Wednesday, October 10, 2007

STORMY WEATHER--THE REWRITE

DESCRIBE IMAGE HERE

Our topic today is the rewrite of the libretto (aka SCRIPT) of "Stormy Weather". Click that last link and you'll read an unusually good wikipedia entry on this movie, giving you all the background you might need. Or read my post from yesterday...


The plot, such as it is, has to do with Bill Robinson (uninventively named Bill Williamson in the movie) returning home from World War 1 and launching a career as a dancer. Along the way he falls in love with beautiful, young "Selina" (Lena Horne--doesn't this stuff with the names feel very first-drafty?) who's a singer and who won't "settle down". They run into each other over the next twenty (?) years and finally get together. Fade out.


The first problem with the film comes from the very obvious age difference between the stars. Robinson was born in 1878, making him sixty-five at the time the film was shot. Horne was born in 1917, making her twenty-six. Forty years age difference between the leads would certainly not have been tolerated in a white persons movie--it would be akin to having Lionel Barrymore play Ava Gardner's lover. For this I blame the "they all look alike anyway" racial sensitivity of the era. Unfortunately, it robs the movie of even the most remote emotional reality--even as a kid I never understood why the old tap dancing guy kept bothering the sleek young woman and why she put up with it.


It also brings up, though, a stylistic difference in the music and dance that sends the film out of balance. Robinson, great tap-dancer though he was, came from a very different era of tap--much more subtle, less showy, more emphasis on the rhythmic meter, less on the flashy moves. Unfortnuately, he is simply overwhelmed by the Nicholas Brothers--and for the matter by the massive charisma of Cab Calloway--both of whom belong firmly to the Harlem/30's swingtime explosion.


In my rewrite, I cast Robinson as a great tap-dancer from another era whose fallen on hard times. He works as a waiter (just as he does in the below Fats Waller section) and sees a young girl come into the tavern. He gets a look in his eye: she looks just like a girl he knew way back when. Yes, Lena Horne is HIS LONG LOST DAUGHTER. ("And we don't have to reshoot the 'Aint Misbehavin'n sequence, Darryl!") The movie could use a flashback to Bill's younger days--any thoughts on who plays Lena's mother?--and the romance that produced "Selina", allowing Robinson to tap in his unabashed 1920's style. Bill putters around Selina, trying to break the news. She thinks her father was long dead. (In fact, Bill left the family because his career as a dancer took him on the road and he didn't want to be the "father who wasn't there", so the mother told Selina he was dead...all right, you think up something better.)



Anyway, below is the great Fats Waller sequence from Stormy Weather--and it works (sort of) as the moment where "father" first sees daughter. She knows him only as her mother's old friend, "Bill Williamson". Thus she wants to give him a hand--never realizing that he's her father. Except for a few gratuitously leering shots, I think we're getting somewhere...



3 comments:

Jack Sauter said...

So what is sitting on Fat's piano? A plate of cigarettes? A plate of food? Analysis please.

Raymond De Felitta said...

Cigarettes. Cigarettes, Cigarettes and more cigarettes! poor Tom Waller (aka "Fats") dropped dead about six months after this was filmed, age thirty-nine. And while Tom had series of obsessive compulive issues (money, marriage, booze, food, smokes) it is entirely likely that the combination of "fat and also smokes" is what finally did him in. If I sound strident on the subject, it is because I grew up surrounded by smoke, decided to use tobacco myself for a good many years, and am now proudly reformed. But something tells me Jack Sauter remembers the smell of my childhood home all too well...

Jack Sauter said...

Indeed. There is nothing quite like driving to Malibu in an old Jag (with ALL of the windows closed) while a certain famous author smoked away on the glorious drag of a cigar. Then there was hanging with the producers Joe and Ann ("Old Jews") and Joyce next door at the beach. Memories. Memories. Memories. Another post for another day.