Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird, Dirty Dancing

1. To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962, directed by Robert Mulligan.
Starring: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton.

"Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice." (IMDB). 

Hadn't ever seen this one, though I'm sure I read the book for Sharon Severson's English class in junior high; it was very good. I liked the kids' constant screwing around over by that Radley house (parents will probably appreciate the fact that even the great and honorable Atticus Finch cannot always keep his children under control), and how that business was sort of juxtaposed with the seriousness of Tom Robinson's alleged crime---also the children (Mary Badham as Scout, Phillip Alford as Jem) were not only cute but pretty decent actors, too. And how about Boo Radley?!? Robert Duvall played some pretty weird misfits before getting to Tom Hagen, Bill Kilgore, and whoever the hell he was on Lonesome Dove . . . after this role he went on to play Charlie Parkes in The Twilight Zone, episode "Miniature," where he fell in love with a doll in a dollhouse (and then just sort of hopped inside to be with her).

Anyway, I enjoyed the this, it obviously influenced many other projects down the road (and won 3 Oscars, best actor for Peck, best art direction, and best adapted screenplay). Scout bumbling around in that giant ham costume had to be my favorite part, and just the sort of implied tenderness between the brother and sister; Jem was always looking out for her, and that made me very warm and fuzzy inside.

2. Dirty Dancing, 1987, directed by Emile Ardolino.
starring: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach.

Now before all my male followers (who are significant) start unsubscribing to this blog in fear that I've lost all street credit, just listen a minute. I'm a girl; I grew up in the eighties; I love pop music. You gotta be willing to give me this one . . . like it or not (and I'll admit that I fully love it), it's an important film.

Important fact #1: whether or not women want to be saved (some do, some don't), I think we're all pretty much all right with being swept off our feet. Before Edward Cullen or Jack Dawson there was JOHNNY CASTLE. True, he was sorta cocky and a little bit rude, but still. What a guy.

Important fact #2: This cat can dance; he's not faking it. In terms of a production, having a talented dancer, one that can sweep the audience off its feet by being able to command scenes that go on for quite a while with very little editing, is a winning lottery ticket even if the story is shoddy. Don't believe me? Turn on Singing in the Rain, and cue it up to MOSES SUPPOSES (I couldn't find any embed-able clips from Dirty Dancing) and observe, 1. how easy Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor make what they're doing look (which is not easy at all) and 2. just how difficult it is to look away from the screen once they really start cutting. Here, check it out:

There are many films out there with interesting choreography or movie stars that actually take the time to learn the steps or put the work in (thanks to film editors) to make it look like a reasonable comparison to what Kelly, O'Connor, or Swayze do effortlessly, but they won't ever come close; there's nothing like a real dancer dancing.

Important fact #3: The music, some of it popular hits from the sixties ("Big Girls Don't Cry," "Do You Love Me?," "Love is Strange," "Cry to Me,") some of it contemporary stuff ("She's Like The Wind," "Overload," "Hungry Eyes," "Time of My Life,") and even some of the instrumentals from the merengue, mambo, or foxtrot scenes in the film----all of it was exciting, well-chosen, and well-matched to what was happening on screen. To say the music made the film might be pushing it, but I really think it did.

Important fact #4: Clearly I missed a lot of this back in 1987 (I was 11), but there's more going on than just dancing: Kellerman's seemed to be a resort that catered to a select group of people, namely wealthy and Jewish. Penny, (a gentile) gets knocked up by Robbie Gould who blows off the situation entirely ("some people count; some people don't'). Baby wants to help, so she procures from her unsuspecting father the money needed to get Penny an abortion, which doesn't go well. Baby is clearly portrayed as a virgin, as apparently is sister Lisa, but hops into bed with the obviously-experienced Johnny, ("have you had many women?") DUH. This is Dallas-calibre soap opera subject matter! (score!)

There are two films in this world that I very much enjoy that my husband refuses to watch, and this is one of them. His main gripe is that it's ridiculous (okay, fine) and uncomfortable (I agree). The difference between us is that I see the uncomfortable scenes in an endearing way----Johnny teaching Baby to grind a little to "Love Man," the "Wipeout" scene up and down the steps as she practices the mambo, and who could forget the infamous "Ga-GUNG," heartbeat explanation scene (that later led into "Hungry Eyes," segment)----I cannot fault it these things, they're a part of my history for Christ's sake!

For some reason, I really got a kick out of the running the hand down the arm/breast area this time around, and how Baby keeps laughing at it, can't stop, and does each subsequent "take" with an enormous smirk on her face . . . reminded me of shooting a video project back in 2000 with my brother and Leah Johnson where each time she had to peal out of somewhere in her Crown Vic and bark the tires (and we made her do it A LOT), Charlie and I would laugh so hard the camera would shake and the audio would be screwed and we'd have to do it over and over again (and we had to stop looking at each other because we just could not handle seeing each other's reactions).