Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

22 April 2008

In Old Chicago

Watched this old flick from 1937. Henry King's In Old Chicago is a kind of un-integrated musical flick about Ma O'Leary and her boys Dion and Jack. One is a gambler and runs a club in the seedy part of town (where all the buildings are made of pine... oh the foreboding) and the other is the mayor and a straightedged kind of guy. Ma O'Leary is played by Alice Brady and it's a lovely performance. The other actors are Tyrone Power (so pretty) as Dion, the gambler, his love interest Alice Faye (of course) who is a night club singer and his partner, and Don Ameche, who plays the brother. Power, Faye and Ameche would all come together again for the following year's Alexander's Ragtime Band (read my review of that here).

Anyway, the plot of In Old Chicago is not really important, but Alice Fay sings a bunch of songs (including "In Old Chicago," bizzarely sung in Old Chicago). These are interspersed with Irish-styled family songs sung around the O'Leary hearth. While these songs are mostly forgettable, the high point of the film is the big fire in 1871. It is directed splendidly. There are seemingly thousands of people on this set, and the fire looks real: none of this easy, fake-looking CGI stuff from nowadays. Of course, Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocks over a lantern, and that's how the fire starts, but there are amazing explosions and the fire burns the entire city. The shots of this are truly awesome. The movie goes total cheese in its final moments, but the big fire in this movie makes In Old Chicago worth the rental.

19 April 2008

Since I'm Almost Done with School...

I've been watching some movies lately, along with going to recitals. There's about one every day this week and next, it seems.

So I added Robert Z. Leonard's The Divorcee with Norma Shearer to my queue recently. It's packaged as a "pre-code" Hollywood film, but it's from 1930 so, of course, it's incredibly tame by today's standards. The film follows Norma Shearer as she gets married and then divorces her husband because he's a philandering jackass. Well, first she cheats on him to settle the score and then he divorces her because he can't deal with his manhood being impugned. The film had me at this point. Norma Shearer calls her husband on his sexist double standards and then divorces his ass. Then she goes about town with numerous other men and tries to have a little fun. The movie winds down with her realizing that her life is empty (all that partying: so exhausting!) and meeting an old flame who still pines for her. She is planning on marrying him and moving to J-pan, but then his wife (who was tragically disfigured in act one) comes into the scene and Norma Shearer realizes what she really wants to do is not to marry the man who could make her happy, but find her husband (now living in Paris) and try to make a go of it with him again. The film ends happily (of course) with the sanctity of marriage being upheld, etc, etc. It's a lot like The Love Parade in this way--and similarly disappointing. Still, Norma Shearer is fabulous. If you've never seen her in anything, you're missing out. She won an Oscar for The Divorcee and it's because she played against type with this role and she's superb in it.

Today I continued my 1984 kick by watching Francis Ford Coppola's gangster-flick-slash-musical-revue film The Cotton Club. The movie stars Richard Gere, Gregory Hines and Diane Lane. As I said, it's a gangster film about the Cotton Club, so interspersed with the Godfather-style murders and meetings and kidnappings are musical numbers starring very light-skinned black people. It's a weird movie anyway, but it's treatment of race is a little odd, to say the least. Gregory Hines is second-billed in the movie, but the Hines plot and the Gere plot intersect only very rarely, and I began to wonder why we were following his story at all. Obviously, the film means to follow a white man and a black man as they navigate the politics and seamy underbelly of the Cotton Club, but the film is only truly committed to its white lead, and whenever the film turns its focus to its black lead it feels like an afterthought. This is so pronounced that The Cotton Club is really two movies, and because it divides its time between the two, the film never really gets off the ground. There is at least one really good scene in the picture, but it's mostly eye candy. The period is beautiful to look at and Milena Canonero's costumes are gorgeous. But that is pretty much all The Cotton Club has going for it.

17 April 2008

I Received This Email Today:

The final clearance of your manuscript has been approved!


Jack Tyndall
Manuscript Clearance Advisor
Academic Program Specialist
Florida State University
Office of Graduate Studies

But I am in a bad mood nevertheless. We had convocation today in the School of Theatre, where they recognize the graduates for the year. I just couldn't get into it. I spent the whole time wanting to escape. I felt awkward and silly.

16 April 2008

Ace in the Hole

I previously wondered aloud why Kirk Douglas wasn't nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1952 for his excellent work in William Wyler's film Detective Story, but I got my answer today.

That's because I finally watched his other film from the 1951 awards season: Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas clearly gave two of the best performances of 1951, because he is fucking brilliant in Ace in the Hole. The film also happens to be stellar: bold, unforgiving, beautifully filmed in a film noir style even though it follows a newspaper man, not the typical leading man for a noir film. Ace in the Hole is an extremely intelligent satire of media and reportage. Except that it isn't funny. Ever.

Instead it's pointed and smart, skewering sensationalist news media, their corrupt tactics, and the people who buy into their kind of journalism. The DVD of Ace in the Hole was only recently released by the Criterion Collection, so this gem of Billy Wilder's oeuvre has gone largely unseen. Now is the time to check it out. It's a great film with some great performances.

14 April 2008


Okay, I just got back from a conference on musical theatre, so I am feeling kind of updated on the scholarship and there's something I don't understand: What is all the brouhaha about integration about?

As the story goes, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat is sort of integrated, but the true integration of songs and dialogue didn't happen for good until 1946 and Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, after which musicals all became integrated until the advent of the "concept" musical with Hair in the 1960s. Except, of course, that none of this is true. Oklahoma! did not mean the end of unintegrated musicals, nor was it the beginning of integrated musicals. With all of these scholars trying to pinpoint the precise origin of the integrated musical, it seems to me rather odd that none of the papers I heard at the conference concerned a form that I consider had been integrated much earlier than Oklahoma!: the movie musical.

Tonight I watched Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade from 1929, and I defy anyone to tell me that this is not an integrated musical. Each song comes out of the plot and furthers the plot. There are character songs, the obligatory love duet (this one is called "The Love Parade," but is actually rather unengaging) and even a couple of comedic numbers from the secondary characters. I don't get it. Rodgers and Hammerstein could not possibly have thought up this idea on their own. All they would have had to do was go to the cinema. Lubitsch was doing this stuff in late '20s!

Back to The Love Parade, though. This movie is occasionally cute and sometimes very funny, but it is mostly a sexist mess with a strange performance from Maurice Chevalier (who was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar). This flick is nowhere near as good as Harry Beaumont's The Broadway Melody from the same year. The Love Parade follows the romance of the queen of Sylvania (Jeanette MacDonald--I never really liked her) and Count Alfred of Sylvania (Chevalier). She is the queen and he is the prince consort, so he doesn't feel like much of a man. She orders him around and he is to love and obey her. It is a role-reversal film, where the woman rules the roost and commands him and he has to stay home and be bored all day. I thought at first that the whole thing was ironic and funny. How droll, I thought, that we're making fun of men's expectations for their wives by putting a man in that position and seeing how ludicrous it is to expect one partner to stay home all day and do nothing while the other partner goes about her day running the country. I soon figured out, however, that this movie was serious. There was no ironic comment. The Love Parade is about a woman learning her place. The film ends with the queen promising that Alfred shall be the king and run the affairs of state and boss her around as much as he wants. It's sort of bizarre, really. The songs aren't much either, I have to say, though The Love Parade is gorgeous to look at and the comic characters are very cute and have two very cool numbers.

12 April 2008

So much

I haven't posted in a while and I apologize. I was in New York and when I got back to Tallahassee I returned to a whole ton of work that needs to be done by Monday morning at 9:00a.

First things first: New York was fabulous. I had never been and I completely loved it. I visited with my friend Joe and my old friend Kristen who I hadn't seen in four years. The conference was really fun too. I don't know much about musical theatre that is older than 1980 and the conversation was mostly situateed in the time period before that so I learned a lot. It made me want to commit much more to investigating musical theatre as I continue to write. My paper was very well received. It probably won't be published or anything, but it was cool to give a paper and get as much positive response as I did.

Theatre I saw while in New York: The Adding Machine, a musical version of the play by Elmer Rice. It was absolutely superb. I also saw Passing Strange, which is a kind of rock-concert/musical narrative about a black man's coming of age in Culver City, Amsterdam and then Berlin. It totally rocked and I loved it. And last but certainly not least, I saw a concert version of Paul Simon's musical The Capeman at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The music from The Capeman is sensational, heavily influenced by Puerto Rican music and was performed by nineteen singers and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Paul Simon himself even came out to do a song and then again for the encore. It was awesome.

Now that I am back I am busy writing a paper that interrogates the notion of Latino "identity." It has to be standard length (15-20 pages), and it is due Monday morning. But there are lots of other things to do here, too. Our new play festival at FSU, New Horizons, is going up this weekend and I want to attend the various nights of that, and the Technical Directors have a huge party in the woods tonight which they call Meatfest. It's basically an enormous barbecue in the middle of the fucking forest. So I am trying to finish my paper, but I am a little more interested in having fun. Graduation is April 25th and I will be done with most of my work on the 15th. I want this semester to be over!

One more thing: I may be directing a Shakespeare show in Tallahassee this summer. A bunch of the students are getting together and planning it and I am meeting with them about it later today. So we shall see...