Blog Directory CineVerse: Have yourself a merry little meetup in St. Louis

Have yourself a merry little meetup in St. Louis

Thursday, December 19, 2019

To celebrate the diamond anniversary of an MGM musical gem, CineVerse shifted into Cineversary mode last night to honor "Meet Me In St. Louis," a movie that detractors may consider mawkish, antiquated, and irrelevant today. But our group found ample meaning and merit in this bygone pleasure. Here's a summary of our discussion:

Why this movie is worth celebrating all these years later

  • The music won an Oscar and is among the most memorable song cycles in the Hollywood musical genre. Many of the tunes have become standards, including “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Have Yourself a Mary Little Christmas.” The latter number was especially resonant to viewers in 1944, many of whom were missing their loved ones fighting overseas in the war and yearning for them to come home and be reunited with the family.
  • The vibrant Technicolor on display is incredible. The filmmakers were able to create an idealized yet fantasy-like world thanks to the chromatic palette provided by the Technicolor process.
  • The narrative structure, being segmented by the four different seasons, provides a simple yet effective way to tell the story of one family’s growth and transition over a set period of time. As each season progresses, so too do the characters, who come of age more as time passes.
  • There isn’t much of a plot here, tension and conflict are lacking, and not every song is memorable. But what the film has in spades is emotional resonance, courtesy of its reliance on nostalgia and idealized depictions of domestic harmony and everyday life in a typical American family from 120 years ago—a family where the kids squabble, joke, pine for love, etc.

Ways in which this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends 

  • The film intended to make people appreciate the importance of families and happy and secure domestication.
  • Consider that this World War II was still raging at this time. This movie made viewers appreciate what we were fighting for – the preservation of the American family and all the values that were held dear.
  • This is also a nostalgic film that, in 1944, provided a vision of what America could be again. It demonstrates that wistfulness and nostalgia can be powerful tools to tell a cinematic story and emotionally impact viewers.
  • This is the picture that launched the golden age of the MGM musical (overseen by Arthur Freed) that lasted until the early 1960s. It’s also the film that established Vincente Minnelli as a notable filmmaking talent and Judy Garland as a major star.

Themes and messages explored in “Meet Me In St. Louis”

  • The importance of family values and staying true to your roots. So long as the family stays together, it doesn’t matter what happens in life.
  • There’s no place like home—a message shared by Garland’s earlier film “The Wizard of Oz”.
  • Coming of age, experiencing first love, and maturing into a new stage of life.
  • Hope springs eternal: It’s fitting that the film’s final act falls in springtime, a time of renewal and rebirth when love, like the flowers, are in bloom.

Whom the film appealed to initially when it was released in 1944, and whom it appeals to today

  • As aforementioned, in 1944 this picture would’ve resonated among families eager to see an end to the war; any homesick soldiers who would have seen it would probably have been moved by it, as well. Being that it was also a musical with a primarily female cast, it would’ve likely appealed primarily to female viewers.
  • Today, the messages of the film – be true to your roots, honor thy mother and father, continue family traditions in familiar settings – probably don’t resonate among modern audiences. They aren’t likely to be inspired to marry the boy next door, buy a single-family home in the neighborhood they grew up in, and live life like mom and dad and grandma and grandpa.
  • However, the simple values on display here, the fantasy of having a normal, close-knit family, and the imagery of Americana can still pack a punch and make a contemporary watcher feel wistful for these things they’ve likely never experienced.
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “The world of Meet Me In St. Louis is a 1944 dream of a life most Americans never had. Yet it is the sentimental definition of the American way of life that our troops were defending. America's official ideals were accepted by a much greater consensus of the country back then, which some people think was a good thing. Although it is an idealized fantasy, this is one of the key films my generation could have looked to, to understand our parents' generation.”

Elements that may be problematic nowadays

  • This film unintentionally demonstrates the negative effect of a male-dominated society and the pressures it imposes on women, at least back in this time period. Today, the film demonstrates the relative lack of freedom and agency that women had back then as well as their methods for coping with society’s limitations. Consider, for example, that Tootie gets respect on Halloween by wearing male cosplay; the mother acquiesces to her husband’s rules and wishes; and the older sisters eagerly await and bank on marriage proposals, suggesting that a female’s prime ambition was to land a man to marry. In this turn-of-the-century time era, men had the vast majority of jobs and college educations. Ponder, as well, that every vehicle and outlet for escape for these women is literally driven by men: the trolley, the ice truck, etc. 
  • On the other hand, we see how Esther strongly defends her sister physically and verbally and castigates her father after nearly spoiling Rose’s telephone call opportunity, and we learn that Mr. Smith is preparing to send Rose to college.

This movie's greatest gift to viewers

  • At a time when many people criticize the dangers of living in the past and celebrating sentimentality, this film’s entire central premise celebrates nostalgia and its feel-good effect.
  • Today, the media and popular culture often reinforce how different we are generationally, and how it’s healthy and necessary to break from your parent’s unhip and outdated values and traditions. But this film is telling you that being in a loving family is cool, and that family dysfunction isn’t a universal experience.
  • Also, you need not have lived in 1944, or 1903 for that matter, to appreciate this movie’s themes, characters, music, or values.

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