Sept. 2016:
Watched this again in the beautiful blu-ray restoration, along with Agnes Varda’s documentary. Of course, I take back the comment below that the music is unmemorable – I find no showtunes memorable until I’ve heard them a second time, and now I feel like I’ve known the twins’ theme song forever. Had completely forgotten that there’s a murder in this movie, a family friend who hangs around the café is arrested for chopping up a girl named Lola-Lola (Blue Angel reference?). Re: the English version of The Young Girls, it’s glimpsed in the Varda doc, but apparently nobody thought it worth restoring and adding to this box set, so that’s probably the final word on that.

Transporter Bridge, transport me away:

Oct. 2007:
Not a total musical like Umbrellas was, and no connecting characters between the two, just a brief mention of the town of Cherbourg. This one has the same longing tone as the previous film in parts, but mostly it’s a much sunnier film, a loving, colorful, musical tribute to Hollywood escapist classics.

At this point, Demy was far out of touch tonally with his French New Wave contemporaries. Umbrellas characters were at least affected by the ongoing war, but Rochefort, coming after the more politically-engaged Muriel and Paris Belong To Us and The War Is Over, is in its own insular world for the most part. A few years later, after the May ’68 riots and Godard’s and Marker’s hard turns to the left, after even Demy’s wife Agnes Varda had filmed Black Panthers and contributed to the Far from Vietnam project, Demy would continue to go his own way, filming a musical fantasy fairy-tale with Deneuve and Jean Marais in 1970. By that point, I gather that he was not well-liked by his New Wave filmmaker/critic contemporaries. I don’t think he is well-liked still… I’ve been reading that his career was pretty uneven, and only a quarter of his films are talked about regularly. I guess Demy’s films have had to be recontextualized to be appreciated, removed from the radical French 60’s and enjoyed as pure cinema.

Danielle Darrieux (star of Madame De… and the cheating wife in La Ronde, later in 8 Women & Demy’s Une chambre en ville) plays Yvonne, mother of Catherine Deneuve, her tragic real-life sister Françoise Dorléac (of The Soft Skin and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake) and young Boubou.

Yvonne regrets having left Boubou’s father Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) ten years ago. Delphine (Deneuve) keeps missing her dream man, an artist/poet doing his military service, Jacques Perrin (of Donkey Skin, Cinema Paradiso, the Kieslowski-penned 2005 Hell). Solange (Dorléac) dreams of meeting famous American composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). And they all (more or less) meet up and fall in love at the end of the movie.

L-R below: Darrieux, salesman George Chakiris (West Side Story), Josette, romantic Perrin, George’s partner Bill, Gramps

Guess I’m not so musical-savvy, don’t know what to say about this one stylistically. I mean, it’s bright and colorful and fun, less sense of loss and longing than Umbrellas, but I kind of miss that. Gene Kelly is a cutie, fits in just fine.

Katy asks why the mother has to work all day at her diner to get by, while her daughters live high in their fancy apartment and pretty dresses from teaching song and dance lessons. Are the realism and the fantasy rubbing against each other uncomfortably, or is the mother paying for Boubou’s school and still helping to support the girls until they get married? If the latter, I’d hope they’d take a shift at the diner once in a while.

This and Umbrellas had a funny combination of set and location shooting, with Demy doing location shots in the actual towns, but repainting the storefronts to his liking. Nice music, nothing memorable for me, having heard it just once. The girls refer to Jules and Jim and composer Michel Legrand. The camera should count as a cast member since it is engaged by the other characters and dances around with them. A self-reflexive movie then, both in its use of the camera and its reference to musical convention. Bright, solid primary colors abound.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: “There are English-dubbed versions of both Umbrellas and Young Girls; I haven’t seen the latter, but the English version of Umbrellas is so unrelievedly awful that I’m happy to have missed the dubbed Young Girls.” Although if the IMDB trivia page is to be believed, Rochefort was fully shot in English as well as French, so it might be worth hunting down an English version if it still exists anywhere.

Varda cameo as the shortest nun:

Caroline Layde for Senses of Cinema:

However undemanding and lollipop Demy’s films may appear, they present some nuance and sophisticated intertext, and they share a certain charm, vivid and unified. His films inhabit worlds in themselves that may peripherally refer to social reality and the real world but remain content as alternate realities of poetry, color, and music … Demy’s consistency of vision itself justifies his inclusion among the “auteurs”, defined by André Bazin and François Truffaut and expanded by Andrew Sarris as distinguishing themselves with their salient visual language from mere metteurs-en-scène. Demy certainly created a signature style of poetry and innocence and clung to it. Yet this quality also has a sophisticated aspect, suggesting the dream worlds of the surrealists and of Demy’s inspiration, Jean Cocteau. It is fitting that the American critic Gary Carey has described Demy as “the Joseph Cornell of French cinema”.


The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993, Agnes Varda)

The town of Rochefort threw a party and screening for the 25th anniversary, invited Demy’s family, Legrand, the set designer, the producer and cast. Bittersweet memories for some, pure joy for others. Film and video of the festivities along with film clips and Varda’s excellent 16mm footage from behind the scenes.

“The memory of happiness is perhaps also happiness.”

Jacques on set:

One of the greatest forgotten comedies with the best casts ever. Shirley Maclaine is super as a long-suffering woman who wanted a simple life with true love, but all the men she married came into money and became obsessed with success, driving them to their deaths and leaving her with increasingly massive inheritance. My favorite, self-referential part: in telling her story, Maclaine imagines each of her marriages as a different style of movie.

Undercranked silent with Van Dyke:

Maclaine (just after her oscar nomination for Irma la Douce) spurns self-important department store heir Dean Martin in her hometown, instead marrying Dick Van Dyke (of Bye Bye Birdie). After some idyllic months in their crumbling shack, he finds he has a knack for salesmanship and devotes the rest of his short life to business.

Arty Foreign Film with Newman:

Next comes bohemian painter Paul Newman (character name: Larry Flint) who makes a fortune selling artworks painted by machines (and by a monkey). Then to switch things up, Robert Mitchum, who’s fabulously wealthy when he meets her and dies as soon as he attempts to retire to a simpler existence. Finally Gene Kelly, a hack café comic who becomes a star the first time she convinces him to perform without his costume and makeup.

Spendy Hollywood production with Mitchum:

All this is being told to psychiatrist Robert Cummings (Jean Arthur’s love interest in The Devil and Miss Jones) in framing story after she’s caught trying to give away her fortune to the IRS. Maclaine then finds a financially ruined Dean Martin, working as a janitor in the building, who has come to appreciate the simple life after being driven out of business by Dick Van Dyke, and it’s true love.

Musical, of course, with Kelly:

Won a well-deserved oscar for costumes (although it kinda cheated with the parade of self-consciously glamorous dresses in the Hollywood meta-film), and another for art direction, presumably for the house that Gene “Pinky” Kelly has painted entirely pink. Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green did The Band Wagon, Singin’ in the Rain and On The Town, and Thompson had just made The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear. Thanks to Joanna for the recommendation.

A breakout role for Gene Kelly, who was starting to come into his own after the draft-dodging nonsense in For Me and My Gal. He runs a nightclub, is best friends with dancer Rusty (Rita Hayworth, before Gilda and Lady From Shanghai) and comedian Genius (Phil Silvers, TV’s Sgt. Bilko). Obviously Gene and Rita like each other, but Gene has to make the first move because it’s the 1940’s and he’s not good with feelings, so when she becomes a popular magazine cover girl, he lets her run off to a larger theater instead of asking her to stay.

Eve Arden, the best part of One Touch of Venus (she’s the poyle in the erster), plays the same sardonic type here, cutting through the music-fantasy atmosphere whenever she’s onscreen. She works with businessman Otto Kruger (High Noon, Power of the Press), who has movie-padding flashbacks to when he almost married Rita’s grandmother. Now Rita is being pushed to marry her new theater manager Lee Bowman (I Met Him In Paris, House by the River), and there’s kind of an interesting ending, as Kruger gets her to leave him for Gene, leaving Lee to a life of romantic regret identical to Kruger’s.

Not very memorable songs (the weird “Poor John” sung by flashback-Rita is all that comes to mind) but a decent movie. Nice man-vs-reflection street dance number for Gene. Weird trick-photography montage at the end with all the popular magazines’ latest cover girls (IMDB says one had already been in numerous movies, one was Harold Lloyd’s daughter, and another would marry Jean Negulesco). Leslie Brooks, also with Rita in You Were Never Lovelier, is good as her dancer-frenemy. And Genius, well, he’s grating and horrible as a comedian, but as a buddy of Gene and Rita, I eventually came around to him.

Sequel Xanadu came out almost 40 years later.

One of Busby Berkeley’s unexciting 1940’s flicks (see also: Take Me Out to the Ball Game). He even has a total anti-Berkeley moment, aiming the camera at Judy, singing against a plain wall, and leaving it there for ages. What happened – budget cuts? Not a bad movie though – Gene Kelly’s debut, with established young star Judy Garland (only one year after her last Andy Hardy movie, and two before Meet Me In St. Louis).

Another one of those movies starring two attractive young people who just have to end up together, because it’s a Hollywood movie, even though they shouldn’t. Gene proves again and again that he cares only about his career, playing the Palace in New York, and anybody is disposable on his way to the top. But he doesn’t get to the top, due to the (vaudeville/WWI-era) public’s new interest in war heroes and his successful attempt to draft-dodge by smashing his hand in a trunk. And due to the WWII-era public’s distaste for draft-dodging romantic heroes, the ending was hastily rewritten so a troop-entertaining Kelly tries to warn approaching ambulances that passage is unsafe and ends up singlehandedly taking out an enemy machine gun nest.

Judy doesn’t get as many plot points, but gets to sing some good 1910’s showtunes. She starts out in the show of Jimmy Metcalf (future politician George Murphy), starts a duo act with Kelly until he dumps her when his opera singer friend Eve (Martha Eggerth, 1930’s cinema star in Austria and Germany) suggests she can get him more fame, sob Judy heads to the war to sing for troops, where she’s reunited with hero-come-lately Kelly.

Bosley Crowther: “To one who takes mild exception to sentimental excess, it seems an overlong, overburdened and generally over-talked musical film.” He also calls Judy Garland “saucy.”

Unaccountably wonderful movie… seems like the usual madcap romantic comedy business (three sailors have a day of shore leave, spend it picking up girls) but the very end, returning to the ship as three more sailors head out, and the movie’s overall sense of the city (simultaneously huge and cozy) gave me a happy glow. Although is it weird that it’s a musical and I’ve already forgotten all the songs?

Katy took a break from Fred Astaire, got us Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra this time. It’s actually the same three guys from Take Me Out to the Ball Game (“O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg”) with Jules Munshin as the goofy third fellow. Gene is wide-eyed naive about the city, immediately falls for a girl pictured on subway posters (Miss Turnstiles for June). Gene acts like she’s a celebrity and insists he’s going to meet her. The other two guys know this is unlikely, but it keeps working out. Miss Turnstiles aka Ivy is Vera-Ellen (Rosemary Clooney’s sister in White Christmas), the assertive cab driver who likes Sinatra is Betty Garrett (not Frank’s girl but Gene’s in Take Me Out to the Ball Game) and the random anthropologist following Ozzie is Ann Miller, who I know best from Mulholland Dr.

TCM says it was groundbreaking for using real locations, shooting with hidden cameras on the NYC streets, and indulging Gene’s interest in modern dance (seen in full bloom in An American In Paris).

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949, Busby Berkeley)

I finally watched some Esther Williams movie with Katy the night we heard she’d died (Esther, not Katy), but I have to say she didn’t make a huge impression (again, Esther, not Katy, who always makes an impression). She plays the inheritor of a baseball team, led by superstar trio Ryan (Frank Sinatra), O’Brien (wildly mugging Gene Kelly) and Goldberg (Jules Munshin, fifth-billed in a short run of late-1940’s musicals). Esther was at least noticeable better than Gene’s love interest Betty Garrett, who I was always afraid would try to catch up with Gene’s frantic comedy act, a la Shirley Maclaine in Artists & Models.

The best baseball-related song, “O’Brien to Ryan to Goldberg,” was based on a poem which I remember from that Ken Burns thing. Overall, kind of a lame finale to Busby Berkeley’s shining career, passing the reins to cowriters/choreographers Gene and Stanley Donen, who’d make On The Town and Singin’ in the Rain over the next few years.

Thrill of a Romance (1945, Richard Thorpe)

Oh this one was much better, and with a ton more water (Esther plays a swim instructor). She marries a neglectful rich guy who immediately runs away on business errands while she spends her unconsummated honeymoon with a colorful opera star and hunky war hero Van Johnson, with whom she swims and hikes and talks and laughs. Will she stay with the coldly absent husband who bought her attention with gifts, or the rugged handsome new man who she repeatedly admits that she loves? I’m not spoiling it.

An early starring role for Esther. Thorpe was a Tarzan movie vet, also in charge of the latest Thin Man picture. Esther’s meddling friend Frances Gifford had appeared in an unrelated Tarzan movie. Musicals are generally improved when they costar an opera singer – Lauritz Melchior would return in Esther’s This Time For Keeps.

We’ve got three guys who live in the same building over a cafe: painter Jerry (Gene Kelly), pianist Adam (Oscar Levant of The Band Wagon and The Barkleys of Broadway) and semi-rich guy Henri (French singer Georges Guetary). Each has a backstory, love and career aspirations, but only one is Gene Kelly so we don’t spend much time with the other guys.

The ladies: Leslie Caron (whom I recently saw in Surreal Estate) has a killer introduction via musical dream sequence. After Gene acts stalkerish towards her (as we know from watching classic movies, this is the correct approach) she starts to fall in love with him, but whoops, she’s due to marry Henri who once saved her from nazis. Rich, overconfident Nina Foch picks up Gene as his sponsor, then starts to act possessive.

So Gene and his two women take up most of the plot, but surprisingly Oscar gets a long dream sequence of his own, where he plays a dramatic piano piece conducted and accompanied and viewed by other Oscar Levants (someone has been watching Keaton’s The Playhouse). At the end Gene finds out about the whole nazi thing and grudgingly lets his girl go, then proceeds to dream himself a massive, astounding ballet (IMDB confirms Gene was a big Red Shoes fan). Sometime during the ballet Leslie must’ve had a heart-to-heart with Henri, because he brings her back to Gene at the end, leaving one happy couple, two broken-hearted rich people, and one lonely, out-of-work Oscar Levant. Then one assumes Nina pulls her sponsorship so Gene never gets his art show, and the couple lives off Leslie’s perfume-counter pay in their tiny apartment.

Written by major songwriter Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady) and directed by Minnelli between The Pirate and The Band Wagon. The songs have a rocky start with the unintelligible By Strauss, then Gene’s got a great routine for I Got Rhythm but there are children interfering with the song. Finally Gene and George get in a nice version of ‘S Wonderful halfway through. Oh and Gene and Oscar sing one in the apartments where Gene dances in a doorway. But really it’s all about the three dream sequences.

J. McElhaney in Senses of Cinema:

Chris Marker has stated that when he, Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet were in London in 1952 filming Les Statues meurent aussi they began every day by attending a 10am screening of An American in Paris. An American in Paris: a film which, apart from a few second-unit shots, recreates Paris entirely on Hollywood soundstages and the back lot; Les Statues meurent aussi: a documentary short on what happens to African art when it is exhibited in museums where it loses its relationship to the folk culture from which it sprang and as a result becomes lifeless, part of the “botany of death that we call culture.” In a larger sense, the short is also about the nature of art and what it (along with science and religion) means to us in our fight against death, becoming the “instrument of a desire to seize the world.” There are, of course, many ways for an artist to seize the world and consequently many ways for the artists we sometimes call filmmakers to do so as well, through the most rigorous of documentaries to the most stylised of musicals. Marker does not go into detail as to what it was he and his collaborators got out of this daily ritual of watching An American in Paris except to note the “lightness” that they felt watching the film. Consequently it may have been nothing more than a refuge from the seriousness of the work on their own obviously very serious film. But let us suppose for a moment that what these three French filmmakers saw in the faux French world of An American in Paris was a cinematic universe parallel rather than antithetical to their own, one equally possessed with a desire to seize the world and equally concerned with its own version of the “truth” but paradoxically articulating it within the realm of artifice. In the midst of a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s musical One from the Heart Serge Daney describes Coppola as working within the Minnellian idea “that a good illusionist does not ‘break’ the illusion, but constantly multiplies it, ad infinitum. The truth of a mask is not the face but an excess in the mask .. Two minuses make a plus. Two falsehoods make a truth”

SHOCKtober is over in a big way (yes, I’m a month behind – what of it?). A colorful trifle, with fine music and dancing, and a fluffy plot blown up to double its natural runtime by extending every tune, adding a final verse and chorus at half speed for audience members too dull to get it the first ten times. Individual scenes aren’t poorly paced – the centerpiece restaurant scene is well-timed with a good energy – the movie’s just trying to be elegant by drawing things out.

Katy and I both thought that Streisand was very good and Matthau was a weird choice for a musical. We weren’t sure why Streisand wants so badly to end up with such a stinker as Matthau – though he is a half-millionaire and she seems to have transformed him into her beloved ex-husband by the end. Katy also recognized Gene Kelly’s style in the dancing, though he’s not the listed choreographer. This was the second-to-last feature he directed, not long after his Young Girls of Rochefort role.

Streisand (who had just won an oscar for her debut film role in Funny Girl) is a widowed matchmaker who’s tired of being alone herself. So she sabotages her current job – hired by grumpy feed-and-seed owner Matthau to hook up his niece Ermengarde with a nice boy of higher standing than her chosen sweetheart Tommy Tune (“possibly the tallest dancer in the country”), Streisand instead schemes to keep the two youngsters together, hook herself up with Matthau, and distract Irene, the city hatmaker Matthau has been dating, by foisting his head store assistant (Michael Crawford of a couple Richard Lester comedies) upon her. It all ends up with a hide-and-seek dance competition in a huge fancy restaurant, featuring (for a minute) Louis Armstrong.

A huge hit in 1969, yet also a huge flop because it was monumentally expensive. It had an unexpected resurgence in DVD sales after being featured in Wall-E. The play by Thornton Wilder (Our Town, Shadow of a Doubt) had been filmed before (including in 1958 with Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine), but this was adapted from the mega-hit Broadway musical version.

Double-feature on Turner Classic! Part two has mostly-good somewhat-exciting clips from MGM musicals introduced by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Kelly directed the lame host segments, where he and Fred walk around some giant colorful shapes and dodgy video effects (and also tromp through Paris for a while). Whole thing is quite wholesome. It’s not all musical numbers – there’s a clip from A Night at the Opera and tributes to Frank Sinatra and Hepburn/Tracy – just a big nostalgic lovefest

Things learned:
– Eleanor Powell is pretty amazing.
– Anything with Judy Garland has gotta be worth watching.
– I like Jimmy Durante.
Cabin in the Sky looks good.

Apparently I was wrong in thinking these MGM musicals were on TV all the time in the 70’s, but they certainly were in the 90’s when part III came out, so they spiced it up with behind-the-scenes shots, scenes from rare films and scenes cut from more popular films. Very good idea, and the selections are given better setup with more historical context, making the whole thing seem less random. Written and directed by the editing team of the first two movies. Guess I always wondered why J. Rosenbaum picked part III of this series for his great films list without I or II, but the first two are merely compilations of film moments so if you have access to the source films there’s very little of value there. Part III is full of original content… an alternate camera angle on a dance number showing how the set was deconstructed mid-scene to make room for camera movement, some Judy Garland scenes from a movie in which Betty Hutton replaced her a few days into shooting, a censored scene of Lena Horne in a bathtub and some unused vocal tracks from Show Boat before they were dubbed by a different singer. Scenes are introduced by Horne, Mickey Rooney, Esther Williams and other surviving stars from the era. Neat stuff. I only technically watched three quarters of it, but I’m gonna cheat and take credit anyway.