Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Favorites: Show Business and Writing

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about today.  I very nearly said, "Aw, to heck with it. This week's kind of a wash."

But two things have been bouncing around in my head lately.  One of them that people wonder where I get my perky optimism.  And I think, "Hey, you try growing up on a diet of Hollywood musicals and depression era comedies and you see how you turn out!"

So I thought I might rewatch Sullivan's Travels and talk about that today, but I didn't get around to it.  But the theme of Sullivan's Travels -- which is high art vs. low art -- made me think of The Bandwagon.

I haven't seen that in a long time, but what I have to say about it doesn't require rewatching, at least not of the whole picture.

The Band Wagon is a 1953 musical that was seriously overshadowed by a movie released just before it, Singin' In The Rain.  And I'll admit to you that while Singin' In The Rain is in the actual top ten of my top ten list, The Band Wagon isn't even among the 69 other flicks of my top ten list.

It is, however, one of the great underappreciated MGM musicals, and both flicks were written by Comden and Green, and it featured Oscar Levant (which earns any picture some extra points).

But the thing about this movie that stands out to me -- and it stands out so far that I seldom actually bother to watch the movie, I just go to YouTube and find this clip below -- is one number: The song "That's Entertainment."

I like this song not only because it has a bouncy tune by Arthur Schwartz and clever lyrics by Howard Dietz, but because of the theme: High art, low art; it's all the same.  Anything that happens in life can happen in a show.... it's all entertainment.

The movie is about a clash of high art and low art: a has-been hoofer (Fred Astaire) is going to make a Broadway comeback, when the director decides to go high-brow and bring in a classy ballerina (Cyd Charisse), and it all ends up in a disaster, with everybody being intimidated by everyone else, and they rebuild the show to be entertainment.

The thing about showbiz is that it really is all Showbiz.  It doesn't matter whether it's a baggy-pants comedian or Oedipus Rex (where a chap kills his father, and causes a lot of bother).  It's all greasepaint.

It's all entertainment.

But, in some ways, I think this brings me to why The Band Wagon isn't in my enormous top ten list: because I think the high-brow vs. low-brow emphasis causes it to miss the mark.  Oh, the theme is there, but it misses that one really cool thing that makes show business so special... and it applies to the writing business.

There's an old joke, which I will summarize for the culturally deprived: There's this guy who spends all day doing nothing but cleaning up the elephant dung at the circus, and somebody offers him a better job and he's shocked and horrified. "What?!?" he says.  "And quit show business?"

The deep echoing point of showbiz-based Hollywood musical is, like the point of so many depression era comedies and even dramas: it's not about winning and losing. It's not about success or being a star. It's about the show itself.

Let's go, on with the show.

And I think for writers, and readers, more than anything else, it's about the story.  Low-brow, high-brow, crap or national treasure.  The story is it.  It starts and stops there.

I think in the more modern era, the Muppets were the performers who held on to this idea more than any other, so I'll sign off with another video -- it's kind of crappy quality, but hey, that's kinda the point.  It's still entertainment.

Next week, maybe I'll get around to talking about Sullivan's Travels, or even my more favorite Preston Sturgis flick, The Great McGinty. It all depends on if I'm too busy putting on a show.

See you in the funny papers.

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