Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hollywood Singing & Dancing

Yesterday, Wed., March 26, the American Cinematheque at the Aero in Santa Monica launched a five-day series of musical screenings with Hollywood Singing and Dancing, a new anthology film directed by Mack McLaughlin. (The film actually had its LA premiere at the Egyptian in Hollywood on March 19).

Director McLaughlin appeared after the screening, along with Shirley Jones who appeared in and narrated the documentary. The 111-minute film covers a lot of territory, from the birth of sound (and thus the musical film) in the late 1920s through Chicago and Dreamgirls. There are new interviews with artists who have been involved with musicals both past and present, but for those familiar with the genre there is otherwise not a lot new material or footage and no real revelations.

There was also virtually no criticism of any of the films on view, and flopolas like Hello Dolly seemed to be put on equal ground with Singing In the Rain and On the Town. There will probably be a DVD with some or all of the 13 hours of material originally shot for the film. McLaughlin also mentioned a public television series, but, tellingly, said PBS was only interested in musicals from the 30s to the ‘50s.

However, it was an entertaining evening, though (like PBS) my interest somewhat flagged when the film moved out of the studio era and into the latter decades of the 20th century. (Clips from Ken Russell’s Tommy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show do add a few jolts of bizarre energy to the second half).

But on the whole all the film clips were wonderful to see on the big screen and if nothing else the concentrated overview that Hollywood Singing and Dancing provides also proves that, even with some less than pristine clips, the Technicolor and color styling of MGM and other major studios of the era absolutely peaked in the musicals of the 1940s and early 50s. (The brief clip from the American in Paris ballet was virtually breathtaking on the big screen!)

Ironically a “Quick Take” in the March 25 LA Times noted that a revival of West Side Story is in the offing for Broadway, two years after its 50th anniversary. The item also revealed that author Arthur Laurents does not care for the 1961 film version and that the revival will do a tougher take on the Sharks and Jets.
Commented Laurents: “They’re not adorable street kids. They’re killers, each and every one of them. They’re vicious and they have to be played that way.”
In that case perhaps Scorsese will be called upon direct a new film version with Leonardo DiCaprio. Maybe they could also restore some of Steven Sondheim’s original lyrics, which, though not that controversial, were nonetheless adapted (censored) for the film version (as were most Broadway lyrics of the era).

For the rest of the Aero Cinematheque series:
March 27, Cabaret and All The Jazz; March 28, Singing in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (the latter in CinemaScope); March 29, a 70mm screening of the 147-minute Hello Dolly! (I’ve got my tickets!); March 30, Showboat (1951), and Carousel.

MGM star Kathryn Grayson was scheduled to appear at this Sunday screening but her appearance has been cancelled at the last minute. When Grayson was indisposed I had to settle for Streisand. However, Gene Kelly’s widow, Patricia Kelly, is scheduled to appear at the gala Dolly screening.

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