Saturday, January 05, 2008

"There's Always a Band, Kid."

In honor of the Iowa caucus, after thirty years of watching The Music Man, I'm finally seeing it as God and Meredeth Willson intended. Much like when I beheld 1776 in widescreen for the first time, I gathered all sorts of details that were chopped away by pan-and-scan; River City, for example, actually extends more than one inch on either side of Ron Howard's head. Entire houses and storefronts! I can see more than two and a half Buffalo Bills at once!

For all the arm-flinging I've done about the legs of Berlin and Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe, I must declare The Music Man as my favorite, for it accomplishes that rare feat of sophistication without pretension. It is a movie about redemption and hope, but not in an obvious, Nazis vs. small children wearing curtains sort of way. The script is upbeat but with just enough shadow to protect the enamel of one's sensibilities. Dialogue is deceptively simple, with subtle piano lesson humor, elevated references, and brilliant staging; it's a story set at the turn of the last century with applications at the turn of this one. (Performances of One Grecian Urn are currently available at a Catholic Mass near you.)

The period detail is tremendous; the film is set in the early 1900's and, well, it looks like the early 1900's. Too many historical movies bear the stamp of the age in which they were made-- Vanessa Redgrave, although she portrays a queen of the Arthurian era in Camelot, looks like she just alighted from the set of Laugh-In.

Not only does The Music Man keep and keep, it gives and gives. When I was six, there were pretty songs and swishy skirts; now that I am thirty, there are pretty songs, swishy skirts, and the realization that naming a Fourth of July picnic "The Last Days of Pompeii" is a masterpiece of ironic pomposity. And it's a movie before its time; the "If there's anybody in this hall who doesn't think this man Harold Hill shouldn't be tarred and feathered, let him by-God stand up" scene is the official precursor of the Regan-era Slow Clap.

The Music Man, shockingly, was Robert Preston's first musical role. Warner Brothers wanted to cast Sinatra. Sinatra. Because when you think small-town corn-pone Iowa Americana, you think Frank. Willson threatened to pull the film without Preston, and I say God bless him for preserving his performance for all of Western Civilization. Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, Yul Brenner as the King of Siam, and Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill: There are no others.

You can cut and paste just about any Presidential contender's strategy onto the quick-thinking, specific-but-empty flattery of Harold Hill's--if it's not the presence of a pool table in our community, it's global warming and childhood obesity. Trouble, and sending my brass band to the White House is the only solution for it.

But none of them will look as good as Preston in a punched-up top hat.

advocating dirty books at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

10 comments:

Hollee said...

Long my favorite musical OF ALL TIME. I'v always thought it hilarious. It wasn't until I was an adult that I relaized there really is a Gary, Indiana.
Um, geography not my strong suit.
Preston IS Harold Hill!

Love the blog as always MB.

MB said...

Thanks, Hollee. I knew there was a Gary, but my concept of it was destroyed a couple years ago when I discovered that it is, in fact, a poor man's Detroit; Gary recently boasted the highest per-capita murder rate in the United States. There is just one place that can light my face!

LAMizell said...

Hollywood, in its wisdom, wanted Cary Grant for the movie version of My Fair Lady. When offered the role, he told the studio it was crazy to consider anyone but Rex Harrison.

Starnarcosis said...

AH. A breath of summer in the depth of January. Now I know what to do with my son this evening :).

My favorite bit of Music Man trivia: it beat West Side Story for Best Musical in 1958.

Jess said...

While I was deeply smitten with your sense of humor, keen writing skills, and incredible love for both God and Mike Nelson when first I entered the Tasting Room, your position as ridiculously awesome is now solidified thanks to your love for "The Music Man." I am unashamed to admit that I have seen the film at least a hundred times, and I too, was awed by the widescreen version.
Words to live by, these: "But a woman who waits 'till the third time around, head in the clouds, feet on the ground, she's the girl he's glad he's found. She's his shipoopi."

MB said...

Why, thank you, Jess. Great honk and yegods to you.

Utah Diva said...

I second the motion! I just love the Music Man and Robert Preston in particular. He had a certain elegance and snap that really made him a delight to watch. Maybe I'll have to dust this one off and watch it again.

dmclean said...

MB: I stumbled across Blonde Champagne last year, and have grown more and more attached, esp from your references to my stomping grounds of SW Ohio. Not "Stamping Ground," of course...that's my Dad's hometown in Ken-tuck. Anyway, I just read your "Always...Band" entry. I knew the subject from the title - I had the soundtrack memorized by age 10 and later spent 4 glorious nights senior year (1984) channeling Robert Preston as Harold at Lemon-Monroe High School. Thanks for your unabashedly fond homage to him and the movie. There IS always a band, and I bet Josh The Pilot thinks YOU are Shipoopi.

MB said...

Oh, thank you, dmclean! I'm so glad you decided to join us here in The Cellar. You must have had *so* much fun singing "Trouble." And yes, this very day JTP thanked me for waiting for "the third time around."

I hope you comment again soon. :)

dmclean said...

Heh...YES, "Trouble" was a blast. Of course now, 24 years later, my kid and step-kids let out a collective groan whenever someone mentions a "pooooolll table" and I start up.

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