Sunday, May 26, 2013

With a smile and a song

This week, I started on a new project: I'm going to watch all of the animated Disney features in chronological order! This isn't a new or original idea in any way, but it'll be the first time I've ever done - if I'm able to get through the list! Right now, I'm a little stuck on Pinocchio. No one seems to have it. Anyway, this week, I watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) for the first time in a long time.

I always find it irritating when people glaze over Snow White because they "can't stand the voice" or they think "all she wants is to get married." Stuff and nonsense. Snow White is super adorable with tons of personality. I realized this when I revisited the movie a few years ago and rediscovered it all over again this week. Within the first few seconds of meeting Snow White, she has a cool personality: she's hard at work in her own castle, looks up to see all of the work she has left to do, heaves a sigh, and then hums as she continues with her work. She's so cool! There's no defeatist attitude, no anger, no "I'm such a victim." She's good-natured and positive, even in the face of a really bad situation. And that's only the first few seconds!

Something I began to think about this time around - it's something that I've wondered for a while now - is how long she's known the prince. The audience never actually gets that information. We automatically assume that they meet for the first time at the well, but that doesn't have to be the case. I mean, why is the prince wandering alongside a castle wall, so far from his own kingdom? Could it be he's coming to visit her? She gets startled and runs away - it could be because a strange man popped up beside her, but couldn't it also be that the handsome prince she likes has caught her in the act of singing about him and now he's seeing her in rags? The lyric of the song is, "I'm wishing for the one I love to find me today." The whole "one I love" thing could be a thinking-about-the-future type description, but I think it could just as easily be that they've already fallen in love and now she's hoping he'll come looking for her

My sister one time told me that Snow White has the deepest connection to nature, out of all the Disney princesses. Rewatching the movie, I can see that this is definitely the case. She finds herself in the middle of a strange forest with animals she doesn't know and they immediately feel comfortable with her. Also, there's a part in "With a Smile and a Song" where a little chipmunk scurries up to her, she reaches out to pet it, and it runs away. I watched the chipmunk for the rest of the scene and when it comes back up to her, she doesn't reach out to pet it anymore and it runs all over her lap and sits on her legs. I think it's so cool that she respects him and he, in turn, trusts her! It's such a great detail!

I guess I won't break down the whole movie into pieces about what I loved. But, it really was fun to revisit and rediscover this classic. It's pretty incredible to watch it and imagine people seeing it for the first time, having nothing else to compare it to. I watched the movie a second time and added the commentary and learned some fascinating bits of trivia along the way. The most pressing thing I learned was what an undertaking the film was for Walt Disney and his studio. But, even the little things like the fact that Deanna Durbin was turned down for the role of Snow White, that Marge Belcher (later Marge Champion) was the live model for Snow White, and that the gross of the film's profits included a great deal of children's fares, which means the movie could easily have been seen more than the other top films of the year (Walt particularly cited Gone with the Wind) were the details that stuck out the most.

Have you revisited this movie recently? What were your discoveries?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Should you select the right effect you cannot miss

Ok! Here we go: back to it!

I want to get started with a compare/contrast post. Today, we're going to discuss:

Roberta (1935) and the remake Lovely to Look At (1952)

I have a funny double standard when it comes to remakes. If a storyline is recycled but was released in the 30's through the 60', I am much more accepting of it than if it was released recently.  

First, the original:

Roberta tells the story of a young football coach, John Kent (Randolph Scott) is traveling to Paris with his friend, Huck Haines (Fred Astaire) and Huck's band, "The Wabash Indianians." After some confusion with the band's booking, John visits his Aunt Minnie to see if she can get the band a job. Aunt Minnie owns a couture dress shop, Roberta's. John falls in love with his aunt's assistant, Stephanie (Irene Dunne) while Huck runs into an old sweetheart, a client of the shop, Countess Tanka Scharwenka (Ginger Rogers). After Aunt Minnie dies, John inherits Roberta's. Just when things are getting settled between John and Stephanie, John's ex-girlfriend, Sophie, shows up and adds a bit of mayhem to the plot. In the end, they decide to save the dress shop by combining talents and throwing a musical fashion show with Huck's band to showcase Stephanie's designs.

This is a storyline that I'm surprised has yet to be picked up in contemporary film. I feel like the story of a football coach inheriting a couture dress shop in Paris would provide filmmakers with all sorts of possibilities. I'm glad they haven't though; they'd probably fill it with crass humor and remove all of the charm and wit in the original.

The remake fascinates me because it keeps the basic storyline, sort of: unlikely American guy inherits a Parisian dress shop. However, characters are added and meshed together and everyone is a sort of combination of the original characters. I kind of like this approach because it makes it harder to compare the two. In Arlene Croce's The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book, she remarks that Marge and Gower Champion are "dizzy" as Fred and Ginger. When I watched Lovely to Look At, I remembered her criticism and walked into the movie with some wariness. But, as much as I love her book, I disagree with her critique: Marge and Gower Champion aren't Fred and Ginger. They get some of the songs that Fred and Ginger performed in the original and Gower Champion is somewhat like Huck Haines, but they're actually pretty new characters to the plot. 

Ok, so let me break down the remake for those who haven't seen it. Al Marsh (Red Skelton), Tony Naylor (Howard Keel), and Jerry Ralby (Gower Champion) are having difficulties in getting their show picked up by investors. Tony's showgirl girl friend, Bubbles (Ann Miller) offers to help them out, but Tony refuses her help. When Al receives word that he has inherited a dress shop from his aunt in Paris, the three pack up and head over to try and sell the shop and get on with their show. When they arrive, however, they discover that the shop is bankrupt and that the adopted daughters of Al's late aunt, Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and Clarisse (Marge Champion) have been waiting for Al to arrive and help them save the business. What follows is a great deal of mixed up love triangles, with Jerry and Clarisse being the only couple to come out uncomplicated: Al and Tony both fall for Stephanie, Stephanie falls in love with Tony, and when Bubbles shows up unexpectedly, and tries to win Tony back, Al starts to fall for her too. In the midst of all these romantic entanglements, the group decides to throw a musical fashion show (sound familiar?) and bring the shop back into the spotlight. Tony's love for Stephanie is put to the test when he finds a backer for the show and he must decide whether to continue with his own plans or stay in Paris to help with the fashion show.

a different approach to a musical fashion show

Again, this remake fascinates me. The songs and basic premise are the only things that really tie it back to the original. The additional complication of the show adds a different set of problems to the plot and the characters are all over the place compared to their original counterparts. The John Kent character is split into two by being Al, who inherits the shop, and Tony, who falls for Stephanie and has a girlfriend from back home who creates just the right amount of confusion to the budding relationship. Huck Haines is in part Tony, for being the friend of the heir, and Jerry, who's on the sidelines for a good part of the film. Stephanie is really the only character to stay consistent in name and role. But, Bubbles is a weird combination of John's girlfriend, Sophie, and Huck's nightclub performer girlfriend, Tanka. You see? When you start comparing all of the characters, it starts to get a little confusing. I like that! And I didn't even bring up Zsa Zsa Gabor who, I think, is a bit like Tanka as well.

I still like the original best. It's very funny and has a really cute storyline that is pretty uncomplicated. I love all of the characters in it. John Kent is very frustrating at times, but he's still pretty endearing. And Fred and Ginger are at their bantering best in this one. They never actually fight at all, which is a refreshing change in the pattern of mistaken identities and mixed up plot lines that they usually got. 

The remake is a really cute move with some great songs. I don't like Tony's character at all, so I have a hard time understanding why Stephanie would fall in love with him; she deserves so much better. I'm not a huge fan of Red Skelton's physical humor, either, so that's a factor too. I love Marge and Gower Champion in the movie and I didn't have a problem with them taking Fred and Ginger's songs - I think they made the songs their own pretty well. The biggest problem I have with the movie, really, is that I don't like one of the main characters and he gets the girl at the end. As far as remakes go, though, it's a creative take on an original story.

What do you guys think? Have you seen either of the movies? Both? How did they compare?