…and the quest to see everything

Archive for April 4, 2012

On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue…

This week’s episode of Nathaniel’s ‘Best Shot‘ features Easter Parade with songs written by Irving Berlin wrote between 1914 and 1948, the latter being the year the movie came out. The movie is set in between 1911 and 1912, a time of pre-war gaiety, when characters like Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) strolled on Fifth Avenue, the American version of Parisian boulevards, and greets his fellow Manhattanites ‘Happy Easter’ on that holiday’s eve, which is known in my part of the woods as Black Saturday. And apparently Black Saturday is when secular Protestant Gilded age New Yorkers bought gifts to each other when all we got were eggs and dried up palm leaves. God being Catholic sucks.

This is an access to a culture, a 103-minute extension of the ridiculous silhouettes in the fashion show in Cukor’s The Women, shown in a technicolour version of traditional Golden Age film making. And I don’t care if it didn’t really exist because it brought us a fluffy movie like this, with its avenues of shops and restaurants where people on the up-and-up flashed what they had while people of all classes mimed what they wish they had to offer. A field where the exotic shape shifter – embodied within Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) – battled and arguably lost against the all-American – Nadine’s simpler and thus better replacement Hanna ‘Juanita’ Brown (Judy Garland).’ A routine in the Ziegfeld Follies about fashion magazines and being surprised when some of the rags featured are still running. Stages where Miller can make her heels click without moving and Astaire slows down so that we’ll notice that he’s on black face. A place where, just like “Revenge,” dinners are replaced by scandals or in typical musical fashion, a song and dance routine.

In obvious ways, this is Judy’s movie, about her discoveries and rediscoveries. The movie reminds us the audience of the qualities that made us love her, that middle American-ness can be qualities that can still make a star survive amidst the countless dangerous sexpots of the 1940s. In one scene she makes funny faces when posing doesn’t turn men’s heads. She’s at her best when she performs with the girly quality with which she’s made relative peace in her adulthood. But despite holding on to the true self that might be buried under misguided mentoring, she doesn’t succumb but gets integrated into the glamourous Broadway lifestyle within which she must play. The best shots featured in this post are MGM’s clean versions of Manhattan’s avenues, leading up to the last gratifying moment of Judy/Hanna’s stardom, where character and actress takes it all on in good humour.