Saturday, January 27, 2018

let’s go to the movies

Interesting movie connection, since I also watched The Jerk (1185 1186 1187 1188) for this childhood deconstruction phase of the blog: Steve Martin was supposed to play Rooster in Annie but he and Bernadette Peters had recently broken up, so he opted out.

Interesting movie connection: when Annie, Grace, and Daddy Warbucks go to the movies, they see Camille. First of all, the lyrics to the original-for-the-film-version song "Let's Go to the Movies" actually SPOIL the ending to Camille--

"and Greta Garbo is probably crying
while Robert Taylor
is locked in her dying embrace.

--but second of all--and probably the reason Camille is the film used (even though, its class-divided romance plot relates to Annie somewhat)--Annie's supervising editor Margaret Booth also edited Camille back in 1936.

The classist stuff of Annie is interesting, despite mostly being a shallow layer of flavor. By boiling down Little Orphan Annie to just her rags-to-riches origin story, the film insists on the importance of the class stuff while also mostly ignoring them for song and dance numbers. But, regarding, for example, the "Let's Go to the Movies" sequence mentioned above, it is actually interesting that by 1931, the movies were becoming a lower-class thing. Annie mentions that Pepper had been to the movies once and that Miss Hannigan goes all the time, but Warbucks' buys out the entire theater (or has Punjab do it, anyway) and then there's the big song-and-dance number that makes it feel even fancier (even though the biggest dance number so far was the orphans). Prior to the introduction of sound in film--the majority of theaters were fitted with sound in 1930. "By 1931, theaters without sound were in the minority; by 1934, they had all but disappeared" (Butsch, 2001, p.109). Some seven thousand theaters closed when they couldn't afford to install sound systems. Talkies were the thing now. Audiences became less rowdy. The industry was transformed. Movie palaces like the one in Annie--Radio City Music Hall--"redefined the evening from one of champagne to one of popcorn and soda. They drastically reduced prices, eliminated or reduced the stage shows, cut staffs, and redefined their jobs." When I saw Annie in 1982, most movie theaters were still single-screen; it was later in the 80s that many became multiplexes or new multiplexes sprung up. There was definitely popcorn and soda, and probably red vines or something chocolate. Historian Liz Cohen "argue[s], working class people were being incorporated into [the] mass market and shopping at chain stores" and at the movie theater, "their behavior would reflect their orientation as consumers rather than as workers" (ibid, p. 111). I thought it was Richard Butsch's piece--"American Movie Audiences of the 1930s", International Labor and Working-Class History, 59, pp 106-120--that I read the argument, or maybe it was an argument I made in class when we discussed the piece, that the movie theater was essentially where popular culture was built in the 1920s and 30s. In the 80s, for me, the movie theater was definitely a place where something was built. Not just pieces of me, one film at a time, but a larger sense of the national identity, of American culture, of the world.

And, what a twisted sense of the world it was, too. And, of American culture, or at least what we claimed American culture was. Annie was part of this. Regarding the world, you've got the Asp and Punjab as mysterious figures from the orient. You've got reference to the Bolsheviks--but no broader reference to the Communists--and at age six I would not have gotten that. I probably just thought it was cool that Daddy Warbucks had people who want him dead; it made him almost like an action star, except older, balder, and richer. Regarding American culture, you've got the usual confusingly contradictory messages about the American Dream; you can lift yourself up by your bootstraps, but it sure would be nice to just have lots of money and servants, too. And, it's strange--and I definitely didn't get this at the time--that the one New Deal program they talk about specifically in the film involves putting children to work in National Parks. The same film that has all those orphans singing "It's the Hard Knock Life" and the Democrat president (and, in theory, after Annie's excitement) the Republican Oliver Warbucks want to put children to work. Warbucks has the Mona Lisa in his bathroom, has Winged Victory on his patio, but, yeah, children should be put to work.

But, is the tone of that last line from my current political bent? Or is Annie a good representation of a lot of what's wrong with this country, with commercial capitalism? Did that fact that Annie's luck here was so very distant from the lives of anyone I knew help turn me down my Leftist path when I was just six years of age? I've already acknowledged that I was headed toward a love for musicals.

And, that just got me wondering what the political makeup of the musical audience is. A brief Google search, some Broadway League demographics reports, and political bent doesn't seem to be a specific thing they measure. In terms of class, Broadway shows (whether on Broadway or elsewhere) certainly don't have a lower-class audience, but the audience is getting younger, and (really slowly) becoming less white. (I am hovering around the average age for the Boadway audience, by the way, but am significantly lower income than the average.)

I've been seeing musicals, even on stage, since I was a kid. Nowhere near as often as I would see, or do see now, movies, of course. (I saw two of the Oscar-nominated foreign-language films today, for example.) And, I'm brought back to Roger Ebert's 1999 review of the original Star Wars; "To see 'Star Wars' again after 20 years is to revisit a place in the mind," he writes. Star Wars, of course, is a cinematic touchstone--Roger calls it "a technical watershed the influenced many of the movies that came after" (and he's got a great paragraph, that I will not quote in its entirety here, about Star Wars, Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane). It is a fixture of modern cinema (and it's been with me my whole life. But, the same holds true for any film. Roger argues that Star Wars "has colonized our imagination" but I would argue that any movie, every movie, has done that, to some extent. Even the bad ones. Even the ones that are forgettable, or whose titles elude us... (That last one is my problem often; so many cheap direct-to-video movies rented in the 80s and 90s, they blend together sometimes.)

The big screen, the live stage--these are places where dreams are writ for all to see, where we can share these things and, perhaps, find some common ground among us, before we formulate those "versions" of the film in our separate heads afterward. Before we leave the dark of the theater and return to our individual lives, we can share something magical. It doesn't have to be a musical, of course, but musicals have that extra layer of magic, and the songs can get stuck in our heads for, well, ever.

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