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Rain

5.30.2008

by Don Paterson

Read it here.

Harvey Korman, 1927 - 2008

5.29.2008



Remember when I did that movie quote game, and this was one of the lines I loved:

"I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists."

The wonderful comedian who delivered that list so perfectly was Harvey Korman as Hedy--that's Hedley!--Lamarr in Blazing Saddles (1974).  For older generations he may be best known for his almost ten years of work on The Carol Burnett Show, among other memorable comedic television appearances.  But for me he will always be the Attorney General/Assistant to the Governor/State Procurer Hedley Lamarr (above and below with another favorite, Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp).  I think his character is the only one I can constantly quote from this film.  I can't really even tell what kind of accent he used, but he had so many great lines:

"My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives."

"You will be risking your lives, while I whilst I will be risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actor."

"My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention."

"Be still, Taggart, be still!"

I love the way he says "Rock Ridge, Rock Ridge."  My parents are moving to a neighborhood with a vaguely similar name (which of course escapes me now), but whenever they mention it I always say "Rock Ridge, Rock Ridge!"  I'm almost 100% positive it doesn't annoy the hell out of them...

Korman also appeared in Mel Brooks' High Anxiety (1977) and History of the World: Part I (1981).   Perhaps at the absolute lowest point of his career, he appeared in "The Star Wars Holiday Special", along with BEA ARTHUR who played the owner of the Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine!  You can see it in all its unbelievably terrible beauty here (he shows up at 01:18).  Thank you, Youtube, thank you.  

And thanks to Harvey too, for all the laughs.  He will be missed.

Indy!

5.27.2008


Or, in the case of this one, Jonesy!

*SPOILERS*

I had a great time at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I was highly entertained by the 'pickles' they found themselves in, and Shia LaBeouf was way less annoying than I had anticipated.  Between the car chasing fight scenes, nostalgic homages to the trilogy, backtalking to villains, Cate Blanchett's Russian accent, and the 24 oz. of water I downed during the trailers, I was completely enthralled to the very end.  

Part of me was worried that this movie would have the 'Episode' curse of the new Star Wars movies: so, so terrible that they can only be enjoyed if you are either obsessed with the Star Wars Universe (i.e., you can name all three Organa-Solo children) or enjoy the chance to make fun of a total shipwreck-of-a-film.  Thankfully Steven Spielberg was able to have some control over this movie franchise.

Unfortunately, there were still some Lucasfilm 'magic' that made its way in.  It's a little something called CEO-CGI, also known as Chronic Employment Of Computer Generated Imagery.  I respect that using CGI can be environmentally friendly and cost-effective.  I do not respect that if over-used, it makes me feel like I paid $10 to watch a video game:



Do you think this snake was CGI?


No.  They put a screen between them.  They had to use something called 'special effects', which in turn requires something called 'creativity.'  As an artist/filmmaker/whatever, you're choosing to say: "let's think of way to do this that makes it look real" as opposed to: "we'll just add it in later in post-production."


Is this digital Petra?  No.  Was it green-screened?  No.  Now look at this scene 'outdoors' in 'New Mexico' from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:


Just how much does this lighting make it look like a sound-stage with a fake sunset?  Too much!  I have to say this kind of thing distracted me during the movie.  And it didn't need to!  I'm even OK with things being filmed on backlots and on sets.  Just make it look like someone made it--God or human craftsmen--not a computer!

(Rant ends here).

Million Dollar Mermaid


My $0.75 copy of The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography came today. I hear great things about it, and have always had a tremendous respect for Esther Williams. She's quite the quadruple-threat considering her experience in acting, singing, dancing, and swimming.

I'm excited to hear her dish on her experiences at MGM. How safe were her swimming scenes were to shoot? How did she like working with so many of Hollywood's leading men? It's actually hard to find many of her movies on DVD except for a TCM Esther Williams Collection. We can probably all bet that I will be purchasing it after reading her memoir!

My favorite movie with her is Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), though she does barely any swimming. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra vie for her affection.

Right: Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Neck

by Sarah Arvio

Read it here.

Sydney Pollack, 1934-2008

5.26.2008


Sad day. I just watched him as Patrick Dempsey's father in Made of Honor, and he was so full of life and looked healthy. He ended his battle with cancer today in L.A.

I confess I sometimes would get him confused with Sidney Lumet, but he's made some of my favorite films. Some of his best would be Out of Africa (1985), Three Days of the Condor (1975), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), The Firm (1993) and Tootsie (1982). My favorite of course is The Way We Were (1973). (For those keeping score, I believe that's three, count 'em three, movies with Robert Redford!).*


I've always heard great things about his directing. One particular story is from the documentary on The Way We Were DVD, where Barbra talked about a particularly difficult scene she had to act as Katie Morosky. She's just been 'upstaged' by Hubell's paper in her writing class, so after class she runs out to a forested area of campus to throw away her own paper. It's a small but intense moment where she wanted to be able to cry, but it wasn't coming. So she said that Sydney sat behind a bush next to her in the scene and kept whispering to her about sad things: the death of pets, family stuff, etc. Sure enough it helped her perform the scene and cry. Barbra claimed that his directing taught her a lot about how a director should work with actors.

Pollack won two oscars, one for Best Directing and the other for Best Picture in 1985 for Out of Africa. His creativity and gift as a director and an actor will be missed.

*I've just learned that Pollack actually made SIX movies with Robert Redoford, including This Property is Condemned (1966), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Electric Horseman (1979), and Havana (1990).

Now that all your favorite shows are done for the summer...


You can watch the best show on TV.  Ok, best competitive reality show.

So You Think You Can Dance.  Yes, it's true.  It features incredible dancers who range from zero to a lifetime of professional training.  And this isn't the stuff you see on Dancing With the Stars (but good job, Kristy!), it includes all styles of dance: Broadway (!), contemporary, tango, ballroom, hip hop, ballet, salsa, jazz, etc.  And the choreographers are just as talented as the dancers.  By the way, I think I have a major lady crush on Mia Michaels.  She's really sweet and such an old soul!

Plus the judges aren't half as annoying as the ones on Idol.  The show airs on Thursday nights on Fox.  But be warned, it may make you want to quit what you're doing and decide to dance.  Forever.

Go here to watch a clip of last season's top 4 perform a routine to "Mein Herr" from Cabaret.

I've spent the majority of the weekend watching these two, who aren't bad either:
I have a hard time with Rogers and Astaire, though.  I adore him, but I know he must have been an awful taskmaster.  There are stories of them filming their dances sequences in over 40 takes, only to find Ginger's shoes full of blood at the end.  Now when I watch them I try to look for the blood.  So was all that pain worth it?  I think so.  But Ginger complained of her status as second fiddle to Fred all the time, which I can understand--he's the genius.  Thoughts?

Paths of Glory (1957)

5.24.2008


"Gentlemen of the court, there are times that I'm ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion."

This movie was so good!  I'm impressed that Stanley Kubrick can make such scathing satires and dark dramas about the absurdity of how we wage wars.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not ready for A Clockwork Orange (1971).  Who am I kidding, I'll probably never be ready!

Down on your heels, up on your toes!

5.22.2008



Last night I watched Good News (1947), a film starring June Allyson, Peter Lawford, and Mel Torme. This was my first June Allyson picture, and I have to say I like her. She's no Judy or Hepburn by any means, but I like her. Peter Lawford is also very endearing and sweet. It's actually kind of hard to picture him in the rat pack. He comes off as such a sophisticated innocent (and he might respond: "It's called acting, idiot."). The screenplay is by Betty Comden and Adolph Green who wrote the scripts for loads of my favorite MGM musicals.

The story is simple and familiar: everyone at Tait college wants to do three things. 1) Pass their classes, 2) see their football team win, and 3) find a date/soulmate. Its the 1920s, and we have bookish but spunky Connie (Allyson) and the charming football player Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) who is attracted to Connie but also to Pat, the resident hot-stuff golddigger.

Connie and Tommy first meet in the library *swoon* where she works as "an assistant librarian" in order to help pay for school. In order to impress Pat, Tommy decides to learn French. So in the most adorable way possible Connie walks around the library with him teaching him French words. Apparently Peter Lawford was fluent in French but June was not, so he had to teach her how to teach him how to speak French! As you can imagine, their romantic setting among the shelves of books and dusty desks allow sparks to fly between them.

To make a short story shorter, he ends up with Connie and not Pat. The film ends in a huge dance number called "The Varsity Drag." I remember seeing it in That's Entertainment! (1974), and it was impressive as usual. If only we still danced like this...and had hours of time to rehearse it.

One of the songs in the film was nominated for an Oscar, and it was my least favorite of them all! It's called "Pass the Peace Pipe" and not only was just mildly pleasant to listen to, it's racist. There are much more enjoyable songs (available on iTunes!) in the score, such as "Lucky in Love", "Be a Ladies Man", "The Best Things in Life Are Free." But "The French Lesson" and the "Varsity Drag" are my favorites, so I am posting them.





I'm curious if the varsity drag inspired "The French Mistake" in Blazing Saddles. (skip video to 01:16). "Just watch me...it's so simple, you sissy Mary's!"

Entertainment Weekly's 25 Best Movie Musicals

5.20.2008

Now, I don't consider EW the final word in musicals by any means, but I am always intrigued by the choices on lists like this. Who compiles them, what standards of movie musicals are we holding them to? In this case, a guy named Steve Daly whose a senior writer for EW. What that says about his musical taste, I don't know.

We'll start at 25 and work out way to 1. I'll post Steve's comments, and then my own, if I have any (yeah, right).

25. Once (2006)

Made for less than $200,000, this scruffy indie from writer-director John Carney redefines the musical form. It stars an actual musician — Glen Hansard, of the Irish rock band the Frames — as a fictional busker who falls for a quirky pianist (Marketa Irglova) on the streets of Dublin. They have a tortured romantic flirtation, and pour their hearts out to each other in mournful original tunes that feel utterly real because they're not played as musical fantasy. A must.

First of all, can we consider this a musical? Sure. It features diegetic music (refresher: music
that is produced by people or devices that are part of the story space of the film) sung by characters in the story to express themselves. I did like this movie, but didn't love it; I think I was distracted by other stuff when watching it. Would it be on my top 25 list? No.



24. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

The star here is choreographer Michael Kidd, who turns the big barn-raising scene into something that's part dance sequence, part gymnastic contest, and part action spectacle: It starts out real neighborly, but degenerates into a brawl when the building teams start sabotaging each other. The rest of the movie gene-splices Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with The Taming of the Shrew, as a frontier gal (Jane Powell) copes with making a home for her sexist-pig husband (Howard Keel) and six mangy siblings.

I adore this movie for so many reasons. The songs, choreography, names like 'Dorkis,' blatant sexism, and setting in backwoods Oregon. Who can say no to songs with titles like "Lament (Lonesome Polecat)" or "Bless Yore Beautiful Hide"? A fantastic ensemble musical featuring Russ Tamblyn as Gideon, the brother who steals your heart.

Favorite Scene: Barn Dance. (Who didn't see that coming?)




23. The Music Man (1962)

Robert Preston repeats his Broadway role as Professor Harold Hill, a swindler who organizes small-town kids' bands so he can steal their uniform and instrument money. Costar Shirley Jones has great chemistry with Preston, little Ronnie Howard lisps and mugs shamelessly, and composer Meredith Wilson gives his melodic all to ''Seventy-Six Trombones,'' ''Marian the Librarian,'' ''Till There Was You'' (later a hit for the Beatles) and lots more. Best corn you'll ever consume that's not popped.

Even though I grew up with this musical and therefore by default love it, how I could not like a musical featuring a librarian named Marian? Unfortunately I don't think I can classify myself as a "sadder but wiser" girl. Full of fun character names like Winthrop and Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, dances called "Shipoopi" (any Family Guy fans?), and long overdue praise for states like Iowa and cities like Gary, Indiana; this movie musical is one-of-a-kind.

Favorite scene: Again, an obvious choice: "Marian the Librarian."



22. Gigi (1958)

Screenwriter-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe basically cloned their stage hit My Fair Lady for this adaptation of French author Colette's 1945 novel about a teenage Parisian courtesan. It's got the same ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation for the leading lady (Leslie Caron), and the same half-sung 11th-hour epiphany for the confirmed-bachelor leading man (Louis Jordan). But thanks to director Vincente Minnelli, it feels original — and works better as cinema than George Cukor's film of Fair Lady does.

Growing up my sister and I hated this movie. Never wanted to see it. (Unlike Steve we loooooved My Fair Lady.) At the time we could hardly stomach Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (I don't think we ever watched it all the way through the ballet) much less in some 'French' film we didn't really understand. Was she a kid or a woman? Was her love interest attractive or not (let's just say he's no Omar)? I think the main reason was that it was too slow for our tastes. A few years ago when we were home alone it was on TCM, and we thought if nothing else we'd sit through it and make fun of it. But we loved it. Especially "I Remember it Well" the geriatric duet with Maurice Chevalier (French musical icon) and Hermione Gingold (Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn in The Music Man). When my parents came home my dad was mortified that we were watching Gigi, himself convinced of its terribleness and boredom-inducing pace. Maybe he's why we never watched it...

Favorite Scene: "I Remember it Well."




21. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Still the only animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, and one of the great love stories in any medium. It's the last full score that lyricist Howard Ashman completed with composer Alan Menken, and it's his finest hour: Witty, intensely emotional, and perfectly integrated with the story. Downside: The movie was such a hit (along with Ashman and Menken's The Little Mermaid) that Disney replicated the cartoon-musical formula till they wore the concept out.

While this is one of Disney's best, especially post-Walt, I didn't really like watching it as a kid. Too dark and scary for my tastes. Now I can appreciate it more, but still don't have to watch it all the time. If you're not into musicals (and if that's the case I congratulate you on even making it to #21) or if you love the story, be sure to check out Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la bete (1946). C'est Magnifique!

Favorite Scene: "Belle (Reprise)"



20. Funny Girl (1968)

Can you imagine today's pop machinery making a star out of someone as unusual looking as Barbra Streisand? She keeps this biopic of Fanny Brice, her movie debut, from becoming completely soggy in the second half, and takes her vowel-bending vocals to spine-tingling places in ''People'' and ''I'm the Greatest Star.'' Homage alert: The belting-out-on-a-tugboat shot that caps ''Don't Rain on My Parade'' shows up transposed to a garbage truck in Hairspray.

Steve: Marry me?

Favorite scene: Like no other, "My Man."









19. The Sound of Music (1965)


Its initial runs played in theaters for several years, it was so popular. Some of the more maudlin passages may make you wince — like ex-nun Maria (Julie Andrews) comforting adopted daughter Liesl, or Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) singing ''Edelweiss'' — but the Austrian scenery will beat you into submission, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein score will penetrate your noggin and remain there forever. The opening hillside shots haven't been topped, though they have been cribbed in Beauty and the Beast and Enchanted, among other places.

I've said my piece (and other peoples') about this movie before on this blog: here, here, here, and here. The musical may make its way into every third post I ever write. So I won't go on about it this time, but honestly, the Captain singing "Edelweiss" a "maudlin passage"? More like a piercing phoenix of emotion that wraps your heart in a flame of despair betwixt with national pride.

Favorite Scene: There are many, but right now I have to go with "Something Good."






18.
The Busby Berkeley Disc (2006 compilation)

The trouble with all those old '30s movies with Berkeley production numbers is you have to sit through a lot of creaky, tedious exposition to get to the good parts. But this DVD roundup (sold as part of a Berkeley boxed set) gives you just about every sequence you need from 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 and 1935, Footlight Parade, and many others. Highlight: The expressionistic mini-epic ''Lullaby of Broadway,'' a sort of retro club-kid cautionary tale.

It is known far and wide among the movie musicals field that nobody makes musicals anymore like Busby Berkeley. Probably because nowadays they would break all kinds of health and safety codes. This is before CGI, and the man was able to create all kinds of optical treats using human bodies (usually half-naked female ones) and sequins. I actually have only seen clips of his films from That's Entertainment! (1974), but I ordered the aforementioned compilation through my library.

Favorite Scene: Tough call considering I'm only familiar with snippets, but my favorite clip was with the neon violins: "Shadow Waltz" from Gold Diggers of 1933. Very catchy waltz.









17. Chicago (2002)

There's not much left of Bob Fosse's original Broadway choreography, and not all the John Kander-Fred Ebb songs made it, either. But that's OK, since director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon find ingenious ways to make the overtly stagy source material work as a mind's-eye musical fantasy on film. Dandy performances by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger and John C. Reilly help elevate okay work by Richard Gere, and the cross-cutting only occasionally gets too busy. By and large, razzle-dazzling.

I completely and whole-heartedly agree with Steve. SO WHY IS IT #17? More like #25. A huge tragedy: Hugh Jackman was considered for the role of Billy Flynn. And they gave it to Richard Gere. Moment of silence, please. If only Richard could give us more than a moment. Perhaps the biggest tragedy:
When the film rights were originally bought by producer Martin Richards in the 1970s, Bob Fosse was to be involved with the film project, and Goldie Hawn, Liza Minnelli, and Frank Sinatra were announced as the stars; but Fosse's death in 1987 ended that attempt at a film version. Oh, what could have been... I honestly think Fosse's version would have been even better.

Favorite scene: Hard to choose. Do I pick a scene without 'I-haven't-eaten-since-Bridget-Jones'-Diary-wrapped' Rene Zellweger, or one without 'I-can't-keep-my-hands-to-myself-but-love-Tibet' Richard Gere? How about one with neither: "All that Jazz."



16. A Star is Born (1954)

Judy Garland's character, Vicki Lester, wins an Oscar for Best Actress, but Garland lost offscreen (to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl). Dopey vote, given Garland's powerhouse takes on ''The Man That Got Away'' and ''Born in a Trunk.'' She's also got a freaky ability to cry so hard onscreen she gets hiccups. The studio chopped half an hour, but a theatrical and video reissue put most of the scenes back (some as still-photo montages). If those are missing, you're watching a butchered version.

Once again, Grace Kelly ruins everyone's lives. The end.


Just kidding (about it being the end, that is). This movie is a re-make of a non-musical from 1937 that was then later re-made by Babs herself in 1976 (with different songs). Let me save you the time and energy: this version's the best. The story is another classic re-telling of an age-old musical plot:

Husband of star: "You're a bigger star than me!"

Wife: "But I love you just the same."

Husband: "I can't handle the fact that you make more money than me!"

Wife: "But I love you just same."

Husband: "It's either me or the stage!"

Wife: "That's kind of unfair. I love you both."

Husband: "I'm leaving you!"

Favorite scene: "The Man That Got Away." If you've seen P.S. I Love You, this is the song that Hilary Swank sings along with in her dead husband's boxers. Loves it.



15. Hairspray (2007)

Swathed in a fat suit, John Travolta looks like a startled hamster as early-'60s housewife Edna Turnblad. But his weird Baltimore accent works, and he plays Edna as an actual woman instead of the drag creature of John Waters' original 1988 film and the Broadway show (from which this is adapted). The Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman score pays shrewd homage to period pop, even if it folds in some later-'60s sounds, and director Adam Shankman brings irresistible energy to the dancing.

Seriously? #15? If we were making a list of the top 100 best musical movies, this could easily make an appearance, but #15? Give me a break. I really enjoyed this movie and wouldn't mind owning it or watching it on a irregular basis. The dancing is full of energy as Steve said, and the score is memorable and well-sung. And you have to love the body image message, even if the film does employ a fat suit. But this one still isn't in the top 25.

Favorite scene: Santos performing the beginning of the show in a subway car on the show Ugly Betty. From the actual movie: "I Can Hear the Bells", because while it's not the best song in the line-up, it completely reminds me of my high school experience.



14. Grease (1978)

Who cares if the students at Rydell High look like they're already past graduate school? John Travolta doing a chicken dance to ''Summer Nights,'' Olivia Newton-John announcing she's an exchange student from Australia, Stockard Channing crowing ''Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee'' with bad-girl panache, Frankie Avalon showing up for ''Beauty School Dropout'' — this is the stuff of repeat-playback heaven. Don't look for much 1950s rock-music flavoring, though: The title tune smacks of disco and the rest is show-tune pastiche.

You'll hear people complain about this one, and maybe you count yourself among said people, but don't try to tell me that when "Summer Nights" comes on the radio or at a sporting event/wedding reception/dance you don't also count yourself as either a Pink Lady or a T-bird and jump right in to how summer lovin' had you a blast or happened so fast. It's scary how young many of us were when we first saw this movie considering its adult themes and jokes, but in middle school I would definitely have the soundtrack in my walk-man during family vacations and pump my arm up and down during "Greased Lightning" (oblivious of course to the songs meaning/metaphor). But jokes aside, the movie's plot has a great moral lesson for young girls:

John Travolta: "I like you, but you're not cool enough."

Olivia Newton-John: "What if I dress like a slut?"

John Travolta: " Now that you're not who you are, I can love you for who I wanted you to be."

Also, did anyone else think that Rydell High was what high school was going to be like? I mean, I knew we wouldn't all break into song at once on repeated occasions (a harsh reality that took me years to face), but we'd go together like rama lama lama and that we'd go to drive-in movies and/or stage fatal car races? Anybody? Oh, and this movie is decidedly better than Grease 2 (1982).

Favorite scene: As an adult, I think you have to love Rizzo more than Sandy. Plus she's got the best song in the bunch, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." As a kid, there's no replacing "You're the One that I Want." Even now it gives me chills! (Though notice how his eyes keep moving all over her body. Don't worry, that doesn't send any kind of message to you as a young girl.)



13. On the Town (1949)

Three randy sailors (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) have 24 hours to find love in New York City. Producer Arthur Freed chopped out much of the original Broadway score by Leonard Bernstein and Comden & Green. (Too sophisticated, and too raunchy.) But what remains of it — buoyed by the leggy dancing of Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, and a hilarious turn by horse-faced Alice Pearce as a loser named Lucy Schmeeler — is, as a Brooklynite might put it, ''cherce.''

This is more like it! Now we've got a real classic. The first musical to be shot on location, this is Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's baby. According to imdb.com, the crew tried to keep the filming as low key as possible, even from the back of a station wagon. Featuring so many of my favorite triple threats: Frank Sinatra (more like a double threat...but they definitely make up for his lack of dancing), Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, and Vera-Ellen.

Favorite scene: Do I have to choose? If so, "New York, New York" so you can see all that great on-locationism.



12. Swing Time (1936)

The lightest, sweetest outing for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Lots of folks say the pinnacle is 1935's Top Hat, with a score by Irving Berlin, rather than this outing, with songs by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. But Swing Time deserves the edge for the passionate romantic longing on display in ''Never Gonna Dance.'' It's enough to make your loins ache. Dancing with the Stars? Amateur night by comparison — a joke. This is dancing with starlight itself.

Touche, Steve, touche. This isn't my favorite Astaire-Rogers pairing, as I'm partial to their last: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). But my grandparents always showed me their films and it never gets old watching these two.

Favorite Scene: "Pick Yourself Up."





11. An American in Paris (1951)

There's a lot of romantic twaddle involving Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron before you get to the climactic 18-minute ballet, but wow — the finale is an unparalleled rhapsody in Technicolor. Set to George Gershwin's instrumental music, it depicts a fantasy Paris rendered in the styles of great French painters (Utrillo, Lautrec, Renoir, among others), and stands as the most dynamic fusion of ballet and cinema that anybody's come up with yet. Another from Vincente Minnelli, whose name we'll soon see on this list again.

The romantic twaddle is great too, Steve! But he's right, the real masterpiece is the ballet. Here we have Gene Kelly, who completely owns the 'every-man hoofer' in his roles as a sailor or solider, but for this film he envisioned, choreographed, and performed an entire ballet. He cast a complete nobody (Leslie Caron) as his leading lady, and she went on to star in Gigi, Lili (1953), and Daddy Long Legs (1955) with Fred Astaire! There are several memorable moments in this film, "Our Love is Here to Stay" along the banks of the Seine , dancing and singing on top of Oscar Levant's piano in "Tra La La"...OK, I've decided to stop and will just have devote a whole post to this movie.

Favorite scene: I have to go with the hottest thing I think I've seen in a golden age musical; the fountain dance portion of the ballet. Listen for the horn at 00:13. It's the sound of desire!



10. Love Me Tonight (1932)

You won't believe how frisky the pre-Production-Code banter is between Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in this delightful fable about a tailor who falls in love with a haughty princess. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote the songs, and director Rouben Mamoulian finds ingenious ways to use them — especially in a segment that follows ''Isn't It Romantic?'' as it's passed along from a taxicab to a train to a marching regiment of soldiers, the orchestration shifting with each dissolve.

You're right, Steve. I won't believe how frisky Maurice is because I've never seen it. But I ordered it from my library!

Favorite scene: let's go with Steve's, "Isn't it Romantic?" (a song I love in Sabrina).





9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Even if you hate people breaking into song, you've got to admire how gracefully director Vincente Minnelli handles the trick in this nostalgic portrait of a turn-of-the-century family. ''The Boy Next Door,'' delivered by Judy Garland on a sunny porch in midsummer, feels completely natural, as does her rendition of the downbeat ''Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'' in a darkened bedroom late on Christmas Eve. Pure high-fructose eye and ear candy, with a bittersweet kick.

This film also deserves its own post. America continued its love affair Judy as the ultimate girl-next-door. I have an especially strong attachment to this musical right now as it's about a family preparing to move from their beloved hometown to a foreign city and home. Unfortunately their happy ending will not be my own. Unless I win the lottery and can buy my parent's house before someone else does.

Favorite scene: "The Trolley Song", hands down.




There's no reason why this should be on the list, Steve. We had such a good thing going. You hurt my heart.



7. A Hard Day's Night (1964)

A black-and-white farce spun out of a pop band's latest album? It shouldn't have worked. But screenwriter Alun Owen turns the Beatles into the most anarchic comedy quartet this side of the Marx Brothers, and director Richard Lester wraps it all in shaky, hand-held shots that perfectly match the brash humor. As ''the boys'' scramble from gig to gig, they roll out more great tunes than most modern popsters do in their entire careers. Behold their fecundity and marvel.

I don't think I really loved the Beatles until I saw this movie. They're hilarious, mischievous, and oh-so-talented. But as entertaining and iconic as this movie is, it's definitely not the 7th best musical movie ever made. Come on, Steve! Redeem yourself!

Favorite Scene: Peter Sellers doing Laurence Olivier doing "A Hard Day's Night." From the movie? "Can't Buy Me Love."



6. The Band Wagon (1953)

In which screenwriters Comden and Green and director Vincente Minnelli send up the New York theater world. Meet Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), a pompous windbag of a director-producer-actor who convinces a washed-up movie hoofer (Fred Astaire) to star in a musical Broadway version of Faust. It bombs, then becomes an old-school revue. Peak scene: Astaire glides through Central Park with Cyd Charisse to the strains of ''Dancing in the Dark.'' Patently fake set, sublimely convincing star chemistry.

This is the first one on here to feature Cyd Charisse, which is surprising. She's 87, and has starred in multiple films; usually as oh, you know, Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly's dance partner. She's not the best actress ever, but I totally buy the love story and fortunately they don't ask her to sing too much. The score is one classic after another: "By Myself", "That's Entertainment!", "Dancing in the Dark", "I Love Louisa", and the sublimely subtle "I'll Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans."

Favorite Scene: "Shine on Your Shoe" at 03:53 (but you should watch the first part to appreciate it).



5. Mary Poppins (1964)

Okay, so Dick Van Dyke mangles his cockney accent. He's still magic as Bert, a chimney sweep in 1910 London infatuated with nanny Poppins (Julie Andrews, in her Oscar-winning movie debut). What makes the treacly lilt of tunes like ''Jolly Holiday'' and ''Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'' work so well? The sexy subtext of Bert and Mary's romantic fling. And dig the swipes at English imperialism, as in a fantastical cartoon scene where Bert and Mary rescue a bedraggled Irish fox from stuffy British hunters. Cheeky!

Mary Poppins is weird, but she's definitely one of a kind. This movie IS full of magic, even the scenes that mix animation and live action (but Gene Kelly did it first in Anchors Aweigh). You know what else is full of? Freaky old men who try to steal your money, and probably-nice but still freaky old women who feed birds, tuppence a bag.

Favorite Scene: The Mary Poppins Horror trailer. From the movie? "Sister Suffragette", of course!



4. Cabaret (1972)

A truly adult movie musical — yet rated PG! — charting the ''divine decadence'' of 1930s Berlin as the Nazis come to power. A kinky M.C. (Joel Grey) is your host, along with delusional fag-hag chanteuse Sally Bowles (winningly played by future tabloid staple Liza Minnelli). Bob Fosse's direction copped him an Oscar, and the smash-and-grab editing helped usher in modern music videos. The songs, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, never wear out their Wilkommens.

I've blogged about Cabaret before, here and here. It's almost perfect. "Doesn't my body drive you wild with desire?"

Favorite scene: Because "Wilkommen" wasn't available and the Liza solos are a no-brainer, here's the perfectly paired Joel Grey and Ms. Minnelli in "Money."



3. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

A happy mix of pitch-perfect elements, attached to a sendup of early talking pictures: Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; a zinger-laden script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; peerless high comedy from Jean Hagen as a silent-screen star cursed with a hard-as-nails voice; abundant charm from Debbie Reynolds as a feisty ingénue; agreeable hamming by Gene Kelly as a vain actor; and sidekick Donald O'Connor doing extreme backflips. Nimbly codirected by Kelly and Stanley Donen.

This one really has it all: sweet love songs, show-stopping dance numbers, a rags-to-riches/the proud-are-humbled story-line, humourous montages and hi-jinxes, and a send-'em-all-to-hell dream sequence! I took a film class in high school where we watched one film together from each genre we studied. Our teacher chose this one, and won the whole class over. It was so satisfying for me to listen to my classmates--almost all who claimed to dislike musicals--cracking up at The Dueling Cavalier's technical difficulties.

Favorite scene: All, all, all of them. But if you're looking to be impressed, check out the veil dance with Cyd and Gene. So dramatic!



2. West Side Story (1961)

Natalie Wood doesn't make the most believable Puerto Rican Juliet to Richard Beymer's pretty-American-boy Romeo. But choreographer and codirector Jerome Robbins injects the opening gang-warfare finger-snapping ballet and other big numbers with so much energy, it carries the whole thing along. Genius scene: The edgy, angsty, jazzy setpiece ''Cool,'' which feels like a nihilistic '50s teen-rebel movie on drugs. Kudos to composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim for the most sophisticated score ever to go mainstream.

Also worthy of its own post, West Side Story is a musical for the ages. Winner of best picture, it's obvious that all the best were at work here: Bernstein, Robbins, Sondheim, and in this case, the supporting cast bombast of talent that is Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, and Rita Moreno.

Favorite scene: "America" especially the key change (?) at 01:24. And the dancing, oh the dancing.

Drumroll, please....



1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Who'd pine for drab, dusty Kansas after visiting fab, glamorous Emerald City? Homebody Dorothy Gale, that's who — and it's a testament to Judy Garland's hyper-emotional acting that you believe the kid really does want out. Entire books have extolled Oz's splendors, but here we'll just cite the eternally charming songs of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (anchored by the bathetic, Oscar-winning ''Over the Rainbow'') and the endlessly rich background score by Herbert Stothart (another Oscar).

This is one of the greatest films ever made, but it's not my #1. Judy Garland stole everyone's hearts with this one, though I'm sad Ray Bolger didn't get half as much fame as she did from his role as the Scarecrow. They worked together again in Harvey Girls (1946), where he has a lot less make-up on. Anywho, this movie was scary too, fulls of storms, being lost, opium, flying monkeys, witches, talking trees, large marching guards with staffs, and an authority figure you weren't %100 sure you could trust. But it holds a place in my heart since I myself played Glinda in my elementary school production. A safe choice, Steve, but a good one.

Favorite scene: Perhaps the best known song in America, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

If you stayed with me thorough all 25, you amaze me. I was aghast at the absence of The King and I (1956), Carousel (1956), Oklahoma! (1955), Oliver! (1968), Moulin Rouge (2001), Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), The Pajama Game (1957), White Christmas (1954), High Society (1956), Holiday Inn (1942), My Fair Lady (1964), All That Jazz (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Hello Dolly! (1969), Kiss Me Kate (1953), Showboat (1936 or 1951), Anything Goes (1936), Pal Joey (1957), Guys and Dolls (1955), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Hair (1979), Going My Way (1944), Evita (1996), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Easter Parade (1948), Funny Face (1957), The Jazz Singer (1927), Anchors Aweigh (1945), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), The Pirate (1948), South Pacific (1958), Finian's Rainbow (1968), Sweet Charity (1969), Summer Stock (1950), Cabin the Sky (1943), Brigadoon (1954), Gypsy (1962), Camelot (1967), Royal Wedding (1951), Godspell (1973) and more. Ok, maybe not aghast for some of those, but they would be on some people's lists. What would be on your list that didn't make it here?

Top 10 High School Musicals


2007 Season's most performed shows by high schools:

1. Little Shop of Horrors
2. Seussical, the Musical
3. Thoroughly Modern Millie
4. Beauty and the Beast
5. Disney's High School Musical
6. Grease
7. Fiddler on the Roof
8. Bye Bye Birdie, Oklahoma! (tie)
9. Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls (tie)

- Time


Can I say I'm a little disappointed? Zero Sondheim, Kander & Ebb or Lloyd Webber, and barely any Rogers and Hammerstein. But maybe some are cheaper to get the rights to than others. I can't say that I will ever have "Seussical, the Musical" in my 100 part series of musical I will never forgive myself for not seeing. Though I can't be mad at the "High School Musical" popularity. If it gets young people interested in musicals, I salute it.

Complete albums in concert

Last night at trivia some of us were chatting about listening to an album in its entirety--from beginning to end. It seems like something musicians paid more attention to in the 70s. I don't know why. I could be wrong. Maybe rock bands still try to do it.

But today when I have the 'shuffle' feature activated on my iPod, I rarely hear albums from beginning to end--in many cases I don't even own whole albums. Maybe that one song I love from some album is that much better when sandwiched between these two other songs, or ending or beginning the album. Like a mixtape, the flow from one song into another can have a powerful effect (affect?).

So today I read in Rolling Stone, no. 1053: "Springsteen Re-Creates Born to Run in Jersey" and I am supremely jealous and angry that I don't live in Jersey.

Here's the snippet:

"For the first time in nearly 30 years, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage for a theater show on May 7th--and shocked the crowd by tearing through the classic albums Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born to Run in their entirety. "Bruce said, 'I should do something really special for the crowd,' " says Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's wife and bandmate, who helped to organize the show--which raised $3 million to renovate the 1926 Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. "People paid a lot of money for these tickets."

Most fans paid a minimum of $1,000 in an online auction to get into the nearly three-hour gig. Drummer Max Weinberg's horn section from Late Night with Conan O'Brien joined the band, amping up "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and the encores of "Kitty's Back," "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and the Stax soul cut "Raise Your Hand." "We play most of these songs on a pretty regular basis in our set," Scialfa says. "But when you hear them in order, it brings your back to the first time you heard them as a listener. Everything felt new again."


In case you need a refresher, these are the track listings for those two albums:

Born to Run
Side One:

1. Thunder Road
2. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
3. Night
4. Backstreets

Side Two:

5. Born to Run
6. She's the One
7. Meeting Across the River
8. Jungleland

Darkness on the Edge of Town
1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something in the Night
4. Candy's Room
5. Racing in the Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets of Fire
9. Prove it All Night
10. Darkness on the Edge of Town


I think I might post more now about Bruce Springsteen than Barbra Streisand. It must have something do with the initials B.S....

From Narnia to Oz

5.19.2008

"A Letter To His Imperial Majesty, Aslan" by Mari Ness at McSweeney's.

And the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's Australia is finally here!

Streeeeeeetch it out

5.17.2008



My latest obsession is the old photos for sale at the Vanity Fair store.  The woman is Peggy Taylor, and photo was taken by Lusha Nelson.

I'm bound for Drury in Missouri!

5.15.2008


Not really. But if wishes were children and wishes came free and true--I would be.

I would complete a degree in Theatre at Drury University because one of my all-time favorite Broadway veterans teaches there. His name is Robert Westenberg, and I highly esteem him.

He was in the original cast of Sunday in the Park with George as the soldier (Alex in the second half), and went on to replace Mandy Patinkin (who is also worthy of his own post) as George (pictured to the right with Bernadette Peters). His soldier is hilarious--I think Robert excels as handsome proud idiots. There wasn't much singing for him in Sunday, but he was cast in another Sondheim musical "Into the Woods" that offered more songs.

He again plays two characters in Into the Woods, the wolf and Cinderella's prince (top picture). He and the Rapunzel's prince are my favorite part of the show. The "Agony" songs are such hilarious performances. The best part is when Robert sings "the girl must be mad." I also love "Any Moment" with Joanna Gleason. Robert was actually nominated for a Tony for his role as the prince. The adorable thing is that he fell in love with the actress who played his character's love interest. *Swoon.* Cinderella was played by Kim Crosby, and now they are married with three children.

While not in the original cast, Robert also played Javert (below left) for many years in Les Miserables, Harry in the 1995 revival of Company, and Dr. Lyman Hall in 1776, all on Broadway. His last original Broadway cast was in The Secret Garden, where he was once again reunited with Mandy Patinkin, in which they played brothers in love with the same woman (see duet: "Lily's Eyes").

In off-Broadway productions he's played two of my favorite male roles: Henry Higgins and Captain George (pronounced "Gay-Org") von Trapp. Most recently he was in the national tour of The Full Monty.

Since he's faculty at Drury University, they list his e-mail and phone number on the university page. Now all of you might be thinking, "Crazy-ass Maryann's going to stalk him." But you're wrong! I won't! I'll just go enroll as a student like a normal person...perhaps a teacher's assistant... In the fall he's teaching "Introduction to Theatre", "Acting I", "Acting Workshop: Auditions", "Musical Theatre Revue"...I'm crying on the inside. Seriously. What am I doing with my life? WHY WASN'T I A THEATRE MAJOR AT DRURY UNIVERSITY? If only I'd known...my whole life could have been different...

Fortunately I don't have to include Sunday in the Park with George in my 100 part series of musicals I've never forgive myself for not seeing because it's coming to the 5th Ave theatre this season! Into the Woods and The Secret Garden on the other hand...


For you all to enjoy, here he is performing "Any Moment" from Into the Woods with Joanna Gleason. Look out, lots of kissing (well, for a musical).

Grief

5.08.2008

by Matthew Dickman

Read it here.

Forgetfulness

5.04.2008

by Billy Collins

Read it here.

The book of love

5.03.2008

My small group traveled to the beach yesterday and it was wonderful.  Being near the beach and the water is so healing.  We laughed, ate, watched movies, took walks and best of all: played an old player piano.  My family had a large black player piano and a cupboard full of rolls.  Each roll has a different song that you put inside the piano and you pump two pedals to make it play.  The keys move all on their own and it is so loud that you all have to scream the lyrics printed on the side in order to hear yourself.  My family sold ours because my parents are moving.  I'm not handling it well at all.

Playing the piano at the beach was so fun and yet made me horribly homesick.  We didn't use ours very often, just on special occasions and when my sister would be home.  My favorite was when she'd sit down and begin to play "Send in the Clowns" as I sang along.  My parents offered me the piano, but we all knew there was no where I could put it, much less move it.  So recently I came home and it was gone.  While I sit here crying alone in my apartment I think of how easy it should be for us to move from our home.  How little I should care where my parents live as long as I can spend time with them.  But these possessions that we are supposed to not cherish or hold onto, like houses and player pianos, represent so much history and memory and just presence in one's life.  Memories and histories that are harder to recall or relive in the absence of their setting and participants.

This morning we watched Shall We Dance (2004).  I had sort of low expectations for it, and sure enough it wasn't amazing.  Basically Susan Sarandon carries the whole thing even though she is in just a few scenes.  She is in the two best scenes, however.  The one where she explains why people get married:

"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

And when Peter Gabriel sings "Book of Love."  Incredible lyrics:

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing
But I, I love it when you read to me
And you, you can read me anything
The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb
But I, I love it when you sing to me
And you, you can sing me anything
The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we're all too young to know
But I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings
And I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings
And I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings
You ought to give me wedding rings