Thursday, July 12, 2012

Turner Classic Movies Presents Singin' in the Rain 60th Anniversary Event

So, we went to the event and there were several high points and low points. Everything about the film was wonderful, but several issues with the venue are worth mentioning so that the promoters and the theater chain can fix these the next time. Let me start with the positives. There is basically no way to offer criticism of a classic like "Singin' in the Rain". It is pretty much perfect and it has been so for the sixty years that it has existed. If you ever read someone disparaging this movie, know that they are simply taking a position to get some attention. This movie is the pinnacle of the golden age of Hollywood musicals. I know that more musicals won Academy Awards for Best Picture in the 1960s than in any other decade, but all of those were adaptions of Broadway shows. Singin' in the Rain was a home grown creation of studio talent, and dancing genius, combined with the most impressive casting you can expect in factory town like Hollywood and MGM were in 1951/52. As I watched the movie on the big screen, I was even more impressed with some of it's accomplishments. An early musical number, "Fit as a Fiddle", features Gene Kelly and Donald O'Conner is a dancing duet that is so seamless as to be impossible. When they skate past each other as their legs cross and their feet slip into the next space, you have to ask how they managed to synchronize those movements so effectively. It defies logic but it must have taken hundreds of hours of set up, rehearsal and filming to make it look as great as it does. And, this is really a through away sketch that has little to do with the main story. Still, they lavished such attention to detail in getting it right that you know there were true creative professionals at work here.

There are a dozen other amazing dance sequences to match this one. Kelly and O'Conner again in the "Mose's supposes" bit, and then "Good Morning" with Debbie Reynolds.  The ballet "Lullaby of Broadway" with Cyd Charisse is amazing. There is a complicated sequence with a forty or fifty foot bridal wedding veil, which must have been so carefully planned and choreographed that today you would need a computer to figure out all the angles and directions the wind would have to travel in. They did it without the aid of such technology and it looks beautiful. Of course there is also Donald O'Conner's comic"Make Em Laugh" sequence that combines true dancing skills with athletic acrobatic moves to bring down the house. The cheery on top of all the other treats is Kelly strolling through the rain in a backlot version of Hollywood, soaked to the skin but singing his heart out. It also gives us one of the most iconic images of Hollywood movie making in the first century of the art. Kelly, standing on a lamppost with his arms and heart outstretched for all of us to see and weep with joy for being a part of.

When I saw "Singin' in the Rain" as a kid, the first time was on the afternoon movie. Local stations played films between the soap operas which ended around two or three in the afternoon and their news programs which did not usually start until five or six. In order to fit the time slots, the movies were often carved up. I knew the movie, but I never saw the "Broadway Rhythm Ballet" sequence until "That's Entertainment", because the film got cut up by the local broadcasters. In the late seventies, there were two stations that started playing the old movies complete with limited commercials and that is when I saw the film all the way though, complete for the first time. My best friend Art Franz and I became enamored of the MGM musicals after the appearance of  "That's Entertainment" in 1974. The contemporary movies were great, but I see no need to dismiss the work of brilliant entertainers from two decades earlier simply because they worked under a different set of rules. I have encountered way too many people who dismiss old movies because they lack the grit and realism of many later eras. Those folks are missing out on the shared community that films produced in the U.S before the advent of nightly television. Maybe, the films were a bit sunny, but I never look at a sunny day and ask for gloom to show up and spoil it.

Debbie Reynolds was only 18 when she made "Singin' in the Rain". There was a great clip of her talking about the movie with TCM's Robert Osbourne, right before the movie started. She told some great stories and admitted that she was scared and had to work really hard to keep up with Gene Kelly's high standards. The song and dance number "Good Morning" is performed by all three stars, but it is really the chance that Debbie Reynolds gets to stand out as a real film star. Her charm and personality more than make up for whatever dancing talent she lacked, although I dare you to find any weakness in her dancing in this sequence.  She keeps step with both of the more accomplished stars and does so while being the center of the action. It is also a very complicated dance involving a stair case and furniture.

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont got a laugh every time she opened her mouth. She was perfect for the role of the silent romantic screen star with a voice that would make Fran Drescher seem pleasant. When she gets uppity with the studio head and becomes a real villain to Reynolds character, we take enormous pleasure when she is knocked back down to earth. There is a wonderful sequence where a dialect coach tries to help her develop a more appropriate way of speaking, and she simply cannot hear any difference from the coaches words to her own. It reminds me of my own difficulties when trying to say foreign words. I know I'm saying them the exact way I hear them, but nobody else ever seems to agree.

The theater was packed. There was not a seat to be had and I saw several people simply standing in the back of the theater to watch the movie. This was a sixty year old film, being screened on a Thursday night. While there were a lot of older folks there, I was pleased to see a large number of movie lovers in their twenties and thirties at the screening. There were also at least two dozen kids dragged to the movie by their parents who sat in awe and laughed and clapped when everyone else did as well. It was a true family night out at the movies.

The Not So Good

Fathom events is the company that arranges these programs. We saw all three Lord Of the Rings pictures last year and Casablanca, earlier this year at Fathom events. The theater chain is AMC, and they are usually reliable, but something was off with last night's program. It may be that the unusual humidity here in Southern California threw off the system, but the air conditioning was not working and the theater felt stifling. This is not what you want in a summer screening at a modern facility. Also, AMC should have known that they were going to have a crowd since so many of the people who come to these things buy their tickets on-line. As a result, they should have been able to figure out that more than two registers needed to be opened at the concession stand for a seventeen screen complex with at least one film completely booked up.  I also cannot remember a time when a concession stand, ran out of popcorn. Popcorn is the life blood of an exhibitors cash stream. Asking people to wait so that you can make more, after they have already waited ten to fifteen minutes in overcrowded lines is a bad idea. Finally, I know that the program is a single day and therefore your automated system will need to be adjusted. That however does not excuse having the houselights stay on for the first ten minutes of the movie. Even worse however was the fact that everyone had to find their way out of the theater in the dark because the houselights did not come on at the end of the movie. Watching two to three hundred people, many of whom are older, stumble around by the light from dozens of cell phones was not a pretty picture.

Despite the fact that I went without popcorn, and skipped the Coke Zero as well as a result, we still had a wonderful time, thanks to Stanley Donnen, Gene Kelly, Arthur Freed, Donald O'Conner, Debbie Reynolds, and a cast and crew of thousands who made one of the most enduring and endearing films about Hollywood ever.

2 comments:

HenceTheWeather said...
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Josh Seaman said...

I feel your pain Richard.
Theaters now feel more cold and emotionless than they did when I was a kid, and when consessions were 2 dollars. I dream that one day a production company will make their own theater chain and show their films for a nominal fee, while maintaining REASONABLE prices for popcorn and other refreshments. Maybe even a list of proper theater edicate engraved in gold on the front of each theater door. Inside each theater their would be a pair of gaurds, each wearing night vision goggles and carrying semi-automatic weapons. These gaurds would enoforce any and all theater edicate under under penalty of death. (This rule wouldn't apply for those pure-of-heart moviegoers, whose cell phones accidentally ring because they forget to turn it off sometimes)