Singing in the Rain in Seattle

Singing in the Rain in Seattle

I may have been beginning my junior year in college, but I was probably at the post graduate level for viewing films, all thanks to the Harvard Exit.

Around town the latest features were:

The French Connection – still racing down the suburban screens after opening the year before

The Godfather – packing them in at the 7th Avenue

Deliverance – floating down the river at the Music Box

Superfly – jiving at the Town

Ground Star Conspiracy – at my dad’s theater the Renton Village Cinema (bet you’ve never seen nor even heard about that one)

And as I mentioned last time, I was tearing tickets at the Cinerama for Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.”

My girl friend and I did see five of the six listed above, but we were more interested in films of an older vintage. Films that were in good supply at Seattle’s premier revival house, all (or almost all) in glorious black and white.

It was at this time that we caught up with the film that beat out not only The Maltese Falcon but also Citizen Kane for the Best Picture Oscar for 1942. That film was John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. I must say that I think Kane was robbed, but I also can see why Valley won. Both had stunning cinematography and magnificent ensemble casts. (And yes, I do love Ford’s films very much). Obviously in the mind of the voters, one just razzled while the other dazzled.

We took in a comedy double bill of Duck Soup and Horsefeathers, following the serious drama of Valley. Cinematography was not the distinctive for the Marx Brothers films. The sparkle came from the antics and patter of the madcap quartet. It was a good portent, for now I was anticipating catching the brothers (pared down to a trio) in A Night at the Opera. I say that I was anticipating it, not so much Karen, whose taste in comedy runs along different lines. Hurrah for Rufus T. Firefly.

In the comedy line, we both enjoyed Buster Keaton in The General which popped up on the Exit’s schedule a few weeks later. This had been on my Must See list ever since reading about it in Brownlow’s The Parades Gone By. And it did not disappoint. One marvels at Keaton’s comic genius, a genius which can engineer comedy gold out of large inanimate objects. Every time we pass by Cottage Grove down in Oregon, I long to get off and go in search of the places where Keaton filmed what many consider his masterpiece. It was the only place in the US at the time that had the right track gauge for the trains he wanted to use.

And now, for the whole reason for this post. (It seems I have veered, -I swear it was unplanned – into the comedy genre). What I want to blog about is the best comedy film of all time, and the best musical film of all time. They are one and the same. And I will define it even further – Singing in the Rain is the most perfect movie made under the Hollywood studio system.

I can state truthfully that neither of us knew what we were in for when we took our seats at the Harvard Exit that night. Right from the opening credits through which Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sing and dance the title tune, all the way to the HAPPY ending, we were treated to a rollicking good time. It was exhilirating, and dare I say intoxicating, in the best sense –  a joy and a delight to see Kelly dance (not only in his famous solo reprise of the title tune, but throughout), and jaw-dropping wonder at O’Connor’s solo turn that made us laugh. And sweet, winsome Debbie Reynolds won our hearts completely.

And the contrast with the black and white films we had seen could not have been greater. The colors popped off the screen. I could say that the colors “sang and danced” too. All the elements came together – cast, crew, sets, costumes, writing, songs, choreography to make a sweet cinema confection.

We were not alone. Leo the Lion roared at the beginning and the audience roared its approval at the end.

Note – we recently saw the new release The Intern, a film directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. We were delighted that a clip from Singing in the Rain was used to effect as the title character is remembering a time when he and his now departed wife had watched it together. It was a poignant moment. (And it was all my wife could do, not to burst out into song along with it).

Vote for Citizen Kane

Vote for Citizen Kane

You have to see Citizen Kane.

Or so went the watchword around any college campus in the seventies. Especially if you took any film classes.

When it was announced for the schedule at the Harvard Exit, I didn’t join the queue for tickets. Instead, I called Art Bernstein. I had learned that they did reciprocate with other theaters in the area as a professional courtesy. (Though I do not know if they ever had to time to come and see a film where I worked. They probably attended the trade screenings for newer films).

Citizen Kane was…

A tour de force.

Powerful.

A powerful experience of sight and sound. Orson Welles fired on all cylinders when making this film. And a V-12 aircraft engine at that.

It was not a thrill ride like the modernday summer tentpole blockbuster. It was thrilling in that it was totally captivating. And it was a bit of a ride in the sense that you were on a journey with the reporter who is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the title character’s last recorded word – Rosebud.

The camera panned, tilted, moved, passed through skylights, and stopped and brooded. You were led around by the nose, and happy for it. The shots were composed, angled, and focused in multi-planes. Everything was calculated to rivet your interest. Gregg Toland, the cinematographer, gave his all to electrify the screen for Welles’ story.

The reality of the images was bolstered by the reality of the sound. Dialogues overlapped. Sounds near or far were distinguishable as such. The sound set tones, revealed character, enhanced emotions. And then the music by Bernard Herrmann fortified the whole.

Then the film ended. The lights came up. We all knew, (if we were paying attention) what Rosebud was. Ironically, the reporter character in the film did not. He was still in the dark.

Conversation bubbled up around me.  But I found that for myself, I just wanted to think more about it. A moral was somewhere there in the telling. For the viewer (or reader) the protagonist in a story becomes a lodestone, off of which to bounce oneself.

And that’s what I was doing. How could I avoid the fate of Charles Foster Kane? I was not rich, that would most likely help, but I could identify something in me that was similar. Ambition.

Ambition is what I settled upon as the stumbling block that brought him down. It was what led to the corruption in his character that left him bereft of his simple happiness.

So, I came away with a new ambition – to avoid ambition.