Last month I watched three films on Turner Classic Movies that made think about the relationship of music to movies and music to audiences. What struck me about all three films was the way music was part of the fabric of the society portrayed and played an integral role in community life. In two of the films and most of the third, the music is presented as performances in places and venues where it made perfect sense to perform songs and instrumental musical pieces. Only one of the films, IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (1947), directed by Richard Whorf, featured people breaking into song amidst the settings and activities of everyday life, although this only happens two or three times in the movie. Every other number in the film is a performance number in places where it was perfectly logical to perform music. The other two films starred the great American tenor Mario Lanza: THE GREAT CARUSO (1951), directed by Richard Thorpe, in which Lanza played opera legend Enrico Caruso, and SERENADE (1956), directed by Anthony Mann, a grand melodrama based on a novel by James M. Cain about an opera singer’s rise, fall and rise again in contemporary America. One can make the case that THE GREAT CARUSO and SERENADE are not, strictly speaking, musicals but instead are films about music.
I recently picked up a used 2-disc set containing THE FRENCH CONNECTION and various extras, including two documentaries on the film, deleted scenes, and separate audio commentaries by stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider and director William Friedkin. First, I re-watched the film for the first time since seeing it on cable sometime in the 1990s. I then went through all the extras. But before I get to my reevaluation, a little history is in order.
This post is my contribution to the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in support of the first National Classic Movie Day. The home page for the blogathon can be found here:
Since a couple of the favorites I would have picked were already taken by other bloggers (e.g. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and CASABLANCA), I opted for PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), which I saw for the first time as an adult and quickly became a favorite after a TV viewing and a big-screen viewing. I wrote a piece about it after the big-screen showing, which took place 24 years ago yesterday, and, since the piece has never been published, I decided to use it as my entry in this Blogathon. The emphasis is on the film’s use of New York City locations and how they contribute to the romantic and otherworldly aura of the film. Without further ado, here is the original essay:
Richard Widmark would have turned 100 this coming Friday, December 26, 2014. He died only six years ago on March 24, 2008, at the age of 93, having outlived 95% of his co-stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner and Doris Day are among the few who have outlived him and are still with us. Lauren Bacall outlived him by six years.) Widmark had a solid career as a leading man in Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1970s before turning to character parts (and the occasional TV movie lead) in the 1970s to early ’90s. His last movie role was in TRUE COLORS (1991) and his last TV role was the male lead in COLD SASSY TREE (1989).
MAKE YOUR MOVE opened in New York theaters yesterday (April 18, 2014), after circulating in other countries around the world last year. It’s an American-South Korean co-production (shot mostly in Canada) starring Derek Hough, from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” and BoA, a Korean pop star who’s had her most significant success in Japan over the past ten years or so. The film is a musical centering on dance (making it a “dancical,” to use a term my daughter introduced to me), and is set primarily in Brooklyn among a subculture of underground dance clubs and assorted acts employing a wide range of dance styles. It was written and directed by Duane Adler, who’s credited with the screenplays for two notable teen dance movies, SAVE THE LAST DANCE (2001) and STEP UP (2006) and two additional dance-themed movies, THE WAY SHE MOVES (2001, TV) and MAKE IT HAPPEN (2008). I went to see this (at a 42nd Street multiplex) without having seen much in the way of this genre (other than the Disney Channel HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and CHEETAH GIRLS franchises), so I don’t know how closely it hews to the teen dance formula. I came to this film as a onetime fan of BoA and happen to have a couple of her albums containing song CDs and music video DVDs in my collection. I’ve dabbled a little bit in K-pop (Korean pop music), although my main interest is in J-pop (Japanese pop music). (The BoA albums I have are sung in Japanese.) In any event, MAKE YOUR MOVE is the first American movie with an Asian female pop star in the lead. (NINJA ASSASSIN, 2009, had a male Korean pop star, Rain, in the lead but it wasn’t a musical.)
Today, August 30, 2013, is the 42nd anniversary of my first trip to a 42nd Street movie theater (on August 30, 1971). I’ve amassed quite a bit of material related to that trip, so it seemed like a good opportunity to commemorate it. I’ve managed to re-watch both films seen on that trip and I’ve been in touch with both friends who accompanied me that day. The film that drew us was SHAFT, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree as a black private eye with an office in Times Square, an apartment in Greenwich Village, and a client in Harlem, locations that marked three of the major centers of street life in New York in the early 1970s. The second feature chosen to play with it was, oddly enough, a low-budget black-and-white science fiction film made in 1956 called IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, a title that had already played on television regularly by this point. The film was directed by Roger Corman and the stars were Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef. I suspect it was Van Cleef’s presence in the cast that gave it some cachet, since Van Cleef had become popular among 42nd Street audiences thanks to the steady stream of Italian westerns he’d made after reviving his career with appearances in two of the movies making up Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Van Cleef’s name was prominently displayed on the theater marquee as this shot from the time shows:
The theater was the Lyric, situated in the middle of a row of six theaters on the north side of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the famous “Deuce” of New York legend. SHAFT had opened in New York on July 2 at the DeMille Theater on Broadway and 47th Street, but I don’t know at what point in its run it started playing at the Lyric. The marquee in that picture says “Held Over 4th Big Week,” but I couldn’t say whether that was in July, August or September.
I was in Times Square last night and I went into Forever 21, the store that is situated where Virgin Megastore used to be. What was notable about Virgin was that it extended several stories down. There were three stories of the record/video store, with the ground floor being the store’s top floor. Then there was a multiplex movie theater with four screens that went at least two or three stories further down, like a bomb shelter. It opened as the Sony State in 1996, but was later called the Loew’s State when it changed corporate hands. When Virgin closed in 2009 and was eventually taken over by another retailer, I wondered what would happen to the theaters. Well, last night, I found out. The space was gutted and turned into a lower level of the new store. So those theaters are gone.