Friday, August 21, 2015

Projected on Smoke

More or less Random Ramblings down the aisle of my Home Cinema theater…

Oh, how I scoffed at Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy the first time I saw them in Rose Marie. Oh, how I mocked the signature song of that movie: “When I’m Calling Yooooooooo-woo-woo-woo, woo-woo-wooooooo!” But my mother would have them in the house… she had grown up watching them on the Big Screen, and was enamored with their movies. I don’t know when it happened, but after a few years of poking fun at them, god help me, I started to like them. Now their best movies are among my favorites — I know! I know! But I can’t resist their strange power from the past. Maytime is indeed one of their best, but also the only one that I know of which is an out-and-out tearjerker. MacDonald and Eddy were on-again, off-again offscreen lovers, and it shows: their duets are hauntingly erotic. Maytime has all the elements: it is lovely to look at, delightful to listen to, and features a strong supporting cast in John Barrymore and Herman Bing. Barrymore character is so bitter that he’s brittle; and when he cracks you know it isn’t going to end happily. At last, at last, nearly all the MacDonald/Eddy musicals are available on DVD: and you can’t go wrong — if you approach it with an open spirit — with Maytime or Rose Marie.


It’s been very much an animated summer, in a way that has restored my faith in animation as an art form despite the numerous nauseating attempts of Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar to foist upon the public the flattest, dumbest, most bone-headed and trivial movies that they possibly can. Of course theirs are the movies that win the Academy Awards, because between the two of them they practically own Hollywood. This doesn’t make their movies any less lousy, any less strictly paint-by-numbers. Walt Disney himself would be disgusted with the product that today goes out under his name. For real animated features, ones that stir the senses and the spirit and bathe us in marvels as the medium has always been capable of, one must look abroad.

Among my favorite animated outings this summer (which has included a boatload of product from the great, defunct Studio Ghibli as well as from Britain’s Aardman studio — more on them in another post) is 2010’s Chico and Rita. The picture opens in Castro’s Cuba, which it conjures in mesmerizing detail, but it wastes no time in whisking us back into the heady post WWII years when Havana was hot and the jazz was hotter. The story is one of those Romances in which the lovers are apart more often than together, but in is evocation of Cuba and America in the heyday of Jazz it is jaw-dropping, flawless, beautiful. When was the last time you saw a grown-up story animated this powerfully? It’s a Romance that lies not in the smooching or rolling around in bed (although there is a fair amount of that), but in its elegant worldview, in the colors, sights and sounds. For anyone sated on the Dreary Disney product, this is a real shot in the arm.

Of course it's not the first time I've seen A Hard Day’s Night. But it is the first time I've seen it in the original widescreen, in HD and full stereo, on a modern big screen telly. So it feels like the first time.

Wow. This is  not just the best Beatles movie, but (as everyone already knows) a real cinematic game-changer. Somewhere in the top all-time 100? I think so.

When, early in the film, the boys all play and sing "I Should've Known Better" in the freight car, I get all choked up every time. It's just a perfect little thing, you wouldn't change any part of it if you could... and it was all so long ago, now. A whole other world. I feel lucky to have lived in simpler times than this, and lucky that I can still, to some failing degree, travel back to those times through the magic of film.

— Frede. 

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