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

23 May 2008

Some News

I have been nursing some back pain here in Talla-classy for the last week. It was unbearable a couple days ago, but I visited a chiropractor this morning and I feel on the mend. (This is after visiting a massage therapist on Wednesday that didn't help me very much at all.) The class I'm teaching is going very well. I'm not getting much of my own work done at all because I am so busy with Midsummer, but working on a show is fun and I have been watching a lot of movies lately... and not talking about them. So, here goes:

About a week ago I saw my first Susan Hayward movie. It has a ridiculously campy title for an almost equally campy film: Smash-up: the Story of a Woman. Cute, right? Susan Hayward is a supportive wife and mother who starts drinking too much. Important life-lessons ensue, of course, but not before several musical numbers (this is also a sort-of half-way backstage musical). Feel free to skip this one. It's an over-the-top mess with a lot of moralizing about how alcoholism is a disease tacked on for good measure. I was bored.

And I did not like Lewis Milestone's 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris. Instead of the original's good story and well-done melodrama (with Franchot Tone, Clark Gable and Charles Laughton), this retelling (which is longer by fifty minutes) focuses on absurd notions of honor. And instead of valuing human life as the film pretends to do, this new screenplay only keeps its characters alive long enough to make other characters do the contrived things it wants them to do. Trevor Howard is good, as always, and Richard Harris is too, but Brando's accent sounds really weird and he never really kicks it into gear until act two. It's a strange, bloated film, that never needed to be made.

I will talk more about the rest of the stuff I've seen over the last week later, but I just finished Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones and I feel like talking about it since it is fresh in my mind. Carmen Jones is a film version of Oscar Hammerstein's musical, and it stars Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. I was liking it in the beginning. All of the songs are the same songs as in Bizet's opera Carmen, but Hammerstein has reorchestrated the songs and given them new lyrics so that they (allegedly) fit black culture in the South. The trouble is, this doesn't work. Some of the songs are fun and memorable, but most of them I have already forgotten. The opera is already, of course, indelibly burned on my brain (and a good many other people's, I'd wager). The film loses its way, too, focusing on more characters than it ought to for a 100-minute movie. The weirdest part, though, is Preminger's inability to create or build tension. I never had any real fear in my head even though I knew how it would end, and the film approaches both its climax and its finale without energy. It's a strange movie. Harry Belafonte is hot in it. (Who knew?) Dorothy Dandridge is unequivocally fabulous in the movie—smoking hot and wickedly funny—and Pearl Bailey is not far behind, sporting some totally outrageous costumes and an attitude to match. Still, Preminger's lackluster direction means that this film never takes off the ground and its tragic finale leaves little impact.