Tag: Musicals

June 8, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Christine Bamberger

Silk Stockings has often been cited as one of the last great MGM musicals, and indeed it was the last to emerge from the prestigious Arthur Freed unit at the studio. It was the final romantic lead role for Fred Astaire (age 58 when it was released), and the last time Cyd Charisse, 36, would dance in a movie musical. It does not possess the dynamism of Astaire’s work of the thirties or even The Band Wagon, made only four years before, and is sometimes described as reflecting the tiredness of the genre. Still, it exhibits plenty of verve thanks to the distinctive direction of Rouben Mamoulian, whose last film this was. The director began work on a film version of Porgy and Bess and on Cleopatra, but was replaced on both projects, whereupon he returned exclusively to stage work.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jason Haas

The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving “look-at-me” filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of one’s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TV’s The Muppet Show.

August 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1953. 89 min. Stanley Kramer Productions. Cast: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, John Heasley. Music: Frederick Hollander and Nelson Riddle; Cinematography: Franz Planer; Art Direction: Cary Odell, Rudolph Sternad; Produced by: Stanley Kramer; Written by: Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott; Directed by: Roy Rowland.

I first rediscovered director Roy Rowland’s 1953 film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T years ago, tracking it down based on vague recollections from childhood. I remembered a very strange and very dreamlike movie, and, upon watching it again, I found my remembrances confirmed. In the years since it was released to relatively little acclaim, an appreciative cult following has sprung up around 5,000 Fingers, and It’s easy to see why. For lovers of unusual cinema, this is a real find. Right from the start it’s clear that 5,000 Fingers is something left of center, a more twisted take on standard Technicolor musical fare like MGM’s singing sailor flick Hit the Deck, which Rowland would a direct a few years later. Where did this oddity spring from?

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jason Haas

U.S.A., 1979. 97 min. Henson Associates. Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom Deluise, Elliot Goud, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles; Music: Paul Williams; Produced by: Jim Henson; Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl; Directed by: James Frawley

The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving “look-at-me” filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of one’s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TV’s The Muppet Show.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jeremy Quist

USA, 1946. 110 min. MGM. Cast: Astaire, Kelly, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Lena Horne, Esther Williams, and William Powell; Music: George & Ira Gershwin, Arthur Freed, Roger Edens, Giuseppi Verdi; Dance Director: Robert Alton; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli, George Sidney, Charles Walters, et al.

Unless you are familiar with the elements that constituted the Follies shows, you might expect an actual plot from Ziegfeld Follies, the 1946 musical extravaganza from producer Arthur Freed. You might also assume the film to be a sequel to the blockbuster The Great Ziegfeld, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture ten years prior. But this is not a continuation as much as a reference, and instead of a story there is simply a concept. The title refers to the elaborate theatrical revues created by Florenz Ziegfeld in 1907. These lavish productions were essentially Broadway variety shows, mixtures of sketch comedy and grand musical performances. Around the early 1930s, the popularity of the Follies died when Ziegfeld himself did. How appropriate that the film should begin in heaven.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Paul Monticone

Singin’ in the Rain. USA, 1952. 103 min. Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagenl, Cyd Charisse; Songs: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Choreography: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

Band Wagon. USA, 1953. 112 min Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. Songs: Howard Deitz and Arthur Schwartz; Choreography: Michael Kidd; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli

By the early 1950s, Hollywood sensed a sea change. Due to suburbanization, television, and a Supreme Court antitrust ruling against the studios, movie-making had to become a more efficient enterprise. While the other major studios cut overhead—dropping contract players and disbanding their armies of salaried technicians—MGM remained dedicated to lavish musicals, and it was at this time that Arthur Freed’s production unit made two of the last masterpieces of the studio era.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1945. 142 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dean Stockwell; Music: George E. Stoll and Jule Styne; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Produced by: Joe Pasternak; Written by: Natalie Marcin and Isobel Lennart; Directed by: George Sidney

There is an old Hollywood story that goes something like this: only three years and six movies into his acting career, Gene Kelly had a novel idea for his next film, 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. He wanted to dance with an animated character and his first choice, unsurprisingly, was Mickey Mouse. Kelly and his assistant Stanely Donen brought it before Walt Disney. Walt was impressed and encouraging, but Mickey Mouse would never work in an MGM film.

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1949. 98 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin; Music: Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, Betty Comden; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Adolph Green and Betty Comden; Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

Stanley Donen was never nominated for an Oscar, so in 1998, the Academy did what was right and awarded him an honorary Academy Award. Donen danced with his Oscar on stage before declaring the secret behind his directorial success. “You show up,” he said. “You show up, and you stay out of the way. But you gotta show up or else you can’t take the credit and win one of these.”

May 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jeremy Quist

USA, 1951. 113 min. MGM. Cast: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch; Music: George and Ira Gershwin; Choreography: Gene Kelly; Cinematography by: John Alton and Alfred Gilks; Produced by: Arthur Freed; Written by: Alan Jay Lerner; Directed by: Vincent Minnelli

Musicals were once both a critically and commercially successful genre. With An American in Paris, producer Arthur Freed and his creative team were bringing the Hollywood musical to its height of popularity. Audiences ate up the romance, Gershwin tunes, Parisian joie de vivre, and Gene Kelly’s choreography, but there is more to the film than song and dance. While the lavish finale, a dream ballet inspired by Impressionist paintings, remains the most commonly cited aspect of the film, I find myself captivated by the subtly complex opening sequence, which introduces three central characters.