Wednesday, December 22, 2010

12 Days of Favorites: 20th Century Fox Musicals

The story of Love & Squalor begins many years before the fateful meeting of Wilde.Dash and M, long before the almost nightly movie marathons on uncomfortable and rank smelling dorm furniture and Sound of Music sing-a-longs. From the mid 80’s on, unaware of each others’ presence, M and Wilde.Dash were bonding with family, not over board games or a large family meal (ok, there was a lot of that too), but over the likes of Woody Allen and Walter Pidgeon. The holidays in said families were filled with the usual Christmas fair, but also with strange family film favorites and traditions. So hang your stockings with care and when your sister starts complaining about your billionth viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life and how boooooring it is, spend your 12 Days of Christmas with the movies that have followed Love & Squalor from infancy to bloggerhood.

When I was younger, my family had a special section of the VHS mini-library reserved solely for those big-budget musicals of yore.  In this VIP area sat a series of black-spined, VHS editions of 20th Century Fox musicals.  On nights my parents didn't want to drive out to rent a movie (remember when that was a thing?), the sibling and I would scramble down to this special section of the basement to bring back a stack of options.  Inevitably, one of these always made it in there.  Inevitably, it was usually the one chosen.  The repeat offenders were, specifically: My Fair Lady (which is WB, but was distributed by Fox), The Sound of Music, The King and I, and the one which my parents are both truly, madly, deeply in love with:  South Pacific.  These were the primaries.  Three Rodgers and Hammersteins, one Lerner and Lowe; four songbooks I've had committed to memory (alright, maybe not all of The King and I, that one was a little less popular) since I was like what, four?  At this very moment, I'm on the verge of bursting into song.

These films are epics, each in their own way.   My Fair Lady is a masterful musical comedy in spite of the fact that Audrey Hepburn's singing voice is not her own.  Have I always had a soft spot for the comically misogynistic (or is he just misanthropic?) phonetician Henry Higgins?  Yes, I have.  Call it strange, but I've always found something of my own issues with the general human race in the song "I'm an Ordinary Man," and I tend to identify as a feminist.  I think it's because Rex Harrison just nails it.  As for South Pacific, well, that one is all about the Technicolor.  When we watch South Pacific, it's so that my Mom can sing along while my Dad marvels at the vividness of those pink and yellow skies.  Bali H'ai, it calls them.  The sibling always loved it too, as the grandiosity and its 'racism is very bad' subplot (no, seriously, that's actually what's going on there) are underscored by Ray Walston in a coconut drag and "Happy Talk," a song with accompanying goofy hand signals.  We take our South Pacific seriously.  Yes, we saw the Lincoln Center revival.  The King and I, meanwhile, is the dark horse.  There might be years between its viewing, possibly because it has a downer of an ending.  Still, though, there's a palpable nostalgia there.
What of The Sound of Music?  Somehow, that became my favorite of the bunch.  There was a point in my life where I reconciled general public memory of the story with what's actually going on in the film itself and realized that though 75% of the population has a recollection of watching this as a sweet little family movie when they were in infancy, it is not and never was that simple.  I'm comfortable admitting that I watch The Sound of Music every year, and that I am always impressed.  The scope and scale of the film are incredible.  It breaks away from the stage and throws you into an Austria framed by the Alps in which everything is appropriately massive.  Watch this film and note that there isn't a claustrophobic shot in its near 3-hours.  The ceilings are high, the spaces are big, the cinematography is epic.  It's a beautiful film marked by legendary performances on behalf of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  On top of that, it's so much more than the sum of "Do-Re-Mi."  The kids stay in the picture, but they're mere pawns in a sweeping tale of political anxieties, rebellion, and familial strife.  Also, I may not be a Christian, but there are some bad ass nuns in this movie.  I repeat: bad ass nuns.  Those nuns are like, "you do what you need to do, and also, imma go over here and mess with some Nazis."

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