Blindspotting: West Side Story and 42nd Street

BlindSpot-WestSideStory6

.

One of the reasons why you may not often hear as much about plot or character when discussing musicals is that they tend to use age old stories at their core. More often than not it’s all about those tunes and performances, so those familiar tales are used to provide a familiar landscape from which to launch the song and dance routines. As I sat down to catch up with a couple of classic musicals with well-worn structures – a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the big city and a backstage look at the lead up to a performance’s premiere with a big break for a young ingenue – I wondered if either of these tales could be given new life via more than just their music and production numbers…While each brought moments of wonderful creativity and sparkling entertainment (in different amounts), the stories were, for the most part, still born.

BlindSpot-42ndStreet2
BlindSpot-WestSideStory2

That’s not enough to dismiss either film though. In particular, West Side Story is a monument to production design and choreography. Just about every shot in the film is packed with colour from mixed pastels to bright primaries to everything in between in just the right combinations. As a series of stills it would make for an incredible photography exhibit. Of course, much of the secret to the film is its motion in the form of Jerome Robbins’ choreography (he’s also credited here as a co-director along with the master of many genres Robert Wise). It feels novel and exciting even 50 years down the road. It’s sharp and quick and powerful – in short, it’s incredibly physical. It’s an expression of the character’s youthful energy and their inability to find a place to put it, and so it ends up working perfectly during the confrontation and fight scenes where the dancing is essentially the fighting itself. If not every tune fully landed with me, the vast majority did and mostly kept me with the 2 and a half hour runtime. Mostly.

Would you like to know more…?

Blindspotting in 2014

BlindSpot-AshesAndDiamonds

.
Let’s review…This whole idea behind the Blind Spot series (kicked off 2 years ago by top notch Toronto blogger/writer dudes James McNally and Ryan McNeil) is solely meant to poke and prod slackards like myself into finally getting around to those films that we not only feel are classics we should see, but ones we really want to see. Whether the titles are standard “Canon” fodder or some goofy grindhouse flick that you found for a dollar and have had sitting at home for 5 years, the point is to nudge us to watch something that has obviously caught our eye, but keeps getting passed over. Indeed, life is too short to watch something dull/crappy simply to “get through it” and check it off a list, but we’re talking about movies that sparked some kind of interest at some point and now vie for your attention with a vast array of other possibilities. The vast majority of the 44 blindspots I’ve seen and written about over the last 2 years (pairing movies for each post) have been well worth the wait and typically confounded expectations that had been in place for years. Even the ones that didn’t do much for me at least gave me something to consider.

So here is my initial cut at the pairings I’m looking at for 2014 (with me reserving the right to scrap them and alter my choices based on nothing more than a whim). What about you? Any particular film or films you’ve been meaning to see, but keep avoiding?

 

Breaking The Waves (1996)
Shanghai Express (1932)

One of the pairings I didn’t get around to last year, so let’s give it another shot. Almost 65 years separate these two stories of women and their sacrifices – it just takes one of them exactly twice as long as the other to tell its version.

Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)
Ashes And Diamonds (1958)

The other pairing I didn’t do last year was Best Years Of Our Lives and From Here To Eternity (I decided to swap them out for a couple of Westerns). On reconsidering their inclusion again this year, I still wanted to get to Best Years, but this time out I thought I would match it up with another post-war story. I’m expecting the view from Poland to be in sharp contrast to the one from the U.S. though.

BlindSpot-WestSideStory

West Side Story (1961)
42nd Street (1933)

Busby Berkeley’s flights of imagination seem to be a good match for the colour and choreography of West Side.

Would you like to know more…?

Film on TV: December 6-12

Intolerance.jpg
Intolerance, playing late Sunday night on TCM.

The next episode of TCM’s History of Hollywood series takes us into the 1950s, and they pair it with a bunch of gritty dramas on Monday (a few of which started as teleplays, as befits the 1950s preoccupation with television) and a spattering of other ’50s highlights on Wednesday. One of those is the newly featured The Defiant Ones, which also points to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement; also note Lilies of the Field on Friday. Not too many other newly featured things: The Girl on the Train on Monday on IFC, a trio of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musicals on TCM on Thursday, The Bishop’s Wife getting us ready for Christmas on Sunday, and also Intolerance, which I would rank as my favorite Griffith film.

Monday, December 6

6:40pm – Sundance – The Girl on the Train
In this French film, a young girl claims to be the victim of an anti-Semite attack on a train; a media sensation follows, but is she telling the truth? I’ve been curious about this one for a while, but haven’t made time to see it. Has anyone caught it yet?
2009 France. Director: André Téchiné. Starring: Émilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Cahterine Deneuve.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 12:00M and 5:10am on the 7th)

7:00pm – IFC – Letters from Iwo Jima
The Japan-focused half of Clint Eastwood’s two-part exploration of World War II, which most people consider superior to the American half, Flags of Our Fathers. Of course, I goofed and only saw the American half, but I keep meaning to go back and see Letters from Iwo Jima as well, not least of all because Ken Watanabe is always worth watching.
2006 USA. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Hiroshi Watanabe.

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: Attack of the Small Screens
The sixth episode of TCM’s History of Hollywood series hits up the 1950s, the beginning of the end for the Hollywood studio system, as the original moguls left or were forced out of their empires, the McCarthy era and its blacklist ravaged Hollywood, and television threatened theatre-going. Yet it was also a time of great artistry, with gritty realism staking a firm claim on the cinematic landscape along with lush melodramas, socially conscious dramas, and bright musicals.

12:00M – TCM – A Face in the Crowd
A rare film role for homespun comedian Andy Griffith really shows his chops as he plays an Ozark hobo who becomes an overnight sensation on radio and TV; when the fame and power starts going to his head, the film shows the cynical dark underbelly of media sensations. One of the recently late Patricia Neal’s best roles, too, as the girl who discovers him.
1957 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick.

12:00M – IFC – Pulp Fiction
Tarantino’s enormously influential and entertaining film pretty much needs no introduction from me. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta give the performances of their careers, Tarantino’s dialogue is spot-on in its pop-culture-infused wit, and the chronology-shifting, story-hopping editing style has inspired a host of imitators, most nowhere near as good.
1994 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames.
Must See

2:15am (7th) – TCM – Sweet Smell of Success
One of the most acidically witty films of the 1950s, Sweet Smell of Success turns its gaze on Broadway gossip columnist Burt Lancaster, who connives with press agent Tony Curtis to break up his sister’s romance – a searing indictment of unscrupulous newspaper men, yes, and a bitingly funny one to boot.
1957 USA. Director: Alexander Mackendrick. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene.

4:00am (7th) _ TCM – A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire won Vivien Leigh her second Oscar as fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, and made a star out of Marlon Brando. It’s also one of the films I’m most embarrassed to say I’ve never seen. I even have it on DVD somewhere! Someday, I will get to it.
1951 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Stanley, Karl Malden.

Would you like to know more…?

Film on TV: April 5-11

fistful-of-dollars.jpg
A Fistful of Dollars, playing on TCM on Saturday, April 10th.

A bit sparse this week, but still plenty of things worth checking out. Among the newly featured films are a couple of Australian comedies, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Monday and Strictly Ballroom on Friday, the early Woody Allen sci-fi comedy Sleeper on Tuesday, sparkling screwball comedy Libeled Lady on Thursday, quintessential spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars on Friday, and Garbo showcase Queen Christina on Sunday.

Monday, April 5

8:00pm – IFC – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Any half-decent film about three drag queens driving a bus through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) pretty much has to be fabulous, and this one is. Hugo Weaving is the one with the secret former marriage and son, Terence Stamp the aging one who tends to be somewhat bitter but can also be the consummate lady, and Guy Pearce is the flamboyant youth. As they move through the Outback toward their next proposed gig as lipsynching dancers, they run into mechanical difficulties, bigotry, and interpersonal conflicts that get into more thoughtful territory than you might expect.
1994 Australia. Director: Stephan Elliott. Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, Rebel Penfold-Russell.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:00am on the 6th)

10:00pm – Sundance – Le doulos
Jean-Paul Belmondo brings his signature style to Jean-Pierre Meville’s excellent crime film as a possible police informant working with another criminal on a jewel heist. These two men are played off each other in a sort of doubling motif – it’s often even difficult to tell which is which, due to careful cinematography and lighting work by Melville.
1962 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, René Lefèvre.
(repeats at 5:25am on the 6th, and 6:25am and 2:15pm on the 10th)

1:30am (6th) – TCM – Shane
Alan Ladd plays the titular cowboy, idolized by the young son of the family he takes refuge with as he tries to escape Jack Palance.
1953 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Jack Palance.

Would you like to know more…?

Film on TV: March 1-7

Contempt.jpg
Contempt, playing on TCM late Sunday/early Monday

 

Of the new ones this week, I’m most excited about catching Days of Heaven myself (Monday on TCM), since it’s part of the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls marathon. Don’t know if I’ll watch it right away, though; I’m trying to keep in somewhat chronological order watching those. Other notable newly features ones: West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause on Tuesday, Alien on Wednesday (I’m long overdue a rewatch on that one), All the President’s Men on Thursday, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt late Sunday/early Monday.

Monday, March 1

8:30am – IFC – American Splendor
Harvey Pekar is one of the more idiosyncratic graphic novelists there is (”comic book” doesn’t quite cover his very adult, neurotic art), and Paul Giamatti brings him to life perfectly.
2003 USA. Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis.
(repeats at 3:30pm)

10:15pm – TCM – Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick has made his reputation on only four films; this is his second, some five years after debut Badlands. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Marathon list, so I will be before long – and judging by the screencaps I’ve already seen, I’m expecting to love it.
1978 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard.
Newly Featured!

Would you like to know more…?