3/29/17

THE MANY CREDIT SEQUENCES OF 'THE LUCY SHOW'



Last week I posted a clip from 'The Lucy Show' (scroll down, baby) which featured Lucy and Vivian Vance meeting Joan Crawford. It renewed my interest in the series, which was Ball's second and which came four years after 'I Love Lucy' had ended its run. As a child I remember watching 'The Lucy Show' with mixed feelings. It was funny, of course. Ball was always wildly watchable and beyond funny with both physical and verbal humor. But what happened to Ricky and Fred? And why did Ethel's name change to Viv? Why did Lucy work in a bank and why had she moved from New York to Los Angeles? The answers are: 1) Ricky and Lucy got divorced and Fred got a role in 'My Three Sons'. 2) With the disappearance of Fred, Ethel reverted to her stage name Vivian Vance. 3) Because the character she played, Lucy Carmichael, worked in a bank in the book on which the series was based (called "Life Without George") and moved to LA as a lifestyle change after...er, losing George.

The show, which ran for seven years (1961-68), started out in black and white and quickly went to color in its second season. This required a new title sequence. All in all, the show had five separate title sequences in its seven year run, as opposed to the single (and iconic) title sequence that was used for 'I Love Lucy' during its seven year run. Why so many title sequences for the later show? One theory that I would posit is that the sixties were a time of much cultural change and movement, as opposed to the fifties which were much more complacent and happy-with-itself.  Nothing changed much in America between 1951 and 1958 whereas much changed in America between 1961 and 1968. The multiple credit sequences of 'The Lucy Show' are a distillation of the style and fad progressions of the sixties. I've posted a very nice video above which shows all of them.

First comes the black and white animation pass, which was used for the first season only. It's crisp, simple and a little bit funny. The caricatures of Lucy and Viv are inoffensive and the joke at the end is a mild laugh at best. Things change, though, when color rears its beautiful head the following year. Credit sequence #2 takes us into the multiple-box split screen fad which begins to look somewhat like modish record album covers of the early sixties. There's a new energy to it but it still traffics in an 'easy listening' mode. We're not in 'the sixties' yet, but we're not in 'the fifties' either. Version three is the Richard Lester/Beatles/'Tom Jones'/'The Loved One'/'A Thousand Clowns/Nouvelle Vague' attempt. It's the in-your-face wack-out version complete with stop-motion, weird rhythm changes, hip and edgy cutting etc. My guess is this one is season three. Number four is the one I remember seeing the most in reruns so my guess is that this is the one that lasted the longest. It features a Kaleidoscopic theme, with lots of swirling Lucy's and a kind of 'candy box' vibe to it--more glamour and less fad. Lucy's beauty shot that ends this pass reminds us of what a 'gorgeous hunk of woman' (Desi Arnaz's phrase) she really was underneath all the madcap. Finally we get to the closer--and by now we're in the sixties even if Lucy and the show aren't quite. This one features alternate drums, strange bouncing balls, and an iffy connection to the psychdelic, albeit a trip one might experience at the house at 1000 N. Roxbury Dr, Beverly Hills 90210 (Lucy's address).

'The Lucy Show' was a hit, even though we don't remember it with quite the reverence that we do her previous legendary series. Ever the hard-nosed businesswoman, Ball decided to end the show after season seven, giving her the opportunity to syndicate it and make a pile of dough. Once the checks were cashed, she turned around and started series number three, 'Here's Lucy', which lasted exactly seven seasons before being sold wealthily into syndication. Smart cookie.

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3/23/17

LUCY AND VIV MEET JOAN CRAWFORD



"The Lucy Show" was the follow-up  color version of "I Love Lucy", sans Desi Arnaz and William Frawley (who, in my opinion, were sorely missed). Such was the greatness of the earlier show that this series has been largely ignored in the popular culture universe. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance are still best friends only now they're 'Lucy and Viv', lending the whole enterprise an aura of laziness. They couldn't even think up new names? And somehow Ball's voice dropped an octave in the two years that intervened between the shows, making her sound like a female impersonator doing Lucille Ball (think Harvey Fierstein).

Nonetheless, the above clip is nothing short of frigging hilarious. I can't find the entire show on Youtube so I've no idea of how the situation resolves itself, but Lucy and Viv inadvertently wander into Joan Crawford's house and meet the star herself, who--through a little contorted logic and circumstantial evidenc-- they think must have gone broke. Wonderful timing by all three women, an incredibly funny double-take by Vance when she realizes whose house they're in, and a formidable comedic line about a banker (Lucy's boss) who "wouldn't lend money to Richard Burton if he put Elizabeth Taylor up for collateral".

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3/10/17

"PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK": ODE TO BROADWAY & 70-SOMETHING STREET



Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing filmmaker and photographer Jerry Schatzberg for my upcoming podcast series "Movies Til Dawn" (inventive title, right? But it is the age of 'branding' so...)

Our conversation centered primarily on one of the great 70s counterculture films and certainly the starkest look at drug addiction ever made ,"Panic In Needle Park". Above I've posted a longish (three minute) trailer for the film which will give you a basic starting knowledge of what this extraordinary film is all about. If you've never seen it I urge you to find it on Netflix. (There's also a Youtube posting of the entire movie but the image is squeezed for some reason). In his first starring role, Al Pacino completely makes you forget that you're watching an actor play a drug addict. Much of this is directly attributable to Schatzberg's direction, which crosses the boundary from narrative film into verite documentary waters. The film uses no score whatsoever, though Jerry told me Ned Rorem actually composed a score but that bit by bit they kept eliminating cues until they got the idea that any music was too much music. Much like this year's Oscar winning "Moonlight", the film is so good that you kind of can't wait to get out of it and back to a civil world. It's also a portrait of New York in the Lindsey years and of an Upper West Side that is no longer. I remember that New York a bit--I was a six/seven year old--and the film brought back the smells of a darker, trashier city, one in which my mother gripped my hand tightly in hers as we walked those very streets.

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3/2/17

BETTE BOOGIES DOWN



Here's the theme song that didn't really exist for the movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", sung by Bette Davis who wasn't a singer on a TV show that nobody remembers. As with my previous post--Bette singing the theme to "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte"--you can feel the disbelief in the room as Bette boogies down. Why she chose at this late stage in her career to take up singing remains a mystery--one that she took to the grave with her. But I do like her spirit and if nothing else it shows that Bette had nerves of steel and a certain sense of humor about herself.

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2/20/17

HUSH HUSH SWEET BETTE



Did you know Bette Davis could sing? She could. Sort of. Apropos of my previous posting featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?", I am now veering into "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" territory. The film was a sort of follow-up to WHTBJ and began production with both Davis and Joan Crawford re-teamed. But Crawford walked after a few days of shooting, claiming illness--yeah, right. Production was shut down and the film was almost abandoned (in which case it would have been a prime candidate for my D.O.A. Film Festival). Director Robert Aldrich apparently offered the role to, among others, Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivian Leigh, all of whom passed. (The Leigh pass is curious--she might have been ill at the time as it seems like a great opportunity for her at that sad and late stage of her career). Finally Davis's old Warner Brothers friend Olivia De Havilland bailed things out and the show went on. This clip is from a Steve Allen hosted "I've Got A Secret", broadcast shortly after the films seven Oscar nominations were announced. Bette sings the theme song quite sourly--perhaps she didn't trust herself to do it? She didn't have the hit with it. Patti Page did.

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