Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I rented “Mary Poppins,” thinking my son might like it. We watched it after dinner in installments. After the 2nd installment he lost interest. But I was enthralled and had to watch the 3rd and last installment last night after his birthday party.

I’m a sucker for such stuff, and I loved it. I’d seen it before, once maybe 10 years ago, and maybe a couple times in childhood.

The powerful tug of fantasy-myth. The stranger who floats into town and sets the social order -- in this case a family -- right. Julie Andrews is radiant, witty, warm, inscrutable, and goddess-like. “I must make one thing perfectly clear. I never explain anything.”

Great songs, catchy and energetic and witty and thick with emotion. Mr. Banks’s early songs excellently modelled on the songs Lerner and Lowe wrote for Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady” -- the Sherman brothers’ take on the style isn’t as virtuoso as Lerner & Lowe’s, but still excellent. “It’s a jolly holiday with Mary” modelled on the great Irving Berlin number for Fred Astaire, “Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain.” Not as voluptuous with longing and passion as the Berlin song, but still marvelous. Co-songwriter Richard Sherman has said that “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” were inspired by English music hall (a style about which I know nothing) and the song of the bankers was inspired by Gilbert & Sullivan. Excellent songs all, whatever the stylisitic inspirations.

Dick Van Dyke was charming as Bert the musician-painter-chimney sweep, despite his lamentable attempt at a Cockney accent. Surprising to learn from the DVD’s supplemental material that he had never had any dance training and this was his first musical at age 38 or 39. Another fantasy character -- the endlessly resourceful and kind and talented impoverished man. The lengthy dance of the chimney sweeps -- utopia -- utter joyous chaotic abandon; with a hint of threat when they dance through the Banks’s house, a threat never to be carried out (at least not in the world of the movie), but only to be asserted as a sign of power held-in-check.

“Chim Chim Cherree” -- what a mysterious song! Strength and sorrow and beauty all wrapped together.

I cried buckets when Michael gave his tuppence to his father. The wish of the child to do anything to help his or her parent, and the incompetence to accomplish anything. I’ve felt it as a son and seen it as a parent. The heart of the movie.

And Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert, the intensely real childlike wish to keep the party going forever. Man, I’ve been there too.

And the immense renunciate love between Mary and Bert. At a couple points you can see flickers of loss across Bert’s face as he is reminded that their love will remain intermittent and either unconsummated or subterranean. Reminiscent of troubadour myths and of Hinduism. Mary Poppins is the goddess; Bert is the ecstatic devotee or Bhakta. Mary Poppins comes and goes as she pleases; Bert can only ask that she come again soon.

Mary’s departure, so sad and beautiful, like Fred Astaire’s at the end of “Finian’s Rainbow” -- the same story arc: the stranger coming to town and setting the social order right while gaining nothing for him or herself except more people to miss as she or he has no choice but to keep moving on, unmissed by the people she or he has so greatly helped.

Mary’s child-rearing style very seductive. “I am always kind, but very firm.” I’m working on it.

The “Step In Time” dance of the chimney sweeps is where the fantasy of the movie bleeds into what Kenneth Rexroth called the Social Lie. The affluence of the Banks family, with its ethos of kindness exemplified in the song “Feed the Birds,” depends on the upper economic classes “pressing their advantage” against the lower economic classes. The class-cohorts of the chimney sweeps -- in America at least; I don’t know Britain’s labor history -- expressed their power in strikes which sometimes turned violent, and people on both sides of the picket line died. (Far more Labor than management/police died.) This Social Lie persists to this day. I can only wish that the ethos of kindness would transcend its limitations and eliminate the inequities of distribution that terrorize so much of the world; and I can fantasize about universal ecstasy, including that of the economically denied.

And work toward a world of transcendent kindness and universal ecstasy, and ending the economic denial.

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