A culture clash of one

It turns out, that when you drink wine and beer in one session, you want to watch 1950s musicals. Maybe it’s the clash of the two styles and social protocols that go with each drink, perfectly reflecting the strange emotional heft that comes when two (or more) people break into song the moment a far-off piano or string section chimes in?

Maybe it’s the saturated technicolour that Instagram fans (guilty) can only dream of or the co(s)mic self-awareness that our enlightened times might miss (we forget how many of our contemporary jokes are a reworking of decades-old classics. OR maybe It’s the gluten-free beer and 2017 Rioja? And you know what? I’m down with all of those.

Last night we watched Singin’ in the Rain. Made in 1952 and starring Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, playing Cosmo Brown. O’Connor performs a musical number in the film which might be eligible as the saving grace for all the other crimes Hollywood cinema has committed over the years: Make ’em Laugh.

Make ’em Laugh’s slapstick, vaudeville madness has stuck with me over the years as firmly as any teen band discovery made as I emerged from my early teens into the self-concious seriousness of goth/industrial bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and Psychick TV. While some of those gags (walking through a door into a brick wall: classic), may seem twee and obvious now, it’s worth remembering that back in the 50s, these may have been the first time some of those jokes were seen outside of musical halls.

Classic songs and achingly perfect dance routines melt into one long escapist ride. And while the Inception-like state of the narrative goes into over-drive when Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly dance in the Broadway Melody sequence, the whole story perfectly suits the chopped up reality that is the bread and butter of musicals.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made in 1953, directed by Howard Hawkes. From a novel by Anita Loos. A crashing amalgam of so many thoughts on the male gaze versus the power of women in the Hollywood film industry and who, ultimately, owns that power. Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe star. Again, awareness of the public image of the stars plays out, especially in the courtroom scene where Jane Russell fakes being Monroe for… reasons? Breathy and dumb, it’s hard to think that Monroe wasn’t in on the joke. But such is the cruelty of Hollywood that the premiere could have been the first time she saw the scene.

Much has been written on the power structures within the movie and who controls who. My money is on the women controlling and using the power they have in 50s western culture. Mostly, the men are played as dumb, horny and gullible. The Jane Russell sequence where she sings while the Olympic gymnast team balance, dive and… errr… do callisthenics(?) is a beautiful (back)flip on the standard sexy backing singers routines.

Unlike 1950s musicals, blog posts don’t always have satisfactory ending.