Archive for the ‘film’ Category

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:


    Stay tuned!

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

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    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.



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    Busby Berkeley’s heir

    Last night Frank and I watched 42nd Street, the 1933 Hollywood film with a cliché plot (newbie chorus girl fills in for diva actress at the last minute and becomes a star) and with stunning musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley, whose cinematic approach to the stage turned legs and chorus lines into a kaleidoscopes and pinwheels. One thing struck us: if you’ve seen the music videos directed by Michel Gondry, you’ll notice . . .

    . . . five things Michel Gondry learned from Busby Berkeley

    1. cut trains and buses open:

    42nd Street train

    Gondry train (Björk’s “Bachelorette”)

    2. Make faces (or anything!) into kaleidoscopes:

    42nd Street kaleidoscope

    Gondry kaleidoscope (Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be”Gondry kaleidoscope clocks (Chemical Brothers’ “Let forever be”)

    3. Make pinwheels out of bodies:

    42nd Street pinwheel

    Gondry pinwheel (Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be”)

    4. Put people on turntable stages:

    42nd Street turntable

    Gondry turntable (Daft Punk’s “Around the World”)

    5. Gently swing your camera in and out of windows:

    42nd Street window

    Gondry window (Massive Attack’s “Protection”)

    None of these shots really do the films justice, particularly on point #5. But (gracias, YouTube!) here are the Gondry videos. You’ll have to check out 42nd Street on your own. As a bonus, though, I’ve included a clip from a really, really horrible film directed by Berkeley called The Gang’s All Here. You don’t need to watch the whole clip (in fact, it’s probably not good for your health), but please fast forward to the end, when all the faces start zooming in on polka dots. The stuff of nightmares!

    Björk – Bachelorette

    Chemical Brothers – Let Forever Be

    Daft Punk – Around the World

    Massive Attack – Protection

    Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here (“The Polka Dot Polka”)

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    Robin Hood

    It appears my posts are quite image-heavy this week. I couldn’t resist posting these three beautiful shots from Michael Curtiz’s 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. The first two could be mistaken for pre-Raphaelite paintings:

    Robin and Marian


    And the third moves the action to the shadows:


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