Roxanne Tellier – The Sound Of Music

Roxanne DBAWIS

I grew up in the days when musicals were as or more popular than any other form of cinema, and the stars of musicals on stage and screen were huge draws on Sunday night’s Ed Sullivan.

Singin' in the Rain

We thrilled to the song and dance, and generally left the theatre floating on a cloud, singing or humming the tunes all the way home.

cinderella

I was a little young for a first run experience of the 50’s fare, more likely to be rapt at an animated Walt Disney film than at “Guys and Dolls,” but by the time the 60’s rolled around, I was an old hand at finding wonderful musicals that inspired and encouraged my own wish to be on film.

thoroughly modern millie

Julie Andrews ruled the musical scene, and I never missed anything she was in –  from Mary Poppins to The Sound of Music, on through Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!  and Darling Lili. We were scandalized when Audrey Hepburn was chosen to star in “My Fair Lady,” certain that Julie had been ripped off, and would have done the role much better.

happy Tommy Steele

I developed a massive crush on Tommy Steele, bless his overbite, after seeing him in “Half A Sixpence,” “The Happiest Millionaire” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” I had no idea that he was a huge pop star in England – I just swooned over his smile and tousled blonde hair.  I had never seen Elvis’ appeal, despite his kajillion films. Tommy was the Anti-Elvis.

The skewering of Elvis was the basis of this teenage driven Broadway musical and motion picture.  (Editors Mote: This is my favourite musical of all time. Between Janet Leigh and Ann Margaret, I thought I would have a Teenage Heart Attack…which is a GREAT name for a band.)

But it was The Beatles first film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” in 1964, that changed the focus from musical family fare to rock n roll a la Marx Brothers. And the following years “Help!” sealed the deal. An already enthusiastic base of Beatlemaniacs couldn’t get enough of the boys, no matter how silly the film plots might be. They were cute boys making pop music. And now we felt like we really knew them.

A few years later, The Monkees would capitalize on the format by moving it to television. The little screen loved ‘em, but they could never quite make it in film.

I was still in high school when the Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera was released.  It was later made into a 1973 film, directed by Norman Jewison, and starred Ted Neely, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, and the adorable Josh Mostel, son of Zero Mostel. Entirely sung, the story, re-told with good looking young singers, brought many a straying teen back to their faith. (Not me – I was on my way to my first excommunication. But lots of others, really!)

“The film is framed as a group of performers who travel to the desert to re-enact the Passion of Christ. The film begins with them arriving on a bus, assembling their props, and getting into costume. One of the group (Neeley) is surrounded by the others, puts on a white robe, and emerges as Jesus Christ.”

“He sold his soul for rock n roll!” Paul William’s over the top “Phantom of the Paradise” was a box office bomb in 1974, but has become a cult film in the decades since. Equal parts “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and “Faust,” the phantom is the musical ‘magician’ who signs his soul over to the devil’s (Swan) keeping via a blood pact.  Paul Williams wrote the music, and played evil Swan. Winslow the musician was played by William Finley, and the love interest, Phoenix, was played by Jessica Harper in one of her first roles. The film was narrated by Rod Serling.

A 1976 New York magazine article by British writer Nik Cohn, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” inspired the disco juggernaut “Saturday Night Fever.”  (In the late 1990s, Cohn acknowledged that the article had been fabricated.) The R-rated version released in 1977 represented the movie’s first run, at 118 minutes. The PG rated version ran 112 minutes. See the R-rated. The inclusion of six hit songs by the Bee Gees brought the group back from the musical dead.

John Travolta (Tony)  and that famous white suit burst onto a disco crazed world and elevated shallow self-obsession into an art only recently rivalled by today’s reality stars.  Karen Lynn Gorney played his love interest, Stephanie, and Donna Pescow played lovesick Annette, who would do anything for Tony.

I recently re-watched the R-rated version, almost four decades after first viewing the film, and was taken aback at the strong story behind the glitter ball. It’s a classic coming of age tale, from the first iconic close up of Tony’s shiny shoes  strutting confidently down the street, to the cold grey light of the day that Tony, disgusted at himself, his family and his friends, struggles to explain to Stephanie why he needs to leave Brooklyn and join her in Manhattan, or forever lose what he wants in his life.

At least half of the cast of 1980’s The Blues Brothers is now gone.  But they’ve left behind a fitting epitaph, a gem of a movie that can be watched over and over again, and just get better every time. Comedically and musically, one of my favourite films of all time.
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, half a packet of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses… HIT IT!”

1983’s Eddie and The Cruisers had a terrific cast, a rock n roll mystery, and several hit tunes, including the title track, “Wild Summer Nights,” and my favourite, “On The Dark Side.”

“The film is about two different stories, one told in real time, and one told in flashbacks: the present day story concerns a television reporter named Maggie Foley  (Ellen Barkin) investigating the mysterious death of musician Eddie Wilson ( Michael Pare) and the search for his band’s second album, which disappeared from the vaults of Satin Records the day after Eddie’s alleged death.” (wiki)

1984 was a monster year for two rock n roll musicals, and a romp through the 1700’s. “Purple Rain,” “Spinal Tap,” and “Amadeus,” all released that year, each aimed for a different demographic, but had a scattershot general appeal that still continues today.

The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and the burdensome love/hate relationship his nemesis Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham,) bore for him, ran nicely beneath the sizzle of Hulce’s infectious grin and maniacal laugh. Salieri, a god fearing man, believed that Mozart’s talent was a gift from God, and the reality of the child prodigy’s boorish, irreverent, and lewd personality was a shock to his system. Driven mad by jealousy and pride, Salieri hatched a plot to use Mozart’s own shortcomings against him, leading Mozart to drive himself to an early death at just 35.

“This one goes to 11,” he said, and a new legend was born. This is Spinal Tap, a fictitious rockumentary of an enduring British band that had run the musical gamut from hippie flower child grooviness to heavy metal mayhem over the course of two decades and 17 albums, hit musicians and non-musicians where it hurt ..  right in the reality.

I first saw Spinal Tap in the cinema with a boyfriend who played jazz; he finally asked me, 3/4s of the way through, if this was real or a comedy. The next time I saw it, with a rocker boyfriend, we had to leave because the movie was just too close to home truths.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” was a complete surprise to me in ’84. I knew little about Prince’s work, besides the fact that he was essentially a musical genius, and knew it. So I had mixed feelings about the film. I left a Prince convert.

I also became addicted to the music and mannerisms of one Morris Day, of The Time. Still can’t get enough of his “Jungle Love.” Jerome?

Roddy Doyle’s excellent 1987 novel, “The Commitments” made an even better film, something you’ll rarely hear me say. But Alan Parker’s 1991 film was custom made for the genre. A rag taggle group of Irish misfits are brought together by young Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins,) whose only dream is to create the world’s greatest soul band. The music is fantastic – classic r&b and soul – and the actors all strong singers and musicians. (All four members of the band, The Corrs, appear in the film.) As happens so often in real life, the band meshes beautifully on stage, but falls apart when egos begin to collide.

BONUS!

Superstar – The Karen Carpenter Story, (1987) the debut film Todd Haynes directed immediately following university. Haynes would go on to direct, among other films, Velvet Goldmine, a drama set in Britain during the glam rock days of the early 70’s.

“Seizing upon the inspired gimmick of using Barbie and Ken dolls to sympathetically recount the story of the pop star’s death from anorexia, he spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters’ records to create the film’s intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer.”

I’ve been at this all day and now, at over 1500 words, it’s beginning to look like I’ll have to consider a Part Two for another time. Pretty much all of the above films can be found for free viewing on YouTube. Enjoy!

=RT=

Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

The Bobcast

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