Thursday, 24 January 2013

Academy Awards - Best Song

Academy Awards – Best Song

In last years' February show we celebrated all things ‘OSCAR’ and the music we played on the show was made up of songs which had won the Academy Award for best song.

The category was not introduced until the 7th Annual Academy Awards in 1934 and the first winner was ‘The Continental’ from The Gay Divorcee. At this time the nominees could include any song which had been included in a film. In 1941 the eligibility rules changed meaning only songs written especially for the movie qualified.  It has become common for films adapted from successful musicals to include a song written principally for the film in order for them to qualify. Songs containing samples (e.g. ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’) are not eligible.

We tried to cover as many decades as we could and started with 1949’s winner ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ from the film Neptune’s Daughter.  The song was written by Frank Loesser, originally for him to perform with his wife at the end of parties, before selling it to MGM.  The song is performed twice in the film by two different couples and with the gender roles revered.  The version we played was by Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews but the song has also been covered by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton, Ray Charles and Betty Carter and Barry Manilow and K. T. Olsen.  It also appeared again on film in the 1991 movie For the Boys this time performed by Bette Midler and James Caan.

Next up was 1950’s ‘Mona Lisa’ from the film Captain Carey USA (Ray Evans and Jay Livingston).  Most movie buffs will recognise the song more from 1954’s Rear Window and 1986’s Mona Lisa. We played Nat King Cole’s Version.

In 1954 Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn won with ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ from the film of the same name. The song was written in an hour with the writers not having seen the script.  Although the song was recorded by Frank Sinatra for the film, Fox neglected to put the writers under contract so they were able to cash in on their success by recording and releasing a version covered by The 4 Aces.  We played two Sinatra tracks on this show (any excuse) as Sammy Cahn won again in 1957, this time with Jimmy Van Heuseon for ‘All the Way’ from The Joker is Wild.

Ray Evans and Jay Livingston won again in 1956 (their third win in a row) with ‘Que Sera Sera’ from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.  On the show we played the version by Oregon ‘little orchestra’ Pink Martini. The (grammatically incorrect) phrase appears in Marlow’s Dr Faustus and will be well known to British readers as a football chant with “be will be” rhymed with “Wem-ber-ley”.

Probably the most loved Oscar winning song is Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ from 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The song was written specifically for Audrey Hepburn’s voice and was almost edited out of the final cut.  Andy Williams recorded a version of it which he performed at the following years’ ceremony.  ‘Moon River’ must qualify as the most covered song EVER, having been recorded by Art Blakey, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Nico Fidenco (in Italian), Bobby Solo (in Italian), Louis Armstrong, Vic Damone, Sarah Brightman, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Johnny Mathis, Morrissey, R.E.M., Katie Meluia, The Killers, Rod Stewart and The Divine Comedy.  A Spanish version appears in the film Bad Education and they song has featured twice in the TV Show Frasier (seasons 1 and 11).

Mercer and Mancini won again the next year for ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ from the film of the same name starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remmick.  In 1963 the song was covered by (OK, watch out for this guy) Andy Williams.

Another song which almost didn’t make the final cut was 1966 winner ‘Born Free’ written by John Barry and Don Black. The song also features in Madagascar and was covered the following year by…, you guessed it, Andy Williams.

A guilty pleasure; we got to play The (glorious) Carpenters version of 1970’s winning song ‘For all we Know’ from the film Lovers and Strangers.  Readers may be surprised to learn this was not the version used in the film; it was originally recorded by Larry Meredith. Although The Carpenters version as the most successful, reaching No 3 on the Billboard chart, The Carpenters were not allowed to perform at the Oscars ceremony so the song was sung by Petula Clarke instead.

The 80s saw some blockbuster winners, we played ‘Up Where we Belong’ from An Officer and a Gentleman, ‘’Flashdance’ from the 1983 film of the same name and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ from The Woman in Red which stayed at the top of the Billboard chart for three weeks and the UK charts for six.

Film lovers may scoff at Madonna’s contribution to cinema but during the 1990s she was responsible for performing two Academy Award winning songs.  ‘Sooner or Later’ from Dick Tracy won in 1990, written by the wonderful Stephen Sondheim. Madonna took songs from the film on tour and no doubt contributed to the film’s commercial success.  Her performance of the song at the 1991 Academy Awards ceremony has been voted “the 7th Most Awesome Oscar Performance “by Billboard.   The top spot, in case you were wondering was  taken by Three 6 Mafia for their 2006 performance of ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” In 1996  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice won with ‘You Must Love Me’ written for the musical Evita and also performed by Madonna.

Usually the music takes a back seat on the show and we don’t usually get so many great songs to choose from, so this was a particularly memorable broadcast.  We’re back on air this Saturday 26th covering Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (I’m sooo excited) and will be returning to our usual “tenuous link” formula music wise.  We’ll be playing some of Ennio Morricone’s incredible scores for the movies, of course, as well as a snippet from Sato’s Yojimbo score, but we’re currently sorting through songs with “Guns” or “Gold” in the title, so any suggestions will be gratefully received!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

To Sir with Love

To Sir with Love


To Sir with Love was one of the films we covered when we celebrated Black History Month last year.  All the music we played on that show was by Black British artists.  The show didn’t get off to the best start as we opened with Estelle’s ‘American Boy’, failing to realise there was an “f” word in it (we should have played the Radio Edit) and had to apologise to our listeners.

In To Sir with Love, Sidney Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, an Engineering graduate from British Guiana who takes a job as a teacher in a tough East End secondary school. 

After initially struggling with his unruly pupils Thackeray decides to adopt a new strategy, one that meets with the disapproval of his fellow teachers; that of treating his students like adults in order to prepare them for the adult world. The film has a repeated motif of scenes beginning with an opening door, signifying the new opportunities of the changing times.  The conflict between the newer and established members of staff highlights the altering attitudes of the day and the script does not limit itself to issues of race but also deals with teenage angst, leadership, trust, respect, single parenting, class and independence.  The cinematography is unchallenging, the colour palette safe and nostalgic and the cosiness of the classroom juxtaposes with the challenging of taboos.  The film ends with a blossoming inter-racial romance and there’s even a (glimpsed rather than seen) sanitary towel.  As a teenager in the 80s, the age of the ‘video nasty’, the appearance of this item alone caused my school mates to talk in whispers about the latest ‘must-see’; Brian De Palma’s Carrie’,  ten years later.

The film is loosely based on the (semi-autobiographical) novel by black Guyanese writer E R Braithwaite.  Braithwaite’s writing dealt with racial discrimination and his books were banned in South Africa until 1973 when Braithwaite was granted a visa and the questionable status of “Honorary White”. The South African Publication Control Board also banned the film on the grounds that it was “offensive”.

Poitier was often criticised for playing characters who were over idealised or (in the case of Prentice in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”) “too white”.  Poitier himself expressed regrets that his desire to play more varied roles often conflicted with his belief he should set a good example.  Thackeray is portrayed as a flawed character which makes it one of Poitier’s most successful and enduring performances.  The film certainly seems modern in comparison to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner which now seems old fashioned, clunky and oh-so-worthy. Whilst many of Poitier’s roles were intended to challenge racial stereotypes I feel To Sir with Love is the most successful at doing this.  Thackeray’s primary concern is for his pupil’s future, which is by association the future of the country. Racist taunts (“Chimney Sweep”, “Voodoo” and “Black Magic”) go unchallenged rendering them rather puerile and petty against the responsibility with which Thackeray faces his task. He is a man, outside of time and place, marching towards his goal and rising above the inconsequential.

The British film was successful in the US and I couldn’t help but feel every effort had been made to sell it to the Americans. Admittedly this is during a time when all things British were cool, something we talked about at length when we did the Michael Caine special. The characters express a reverence for the United States and the exterior shots are littered with London Buses and the sounds of “Swinging London”.  Maybe it’s to reinforce the idea that in 1960s London anything could happen, man, notions of class and race no longer apply. Thackeray and Pamela’s dance scene is too long and seems like vehicle for another “groovy” British group.  Lulu (almost 20 at the time of filming) plays one of the schoolgirls and her rendition of the title song went to number 1 in the US Billboard Chart.  Ironically Lulu was one of a number of female British artists including Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield who made their names singing blue eyed soul.  Her biggest hit ‘Shout’ was a cover of The Isley Brothers song.

Somewhat unsettling now is how the film deals with Pamela’s crush on Thackeray and the sexualisation of the school girls is very much of its time.  Thackeray himself refers to “Sluts” and “women’s work” and the films’ tagline starts “A story as fresh as the girls in their minis…” 

IMDb currently lists this film as holding a 7.5 rating.  The ‘More Like This’ section lists, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (mental health) and ‘Philadelphia’ (HIV) which is somewhat disappointing as it suggests this film is still seen as a novelty “challenge prejudice” movie when I think it has much more to offer.  The overall ‘do as you would be done by’ ethic is still pertinent in the Cinema Revisited universe.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Next Show...

Art by the very talented Matt promoting our next show on 26th January.

Dollars Trilogy

The Fly

The Fly


David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is based loosely on the 1958 film of the same name and stars Jeff Goldblum as eccentric inventor Seth Brundle and Geena Davis as journalist love interest Veronica.    Trying out his life’s work, a 'teleporter' still in its developmental stage, Brundle accidently merges his DNA with that of a fly.  The growing humanity of Brundle through the traditional boy meets girl romance is perfectly balanced with the simultaneous physical breakdown of his human body.  Blossoming, development and expansion walk side by side with decay, deterioration and degeneration.

When The Fly was released in 1986 critics were quick to spot the metaphor for AIDS.  Almost thirty years later our attitudes towards HIV are thankfully less hysterical yet the film still has much to say to those who have helplessly watched the physical or mental decline of a loved one.  Strip away the special effects, the quirky performances and the mad science and this is a film about a man who has a disease and the lover who watches him die.

 As Brundle transforms, Veronica is at first excited and exhilarated until she realises something is very wrong. She is then hopeful of a cure and finally faces the realisation that things will not get any better.  It’s the hope which is the most painful and most poignantly strikes a chord with those who have watched a developing addiction or mental illness. Cronenberg acknowledged the AIDS parallel but stated that, for him, the film was about the inevitability of aging and dying. He does however, compare the scene in which a manic Brundle continually pours sugar into his coffee with the behaviour of someone under the influence of cocaine (this was the year new laws were passed specifically referencing cocaine as part of Reagan’s “War on Drugs”).  Brundle makes his fatal decision to teleport whilst intoxicated by alcohol. As an aside, for a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ play on the social mores around alcohol watch Hitchcock’s The Birds where alcohol is absent when it should be there and abundant when it shouldn’t be.

This is Cronenberg’s most commercially successful film to date and it is certainly his most accessible.  The film itself is almost a mirror for the palimpsest that is Brundle. On the surface it is a horror film that has everything fans of the genre expect.  Beneath this surface is a more painful and challenging story.

Cronenberg is a little cannier then other ‘Body Horror’ director; as well as playing on our fear of physical disintegration he also considers physical integration and enmeshment.   Bodies merge both sexually and literally.  Veronica discovers she is pregnant not knowing if the child inside her own body is human or ‘Brundlefly’.  Brundle’s final solution is to merge the DNA of all three of them together to make the “ultimate family” (this is prefigured with several triangles throughout the film).  This highlights the push and pull of the conflicting impulses to be separate from, but together with, our fellow humans which are both impulses necessary for survival.  Are we unique as individuals or little more than a product of the society in which we live? The pity we feel for the baboon is raw yet our reaction to Brundle’s plight is more intellectual.  We view the film through Veronica’s eyes as Brundle’s point of view is one too painful to consider. Cronenberg stated he did not think a film about someone dying would have had the same impact without the gauze of science fiction and horror.  Cinema Revisited is usually suitably disapproving of directors who “dumb down” but in the case of The Fly it’s a shame that Cronenberg has never quite manage to connect with viewers in the same way since.  He takes a tried and tested genre and formula and underpins it with the inevitability of our physical, putrid, decomposition.  This true horror sneaks into our experience beneath our noticing at first, like the fly in the teleporter, and we are transformed.

The "Curse" of the Carry Ons

The “Curse” of the Carry Ons

We’re currently putting together some ideas for our 2012 Christmas show (which airs on the 29th Dec.) and trying to find something to top last years’ festive broadcast.

Last year   for our New Years Eve broadcast we covered that very British institution the “Carry On’ film. 

The Carry On films were made between 1958 and 1992 and with 31 films in total the Carry On series is the largest British film series ever (beating  even James Bond!).  Specialising in slapstick, double entendre and saucy postcard humour they were made on a low budget with a recurring cast of well loved actors.  In addition to being very poorly paid for their efforts, the women being paid exactly half what the men were, many of the most famous actors experienced tragic personal lives and untimely deaths leading fans of the series to talk about the “Curse of the Carry Ons”.

Saucy Sid James suffered a heart attack whilst performing on stage in Sunderland and died on reaching hospital.  The Stage Manager had to ask the audience three times if there was a doctor in the house as theatre goers thought it was all part of the show.  Comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue after apparently being visited by the ghostly apparition of James whilst in his dressing room in the same theatre.  During his lifetime James lost tens of thousands of pounds due to his gambling addiction and his three marriages broke down because of his repeated infidelities.  One affair with co-star Barbara Windsor resulted in Windsor’s then husband, gangster Ronnie Knight leaving an axe in the floor at James’s home. 

Both Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey battled alcoholism.  Sims, whose life was marred by crippling depression, was hospitalised following a nervous breakdown in 1982.   Never confident in her evident comic talent Sims suffered from ill health throughout her later life including a fractured rib, a fractured spine, bells palsy, diverticular disease and hip replacement surgery.

Whilst Sims was popular with her fellow cast members, Hawtrey was regarded as a belligerent and tedious drunk.  Barbara Windsor recalls there were “occasions when he got really pie-eyed and would pass out” during filming. Increasingly unpopular and unreliable Hawtrey severed all ties with the Carry On crew and retired to the seaside town of Deal. Here he was free to indulge in his twin passions; brandy and teenage male prostitutes (the age of consent in the UK for homosexuals at this time being 21). Reliant on taxis and rent boys, who he rarely paid for their services, Hawtrey found himself barred from most of Deals’ pubs.  In the 1980s he was snapped by a tabloid newspaper, naked and without his toupee, being rescued from his burning house by firemen, along with a semi naked young man. In 1988 he was transferred to a nursing home after collapsing in a pub doorway. Refusing the amputation of both of his legs, which would have saved his life, he died a few days later.  His final appearance was in the children’s TV comedy ‘Supergran’.

Joan Sims appeared in Morrissey’s video for the song Ouija Board Ouija Board.  Morrissey’s letter to Hawtrey inviting him to duet with him went unanswered.

It is diarist Kenneth Williams who has the last word on the ‘curse’. Williams kept comprehensive and coded diaries for 48 years which were published posthumously.  Along with his , often scathing, observations of his fellow Carry On stars Williams documented his frustration at not being taken seriously as an actor, his self hatred, loneliness and declining mental health. Unable to accept his homosexuality Williams lived celibate and alone. His unconsummated crushes were refered to as “tradiola”, from the homosexual slang ‘Polari’ which had been popularised by the radio show “Round the Horn”, in which Williams starred prior to his Carry On success.

In 1962 Williams’ father, with whom the actor had a difficult relationship, died after accidently drinking poison from a cough mixture bottle. It was later claimed that Williams was denied a work permit for the US as he was considered to be a suspect in his fathers’ death by Scotland Yard.

Williams died alone in his home in1988 from an overdose of barbiturates. Although the inquest returned an open verdict Williams had written often about his suicidal thoughts and his last journal entry read “Oh what’s the bloody point?”