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Archive for March 22nd, 2008

Godspell movie poster

Since tomorrow is Easter, I thought it would only be fitting to talk about a movie of the religious variety and since TCM is showing Godspell on Easter afternoon (3/23 at 3 pm), it was kind of a no-brainer.

I saw Godspell (1973) for the first time sometime last summer. This may sound a bit flippant, but I only watched it because I wanted to see what Victor Garber looked like, or as I called him, “The guy who played the girl’s father on Alias.” No, I’m not an Alias fan, but on a few occasions, I was forced to sit through a couple of episodes with my friends. My plan was to see what he looked like when he was younger (doesn’t everyone like to play that game?) and then watch something else. The idea of hippies dancing around and singing about the Bible wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

Much to my surprise, I found that I couldn’t tear myself away from the film. I changed it once and then flipped right back. The opening intrigued me–a bunch of normal people, working everyday jobs and walking around the streets of New York City. And then suddenly, they’re drawn by the call of John the Baptist (David Haskell) and before you know it, they’re shaking off their working clothes, dancing in Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain and putting on face paint and wild clothes. Victor Garber is Jesus, although he’s not outfitted in the traditional robe and sandals. Instead, he’s dressed in a Superman shirt, a timely ‘fro and complete with slight clown makeup. It’s not surprising that there are people out there who claim this is blasphemy, but I never got that vibe from the film. It’s message is joyful and uplifting–Godspell was simply adapted for the hippie, peace-loving audience at the time. Here’s a bit from a 1972 Toronto review that explains it perfectly:

“Blasphemous? Balderdash! The only thing blasphemous about Godspell is the way some people feel threatened, too insecure in their own beliefs, to accept a novel and joyful expression of love for religion…They do not make gags about God. They do not laugh at the intention of the parables or the universal ideas they were meant to illustrate. They make the parables fun; but they don’t make fun of the parables.”

As a side note: I should state here that I do identify myself as a Roman Catholic, although I’m not a very knowledgeable one. I went to public school and was forced to take some religious classes when I was around 7 years old. I took Religious Philosophy when I was in college, but quickly dispensed everything I learned once my exam was over. Not much has stuck with me, although I know the basics. It’s not very popular to talk about God in some circles, and I can fully admit that I flirted with atheism about two years ago during a very rough patch in my life (although it was more of the “Are You There God, it’s Me, Margaret I’m not talking to God, so there” variety). Things have happened in my life that have changed that opinion and I can proudly say that I believe in God now. But I also believe in not shoving your beliefs down people’s throat and being overly judgmental about things. One of my favorite sayings is the old standard: “He who is without sin, shall cast the first stone.” I hope no one thinks less of me because of this.

Thankfully, I do like religious movies–King of Kings, Barabbas and Godspell are my favorites. But John Huston’s version of The Bible (1966) has always creeped me out and whenever I see it on tv, I run screaming from the room. Mainly because I was stuck somewhere two years ago and that was the only movie being shown on the in-house tv station. Not once, twice or three times. But FOUR times a day!

Godspell album coverAnyway back to Godspell. Part of its appeal is the music, which was all written by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz. While the songs sound distinctively 70’s (they wouldn’t sound out of place on your local lite FM station), they’re also really catchy. One of the most popular songs, “Day by Day” (sung by Robin Lamont, who was also in the original cast) is particularly beautiful. There are some other great songs as well, like the two I’ve included in this post: the upbeat, “Light of the World” and the gorgeous, “Beautiful City.” The latter was specifically written for this film version, while two other songs, “We Beseech Thee” and “Learn Your Lessons Well” were omitted. Also, look out for the ending of “All For the Best” which ends with the cast members dancing atop of the World Trade Center. My aunt has a copy of the original soundtrack and every time I would flip through her albums, the cover scared me. I’m not sure why, although it’s worth noting that everything scared me when I was a kid.

One really interesting note is that Victor Garber came from the legendary 1972 Toronto production, which is also notable for launching the careers of Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Gilda Radner and Paul Shaffer of David Letterman fame. This site is completely devoted to the Toronto production and it’s really worth checking out. Lots of reviews and pictures ahead.

Godspell certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, there are some people out there who will probably roll their eyes and recoil in horror at a movie like this. Like a lot of 70’s movies, it’s certainly dated, but if you’re into religious movies and give it a chance, I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s fun, has a good message and has a great soundtrack–there’s a lot to like.

And for those who celebrate it, Happy Easter! And don’t go overboard on the chocolate.

Download: “Beautiful City” (2.8 MB) and “Light of the World” (2 MB) from the Godspell soundtrack (links will open in new window and download it from there)

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Annie is ready to party!Last year for my birthday, I received the That’s Entertainment! box set. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the That’s Entertainment box set is made of up the three eponymous titles devoted to MGM musicals of the past. It includes all three movies and a special bonus disc filled with outtakes and extra bonus footage, including some really fun excerpts of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, as well as other MGM musical stars on a 1976 episode of the Mike Douglas show. Ann Miller looks so awesome. She certainly came ready to party!

Out of all three movies, my favorite would be That’s Entertainment III (1994), mainly because that’s the one with all the deleted scenes as well as a credit-less version of Fred and Ginger dancing the Swing Trot from one of my favorites, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). However, there was one number on there that was so disturbing, so horrible–I wound up screaming in horror: Joan Crawford lip-synching to “Two Faced Woman”.

THE MOST FRIGHTENING SCENE IN MOVIE HISTORY!

THE MOST FRIGHTENING SCENE IN MOVIE HISTORY

It’s from the 1953 musical, Torch Song. Thanks to TCM, they’re showing it on Sunday night at 11:30 pm as a part of a 24 hour Joan Crawford birthday lineup. Her age varies–some people say that she’s going to be 100 years old, while others say that she’s was born in 1904. I like to go with the latter, since it feeds into one of the reasons why Bette Davis hated her so much (Joan was looking good compared to Bette during the shoot of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Even if you go with the idea that Joan was born in 1908, she still looked a hell of a lot better than Bette–scary Baby Jane makeup notwithstanding. That’s what smoking will do to you, I guess.)

Split screen comparison

In That’s Entertainment III, Debbie Reynolds’ explains that the original version of “Two Faced Woman” was to be originally lip-synched by Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon (1953). However Cyd’s version was cut for time and I guess the powers that be thought, “Hey! Let’s use this in the new Joan Crawford musical! And while we’re at it, let’s do it as an ‘island’ number so we can put Joan in blackface!” YIKES.

It’s pretty easy to see where “Two-Faced Woman” was to be used in The Band Wagon. It would come sometime after the lovely Astaire-Charisse “Dancing in the Dark” number and right before the scene in which Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) starts directing around the stage props, only to be lifted into the air himself. I can see why they would cut it for time–I think it would have considerably disrupted the flow of the backstage mayhem.

Click for larger imageJoan’s legs
Cyd’s legs Vs. Joan’s legs: no contest!

Joan’s version is downright scary and it’s not just due to the horrific makeup and bad wig. India Adams’ voice just isn’t right for Joan (and to be honest, I don’t think it’s right for Cyd either). It almost makes her sound possessed, like she’s singing in a range that’s way too low for her. While Joan would have loved to do her own singing, MGM claimed that there was not enough time on the schedule to do so. Joan didn’t complain. Not only was she happy to dance again, she was back at her old home studio of MGM. Joan was terrified that no one would remember her, but the moment she stepped on the soundstage, she was thrilled–all the old technicians did in fact, remember her.

Since I’ve never seen Torch Song, I can only go by reviews that I’ve read off IMDB and on various Joan Crawford sites. And the consensus is that it’s BAD. The kind of bad that makes you laugh and laugh for hours on end. Since this was Joan’s first color movie, you get to see her dyed, flaming red hair in all it’s glory. The cast includes Michael Wilding as the blind pianist who falls in love with Joan, as well as Gig Young (Yay!), who plays Joan’s drunken, cheating boyfriend who winds up disappearing halfway through the film (Boo hiss). Torch Song was directed by Charles Waters, who was more than competent to direct a musical, having previously helmed such classics as Easter Parade (1948) and Summer Stock (1950). I’m really excited to see this movie, since I LOVE bad films just as much as I love good ones.

Also of note are the other fantastic Joan Crawford movies that TCM is showing:

Dancing Lady (1933) – 3/24 at 4:45 am – a fun musical with Clark Gable and in his screen debut, Fred Astaire–who plays a man named…Fred Astaire. Go figure. Light, fluffy entertainment.

The Women (1939)- 3/24 at 10:00 am – where Crawford plays a gold-digging, husband stealing bitch. She also gets the best line in the film, which comes at the very end of the movie.

A Woman’s Face (1941 – 3/24 at 12:15 pm) and They All Kissed the Bride (1942 – 2:15 pm – both notable for her pairing with the fantastic and always forgotten, Melvyn Douglas! I don’t know why more people don’t enjoy him today. He’s great at screwball comedy, but just as adapt in a drama as well.

Humoresque (1946) – 3/24 at 3:45 pm – A top-notch WB drama about a violinist (John Garfield) who falls in love with Joan, much to the dismay of his family. Plus, it has Oscar Levant in it. I don’t think I’ve fully expounded my love for him in this blog, but just you wait. That day will come.

Oscar Levant in “Humoresque”
My favorite neurotic: I love you, Oscar Levant!

Links: The “Films of Joan Crawford” site has a page on Torch Song here, while “Joan Crawford Best” has reviews, lobby cards and posters over here.

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