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

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

screens (one at the theater, and 3 rentals)

Curious George. I took the 3-year-old to see it. It entertained him. A few observations:

* I noticed the shift in the object of the (white) Man With the Yellow Hat's acquisitiveness whilst in Africa. In the book, he captures George and brings him back. In the movie, George falls in love with him and follows him home; he's not there to bring a monkey (or ape) back to America to a zoo, but an African cultural treasure. Plundering art is still cool with the parental crowd; enclosing animals not.

* I missed the 4 elemental trials of the book: trial by water (George falls overboard and nearly drowns), trial by fire (the mix-up with the Fire Department), trial by earth (George's imprisonment), and trial by air (his helium balloon flight). The only one to stay in the movie is the balloon flight.

* Instead of being about George's trials, the movie enacts a myth of parenthood: George craves the Man with the Yellow Hat as a father; the movie is about the MwtYH's coming to terms with how much he craves George as a son.

* The lame father-son story between the MwtYH's boss and the boss's son emphasizes this.

* Movie adds a love story. Hot cartoon babes love bumbling nerd cartoon guys.

* Jack Johnson does the soundtrack. I vaguely remember a quietly joyful emotion emerging from an early scene-song between George and his animal friends while Johnson sings, but I don't remember anything about any of the songs.

The Aristocrats. A lot of the movie isn't funny. But it's sweet, the comradery between the comics. A couple of the routines made me laugh.

The Music Man. On the basis of having heard the songs "Till There Was You," "76 Trombones," and "Trouble," I recently picked up an out-of-print copy of Meredith Willson's memoir, "And There I Stood With My Piccolo," when I read on the jacket that he had played flute in Sousa's band and for the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini before making it as a Broadway songwriter. Turns out he wrote symphonies too. The book is witty and anecdotal, with no narrative at all, but a lot of nice anecdotes; I'm making my way slowly. While reading I realized I hadn't seen "The Music Man," at least not that I remember, so I rented the 1962 film.

I still haven't seen it. I fell asleep near the end. But not before loving a bunch of the songs.

"Trouble" -- proto-hip-hop in its rhythmic virtuosity, really great. The story takes place in small-town Iowa in the early 20th century (where & when Willson grew up); the "Trouble" song warns parents against ragtime, and slang such as "Swell," and, "so's your old man!"

"Rock Island," the opening number -- male a cappella rhythmic chanting, no melody -- virtuoso -- really great. "Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk?"

"Lida Rose" -- Classic barbershop quartet; I could've sworn Willson lifted it from the Public Domain but nope, he wrote it.

"76 Trombones" -- terrific Sousa pastiche. Watching the song with a musician friend, he asked, "You mean Sousa didn't write it?"

"Marian the Librarian" -- lust as stalking menace; still a good song (livelier than the Police's version of the genre, "Every Breath You Take"), with one of the all-time great rhymes (Willson wrote the words as well as the music),
If I stumbled and busted my what-you-may-call-it
I could lie on your floor
Till my body had turned to carrion,
Madam Librarian

"Gary Indiana" -- really catchy, and Little Ronnie Howard is So Cute singing it!

"Till There Was You" -- a year after the movie came out, the Beatles covered it on their second album. I like the Beatles' version better. Still, a nice love song.

Before "76 Trombones" the Music Man makes a speech of how electrifying it was when the bands of Gilmore, the Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, and (dramatic pause) John Philip Sousa all came to his town on the same day. Nice that he included Handy, but anachronistic -- Handy wouldn't have been famous in small-town Iowa 100 years ago -- or now, for that matter.

Fiddler on the Roof. The only musical tragedy? It doesn't end in a blood bath, just the eviction of all the Jews from a Russian village for the crime of being Jewish. I saw this movie when it came out, when I was 9 or 10, and found I had remembered almost all of it by heart when I next saw it 20 years later. Now it's 12 years after that viewing, and I cried from beginning to end. Laughed too. So beautifully filmed, and such great songs, and such great performances.

The first half is all about leading up to the wedding of the eldest daughter, and the plot complications are comic and the wedding itself is tremendously joyous, as weddings should be. After that it's all downhill. During the wedding night the Christian Russians trash the homes of the Jews. The other daughters' marriages become increasingly disruptive to the family, and then they all get evicted. Feuding characters reconcile by the end, but the village is split up and it's heart-rending. It would be unbearable without the main character's vision of the Fiddler -- allegorical figure for the indomitable (and musical!) Jewish spirit, I suppose -- who watches over the village and leaves with them, still playing and dancing.

I'm a terrible cryer -- I cry during Gene Kelly's performance of the title song in "Singing in the Rain," at the fierceness of the joy. In "Fiddler," the joys are even fiercer, because they're communal, and not merely personal. And the performances convey that ferocity of feeling, even more poignantly than Kelly because the main characters are by no means virtuoso dancers, they're everyday people. Portrayed by brilliant actors (especially the men who play Tevya and Lazer-Wolf).

"Fiddler" must have had a deep impact on me because when I first heard klezmer, in college in the early '80s (a roommate had the 2nd album of the original band of the Klezmer Revival, The Klezmorim), the music was immediately familiar, and when I started digging into the music of Gershwin and Berlin, its stylistic debt to klezmir sang clear to me.
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