Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Semi-Productivity and Gene Kelly on a Sunny Afternoon

I say "semi-productivity" for a reason.
My opinion of a  Productive Day is probably in direct contrast with that of the vast majority of people I know. Some people I know are able to cram an absurd amount of large tasks and errands into 24 hours, and still get enough sleep to function. I myself am occasionally in possession of this skill, but it seems that it gets more and more difficult a power to muster.

Today I got up "early" (9.30, y'all), gave Elvis (he's a dog) a bath, took him for a walk, did some washing, got my crap out of the living room, made a salad for tonight's dinner, and did some tidying up.  So in the early afternoon, I congratulated myself on a job well done on being a functioning twenty-something who Gets Shit Done on a day off. Popping the top off a cool beer, I sat down on the couch, put on some Kinks and settled down to read some Harry Potter.

Mid-sip, however, my inflated feeling of self-accomplishment suddenly left me. I cast my mind back to the days when I was able to fit two jobs, a social life, uni work and internship work into a single day without a second thought. It seemed as if as I grew older, the level of responsibility I am able to handle was diminishing. In fact, after a day of small tasks, I was giving myself a pat on the back. THIS IS WRONG! I thought, panicked. It's supposed to be THE OTHER WAY AROUND! In my panic, I took another swig of beer and pondered to myself. I was congratulating myself on a day well lived, and the day was barely half over. For shame. How did I once upon a time keep this up for weeks on end? I was puzzled, and frustrated with myself.

So, I'll write another blog entry before heading to the ol' cinematorium to watch Machete.

The other night, thanks to my off-kilter sleeping patterns, I found myself in front of the TV quite late at night, not feeling in the least bit tired. On this particular night I did the usual flick-through-channel routine, but stopped abruptly when on the screen I spied two names in the opening credits of an old-timey looking film. Those names were Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The film was Anchors Aweigh, an MGM musical from way back when in 1945.

The first thing that struck me about Anchors Aweigh was how skinny Frank Sinatra was. I'm serious. He's really skinny. I guess that's because both Sinatra and Kelly look pretty damn young, what with the film's release being in 1945. Anchors Aweigh was the first of a series of buddy type films Sinatra and Kelly made. This, shamefully, is the first that I've seen of those films. The second thing that grabbed my attention was the fact that Sinatra's character, Clarence Doolittle, is shy, awkward, and unsure of how to act around "dames". Given the persona of Ol' Blue Eyes throughout his career, the sudden image of Sinatra onscreen acting so timidly was a surprise to me. His Clarence is all "gee, whiz!" and "that sure is swell!", while Kelly gets all the jaunty-hat bravado of the film. 

At any rate, Anchors Aweigh follows the antics of two Navy men on leave in Hollywood. Joseph Brady (Kelly) is on a mission to meet up with his gal Lola, while Clarence just wants Joe to show him the ways of the "sea wolf" (as Joe is known) so he can meet some of those aforementioned "dames". A spanner is thrown into their plans when they meet Aunt Susie (Kathryn Grayson) and her nephew Donald (a very young Dean Stockwell). Of course, Clarence promptly falls for Susie, and through attempts to get his pal a date with her, so does Joe.

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Winnerduo.

Anchors Aweigh picked up the Oscar gong for Best Original Musical Score as well as being nominated for Best Picture and earning Gene Kelly a nomination for Best Actor. It's pretty easy to see why. Really is. After the initial puzzlement I felt upon seeing Sinatra acting so un-Sinatra like, I was positively swept up in the charm of the film, and especially of the leads. Sinatra and Kelly make a superb duo, both singing and both dancing, both obviously dripping with that on-screen presence that made them the huge stars that they were and still are. It might be surprising to some (myself included) that Sinatra could - and would - dance in this film. While obviously he doesn't leap as high or as gracefully as Kelly, it's a real joy to watch him keep up with Gene in the numbers they share. It's also worth remembering and noting that back in the glory days of Hollywood musicals, most dance numbers were filmed in quite long takes, a far cry from the quick-cut musical sequences of more recent years. So, with that in mind, seeing a clip like this one even more impressive given that Sinatra wasn't exactly a dancer prior to this film. Under the tutelage of perfectionist Kelly, it's not surprising that Ol' Blue Eyes mastered those moves. Kelly apparently had Sinatra rehearsing night and day for weeks before production started, and Sinatra claims he'd never worked that hard in his life. Indeed, he probably wasn't worked that hard by anyone afterwards either. 

Of course, while Sinatra spends much of the dance sequences glancing at his and Gene Kelly's feet, he obviously seems much more at home during his opportunities to croon. Supplied with a handful of superb ballads by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Sinatra positively owns the screen. Particularly great is his rendition of "I Fall in Love Too Easily", which was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars. I guess it's worth re-remembering occasionally exactly how amazing a voice Frank Sinatra had.

What Anchors Aweigh is probably most well-known for however, is a ridiculously adorable and charming sequence in which Gene Kelly dances with Jerry Mouse (of Tom and Jerry). Wikipedia tells me that Mickey Mouse was originally going to be Kelly's co-star in the scene but thanks to Disney being a spoil-sport, Jerry stepped in at the last minute. In my opinion, he's probably a better choice. The Gene/Jerry dance number is impressive for a few reasons. Firstly, it really shows off how innovative Gene Kelly's choreography and creative vision was becoming at that stage of his career (remember, he'd go on to be a director as well as one of the best choreographers in Hollywood history). Secondly, Jerry Mouse is really well animated. Watch the clip twice. Once for Gene, then another for Jerry. Thirdly, it's a prime example of how amazing a dancer Kelly is. Note the fact that there's only a handful of cuts during the entire number. That's impressive. Lastly, this clip is full of pure, undiluted joy. Anchors Aweigh might be a film full of glorious Hollywood escapism, but this number even more so. I sat there with a huge grin plastered on my face, utterly entranced. This is the reason I love old musicals.

Curse "embedding disabled by request" ...
I think I've rambled enough. After Anchors Aweigh I went and re-watched Singin' in the Rain, so much was my newly rediscovered love of Gene Kelly and his Smile. Anchors is a lovely example of a great MGM musical, as well as Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the earlier years of their respective careers. Go find it. It's pretty damn good.

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