Archive for October, 2011

by Judy Geater

There’s a Western musical number in one of Fred Astaire’s least-known films, Let’s Dance (1950), where a TV set is seen on the wall, showing a cowboy film. Astaire eyes it disbelievingly for a second – then whips out a gun and shoots the screen. A slightly less drastic method of getting rid of the competition is used at the start of another Fifties film musical, Young at Heart (1954.) Here, an elderly Ethel Barrymore is sitting watching a boxing match on television, but the commentary is deliberately drowned out by her musician brother (Robert Keith), until she switches off – and the message is driven home by a wry comment that he “won the fight”.

In real life, however, the fight wasn’t so easy to win.The audience was falling away to television, and the writing was on the wall for big-budget Technicolor musical extravaganzas. When The Band Wagon was released in 1953, MGM’s Arthur Freed unit, which had made so many great films, was facing a struggle for funding, and Astaire’s contract with the studio was coming to an end. It’s hardly surprising that, despite its lavish musical sequences, including Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s romantic Dancing in the Dark, the film at times has a sad, wistful feeling about it compared to the high spirits of Singin’ In The Rain the previous year.

These two movies are often compared, as both are backstage stories featuring great songbooks of musical standards. (The songs for The Band Wagon are all by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and some had featured in Astaire’s 1931 Broadway musical with the same title, though the story is completely different). Also, both The Band Wagon and Singin’ in the Rain had scripts written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, loaded with many satirical references . However, as David Parkinson points out in The Rough Guide to Film Musicals: “Whereas Gene Kelly’s confident classic was an optimistic paean to talking pictures, Fred Astaire’s underrated homage to the stage was shrouded in a pessimism that implied that the days of old-time show business were numbered.” (more…)


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by Sam Juliano

    A ferocious snowstorm blanketed the east coast Saturday, leaving in it’s wake power outages that have affected millions across the region.  My own home remains without electrical power, with people close to the scene predicting restoration no sooner than Tuesday.  This will undermine Halloween festivities in many areas, and has even caused some school closings.

     The musical countdown has reached the Top Ten with today’s posting of Judy Geater’s marvelous review on The Band Wagon.  The venture has been one of the site’s finest projects, landing the highest number of page views and comments for any other endeavor.  There are many people to thank, but most of the credit goes to the writers and to Dee Dee.  The essays have been superlative each and every day, and Dee Dee’s work on the sidebar has been a revelation.  Today is Halloween, so the trick or treaters will be ringing your doorbells!  Be sure to have plenty of the sweet stuff on hand.

     The sites’ special features continue in full force:  Jaime Grijalba’s special anime review produced a very fine piece, and his subsequent “Fixing a Hole” post on both Universal DRACULA films is a gem as well.  Jamie Uhler’s monumental “Getting Over the Beatles” series continued with another great installment, while Jim Clark wrote a buffo mega-essay on DRIVE. (more…)

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by R.D.Finch

“Every once in a while I suddenly find myself dancing,” Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) says to Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) when they meet cute at a London hotel at the beginning of Top Hat (1935). Jerry, a song-and-dance man, has just arrived in London to star in a show for his producer pal Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton) and has been explaining to Horace his casual philosophy of romance. How else would Fred Astaire express his feelings in a musical film but through song and dance? Here the song is “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)”—”No ties to my affections / I’m fancy free and free for anything fa-a-a-ncy”—and the dance is a raucous tap routine that has disturbed the sleep of the young woman in the room below, Dale. This is why Jerry feels the need to explain to her his occasional compulsion to sing and dance. At this first meeting, Dale responds to Jerry frostily. He responds to her with a level of interest that has him rethinking his no strings attitude to romance.

The rest of the movie might be described as Fred persists, Ginger resists, with complications. It’s those complications that are wrung for every last drop of plot to sustain this light-as-air confection of a movie. The main complication is one of the oldest in the book—mistaken identity. Just when Dale is beginning to reconsider her opinion of Jerry, circumstances lead her to believe that Jerry is actually Horace, who happens to be the husband of her best friend Madge (Helen Broderick), and narrative coincidences conspire to perpetuate her error. Naturally, she finds her pursuer a cad and continues to reject his advances, while Jerry can’t understand why she won’t thaw in the face of his tenacity. Things definitely reach an impasse when Dale impulsively decides to marry a sexually ambiguous dress designer to avoid Jerry. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week, Exodus 8:2‘s own Jaime Grijalba digs up the two Draculas: the English- and Spanish-language versions, shot simultaneously in 1931.

Dracula (1931/United States/directed by Tod Browning)

stars Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Helen Chandler, David Manners

written by Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphey, Louis Stevens from the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston, Garret Fort from the novel by Bram Stoker • photographed by Karl Freund • designed by Charles D. Hall, John Hoffman, Herman Rosse • no music • edited by Milton Carruth

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, an Englishman arrives at a gloomy castle in Transylvania and meets Count Dracula, who would like to invite him for a drink.

Drácula (1931/United States/directed by George Melford)

stars Carlos Villarías, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton

written by B. Fernandez Cue, Dudley Murphey from the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston, Garret Fort from the novel by Bram Stoker • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by David Broekman • edited by Andrew Cohen

The Story: En una noche oscura y tormentosa, un inglés llega a un lúgubre castillo en Transilvania y cumple con el Conde Drácula, a quien le gustaría invitarlo a tomar una copa. (Forgive the Google translation! – Joel)


‘I am Dracula’/’Yo soy Drácula’

The only survivor of a practice that was more common than anyone would admit, Drácula, the Spanish version of the Tod Browning film Dracula, is also from 1931, filmed at the same time with the same sets and the same script, but with different actors, directors, DP’s, everything. Universal, of all the studios, used to do this all the time, not to expand the film to foreign Spanish-talking regions (that was more of a consequence) but more to appease the growing Latino population that began not only to populate the United States. And also to compensate with work the many Latino-related actors and actresses that came to Hollywood to find a work and a way to shine in the movies, even if they didn’t really speak any English, which I don’t know if it’s the case of this particular case, but I’m pretty sure there are some who are.

Anyway, back to the films. Dracula may be one of the most famous movies in the world, much like Frankenstein, because you don’t need to actually see it to know what it’s about. You can sometimes predict what the acting, the framing, the sets and all the little details will be: countless parodies, remakes and maybe a genetic memory have been important when we give this film the status of legend. Maybe it’s Lugosi, or Browning, or Frye, or who knows what it is, maybe the cinematography has something familiar that resonates with us when we see it for the first time, as if it were a world that we already know, but that we longed to return to, a film that has always played in our minds until we see it for the first time, and that’s when the film will start playing in your heart.


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No fuss, but here it is,the poster that Joel was talking about.  Enjoy and put your glasses on.  Not as good as Joel’s video, of course, but I’m quite proud of it.


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By Jaime Grijalba

While doing my Horror Madness Month during October at my blog I take the following approach: I need to see and review a film daily, a horror film, but what film can it be? I’ll never know. Sometimes I know the name of the film the day before I have to do the review (but I never see the film in advance), but sometimes I have to get, see and review the film in just a few hours before the midnight of the next day comes. It’s crazy, I know. Nothing would’ve told me that I’d end up reviewing a horror anime film of all things I could end up reviewing (this month I even got the chance to see and review the classic Disney animation ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1948), not that much horror, but scary for little kids). So for this Saturday Anime, Bob has let me link to my piece on this wonderful OVA (Original Video Animation) from the land of Japan, the 2004 production ‘Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’. Don’t let the title fool you, this is a very Japanese effort, with some of the usual traits of the anime (like the use of the lolita character with fancy dressings (specifically, gothic lolita, of all things), as well as some stock characters, but still manages to confuse and horrorize as well as give you one of the greatest and most impossible love stories of all time: between a living man and a dead girl.

You can check my brief capsule here, thanks!

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 by James Clark

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) seems to be a simple and exquisite tale of the vicissitudes of young love. A then-unknown Catherine Deneuve seems to carry the whole show on her perfect, stately and fragile shoulders. Jacques Demy has given her the name, “Geneviève,” likening her to the fair maiden of the lore of Camelot with its complement of brave warriors whose care for beautiful presences seems never to have been surpassed. The setting, the French port city ofCherbourg, comes to us in the first shot as all misty, watery, and antiquated. Some time into its actions, Geneviève has a crown placed upon her head by her and her mother’s dinner guest, “Roland Cassard,” whose fortune comprises impressive numbers of high-quality jewels. The crown is golden in color and paper in substance.

There is nothing frivolous about that moment crowned by a party favor. (Having arranged for her daughter to find the “bean” in her dessert, no-nonsense Mom chirps, “Pick a King and make a wish.” Geneviève, lovely and poised as propelled by an actress/prodigy in creating that impression, more than gratifies the already-smitten visitor by gazing into his eyes a quietly declaring, “You are my King.”) It comes at a point when the girl’s protracted anguish at being separated from her lover, “Guy,” due to his having been drafted to fight in the Algerian War, takes on the even darker hues instilled by her pregnancy, and his virtually breaking off communication. The two women, both of whom eke out their living from retailing umbrellas in a snug little shop situated directly beneath the dining room table, had very recently come to a meeting of minds on the subject of where their interests lie. But that concurrence has been struck only after a monsoon-like evocation of pain from seventeen-year-old Geneviève, translating directly into songful declarations of love and lamentations about its being shattered. That situation provides the memorable musical heart of the narrative, but it comes nowhere near exhausting the musicality of this remarkably complex and subtle film as a whole. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK/Netherlands 2007 135m) DVD1/2

A frozen moment of theatre

p  Kees Kasander  d/w  Peter Greenaway  ph  Reinier van Brummelen  ed  Karen Porter  m  Wlodzimierz Pawlik  art  Maarten Piersma

Martin Freeman (Rembrandt van Rijn), Emily Holmes (Hendrijcke), Eva Birthistle (Saskia), Jodhi May (Geertje), Nathalie Press (Marieke), Adrian Lukis (Frans Banning Cocq), Gerald Plunkett (Engelen), Michael Teigen (Carel Fabritius), Michael Culkin (Herman Wormskerck), Toby Jones (Gerard Dou), Kryzsztof Pieczynski (Jacob de Roy), Agata Buzek (Titia Uylenburgh),

Peter Greenaway hadn’t made a decent film in years.  The heady days of the Film Four financed eighties as distant a memory as the Thatcherite years they erupted from.  He was always there, though, like a demon that couldn’t be killed, banished into a bottle like a genie.  All it ever took was someone to uncork the bottle.  That someone had been formulating in his mind for some time, a film not just about the greatest of all Dutch masters but about his most chilling secret. 

            The time was right, too.  Dutch masters were all flavour of the month again after the success of the book and film of The Girl With a Pearl Earring, and while that was more about the artistic process than the artist’s lot, it brought the era back into focus with a never before seen clarity.  Simon Schama chipped in with an episode on van Rijn in his masterful The Power of Art, but his focus was largely on another conspiracy, the fate of his ‘Claudius Civilis’ in that most fateful of years, 1666.  The ignominy of having to butcher one’s own masterpiece – at least Von Stroheim and Welles didn’t have to perform their hatchet jobs personally, June Mathis and Robert Wise played the role of Judas for them – and the parallel is not lost when one looks at the dimly-lit fragment surviving fragment of that particular masterpiece.  (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

An American in Paris (1951/United States/directed by Vincente Minnelli & choreographed by Gene Kelly)

stars Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, George Guetary, Nina Foch

written by Alan J. Lerner • photographed by Alfred Gilks (ballet photographed by John Alton) • designed by Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons • music by George Gershwin, Conrad Salinger • costumes by Orry-Kelly

The Story: Wealthy, debonair Henri (Guetary) loves pretty young Lise (Caron), a girl he cared for during the war. Lonely heiress Milo (Fochs) loves cheerful yet skeptical artist Jerry (Kelly). Unfortunately Lise and Jerry love one another and as they dance their way into each others’ hearts against a romantic Parisian backdrop, they must struggle between the pull of money and loyalty on the one hand, and true love on the other.


First of all, this isn’t just an American in Paris, it’s an American Paris – not a City of Lights that is or ever was, but rather a Paris dreamed of across miles and miles of sea and continent, far away in Hollywood. That’s an important point. This Paris is full of authentic touches (productions of the time attempted to reproduce specific areas on soundstages) and cultural references, but it’s also purposefully artificial. Likewise, Jerry is more an idea of a painter than an actual painter – we only glimpse his canvases, and his patter consists of the cliches of bohemian artist life (though Kelly’s a rather clean-cut bohemian) rather than technical insight or the passion of vision. For those who don’t like musicals because of their gap from reality, this is not the musical to win you over. But for those who love bravura dancing, full of machine-gun-fire taps and the gracefully propulsive gestures and flexes Kelly specialized in, or intensely creative choreography and stage direction, replete with artfully tangling and untangling bodies and sensuous, eye-popping colors, An American in Paris is right up your avenue. And yet it isn’t all make-believe.


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by Pat Perry

Is there anyone who doesn’t  love “The Music Man”?

By any reasonable measure, “The Music Man” is one of the most enduring and popular warhorses of Broadway’s Golden Age, one that has permeated all realms of pop culture. The Beatles recorded its eleventh-hour romantic ballad (“Till There Was You”) and even performed it in their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. Two of its most memorable numbers (“Trouble” and “Shipoopi”) have been lovingly spoofed on “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” respectively. Even the lyric catchphrase “We’ve got trouble, right here in River City!” has remained in the common parlance for over fifty years.

Few musicals of this vintage are so beloved or so frequently mounted on both amateur and professional stages. But for many, the 1962 film version is their first and most memorable experience of the show, and rightly so. Remarkably faithful to the stage original and featuring a good cross-section of the Broadway cast, the film is the best and most accessible evidence of the qualities that give “The Music Man” its lasting, generation-spanning appeal. (more…)

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