Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sound of Music (Best Picture 1965)

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears!

Has anyone not seen The Sound of Music? I suppose those of you reading this who might be under 30 may never have seen it, as it has not been on network television for nearly ten years. If you have not seen it, you should go to the library or your nearest bookstore or Target and get a copy. In may ways, The Sound of Music epitomizes Broadway and Hollywood musicals of the Fifties and Sixties. Besides that, the film and its music are such an important part of US (world?) popular culture that you really owe it to yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...

Director Robert Wise starts the film in a similar way to how he opened West Side Story, namely, by showing us various scenes of the locale from the air until he eventually goes to extreme close-up on Julie Andrews as Fraulein Maria, singing, "The Sound of Music."  It is funny to think that the helicopter that took that great panoramic shot knocked Julie Andrews down each time it flew by her. Watch carefully and you'll see that the beginning of the song is an entirely new shot.

Fraulein Maria is a postulate at the Salzburg Abbey, studying to be a nun. However, she is not fitting in, and the elder nuns are not sure what to do with her.
She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee, her dress has got a tear. 
She waltzes on her way to Mass and whistles on the stair! 
And underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair 
I've even heard her singing in the abbey!

Mother Superior has been asked to supply a governess to the Von Trapp Family, so decides to dispatch Maria to the family to test her fortitude and devotion. A Captain and seven children? What's so fearsome about that? With confidence in herself she meets her charges and The Captain, making an impression on all of them by refusing to answer to his ship's whistle call for her. Liesl, the eldest, doesn't need a governess, as she is already sixteen (going on seventeen). Maria tries to remember all of the children's names, but they definitely have the advantage over her. Later, in Maria's bedroom, as Maria and Liesl start to break the ice, the other children arrive, too, because of the frightening thunderstorm. They share a song, talking about their favorite things.

When the dog bites when the bee stings when I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad!

After The Captain goes on another of his trips to Vienna, Maria takes the children on picnics and hikes and jaunts, having fun and enjoying each others' company. When their father returns to Salzburg with Baroness Schroeder, he is non-plussed to find his children dressed in play-clothes, enjoying themselves. In the emotional lynch-pin of the film, Maria and The Captain argue about the way he is raising his children, depriving them of love because of his sadness at their mother's death. The Captain fires Maria, then suddenly hears his children singing to the Baroness. No matter how often I watch this, it brings a tear to my eye every time.

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
and I'll sing once more

Later, at a party at the villa to introduce The Baroness to Salzburg society, she, Maria, and The Captain all realize that Maria and The Captain are in love. Maria escapes back to the abbey, hoping to become a nun and forget the Von Trapp Family. Mother Superior tells her she has to face her problems, so sends her back to the villa. The Captain gives up The Baroness, and the two ask the children if it would be all right for them to get married. While they are on their honeymoon, the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) occurs. The Captain is forcibly drafted into the German Navy. Rather than face that immoral prospect, the entire family attempts to flee to Switzerland. They are escorted to the Salzburg Folk Festival, where they perform and then successfully escape from the Nazis.
Climb every mountain, ford every stream
Follow every rainbow till you find your dream

This sound-track album was one of the first I ever owned. I love almost all of the songs. If I had to pick a favorite I would probably pick "Do-Re-Mi." Who doesn't know the Do-Re-Mi song, even if you have not actually seen the film? And the film of this song is just like an actual music video, filmed around various sites in Salzburg as they frolic to the music. It's just a fun song, filmed well, and oh so enjoyable. I can listen to that song all day. By the way, when I lived in Japan, I heard the Japanese version of this song. The words are all completely different, of course. Do=donut, re=lemon, mi=either "mikan" (mandarin oranges) or "minna" (everyone), fa="Fight!" (i.e. do your best), so="sora" (the sky), la="rappa" (trumpet), tea/she ="shiawase" (happiness). If you don't believe me, check out  Japanese Do-Re-Mi.

And of course, the story is very inspirational. I have read the autobiographical book, The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp. For some reason, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and musician Richard Rodgers changed the story in various odd ways for their Broadway musical. For example, they switched the genders of the two eldest children, and as the eldest girl was also named "Maria," they changed her name to Liesl. The real Von Trapps got married in the early Twenties, not March 1938 as they did in the movie. And they took a train out of Salzburg, not a mountain hike.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with string
These are a few of my favorite things 

Julie Andrews is wonderful as Maria. After portraying Mary Poppins the year before and Fraulein Maria here, her reputation as being "wholesome" was set. She did challenge several interesting roles later, such as in Torn Curtain, S.O.B., and Victor/Victoria, but for many millions she will always be "Maria." Christopher Plummer is handsome and aloof at the beginning of the film; it is not hard to see his heart melting as a man re-introduced to his children, music, and love, all thanks to Julie Andrews. Eleanor Parker of course has the thankless job of portraying The Baroness, a real bitch. I guess that was the point: all The Captain saw in her was her cultured physical beauty. Richard Haydn plays The Captain's best friend, Max, but he never does enough to make him into a truly likeable character. He always comes across as something of a scoundrel and a parasite to me.

So long, farewell auf wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.

A reunion of the entire "family" on Oprah's show in 2010!
The Sound of Music
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1965*
Produced by Robert Wise
Directed  by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II 
and Richard Rodgers
Based on the original stage musical 
Book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
Originally produced by 
Leland Hayward, Richard Halliday, 
Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein II
What a great trailer!
Coincidentally, there are two Lost In Space connections here.
One, of course, is Angela Cartwright as Brigitta.
She went on after this film to portray "Penny" on Lost in Space.
The other is the narrator of this trailer: Dick Tufeld,
who was the voice of The Robot on that series!

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns
Darling was the "hip" story of the model who sleeps her way to success; it won Julie Christie the Best Actress Oscar. Doctor Zhivago also starred Julie Christie, this time teamed with Omar Sharif in a love story set against the Russian Revolution. I remember seeing it in high school and thinking it was long and somewhat dull, not really the adjectives you think of when thinking of the Rusian Revolution. The score won an Oscar for Maurice Jarre; his song "Lara's Theme" is still very well known. The other two nominees I had not heard of until I did research on this article.  Ship of Fools, Vivien Leigh's final film, was called "a Grand Hotel at sea." It also featured Lee Marvin, who won Best Actor for Cat Ballou, a terrifically funny Western. A Thousand Clowns is a comedy starring Jason Robards and Martin Balsam, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role. And Shelley Winters won her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the evil mother in A Patch of Blue, a drama where a blind white woman falls in love with Sidney Poitier.

And yes, that is my Japanese DVD at the top of this article. It has both English and Japanese tracks, but we always watch/listen to the English version!

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Fair Lady (Best Picture 1964)

My Fair Lady was one of the most famous and popular Broadway shows and Hollywood films in the late Fifties and early Sixties. There is something about it that must have represented or mirrored its time in the same way that Perry Como, Dinah Shore, or Red Skelton did. Which means that because it was such a huge part of that zeitgeist, I firmly believe I would not have belonged there, as I absolutely hate this film.

I talked about how I do not like the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe movie musical, Gigi, here.
After Lerner and Loewe became famous in 1956 for writing My Fair Lady for Broadway, they worked on Gigi for MGM. There are similarities between the two works, and in a very real sense "if you've seen one, you've seen them both." Both feature the "teaching" of a younger female character for the pleasure of a man. Both feature strongly misogynist older gentlemen as the leads. Both feature costumes and scenes over characterization. And to my ear, both feature similar music and lyrics. And I thought Gigi was the worst Best Picture I had ever seen.
If you've been following this series of reviews then you may be happy to hear that David Niven and Cantinflas in their 1956 Best Picture winner, Around the World in Eighty Days, have moved up AGAIN from the basement. Although My Fair Lady the show came before Gigi the movie, so therefore should have some claim to being an original, the film Gigi is so much better a film than My Fair Lady the movie that it's really no contest. Yes, My Fair Lady is my newest candidate for Worst Best Picture Ever.

Why do I hate My Fair Lady so much? I am very glad you asked me that, as I have a whole list of good reasons. Basically they fall into one of three reasons: 1. the story and main characters are unpleasant; 2. the music and lyrics are poorly presented; or 3. the film is technically ordinary.
1. The story and main characters are unpleasant
First of all, and most important to me, is that this film consists of spending three hours (THREE HOURS!) with two very unpleasant people! Rex Harrison plays Professor Higgins, a linguist in London who meets up with Colonel Pickering, another speech theorist just home from India (played by Winfred Hyde-White). Together they happen to meet Eliza, a common flower girl living on the streets. Eliza is played not very convincingly by Audrey Hepburn. They eventually challenge themselves to mold her into a Lady. Pickering is an easy-going gentleman, but the other two are loud, obnoxious, self-centered, and annoying. Higgins is a cruel bully with an unbelievable ego. Eliza begins the story as an idiot, screaming and carrying on over the smallest of things. Although by the end of the story she has learned some self-esteem, she still seems awfully silly. As for Higgins...the things he says to her! He calls her baggage a few times, for example, and that was one of the less evil things he says. As the older gentlemen (?) attempt to teach her how to speak and carry herself as a Lady, at one point the staff sings a song, "Poor Professor Higgins." The lyrics are about the efforts that he is making on her behalf, but the scenes we see show all the efforts that SHE is making. Is this supposed to be funny? Later, after the three of them go to a Royal Ball and Eliza manages to convince people that she is a foreign royal, the house staff and Pickering sing, "You Did It" to Higgins, never mentioning Eliza at all! If this is supposed to be some sort of comedy about Class Warfare or Gender Stereotypes or something, I just don't get it. As it is, it's just cringe-inducing. Who can watch this and not feel Eliza's pain at being treated so callously?
At the end Eliza finally challenges Higgins on how he treats people; he basically says that he is mean to everybody, and Eliza eventually seems to go along with this. However, there is a huge difference in how he talks to Pickering and how to talks to Eliza. In "A Hymn To Him" he complains about women in general, yet Eliza has done none of the things he complains about; in fact, all she has demanded is to be treated with respect~! I thought it was telling in the confrontation scene at Higgins' mother's home, Higgins appears to be pouting in the corner because the women aren't doing what he is telling them to do! At the end I guess we are supposed to understand that Higgins has come to enjoy Eliza's company much in the same way that he enjoys Pickering's, and that knowing this is enough for her. If this is the case I would have liked it spelled out more clearly. Frankly, I was hoping she wouldn't go back. To me it seems too much like an abusive relationship.I know that sounds harsh, and I have re-read this twice to figure out some way to write it more softly, but it's really how I feel. Higgins is a cad and a pompous ass, and I don't "get" his attractiveness as a character.
2. The music and lyrics are poorly presented
My parents had a copy of this LP around the house when I was a child, but tellingly, it was of the Broadway show (starring Julie Andrews), not the motion picture soundtrack. There are a few songs here that have become well-known Standards. However, I would argue that none of the versions for this film were done very well. For one thing, Audrey Hepburn very obviously is not singing here; the singer is Marni Nixon, who also famously dubbed for Deborah Kerr in The King And I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. Unfortunately, the voice of Marni Nixon doesn't match Audrey Hepburn's speaking voice at all. So even the songs that I do like ("The Rain In Spain," and "I Could Have Danced All Night") don't fare very well in this version. For another, Rex Harrison doesn't sing his songs, either, choosing instead to speak-sing them. One or two of these types of presentations might have been nice, but all of them? Plus, most of Higgins' songs are as unpleasant as Higgins' personality is ("Why Can't The English" is just snobbery set to music, and "I'm An Ordinary Man" is misogynist rhetoric). As a side-note, was that really Hyde-White's voice singing along with "The Rain In Spain" and "You Did It?" Pickering has a deep bass singing voice which doesn't match Hyde-White's high, nasal speaking voice at all. So whether it was his actual voice or not, it was very incongruous. Lastly, I really like the romanticism of "The Street Where You Live,"  but the version here by Jeremy Brett as Freddy is not to my liking. I'm not sure why, but of all the versions I've heard, this is one I don't really like. So this film's music just leaves me cold. 
3. The film is technically ordinary.
The Overture takes four minutes and what do we look at while it is playing? Flowers! When the action finally starts, where do we go but to an obvious sound-stage representing London. Say what I do about the quality of Gigi, at the very least it was filmed mostly on-location in Paris. Those scenes that were not actually in Paris certainly did not look as much like a sound-stage as My Fair Lady's London does! Also, the choreography of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" is pedestrian in the extreme, and of course it doesn't help that you can tell the buildings supposedly one block over are painted back-drops. The horse race scenes specifically are awful! Does anyone believe that this is really London? Sure, I might be spoiled what with actual NYC in West Side Story and the actual Sahara in Lawrence, but, really, isn't that what helps make a film Best Picture?  There were no scenes that stood out as having been especially well shot. The whole thing just felt very very pedestrian.
Believe it or not, there were certain parts of the film that I did like. The costumes, of course, were magnificent. Everyone LOOKED great! The Study in Higgins' home is a wonderful set, what with its multiple floors and spiral staircase. All of the scenes played there were fun to watch, even if the dialogue or singing were off. One of the best scenes is between Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza's father, played by Stanley Holloway. He has heard that Eliza has come to live with Higgins, so he wants to try to extort money from him. Their playful banter back-and-forth is the best part of the show. When he shows up later, a victim of inherited money, "Get Me To The Church On Time" is another fun moment.
After I watched this film again (I saw it years ago in college and hated it then, too) I tried to read other reviews and commentary on it to see if my point of view was somehow off. From what I could find, many people seem to think the affection between Higgins and Eliza is more strongly implied than I did. That must be, because otherwise Rex Harrison won Best Actor for one of the most unpleasant lead characters I have ever had to endure.

Speaking of winning awards, "Eliza" on Broadway was played by a newcomer named Julie Andrews. Warner Brothers did not want to risk this film on her because she was then unknown. So they signed Audrey Hepburn to play the part instead. That freed Andrews to sign a contract with Walt Disney and make a little film called Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews ended up winning Best Actress for that role, while Hepburn was not even nominated for My Fair Lady. Wasn't that "loverly"?
My Fair Lady
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1964*
Produced by Jack Warner
Directed  by George Cukor
Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Based on the Broadway show 
produced by Herman Levin 
Music & Lyrics by 
Lerner and Loewe
Based on the play "Pygmalion"
by George Bernard Shaw

The only "trailer" I could find was this five minute
"Mini- Making Of..." that you might like


...if you're like me, you'd prefer this satirical take on
both My Fair Lady AND Mary Poppins.
I have to say actress Dawn Wells does just as well
here in Cockney as Audrey Hepburn does...!

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Dr. Strangelove or, 
How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb
Mary Poppins
Zorba the Greek
It seems that 1963 was the opposite of 1939 Hollywood: if that year had a plethora of wonderful films getting made, this year....didn't. Really, were any of these films worthy? No wonder My Fair Lady won. In hindsight, I would have picked Dr. Strangelove, I guess. Stanley Kubrick's classic satire on the atomic bomb stands the test of time. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tom Jones (Best Picture 1963)

The Best Picture of 1963 is a comedy that is not funny.
Tom Jones is a comedy in the same way that all of Shakespeare's non-tragedies and non-historical dramas are considered "comedies." However, I challenge you to laugh while watching this film.

Tom Jones starts off as a silent film, with a piano music and dialogue cards. I have no idea why; to suggest an earlier age? Squire Allworthy had been away on a trip for nearly a year, but when he returns he finds a newborn in his bed. He and his spinster sister confront one of the staff and her boyfriend, and when she admits that the child is hers, they send both away. The Squire and his sister decide to raise the child as their own.
Fast forward twenty years and young Tom is a handsome, lusty lad played by Albert Finney. He is in love with Sophie, played by Susannah York. She is the daughter of another landed gentleman, Squire Western (an eccentric Hugh Griffith). Although Tom loves Sophie, he doesn't let this stop him from sleeping with a woman in the village, and eventually every available woman he meets through the course of the film! Even though Sophie knows that Tom, being a bastard, is below her station and not entitled to Squire Allworthy's estate, she still loves him. Even after Sophie realizes that Tom is something of a player, she still loves him!
In the interim Tom's aunt has married and lost a husband, but has given birth to a son. Tom's cousin, Blifel (a terrifically slimy David Warner), are polar opposites: Tom is happy, fun, and loving, but Blifel is dark, serious, and angry. When Blifel's mother dies in a carriage accident, the rest of the film revolves around Blifel battling Tom for the affections of Squire Allworthy. Tom is eventually sent away, not knowing why, and heads towards London. Sophie also escapes to London rather than marry Blifel. After another 90 minutes of hijinks (think "The Perils of Pauline" meets "Benny Hill") all is well and the story ends happily.

It is very hard to understand the attraction of this film fifty years on. Was it considered risque at the time, and therefore socially significant? For example, there is one scene in an inn where Tom and Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman) are eating dinner. The scene is just them, cutting back and forth between them as they eat. It is supposedly highly erotic, but I failed to understand the subtleties. Am I too jaded? They are eating oysters, for example. So this is supposed to suggest that they are getting in the mood to have sex, right? Maybe this was highly erotic stuff in 1963, but today it's just kind of...people eating.

How about now?
It was fun to watch Albert Finney, who seems to be enjoying himself here. Knowing him mostly as a middle-aged character actor from films like Murder On The Orient Express and Erin Brockovich, it was neat to see him gallivant through this role. Likewise, Susannah York and David Warner are wonderful supporting players. Oddly enough, neither York nor Warner were nominated for their roles. Finney was nominated for Best Actor, and although Paul Newman was considered the likely winner for Hud, the Oscar went to Sidney Poitier for Lilies Of The Field. This was the first African-American man to win an Academy Award, and the second African-American to ever win (after Hattie McDaniel won as Best Supporting Actress in 1939).  Speaking of Best Supporting Actresses, Tom Jones boasted three nominees in the same category, the only time this has ever happened: Diane Cilento as Molly, Tom's, Edith Evans as Sophie's aunt, and Joyce Redman as Mrs. Waters. However, the Oscar went to Margaret Rutherford for The VIPs. I know her from the Miss Marple films of this era.
There is nothing particularly bad about the movie Tom Jones. On the other hand, I would be hard-pressed to call it a great film, either. I recommend you listen to The Greatest Hits of (another) Tom Jones instead.
Tom Jones
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1963*
Produced by Tony Richardson
Directed  by Tony Richardson
Screenplay by John Osborne

"The whole world loves Tom Jones!"
...or so he says.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
America, America
How The West Was Won
Lilies of the Field
America, America is a semi-autobiographical film written, directed, and produced by Elia Kazan starring an unknown actor. Cleopatra is three hours of Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, and Richard Burton destroying Egypt (and Twentieth-Century Fox). How The West Was Won is an EPIC story of various travelers as they head West, helmed by four different directors. And Lilies of the Field is basically a monologue by Sydney Poitier as he works for a bunch of nuns who don't speak very much English. It's a wonderful film, but not a Best Picture.

Extra Added Bonus: 

 "Everybody loves Tom Jones!"

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia (Best Picture 1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is probably the most beautifully photographed Best Picture film of all time. Unfortunately, just because a film is beautiful doesn't make it great. It seems to me that once again The Academy chose to bestow Best Picture on a film that was an achievement in film-making, but was not a great film.

My first question before I watched this film is, besides being Peter O'Toole, who WAS Lawrence of Arabia?

I hate to tell you but we never really do find out who the heck he was.
Here's what I did learn by watching Lawrence of Arabia: T.E. Lawrence died of a motorcycle accident in the UK sometime after World War I. People either liked him or hated him. He spoke Arabic. He did not judge people by class or by race. (Although he seemed to be a reverse-snob in the sense that he seemed to think that most if not all other British men were idiots.) He had an immense ego, until he was brought down by torture. He tried to unify the Arabs into one big "tribe" or "race," but when they wouldn't go along with his efforts, he got fed up and went back to Great Britain. The End. 
All the rest of the film is just details, mixed up and hard to follow. This seems like it's a war film, but until very very late into the film you get no map of where the action is supposedly happening. So the initial charge is into Yenbo, for example, but we have no idea if that is near, far, within reason, or out of the question. The characters seem to know, but that information isn't shared with the audience. (Or am I admitting that my sense of geography isn't what the average audience member of 1960's would have been?) So what drama there is, really isn't. And because the film begins with the death of Lawrence in England (eight minutes of excruciatingly dull scenes of him on a motorcycle!), there is no drama about Lawrence possibly dying in the midst of his story, either. So what is the point of this motion picture? More so than your "average" film, an epic spectacle like this seems to me to cry out that there IS a point to it. However, if there is one for Lawrence of Arabia, I have no idea what it is.
I don't mean to imply that the film is all bad. For the first half, especially, there seems to be a determined plot of Lawrence acquiring the Arabs' respect as he attempts to guide them as a force against the Turkish forces in Aquaba. (Is it bad of me to admit that I kept thinking of the city from Aladaddin, Agraba, every time they mentioned their battle plans?) The plot in the second half breaks down, however, as Lawrence does dumber and dumber things and there are more and more back-stabbings occurring. For example: Lawrence believes he can go into a Turkish city and not be noticed. (O'Toole is very very obviously blonde and blue-eyed). Lawrence believes he can win Damascus and then hold it against the British forces AND the Arab in-fighting. Lawrence believes he can defeat the Turkish forces, slaughtering them all, and still remain above the fray. (Symbolically, his robe remains mostly cleanly white throughout the film.)
Although this is a world-famous epic spectacle, the best parts of this film are the more intimate character moments. Lawrence makes the effort to save a man's life in the desert, then lives to regret it. Lawrence and his servants trek across the desert to inform the British Army about a battle; when they get to the British HQ he insists that his boy is served lemonade, even though the boy is an Arab.

Another highlight is the cast. Lawrence meets Ali (Omar Sharif) as an enemy, but they eventually become good friends. Both Sharif and O'Toole shine, especially in their scenes together. O'Toole as mentioned is totally Caucasian and wears a white robe; Sharif is a tall, dark, and handsome Arab, and wears a black robe throughout the film. Visually, they are opposites. And as mentioned, they are photographed well. Anthony Quinn is also outstanding as a Bedouin chieftain who joins Lawrence only for his own personal reasons. Claude Reins plays Dryden, a conniving bureaucrat. He is great, although I never quite understood what his role was supposed to be in the story. And Jack Hawkins as General Allenby, the supreme commander of the British forces, is also superbly underplayed. Not so well acted is Alec Guinness as Sheik Feisal. I am not a fan of Caucasian actors playing other races, and by this time, in glorious living color, Guinness simply looks like himself with tanner and a fake beard. It's embarrassing. By the way, no women have any speaking roles in this film. There are wives of Bedouin raiders shown, but none of them speak.  
A lot of what was probably wonderful in 1960 we can see nowadays on National Geographic specials. I ask you, how many scenes of the desert do we really need to watch? Five scenes of watching Peter O'Toole (or his stunt double) riding a camel in the desert for five minutes at a stretch doesn't make this a Best Picture.

Lawrence of Arabia
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1961*
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Directed  by David Lean
Screenplay by Robert Bolt (original) 
and Michael Wilson (credit added later)

Geez, even the trailer is long!
Watch this 5 minute mini-epic and skip the film.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny On The Bounty
To Kill A Mockingbird
It's hard to believe that one of the greatest US films of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird, lost out to Lawrence. I challenge you to watch both if you haven't already and then tell me which is better. There is a reason that Gregory Peck won Best Actor over Peter O'Toole. The Music Man is the rare musical film to be nominated for Best Picture but then not to win (others such honored were Anchors Aweigh, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, The King and I, and most famously, The Wizard of OZ). The Longest Day is another war epic, this one about D-Day. but in black and white. Compared to Lawrence, it must not have been "epic" enough. And if Mutiny On The Bounty had won it would have been the only re-make of a Best Picture (1935) to also win. Unfortunately, Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando were not Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. Also a shame that The Miracle Worker wasn't even nominated. This is the story of Helen Keller and her tutor, Anne Sullivan, which won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars for its stars, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. If you have never seen this film, you should. It is amazing.

Monday, June 2, 2014


My favorite song from West Side Story depends on how I'm feeling at any given time.

When I lived in Japan I often found myself singing, "America." I would sing "I want to live in America," not only because I embraced the "land of dreams" symbolism, but also because I am aware of the "terrible time in America" cynicism as well. Still, it's a catchy tune with bitingly sarcastic lyrics. And it's such a fun, energetic song! I can listen to it at any time and enjoy it, for sure.

When I'm in the mood to really *listen* to lyrics, my favorite is probably "Officer Krupke."  The whole song is full of word-play and rhymes that are simply marvelous. Plus the "message" that juvenile delinquents are good/bad/misunderstood is still timely, more than fifty years after it was originally written. I don't know if that's good, or sad. Either way, there is a lot going on in this song with the lyrics that you won't catch unless you are really listening, and "hip" to the scene. For example, "my grandma pushes tea," confused me for years until I researched that this is actually a marijuana reference (a "pot" of tea). And of course, "no one wants a fella with a social disease" means more than it actually says.

When I'm in the mood to listen to complex music, I listen to "Quintet." I either try to recognize as many musical parts as I can, or I pick one part to try to follow throughout the song. This is the one that I can listen to over and over again and not get tired of it because there is just so much to it.

When I'm in a romantic mood I like "Tonight" or "Somewhere." "Tonight" is the happy "before" romantic ballad, and "Somewhere" is the sad "after" version. "Tonight" is where the lovers enjoy each others' company and look forward to their future rendezvous. "Somewhere" is the more mature lovers' recognition of the obstacles to their love. I like this song very much. As I got older and actually found myself in a bi-racial relationship, I embraced even more the hope and optimism inherent in the song. However, the song as it is sung on the sound-track is not a great version of the song. I would love to find a great cover of this song. I'm surprised that it was never recorded as a duet and released as a single. If you know of a good version, please let me know. Hook me up, daddio!

How can I leave out the other classic songs like "Cool" and "Maria" and "The Jet Song" and "I Have A Love" and "I Feel Pretty"?! These are all great songs, too! West Side Story sound-track on cassette tape was one of the first sound-tracks I ever bought and it is still one of my all-time favorite records. 

All songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.