Monday, May 23, 2022

Okay, these things are supposed to be once a week, not once a month or whatever it keeps being lately. Still getting into the groove. Working it out. In the meantime, this will be a supersized edition – most links are within the last couple of weeks or so, but there are some exceptions where I felt the post warranted it. 🙂

Featured Links

MM: More Than the Silver Witch of Us All by Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun

Several posts popped up celebrating Marilyn Monroe’s birthday on June 1st, and I think this one my Kim Morgan is my wistful favorite – it’s wide-ranging and really gets at the person beneath the myth, something a lot of commentaries on Marilyn Monroe fail to do. See also The Lady Eve of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life discussing Marilyn’s final film The Misfits, a post that fits both Marilyn’s birthday and the Horseathon that was currently underway, sponsored by My Love of Old Hollywood. Also, Bobby Rivers at The Cinementals has a great post about Marilyn’s ability to make dorks and nerds feel loved.

Mary Pickford: The Girl Who Invented Celebrity by Carley Johnson at The Cinementals

The recent Mary Pickford blogathon generated a number of good posts, and I really enjoyed this one from The Cinementals. Yeah, I’m going to be linking The Cinementals a lot from now on, so just get used to it. They generate an awfully lot of high-quality content, and it’s getting to be one of the premier sites for classic movie fans. Anyway. Here Carley talks about Pickford as really the first big Hollywood celebrity – and how that differs from our current definition of the term. Also check out Page‘s picturiffic post about Pickfair at My Love of Old Hollywood, and Brandie‘s exploration of the working relationship between Pickford and writer Frances Marion at True Classics.

The Legendary Wit of Judy Garland by Lara at Backlots

Also celebrating a birthday this month was the wonderful Judy Garland (see my tribute), and Lara goes into Judy’s legendary wit, while also pointing out that it was something of a public front for her. Fascinating commentary, and the section about the candid interviews revealed a side of Judy that I didn’t really know about. See also Aurora‘s tribute to Judy at The Cinementals, and Ryan McNeil‘s perhaps fortuitously-timed Blind Spot review of A Star is Born.

The Latest Whither Criticism Kerfluffle

Seems like there’s a big debate over the “value of criticism” or “what is criticism” or approaches to criticism or what have you that takes over a bunch of the big dog film critic blogs for a while every six months or so, and even as they get repetitive, I always enjoy reading them. The current topic is the common one of film critics vs. mainstream opinions, kicked off immediately by a video podcast from the New York Times featuring film critic A.O. Scott and media commenter David Carr. Appalled by Carr’s lack of logical rigor, Jim Emerson analyzed the crap out of the video, while Glenn Kenny offered his thoughts on criticism itself. Meanwhile, others looking in, like the excellent amateur blogger Velvet Cafe (whose blog is a must for extremely well-written personal experiences with movies) wondered why all the fuss over such a trifling video. I left my own long comment on Velvet Cafe’s blog, but the gist of it is that I agree with Emerson, though I’m not as angered as he was. The video mostly just made me frustrated that the level of discussion it displays is considered adequate in any way. It’s a ridiculous video, and while it might not be worth getting up in arms over, Emerson’s breakdown of it is exactly right. If this is what passes for critical discourse at the New York Times (about criticism or anything else), then we’re in a bad way.

Back when I was a Hollywood musicals-obsessed kid, Judy Garland was understandably one of my favorite performers. By the time I was 15, I could count the number of her films I HADN’T seen on one hand. As a youngster with lots of time and parents who encouraged my classic film obsession, I made many attempts to form marathons to watch favorite stars’ films on their birthdays, but the Judy Garland one is the only one I stuck with for years in a row – even today, when I see June 10th looming on a calendar, her name immediately springs to my lips, as if an old childhood friend’s birthday was once again right around the corner.

As I grew older, my appreciation for her bigger-than-life talent and her courage in the face of personal hardship only grew as well, along with an unshakeable sense that not only was she a great singer (undeniable by anyone who’s ever heard her sing), but she was also an underrated actress, as evidenced not only by her perfect control of emotion while singing, but also in her few purely dramatic roles like The Clock and Judgement at Nuremberg, and a gifted comedienne, as evidenced by her comic timing in most every film, and her satirical performance in numbers like “A Great Lady Has an Interview” in Ziegfeld Follies (watch). In short, Judy was the consummate performer, managing to be relatable and awe-inspiring at the same time, and we haven’t seen anyone to match her since.

In fact, if she has any faults as an actress, it’s that she comes across as a bit too excited, too eager to do whatever the current film role calls for – put on a show, win the man that probably doesn’t deserve her, civilize the old west with the Harvey company, go to the World’s Fair. Her eagerness belies the tragedy of her real life, yet that shone through as well, in flashes of very real melancholy – just watch the Christmas sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis and listen to the way her throat catches when singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (see below). From her fresh-faced youth in the string of “let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney through her banner years as one of MGM’s top leading ladies and into her later years as a concert star, Judy never failed to entertain and move her audience, and never failed to show inspiring courage no matter how difficult her personal circumstances might be.

The culmination of her career is undoubtably 1954’s A Star is Born, not only her finest performance ever, but also being something of a comeback, a triumphant return after four years off-screen following Summer Stock and MGM’s termination of her long-term contract (she’d been with them since 1936). In a way, the film parallels her own life, with its story of a young singer “born in a trunk” and in show business from an early age, then discovered (undergoing a name change from Esther Blodgett to Vicki Lester; Judy’s real name was Frances Gumm) and put in movies, hitting success almost immediately but also finding great tragedy in her personal life. Of course, in the film, that tragedy is the decline of her husband, has-been actor Norman Maine (James Mason), and in real life it was her own struggle with addiction and self-image. Thus the film also contains an ironic edge as it actually marks Judy’s last great film musical, whereas in the film, Vicki Lester’s career is only beginning.

Though Judy has several lifetimes worth of great performances during her 47 years, her rendition of “The Man that Got Away” in A Star is Born is possibly her best, going from an impromptu casual performance to a full-on, all-out performance by the end. It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking, and never fails to remind me why I will always be a big fan of Judy Garland, and why I will always want to celebrate her birthday every June 10th. She is and always will be a legend, and today she would be 90 years old. Happy birthday, Judy.

And here’s a few bonus tracks, largely from a simply fantastic 2-disc set called “Judy Garland: Collector’s Gems from the MGM Films,” which has a ton of content from her tenure at MGM (1936-1949), including a bunch of alternate versions and outtakes, INCLUDING most of the soundtrack she recorded for Annie Get Your Gun before her health forced her off the project. One of those songs, “Let’s Go West Again,” was never included in the final film with Betty Hutton.

Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (outtake) from Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)

Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son from Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

Let’s Go West, Again (outtake) from Annie Get Your Gun (1949)

And then a couple from the essential “Judy at Carnegie Hall” 2-disc set. I don’t usually like live albums that much, but this one is absolutely incredible. I particularly like her take on “San Francisco” because not only is it a great vocal performance, but it shows, even in just the audio, Judy’s indomitable sense of humor as she gently digs at Jeanette MacDonald (who I also like very much, but whose light operetta voice is pretty much the opposite of Judy’s, and was totally wrong for the song “San Francisco,” even though it did become an inexplicable trademark for her).

San Francisco

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