Sunday, March 11, 2012


At what point does a parody of a thing just become the thing? 

Plot summary: It's the swinging 1920's. Power showbiz couple Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are attending the premiere of their latest silent film. A reporter lady asks them how it feels to be so rich and famous and pretty and in love. Don stares directly at the camera with a cheesy grin and proceeds to tell the world his life story. 
We think we're headed for a flashback that will encompass the whole movie, but instead it's a super-quick recap of his whole life. 
He started out doing and doing vaudeville and all that with his buddy Cosmo Brown, and then he became a stuntman, and then he met Lina and they fell in love and became big movie stars. 
Heh. That was kind of awesome, and I want to believe it was a clear parody of Yankee Doodle Dandy. 
Then Don and Lina watch their movie with the crowd and when it's over, they come out and take a bow, and every time Lina starts to speak, Don cuts her off. 
They bow again, and go backstage and Lina finally speaks. Her voice is comically loud and braying and she has a New Yawk/Bronx-type accent. She throws herself at Don, who is annoyed and lets her know once again that he doesn't really love her and it's all PR for the movies. 
He leaves the theatre and gets mobbed by screaming fans and runs out into the street to avoid them and jumps into a car driving by. 
The woman driving is Kathy Selden. She recognizes him, but doesn't know from where, and thinks he might be a criminal. She drives up to a cop and the cop recognizes Don and then she relaxes. Don asks her to drive him home. On the way, Kathy says she's sorry she didn't know who he was because she doesn't watch movies. "If you've seen one, you've seen them all". Then she endears herself to me for all time, as she calls out the ridiculous melodramatic acting and mimes the theatrics of a silent movie star, gesturing and mugging like mad. Kathy Selden, teller of truth. God bless you, Kathy. 
Don of course gets offended and asks her what she does for a living. Well, she's an actress. Don's confused. No, she's an actual actress. From the stage. Shakespeare. O'Neill. Ibsen. 
Don asks her how she likes working in the service industry (good one) and she's offended and they're both all pissy and they hate each other and will never ever feel differently. 
A few weeks later, Don's at an industry party with Cosmo and Lina and the head of the studio, etc. Don asks Cosmo if he's a good actor and Cosmo says of course, why's it bothering you what that dame said? (And speaking of mugging, look no further than Donald O'Connor as Cosmo. I've come to realize that there's a reason "smug" and "mug" are spelled so similarly. I mean, O'Connor's not as over-the-top and repugnant as say, Harpo Marx, but they're definitely in the same self-satisfied neighborhood). To that end, Cosmo sings "Make 'Em Laugh", that musical number you've seen before where the guy flips around and stuff. It's a great number. It also has zero to do with anything.
So it turns out Kathy's part of the evening's entertainment hired by the studio, and she busts out of a giant cake and does a sing and dance number with a bunch of other girls. Don revels in her humiliation and openly mocks her. He asks if she learned all that from Shakespeare and she says she learned this from the movies, and picks up a cake and throws it at him. But he ducks and it hits Lina instead. 
She runs out as Lina fumes. 
Later, Don learns Lina had Kathy fired and banned from the studio, and Don's pissed, even though that seems like a totally justified response, frankly. They act out a lovey-dovey scene for the camera while Don tells her she's shitty and evil and she says the girl was getting too close to him and he to learn her lesson. 
A group of people are in a mini-theatre, watching the movie screen. A man is on the screen, talking. He takes careful pains to explain that the sound they hear is coming out of his lips in real time. "Look at my lips. See that the words I speak are in perfect synchronization with the movements of my mouth..."  Heh!
Everyone stares blankly and then someone says there's probably someone behind the screen talking. 
A studio head assures everyone that it's real and it's the next big thing. Some talkie called The Jazz Singer is coming out next week and it's the latest craze. Everyone pooh-poohs the idea. 
Meanwhile, Don finds Kathy and gets her her job back on the sly, saying she has to avoid being seen by Lina. She thanks him, then admits that she's a big poseur and she loves all his movies. Oh, Kathy. I thought you were cool.
The Jazz Singer is a huge hit, and every studio jumps on the bandwagon. The studio head tells Don that he and Lina are to do talkies from now on.  Lina screeches out that that's great and everyone looks nervous. 
Lina tries to learn proper diction from a speech therapist and fails spectacularly. Don also takes diction lessons, and Cosmo interrupts and mugs and makes faces and then they sing and throw shit at the diction teacher, and then grin and look super-cheesy at the camera. 
(See? We're making fun of those old musicals!  We know they were super-cheesy, so we're being just as cheesy!  Irony!)
So Lina and Don attempt to do their first talkie, but Lina won't talk into the microphone and then she keeps turning her head away from the microphone and back again so the sound goes in and out and it's pretty funny. Jean Hagan is definitely the MVP of this movie. The guy playing director goes a long way towards killing the humor by vastly overplaying the whole thing. The joke is that silent movie actors were hams who chewed the muddles the joke for the characters who aren't actors to also be hams. I mean, is that part of the parody? Are they doubling down? Is nothing "real" in this movie? I submit this is a Starship Troopers type of deal. We're a parody, but also please take us seriously. Unless you're not feeling it, then we're a parody again.
So at the premiere of Don and Lina's movie, somehow the mic picks up everything they do, very loudly, including Lina playing with her pearls. The audience laughs at this, and Lina's voice, and Don's bad ad-libs ("I love you I love you I love you"). It's a disaster. 
Don, Kathy, and Cosmo hang out at Don's apartment and bemoan the fact that when the movie premieres in six weeks (?!), Don will be ruined. Then they realize it's one o'clock in the morning and sing "Good Morning/good morning" to each other, then collapse on the couch and start laughing for no reason.
Okay, that was just like in the end of Swingtown when they laughed for no reason, right?  Or did they just really laugh for no reason? I don't trust you, movie.
Then Cosmo comes up with the idea of converting Don and Lina's movie into a musical, and also having Kathy dub over Lina's squeaky voice and sing for her as well. Don doesn't want Kathy to throw away her career to help Lina, and Kathy says she'd be thrilled to help out, for just one movie. 
So Don leaves and sings and dances to "Singing in the Rain". It's pretty great, straight up. 
Okay, and then Don goes to the studio head and pitches the idea to him. Then there is, no lie, about twenty minutes of Don dancing around on stage on like a Broadway show. WTF is happening? What is this? There's a story within the story. Don's "character" is a guy who comes to Broadway because he's "gotta dance", then she gets discovered and meets a pretty lady and dances and dances and dances and dances with her and then she leaves him and he's sad and then he sees another guy wanting to get discovered on Broadway and he smiles knowingly or something. 
We fade back onto Don talking to the studio head. "And that's my idea". 
Studio head: "Well, I can't really picture it, but I trust you".
What? Why did we see that? Just for the "joke" that the studio head said that he can't picture it when we just saw it? Sigh. It was touch and go, but the movie really lost me there.
So they dub over the whole thing and Lina discovers the deception and is pissed until the audiences love it. 
She learns that the studio plans to give Kathy credit for her singing, and she points out that her contract allows her to write her own publicity and she puts out a press release saying that she's a singer and dancer. She then demands that Kathy dub for her for all of her movies, or she'll leave the studio. 
So the movie premieres and Lina tells everyone that she's the biggest star in the world and Kathy says she won't dub anymore, but Lina says she's under a five year contract and must obey, and then she goes out to make a speech. The audience hears her voice and react with amusement. They then demand she sing. Lina runs off-stage while Don and Cosmo plot. She orders Kathy to get behind the curtain and sing for her while she lip-syncs. Don tells her to do it. Kathy's pissed, but does it. 
Lina starts mouthing "Singing in the Rain" while Kathy sings, and then Cosmo and Don pull up the curtain, revealing the ruse. Lina runs off, humiliated. 
Then we see a billboard for the new movie starring Don and Kathy. 
Well, that was easy.
Let's sing!

Review: So...I've been told this makes fun of Olden Times movies, and I see that, but it's really a rather toothless mockery, and mostly a slyly ribbing but loving tribute. There are indeed some funny moments, almost exclusively from Jean Hagen, and the songs are...fine. A couple of them are even very good. But my main beef with 90% of musicals is that they rarely serve to move the story forward, in fact they often do just the opposite and wind up grinding the story to a halt. I guess that's fine if you really love the songs. But again, for me, that's pretty rare. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Chicago, and everything from 90's Disney are the only movies that immediately spring to mind as having flat-out great songs. These were not great songs. Some were even quite boring. The weird "Broadway" digression thing was really boring. And fucking long. It was visually pretty and colorful as hell, but really insanely long. And as long as we're being superficial, let's just say that if you want me to sit still for some really long boring songs, at least put in some hot dudes, dammit. But apparently no hot dudes existed in 1952 in the world of musical theatre. So, this movie overall lands right on the line between 2 and a half and three stars, in my mind the dividing line between "kinda good" and "kinda bad". Where does she land? 

Stars: Two and a half out of five. Sorry, it's cloudy out today. 

Next, Bobby is back in "Raging Bull". 

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