Blog Directory CineVerse

Bruce on the loose

Monday, June 27, 2022

Bob Fosse’s filmography isn’t extensive, as he only helmed a handful of pictures between 1969 and 1983 prior to his untimely death. One of the standouts in his cinematic resume is Lenny, a 1974 biopic starring Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine. Our CineVerse squad recently used the wayback machine to explore this movie, which generated several observations, summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).
 

What did you find memorable, satisfying, unexpected, distinctive, or curious about Lenny?

  • The filmmakers employ unconventional techniques to tell this story, including using stark black and white photography, elliptical editing and jump cuts, vignettes, a verite documentary style, talking-head interviews with characters conducted by the film’s director (that’s Fosse’s offscreen voice you hear), and long, uninterrupted takes (such as when Bruce attempts to perform while inebriated).
    • Blu-ray.com reviewer Jeffrey Kauffman wrote: “Fosse tosses together elements from Lenny and Honey's lives almost willy nilly at times, adding to the drug-fueled ambience of the piece. Timeframes flit to and fro, offering contrasts between Lenny's relatively innocent younger years and the more jaded ‘elder; he became in a rather short amount of time.”
  • The language is frank and the content decidedly adult. Even for a 1974 film, the profanity and ethnic slurs are thick, there’s ample nakedness (including full frontal nudity of a dead Lenny Bruce), and we are shown graphic and disturbing imagery like an extended shot of a needle entering a vein.
  • The filmmakers aren’t necessarily trying to lionize Bruce or depict him as a martyr to the cause of comedy and the First Amendment. Fosse shows Bruce warts and all, underscoring the toll his drug use, sexual proclivities, nonconformity, and other choices make on his personal life, health, and relationships.
    • National Review critic Kyle Smith wrote: “In Fosse’s unsentimental vision, Bruce is not a victim. He is relentlessly the agent of his own destruction, one of the many entertainers who behaved as though the rules didn’t apply to them. The rules had other ideas. Fosse (a Methodist) saw indulgence and doom as sensuously intertwined, aware that his uncontrollable hedonism amounted to digging his own grave and yet fascinated to watch as if from a seat in the audience. That is the subject of both Lenny and the undisguised autobiographical film that followed, All That Jazz (1979).”
  • Interestingly, the movie is often told through Honey’s recollections and flashbacks, suggesting that she is the primary surviving witness to the life and legacy of Lenny Bruce. We also get recollections from Bruce’s manager and mother. But we know that Honey was a problematic drug addict, so she in particular may not be the most reliable narrator.
  • The performances are memorable, but especially Valerie Perrine as Honey, who shows incredible range and emotional depth.
  • Some critics have suggested that this film was a reflection of Fosse’s own life in some ways.
    • Smith further wrote: “Fosse evidently saw a kindred spirit in Bruce and turned Lenny into a disguised autobiography. Born two years apart, both grew up in showbiz, did wholesome vaudeville-style routines (Fosse as a tap dancer), graduated to being filler acts at strip clubs and, as they became renowned, indulged heavily in sex and drugs while each remained tethered to reality primarily via love for his daughter. A harsh reckoning awaited both men: At 47, Fosse suffered two heart attacks. Though written by Julian Barry based on his play, Lenny even layers atop Bruce’s character its director’s own fondness for sexual threesomes.”

Major themes

  • The creative and chaotic professional and personal life of an artist. We are shown how scattered Bruce’s life and interests are, as evidenced by the unorthodox editing style and sudden jumps in time.
  • The price to pay for being a trailblazer. Bruce was among the first comics and artists arrested and prosecuted on obscenity charges at a time when censorship and community standards were stricter. Likely these legal challenges and career setbacks contributed to his overdose and early demise. We also see how Bruce’s lifestyle and personal choices negatively impact his relationships, particularly leading to his divorce from wife Honey.
  • The power of reinvention and truth-telling. Lenny reinvents himself from a show biz hack cliché comic to a powerhouse funny force who commands attention and crowds thanks to his raw, honest performances in which he attempts to point out the hypocrisies in language and words, and the laws and mores restricting them.

Similar works

  • Raging Bull
  • Jo Jo Dancer Your Life is Calling
  • Star 80
  • Bird
  • The People Versus Larry Flynt
  • Lenny Bruce: Without Tears, and Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth (1972 and 1998 documentaries)
  • The films of John Cassavetes
  • Citizen Kane
  • Man on the Moon

Other films by Bob Fosse

  • Cabaret
  • Sweet Charity
  • All That Jazz
  • Star 80

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The vanishing lady reappears

Thursday, June 16, 2022


It’s always a treat to revisit works by the Master of Suspense—even if a film in his repertoire predates his arrival in Hollywood in the late 1930s. In fact, some of his British productions equal or best his cinematic efforts from the 1940s through the 1970s. One such example is The Lady Vanishes (1938), which combines elements from various genres to create something unique—at least up to that time. Our CineVerse club studied this picture last week and discussed several fascinating angles (to listen to a recording of our group talk, click here).

What stands out as interesting, distinctive, and unexpected about the Lady Vanishes, especially for a 1938 film?

  • It helps set a new template for the romantic comedy thriller formula by infusing plenty of humor as well as social and political commentary with the Hitchcock brand of suspense.
  • This is a film with broad tonality shifts between frothy and light to dark and unsettling—shifts that are deftly handled here.
    • Consider that we don’t feel the first inkling of foul play and peril until the 24-minute mark. Sudden and quick acts of violence and the suggestion that perhaps Iris is not in her right mind underscore this tonal shifting.
    • In regards to the comedy, some critics and film scholars also insist that this movie is the funniest Hitchcock ever made—even more than his lone comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
  • The picture is excellently cast, boasting an array of notable English thespians and talented British character actors for this time, including Margaret Lockwood (then a major box office draw), Michael Redgrave in his film debut (this film made him a star), Paul Lukas, and Dame May Whitty.
  • The characters of Charters and Caldicott, in fact, were so popular that they were featured in three later films starring the same two actors in their respective roles.
    • It has been theorized that the aforementioned duo are gay characters, making them even more memorable and rare for this period. Hitchcock had a history over his career of slyly but knowingly featuring gay characters in his films, including the college roommate murderers in Rope, Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, Bruno in Strangers on a Train, and Leonard the henchman in North by Northwest.
  • The three prominent females in the story are all strong women characters who at least somewhat buck the mold of subservient, secondary, male-dependent counterparts as are often depicted in films from the golden age of cinema:
    • Iris is stubborn and determined to find Ms. Froy, despite attempts to gaslight her.
    • Ms. Froy is a resourceful spy entrusted with a significant political responsibility; and
    • the adulterous mistress shows pluck and independence in defying her lover and fighting back against the fascists at the movie’s end.
  • There’s a fabricated, deliberately artificial feel to the look and setting, with Hitchcock employing transparencies and miniatures, including a quite obvious toy train station in the opening sequence.
    • The main action was filmed using a set that was only 90 feet long, consisting of a single coach.
    • Additionally, the locale is a fantasyland Balkan country (Bandrika) consisting of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland.
    • The evil forces/soldiers threatening the train passengers are from a make-believe nation that is an obvious surrogate for Nazi Germany.
    • These decisions “allowed Hitchcock to establish a playful tone and a sense of quaint, reassuring artifice crucial to his technique. The more secure the audience feels, the more susceptible they are to the horrors of disruption Hitchcock will visit upon them later in the film,” wrote Slate writer Nathaniel Rich.
  • This penultimate British film from Hitch has been called a farewell to England and farewell to youth.
    • Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey O’Brien wrote: “The mood is frankly sexy in a way that would never really be matched in Hitchcock’s American films, where even the most impassioned exchanges…seem too carefully planned to allow much room for spontaneity. Lockwood and Redgrave…really do seem like young people who have just met and who, despite their bumpy introduction, can’t wait to run off together. We never forget that these are young people still somewhat on the margins of the grown-up world, with Lockwood rushing too quickly into well-appointed adulthood by way of marrying the wrong man, and Redgrave lingering maybe a bit too long in uncommitted, footloose world roving—a forecast, perhaps, of the Grace Kelly–James Stewart couple in Rear Window, but in a younger and less neurotic mode.”

This film attempts to make not-so-subtle sociopolitical statements about Britain and its place in the world in 1938. Can you cite any examples?

  • The filmmakers are using allegory here to suggest that Neville Chamberlain and his government’s stance of appeasement to Hitler was a mistake and that the true grit and unified character of the British people would present itself and help the Brits defeat their foes.
    • Consider how Todhunter, who insists that their adversaries are reasonable, is shot in cold blood by the bad guys after waving a white flag.
    • The Brits on the train, meanwhile, including the would-be evil nun and the laid-back cricket lovers, turn out to be heroes who fight back and defeat the enemy.
  • DVD Savant writer Glenn Erickson wrote: “The Lady Vanishes reinforces 1930s' prejudices against Europeans, who exploit English gullibility and mask their murderous schemes with impeccable manners. When the chips are down the English show their true character. The war is still a year away, but the message imparted is that England can take it.”
  • This is also a movie about class distinctions: the middle class, represented by someone like Gilbert, contrasted with the snobby or idle upper class, as exemplified by Iris as well as Charters and Caldicott. By the end of the movie, the Brits from the upper and lower rungs of the social ladder are brought together for a common cause (defeat the fascists) and romantic passion (Iris and Gilbert fall in love).

Similar works

  • Hitchcock’s later efforts Foreign Correspondent (which also depicts a crime festering in Europe while the British pay no attention) and North by Northwest (which also takes place partially on trains)
  • So Long at the Fair, an adaptation of the true-life story of the strange disappearance of a young woman’s sibling during the 1880 Paris Exposition
  • The murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, which often also feature a plethora of memorable suspects
  • Silver Streak, which also features comedy and foul play and a missing agent aboard a train
  • Flight Plan, featuring Jodie Foster as a mother searching on an airplane for her child who’s disappeared during the flight.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Changeling
  • Narrow Margin
  • The films of Laurel and Hardy, the comedy duo that Calidcott and Charters, the cricket-obsessed train passengers, are often compared to
  • Bringing Up Baby, a screwball comedy also from 1938; Michael Redgrave’s character has been compared to Katherine Hepburn’s chaotic and destabilizing personality in Baby, and Margaret Lockwood’s Iris has similarities to Cary Grant’s David Huxley.
  • Two other class-sensitive British dramas of the late 1930s: Pygmalion and Goodbye Mr. Chips


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Cineversary podcast rediscovers the magic behind E.T. 40 years later

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #48, host Erik Martin revisits suburbia circa 1982 through the lens of Steven Spielberg and arguably his best film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which marks a 40th birthday this month. Joining Erik for this installment is James Kendrick, a film professor at Baylor University who teaches courses on Spielberg and serves as the QNetwork.com movie critic; and Caseen Gaines, a director, educator, pop culture historian, and author of several books including the forthcoming E.T. The Extra Terrestrial: The Ultimate Visual History. Erik and his guests will examine how E.T. set a new template for sci-fi adventure films, why and how it has stood the test of time, reasons it’s worth celebrating four decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, and more.

To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to Cineversary wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, SpotifyStitcherCastbox, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, and Overcast

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at anchor.fm/cineversary and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.
James Kendrick and Caseen Gaines

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A Street worth singing about

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Last week, our CineVerse film discussion group took a trip to Sing Street, a 2016 coming-of-age film set and shot in Ireland and featuring a variety of eighties pop tunes and original songs. Here’s a recap of our major discussion points (to hear a recording of our group chat, click here).

What did you find memorable, satisfying, unexpected, or distinctive about Sing Street?

  • It’s a modern movie musical in which the characters don’t burst into song like they would in a classic musical. Sing Street is both a jukebox musical in which many of the songs are popular tunes, not just original music, and a backstage musical wherein the plot is set in a theatrical context that focuses on a production, in this case, the creation of music videos.
  • It also boasts a wonderful period-authentic soundtrack of early- to mid-80s pop music.
  • It provides an intimate look at a dysfunctional family through the eyes of a sensitive teenager but defuses the tension with humor and brotherly rapport.
  • It’s a coming-of-age story that feels more authentic because it’s autobiographical, retelling the tale of the director’s adolescence in Dublin in the mid-1980s.

Major themes

  • Feeling trapped and trying to escape from it.
  • Conor finds escape from his troubled home life and confining school scene by pursuing music and the girl of his dreams.
  • Raphina seeks to run away with a lover to London.
  • Conor’s mother is stuck in an unhappy, loveless marriage until she finds someone else.
  • Conor’s brother Brendan has the reputation of the town stoner dropout who may never break away from his stifling hometown.
  • Even Conor’s bully finds a pressure release valve from his dysfunctional family by becoming the band’s roadie.
  • The power of music and self-expression. Conor and his friends find, in music, an outlet for their angst and frustration, and a means to impress the opposite sex, mature, and expand their identities. Like the increasingly complex music they are introduced to, Conor and his bandmates broaden their artistry, as reflected in more impressive songcraft and fashion sensibilities.
  • The importance of mentorship. Conor’s life changes when his brother inspires him to think differently, appreciate music and music videos as a worthy art form, and dare to be different creatively. The filmmakers devote Sing Street to “brothers everywhere.”

Similar works

  • The Commitments
  • Hearts Beat Loud
  • Almost Famous
  • School of Rock
  • Blinded by the Light
  • Good Vibrations
  • Nowhere Boy
  • Footloose
  • That Thing You Do
  • Saturday Night Fever

Other films by John Carney

  • Once
  • Begin Again

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It's time to tip our hat to this 99-year-old masterpiece

Monday, May 30, 2022

Harold Lloyd is regarded as the third genius of silent film comedy (although there are certainly more than a trio that can claim this status), right behind Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Perhaps his finest hour (73 minutes, to be exact) is Safety Last, a timeless laugher from 1923 with a higher ratio of yuks per minute than arguably any funny film ever made. Here’s a summary of our CineVerse group’s talking points when we met last week to analyze this unimpeachable classic (to hear a recording of our group chat, click here).

What elements in Safety Last stood out as impressive, unique, noteworthy, or unanticipated?

  • The events and stunts look and feel real, largely because the movie was shot on location outdoors in Los Angeles using actual buildings and featuring non-acting crowds that arrived to watch. It also looks authentic because Harold Lloyd and a human fly stuntman actually scaled that building, with a circus performer used for the foot-hanging-from-a-rope scene. Lloyd and these performers took significant risks and jeopardized their lives to make the action appear as genuine as possible. The filmmakers don’t use special effects or rear screen projection. Lloyd’s stunt work is all the more remarkable considering that he lost a thumb and index finger on one of his hands a few years earlier.
  • Lloyd, unlike silent comedian contemporaries Chaplin and Keaton, benefited from an everyman look and quality as well as his rounded spectacles, which gave him a more intelligent yet fallible appearance. Lloyd is billed as “the boy,” but his employee card clearly lists him as “Harold Lloyd.”
    • Lloyd said in interviews: “Someone with glasses is generally thought to be studious and an erudite person to a degree, a kind of person who doesn’t fight or engage in violence, but I did, so my glasses belied my appearance. The audience could put me in a situation with that in mind, but I could be just the opposite to what was supposed…In the pictures that I did, I could be an introvert, a little weakling, and another could be an extrovert, the sophisticate, the hypochondriac. They looked alike in appearance, with the glasses, which I guess you’d call a typical American boy.”
  • The movie’s first half primarily takes place indoors, while outdoor scenes dominate the second half.
  • The picture goes non-stop without any slowdown or weak scenes and is chock full of great jokes and gags—the finest and most extended of which is the scaling of the building—but there are gags within gags and climaxes within climaxes that layer the film with comedy and thrills. Amazingly, however, this 73-minute film only has about 10 scenes.
    • Despite its reputation as one of the greatest and funniest silent comedies, arguably, Safety Last is more entertaining and fulfilling as a thriller than a comedy.
  • Fascinatingly, Lloyd made more films and money than Chaplin and Keaton combined in their prime years.

Major themes

  • Good and bad timing. The boy is pressured to arrive at work on time, and frequently it appears that time is not on his side, but an actual clock face serves as a lifeline and continually he has the benefit of fortuitous timing. Consider, too, all the visual nods to time: the clock face, his body swinging like a pendulum, and the timeclock at work.
    • From the start, we are told: “The boy was always early.”
  • The economic and practical challenges of surviving and thriving in an increasingly industrialized metropolis. From public transportation that can’t accommodate him to throngs of angry customers seeking service in a busy department store, the boy is faced with one obstacle after another. His lack of capital also proves daunting.
  • Adapting quickly to your environment and thinking fast on your feet. Despite the numerous impediments and setbacks he faces, the boy learns to rapidly and intrepidly use surrounding resources to his advantage: from passing cars that transport him to work to coat hooks that hide him from the landlord to scissors he employs Solomon-like to settle an argument between two customers to a flagpole that helps him escape an angry dog.

Similar works

  • Films by Chaplin and Keaton, including Modern Times, Steamboat Bill, Jr., and The General
  • Man on Wire
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  • Die Hard
  • Project A

Other films by Harold Lloyd

  • The Freshman
  • Speedy
  • Grandma’s Boy
  • Why Worry?
  • Never Weaken
  • Girl Shy
  • For Heaven’s Sake

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Bizarre love triangle

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Costume drama period pieces that depict a historical event can be hit-or-miss affairs, depending on the caliber of acting, production values, attention to detail and authenticity, and directorial prowess. Thankfully, A Royal Affair, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, excels in most of these areas and provides a fascinating history lesson by reenacting a true-life story that many moviegoers know nothing about: how the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark is persuaded by his wife Caroline and his physician Johann Struensee to reform the laws and edicts of his country for the betterment of the Danish people, and the love triangle that ensues between these three characters. The CineVerse faithful deconstructed this picture last week and offered several interesting readings and insights into the film, shared below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What did you find distinctive, unexpected, refreshing, or satisfying about A Royal Affair?

  • The movie is well cast, with Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, and Mikkel Felsgaard playing their parts memorably and believably.
  • Many period dramas set in this era, especially stories about surreptitious romantic trysts and depicting the carnal natures of key characters, indulge in more nudity and titillating visuals designed to arouse the audience. This film shows relative restraint in its bedroom scenes without trying to exploit actress Alicia Vikander.
  • King Christian initially presents himself as a buffoonish, impish, and selfish pursuer of base pleasures and upholding little dignity or grace, despite his status. But he becomes a more sympathetic personality as the movie progresses. We see how little power he truly possesses and how he has been set up as a figurehead who is patronized and tolerated by the court and his stepmother. As we are more exposed to his mental illness, it’s easier to feel empathetic toward Christian, who is supposedly only 17 years old.
  • This is based on true characters and events, with less dramatic license taken than in many other historical cinematic dramatizations. If you didn’t know anything about the real Christian VII of Denmark and his queen and physician, you might assume that the filmmakers greatly exaggerated this story, its love triangle, and the reforms made by Christian and his children. But research supports this narrative as being predominantly accurate and authentic: There actually was a royal scandal involving these three, the dates given are mostly correct, and the majority of the events portrayed are grounded in fact.
  • This story is all the more intriguing and amazing because it hasn’t been dramatized before in a major motion picture, unlike the many iterations of, say, Marie Antoinette or Queen Elizabeth.

Major themes

  • The constant struggle for enlightenment, wisdom, and reason against the forces of oppression, ignorance, and selfishness. The doctor and the queen value knowledge, progressive thinking, and science and try to use their influence on the king to amend the laws and practices that will better the people of Denmark. But they are continually thwarted by the court, which favors maintaining the status quo, embraces religious rules, and resists critical thinking and the age of Enlightenment.
    • This is a theme that has significance today, as the world continues to see conflict between those who put stock in science, rational thought, and progressive advancements and those who hold fast to old beliefs and values that would set back the pace of progress.
    • Bluray.com reviewer Casey Broadwater wrote: “Politically minded viewers will notice parallels to several current arguments—from healthcare reform and women's rights to class warfare and the separation of church and state—and the film leaves the nagging impression that perhaps we haven't come as far since the Enlightenment as some of us would like to think.”
  • The pleasures and perils of forbidden love. Caroline is in a loveless arranged royal marriage in which she essentially has no power and receives and gives no affection to the king. She finds love and affectionate intimacy with Johann, the king’s doctor.
  • A complicated love triangle. The private lives and fates of King Christian, Caroline, and Johann are intertwined.
  • Serving a greater good. Caroline and Johann collaborate to influence the king to make changes for the good of their subjects, including persuading the king to prevent the court from making rules and laws. In doing so, they risk political turmoil, personal safety, and criticism from the Danish people.
  • Wearing and hiding behind masks versus revealing your true identity/nature.

Similar works

  • Queen Margot
  • Farewell My Queen
  • Amadeus
  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Marie Antoinette
  • The Favourite
  • The Great
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • The Duchess
  • The Tudors
  • Anna Karenina
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • The Madness of King George
  • The King’s Speech

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It's high time we take a closer look at High Noon

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Cinematic westerns don't have to be action-packed affairs brimming with violence to resonate with audiences. Case in point: High Noon, which this year marks a 70th anniversary. Our CineVerse group recently took a deep focus lens to this picture and analyzed its many facets, as summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here; to hear the most recent Cineversary podcast episode celebrating this movie, click here).

Why is this movie worth celebrating 70 years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • High Noon is one of the very finest and most commercially successful, acclaimed, and award-honored westerns ever made.
    • It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, eventually winning for best actor, earned by Gary Cooper, best song (as represented by Do not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’, which also became a popular musical hit), best film score, and best film editing. Consider that, in motion picture history, very few westerns have ever been nominated, let alone won Academy Awards. High Noon was also among the top-grossing movies of 1952.
    • It places #27 in the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, ranking as the second greatest western ever, on that list, among six westerns that made the cut. On a separate list of the 10 greatest westerns of all time, High Noon came in just behind The Searchers.
  • This is also likely the most controversial western ever, at least up to that point. That’s because it sparked a lot of debate after its release due to its political undertones and questioning themes, particularly considering that 1952 was the height of the red scare era, a time when witch hunts by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (also called HUAC) were conducted with the goal of outing communists in Hollywood. 
    • High Noon’s story can be interpreted as an allegory for the Hollywood community, like the town of Hadleyville, turning its back on a brave but reluctant hero who is threatened by a malevolent force eager to destroy him – much as HUAC and McCarthy were successful in destroying the careers of those in Hollywood who would not name names and denounce their communist ties.
    • Several people involved with the production, including screenwriter Carl Foreman, actor Lloyd Bridges, and cinematographer Floyd Crosby, were suspected of being communist sympathizers. Foreman was soon blacklisted after composing the script.
  • High Noon still matters because of the evident artistry on display. Screenwriter Carl Foreman, cinematographer Floyd Crosby, director Fred Zinnemann, producer Stanley Kramer, composer Dimitri Tiomkin, and editors Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad distinguish themselves here as fine craftsmen whose talents stand out, producing a work of lasting brilliance despite a measly $750,000 budget. 
    • The film’s simple but effective monochromatic compositions, clever cutting and montaging, effective pacing, recurrent musical theme, and memorable performances coalesce to create a highly effective, gripping, and emotionally potent morality tale in the guise of a western.
    • Several ingenious compositions stand out, especially those involving moving camera shots. Examples include shots framed from one side of a storefront window that reveals parallel planes of action on each side of the glass; shots of the Miller gang riding past the storefronts; an effective image of a spinning wagon wheel in the foreground and the passing town in the background; and the unforgettable crane shot that pulls away from Kane standing solitary in the empty center of town, revealing his utter isolation and implied powerlessness amidst a vast humanless landscape.
  • High Noon has also stood the test of time thanks to its evergreen thematic elements. Sure, the frontier town milieu is antiquated. Still, the essential messages at work – themes of betrayal versus loyalty, alienation versus inclusion, bravery versus cowardice, and duty and honor versus self-preservation – continue to resonate. This is a story that can transcend any genre; give it a science fiction setting, for example, and it could still work beautifully.
  • The thespians picked to play these parts are exceptional. What a deep bench—from Thomas Mitchel and Lloyd Bridges to Lon Chaney Jr. and Katy Jurado to Harry Morgan and Otto Kruger. Even the smallest roles are well cast.

How was High Noon innovative or different, especially compared to previous Hollywood westerns?

  • There’s minimal action until the last several minutes. Most westerns seek to entertain audiences with more physical conflict in the form of gunfights, fistfights, horseback chases, and more violence that is spread throughout a movie’s runtime.
  • The climactic gunfight is not exaggeratedly extended or stylistically depicted; we aren’t shown, for instance, multiple angles, slow motion, or protracted exchanges of gunfire. Instead, it’s quick, dirty, and realistic – one villain is shot in the back, and Miller tries to take Ann hostage. Kane doesn’t demonstrate any derring-do or do anything particularly heroic, although he shows cleverness when he escapes from the burning barn on horseback.
  • The story is told and shown virtually in real-time, depicting roughly 105 minutes of diegetic action within an 85-minute movie.
  • Most westerns are morally transparent: you clearly know the good guys from the baddies. In High Noon, there are a lot of grey areas concerning loyalties, duty, and rightness and wrongness; some townspeople prefer Miller’s lawless ways, others are doubtful of Kane’s motives, and others are indecisive. Are the villagers bad or wrong for not having Kane’s back? Each has their reasons and can rationalize their decision not to get involved. Is Kane foolish and reckless for not leaving town, possibly putting other people’s lives in danger? By the conclusion, it’s easy to deduce that Kane was in the right and made the correct choice to stay and fight, but we have to ask ourselves what we would do if we were one of those citizens in that situation.
  • The protagonist is stoic and heroic, but he’s also realistic, honest, and flawed: He admits to being frightened and abandons his lawman duties at the end. That's why his victory feels hollow at the end—Kane gives up the badge and rides off in bitterness and disgust.
  • Curiously, the antagonist, Miller, is not shown until the very end, although his expected arrival is given great importance by the characters. When he steps off the train, we aren’t even shown his face until a few moments later – a face that isn’t necessarily shocking or intimidating. The Miller reveal is rather anticlimactic when you ponder how much significance his impending arrival was given.
  • High Noon is not so much a traditional western as a parable or morality play depicting a social problem that transcends any genre.
  • Most westerns at this time were being filmed in color and were lavished with bigger budgets. This is a low-budget black-and-white affair, which described many poverty row oaters of this era; but unlike shoestring budget productions by lesser studios, High Noon could boast of top talents in front of and behind the camera. The filmmakers aimed for a documentary-like visual aesthetic and realism by choosing black-and-white minus the glossy production values.
  • This was the first major instance of a popular ballad theme song in a western, which was much copied thereafter in other films.
  • Despite these differences from previous pictures in the genre, High Noon employees many of the motifs, clichés, and patterns one would expect from a western, including a showdown climax that takes place on the streets of a deserted town; good characters vs. evil characters; a love story involving a pretty woman – in this case, two attractive and strong females; one or more scenes in a saloon filled with rough-and-tough customers; and the casting of great character actors and western movie faces we’ve come to expect and love, including Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Sheb Wooley, and Ian McDonald.

How was High Noon influential on cinema or popular culture?

  • Before High Noon, few dramatic films featured songs sung with lyrics; after High Noon, many did—especially westerns. Interestingly, the theme song prophesizes what is going to happen— the lyrics give hints as to Kane’s struggles to come as the story advances.
  • High Noon demonstrated the effectiveness of using time as a source of dramatic conflict; the frequent medium and close-up shots of clock faces percolate the suspense and continually remind the viewer of Kane’s seemingly doomed status. This movie sets the visual template for a deadline-driven story in which temporal matters are crucial to the characters and the plot.
  • This movie proved that strong female characters with greater agency made for a better story and enhanced the dramatic conflict. High Noon is blessed with two powerful woman characters: Amy, a female with strong religious convictions who refuses to acquiesce and be subservient to her husband; and Helen Ramirez, who runs her own business and proves to be a strong-willed, independent thinker who is fearless in the face of intimidating men. She inspires Amy to have her husband’s back. In fact, Amy plays a crucial role in saving Kane by killing one bad guy outright and tussling with Miller, which gives her husband the upper hand in that showdown. Essentially, instead of the male hero rescuing a damsel in distress, here we have a female hero rescuing a male in distress.
  • The prominent facial close-ups in High Noon may have encouraged later filmmakers to employ this tight facial framing, especially Sergio Leone in his spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
  • Several movies and television shows were arguably inspired by High Noon, including Shane, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Wild Bunch, Once Upon a Time in the West (particularly its extended opening sequence at the train depot), Forty Guns, Rio Bravo, and the TV series Gunsmoke. The films Outland and Three O’Clock High were also influenced by High Noon, and there was a 2000 TV remake of the same name.
  • High Noon is credited as the first Hollywood Western to feature a Mexican actress in a significant role – in this case, Katy Jurado as Helen Ramirez.
  • This picture also catapulted Grace Kelly’s brief but memorable acting career.

Why is Gary Cooper the right actor to play Marshall Will Kane? 

  • Cooper brings to the role the multiple morally righteous and virtuous characters we’ve seen him play in so many previous films, from Mr. Deeds Goes to Town to A Farewell to Arms to Sergeant York to The Pride of the Yankees. It’s easy to root for him based on his likable visage and earnest eyes alone.
  • As Kane, Cooper looks pained and aged – thanks in no small part to the fact that the actor was suffering from stomach ulcers, nagging hip discomfort, lower back pain, and a recent romantic breakup. His hangdog expressions, world-weary countenance, and quiet demeanor lend pathos to this personality, making it easy for us to feel the weight on his shoulders. We see the doubts behind his eyes and the strained sense of honor and compromised dignity.
  • He’s not an invulnerable force like a John Wayne protagonist or Clint Eastwood’s man with no name. Kane is utterly human and vulnerable, capable of forgetting his place as a lawman by punching the bartender in the saloon and shedding tears of fear in private as the clock strikes down. He’s also not very persuasive or vocally insistent, despite the extreme danger he faces.

What themes, messages, or morals are explored in High Noon?

  • Betrayal and disloyalty. Despite protecting his fellow villagers for many years and making the streets safer for women and children, Kane is abandoned by his community at his greatest time of need.
  • Civic duty and responsibility. It’s been said that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Instead of banding together and showing solidarity behind Kane, the community deserts him and shirks their obligations as responsible and engaged citizens.
    • Recall Martin’s notable remarks to Kane: “People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don't care. They just don't care.”
  • The dangers of moral corruption. Hadleyville has been carefully nurtured over the years to become an upstanding and safe place to raise families and engage in free enterprise. But the health and integrity of this community are only as robust as its moral core—the extent to which its citizens are willing to abide by law, order, decency, and virtue. Once they permit bad influences like Miller’s crowd to creep in, the town risks rotting from the inside out.
    • Kane resists this temptation toward moral corruption. DVD Journal reviewer Gregory Dorr wrote: “Kane has come to represent a sadly antiquated model of American man: an individualist bound by selfless and unyielding commitment to law and protecting those in his dominion; a man resistant to corrosive neuroses and unthwarted by moral relativism. As a result, Kane has become an icon for those who have not been roped into the post-sexual-revolution era of the “sensitive male” — from politicians, to columnists, to the fictional Mafiosi of HBO’s The Sopranos.”
    • Being forced to make difficult choices.
    • Kane is compelled to choose between courage, duty, and honor or self-preservation and cowardice.
    • Amy must decide whether to abide by her pacifist religious beliefs or stand by and protect her man.
    • Deputy Harvey Pell must choose between ego and friendship.
    • Kane’s friends—from the judge to Martin (the retired marshall) to Sam Fuller to Mayor Jonas to Herb—also have to decide whether to back Kane or not; each, in turn, forsakes him.

High Noon has often been called a liberal or progressive Western, one that was vilified in its day by conservatives like John Wayne and Howard Hawks, who labeled this film as anti-American and collaborated on 1959’s Rio Bravo as a sort of staunch rebuttal. But some argue that High Noon actually straddles the fence between being a liberal statement and a conservative one.  How can the film be interpreted politically today?

  • At the time of its production, the McCarthy witch hunts were going on when many Hollywood players were forced to name names of communist sympathizers—many of those persecuted made the brave choice to fight the persecution and stand ground.
    • Kane is betrayed and deserted by townspeople he thought were friends, just like many who were implicated, alienated, and blacklisted by confidants during the HUAC proceedings.
    • Screenwriter Carl Foreman said in an interview: “(Hollywood was) a community beginning to crumble around the edges as these high powered politicians came in ... putting this community through an inquisition that was getting more and more painful for a lot of people, and people were falling to the wayside one way or another. They were either capitulating to these gangsters – political gangsters from out of town – or they were being executed by them here. And I could see that my time was coming sooner or later – it was just being delayed by a couple years or so – and I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about the death of Hollywood.”
  • High Noon is also seen as an allegory of the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy during the Korean War, where America went it alone against communist North Korea.
  • DVD Savant critic Glenn Erickson wrote: “High Noon is actually a better fit as a conservative fantasy about America fighting Communism in foreign wars. Good ol’ Kane ([like] General MacArthur and company) defeated Evil foes five years ago (roughly the end of WW2), but now Evil is back and it’s personal. Nobody gives a damn, or worse, they’re on the side of the Commies. Kane must go it alone. Poor General MacArthur, stabbed in the back by the politicians. The pacifist argument in High Noon takes a conservative turn as well. Amy Fowler is a pacifist Quaker, yet has married a man whose profession involves gunplay and killing. When Amy blasts bad guy Robert J. Wilke in the back, the movie crudely suggests that Christian pacifism is a myth promoted by people who have never had to fight to protect their loved ones. Amy earns the right to keep her man the American Way, by killing for it.”
  • High Noon was actually employed in a Solidarity poster in Poland in 1979, which indicates that the film means different things for different people at different times.

What is High Noon’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • Possibly its greatest gift is its tense tonality and suspenseful pacing. The genius of this picture is its faithful adherence to temporal realism: telling the story in approximately real time and continually reminding us of the approaching deadline by using insert shots of different clocks ticking down the minutes and seconds to zero hour, aka high noon. It’s not just the clock face closeups that matter—it’s also the nervous glancing at said timepieces by Kane and other characters, their expressions instantly conveying an anxious cognizance of the increasing hopelessness and desperation of the situation.
  • The filmmakers also cunningly generate apprehension in the audience by simple suggestion of forthcoming violence. Quotes like “You know there'll be trouble,” “He was always wild and kind of crazy. He'll probably make trouble,” “Nobody wants to see you get killed,” “Plenty of people feel he’s got a comeuppance coming,” and especially “Have you forgotten what he is? Have you forgotten what he's done to people? Have you forgotten that he's crazy? Don't you remember when he sat in that chair and said, 'You'll never hang me. I'll come back. I'll kill you, Will Kane. I swear it, I'll kill you.’” Foreshadowing sequences further tighten the knot, such as the barber commissioning more coffins and kids engaging in a tug-of-war and playacting a street shootout in which one child says “bang bang, you’re dead, Kane!”
  • But the film’s pressure-building pièce de resistance is the wordless two-minute montage sequence that ticks down the final minutes before noon, in which Kane composes his last will and testament, we revisit the expectant faces of nearly every character previously shown in the film within the environments we last saw them in, and we are shown the tracks that will bring Miller’s train into the depot at any moment, a merciless metal pathway to perdition. Every shot is rhythmically timed to span exactly four beats of the film’s main theme that thrums hauntingly and increasingly louder. Each successive shot is framed as a tighter closeup, and the music builds to an emotional crescendo, halting suddenly as we hear the sound of the train whistle–at which point we get four rapid-fire cuts of Ann, Kane, Helen, and the Miller gang. This is classic Hollywood filmmaking at its very best, pure cinema that uses simple but strong visuals, stirring music, and precision editing to tell a riveting story within the story with no dialogue needed.

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We can't stop singing the praises of this musical gem

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Last month, one of Hollywood's finest musicals turned 70 years old. All these decades later, Singin' in the Rain continues to satisfy and satiate our desire for unbridled cinematic joy expressed in expert dancing and melody-making. What makes this movie stand apart from other pictures in the genre? Read on for reasons why Singin- in the Rain still matters today (to listen to the Cineversary podcast celebrating this movie, click here).

Why is this film worth celebrating 70 years later, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It’s been called “the musical for people who don’t like musicals.” Perhaps that’s because it checks the boxes across several musical subgenres:
    • It’s a jukebox musical in which most of the songs are popular tunes, not just original music.
    • It’s a backstage musical wherein the plot is set in a theatrical context that focuses on a stage production or, in this case, a movie production.
    • You can call it a catalogue musical because it often features a catalogue of songs from a single songwriting source, here being MGM’s Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
    • Singin’ in the Rain is an integrated musical, as well, in which the music is used to advance or mesh with the narrative, and characters don’t just burst into song without reason.
  • It’s worth celebrating because Singin’ in the Rain stands as the pinnacle of the classic Hollywood musical, the apex of works produced by Arthur Freed at MGM – which also include the Wizard of Oz, Cabin in the Sky, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, on the Town, An American Paris, and The Band Wagon.
  • The film also represents a collection of top talents at the height of their powers, in particular Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Stanley Donen, and Arthur Freed, who have debatably never produced better work.
  • It’s cherished, as well, thanks to its chromatic vibrancy, being shot in sumptuous three-strip Technicolor, which really pops in the Broadway Melody sequence and the Beautiful Girl montage.
  • Singin' in the Rain also holds up because many of the songs and dancing seem spontaneous, improvised, natural, effortless, and made up on the spot. Many of the songs serve as musical representations and articulations of a character’s emotions, too. Cases in point: The Moses Supposes scene looks and feels a bit silly because Don and Cosmo apparently find the lessons ridiculous and can’t take the teacher seriously, so they treat the scene and the instructor somewhat irreverently, while Broadway Rhythm plays as kinetic and urgent, suggesting that the need to dance is essential for practical as well as personal reasons.
    • Infectious energy, enthusiasm, and playfulness pulse through these numbers, and you can’t help but tap your toes, hum along, and share many of the emotions felt by these characters. We appreciate the feeling of genuinely falling in love because Kelly sells it so well during the titular dance sequence.
  • What’s more, Singin’ in the Rain doesn’t date because it serves as a minor history lesson in how early movies were made, loosely documenting the problematic transition from silent pictures to talkies. It demonstrates how the machinery of moviemaking pulls off the magic trick: how microphones, lights, cameras, backdrops, and other elements function to help create a film. Because it was set in 1927, the year the first talking movies were released, it serves as a compelling period piece that helps Singin’ in the Rain from feeling outmoded.
    • Consider that the movie business continually confronts times of change and challenging periods of technical transition, whether it was the rollout of 3-D and widescreen in the 1950s or the initiative to install digital projection systems in theaters in recent years.
    • Slant Magazine reviewer Chris Cabin wrote: “The most exquisite and exuberant dream of the dream machine in transition, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain includes perhaps one of the greatest examples of how art, with its constant advances and detractions, can at once wildly embellish and find the emotional truth of an artist’s persona. And it is, of course, the greatest film to date about the pitfalls and promises that come along with change in film, though its ideas are so clear and profoundly realized that they have by now become universally relatable. Made today, it might have been about the move from film to digital, from the theater to VOD, from print criticism to blogging.”
  • Despite winning no Oscars and not being cherished in its own era for its brilliance, Singin’ in the Rain ranks as the best musical ever, per the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest Movie Musicals, places #5 in the AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest films of all time, and commands a rare 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Lastly, in a movie known primarily for stellar dancing and memorable music, it’s loaded with great comedic lines, like “She so refined – I think I’ll kill myself;” “Dignity, always dignity”; “Call me a cab”/“Okay, you’re a cab”; “Gee, this is dumb”; and the following exchange between Cosmo and R.F: “Talking pictures, that means I’m out of a job. At last, I can start suffering and write that symphony.”/“You’re not out of job, we’re putting you in as head of our new music department.”/Oh, thanks, R.F.! At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony.”

How was this movie innovative or different, especially compared to previous Hollywood musicals?

  • It integrated different types of dancing, including tap, ballet, ballroom, jazz, can-can, and a more athletic style of hoofing and movement that, for instance, breakdance and hip-hop dancers can appreciate nowadays. Singin’ in the Rain also showcases some of the best male tandem dancing ever and three-person dancing.
    • Kelly, O’Connor, and Reynolds make it look easy, even though it was challenging work choreographing and executing these dance moves.
    • Amazingly, Reynolds had no professional dancing experience before being cast, although she was a skilled gymnast. It was also her first starring role in a musical.
  • Rare for a 1950s musical, most music in the film is recycled: All but two of the 15 songs, Moses Supposses and Make ‘Em Laugh, were used previously in movies, mostly between 1929 and 1939.
  • This musical actually has a solid plot with an intriguing narrative, as opposed to so many previous song and dance pictures. And the story was written directly for the screen—not based on a stage musical.
  • Unlike many prior musicals, where the screenplay was written first and then songs were composed to fit the story, the songs in Singin’ in the Rain existed first, followed by the script.
  • Indeed, it actually tells a story, depicting Hollywood’s challenging crossover from silents to talkies. We learn how the sausage is made: the placement of the microphones, lip-synching, synchronizing the picture and sound, a traveling cyclorama, the importance of test screenings, stiff competition between the studios, and the degree to which Hollywood actors were commodities owned by the studio (recall, for example, that Kathy is obligated to perform because of her contract with Monumental Pictures).
  • In her book, The Movie Musical!, film scholar Jeanine Basinger wrote: “It’s a film about film history, and its musical numbers comply. “Make ’Em Laugh,” with O’Connor doing an amazing tour de force of slapstick dancing, is about the violence of American silent comedy. “Moses Supposes” is like a Marx Brothers routine set to music. “You Were Meant for Me” is a gentle self-parody of typical love duets in movies, showing all the props used and how audiences are manipulated by them. “Beautiful Girl” is a tribute to a 1930s Busby Berkeley number, and “Good Morning” uses an old song as a setting for an imaginatively choreographed tap routine that displays several different types of movie dancing. All the numbers are about movies except “All I Do Is Dream of You” and the title tune.”
  • Furthermore, Singin’ in the Rain stands as an uncommon example in its era of a metafilm—showing movies within the movie and commenting on the creation, editing, and distribution of motion pictures.
    • Exhibit A: This film is chock full of references and nods to previous movies and filmmakers, and savvy watchers can have a lot of fun looking for the bread crumbs, such as:
      • The majority of tunes had been featured in previous Hollywood musicals, as mentioned earlier; in fact, this was the seventh time the song "Singin' in the Rain" was used in a film.
      • Make Em Laugh riffs on Cole Porter’s Be a Clown from 1948’s The Pirate.
      • The movie uses plenty of antique props and older sets employed in earlier films; for instance, Kathy’s jalopy was a fixture in the Andy Hardy series starring Mickey Rooney.
      • Studio boss R.F. Simpson and the musical director character of Cosmo were modeled on Arthur Freed.
      • The Dancing Cavalier director Roscoe Dexter is patterned after musical filmmaker Busby Berkeley.
      • The film mentions 1927’s The Jazz Singer, credited as the first feature-length talking picture.
      • The action scenes in "The Royal Rascal" use footage from the 1948 film The Three Musketeers.
    • Exhibit B: Singin’ in the Rain both lampoons and lionizes Hollywood and show business, hinting at the warts-and-all truth behind filmmaking with comedic criticism while also glorifying the glitz, glamour, and glory days of the studio system and early popular entertainment.
    • Exhibit C: There’s even a meta irony in this film. We see how Lina’s voice is dubbed by Kathy, who is a better singer, but Debbie Reynolds’ singing voice is actually dubbed by singer Betty Noyes in two songs: “Would You?” and in part of “You Are My Lucky Star.”
  • Lastly, Singin’ in the Rain continues Kelly’s trend of utilizing a more athletic, masculine, everyman style meant to relate to everyday people. Kelly is more physical and acrobatic than the Hollywood hoofer he was most often compared to, Fred Astaire, who was more smooth, sophisticated, and graceful. Kelly also enjoyed using props in his dance routines, which he does with much aplomb in Singin’ in the Rain via an umbrella, lamppost, hat, coin, scarf, couch, lampshade, curtains, or briefcase.

How was Singin’ in the Rain influential on cinema, comedy, or popular culture?

  • This movie was a major inspiration to later films and TV shows, including Moulin Rouge, High School Musical and its sequels, Chicago, The Artist, Rock of Ages, La La Land, and Glee.
  • Singin’ in the Rain showed how efficiently and effectively you could advance the narrative through dance and music. Ponder how most if not all the songs follow logically from a character’s motivation or previous explanation. Take the Fit as a Fiddle number, which establishes Don’s past and professional relationship with Cosmo, and consider why the title song comes later in the tale because it occurs just after Don realizes he’s in love, serving as a jubilant expression of his sentiments toward Kathy and the joie de vivre he’s experiencing.
  • Particularly with this movie, Kelly perfected a new approach to presenting dance on film. According to Kelly: “I tried to do things uniquely cinematic, that you couldn’t do on a stage. Call it ‘cine-dancing,’ or whatever, but I tried to invent the dance to fit the camera and its movements.”
    • Ranker.com’s Erin McCann wrote: “One of the best examples of this can be seen in Singin’ In The Rain, when the camera pulls back, the music swells, and Kelly dances using wide movements. Then, as the camera closes in on him, the music softens and his movements become less dramatic. This technique focuses your attention and creates a sense of intimacy; it’s a vastly different approach than previously standard massive wide shots attempting to replicate the spectacle of Broadway. It also allows for the increased use of depth in cinematic space.”
  • Singin’ in the Rain boasts perhaps the best and one of the first examples of physical comedy implemented in a dance number with Make ‘Em Laugh.
    • Consider how the Beautiful Girl montage, especially its first 60 seconds, serves as a kind of proto-music video with its colorfully costumed women, stylistic shots of marching female soldiers and a man shouting out of a megaphone, and various beauties clad in ostentatious attire. It feels like a kind of early MTV video with its rapid cuts and eye-catching visuals.

It’s rare for any classic film from the golden age of Hollywood to have two directors. Why were Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly the ideal collaborators?

  • They had co-directed an earlier film together that was a commercial and critical success: On the Town from 1949, starring Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
  • It would make sense for Donen to share directorial duties with the person responsible for choreographing all the dancing and who performed most of the dance numbers.
  • Film critics and scholars have noted Singin’ in the Rain’s longer-than-usual takes and an active camera that consistently travels and tracks with characters.
  • In his essay on this film for Deep Focus Review, Brian Eggert https://deepfocusreview.com/definitives/singin-in-the-rain/wrote: “Kelly learned that movement onscreen depends on the movement of the camera, and viewers of a stage performance saw something different than a film’s audience. On the stage, dancers appeared smaller and had to occupy the entire stage along with their costars, so large movements became more important than acting; on film, the camera could move along with the dancer, and the viewer could better appreciate specific movements onscreen, in particular, the actor’s ability (or inability) to remain in character during the dance…The key to cine-dance was shooting dance in such a way that dance never distracted from the film’s narrative thrust. To accomplish this, Donen used tracking and crane camera techniques that trail the dancing without the wobbly movements of earlier musicals, allowing Singin’ in the Rain’s dance sequences to contain a rare faithfulness to the narrative for a Hollywood musical, as the songs and dance blend seamlessly with the drama and humor.”

What themes, messages, or morals are explored in Singin’ in the Rain?

  • Illusion vs. reality. Audiences are constantly seduced by the fantastical power of perfect-looking movies. But Singin’ in the Rain reveals that creating films involves sometimes imperfect technology that marries sound to image in a way that fools the mind into thinking that what we are seeing represents reality and looks effortless.
    • Recall how, early in the story, Don reminisces his backstory to the reporter, but we are shown the hard-luck truth of what he is exaggerating.
    • Ruminate on how Kathy portrays herself as a serious actress, but her real job is to jump out of cakes and function as a background player.
    • Mr. Simpson is the head of the studio and wants to come off as powerful, but he is afraid of angering his stars.
    • The plot itself is partially centered on how to get Lina to appear to have more talent than she really does. By peeling back the curtain and presenting Lina as the fraudulent talent she is, the illusion is broken for the crowd she entertains and the truth of Kathy’s singing gift is revealed.
    • The characters of Lina and Kathy, respectively, represent illusion versus reality as well as two distinctly different types of women vying for Don’s attention.
      • Lina is glamorous, rich and powerful, more classically feminine, and a platinum blonde, while Kathy is tomboyish, shorter, brown-haired, and a starving artist.
      • Lina is dim-witted, smart-alecky, urban, and vindictive, while Kathy is sharp, intuitive, humble, small-townish, and morally upright.
      • Lina demands the spotlight, but Kathy is willing to concede it.
  • Dignity vs. humiliation. Time and again, we are shown how Don, Cosmo, Kathy, and Lina try to maintain their self-respect and poise in the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood but are regularly shamed, demeaned, and embarrassed.
  • Performing and performances. Singin’ in the Rain continually reminds us of the pressure felt by artists to impress and entertain audiences, nail the opportunity, and perform well in front of and behind the camera.
  • Getting closer to the heart of the matter via increased intimacy. In an interview, film historian Sam Wasson said: “The whole movie can be read as a progression from the exterior – the way it opens with that lie – to the climax of the Broadway Melody number, which is all about (Don’s) imaginings. We quite literally go from outside to inside, and the musical numbers themselves describe that progression.”

What is Singin’ in the Rain’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • Among its many gifts is the title track dance in the downpour by Gene Kelly, easily the most memorable music and visual from the film – one that transcends time and is referenced in popular culture to this day. Not only is this a logistical and technical triumph of mise en scene, but Kelly’s emotionally animated footwork and physical exuberance are unforgettable. We’ve certainly seen him do more athletically impressive movements to music, and this may not be his most complex choreography ever. Yet it’s the most believable dancing many have seen from Gene because it feels and looks like the way a young man might behave upon first realizing that he’s smitten with someone. We may not be able to tap tirelessly and flawlessly across the wet pavement like Mr. Kelly, but we can relate to the sheer joy that electrifies his legs and gives his feet wings. We can recall times in our youth when we stomped around giddily in rain puddles and twirled an umbrella. You simply can’t help but grin by the song’s end and feel young again. (And I’m occasionally reminded of the power and lasting influence of this number when I visit the produce section of my local supermarket; every so often while perusing the rows of carrots, radishes, kale, and spinach, I’m startled by the sudden operation of an automatic overhead irrigation system that plays the disembodied voice of Gene Kelly singing this song as the veggies are delicately misted. It’s little wonder why my produce is so crisp, fresh, and tasty—after all, a Hollywood icon has serenaded them!). Additionally, this song is probably Kelly’s best vocal performance on film, as well.
  • Greatest gift number two is Make ‘Em Laugh, which never fails to deliver on that title’s promise. Donald O’Connor is a sheer force of nature with his funny business here, and his pliant, slapsticky, superhuman performance speaks for itself. (This was the film and this was the scene that got my son to sit down for and pay attention to classic films back when he was five years old and a thousand Disney flicks were vying for his attention.)
  • Greatest gift number three is the Broadway Melody sequence: an uber-colorful medley of fanciful fantasy that blends several discrete dancing and musical styles. It doesn’t exist in the characters’ reality—Don recommends inserting it as a showstopper within a re-edit of the Dancing Cavalier. Narratively, however, it functions as a crucial turning point in Don’s ability to reveal his emotions to Kathy, and it externalizes his internal crisis about his acting skills keeping pace with his dancing aptitude and vice versa. One reading suggests that the Broadway Melody fantasy is a reaction in Don’s mind to Kathy’s criticism of his acting and how Don had compromised himself by not pursuing his true talent—dancing—and how he should return to it. Regardless of your interpretation, the garish hues, elaborate steps, balletic brilliance, nimble camera movement, and sheer number of moving parts in Broadway Melody are stunning, making it a self-contained masterpiece within a masterpiece.

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Cineversary brings out the big guns to celebrate High Noon's 70th anniversary

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #47, host Erik Martin turns back the clock to commemorate the 70th birthday of one of the most beloved westerns of all time: High Noon, directed by Fred Zinnemann. In this installment, Erik serves as a trusty deputy of sorts to film scholar sheriff Glenn Frankel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Erik and Glenn explore how High Noon changed the western genre, why it’s worth celebrating seven decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, and what we can learn from this study in temporal tension today.
Glenn Frankel


To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at anchor.fm/cineversary and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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