A few months ago I caught Jackie (2016) which for a prolonged scene/montage we saw Jacqueline Kennedy beginning to grieve, preparing for her late husbands funeral. Playing throughout the scene and on the soundtrack is the stage version of Camelot as performed by Richard Burton. We learn later on that JFK saw himself as Camelot, clearly inspiration for him politically and ideology. The track – Camelot stayed with me for sometime after I came out of the cinema. I had to download it to satisfy the ear-worm that was now taking up residence in my head. It’s been about 6 months since I saw both the film and first listened again to the track. It’s been on a number of times in the car. Listening to the track out of context of the musical which I knew still nothing about. I find myself singing along to the track, picking up odd lines, still not ready to take it to karaoke yet – I will be one day. Listening to the lyrics I began to understand part of what the world that Richard Burton was trying to paint to his Guenevere, as if he was selling her his form of paradise. The climate in the kingdom of Camelot is ideal throughout the year. It’s all in decree by the king himself, making sure its all orderly, very British, allowing us to get one with the more important things – like afternoon tea.
Translating this back to the later film I have already got a better understanding of the film and the short-lived presidency of JFK, who dreamed of a utopian new America, which a large number bought into during the cold war, that’s ignoring his many critics who would rather him be out off office. Still that leads into the realm of conspiracies which I’m not going into/entertain. Anyway moving away from the more recent film connection, I first attempted to watch this musical over a year ago. It didn’t go well if I’m honest, it lasted less than 5 minutes before I gave up. The idea of Richard Harris singing it didn’t sit with me beyond the description in the listings. Then somewhere down the line I saw Paint Your Wagon (1969) where again I found actors who aren’t really suited to this world of the all singing and dancing numbers. But I stayed with it due to my curiosity for the film. Both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood would never have claimed to be singers. They were passable with a lot of training to put it politely, they were having a ball making the film. The much can be said for Camelot, a cast that is not really known for their singing abilities.
I think this time around with Camelot (1967), with the later film and the curiosity again I actually told myself to sit through it, plus wanting to see Camelot and sing along to the number above. It’s not really a song that on the surface is too hard to sing (not suggesting training went into the performance) however it has that William Shatner sound of talking the words which he aced with his rendition of Rocket Man. Could this be a speaking musical – if such a term exists? The main casting of this film is rather unusual yet I stuck with it. I found Harris to be a decent King Arthur without chewing up the set. Vanessa Redgrave‘s Guenevere wasn’t such as easy fit, more suited to drama’s I guess this was a finding her style role, seeing if she could, which to a certain extent she does. The musical numbers aren’t the grandest songs in musical history.
I did find myself still drawn to the Jackie connection, how did the Kennedy’s connect to the musical? For me it was the idea of uniting all the counties, each fighting among themselves. Arthur decides to unite the fighting knights to fight for right. Inviting all the knights of the realm/country to join him, lay down their arms and join him around the famous round table. One that I saw a recreation in Winchester a few years ago, hanging up and looking like a precursor to a dart board. Flyers go out across the country and before too long we see men riding in full armour towards the kingdom. Thats not before one of the flyers reaches France into the hands of Lancelot Du Lac (Franco Nero) yes a french knight played by an Italian whose not even trying to do the accent, probably because it would have sounded worse. I for one was constantly thinking about him dragging a coffin through a town in Django (1966). He just was poorly cast for a Frenchmen, probably seen as way to boost his international profile Hollywood. Better working with Sergio Corbucci, the role would have been better served by Omar Sharif in terms of accent – maybe. However Nero did bring an air of mystery, the practically unknown to everyone until Arthur remembers what Merlin Laurence Naismith predicted that he would sit with him around a table (not knowing it was round). This is naughty love interest for Guenevere that soon takes hold as she starts to pit others against him in hopes of driving him away or to prove to herself if he’s worthy of her affections, that were too quickly won by Arthur and his selling of paradise.
It’s this idea of paradise that he wants to spread across the country, the start of modern Britain, lawmakers and government not just by one monarch which is essentially a dictatorship without the advisors. Bringing all these knights likes Senators of the 50 states of America together in Washington for greater good than they’d been doing before obviously inspired. Was JFK essentially dreaming of a better world that was now entering the 2nd decade of the Cold War. He oversaw the Cuban missile crisis, encouraged the space programme among other things. Now the use of Camelot in Jackie makes a lot more sense, enriching the film in terms of the relationship that’s now being grieved for. It’s a reminder of what’s essentially a reminder, a memento of stage production, and inspiration for a man. I come away with all of this after a film that is definitely watchable, lots if a fun and songs you don’t really need to have a great voice to have fun with.
To put this film into perspective, the hype and buzz around La La Land (2016) which I caught last night at The Phoenix in Leicester, we decided to book ahead and eat before we went in to see the film, my first cinema outing of the year. My friends and family have grown towards this independent cinema in recent years because it’s a better atmosphere, different films that you wouldn’t get less than a mile away at the multiplex. Probably the busiest night at The Phoenix and we weren’t the only ones to say that. We had to queue for food, that’s before being told of the 40 minute wait for it to arrive. We had to sit on separate table for a time, yes it was that busy it was grab or share table. I can’t fault the staff, some of whom I know, which took it all their stride and carried on, it was just another night, but it wasn’t, this was next to possible Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) proportions, it was packed in that little two screen cinema that delivered the food just before the film was to begin, assured that we wouldn’t miss the film before the end of the adverts, which shows how confident they are at The Phoenix. In short I was impressed with how this big film on opening night was handled by my local independent. We had our dinner down and only missed a few minutes of adverts before going into a packed screening of one of the most uplifting films in a long time.
We begin in a traffic jam of one our L.A.’s busy highways, nothing unusual there until the camera stops on one of the drivers, whose already singing, the tones being set here in this first number, it’s both light carefree and uplifting, taking us away from the world for if only a 2 hours. The dancers are full of life and the Eastern sunshine, yes I’m comfortable, ready to be taken along for the journey. I also noticed an older couple, not so nimble on their feet, that didn’t stop them from also being part of this random event on the highway. We stay there for one quick scene where we meet aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) memorizing some lines for an audition, lost in her own little world, even as the traffic eases and drivers move on, she’s still there lost in the lines. Before being interrupted by Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who honks his horn, a motif he uses much like an instrument to alert her to his impatient. They meet only briefly from passing cars, it’s too early to say if they have chemistry or they will ever meet again.
I was sold this film as a musical about musicals, and a love letter to the genre I’m not so sure its the former, it does however celebrate the classic spirit of the genre, its light and carefree at times, whilst also very contemporary, one of the few films still shot in Hollywood, supporting their local economy, instead of shipping production to the U.K. with all the tax breaks. In the trailer the image of celebration and what comes images that reference An American in Paris (1951) (which I will get to later), gave me a slightly different impression of the film – that’s trailers for you. I gave up trying to find references to past films, which I was more successful with for The Artist (2011). Here I just sat back and soaked up the film.
Taking it as a love letter to the genre as these two dreamers who over the course of 5 seasons Winter to Winter meet, fall in love and pursue their dreams. They want to live the Hollywood dream. Jazz pianist Sebastian passion for the music blinds him to staying in a job for more than a few nights. A night at a bar where he was previously fired, has to stick to a set list of Christmas numbers before the need to go freestyle on the ivories compels him to let rip before he’s given the boot. Whilst Mia the barista aspiring actress has just been to the latest in a string of clichéd auditions, we’ve seen them all before, all treated with a light touch, as Mia takes them seriously Stone can see the funny side, probably drawing from her own past on the audition circuit. She’s the one we’re supposed to identify with, the dreamer, who takes every opportunity to get a step closer to living the Hollywood dream. She knows her world inside out, even pointing out the window from Casablanca (1942)
Whilst Sebastian has the drive, the passion but can’t get close to his dream because he has let go of what is important to support himself to get to fulfilling the dream. As his old friend Keith (John Legend) reminds him that he’s living in the past whilst he needs to look to the future. There’s a re-opened bar as a Samba-Tapas, not one or the other, a combination which offends the traditionalist Sebastian who knows Jazz like the back of his hand, he breathes the music, if only he could be supported by it
It’s not your standard boy meets girl in a musical, it’s by chance and handled with a light touch, Mia starts the ball rolling in Spring when we meet them again before their first number together. Both are not naturals to the all dancing singing routines but seem to have really taken to it well. They are no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who had a dynamic which can’t easily be replicated. Instead we have a youthful energy which collides with sexual energy exerted through innocent dance. La La Land doesn’t claim or aspire to be a classic MGM musical filmed on the back-lot. It’s more natural – as a musical can be, breaking out into a number. The two leads have a natural screen chemistry that allows us to move through Summer and Autumn with noticing the seasons have changed.
Reality hits them late on, as Sebastian is finding success, the principled Gene Kelly type who take an opportunity at the cost of his dreams, to be loved and adored is easier to come by. Whilst Mia is putting it all on the line to make her dreams a reality. Both dreamers in their own ways, both escapists, only one a realist when it matters. Leading me back to the only real homage that is to An American in Paris, I noticed weeks ago the minimalist design and the Parisian references, it could only mean they have reworked the ballet sequence, a 13 minute scene that melts time to a halt as you are taken into this romanticised world of the studio where dreams are created. We are told in a near dialogue free sequence what happened after the love affair, how we have reached this conclusion.
I can’t finish this review without touching on the music, some of which is throwaway, whilst other numbers have stayed with me. I guess repeat viewings and a growing love for the film, I will be buying a few tracks to listen at leisure. I also have to mention the sometimes jarring cinematography that sees the camera panning that blurs to the extreme until we stop at either Mia or Sebastian, It’s a style which when sitting at the front of the screen is too much, it can be forgiven slightly as I understand the intention of sweeping past/through the crowd. A small negative among a heap of positives that leave you feeling light and care-free.
This is one film I have been either putting off or just plain avoiding. The very idea of both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood two heavy leading men in Westerns just put me right off for years. It took a “what the hell” moment to take the plunge what this comedy Western Musical, yes three genres for the price of one. I knew from past visual research the film had some connection with the gold-rush, a mass of wooden structures and tent across a river up and down on either side littered with figures. I didn’t really pay much attention to its source, just the content for the gold-mine I was researching in 2012. That’s where I come from when it came to Paint Your Wagon (1969) knowing it would be nothing like The Simpsons parody but quietly hoped it was. I think my sister and I have added another line “Gonna used turpentine, gotta keep those brushes clean” unless there’s another clip I can’t find.
OK so moving away from my thoughts going into the film before the release of the film there really wasn’t many gold digging films before 1969, looked at only briefly as only an aspect of frontier life. Not the setting for a whole film, just a passing location. Not as focused as The Spoilers (1942) which is just off the top of my head. Films usually centering around greed and power that the yellow metal can produce once found. We don’t really leave this once location for long. Instead we become immersed in this male dominated world, in a male dominated genre that sees women pushed to the sidelines. This very aspect of the genre’s poked and prodded for the first hour.
Taking a step back to having both Marvin and Eastwood in the same film which would be a dream come true if it was a straight Western it would be too much to handle. Instead I have to settle for a musical which if I’m honest has encouraged me to write a review and consider the genre in a different way once more. As much it is a chance for escapism and a sing along. I couldn’t imagine either two of these actors really singing or taking it seriously. I know that Marvin had a hit with Wand’rin’ Star not really wanting to believe that fact until I see it. As an audience we don’t really expect them to sing not perfect even before the days of auto-tune. Instead they do hit the notes but they aren’t blowing me away. Saying that, it doesn’t matter as this s out of the ordinary, much like Mama Mia (2008) we don’t want sopranos or trained professionals. They instead do the job fine and have fun doing it.
Thinking like that it means that, the film’s aimed at two audiences, with music for the music lovers and the actors for the rest, it’s a win-win situation. Added that you like Westerns you are getting an extra treat.
Going back to the themes of the film, a overally masculine film which knows it can stay that way, I wouldn’t call it modern though, thinking of progress in frontier terms. The male dominated gold mining town of No Name needs women to satisfy certain urges and needs that have been going without for so long. With the arrival of a Mormon and his two wives, one being the headstrong Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) who under the laws of the goldmine’s sold to the highest bidder – Ben Rumson (Marvin) who in turn shares with her with his mining partner Pardner (Eastwood). The morals of the day are mocked and trivialized. The power of religion’s mocked at the beginning, living by their own laws that work in a male dominated society under mining laws, all finds are filed and legal, It makes sense in the days before California was given statehood have to fend for themselves. I found Seberg’s involvement in the film odd at times, coming more from a world of French New Waves to a big-budget musical. Working off two actors who as big as the genre who work well opposite her. She’s no longer the free-loving girl of Breathless she has grown up.
As the film progresses the need for women increases as two men live with a similar arrangement to Mormon’s. The society adopt and adapt whatever ideas that make life easier for them and why not if everyone is happy. All this leads up to the boom-town that all gold-mines have become before they climax and collapse. With the kidnapping of French prostitutes times are indeed a-changing and for the better for a time. A town grows over night, gold is making this town come alive, more come to take advantage of the delights and sins that are within the mountains. Enter the Parson (Alan Dexter) whose mocked at every turn up the very end of the film. With the arrival of winter storm Elizabeth takes in a religious family who are innocent to the sins of this town. We see both Pardner and Elizabeth change overnight almost whilst boisterous and un-tamable Rumson who opens the eyes of the oldest to what can indulge himself, sins that make him a man of the frontier.
It’s a musical that mocks the genre at time when it had grown tired and for time it raises it up to become something bigger and magical. Songs that to me aren’t largely important. They move the film forward, mainly light and celebratory in tone. Based on folk songs of the period larger than life pieces that stop the film for five minutes as one character sings their heart out. They do uplift without a doubt with a heavy dose of humour which ensured I stayed the course of the film as it falls into farce meeting reality as the town collapsing and people begin to move on to the next boo town so the cycle would begin again.