Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Girls In The Band - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

For music lovers who don’t know any better, girl bands tend to be a supplement to a study of the real bands, conducted and staffed by men.  “The Girls In The Band” is an illuminating film about real bands conducted and staffed by women.  Once upon a time, Ina Ray Hutton was one of those band leaders.  She was not a musician but she knew how to assemble and organize a good band, and she could dance, which added to her group’s appeal.

During the forties, when many male musicians were serving in the military overseas, great girl bands were welcomed and appreciated onstage.  Offstage, they faced the same problems as the men, suspicion and all the assorted pitfalls of one night engagements.  Some chose to remain on their touring buses when they weren’t performing: it was easier than dealing with racial bigotry, and endless hassles with hotels and restaurants.  After the war, a number of gifted female musicians chose to leave their bands and move into teaching.  The women didn’t disappear into the shadows and often returned as much honored living legends. 

Remember that “Great Day In Harlem” photograph capturing so many jazz greats of 1960 - and two women?  In 2000, another picture was taken of an all women jazz gathering.  See “The Girls In The Band”: It’s a treasure and the music is wonderful.  “The Girls In The Band opens this week at The Opera Plaza in San Francisco, The Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland. 

© 2014 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 01/15/14
Movie Magazine International

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Slipper And The Rose - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

Not too many people know about "The Slipper and the Rose" and that's a shame.  To be sure, there's a surfeit of "Cinderella" movies on video shelves competing for our attention, but this version has always been among my favorites.  It was originally released at 146m., an uncomfortable length for children, and reissued in 1980 at 127m.  The late 1970's were not a particularly receptive time for musicals, unless they reinvented the genre, like "Saturday Night Fever", "Grease", "Rock'n'Roll High School", "All That Jazz", "The Blues Brothers" or "Fame."  "The Slipper and the Rose" was definitely a musical out of its time.

There's much to appreciate in Bryan Forbes' valentine to the classic fairy tale, though.  For one thing, there's Richard Chamberlain as Prince Edward.  Then in the swashbuckling phase of his long career, Chamberlain is clearly having a rattling good time in the role of a prince charming.  Cinderella herself (Gemma Craven) is lovely, if a bit subdued, but the best British character actors in the business keep things moving along with energy to spare.  Annette Crosbie, often cast as British Queens, is the Fairy Godmother, trying to bring a bit of fun into Cinderella's grim life with her mean Stepmother (Margaret Lockwood in her swan song) and nasty stepsisters Palatine (Sherri Hewson) and Isabella (Rosalind Ayres).  The King (Michael Hordern) is eager to find a bride for Edward and suggests that he make his selection at the Grand Ball.  Edward doesn't much like the idea ("It's like being a judge at a cattle show"), but reluctantly submits to the event where he expects to be bored out of his mind.  And bored he is until Cinderella makes her entrance.  We all know the drill after that.

The Sherman Brothers, clearly influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan, composed a score of new songs designed to set the tone & advance the plot.  So we hear Chamberlain singing "Why Can't I Be Two People?" and Craven doing a duet ("Suddenly It Happens") with Crosbie.  The closest thing to a patter song is the "Protocoligorically Correct" number the King does with Lord Chamberlain Kenneth More, General Peter Graves and the Palace Ministers.  It's all great fun to watch (the costumes by Julie Harris are stunning) and listen to: a soundtrack album was even issued.  At another point in movie history, "The Slipper and the Rose" might have been appreciated on its own terms.  If you catch it on late night cable or DVD, it still can be.

© 2013 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 05/15/13
Movie Magazine International