All written out

14,105 words later and I’ve emerged, blinking into sunlight and a rash of library fines.  The Monster gets handed in today, and I made the usual error of forgetting just how much time suckage goes on with the bibliography and the footnotes, which are prescribed by the MHRA and their inimitable obsessive compulsive approach.  The MHRA is a handbook.  It is 96 pages long and teaches people to prepare works for theses, dissertations and academic books.  Reading it cover to cover is surreal.  Who would have thought that quotation marks could mean more than, well, someone speaking?  Oh, but they aren’t.  In the hallowed pages of the ludicrously assembled MHRA they take the form of vagrant heathens which, if not suitably disciplined, hold the difference between a Merit and Distinction in their murky, quotation paws.  Basically, as far as I can understand it, academic institutions figuratively wallop you for not putting your commas in the right place.  Having bright ideas is part of the game, but lack of intellectual insight and putting your page numbers in the wrong place are punished with equal vigour.  If you refer to a footnote at the bottom of the piece (and academic essays are riddled with those) you must put a full stop at the end like “p. 129.”  If the page number refers to a book.  If the page number refers to an article in a journal, then they’ve got another fiendish system to fuck you up.  Because then you must put it in brackets, like so : “(p.129.)”.  This is enough, dear readers, to pull you into regular nightmares where letters and symbols loom out of you from nowhere.

During the last two evenings it has rained heavily and I have sat peering at a lap top, checking things until I cannot see and eating beans on toast. and drinking Yorkshire tea.  That has been my life.  This is not good.  However, I have very much enjoyed the tea.

Imagine my sheer fucking joy, dear dwindled readership, when collecting the 14105 words of academic gold from the printers yesterday, spirally bound according to rules, covered with plastic sheet according to rules, the whole document dripping with the sense of complete anal retention that is invested in every page regarding line numbers and paragraph alignment.  The peculiar anti-climax that comes with being free of study is heightened by a lovely sunny day here in London.  And soon there will be Bluebird, trundling through Soho en route to Bloomsbury with a suitcase full of library books and a dissertation to hand in (stopping off on Bar Italia en route, oh yes lovely, I’ll have a cappucino please) and ending a relationship with one college that I have had for six years.  And then? Who knows.  I am certainly not sure.  I am working on a spoof novel but got so high on Yorkshire Tea it just went a bit crazy.   But at least if you drop Yorkshire Tea over an electric typewriter (all my first drafts are typed) it doesn’t have the same disastrous effect as pouring hot fluids over a computer, whereupon everything, including your unrealised brilliant works of fiction, melts.

The one great big decision has been made.  And that is that after the absolute mayhem of the last two weeks I shall be departing for a holiday.  Which leads me to announce – brace yourselves – there will be no Bluebird update next week from Italy.  BUT from Monday 11th October there will be an post EVERY day, lucky people!  And just think how much time I have to annoy now my academic commitments are done, stapled, dusted and spirally bound?  My week in Italy will be documented day by day – but with a time delay of a week so please check back on 11th October.  In the meantime, I pack my Bluebird knapsack, hop on a Pisa-bound flight with HorridAir with Mr Bluebird, take my Italian grammar book and hope for the best travelling through Siena, Lucca and Chianti, stopping only to sup the wine and bask under the splendid Tuscan sun.

Arriverderla.

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Don’t Forget About Me? I couldn’t if I tried….

 

In the 1980s there was nothing more exciting to a suburban English school girl than a John Hughes movie.  We were totally entranced by the glamour of what going to school in America must be like; no uniforms, an undercurrent of sexual fascination with fellow class members who were too goodlooking to believe, lots of make up, a series of musical montages underlined by synthesizers and drum machines and big big hair.   I mean Rob Lowe, for Chrissakes.  In the rash of John Hughes movies that filled the VHS cupboards of our adolescence there was really nothing more than the classic boy-meets-girl narrative that Hollywood’s been doling out since the Andy Hardy movies of the 1930s, but the morals were clear and love was now a serious business: self-reliance, truth and a sense of what was “right” always overrode social snobbery and prejudices.  And the “odd girl” at the back who was Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club) or Molly Ringwald (Pretty in Pink) must emerge in the final scene as a radiant swan with smudged kohl eyeliner and a gentle lick of mascara.  That way the boys can see how beautiful she really is and that underneath we are all ugly ducklings who have the capability to emerge as mid-American swans.

The Breakfast Club was superbly crafted, because it gave everyone someone to identify with.  In the dull, dark Tuesday evenings in Watford in 1989 watching The Breakfast Club was really the only reasonable thing to do.  We all wanted to be the Molly Ringwald character (preferably without squinty eyes and frightened fish mouth) and in darker moments, feared we might have an Ally Sheedy character lurking about the outer perimeters of our adolescent psychosis.  The brainy one – whose name was the feeblest anagram of brain imaginable (Brian) we didn’t notice.  We thought Emilio Estevez quite fanciable despite his fashion mistakes and humour-free athletic approach to life, and I never stopped laughing at the fact that he got a detention because he “taped Larry’s buns together”.  Judd Nelson provoked a kind of hormonal madness that I didn’t get.   He had scary nostrils, a slightly ape-like demeanour and comedy Groucho Marx eyebrows.  Still, there wasn’t a girl in the Northwood area who didn’t want to give him a hand job in 1988.

Urbane, sophisticated smoothie John Bender (Judd Nelson) responds to 1980s small town teacher authority the only way he knew how.  With a pout and a denim jacketed shrug.  Please can someone explain the sexual allure of this?

The late John Hughes seemed to use the exterior of one school for most of his location filming.  The school at the start of The Breakfast Club is the same school Ferris Bueller bunks out of for a day in Ferris Buellers Day Off two years later.  The Breakfast Club, set in a fictional town of “Shermer” is a small Illinois town, the model of which was the town John Hughes grew up in in Illinois.  The implication of this was that the dramas and imaginings of EveryTown could quite feasibly be your town.  It had that eerie feature of the Brat Pack movie, the older actor trying to pass himself off as  17 year old.  Judd Nelson was 25 when he made The Breakfast Club with the spiky-haired Emilio Estevez clocking in at a spritely 22.  The most dramatic case of this was James Spader, who was nearly 26 when he appeared in Pretty in Pink and where, dressed in the yuppie regulation cream suit with loafers on sockless feet, he looked like a thirty-something who might have owned a wine bar in the Kings Road area.  Perversely, they whopped around fictional high school corridors, talking prom, avoiding detention, listening to music on vast Walkman headphones attached to bulky tape recorder stereos.

In case you needed to seek further verification that Steff (James Spader’s character in Pretty In Pink) was Captain Twat, of Twat Road, Twatsville USA, then look no further than this picture.  Note cruel lip and clutching of high-end car product catalogue in privileged hand.

“However were we supposed to act when we were 17?” we thought, as fourteen year olds, curled up in the corner of the sofa watching Molly Ringwald destroy two utterly reasonable dresses as an act of unconventional rebellion, and rock on up to her high school prom alone.  “Was this how you spoke to boys?” we reasoned, as actors laced in hair gel and large shouldered denim jackets danced flirtatious rings around each other.  These films were our point of reference, and they were, clearly, fucked up.  If you thought as a fourth former, that you could fling yourself off the hockey pitch and into the Common Room at breaktime thinking that all it took for boys to like you was a leather jacket and a simpering about “Blane asking me to prom” you were woefully mistaken.   Because in Hertfordshire in the early 1990s people would beat you up.

Blimey.  Detention in my school was never like this. Emilio Estevez struggles to look butch in his lady vest, whilst Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and The Brainy Brian settle in for a Saturday library fest, shortly before Brian declares he “loves” Moliere.  Seriously.

This was England, for God’s sake.  To the English, there is a suspicion in the idea that the odd girl at the back is capable or being anything other than the odd girl at the back, that to clap and whoop and say “Atta girl!” when the lead girl finally grabs her hair-gelled, jacket-and-jeans high school guy is actually slightly nauseating.   In America, popularity – or the means to acquire it – seemed to be tied up with dignity.  In England it was just bad form to put yourself forward.   In the John Hughes movies of the Raegan years hard work is rewarded, poor but noble people rise up and claim their place, the pantomime villain (James Spader) was taken down a peg or seven, and his mulleted head would be hanging low as the credits rolled.  The world, as we saw it, was righted.  Life, as we were about to understand, is not at all like that.

There are no life-affirming montages, for a start, in which protagonists make themselves over in order for Emilio Estevez to suddenly fall in love with them over the library stacks.  Nor were there impromptu dancing sessions in detention that preceded confidences told in a trusting circle.   Chaps in the Lower Sixth did not look like Charlie Sheen, whose best screen moment probably came from the bit where he tried to pick up Jennifer Grey at the police station in Ferris Buellers Day Off. The fact that life wasn’t like that goes some way to explaining why teenagers needed these movies so much.  At advance screenings for Pretty in Pink the original ending got a tepid response from the audience.  Sending Molly Ringwald’s character off into the distance with her old school friend, Ducky,  defied expectations of social aspiration and denied Molly Ringwald’s character the beautiful truth that love conquers class.  Andrew McCarthy’s character had the disgusting name of Blane, and his membership of some bizarre wealthy tribe rendered him a Eloi to Ringwald’s Morlock.  Two Morlocks can’t go off together back to the underclass!   Six months after filming, Hughes reshot the ending, which involved having to put McCarthy into an unconvincing wig.  He had lost almost two stone in preparation for another role by then.  This meant that Blane looked like he had been suffering from a very dramatic bout of lovesickness.  Andrew McCarthy’s “Blane” and Molly Ringwald’s “Andie” were reunited, and she got to go off into the sunset and snog him in his BMW (Well, it was 1986).

In the 1980s, people had records.  And some of those people had shops where they sold records.  Here is Molly Ringwald’s character working in a record shop, admirably swooning at the mention of Andrew McCarthy.

The Duckman, a noble character, but Molly didn’t want to go out with him despite his many pledges of love to her.

 

“Molly! Molly!  Let me out so I can pick up my career where I left it!”  Andrew McCarthy smoulders away and is destined for Molly, despite the fact that Duckie has tried to lock him behind a gate.   Check out those shoulder pads! SWOON

I would take Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club over any of  John Hughes’s others – Sixteen Candles, Weird Science or even Ferris Bueller. And don’t get me started on the sick-making post University life drivel that was St Elmos Fire which was such a merciless carcrash of two dimensional characters that it risked darkening the whole teen genre.  All it proved was that when it came to capturing the sentiments of youth, John Hughes really ought to stay in high school, as it was there that his talent really shone.  Oh, and another thing, Hollywood Brat Pack starlets : complete these films and go away, never to appear in public again, because if the members of The Breakfast Club are as old as this:

Then exactly how old does that make me?   They look about 100 so I must be about 80, right?   Curiously enough, Emilio Estevez has got better with age :

God I’m intense.  I’ve got a plaster saying “STATE CHAMPION”.  And my Dad was in Apocalypse Now.  Suck on that.

This is my rueful, “I-may-direct-films-about-the Kennedys,- but-I’m-a-man-of-the-people” expression.  Casting Directors like it, my friends.  Brow  lift?!   No sorry, don’t know what that means.  Of course I haven’t had one.

It may be difficult to kids today to understand the impact of these films.  The cultural highlight of English telly in the late 1980s and early 1990s was Eastenders.  Youth culture in England was, as always, centred around music, not film.  It wasn’t until Trainspotting was released in 1994 that UK film stopped being about watching Helena Bonham Carter flop about Florence with Maggie Smith.  For films about teenagers that seemed to be going through what everyone else was going through, John Hughes movies were all we had, which may explain why we watched them over and over and over again until, word perfect, we’d repeat whole scenes to each other and guffaw happily at other.  That’s what we did for entertainment, children, before there was an internet.

“Young man!  Have you finished your paper?”

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

p.s. Oh, and 150 of you have apparently logged on in the last week to view a Nick Clegg blog from four months ago, which trebles my weekly traffic, I can tell you.  There can’t be 150 people at the Liberal Democrat conference this week, surely?  What the blazes is going on dear readers?

The bomber will always get through

I have been watching much of The Battle of Britain series on BBC4 half hiding behind the sofa cushions in fear, and half riotous with national indignation.  I knew about the war, obviously.  But so many programmes have broken out like a rash on the BBC schedules this week that most mornings I wake up thinking it is 1940, and wonder where I have put my powdered egg.

The central, dual force of Senior Snow (Peter) and Sq Ldr Junior Snow (Dan) is a suitable guide for the War on Terror, 1940s style.  They radiate a sort of English certitude.  I feel as safe with Senior Snow as I did when, high on strong tea during election nights past, he would amaze us by getting his Swing-o-meter out.  Whatever dubious politicians gain power in elections, and whatever shivers of dread we may be feeling about it, Peter would turn up, explain the statistics, talk about “seats” and “house” and “swinging power!” and make it all mean something a little less ghastly.

In 1940, “Swinging power!” was what happened when you’d left your Glenn Miller record on in the officer’s mess.  The Battle of Britain programme was terrifying.  I learned a lot I didn’t know; firstly, on September 7th, the German Air Force squadrons filled the sky so intensely that they spread over a 2 mile high wave over London.  I also learned that night nine miles of Thames dockland was burned and destroyed and that the East End was disintegrated ‘in seconds’.

It was Stanley Baldwin who, in The House of Commons, said the quote above in 1931, that ‘the bomber will always get through’.   And he’s right.  There is no defence insurable against someone determined to fly over you and blow you up – unless you fly over him and blow him up first, of course.  However, the onslaught of air attacks came a year after war was declared – a war that Air Staff thought would involve 3,500 tons of bombs dropping on London in the first 24 hours, killing 58,000 Londoners immediately.   The Battle of Britain – the nearest thing in our history, which could so easily have been lost – marked a brutal end to the concept of the ‘phoney’ war.  The overriding sense I got from this impressive programme was a dreadful nausea rife with impending doom.  It was a very, very, very near thing, so near that I was incredulous that the RAF squadrons, whose numbers were much smaller than the technologically superior German Air Force, were victorious at all.   My anti-German sentiment progressed solidly throughout the hour.  By the time Dan and Peter Snow had put away their little charts and stopped playing with their special lovely radar buttons, I was ready to declare war again.  I went to bed, feverishly dreaming of eating sausage.

My grandfather was an RAF pilot – not a bomber but something to do with a Telecommunications Fighting Unit involved in operations in early radar development and night-flying – but who ended up being killed in one of these operations in a Shropshire airfield when he was 24 in December 1943, so I can’t ask him what it was all about.   But I dread to think what my reaction is going to be when they start showing programmes about the blitz.  I go nuts when I hear of Germans destroying London.  Absolutely.  Ruinously mad.  Hopping mad, even.  And I think it’s lovely that people keep banging on about the “blitz spirit” and all that, and how everyone pluckily got on with singing Rolll Ahht the Barrel and everything, but don’t half think people talk a lot of tosh about the war.  They think that everyone respected each other, children got a clip round the ear and an orange at Christmas (thrown at their heads) if they were lucky, and that people went about their business dutifully and carried on uncomplainingly.  Because they were nice and British and that.   Now, to be fair, most of them did but some of them also had nervous breakdowns.  Some of them took advantage of the lack of railings and gates in London’s parks and spent all night fucking in the Regents Park Rose Gardens, but you don’t read about that, people.  And don’t get me started on that boorish and contrite saying that comes out again and again, that people “knew their place in those days, you know!” and all that rot.   The most marvellous things about the British is their general refusal to know their place, their penchant for riots and revolt, and their desire to bay for the blood of kings from the gates of Buckingham Palace no less than three times in the last 150 years.

If it’s true that everyone at the end of the 1930s was sunny and full of noble, British pluck, why did The Committee of Imperial Defence believe that maintaining public order would be the biggest problem in the early days of the war, and troops must be assigned to the purpose? Why did the Government fear that some of the nation wouldn’t pull together at all in the event of a national crisis, that Marxist sentiment amongst the urban poor would provoke revolutionary fears, and that, when war was declared, what the Government really thought would happen was rioting, window smashing and general widespread panic?   The kind of people who think that people knew their place in the war are probably the kind of boorish, out-of-touch recidivists who believe that National Service broadens the outlook, feeds the soul and benefits the nation (which it doesn’t because it costs too much).

I think I would have been hugely beneficial to the nation at large in the event of international warfare.  I’d have put gravy browning on my legs with the best of them and worn one of those headscarves over bangs, and shown Field Marshalls what was what.  I am very good at fortitude, and would be useful making strong cups of tea in those strange institutional green cups and saucers they had. I could competently look after the filing and talk on the telephone, which is pretty much what I do in my job now, but without the international intrigue.  I’d have been good at clearing and sweeping up and helping people and would have got a job in the Foreign Office and gone clickety clack clickety clack on my manual typewriter (Bluebird, obviously) all day long in triplicate, sending out secret codes to airfields.    I’d like to think I would have been a cross between Biggles and Jessica Fletcher, daredevil raids interspersed with the odd episode of sleuthing and finding out who was going to kill whom.  Then I would find out where those silly German aeroplanes were coming from and stop them.  I would have urgently whispered telephone conversations with Frenchmen working for the Resistance and hiding in haystacks.  In Rhyl.   For this look I am channelling Kate Winslet in Enigma  but with far, far better hair.  I would find a way to get hold of one of those fancy leather flying jacket things (sheepskin lining, please) and drape it over my shoulders in secret night-time meetings in Churchill’s bunker, where we would all chuckle knowingly at his hilarious Stalin impression and where he would have looked at me wryly and said “Oh yes, Mrs Fletcher!  We bow to you and your immaculate sleuthing capabilities.  Would you like a brandy?”  Oh yes, I would have been v important to my country, you know.  Chocks away.  Not that I want a war of course.  Not without the 1940s hair and make–up, anyway.  For a start I wouldn’t have understood what they were on about most of the time and would think I was in an Armstrong & Miller sketch.

RAF slang

arsy-tarsy –  Air Crew Reception Centre

arse-end Charlies – rear bombers

Gone for a Burton – killed in action, probably taken from an old advert for Burton Ale

brassed off / browned off   –  unhappy

brown jobs – the Army

bods – squadron personnel

brass, or The brasshats – top officers at Wing or Group level

cookie / blockbuster – a 4000 HC bomb with two cylinders filled with amitol, designed to destroy brick work structures

close the hangar doors – shut up shop (stop talking about RAF matters)

to court a cat – take your girlfriend out

dicky seat – the seat originally designed for a second pilot

dobhi – one’s laundry

egg – a bomb or mine

erk – ground crew

Faithful Annie – Avro Anson

fishheads – the navy

Flying Suitcase – Handley Page Hampden

Flying Tin Opener – a Hurricane in tank-busting role

greenhouse – cockpit window

grope – ground operational exercise

groceries – bombs

huffy – a WAAF disdainful of approaches

homework – sweetheart

jink away – sudden, sharp and evasive manoeuvre

to lose one’s wool – to lose composure

Mae West – inflatable life vest

oboe – ground-controlled radar system of blind bombing

pancake – to land

piece of cake – an easy target

pickled / pie-eyed – drunk

plaster – to bomb heavily

plonk – cheap wine ( from AC Plonk – A/C2 – the lowest rank in the RAF)

poop off – open fire

popsie – young lady

rhubarb – low-level strike operation mounted in cloudy conditions

schooly – education officer

scrambled egg – gold braid on Group Captain’s hats

scrub – to cancel an operation

Shagbat – Supermarine Walrus aircraft

shot up – very drunk

shot to ribbons – incapable through drink

silver sausage – barrage balloon

snake – a lively or noisy party

snake-charmers – a dance band

Snow Drop – RAF / Military police

sprog – new boy, fresh from training

stooging – flying around, waiting for something to happen.

Toodle pip then chaps, until next week for another top hole smattering of wordstuffs from the Bluebird’s Officers mess.  Over and out.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

I don’t believe what I’m hearing

Gather round, kids.  What’s not to like in the following ensemble of wonderful-ness? :  Gene Kelly plays a movie star in a fab white trilby and hardly has his tap shoes off in the film’s 103 minutes,  Donald O’Connor is his fizzball-of-energy cohort composer, Debbie Reynolds is the charming ingenue and Jean Hagen is the woman whose voice is so harsh it could strip paint.  It’s a comic depiction of Hollywood by Hollywood, but its knowingness never turns to cynicism; it parodies film-making whilst still holding it in affection.   Singin’ In the Rain is a musical liked by people who don’t like musicals.

The infectious exuberance of its superb score, direction and tap dancing – marked by Kelly’s athletic slant as choreographer –  is the best reason for watching it.  Many nights in Bluebird Towers have been spent reclined on the sofa with a glass of red joining in by harmonising on You were Meant for Me and then getting up to dance haphazardly around the room, narrowing missing smashing into the television.  But, reading further into Singin’ In The Rain is a fascinating business ; you see only a series of mirrors, endlessly reflecting the reality and artifice of the screen.  This is a film concerned with the space between what an audience sees and what an audience hears; and makes us conscious of the discrepancy between the two.  Not only that, but even without the ears, the eyes alone can fool; what Hollywood looks like from the outside rarely has anything to do with what is going on within.  Hey kids, ain’t that the truth.  This film is contrived to show the nature of artifice, how it manipulates and suspends belief, but also its merits and purposes.  Any film musical is going to be far removed from reality by its nature; what Singin In the Rain creates is a reality based on artifice – a hyper-reality, if you will.  The brilliance of the 13 minute story-within-a-story sequence Broadway Melody is a riotous display of colour, dance and scenery that presents the film’s plot in microcosm in an expressionistic vision.  While comically lampooning film-making, and stripping away the lies and artifices that audiences end up having to consume, it is marked by a self-referential affection towards film-making.

At the outset, then, we meet Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), silent movie stars at a film premiere of their latest release.  The Royal Rascal is a melodrama set in France during the Revolution and featuring dashing sword fights and protestations of love set to a background of guillotin-ing.    Lina and Don, who are capitalising on a “Are they? Aren’t they?” love affair which the studio has artificially created, must first meet the terrifying Dora Bailey, the gossip columnist du jour.

Don Lockwood, debonair and thrilling, meets his adoring public in front of the Gaumont Theatre.

The principal issues of the film are raised in Don’s first monologue, in which he gives a potted summing-up of his career thus far.  He comments that he was raised on “Shaw….Moliere, the finest of the classics” whilst the montage we see on the screen features him and his great friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) singing and dancing for nickels in bars.  Whilst Don comments that he had a “rigorous classical training” we see him and Cosmo dancing with violins and playing in nightclubs to people who quite clearly detest them.  This section features the fantasic performance of “Fit As A Fiddle” in which Gene Kelly’s and Donald O’Connor’s outfits are so loud they threaten to drown out the music.  This opening speech of Don’s makes it clear : what the studio feeds the publicists is contrived nonsense, and Don is beginning to feel it.

After the premiere of The Royal Rascal, Don and Lina professionally flirt and bow to the audience, and we soon discover that he actually cannot stand her, and she has the kind of voice that the studio must conceal, lest it break windows.  She is also so indefatiguably consumed by her own publicity that she believes Don is really her fiance, and that she is nothing short of marvellous.  Doggedly, Don follows Lena to the after-show party hosted in Beverly Hills by their producer.

After Cosmo’s crappo car breaks down (good at tap-dancing, bad at oil checks)  and Don is attacked by a load of 14 year old girls, he thumbs a lift from young lady Debbie Reynolds (playing Kathy Selden) who proceeds to not give in to his polished seduction routine and thinks that Don is, well, rubbish actually.  His films don’t impress her because she is a serious actress.  Honestly, she gives him a right drubbing.

Don pimps Kathy’s ride by jumping in her convertible and pouting gorgeously all the way to Beverly Hills, like the renegade, maverick starlet he is.

However, her moral superiority is short-lived; they unknowingly turn up to the same party, she as a dancer and he is a guest of honour.  When she jumps out of a cake, the game’s up – you aint no classical actress lady, you’re a vaudeville hoofer just like our Gene.  Coo.

Our Debbie proves she aint no Sarah Bernhardt.  Gene would like to go out with her, despite her scary shower cap.

After singing and dancing All I Do is Dream of You Debbie isn’t in the mood for any of Gene’s nonsense and is so humiliated by him discovering her real job that there is nothing left to do but smash a load of pineapples in Jean Hagen’s face.

Lina Lamont remains unimpressed by the new “Donald O’Connor Face Pack” range.

Lina gets Kathy Selden sacked from her dancer’s job, the cow.  Don spends time looking for Kathy, and Cosmo takes it upon himself to cheer Don up by a brilliant rendition of Make ’em Laugh in which he dances on a disused film set.  This is helpful, thank you Cosmo, but does not solve the main problem : talkies are in, and Lina’s voice will be revealed for all to hear. It’s a scandal.  Hollywood explodes into a vast amount of medleys performed by 1920s ladies shaking cocktail stirrers, but Don is not having his cocktail stirrer shaken.  Where is Kathy?

Even Donald O’Connor’s famous Geoffrey Palmer impression fails to cheer Don up.

But hope is in sight.  Whilst Don goes for a stroll and concentrates on looking handsome he bumps into Kathy Selden, who is filming a dance at the same studio.  Unable to tell her how he feels without the appropriate scenery, because “I’m such a ham”, he does it the Gene Kelly way, folks, by turning on hundreds of lights and creating a moonlit effect for a dance scene where he looks damn nice in a cricket jumper.  (Do the Americans even have cricket? Either way Gene makes it obvious to Kathy whether he bats or bowls.)

At last, Don assists Kathy with the decorating.

Terrified by Lina’s astonishing pipes “What’s WRONG with the way I talk?  Whadds the big idea?!!”  studio sets her up with a vocal coach.  Don too must also attend voice school.  Cosmo pops in to help out but it all goes footwards when the boys deliver what is my favourite dancing sequence on film.  Ever.  They turn a tongue twister “Moses Supposes his Toesies Are Roses” into a jazz tap routine and song.  And it doesn’t matter that it makes no sense.   Should you wish to see it in all its original splendour here it is (although if you work in office, headphones on, and volume UP please, otherwise you will prob get told off) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKlub5vB9z8&feature=related

Wowzers – I love a man in two tone shoes – look at them go.

Gene and Donald thought they had the “Countdown” audition in the bag, until that bitch Vorderman bagged it.

The first day’s filming on the new talkie is a disaster, due to problems of where to place Lina Lamont’s microphone : (“I can’t make love to a bush!!”)   Their director seems to have a nervous breakdown.  A preview leads to the studio thinking Don and Lina are through when the sound goes out of synchronization and no one can fix it.  The audience leave thinking the film – and Don and Lina –  ridiculous.  Lina is too thick and ditzy to understand this, however.  Back at Don’s Spanish / Mexican / French-themed uber Hollywood chateau, him, Cosmo and Kathy try to find a way out of it.

The road ahead is Vaudevillian, they decide – or at least Kathy does whilst she is doing the washing-up.  They will turn the film into a musical : The Dancing Cavalier. Nothing can be worse than actually having to go back on the road in vaudeville, and they might just make the world’s first screen musical.  They celebrate.

Not for Gene the post-pub tea on the sofa with a slice of marmite and toast.  Oh no.  On arrival at Gene’s house, you must pirouette through his front room in the small hours, folks.  The only fit way to celebrate at Gene’s gaff, having decided to make a musical, is to perform “Good Toes, Naughty Toes” in front of his custom-built bar – a bar which, as Don Lockwood is so profoundly wealthy, is customized by Moroccan style fringed stools, with bases made from solid gold interwoven with strands of Lana Turner’s hair.  Classy.

Good Morning, which was actually filmed in the early hours, featured in an anecdote of Debbie Reynolds’ years later; she told how her agent  decided against her receiving the “vitamin injections” that Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor had to keep them going during long filming days.  This may explain why Debbie looks knackered and Gene and Donald look like they’re tripping off their faces.  Debbie Reynolds’s feet bled throughout the filming of the routine.  Years later she said that the two hardest things she had had to do in her whole life were childbirth, and making Singin’ In the Rain, which should tell you how happy she was.  During filming at MGM, Fred Astaire found a weeping Debbie Reynolds sitting under a piano, where she miserably told him how Gene Kelly didn’t think she was up to the job.  Astaire helped her, taking her through her dancing scenes.

He may be an Oscar winner, but Gene still has trouble trying to tell the difference between Debbie Reynolds and a wet lamppost. Or he’s still off his face on vitamin injections.

….what goes up must come down, chaps.  The injections wear off.  Our stars are reduced to a vegetative state.  MGM must replace their batteries else filming shall not continue.

Cosmo has an idea – his first since the film began.  As Lina’s voice is so awful, they will use Kathy to dub her.  The audience will never knew they are being duped, the peasants, and he won’t tell Lina either.  It’s going to be a triumph!  Don celebrates outside in some quite bad weather.

Gene taps beautifully, to distract from the fact that he is committing fashion suicide by teaming brown shoes with a grey suit.

Gene practically has to swim through his epoch-making dance, so heavy is the rain.  A small amount of milk was added to the rain vat to ensure the droplets showed up on screen.  Even with a temperature of 103 he carried on dancing through this sublime performance.  What a trouper!  It’s simply Gene at his fabbest.

The producers are up for it, but the plot will need to be entirely shifted to accommodate the musical element.  Don and Cosmo wander around the producer’s office in 1920s plus fours and come up with a plot, all of which is a run-in to Gene Kelly’s and Stanley Donen’s baby, The Broadway Melody. Cyd Charisse plays a vamp and gives it all she’s got.

Cyd Charisse tells Gene how it is – from the end of her very very very long legs.

“Do they have those in my size?”  asks Don.  “I’m desperately trying to remedy the brown shoe situation.”

At the end of the Broadway Melody – a story of a man who gets processed through the sausage factory of the entertainment business – Gene’s character (a Broadway hoofer) emerges jaundiced and sullen at the other end regarding both work and romance.  Salvation arrives only when he remembers the passion for dance that first inspired him.   Broadway, in all its glories and depravities, will always bring the silver-shoe tapper back to his original passion – which is to look snazzy in a boater and dance, dance, dance.

From this moment on, it’s a question of tying up the various loose ends; Kathy dubs Lina’s voice, in between Don telling her he loves her, Lina gets wind of it but remains as brassy, ditzy and ineffective as ever, and the premiere looms.  The Dancing Cavalier is a resounding success and the audience scream and shout for Don and Lina after the screening.  Lina is given enough rope to hang herself with when Don, Cosmo and the produce RF Simpson, enable her to go out and talk to the audience so they can hear her.  Disappointed by her screeching, the audience request that she sing.  Uncooperatively, Kathy stands behind a curtain and dubs Lina’s singing.  Cosmo and Don pull the curtains back and expose the sham movie-making procedure for what it is, and reveal Kathy as the true star.

When the facade is stripped away it reveals only another contrived reality – the curtain rises on Kathy, and the movie theatre audience in the film discover something new.  But we the audience at home do not.  We feel the vocal truth and artistic integrity of the film we sensed all along has risen to the surface and the gifts of the talented are truly realised.  The triumph of  hard Vaudevillian graft and romance has not only won Kathy and Don true love but also access to successful film production: the final frame – Kathy and Don embracing in front of a movie billboard of their latest film Singin’ In the Rain – is the last example of self-referential artifice, of a film within a film.   That reminds us that all the removal of artifice leads to is the presentation of an even more surreal reality that Hollywood hangs itself on.

A great musical film depends on a special alchemy, the triple thread (singing, dancing and acting) must be intact and all performers must gage the temperature of those performances correctly, or else the whole thing collapes like a badly-cooked souffle.  I think that the true measure of this alchemy does not make itself known until the film is screened in its final version.  The extra something special isn’t about the filmmaking procedure, because it is more than the sum of its parts; it’s more to do with a sense of completeness that can only be apparent with viewing.  I think Singin’ In the Rain is one of these films, in that its ultimate alchemy is so enchanting  that no one could have possibly planned it.

Fred Astaire visits the boys on set which was nice as his suit gave everyone something to laugh at.

Dear Bluebird Readers, this week my challenge is for you all to find a copy of this film from somewhere – steal from Aunts, ransack old video cupboards of random old people, and watch it.  I defy you not to find your spirits lifted.  Please post your comments to the blog entry – I’d love to know what y’all think.

I found a brilliant blog about this – also on WordPress – at the following site.  If you’re interested in reading more about Singin’ In the Rain check it out!:       http://filmwhat.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/an-embrace-of-artifice-%E2%80%9Csingin-in-the-rain%E2%80%9D-through-a-%E2%80%9Cbroadway-melody%E2%80%9D/

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Kosher Gene Kelly

Gene is a teen dream, a foxy little devil and my first screen crush.  Oh yes.  You see, I didn’t care that he seemed to be wearing grey eyeliner in the opening scene of Singin’ in the Rain (or as we call it in my Italian class Cantando Sotto la Pioggia) I just thought  – and still think – he was lovely with his muscular shoulders and alarming buttocks which seemed to be sculpted from steel.  Here he is looking dastardly handsome while choreographing snazzy dance routines in his pretty little head:

But this blog entry isn’t about Singin’ in the Rain, as that deserves a whole blog of its own at a later date.  In fact, it isn’t even about the dancing talents of the man who may have single-handedly introduced and popularised ballet dancing to the American mass market.  This is about a far, far odder concoction called Marjorie Morningstar which Kelly made in 1957 playing off that plank of wood which occasionally did some acting, Natalie Wood.   Although most of Gene’s films grace my DVD shelves, I had never seen this one until last week.  A Jewish Gene Kelly?  I almost fell off my sofa in excitement at the thrill of it all, and imagined him wearing nothing but a kippah and a smile.  But, dear readers, it was quite the worst load of balderdash I’ve ever seen in centuries, a film with sets that move and the kind of sloppy continuity that sees Natalie Plank-of-Wood extinguish the same cigarette three times in four seconds.  Marjorie Morningstar lasts for two and a half hours.  I mean, Gene doesn’t even dance with a tallit or anything.  I was expecting Fiddler on the Roof meets On the Town. (“Fiddling on the Town?”) None of it seemed to work  as a narrative, and the script was criminally bad, but still I could not pull myself away from it.  That’s probably because Gene is S.E.X.Y.

The book of Majorie Morningstar was written by a man who sounds like a kitchen implement; Herman Wouk.  When not masquerading as kitchenware, Wouk wrote this story of a middle-class, conservative, Jewish girl who spends 565 pages battling with expectations of convention, class and creed during a love affair with a small-town theatre director called Noel.  It’s a bloated story of reactionary crap.  Noel is hip.  We know this because he wears white socks and black shoes.  He is also a fundamentally athiest Jew, sleeps with lots of dancers, directs plays, and is adored by the teenage girls who listen to him play the piano nightly in a summer camp bar.  What with him being a bad Jew and a good drinker, this is naughty Gene.  Cor.

Here is Gene dressed as a Spanish matador (Wowzers) claiming Marjorie is seeking vengeance on him with her non-existent God.  Seriously.  But she’s well confused because she thought she was just going outside for a snog and a bit of a feel with one of Hollywood’s finest.

“Hmmm,” the casting directors thought, when this pile of tosh landed on their desks in about 1955.  “Who can carry off the athiest, male, Jewish-ish slut look to perfection?  Call Gene!  He’s already got the hip clothes and sexy scar!  Never mind that he’s actually second generation Irish and has a foreskin.  BOOK HIM.  The man’s box office gold.”

The entire book is questionable; Marjorie desires a life of the stage and Noel, but ultimately he turns out to be a bit of a slapper and she – having had her well-brought up fingers burned by the amoral depravity of the stage –  gives up a fairly promising acting career to retire into Jewish housewifery with a doctor who hath no hair.   She finds comfort and sanctuary in the traditions of her faith, although in the film this ending is discarded and she ends up alone.  Gene / Noel fails in New York when he cannot sell his play to producers because he insults them over cocktails whilst wearing wide-necked 1950s shirts.  He returns to the small town where we first met him and continues sleeping with the daughters of men who own dry-cleaning franchises.

For two hours, Marjorie and Noel have silly arguments, in which Noel claims he’s up against Moses (er…is this a threesome?)  which is tough because you can’t argue with a dead prophet.   At least when “Moses Supposes His Toes-ies are Roses” came up in Singin’ In the Rain Gene and Donald O’Connor stepped up to the plate and performed the most energy-busting, amazing tap routine ever on film.  But the dancing that Gene does do in this film is moody and tortured – no doubt tap dancing wasn’t hip or beatnik enough for Noel and his black T-shirts.  Basically, Noel, having de-Judaised himself is pissed off with Moses or something – frankly, I found it hard to follow.  But the worst bit is when he tells her what no Jewish girl wants to hear : “Marjorie – you are your mother!”  Jeez, Gene you bitch.  And then its downhill all the way and we have close-ups of Natalie Plank-of-Wood shedding glycerine tears.

Natalie is called to Gene’s trailer, where he keeps his famous collection of V-necks to show off his pectorals.  “Have you READ this script of garbage, Natalie? – have you?!”  he asks as he clutches her.

For two hours they dance a bizarre negotiation of their relationship, in which sex (or the moral implications of a nice girl getting involved in all that stuff) is dealt with but never mentioned.  Instead, we have to rely on Gene’s eyebrows as a kind of shag-o-meter to let us know when he is thinking about it.  Then we watch Marjorie battling with her inner morality to decide on what is basically a no-brainer – whether or not to jump into bed with Gene.  Instead she tries to introduce him to her Mum and Dad, which acts as a kind of parental cold shower.

“I don’t care if you were in Singin’ In The Rain, there’s no way your showing me your special dance moves, sonny.  I’m saving myself for a dentist with a double garage.”  Marjorie tells Gene the score.

With nothing left to lose, a desperate Gene pulls his nautical look out of the bag and tries to show Natalie Wood his Anchors Aweigh.

The most attractive Gene moment is when he has been drinking for three days and is slurring in a very attractive way and has two days growth of beard.  That was terribly beatnik for 1956.  What would Debbie Reynolds say?  Either way, he is hot stuff and gets to do some dancing at the beginning as audience compensation for having to watch Natalie Wood.  The two issues that this peculiar film raised were firstly, why was the first Hollywood mainstream film for thirty years about Jews featuring hardly any Jewish actors?  And, secondly, Eleanor Bergstein, my friend, you have been rumbled.

Eleanor Bergstein was the brains behind the oestrogen-driven phenomenon that was Dirty Dancing, in which millions of dollars were made by the sight of Patrick Swayze sweating in a vest.  The first half of the plot is practially identical to Marjorie Morningstar: nice Jewish girl arrives at summer camp in the Catskills (Tamarak, as opposed to Kellermans, although – freakishly both camps have a similar-sounding song), meets surly dance teacher who charms her with his foxy moves and bewitches her with his zinging sex appeal. She must negotiate tensions between what her parents want and what she wants, before going to visit him in his cabin for shenanigans etc.  Replace Swayze’s sweaty vest for Gene Kelly in a cardigan and you have  Dirty Dancing 1950s style.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if Natalie Wood had propelled herself out of a lake into Gene Kelly’s arms and sung about how she was having the time of her life (after she’d had some acting lessons).

Gene was so tough and quite unkind in this film I had to open a beer and watch On the Town on where he is nicer and has a smart sailor suit on.  Ultimately, despite his acting skills, any film that has Gene Kelly in it but has no tap dancing is a waste.  So, next week, fellas, less of the serious whisky drinking Gene who lets down nice Jewish girls and shags about.  We shall return to something a little more life affirming, and Gene-related next Thursday……with the tap shoes back on.  Oh yes.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.