One of my sisters has a turn table and enjoys listening to music on old LPs. On my last sortie to a thrift shop, I picked up a couple of albums for her: the soundtrack from the 1962 musical film The Music Man starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, and the soundtrack from the 1974 movie That's Entertainment.
The Music Man is the story of fast-talking con man Harold Hill who arrives in River City, Iowa intending to fleece the gullible residents by convincing them to buy musical instruments and band uniforms for their sons. He- completely non-musical - pretends that he's going to start a boys' band to keep the youth of River City out of trouble. Most of the townspeople are completely hoodwinked, but there's a possible danger to Harold's plan: Miss Marian Paroo, the local librarian and music teacher. She suspects that "Professor" Hill's blather is just that, and sets about to prove that he's up to no good. Harold decides that the only way to win her over and allay her suspicions is by romancing her. Shenanigans ensue. Some of the famous songs from the musical are Ya Got Trouble, Seventy-six Trombones, The Sadder But Wiser Girl, and Till There Was You, to name a few. Here's Harold Hill near the beginning of the film convincing the denizens of River City that their sons are on the road to corruption:
If you haven't seen 1974's That's Entertainment (or either of its two sequels) you're really missing out, especially if you're a fan of musicals and classic movies. It was produced to celebrate MGM's 50th anniversary and is a compilation of scenes and musical numbers from many of the studio's greatest films, by many of its brightest stars. It's a joy from start to finish and leaves you wanting more. Which, fortunately, is supplied in That's Entertainment II and III. The songs and scenes in this film never get old, and will leave you in awe of the talented performers who made the era of movie musicals so magical. They also have the unfortunate side effect of leaving me sourly contemplating the state of present day movies and the actors in them. Here's a trailer for That's Entertainment:
Happy Independence Day to our American neighbours!
Before there was Hamilton, there was 1776, the 1969 Broadway musical which is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The show won three Tony awards- including the one for Best Musical- and in 1972 was made into a movie. The central character is John Adams (played by William Daniels in the film) and the musical follows his impassioned efforts to achieve independence from Britain for the American colonies. The scene below depicts the vote by the colonies on the resolution on independence:
O.K., on with the horror show. It is Christmas morning, and Mark and Roger are sitting around their apartment trying to pretend they're not losers. Collins arrives in a jolly mood, despite the fact that he just got the stuffing beat out of him the night before. He tells them that he's been kicked out of MIT because of his activism. Reading between the lines, I'd guess he was protesting instead of going to class or writing papers. Collins is an anarchist, but not to worry: he's gotten a job as a part time philosophy professor at a local university, where he'll no doubt fit right in. He then introduces Mark and Roger to Angel, who prances in dressed as drag queen Santa. Angel is flashing around a big wad of cash, giving some to Mark and Roger who are obviously excited to get money which they didn't have to work for. Angel describes how he got the money: by killing someone's pet dog. All four of them seem to find this amusing, and we realize that they are sociopaths and genuinely awful people.
Angel tells them this in execrable song: "Today 4 U," all the while jumping on their furniture in high heeled boots and pounding on everything in sight with his drumsticks. Mark and Roger don't seem to care that Angel is doing a number on their furnishings... huh, I guess maybe it's true that you don't value things which you don't have to pay for. Incomprehensibly- frankly, unbelievably- the other three appear to enjoy this ghastly performance, smiling and nodding along as Angel "sings" about murdering the dog. By the end of the scene, I was no longer surprised that the dog had jumped off a balcony to escape from this atonal exhibition. Picture a four year old jumping up and down on your couch and table, pounding on things and singing/ yelling a song that he's making up as he goes along. Now picture the four year old as a thirty four year old. How entertaining would you find it?
Maureen, Mark's ex calls asking for his help, and off he runs obediently, like the spineless wonder he is, and ends up awkwardly working with Maureen's girlfriend Joanne on the sound system for the upcoming protest. At first hostile, they end up bonding over Maureen's infidelity. Joanne- a lawyer- seems shocked that the woman who cheated on her boyfriend to be with her, has now been unfaithful with someone else. Gee, who could have seen that coming. These people are all too stupid to live.
Meanwhile, the scenes with the HIV/AIDS support group Collins and Angel attend contain the best parts of the film- mostly because the main characters aren't the ones talking. At the Christmas meeting, however, Mark interrupts, barging in noisily and then pulling out his camera; it occurs to him belatedly to ask if he can film the meeting for his "documentary". No one actually says no, though some of the members look extremely uncomfortable at the thought of having their expressions of pain and fear recorded. Mark doesn't notice, or more likely, doesn't care- if we've learned anything by this point, it's that all Mark cares about is himself and what he wants.
Next we're treated to the sight of Mimi at the Cat Scratch Club, where she works as an exotic dancer. While this is hardly an ideal job, she at least- unlike most of the other characters in this movie- is gainfully employed. Afterwards, she climbs in through Mark and Roger's window and, finding Roger alone, attempts to get him to do drugs and sleep with her. He refuses, but she persists, singing "No Day But Today" the gist of which is that they must live for today, let go, and follow their feelings. Though tempted, Roger eventually throws her out- the one smart move he makes in the entire film. But-get this- the movie doesn't portray it this way; the scene is filmed to make Roger seem uptight and harsh, while making Mimi seem in the right and hurt by his unjust rejection. How dare newly drug-free Roger not want to jump into bed with the drug addled stripper who crawled in his window? Why can't he just be spontaneous and go with the flow? Frankly, it's generally a bad idea to take life management advice from an addict who is swinging around a stripper pole. But, as I swiftly realized while watching Rent, in this film up is down, right is wrong, and villains are heroes.
This movie. It was so hideously awful that it almost defies description... adjectives fail me. I hated it from start to finish- well, the song "Seasons of Love" at the beginning was O.K., but the rest of it was flaming garbage. Alright, let's wade into this toxic swamp. First of all, the original stage production was written by Jonathan Larson, who tragically died of an undiagnosed heart condition on the morning of the first performance of Rent. Sad as this is, it doesn't make his show any good and, if the show is anything like the movie- which I assume it is- it isn't good. At all. Once you get a little way into the film, you realize that Rent is a modernized version of La Boheme, in which "modernized" means done worse. To begin with, let's face facts: Larson was no George and/or Ira Gershwin. "Seasons of Love" is as good as the music in Rent gets. The rest is forgettable or, if it's not, it's memorable for the wrong reason- being unforgettably bad. Here, for example, is a sampling of lyrics from the song "Rent":
How do you start a fire when there's nothing to burn And it feels like something's stuck in your flue? How can you generate heat when you can't feel your feet? And they're turning blue and
The music ignites the night with passionate fire The narration crackles and pops with incendiary wit Zoom in as they burn the past to the ground And feel the heat of the future's glow and
Draw a line in the sand and then make a stand Use your camera to spar, use your guitar When they act tough, you call their bluff We're not gonna pay, we're not gonna pay We're not gonna pay, last year's rent This year's rent, next year's rent
Not exactly "Someone To Watch Over Me" or "Summertime" is it? This song isn't good, but it's genius level compared to the incomprehensible stupidity of a song (so called) like "Over The Moon". But more on that at a later date.
Rent is also too long- over two hours- which wouldn't be a problem if it was good, but the plot, what there is of one, is all over the place. Neither, as I said, is the music very good. But these flaws wouldn't inspire my hatred... two other factors did that: the characters and the messages which are contained in Rent. These are irredeemably loathsome. I despised all of the main characters in this film. Every last one. Imagine being forced to spend over two hours locked in a room with a group of people whom you dislike and who are determined to be as obnoxious as possible... distaste swiftly turns to loathing, and you just want to get as far away from them as possible. That's the characters in this movie. As for the messages pushed in Rent... ugh. This is gonna take a while.
At the beginning, we are introduced to Mark and Roger, two twenty (or thirty) something roommates who haven't paid their rent for over a year and, incredibly, haven't been tossed out on their respective ears. Their former friend Benny is now their landlord and, after having let it slide for a year, is now insisting that they start paying. They defiantly refuse, calling Benny a traitor. Where to start... these two are despicable. They seem to think that they shouldn't have to pay for things they use because they are ARTISTS, don't you know. Imagine expecting them to pay rent on an apartment they're um, renting. It would be one thing if this was portrayed as being a bad thing, but it's not; the film expects us to sympathize with these two losers and to regard Benny as a sellout. The nerve of him, getting a job and supporting himself... how dare he? Sorry- I've been paying my way since I got my first steady job while in high school. Don't expect any sympathy from me. Then they and their fellow rent dodgers set fire to their lease agreements and fling the flaming papers onto the street below. Yeah-way to stick it to the Man... hope you don't manage to burn down that fire trap you're living in, you morons.
And why can't Roger and Mark pay their rent? Simple- they don't have jobs, and they have no intention of getting jobs. ARTISTS shouldn't have to soil their hands with employment for something as vulgar as money. We non-artistic types should just pony up and supply them with all their needs and wants. Of course, Roger has AIDS, so you might think that maybe he's too weak to work, but as we see later in the movie, he's perfectly able to do whatever he wants to do, up to and including jumping up onto tables and dancing on them. I think he could probably at least manage to be a cashier or something but no, he must mope around the apartment, soulfully strumming his guitar and trying to write a song. As for Mark... the very sight of this immature beta male triggers visceral dislike in me. He is, I think, the worst character in this film, and that's saying something. This is a big problem, because he, with his camera filming everything that goes on, is supposed to be our lens through which to view this story. But he's such an unlikable person that it is impossible to identify with him. In case his behaviour over the rent isn't enough proof of his character- or lack of it- we're given another example on Christmas morning. His mother calls to wish him Merry Christmas and he won't pick up the phone. He lets the call go to the answering machine; his mom wishes him Merry Christmas, says that his sister and her kids are there, and tells him that they all miss him and wish he could be with them. His father then gets on the line and a bit awkwardly, but sympathetically, commiserates with Mark over Maureen breaking up with him. After the recording ends, Mark sneers over the message left by his rube parents. He tells Roger that every time he wonders why he's living like this, he thinks what it would be like living with them, his voice filled with contempt when he speaks of his family. And this jerk is the guy we're supposed to regard as our everyman. Nope. O.K., next on the agenda is discussing Collins and Angel, and I need to steel myself before dealing with more of these twits. So I'll tackle them in my next post.
Before this week, I had never before seen Rent in any form, either the stage show or movie. This spring, however, my choir did a Broadway concert in which we sang "Seasons Of Love" from Rent. It wasn't even close to my favourite song that we did, but of all the Broadway music we sang, it was the only song from a show I hadn't viewed. I decided then that I would watch it at some point, and did so earlier this week. Rent is set in the early 1990's, and focuses on a group of friends living in the East Village of Manhattan. The film opens with the main cast members singing "Seasons of Love" after which we meet roommates Mark and Roger, who are angrily complaining because they have been told that they need to pay their rent, which had been previously been waived by their landlord. We also find out that Mark is an aspiring filmmaker and Roger is a musician. It is Christmas Eve, and their former roommate and friend Tom Collins shows up, but gets mugged and is left lying injured in an alley. He is found by Angel, a drag queen and street performer who helps him. Angel tells Collins that he's on his way to Life Support, a support group for people with AIDS, and Collins tells him that he has AIDS, too.
Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Roger and Mark's power has been cut off and, freezing, they're burning paper in a barrel. Their landlord- Benny- turns up and it turns out that he is also a former roommate of Mark and Collins. He has married into a wealthy family and works for his father-in-law, who owns their apartment building. Benny has let them live rent-free for over a year, but informs them that they have to start paying. Also, he has purchased a local vacant property which is currently a hangout for homeless people and drug addicts. Benny is planning to develop it and turn it into a cyber-studio. This has angered Mark and Roger and their friends, who prefer the area with its original rustic squalor. In fact, Mark's former girlfriend Maureen (she left him for a woman) is planning a protest on the site. Hoping to avoid bad publicity, Benny offers to let them continue to live rent free if they'll convince Maureen to cancel the protest. They angrily refuse, sneering at Benny for what they regard as his betrayal. After he leaves, they set fire to their lease agreement and toss it out the window and we see many of their neighbors doing the same, as they all sing a defiant song, vowing not to pay last years rent, or this years, or next years either. Admirable.
It eventually occurs to Mark to wonder where Collins is, and he goes out to look for him. He tries to convince Roger to go out with him, but he refuses and Mark leaves, reminding Roger to take his AZT. Yep, Roger has AIDS, too. As Roger strums moodily on his guitar struggling to write a song, we see in flashbacks how he contracted AIDS. He had a girlfriend named April who was a drug addict, and he eventually started doing drugs with her. Eventually they both were infected with HIV; April is now dead, and Roger has gotten clean, but fears he will die from his disease before he writes a great song. While he's moping, a girl shows up at the door. She is Mimi, an exotic dancer and druggie who lives on the floor below in the building. Her power has also been cut off, and she asks Roger to light her candle. He does so, and she flirts with him for a while before leaving.
The following morning- Christmas Day- Mark and Roger are sitting around, having never found Collins the previous evening. But Collins shows up with a bunch of food for Christmas, and Angel in tow. It turns out that Angel paid for all of it, having been paid a bunch of money by a rich woman to get rid of her neighbour's yappy dog, which he scared with his drumming into jumping off of its apartment balcony to its death. They all appear amused by this tale, which Angel relates while dancing on the furniture and drumming on things. We find out that Collins had been attending MIT, but has been expelled; he doesn't go into detail, but says that they didn't appreciate his activism. This is why Collins is back in town, and he has gotten a part time job teaching a philosophy class. While they're talking, Maureen calls for Mark: her protest show preparations are experiencing technical difficulties because her new girlfriend, Joanne, is trying to set up the sound system and doesn't know what she's doing. Maureen asks Mark for help because he used to run her sound (she's a performance artist). He agrees to come over. Collins and Angel are going to a Life Support meeting and invite Roger and Mark along. Roger refuses, but Mark says he'll drop by after helping Maureen.
When Mark gets to the protest site, he expects to find Maureen, but instead only Joanne is there. Their meeting is awkward and a little hostile, but they eventually find common ground, discussing how Maureen is a serial cheater; she hasn't been faithful to Joanne anymore than she was to Mark. After he fixes the sound system, Mark goes to the Life Support meeting, which he films for the never-ending documentary that he's making. From here, the film takes us to the club where Mimi is dancing around a pole in front of a bunch of slavering men. Afterwards she heads home in the mood to party; she grabs her heroin stash and climbs in through the window of Mark and Roger's apartment. Roger is there, still trying to write his song, and Mimi tries to get him to do drugs and have sex with her. She sings a song which encourages him to forget about everything and live just for the day. Though obviously attracted to her, Roger grows angry, demanding to know why, if she's so carefree, she needs drugs. He tells her to get out.
Mimi leaves and runs out onto the street, where she meets up with Angel, Collins, and Mark on their way home. She is comforted by Angel, and the three of them join her in singing about living for the present.
We had our Broadway concert tonight, and it went really well: we flubbed one entrance during the West Side Story medley, and one of the choir members doing choreography to a few of the songs came in at the wrong time, but nothing major went wrong. I had a solo in Les Mis which I was really nervous about because while I sometimes sing in trios or other small groups, I don't do solos. Fortunately it went pretty well, but I enjoyed the rest of the program more once I didn't have the solo hanging over my head. There was a pretty full house, which was encouraging and will be good for the choir's finances, too. Win-win.
In other news, after brunch this morning I dropped by Value Village, store which sells used merchandise and perused the book and movie sections. I found a few films to purchase, as you can see in the photo on the left. Looking forward to watching them. I wasn't having much luck in the book aisles; I couldn't find ant books today that I particularly wanted to buy. But then I found a treasure...
This is Charlie, the Little Golden Book which was my absolute favourite as a child. The copy I grew up with was lost when my parents' basement flooded following Hurricane Juan and ever since then I've kept an eye out for another one. It's taken this long to find it. Huzzah!
I'm off to a brunch this morning, and our choir's concert of Broadway music is this evening. We had our dress rehearsal last night and it went pretty well, though there're a couple songs we're still experiencing a little trouble with. This probably has something to do with the fact that we missed three practices due to snow storms over the past couple of months. Oh well- we worked on the problems last night so will hope for the best. Whatever happens, it's going to be fun.
The show last night was really, really good. I went with two of my sisters, as I had given them- and myself- tickets for Christmas. The weather held off, mostly because it was too cold to snow. There's no parking at Neptune Theatre, so we had to park several streets away, and the walk up to the theatre was freezing. It was worth it, though. Songs Of The Silver Screen was a joyous romp through the years of movie music, starting in the 1930's and going right up to present day. Ms. Myatt sang most of the songs, although there was also a male quartet who sang a few, together or separately, or in duets with Myatt. She had a lovely voice, by the way. The instrumental ensemble was really talented as well, especially the pianist and trumpeter. The songs were interspersed with clips from movies and old news reels and with Ms. Myatt talking about the songs and their time period, relating interesting facts or why the song she was about to sing was important to her (she wrote the show). It was all very interesting, and alternately amusing and touchingly nostalgic as we traveled through the history of cinema and song. There was a great mix of songs- everything from Lullaby of Broadway to Purple Rain, from Cruella De Vil to Moon River. Right before the Intermission, Ms. Myatt did a medley of Bond themes which was really impressive as well. All in all, it was a wonderful evening of song and film, and really demonstrated how impossible it is to separate the two.
*** When I got home and checked Facebook, someone had shared this picture of downtown Halifax. It's pretty much right where we were scurrying along the streets last night, though it was too cold to stop and admire the view. It is a lovely one, though; this is looking up George Street to the Old Town Clock, with just a glimpse of the Citadel behind it.
I'm going to this show this evening. It should be a good time; I just hope the weather holds up- we had a big snow storm last night, and there's another one forecast for tomorrow. Hopefully it holds off at least until late tonight.