There are different versions of the story, but Fred Astaire was often asked who his favorite partner was, and some think he confessed it was Rita Hayworth. They only made two films together, but yes, she was well-matched with him. I'm not an expert on dance, but for me, his partners fall into two basic categories. There were the women who were actresses who danced, with Ginger Rogers being the ultimate example. And there were dancers who ... well, the less said about Cyd Charisse's acting, the better. Eleanor Powell perhaps comes closest to crossing the lines ... she wasn't a great actress, and her name as a dancer was based largely on her excellence at tap dancing, but it's hard to say she was "limited" to tap when she was so good it is rumored Astaire was intimidated by her.
Fred and Ginger movies are a genre of their own, and their on-screen relationship overwhelms all of Astaire's other partners. (Their off-screen relationship was perhaps not so great.) There's no use trying to pick which partner was better than Ginger ... their movies stand alone, in my house, at least.
But the Not Gingers were not all the same, and Rita Hayworth stands out in that field. While she is remembered now as a pin-up queen who led an unhappy life and starred in Gilda, she was always a dancer. Astaire has said that you could show her a new dance in the morning, and by afternoon she had it down. And while Fred and Ginger made it work, Fred and Rita seem to really like each other in their movies together.
The movie version of Hair occupies an odd place in both movie history and U.S. cultural history as a whole. When the stage play came out (1967 Off Broadway, 1968 Broadway), it was well-received by critics and garnered two Tony nominations (it lost to 1776). It ran for 1,750 performances on Broadway, and 1,997 performances in London. The original Broadway cast album sold 3 million copies and won a Grammy. Various companies toured ... it arrived in San Francisco in 1969, and some of my friends went to see it.
I didn't go with them. I was a purist hippie-wannabe, and didn't understand how hippies could be accurately represented in a Broadway play, which seemed like the antithesis of hippie. (For what it's worth, I probably still think that.) Like some old Get Offa My Lawn geezer, my 16-year-old self was cranky about the existence of Hair.
Now I've finally seen Hair. Aficionados will point out that the movie version isn't the same thing. As Wikipedia points out, "The film's plot and soundtrack both differed greatly from those of the original musical stage play", adding that the creators claimed "Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us". This is not the first time a stage play has been changed on its way to the screen; I just point this out to clarify that when I say I've seen Hair, I mean the movie.
The film Hair was released in 1979, long after the period Hair recreates. I may have been suspicious of the original, but clearly many people saw it as an accurate representation of the times, the music, the people. They were operating within the frame of the play ... there was no distance, it was a story about the present. Forman can't do this, because 1979 isn't 1968. He tries to recapture 60s by offering a version of a version. Hair wasn't the 60s, it was a play about the 60s (a Broadway musical, ferchrissake), and the movie isn't a version of the 60s, it's a version of a Broadway musical about the 60s. I can be forgiven for thinking the movie Hair has about as much to do with the 60s as Happy Days had with the 50s.
I will seem silly, but a few minutes into the movie, I thought to myself, "This is a musical!" Duh, to be sure, but that was just one more reason I wouldn't like it, and for some reason that hadn't occurred to me.
Can I be at all fair to this movie? Probably not. The best I can do is point out the things I liked. I've always been a fan of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", the 5th Dimension hit, although again, I knew less than I realized ... I thought the two songs belonged together, and was surprised to find that "Aquarius" was the opening song while "Let the Sunshine In" was the closer. In between were a lot of forgettable songs. The "famous" ones don't fare much better. Awhile ago, when talking to my six-year-old grandson about silly songs (he knew plenty, he's a kid, I wanted him to appreciate that we had silly ones, too), I gave as an example "Good Morning Starshine", a hit for Oliver that was truly stupid ("Glibby gloop gloopy, Nibby Nabby Noopy, La La La Lo Lo. Sabba Sibby Sabba, Nooby abba Nabba Le Le Lo Lo. Tooby ooby walla, nooby abba nabba, Early mornin' singin' song"). I didn't know if came from Hair ... I really was clueless about all this. Anyway, it's just as stupid "in context".
As for the performers, Treat Williams is defeated by a truly awful wig (ah, the irony). Ren Woods does a find job with "Aquarius". It was fun seeing performers who are still well-known ... Annie Golden from Orange Is the New Black, Richard Bright (Al Neri in the Godfather movies), Charlotte Rae from The Facts of Life. Not much, really, to get me through two hours.
I did find the finale (apparently one of the things changed completely from the original) at first stirring and then inspiring, but then, I'm not sure you can fuck up "Let the Sunshine In" ... I once saw the drag group Sluts-a-Go-Go sing it, incense burning, at the Mabuhay Gardens and it brought a tear to my eye:
Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley, 2015). I asked myself a couple of questions as I watched this movie. Would I have bothered to watch it if the subject was any actor other than Brando? (Probably not.) Would someone with no knowledge or interest in Brando find this movie worthwhile? (Definitely yes for actors, not sure for others.) It's an innovative documentary that makes use of hundreds of hours of audio tapes Brando made to allow the actor to, in effect, tell his own story. It's like an autobiography made after the fact. This is partly a trick ... Riley had the cooperation of the Brando estate, but Marlon Brando has nothing to do with the making of the film, so despite its autobiographical trappings, Riley is the one who pieces it all together. He is far more than a mere ghostwriter. It's not clear if Brando made these tapes for posterity, intended them to be public, but we have them now. He is very honest about his life, and comes pretty close to telling an unvarnished version of that life. (There are things that are left out, but what is included feels real, and he doesn't flinch from the implications of his actions.) Since Brando was the greatest screen actor of his generation, what he says about the acting process is fascinating. His comparison of the fighting style of Jersey Joe Walcott to the art of acting is a perfect description of Brando on the screen: "He'd be boxing and he'd follow some punches and boom! He'd have his fist into somebody's face. You'd think it was going to come out of the southwest and, there, it comes out of the northeast. He would never let you know where he was gonna hit you. Never let the audience know how it's going to come out. Get them on your time." So many of his finest moments as an actor came when the slightest gesture or facial expression surprised you into believing the character was real. To top the film off, Brando once had his head "digitized" ... "I made a lot of faces and smiled and, and, made a sad face. So they've got it all on digital. And actors are not going to be real. They're going to be inside a computer!" Riley occasionally syncs Brando's ramblings to a video of the digitized actor. It's creepy and marvelous at the same time.
Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland, 1933). Featuring Brando's second wife (not at the time, he was 9 years old at the time). I watched it, I liked it, but I'm mostly just cleaning house here ... this has been sitting around for a few days while I buried myself in the World Cup, and I don't have a lot to say now. The first movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but they are the sidekicks in this one. They have good chemistry, and it's fun to see them outside of the fairly narrow framework of their starring movies. Ginger is more the wiseacre that she was early in her career, and it's fun to see. It's also one of the last of the pre-Code movies, so there's see-through outfits and lots of double-entendre dialogue. And there's the impossibly beautiful Dolores del Rio. The big dance number ("The Carioca") goes on forever, and only features a little of Fred and Ginger. There's a loony number on the wings of airplanes. Nothing is taken seriously. Lacks the emotional resonance of the "real" Fred and Ginger movies, but watchable.
Let me get one thing out of the way at the start. I have never seen Hair, on stage or on screen. My memory is vague on this, but I think a lot of my friends went to see it in San Francisco, where it first ran in 1969, continuing on for a couple of years. I didn't go with them. You'd think Hair was right up my alley, between my love of rock and roll and my status as a wannabe hippie. But I am not a big fan of stage musicals in general, I didn't think the music in Hair was anything like the rock I loved, and what kind of hippies are there going to be in a play, anyway?
I suppose one day I should see it.
Meanwhile, I did have one encounter with Hair, a tale I have told many times. Here, I'll pull a quote from the first year of this blog, in 2002, slightly edited:
In January of 1981, a friend and I played hooky from work on Reagan's first Inauguration Day to attend a Punk Inaugural Ball at the Mabuhay, headlined by a drag band called Sluts a-Go-Go. It's been more than 35 years, but one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.
I've often wondered what was the primary force that brought me to tears. Was it simply that I was amongst "my" people? Was there something brilliant in the performance by the Sluts?
Whatever. To this day, I can get choked up by any and all versions of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", including the actual finale of Hair, which is "The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)". I don't know why, any more than I know why I was so taken by the Sluts a-Go-Go version in 1981.
Here are a few of those versions. First, the original version, a medley from the musical at the Tony Awards:
The Milos Forman film ... apparently this has a different ending than the stage musical:
A more recent version, on The View, for those of you who wondered what it would be like if Barbara Walters got swept up in hippiedom:
Musical with a nice pedigree, but it falls flat. In the 1930s, the play, with Ethel Merman, ran for more than a year. A movie came out in 1936 with Merman and Bing Crosby. Twenty years later, here comes the remake, and Bing Crosby is back. But the plot has nothing to do with the original. In fact, other than the title, the two movies have only one thing in common: several Cole Porter songs. Bing Crosby, Cole Porter, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor ... what could go wrong?
Well, this movie is dreary. Everyone seems to be going through the motions. You get Porter classics like “Anything Goes” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”, but not much else. Zizi Jeanmaire does a ballet number that stops the show, and I don’t mean in a good way. The plot, a farce about love, lacks sizzle, which makes sense when one of the couples of Bing (53 years old) and Zizi (32 years old).
Gaynor is the best thing about the movie, the only person with a pulse. I’m reminded of a Randy Newman article in Rolling Stone back in the early 70s.
Once he went to see Liza Minnelli rehearse a TV dance number, and after it was over she asked him how he liked it.
"You were a real Mitzi Gaynor out there," he replied, an assessment that apparently did not impress Liza. "But I always liked Mitzi Gaynor," Randy explained later with a shrug.
The great Glenn “DVD Savant” Erickson points out that the best film version of the song “Anything Goes” remains the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:
Here is the whole movie, if for some reason you are dying to see it:
To some extent, you know what you are getting when you see the name Takaski Miike. About the first of his movies I saw, I wrote, “13 Assassins is also one of the more gory movies you’ll see, if that bothers you (you don’t always see everything, but you know it’s happening, which can be just as bad).” “I have to hand it to Miike”, I said of Ichi the Killer, “he’s committed to his art. If he decides to make a movie about sadists and masochists, then by golly he will, even if he has to stuff it into an otherwise standard yakuza movie.” (According to Wikipedia, “[D]uring its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received "barf bags" emblazoned with the film's logo as a promotional gimmick”.) But it was Audition that I found most “inspiring”:
Miike isn’t pussyfooting around, here … he wants to dig deeply into obsession and misogyny, and he is willing to accomplish what he wants, even if it means throwing narrative coherence out the window, closely followed by “good taste”. Even fans of Audition will admit that it is almost impossible to watch the long final segment of the film, which isn’t to say that segment is gratuitous (although it often is) or unnecessary. In the context of the film, it is the best possible ending. That it is also revolting, that it has inspired plenty of walkouts in theaters over the years, that it is entirely possible that there is less than meets the eye, well, let’s just say it is a complicated movie.
The thing is, while Miike’s films can border on torture porn, that’s not all he’s up to. His ability to create startling, unexpected beauty in the midst of horror is great, and his kitchen-sink approach allows room for comedy, as well. Plus, I should note that I’ve been selective in my choice of Miike films to watch ... apparently he also makes comedies and other movies intended more for families.
But I haven’t seen those, so when The Happiness of the Katakuris was recommended in one of the comments to Ichi, I assumed “the happiness” would be meant ironically. And I came at it mostly unspoiled, as I prefer. So I didn’t notice the advertising tagline that read, “The hills are alive with the sound of screaming”.
Yes, among other things, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a musical. A musical with a natural setting (a bed and breakfast near Mount Fuji), to further push The Sound of Music comparisons. But it’s also reminiscent of other movies that weren’t necessarily musicals: Eating Raoul, for instance, and Moulin Rouge. Night of the Living Dead, too, while we’re at it. Meanwhile, Miike throws in a few Claymation scenes (I wasn’t kidding about the kitchen-sink).
It’s nice to see one his movies that retains the ability to surprise the audience without having to hold our hands over our eyes (not too much, anyway). 13 Assassins remains my favorite, but I haven’t yet seen a Takashi Miike movie I didn’t like. 7/10.
The movie musical Gigi came out in 1958, and it was a big success. Based on a novel by Colette, it was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won every category in which it had a nomination. It was a favorite of my parents. In those days, you didn’t own copies of movies on VHS or DVD or Blu-ray. You saw it in a theater, and maybe it would turn up later on network television, and that was it. But, since Gigi was a musical, you could buy the soundtrack album and listen to your heart’s content. So a copy of the Gigi LP sat on the shelf in my parents’ record collection, and I heard it many times as a child. I imagine that’s one reason I love the movie to this day … it’s like comfort food.
The title song won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and the movie also won Best Original Score. I don’t know which other songs are still part of pop culture … I mean, the title song isn't exactly well-remembered. I’d guess that “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is still in the mix. It’s sung by Maurice Chevalier, who charms his way throughout the film, no matter how retrograde some of his character’s ideas seem to modern audiences. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is fun but a bit creepy, considering Chevalier was 70 years old at the time. The song that still resonates, especially for people of a certain age, is “I Remember It Well”, sung by Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, a spring chicken at 61 in 1958.
I don’t think you have to be past 60 to appreciate the song … I loved it when I was just a tyke … but it quite knowingly works those in the audience who are in that age range. What interests me is my parents … when Gigi was released, my dad had just turned 34 and my mom was 30. But, at least as I remember it, “I Remember It Well” connected with them from the start.
Near the end of the movie, Chevalier offers “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore”. He sings it, as he sang most songs, with a twinkle in his eye. Chevalier’s reputation was a bit sullied during World War II, after which he was accused (and exonerated) of collaborating with the Nazis. (He turns up in a very odd scene in The Sorrow and the Pity, explaining his actions during the war.) But by 1958, he was a beloved old-time entertainer, exemplified by the Honorary Oscar he received alongside the nine Oscars Gigi picked up.
He wasn’t done … he lived to be 83.
Here is “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”:
“I Remember It Well”:
And “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore”:
Finally, here is Chevalier in The Sorrow and the Pity:
A summary, sorted by my ratings. There are a lot of films with my highest 10/10 rating, due to my participation in the Facebook Fave Fifty group where I watched and ranked my fifty favorite movies (the films in that list are in bold, below). I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Thus, the average for the 125 movies I rated in 2011 (not including the Facebook movies) is 7.3/10.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days The Big Sleep Bonnie and Clyde Breathless Cabaret Citizen Kane City of God Close Encounters of the Third Kind Do the Right Thing The Earrings of Madame de ... Fires on the Plain From Here to Eternity The Godfather The Godfather Part II A Hard Day's Night His Girl Friday Hoop Dreams In the Mood for Love King Kong Kiss Me Deadly(“The detective hero doesn’t bring order from chaos, but instead blunders his way into atomic apocalypse.”) L'Avventura The Lives of Others The Maltese Falcon Mean Streets Night and Fog The Night of the Hunter The Passion of Joan of Arc Paths of Glory(“Can the man who created such perfection as Paths of Glory really be the same person who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut?”) Performance The Rapture Rio Bravo The Rules of the Game Run Lola Run Sherlock Jr.(“Must have been at or near the top of Jackie Chan’s viewing schedule in his formative years.”) Singin' in the Rain The Sorrow and the Pity Steamboat Bill, Jr. A Streetcar Named Desire Taxi Driver The Terminator The Third Man Top Hat Touch of Evil Vertigo Walkabout(“One of the reasons why, as a film major in the early-70s, I thought Nicolas Roeg was the best director.” "What's Opera, Doc?" The Wild Bunch
13 Assassins A Better Tomorrow Army of Shadows Before Sunset Close-Up From Russia with Love Gimme Shelter Hunger Inside Job My Family My Man Godfrey Near Dark Shoot the Piano Player Sid and Nancy The Times of Harvey Milk Under Fire The White Ribbon Welfare
Animal Kingdom Another Year Attack the Block Being There Capote A Christmas Tale Crumb Dumbo Evil Dead II The Heart of the Game Incendies The Informer Inglourious Basterds Juno Kind Hearts and Coronets Let the Right One In Mildred Pierce Minority Report Police Story 3: Super Cop The Red Balloon Restrepo Smoke The Social Network Still Walking Stones in Exile Straight Time Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans Super 8 To Be or Not to Be Vengeance The Virgin Suicides
127 Hours The Big Lebowski Biutiful Black Swan Blow-Up Broadcast News A Bucket of Blood Buster Keaton Rides Again Catfish Cedar Rapids Down from the Mountain Exit Through the Gift Shop The Fighter Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer I Am Love In a Better World In the Realm of the Senses Inception Keane The Killing of a Chinese Bookie The King's Speech La Strada Little Sinner Lost in America Magic Trip The Magician The Man from Laramie Margin Call Moneyball Morocco My Fair Lady Nights of Cabiria The Other Guys Outside the Law Page Eight Point Break A Serious Man Shadows Source Code Summer Wars They Live The Thin Red Line Thunderball Tomorrow Never Dies The Town A Woman Under the Influence
Another Woman Barney’s Version Bridesmaids The Cat Returns The Conspirator Country Strong Creature from the Black Lagoon Doctor Zhivago Drones Eraserhead Fantastic Mr. Fox Grace of My Heart Heart Like a Wheel The Heartbreak Kid Il Posto Imitation of Life It Came from Outer Space Marathon Man On the Town The Producers The Railrodder Rango Red A Star Is Born Tucker and Dale vs Evil Velvet Goldmine Wagon Master Waiting for "Superman" Whistling in Brooklyn
(This is the 19th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)
Jeff listed Cabaret at #43 and he does a great job of placing the movie amongst the other highlights of that excellent period of American films. It is possible Cabaret could never have been made the way it was at any other period. He notes that while the film takes place in 1931, it is a 70s movie, a point I agree with. He adds that it “comes …figuratively out of David Bowie and Los Angeles,” which is a point I’d contest. Bob Fosse was Broadway, not Hollywood. He was an innovative choreographer who worked in that line for fifteen years before directing his first film (Sweet Charity, which he had directed and choreographed on the stage). I’m not arguing that there is no connection between glam rock and the film version of Cabaret, but I’d say Fosse influenced glam more than glam influenced Fosse.
The key theme underlying Cabaret is decadence: its definition, its social role, its connection to the larger society. I don’t think the film equates decadence with fascism; it isn’t drawing a direct line between, say, bisexuality and the rise of Nazis. What Cabaret does show is how the appeal of decadence in all its guises distracts us from the real world of politics, and in the Weimar period, given our knowledge of how things turn out, “politics” is “the rise of fascism.” While Weimar is a perfect setting for decadence, the film isn’t specific to that period. Instead, it suggests that we always want to escape via the decadence of the cabaret, that we always want distraction, which allows the powerful to have their way. And my definition of “decadence” has nothing to do with any specific acts, but rather is related to our need to be in the cabaret. Life is a cabaret, after all, old chum, and if you can watch Cabaret and not find that statement simultaneously exciting and depressing, you haven’t been watching at all.
Liza Minnelli is sensational; in every way but one, she is perfectly cast. She brilliantly pulls off the combination of bravado and insecurity that is the off-stage Sally Bowles, and when she performs on the stage, she lights up and becomes so sexy she embodies the decadence far more than she does when she applies colored nail polish when off stage. It’s perfect casting, except … her Sally Bowles is so talented, it strains credulity to believe she’d be stuck in a third-rate joint like the Kit Kat Klub.
Joel Grey, on the other hand, is equally brilliant, but his abilities fit the club. You can’t believe his Master of Ceremonies would ever be anywhere but the Kit Kat Klub.
I got more comments than usual for this selection, but most of them were about musicians who were also actors.
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989). #33 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #176 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.
Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). #32 on my Facebook list. #273 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.
Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985). Phil had this at #38 on his list. He and Jeff have given me some grief for assigning a rating of 6/10 to every one of their movies, so perhaps I should break that streak here. I liked this one, although I feel the opposite of Phil in some ways. He said he rarely watches comedies, but some scenes in Lost in America "bring me to tears I laugh so hard". I watch comedies on a fairly regular basis, although I don’t usually like them very much; I liked Lost in America, but I didn’t laugh very often. It reminded me of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but a friendlier version (and, of course, Brooks’ brother is a semi-regular on that show). 7/10.
Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010). You’ll be reminded of many other, better movies while watching Country Strong (most obviously, All About Eve and Nashville). Country Strong is an unambitious movie where actors are singers and the only real singer (Tim McGraw) doesn’t sing a note. Yet it’s not as bad as it sounds, and if it weren’t for an unfortunate melodramatic ending, I might have given it a higher rating. I was interested in seeing Garrett Hedlund, since I hadn’t seen him before and he’s Dean Moriarty in the upcoming On the Road … he’s fine, although I still have no idea how he’ll be as Dean. Gwyneth Paltrow inspires such hatred in people, and I don’t get it … part of me wants to shout, “be nice to Blythe Danner’s daughter!” She can do everything well, even if she’s not spectacular at anything (even her vaunted looks are more “prettiest girl I’ve seen” than “the most beautiful woman of all time”). Oddly enough, despite using actors as musicians, Country Strong treats the music with more respect than, say, Nashville, a far more ambitious (and vastly better) film that nonetheless didn’t bother to get actors who could actually, you know, sing. Paltrow, Hedlund, and Leighton Meester do fine; if they aren’t exactly Miranda Lambert, they’re a lot better than Henry Gibson singing “200 Years.” Too bad the movie isn’t much. 6/10.