leave the silent film aesthetic behind.  Some of the best films of the year, like Carl Theodore Dreyer’sVampyr, could be best described as ‘nearly-silent’.  At the same time, films like Love Me Tonight push and pull sound in surprising directions.

This month, I’ll visit some blind spots in my own film viewing, including:

  • the original Scarface (directed by Howard Hawks)
  • Boudu Saved from Drowning (directed by Jean Renoir), the inspiration for 1986’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills
  • The Old Dark House, another horror film directed by James Whale, best known for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein
  • The Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers

I’ll also take a look at 1932’s box office champs and award winners.  Did they deserve the attention?  Stay tuned to find out.

Formula for Pajama Game, my newest movie-related obsession:

Mix together . . . 

  • One part each Bob Fosse choreography and “Workers Unite” message:
  • One part each butch Doris Day and Bonnie Raitt’s dad:
    • One huge part pixie show-stealer Carol Haney (more on her in a moment)
    • Stir well, add steam heat.

    I didn’t know anything about Carol Haney before seeing The PJ Game.  She had a close working relationship with Bob Fosse and Gene Kelly, appearing in virtuosic (but minor, sometimes uncredited) dancing roles in the film version of Kiss Me Kate, as well as in Kelly’s On the Town, Summer Stock and Invitation to the Dance.  She was also a choreographer in her own right, with Broadway shows Funny Girl and Flower Drum Song to her credit.

    The 1957 film version of The Pajama Game gave Haney her first major movie role as Gladys, the secretary to the boss of the Sleeptite Pajama factory – a role she originated on Broadway three years earlier.  When Haney first appears on screen, she sports a short, Jean Seberg-meets-Peter Pan haircut.  My first thought was that she – or the directors – were trying to make her look like Shirley MacLaine, who had already appeared in three films (including the high-profile Hitchcock film The Trouble with Harry and Best Picture winner Around the World in Eighty Days) before PJ Game‘s release.  Turns out it was the other way around.  Haney was directly responsible for MacLaine’s rise to stardom, in a turn of events worthy of the “Chorus Girl Becomes Star Overnight” kind of headline:

    Still, I’m glad Haney wasn’t replaced in the film – she steals every scene she’s in, particularly in my favorite bit from the movie, the busy, dizzy “Once a Year Day”.  I watched the film on July 4th, and I can’t think of a musical number that better captures a summer party in small town U.S.A.  Haney’s Gladys at first refuses to dance, then (about 2 minutes into the clip below) reluctantly comes up with a couple of quirky moves that become the motif for the whole number.  It ends in a pure gleeful frenzy, with her signature move serving as the song’s exclamation point.  

    Here’s a Muppet Show version, just because:

    Sadly, Haney died at the young age of 40.  Her role as Fosse muse/dancer was later filled by Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite like her.

    New blog

    Dear readers (all three or four of you!),

    I aim to continue posting to this blog for miscellaneous schtuff – pictures of llamas (coming soon!), random lists of obsessions, etc.  But I’m also trying to commit myself to some regular film-writing, which I’ll do at this site:

    filmyear.wordpress.com

    Stay tuned!

    [On second thought: I think I’ll nix the new blog and stay committed to this one!]

    Songs for my mother

    For Mother’s Day, a new banner with a frame from my favorite film, The Long Day Closes.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with my mom, but I can’t think of movies about mothers without linking mine with this film.  Directed by the British film-maker Terence Davies in 1992, The Long Day Closes is ‘about’ Bud, a young boy and his family in 1950’s England.  But the film really has no traditional plot, taking instead the form of loosely structured vignettes that wander through four primary childhood spaces: home, school, church, and the cinema. Sometimes, one scene dissolves right into the next.  At other times, walls literally slide away like theater curtains, exposing a family dinner tableau.  So the film is about childhood, yes, but also about memory of childhood, and the triggers for certain episodes the mind chooses to retain.  For Davies, the triggers are movies and music, and often music from movies.  One critic called the film a “Proustian musical” arguing that Davies uses music and film to call up memories in the same way that Proust uses madeleine cookies and tea.

    The movie’s opening credits are accompanied by a static shot of a bouquet of roses and a Boccherini waltz. At the end of those credits, we hear other sounds of the beginning of a movie (the fanfare of the 20th-Century Fox logo), then snippets of dialogue about the beginning of a film.  Through all of this, we see the dilapidated ruins of row-houses, then the worn, exposed interior of one particular house.  Then, as we transition from the ruins of the present day (meaning adulthood, maturity, skepticism, loss of innocence) to the glories of the childhood past, the rain-damaged staircase of the house is restored to its bright, warm, comfortable state, and we see Bud as a boy (ourselves as our childhood selves), sitting halfway up the stairs.  And we do all that to the strains of Nat King Cole’s “Stardust”, and that is when I always start to cry.  There’s something about Nat King Cole’s voice that takes me to my mother.  And “Stardust”, with its lines about “the music of the years gone by” and “a song that will not die”, takes the boy in The Long Day Closes to his own mother.

    In two of the first scenes of the movie, Bud’s mother sings.  At first, she sings to herself (“If you were the only girl in the world . . .”) as she washes the dishes.  She probably knows that someone can hear her, but that’s not the point of her singing.  She sings because she has songs in her head.  She seems happy, but there’s a hint of melancholy in her voice.  And once she finishes, she gives Bud permission (and some money) to go to the matinee.  In a later scene, as Bud and his brothers and sisters come home from the fair, we hear a man sing “She Moved Through the Fair”.  Slowly, Bud’s mother’s voice joins the man, then he fades out until we hear just her.  She’s now holding Bud as she sings, and her voice seems to show even more wear, even more bittersweet experience.  Then her eyes well up with tears as she tells Bud that her father used to sing the song to her.  One song connects us from one scene to the next, from a mother to her son, back to her own father.  

    Bud is probably about ten years old, and the movie takes place in 1956 – pretty much my mom’s age, which explains why so much of the soundtrack seems tailor-made for her: besides Nat King Cole, we hear Doris Day with “At Sundown”, the Carousel Waltz from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Debbie Reynolds with “Tammy”, and several folk songs, usually sung unaccompanied.

    Sadly, the movie isn’t available on DVD, and there is no soundtrack CD.  (I bought a VHS copy ten years ago or so.)  So here, thanks to YouTube, a patchwork soundtrack to my favorite movie, for my mother.  Thanks, Mom, for giving me the gift of sweet memories, hummed melodies, and so many matinees.

     

     

    Found fotos

    Could anything be better than life as a five-year-old? The answer is no, if you ignore the five-year-old powerlessness against the desires of adults to dress you in grass skirts (see photo below). I found a small album of childhood pictures while visiting my parents last weekend. Here are some gems.

    Cousins in skirts

    From R to L: Yours truly, my cousin David, my cousin Brigham, and my sister Nancy, who presumably does not still wear bras over her shirts.

    My sister Nancy and I

    Nancy and I in bunkbeds at the beach cabin in Capistrano, California. I’m holding one of my beloved activity books, which I purchased and consumed ravenously on a weekly basis. Kind of ‘splains my crossword obsession.

    My brother Chris and I

    One of many Provo Fourth of July parade pictures. My brother (now in Mali, Africa!) is sitting next to me. I’m not sure what’s going on inside that little head of mine in this picture. Math problems? Ideas for better parade floats?

    Annie and I

    A classic. Notice that the real focus here is my sister Annie, who has already posted about childhood/adolescent fashion woes. Nice socks, Annie.

    Singing?

    One of my favorites. I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I like to think that I’m singing.

    Blogfast

    I’m taking a break from the World Wide Interweb for a few days.  I think I need my brain to get away from the virtual labyrinth, so I’ll check email but that’s about it.