I wasn't planning on posting until the New Year--being incredibly busy with lying around my office watching screeners of the current crop of would-be Oscar contenders. But then "That's Entertainment" came on TCM...and my wife and son and I stood around the kitchen watching it...and it's rather riveting and rather distressing a document. For "That's Entertainment"--which I saw upon its first release in 1974 when I was ten--is best understood as a "Reader's Digest" style tool for the uninitiated, a kind of home sampler of what musicals (specifically MGM musicals) had to offer minus the silly plotlines. Indeed, that's what the world needed in 1974 more than customized DVD reissues of "complete boxed sets" of the actual films. Just a little nudge to remind people that the history that seemed so distant but which had, in fact, only rather recently been made, was a history worth clinging to and not relegating to the ashtray of best forgotten cultural achievement. To put this in perspective, "That's Entertainment" was compiled and produced twenty years or less after some of its greatest footage--"Singing in The Rain" is from 1952, "Gigi" from 1958. Now let us say that we choose to make a compilation film today along the same lines, going back twenty or so years. That would put is in the late eighties/early nineties. And aside from the films of John Hughes and Simpson/Bruckheimer, I'm thinking the best we're going to offer are scenes from "Ghost", "Sister Act" and "Dirty Dancing". By the way, I rather like all of those films--or at least I did at some point in my life. So no pointlessly snobby criticism intended. Rather, I'm just trying to draw a line in the sand so we can see how far away the Hollywood musical was from contemporary times in 1974...at least twice or more the distance in imagined time than in actual time.
Really "That's Entertainment" is now a movie for my son and people like him--really bright four year olds who dig the music and dancing but don't have the longest attention span. For me, I can't stomach the pointless and arbitrarily achieved cuts within the actual numbers themselves--they give a great introduction the the "Broadway Ballet" from "Singin' In The Rain" (which lasts almost ten minutes) and then show you only the final thirty seconds of the number. Same with Judy Garland's magnificent "Get Happy" from her MGM swan song "Summer Stock". Rather than letting this not very long number run its length, they cut away from her dance to a trite little montage showing her aging and looking sad through the years (I imagine this was inspired by a hangover effect of the "use Judy and her singing as a device to comment on her pathetic personal life" thing that became popular--indeed signiture--once gay culture had firmly claimed and caricatured her).
Enough. This was meant to be a quicky New Year's Eve post filled with joy and enthusiasm. I just re-read it and find only frustration, fulmination and bitterness evident. Maybe that's my form of enthusiam. Get Happy, Raymond. Okay. I LOVE "That's Entertainment". Have ever since the summer of '74 when I saw it in the theater that's now a bookstore in Studio City, California. What the hell was the name of that theater anyway?
So; to whoever you are reading this, thanks for checking in and stay tuned. I plan to offer more pithy tidbits about my work ("City Island" and future movies which are coming together as I plow through this post--or at least I enjoy fantasizing such) and my passions (old movies, music, movies with music, music in movies). And courtesy of my frustration with "That's Entertainment" (which I am also thankful for, since my son digs it) here's the complete Judy Garland "Get Happy" from "Summer Stock", an MGM offering from 1950 and a New Year's wish for 2009. See you next year...