Friday, January 18, 2013
Pick Yourself Up
There are columns I mean to write someday. When an idea becomes more fully formed, and there's an occasion for it, sometimes I actually write them. And sometimes somebody else does it for me.
David Denby's piece in the New Yorker about the movie version of Les Mis says a lot of what I would have said concerning my feelings about certain musicals. These days I probably would have said it more delicately but then, not as well.
First Denby trashes the movie, which he'd seen without having seen any stage version or hearing the music beforehand. Then he trashes the story and the music.
He notes that the story "stripped of its social detail and reduced to its melodramatic elements, no longer makes much sense..." Which goes for some other musicals. But it's what he writes about the music and the general approach to musicals that I want to copy:
I was so upset by the banality of the music that I felt like hiring a hall and staging a nationalist rally. “My fellow-countrymen, we are the people of Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin! Cole Porter and George Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Burton Lane! We taught the world what popular melody was! What rhythmic inventiveness was! Let us unite to overthrow the banality of these French hacks!” (And the British hacks, too, for that matter.) Alas, the hall is filled with people weeping over “Les Mis.”
And now, the real point: our great musicals were something miraculous. They were a blessed artifice devoted to pleasure, to ease and movement, exultation in the human body, jokes and happy times, the giddiness of high hopes. Even the serious musicals, like “Carousel” and “West Side Story,” had their funny moments... If you want emotion in a musical, please, if you’ve never seen it, catch the George Cukor version of “A Star is Born,” in which Judy Garland (John Lahr agrees with me on this) produces the single greatest moment in film-musical history. Late at night in a club, when she thinks no one is listening (while James Mason lurks in the shadows), she sings the Harold Arlen torch song “The Man That Got Away.” Overwhelming.
He offers a cure "for those suffering from absorption in “Les Mis.”
Download the Astaire-Rogers “Top Hat” from Amazon. Throw it on a big screen if you can. Or download “Singin’ in the Rain,” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, or “The Band Wagon,” with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, or “An American in Paris,” with Kelly again. I will tell you right now that these movies will not make you cry. But if you’ve never seen them before, they may open an entirely new path to pleasure. See them twice, and you will put aside the maudlin nonsense of “Les Mis” forever.