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.

That'sEntertainment 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...

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  1. Happy New Year! Thank you for allowing us to have a glimpse this year into City Island and a big wish that we'll hear more about it in the new year.

    Thanks also for all the posting you've done recently on Looney Tunes. It reminds me of being back in high school in '90 and having an assignment to do an audio recording of a book with sound effects. My group couldn't figure out why ours didn't sound right until a Bugs Bunny cartoon came on and we realized it was missing background music. We threw in some classical favorites and it was terrific!

  2. Wow I remember seeing that when I was
    a kid . Did not know how fine of a
    scene that was . I wonder if any of
    those dancers died there hair black
    for the dance scene. It was kind of
    perfect.Shame life got the best of
    Judy. Yes get Happy. That's my goal
    not anything else. Love making
    movies but first things first.


    Health, hapiness, peace, love to everyone! As for you Raymond keep filling our 2009 with even more posts. We love this blog!

    After seing the video with Judy Garland I realised how many things we copied from these movies to make our 'greek classics'.

    I give you some you tube videos from greek musicals of the 60s.

    The first is a funny scene from a movie. The actors you see here are and have been very famous and loved ones. It is not subtitled but is definitely funny :-)


    The second is a song (in a musical again). This time with subtitles and just to get the feeling of what it was (and is somehow) to 'party' in the greek bouzoukia (night clubs).


    Finally, a clip that signifies the 'passing' from the old to the new era. The greek folk music meets...'crazy girl'!


    hope you have a great time watching the clips!

    greetings and take care

  4. Another thing to remember of that time period is that the entire nation was hanging a collective hangover-- the Vietnam War was in its final stages of failure, OPEC decided to create a gas crisis, the peace and love generation was getting a little older, realizing that maybe love wasn't all they needed and that casual drug use and sexual activity might not necessarily lead to a societal utopia.

    It was a time that America rediscovered nostalgia -- the That's Entertainment movies (there would be sequels), The Sting, American Graffiti, Grease (first on Broadway, later a movie starring paunchy thirty-somethings as raunchy teens), Happy Days. We needed to look back into the past because the present was so crappy.

    (I say this having been only about nine or ten at the time, same age as Raymond, but I know what I know and I saw what I saw. )

    Maybe, in these days of renewed hope (or false optimism, if you will), we could use another wave of nostalgia or at least something that will make us, if only for two hours in a dark theatre, get happy.

    May God bless us all in 2009.

  5. And a happy new year to all of you.

    Thanks, Marianna, for the videos--I'm busily researching everything I didn't know about Greek musicals!

    Yes, I think the background music is so much more important than we realize in our responses and memories to movies--the music to most movies, while on its own not usually recognizible, is a major factor in cueing our emotions and creating memorability. Adding the score to a movie is certainly one of the most thrilling parts of the process--suddenly scenes that were good become great, moments that were there become HUGE. At first I can't imagine putting music over certain scenes. Then, once the right score is applied, it sticks like glue and I can't bear hearing the scene without it.

    Dan--you're dead on. The drag of the mid-seventies was a perfect target for nostalgia and I hadn't realized how much of it there was until you listed it all. For myself, "Happy Days" and "That's Entertainment" were the sources of much fascination with the past--though I had, earlier, fallen in love with the jazz of the thirties. The question remains: what on earch will we resuscitate from the cultural ash tray from twenty years ago to relieve the moral and mental stupor our poor present-day culture stays mired in? I vote for anything 80's--Cosby, Michael J. Fox, Eddie Murphy, Jessica Rabbit, Steve Martin's "Roxanne", and whoever the hell the bands were. The 80's, though I didn't think much of them at the time, seem in retrospect awfully good-humored, optimistic and confident. Everything we currently aren't.

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