As perfect a cap to the summer as one could want. It began on Friday, when I got up and headed off to the Fair, again, to cover the Rooster Crowing Contest. There was a spare seat for a judge; my hand went up, even though it violated EVERY RULE OF JOURNALISM, maybe. But as I remind you, I am not a journalist. At least not a very good one.
The rules were simple: count the number of times the bird crowed in half an hour. Half an hour? I have to sit here and look at a chicken for half an hour? The video on the event is right here, if you’re curious. It’s short. I even wrote a seven-second mock Olympic theme for it.
Then, the booth to work the crowd. The annual appearance, the grip-and-grin, the meet-and-greet, and that’s always fun. Met a family that contained three generations of fans.
Here’s the really, really odd thing.
Not one of them knew I had a website.
Sometimes I'll get a reader of the Bleat, but more often than not they’re newspaper only, and my entire internet existence is a complete mystery. With some people, there’s the internet, and there’s the guy in the paper, and the two streams don’t cross. Damndest thing.
Then I went home and did the video, fell asleep, took daughter to piano - sorry, woke first - then picked up two friends for a sleepover. We’re all driving along giving each other trouble (I’m not yet at the please-shut-up-when-my-friends-are-around phase, and perhaps I never will be; we all get along, they’re good kids, and so far I haven’t said anything hideously DAD-LIKE to put me in the box.
Revised some novel. Decided it’s been a while since someone died, so I killed some one.
Late Friday night I watched “Singin’ in the Rain” in Blu-Ray fashion. It’s spectacular. It’s one of my top-five favorite movies - the rest are all obvious choices and cliches, but I’m not going to say something isn’t a favorite because it’s universally regarded as a masterpiece.
As with “Casablanca,” something special came out of a routine movie. You can’t say it’s “routine” when it has Gene Kelly in it, but think about it: only one original song in the batch. It’s a golden-oldies movie; it has some misfired moments - that bizarre fashion parade number, for example, is a WTF for modern audiences - and its most spectacular set-piece has nothing to do with anything. It ends with a really bad movie billboard and an unconvincing kiss that seems like a painful facemash, too. You know they didn’t think “Say, let’s do a meta-commentary on the genre, and its inherent unreality,” but that’s what they got. It’s a musical about a musical. Sometimes it’s “real,” and sometimes it’s not. It has a loose and jokey, and its occasionally absurd tone that goes against the studied, meticulous machinery of the Great Musicals. It makes me laugh every time I see it, and contains two moments that are absolute thunderclaps.
The leap to the lamppost gives me chills every time - it’s such a natural, exuberant, impossible thing. (As I tweeted that night: you could sum up the first half of America’s 20th century with that leap, and the second half with Ratso Rizzo banging on a car hood shouting “I’m walkin’ here.”)
I know I wrote about the movie years ago, and probably noted how Kelly had a fever of 103 when he did the sequence, and no doubt I picked out the same details. This one always sticks out:
In modern terms: this would be like a movie made today set in the 1980s using a Keith Haring or Patrick Nagel illustration - something that was born and perished with a particular time. That’s a John Held Jr. picture, or something done in the style.
Note also the green object above Kelly- that's something a grown-up audience in 1950 would recall, but today? Fewer and fewer. The green and red amphoras indicated a drug store (there's a red one in the window as well), and it was something understood coast to coast. The matcbook on the left comes from Los Angeles; this Hopper painting was done in New York.
The other moment comes in the Broadway Melody Ballet, which is a movie in itself. The kid finds himself in a swank bar being teased by Cyd Charisse, who, in a marvelous act of dressage, taunts him with her untouchable body, uses sexual energy so potent it knocks his hat off without touching it, takes off his glasses in a way that both emasculates him and frees him, kicks away his glasses to punish him some more and liberate him from propriety, and then BANG.
(There’s an ad. It’s worth the wait.)
NOTE: Better version here. Props go to the gangster who’s flipping the coin; it comes at the end of the take, and if he blew that, he blew the whole take.
As I said, it has nothing to do with the movie - I don’t buy the idea that the Ballet is a condensed version of the movie itself, with Cyd as a combination of Lena Lamont and Kathy Seldon. Er, no. She’s just Id Charisse. This theory says that the scene starts with Kelly’s character on the stage, earthbound, because he’s haunted by feelings of inadequacy, and ends with the same location, except that now his face flies up and fills the screen, because he has ascended into some sort of imaginary movie perfection, or something like that. No, it’s just a Busby nod.
Oh, the way he sells those opening lines.
Don't bring a frown to old Broadway
Ah, you got a clown on Broadway
Your troubles there, they're out of style
'Cause Broadway always wears a smile.
A million lights, they flicker there
A million hearts beat quicker there
No skies are gray on that great white way,
That's the Broadway Melody!
Your troubles there, they’re out of style: such an American sentiment, for good or ill. He just brays it out, too.
Compare with a computing view of Broadway, from the contemporaneous radio show, “Broadway is My Beat.”
Yes, it was that overwritten, week after week.
Anyway. All that . . . and this, too. A surrealist painting come to life, without the unnerving surrealism. I suppose the only surrealist things are the lines and the rocks, but it puts the scene in that late-40s craze for PSYCHOLOGY and dream-states.
Additional notes. Wikipediea says: Donald O’Connor’s role was originally written for Oscar Levant, which would have made the character more interesting, and less of a goofball.
Poor Oscar. The famous wit, the Gershwin connection, the sense of talent draining away on game-show appearances - and that strange giggly laugh that didn’t seem right coming from that mordant puss.
It also notes that “Donald O'Connor had to be hospitalized after filming the ‘Make 'em Laugh’ sequence. He smoked up to four packs of cigarettes a day.” That sequence gets on my nerves. By the end the antics are just . . . desperate. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA H as he pinwheels around the floor! Please stop.
Also I learned this. Lena Lamont's dresser:
The one on the left. Later in the picture she sews the microphone on Lena's dressm and wikipedia says that's Mae Clarke.
This Mae Clarke.
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