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Archive for July, 2008

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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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.

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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.

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    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!]

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