Film Louvre Treasures – Singin in the Rain

Note: In ‘Treasures’, I shall review some of the films I’ve already watched. These films have in some way or the other become a part of me and my appreciation has grown for them with every watch.

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Here, I review Singin in the Rain, a Gene Kelly, Stanley Doden Film Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, R.F. Simpson, Cyd Charisse.

The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain was on television probably four years ago. I remember having called it ‘the best movie I had ever seen’. I immediately rented a DVD and watched it five times in the next two days, each time loving it all the more. I watched it with my grandmother and my nine year old cousin and they loved it too; my cousin found Gene Kelly’s dialogue ‘You reptile!’ so funny he repeats this line whenever I mention about the film. Four years have passed and I still remember the hooks of all the incredibly catchy songs. I’ve also done my service by recommending this film to anyone who may have a liking for old musicals or who is depressed in some way or the other; I wouldn’t do this usually because most musicals, old or new, have failed to blow me away the way Singin’ in the Rain has.

Finally, I got my hands on the Collector’s Edition of Singin’ in the Rain a few days ago and lent it to my cousin for some days. She saw it with her mom and said, on returning the DVD, that both enjoyed the movie immensely. This is a kind of film that can be asked to check if a person is human: a) Yes, I enjoyed Singin’ in the Rain, for confirming you belong to the human race and b) No, I didn’t enjoy Singin’ in the Rain, for sending you back to the planet you came from. So I gave this movie another watch, this time on my home-theater. Would I sing along with the same enthusiasm I had for it four years ago? I would… I would.

Even elaborate notes in my diary, which pointed the revealing mistakes I overlooked in my previous viewing, did not impact my fondness towards the film, which is so great I wanted to hug this darling film in my arms once again. Mr. Roger Ebert, while placing this film in his list of ‘Great Movies’, remarked that the ten minute spectacular Broadway Ballet sequence before the film’s climax didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the film, but also mentioned that he knew of MGM’s trend to include a lengthy song and dance piece in their earlier musicals. I

English: Portrait of Cyd Charisse from Singin'...

Cyd Charisse from Singin’ in the Rain  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

too was about to write this sequence off when it began, yet by the end I felt Broadway Ballet was the perfect moment to represent the spirit of Singin’ in The Rain. And why would I not want this sequence when it features ethereal dance goddess Cyd Charisse who’s probably the hottest thing ever for connoisseurs of women. She represents the unattainable in Hollywood, who shuns anyone incapable of satisfying her material needs, including our hero. Yet, our hero has gotta dance no matter how bad times are. He only has to keep ‘Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain!’ and life will surely get better.

Another reason why Singin’ in the Rain is so highly regarded is that we learn quite a bit about Hollywood in the late twenties, when silent films began dwindling in numbers after the influx of talking pictures. From a historical perspective, we learn about the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood which, as mentioned in the book Oxford History of World Cinema, had ‘a green bronze pagoda roof towering some ninety feet above the entrance that mimicked an oriental temple. Inside a sunburst pendant chandelier hung sixty feet above two thousand seats in a flame red auditorium with accents of jade, gold and classic antique Chinese reproductions’ (most modern multiplexes look like shanty houses in comparison). This is the place where lavish premieres were held, where entertainment reporters (since the term ‘paparazzi’ wasn’t invented until La Dolce Vita released in the sixties) waited in anticipation of celebrities who arrive one after the other in expensive cars, and where fans cheered their lungs out whenever their idols waved at them.

Cropped screenshot of Jean Hagen from the trai...

Jean Hagen as self-centered diva Lina Lamont Singin’ in the Rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, leading silent film actors, arrive at the beginning of Singin’ in the Rain to the premier of their film ‘Royal Rascal’ at the Chinese theatre. The Hollywood reporter who interviews them wants to hear how Don and Lina became the most desirable couple, and when Don starts talking about his best pal Cosmo and tries introducing him to the audience outside, (Cosmo’s standing behind the reporter, sadly ignored), the reporter taps Cosmo’s hand as though signaling him to stay out and that she only wants Don to speak about himself and Lina. And so our Royal rascal narrates the rosiest picture of his past where ‘dignity mattered’ to him the most; of course we’re able to see he’s bluffing entirely, only to satisfy the gossip-hungry tabloids. In reality, Don and Cosmo played in cheap motels and vaudevilles, sneaked into B-grade films and remained without employment too, until Don, who’s fit as a fiddle and ready for film, got a chance to work as a stunt hero in Roscoe Dexter’s movies and was offered by R.F. Simpson, producer of Monumental pictures, to act opposite leading lady Lina Lamont. Cosmo, on the other hand, provided orchestration for Dexter’s films (in those days, an orchestra would be present at the filming, playing along with the action) and remained in Don’s shadow.

The ‘love’ between Don and Lina is also entirely fictional, as everybody on the set knows that Don hates the repugnant, bossy, vain, screechy pain-in-the butt Lina, who ‘can neither sing, neither dance, neither act. Triple trouble’ (I beg to differ. Lina did seem to act well at least in her silent films); a delusional Lina meanwhile believes Don is her man only because fan magazines suggest so. Lina’s voice is so grating she’s urged by the studio to remain silent during premieres and let Don do the talking. But with the success of talkie film Jazz Singer, both Lamont and Lockwood are compelled to learn how to talk in movies for their next talking picture Duelling Cavalier, taking diction classes which make up for some of the most hilarious sequences;  poor Lina pronounces ‘can’t stand’  as ‘caaayn’t staaynd’ every single time.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

Gene Kelly and girls in Singin’ in the Rain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our hero is smitten with small time stage actress Kathy Selden, after he lands up in her car while escaping his fans. While their first meeting doesn’t really go that well (beautiful girl Kathy disparages Don’s pictures as ‘dumb shows’, while ravishing rascal Don teases her ‘pretentious loftiness’. Later, at a party, she aims a cake at him, which misses and hits Lina right in the kisser), Don nevertheless cannot forget about her and later meets and courts her, crooning the lovely number ‘You were meant for me’. When the preview of Duelling Cavalier turns out to be a disaster, Kathy and Cosmo cheer Don up with the infectiously hummable ‘Good Morning’ and suggest him to turn Dueling Cavalier into a musical, naming it ‘Dancing Cavalier’ instead. They also decide to use Kathy’s voice for Lamont, without informing the latter that her voice will be dubbed. The problem arises when narcissistic and manipulative Lena finds out their plan and threatens to sue Simpson and take over his production unless her demands are met (which is to sign a long term contract with Seldon to use her as a dubbing artist for Lamont so that she herself would never get her chance to shine).

While a couple of recent musicals with lofty ambitions and complicated cinematography (Les Miserables) haven’t exactly done well critically, Singin’ in the Rain remains everybody’s beloved for its relatively simplistic approach to make us laugh, cry, sing and dance and love. The camera either swoops in our out and its usually dissolves which transition to the next scene, and I prefer this to the jerky movements in Les Miserables. The writers don’t hesitate in letting us know what happens behind the screens, but never let the film turn into a depressing downer, an approach most directors would choose today. There’s the fake publicity tactic, sucking up and the usual envy among actors, especially the ladies; its Zelda, a cast member who looked disgruntled in an earlier scene where Simpson singles her out for her performance, who lets Lena know that Kathy’s dubbing her. Yet the music remains cheerful, upbeat and the dancing extremely lissome; Singin’ in the Rain is above all a sexy film.

Gene Kelly dancing while singing the title son...

The Crowning Achievement is the Title Song “Singin’ in the Rain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best spotlight moment in the film would be the ‘Singin in the Rain’ sequence with Gene Kelly; the song is one of the most mellifluous compositions ever written. Would I keep this song as the guiding motto throughout my life? I would… I would.

Review of Nine, a 2009 musical Directed by Rob Marshall and Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie

NineA ver4.jpg

Nine (wikipedia)

Summary:  Nine has characters who represent characters of another film (Fellini‘s 8 1/2)  but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions

About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of ‘harrassment of women by their NRI husbands’, written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecesary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn’t deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question ‘What am I supposed to feel here?’ crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is ‘filmed’.

I have not seen Fellini’s autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert’s advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman’s ‘ideal woman’ character and Daniel Day Lewis’ ‘detached persona looking for a centre’, which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

A smiling man wearing a grey hat with piping above the band, and a tan Western style shirt, stands in an office, posing for the camera.

Daniel Day Lewis Plays Guido Contini in Nine

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting ‘Marina Abramović’s – The Artist is Present’ exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don’t really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they’re given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini’s often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether ‘he has nothing to speak about’, Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie ‘Italia’ does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There’s angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini’s mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except ‘Cinema Italiano’ which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it’s got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly’s super-duper-brilliant ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine aren’t memorable. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to ‘sell a performance’; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly.  And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the ‘performance element’ that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that ‘she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli’s performances’; watch ‘Mamma Mia’ and you’ll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain’t that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That’s a tragedy.

Review of A Priairie Home Companion, Robert Altman’s Final Film Starring Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, John C Reilly, Lindsey Lohan

GRADE: B / 50%

Summary: A Prairie Home Companion stays only marginally memorable. The fate of its characters is supposed to be touching but it never touches you.

When something goes wrong on live radio, Prairie Home Companion, both the radio show performed in the film and the movie itself come alive. It’s like two men fishing placidly in the middle of a calm lake until one gets hold of a mighty rebellious fish and both men jump to instant action. One of the few and far between moments that jump Prairie Home Companion to activity include a duct-tape gag which Garrison Keillor, the voice of the popular variety show both in reality and in this film, and other performers improvise after Molly, the assistant stage manager, who’s usually the only one insisting on maintaining order and decorum, flubs the cue sheets. The three-to-four minute gag thoroughly entertains you as Garrison and the Johnson sisters (played by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) cook up wackiest uses for a duct-tape while the sound-effects guy (Tom Keith) gives complementary dog howls, helicopter noise etc until Molly (who’s played by SNL regular Maya Rudolph) finds the right sheet. It doesn’t just end there: Yolanda Johnson (Streep) also manages to convey her dejection towards Garrison’s failed romance with her during the gag.

The problem with Robert Altman’s ‘Prairie home Companion’ is that it stays only marginally memorable; everyone in the film is too comfortable and laid-back, listlessly chattering and bantering with each other  and the audience is expected to be all ears for these strangers’ plain talk. Until the duct-tape moment, you begin to grow impatient for there is nothing much to keep you really interested. We learn in the beginning that Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the radio show’s security director who takes his work too seriously, is in search of a mysterious woman in white (Virginia Madsen) who’s been lurking in the theater. It’s the final day for the esteemed radio show and its regulars which include Johnson sisters and two singing cowboys (played by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) perform for one last time before the theater is demolished to build a parking lot. The mysterious woman in white is revealed to be Asphodel, an angel who visits the show to comfort its people and escort one to afterlife. Another visitor includes a businessman called ‘The Axeman’ (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who’s the one responsible for pulling the plug on the show.

The fate of these people is touching but it never touches you, for these people turn out as nothing more than broad caricatures whose lives are hardly used or explored in the plot. Streep’s Yolanda is a chirpy, twittery, humble, good-natured and caring woman who can sing really well and Streep shows us such a woman during the film but there’s nothing else she can do. Her character has little more to do than to define how such a character talks, moves, acts and sings and watching Streep do so much for a role with minimal character development makes us a little exhausted with her Yolanda. Her sister Rhonda (Tomlin) is less girly and bubbly and while Tomlin doesn’t overdo her performance like Streep, she doesn’t stay memorable both onstage and backstage. Yolanda’s daughter Lola is played by perennially-suffering Lindsey Lohan, whose character likes penning depressing suicide poems but is very much delicate at heart and empathetic towards everybody. Lindsey isn’t distracting until the last scene where she tries (badly) playing a busy workaholic with plenty of things on her mind.

English: Mr. Garrison Keillor

The two cowboys played by Woody Harrelson and John Reilly are the humorously irreverent sidekicks who bring in the laughs with their risqué humor and bad jokes (rather jokes in poor taste), another high point in the film. But again these aren’t two cowboys we’ve been following through the years and so they’re like new-kids-on-the-block for us when they appear in the film. The lack of exposition in Prairie Home Companion makes every character and every situation seem superficial and wispy. Either the film is for fans only (yet many of the characters except Garrison and Guy Noir weren’t part of the radio show either) or the film lacks vitality. Was Asphodel the angel really needed in the film? Or did Altman see her as a greater symbol not just for the film but also for himself? One thing we know is that Altman got all the comfort from her soon after filming. Bad joke, huh?

Reviewing ‘Les Miserables’ Oscar Winning Tom Hooper Film Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe

Anne Hathaway at the 83rd Academy Awards

Anne Hathaway Shines (actually she dies) as Fantine in Les Miserables (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Grade: B

Summary: Moments of Beauty Weighed Down By Excess Baggage of Singing and Dancing, Most of Which You Can’t Even Remember

(note: my sincere apologies to the poets on this site. The poem below is terrible… but of course, I don’t really care as its a review)

I’ve never heard so much singing, from any musical I’ve seen

That’s both a blessing and a curse, in this tale of Jean Valjean.

Though this film’s on French Revolution, I never cared what they were fighting for

Didn’t bother to read the intertitles, which said where Jean went, where he was

And for this I can’t be really blamed, the music tired me out completely

Song after song o’er every frame, continued till like eternity!

Each and every sentence is sung, and there’s a background score running

Persistently o’er every note, till it well exceeds saturation!

Take for example the scene where Javert, Jean Valjean’s enemy is seen

Contemplating his moral actions, we hear the waves of the sea                                    (please bear with me)

This could’ve sufficed in conveying – his dilemma, his situation

But sound mixer Simon Hayes, adds a score that’s a distraction

This happens in many other scenes, where non-diegetic score was unnecessary;

It could’ve been used in crucial scenes, only when it was really needed

But there were times it was used well, that is when it created constancy!

Like the sound that’s heard when Jean appears first, is later heard in another scene.

But one wonders why the fuck, did the camera shake and cut so much

It could at times drive you nuts; you wonder a butcher’s knife was used to cut the scenes?

And sometimes it was just awkward – the camera on the character’s faces

Linger on for prolonged moments, in mid-shots as they bellowed out phrases!

Although I can’t deny the great moments, like when the rebels congregate to fight

And the song of comradeship is heard, proudly sung, just sounding right!

Also when different sounds overlap, to create a distinct melody

In which different characters sing their plights, it really harmonizes neatly!

I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s French novel… neither have I seen the musical

I thought the tale of Jean and Javert, was touching and very lyrical!

There are just so many themes here… so much commentary of that time;

We see people’s attitude change, from helplessness to courage bright!

(*hopeless case of rhyming, please forgive)

But when music dominates, you somewhat ignore important details;

You can’t feel how music works, to lift its characters’ from the reality’s bleakness!

Now the film’s about Jean Valjean, the prisoner’s who was punished

For nineteen years for stealing bread; so after his sentencing is finished

He was released by Javert on parole. He wanders all around the town

Seeking shelter and refuge, but the unfortunate is driven out

Until a clergyman offers food. Valjean being desperate

Steals the silver but is caught; the priest forgives him and lets him take

All the booty, but with this sermon

That he shall use the possessions, to become a better person;

And with this our hero Valjean, becomes a mayor years later

Until he meets his nemesis, who at first doesn’t remember him

But Javert soon comes to know, after Jean reveals his identity

And leaves the town with Fantine’s daughter, the little Cosette.

Fantine was a worker at his place, an unmarried woman with a child

And for this she was kicked out, and had to seek to prostitution

Until Jean came and took her away, but she alas couldn’t be saved.

And so Valjean, he escapes, with her daughter Cosette into seclusion…

But Javert and Jean would cross paths, years later when a revolt out breaks!

(Horrible anastrophe, please forgive… again)

So now we talk about the cast, about Hugh, Crowe and Anne Hathaway

Hugh puts on a protector act, similar to what he does always

But as his Jean grows old, there are some special moments we like;

Though Crowe can act, he can’t sing well – he trumpets like a baby elephant!

Poor, poor Anne Hathaway, fighting all the forces acting against her

Gives out the most amazing act, more complex than any other character

In the little time she gets, she performs worthy of an Oscar!

And her song ‘I dreamed a dream’, seems stuck in my bloody head

But unfortunately, there’s no other song I can recollect!