Saturday, August 20, 2005

We know we belong to a land

For the second time in my life, I'm paid to watch movies. Un/Fortunately I don't even have to write about them. This week was certainly crazy, I spent 64 hours on the job. What are you going to do.

On acompletely unrelated note, recently I watched Oklahoma, which ties into the week I spent with Astaire and Rogers. This movie is great, but for all the ways it is odd and antiquated.

The main thing that's endearing, and it's something I think its creators are aware of, is Judd Fry. What a fascinating character. In the film, one could argue his character is stripped of some shadings because the song "Lonely Room" was not included, but even so in this version there's something about Judd that becomes evident: if written today Judd would be the hero. The hero, Curly, comes to Judd's room to sing him a song about how much better the world would be if Judd was dead. Judd simply wishes to be above his station, and be with a girl who kind of ignores him. He pines for her. The one thing against Judd is that he's a bit homicidal. Hell, that didn't hurt Barry Egan's chances. It bespeaks how our culture has changed, we can't accept shining knights as our heroes as readily, and it reflects in our cinema that few have that Camelot quality (and that's a reflection of both Arthurian legend and the Kennedy-esque swagger that permeates from someone like Captain Kirk... but more on him later). Then again Curly has his faults, and they're rather evident. There's also something to the reading that Laurey is torn between the two, as Judd represents real sex, and her first sexual awakening, while Curly is idealized to the point of abstraction. This though is an undercurrent, perhaps more implied than realized in the text.

All this ties into the ending, where "frontier justice" prevails. It's a very odd scene, and I'm wondering how much of the film is Ziinneman smugling. There's something very queasy about it all, and I wonder if it's intentional or just a fault of a narrative structure that has Judd Fry dying and the story wrapping up with a married couple driving off for their honeymoon in less than ten minutes of screen time. There is a sense that Curly is right, that the people are right for what they do, but there is a decided shade of gray to it.

The film, and it's always been my complaint with films like this is that as a musical it errs on the side of singing vs. dancing, and I think it's why people of my generation often have a reticence to the genre. There's really only one dance number ("Kansas City," farmer and the rancher isn't all that dancy) while the songs are beautiful, but not all that sexy. I grew to love "All or Nothing" though, especially for the passage:
Annie:Would you build me a house/All painted white/Cute and clean and purty and bright
Will:Big enough fer two but not fer three!
Annie:S'posin' that we should have a third one?
Will:He better look a lot like me!
Annie:Yer spited image!
Will:He better look a lot like me!

The other big problem with the film is that, though Gordon MacRae can belt the shit out of a tune, he's not cinematically charismatic, he's something of a blank. He doesn't emote in a particularly cinematic way, which may be why Rod Stieger steals the movie from him. Again, he, like Howard Keel, is emblematic of why the Movie musical died. The leads become pretty objects.