Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Catching Up with Blind Spot 2016: Tokyo Story and Singin' in the Rain


April: I watched very few movies. I was quite busy. My plan was to watch Ozu's Tokyo Story, as it is perennially considered one of the best movies ever made. (Ha!) So, I put it on...for about half an hour. Then, I decided that I would actually rather go outside and watch the grass grow. Sorry. But this is my second attempt at this film, and I just can't do it. I get the uniqueness of Ozu's style. I can appreciate what he did for cinema in that regard. But it is just....so....fucking....painfully....slow...., which is not always a deterrent for me. It was for this one.

May: I was even busier. I didn't even try to watch my May pick, the Gene Kelley musical Singin' in the Rain. But I did watch it in mid-June. It's the shit! Here's my Blind Spot reaction:



Let it be known that I am a sensitive type of dude. I actually really do LOVE musicals. I think I can still keep my Man Card for saying that. Let it also be known that the 1952 classic Singin' in the Rain is the single most familiar movie I've ever seen without having actually seen it. To explain:

My high school was known for having a really solid chorus program by the time I entered in the fall of 1998. There were four chorus classes. Two of them anybody could take. Two were audition only and required that you be at least a sophomore to be considered. Of those two, one was a mixed show choir called Showstoppers, the other was an all-girl show choir called Sweet Sixteen. I made Showstoppers my Junior Year. It was the best time of my school career for a couple reasons. First, I loved to sing, especially familiar show tunes. Second, the artistic, musically-inclined of my best friends all went out for it and made it. Third, the hottest girls in school were in that class. How could I NOT do it.

So, what did we do? We sang and danced. That's what. I fucking loved it. The whole thing revolved around medleys of show tunes, mostly from classic musicals. The choreography was designed by us, the students in the class. During my first year, we did a classic musical medley...three of the songs in the medley were from Singin' in the Rain (the title song, "Make 'em Laugh", and "Good Mornin'"). So much damn fun! So, I knew half the songs by heart going in. I just need to fill up my heart with the other half.


To see this movie is the see the reason people love movies...and musicals, for that matter. It is perennially lauded as one of the best films ever made, by both critics and filmmakers, and for good reason. It is fun, flashy, flawless. Gene Kelley's choreography is the stuff of legend met to the max by a very young Debbie Reynolds and the great Donald O'Connor. If you can watch for one second the three of them doing "Good Mornin'" and not have a smile on your face, then you probably just don't get it and possibly have no soul. It is masterful. It is perfection.

And that's just one of so many. Just the same, when Kelley and O'Connor started tapping on that tabletop during "Moses Supposes," I actually started clapping...in my living room...by myself. I was horse laughing so hard during the "Make 'em Laugh" segment, my wife, in the other room, became worried she really was missing something (this is still a Blind Spot for her). And I still haven't scratched the surface. These are merely highlights of a film I need to watch four or five more times to fully appreciate I feel, mostly due to the hyper-giddy overload I experienced.

Like I said, I could go on and on about the musical numbers and never get to the plot, which is as classic as the tap dancing genius of its interludes. (I actually wrote in my notes, well, I totally "get" the appeal of The Artist, and why it won Best Picture a few years back.) Kelley is great, perfectly cast as Don Lockwood, the silent film star not quite ready for the new wave, as "Talkies" enter the film world in the late 1920s. Well, at least he's more ready than his on-screen partner, the silent film diva Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who can't sing or dance or even talk (in a way suited to the sound pictures).


His meet cute with Reynolds as Kathy Selden, the budding actress with too much "integrity" (old Don had heard that one before, said that one before) for the movies, is hilarious, so memorable, and right on time. She will be Lina Lamont's voice as Monumental Pictures transitions from silent to sound with the help, of course, of their leading man, Don and his longtime partner, the musician Cosmo Brown (O'Connor).

The plot is actually quite predictable by now and maybe wasn't even that fresh then (the movie wasn't a huge success at the time), but it is fun to watch it all play out with such...well...fun. Here is a movie that just looks like it was a blast to make, even in the face of the stories of its production, as it was said that the "Good Mornin'" sequence took 15 hours to shoot and left Reynolds with bloody feet. But those smiles on their faces. It's delightful. Everything about everything about this movie is.

What more can I say? I expected to love this movie. I was already halfway there anyway. And I did. I loved it. So many iconic images and sounds and moments of laugh-out-loud humor ("Hey, Joe! Bring me a tarantula!").

I've already bought it on Blu-Ray. It should arrive tomorrow, so that one day I can show my future children such magic. And a brief note on the Blu-Ray: It is a perfect transfer. This is a case where you thank the people through the years for keeping whatever prints there were in perfect condition, so such a pristine transfer could be made. What a joy!


8 comments:

  1. I'm glad you liked your May Blindspot, I'm sorry the April one didn't work out. I hate when that happens. lol

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  2. I love this film! Love it! I always wanted to dance like Cyd Charisse but realized i don't have legs that go on forever. I also love Jean Hagen and what a brilliant satire on what truly did happen when sound came in. It really isn't that far off

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  3. I've heard of Tokyo Story but was never particularly drawn too it and the little bit you said about it doesn't make me think I was wrong in my initial indifference. I'm not the best with foreign language films to begin with. Their reputation will put them on my radar but if the story doesn't sound like it will engage me I'm reluctant to invest the time. I did just watch Carnival in Flanders but it sounds like the opposite of this, it had a zippy pace and an amusing story.

    On to Singin' in the Rain. It's a wonderful film, though I'll be honest and say I don't see it as the greatest musical ever made. Film is so subjective that that's a tough handle to weigh any movie down with. But it does capture the joy of making movies and skews the trauma of the transition to sound in a brilliant way.

    The cast couldn't possibly be better. There are times when I find Gene Kelly self enchanted on screen, there was never any question he was mega talented but when it showed that he thought so too that's off-putting, but that touch of unctuousness works for Don Lockwood. His confidence in being able to salvage the dog that is The Dueling Cavalier with his gifts makes you believe it's possible as well.

    He and Donald O'Connor make a great team and their dance styles blend expertly, both being rooted in athleticism as opposed to Fred Astaire's more measured approach. O'Connor's obvious joy at just being out there performing keeps his somewhat outsized personality from becoming grating and he has a sure comic touch.

    The studio considered quite a few of their stars, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Ann Miller and Jane Powell among them, for Kathy Selden before deciding to take a chance on Debbie. At that point she'd only done small parts making a bit of a splash the year before with the nonsense song Aba Daba Honeymoon sung with Carleton Carpenter in Two Weeks with Love and it was the completely right decision for the picture. Her fresh eagerness adds another element to the film that the other actresses, all talented but experienced, wouldn't have brought to the part. I've read both her autobiographies, which are full to the brim with great stories and harrowing incidents, and in one of them she said that the hardest things she ever experienced in her life were childbirth and making this film!!!

    Everyone is so good it's hard to say anyone is the MVP but if there is one it's Jean Hagen's utter genius performance as Lina Lamont. She saunters and squaws her way into any frame and forget about it the scene is hers. The part was written specifically for Judy Holliday but once she hit major stardom with Born Yesterday she wasn't available. While you can see her influence in the part Hagen makes her completely her own creation. I love Gloria Grahame but there is no way she should have won the Supporting Actress Oscar this year over this classic piece of work.

    So while it's never been my favorite musical, I've always been partial to the 50's version of Show Boat, White Christmas and Hello, Frisco, Hello, it's a terrific time at the movies and deservedly revered. So glad you loved it so much.

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    1. Oh, thanks so much for this incredible input. I fully agree. This is not the greatest musical ever made for me either. But it's easy to appreciate as that. So many iconic images and moments. I love the cast as well, and I totally agree on Jean Hagan. I'm now going to check out some of these other 50s musicals you're talking about.

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  4. I've heard a lot of great things about Tokyo Story. I haven't really been interested in a lot of foreign films yet, but I'll try to watch it soon.

    And I really want to watch Singin' in the Rain. A while ago, back at my performing arts school, we were going to watch either Singin' in the Rain or a DVD of a stage performance of the 1998 West End revival of Oklahoma. We watched the stage performance of Oklahoma. It was awful. If only we watched Singin' in the Rain. It's an excellent musical, it was on Broadway. If only we watched that instead…

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    1. There are plenty of foreign language films out there worth seeing. My first two, when I was younger, like your age, were Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (in Mandarin) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (in French). I've seen tons now. Tokyo Story is a film by Yasujiro Ozu, one of the most revered Japanese filmmakers. It's generally listed in the top five of the Sight & Sound director's poll. I just can't get into it. It's moving at times, even early on, but it's just really slow and not much actually happens. That's fine sometimes. Just not for me in this case.

      Singin' in the Rain is way better than Oklahoma! Agreed.

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