Sunday, 23 August 2009

Old School Hollywood

Advert for the Palace Cinema in Slough 1930

The boy meets girl, they teasingly fall in love with one another, some invertible misunderstanding occurs, boy and girl finally get together after upset and tears, with the film ending in their engagement or on the verge of their marriage. This could only happen in a Hollywood musical. Although overtly simplistic in my gernalisation, this plot generally captures the story of a traditional musical film with music and narratives intertwining with song and dance.

Developing from the success of Hollywood theatre, the first short musical films were produced in the 1920s including The Jazz Singer (1927) and continuing into the 1930s with 42nd Street (1933) . These films and its stars grew in fame during the original credit crunch of the 1930s - that of the Great Depression. During this era these films became the light hearted and fun seeking pleasurable place to escape reality into a happy sing along.

This success of the film and its stars would not have been possible without RKO films, most particularly with the all singing, and all dancing Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire during the 1930s. Hollywood would see the rising fortunes of Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews to name but a few. And this success of the musical was to continue well into the 1960s with the production of West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and The Sound of Music (1965). But these films hit the box office during the same period of creative and imaginative directors and films. Finally the glamour of all singing and all dancing began to finally fade, its backdrops, its genre and its stars falling into history.

And to be honest, at the end of the 1960s is were my passion for the musical ends. Although more recently since the continuing success of Grease (1978) the musical as a film goes in and out of fashion. A small revival of musicals has occurred through the production of Moulin Rogue (2001), Chicago (2002) and Hairspray (1988) and most particularly Mamma Mia (2007) now credited as being the biggest selling DVD in British history. This suggesting therefore that the success and long-standing reputation of the musical still lingers in popularity. However, this "modern" films are ones I personally put aside over their forefathers.

It would be misguided to suggest that I know why and how I became interested in old films - to blame Fred and Ginger would be on the right path. Yet to explain further and then I come to a standstill. Gone With the Wind was a film I always grew up around - although its colour and length made it a rarity in its time, it is one which drew me into the possibilities of the film. Most of the time I feel like I have to defend my love of old movies, as if its wrong, I'm abnormal or merely rather confused to prefer older films to the more high-tec, effect filled contemporary movies, don't get me wrong there are some modern films I love, but I prefer and believe i'm more suited to the movie of a long ago era.

But they are all in black and white, I hear you cry. Yes they are, yet that adds to the enjoyment, yes it is a shame you can't see the vivid colours of the dresses, the suits and the backdrops, but with a little creative imagination and you more then half way there with picturing and creating your own version of the film. And that is half the beauty of the older films - they let you play and use your imagination - something we seem to use so little of within the get everything now kinda society we inhabit. These films let you become and play and active part in defining how you interpret the scene being performed before you.

Moreover the turn over of golden era films is more then impressive in itself. Take for example Gene Tierney, who in 1941 featured within five films. This is a turnover that is far from matched within contemporary publications. With musicals having lively, emotional and dramatic scores by George and Ira Gershwin or Rogers and Hammerstein they expand their narratives and plots far into the musical atmosphere, rather then weighing down their plots with contemporary, "bands" and songs. These songs linger today, and are more recognisable then we give credit for. Lines of songs such as "there may be trouble ahead" ... "they all laughed at Christopher Columbus" ... "and all that jazz" are all embedded and developed from musicals. Musicals that we as a society probably don't give enough credit to.

Old films have become my passion, but this is not limited merely to musical films. My obsession has it most frequently referred to by myself welcomes any old film, their simplicity, their true and deep narratives are embedded with a passion and a honest storyline. They are not showcased or down trodden in special effects or actors who are mainly two dimensional in their abilities.

Mind you I write this knowing and openly admitting to never watching Singing in the Rain. That does need to change.

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