THE DYNAMIC DUO IN DERBYSHIRE (U.K.)
GREAT NAMES OF THE PAST:
MEMORIES AND MELODIES:
OUR VERY OWN LINKS PAGE:
FILMS WE ENJOYED:
MORE MELODIES AND MEMORIES
SINGERS AND SONG:
REAL MUSIC - THE 1950s:
Warner Brothers film: "Pete Kelly's Blues":
|Pete Kelly’s Blues came along around the same time as Rebel without a Cause, The Blackboard Jungle (introducing something called ‘rock’n’roll’), The Night of the Hunter (terrible music score!), Kiss Me Deadly, All that Heaven Allows, The Man with the Golden Arm. Movies that oozed masculine self-pity and indulged liberal fantasies had become big at the box office (The Wild One, On the Waterfront, etc.). Jack Jack Webb’s second film as director (he had made Dragnet the previous year), Pete Kelly's Blues had a stoical hero (himself) and a story about an earlier way of life. It looked back to a disreputable hurly-burly past more in sorrow than in anger, not sweet enough to be labelled nostalgia. |
In the roaring twenties a struggling jazz band, white men playing black men’s music (as the opening eloquently shows), settle into a regular gig at a Kansas City speakeasy. Professional integrity and camaraderie come into conflict with insensitive patrons and ruthless business interests (which just happened to be illegal at the time). This leads to the death of one musician and the defection of another. To resolve the situation the ex-soldier musician hero steps out of character and takes gun in hand, then returns to the practice of his art. A qualified victory: no fame, no riches, no reconciliation, just a chance to make a living doing what he does best. If this sounds like an analogue of the artist’s dilemma in Hollywood, perhaps it is. But that makes the climactic shoot-out a fantasy (in reality all Rowland Brown did was "sock a producer" — that was enough to end his directorial career). So the storyline of Pete Kelly’s Blues is not exceptional. We become critics when we proceed from "What is it about?" to "How is it about?". Strong (but not subtle) characterisation, coded dialogue, a flavourful sense of period and mise en scène which achieves something of a baroque quality rare in '50s Hollywood (other examples include Touch of Evil, and parts of Johnny Guitar). CinemaScope was still the new toy on the block in 1955. Lang was trying something with it in Moonfleet, as Minnelli did subsequently, but it was Webb who enthusiastically combined its challenges to composition and lighting with swooping crane shots. Obvious, admittedly, but exhilarating — then and now. The cinematography of Harold Rosson with the design of Harper Goff (on loan from the Disney Company — there’s a story in that, film buffs) create a pictorially mannered effect, alternating between moody darkness and ‘unreal’ candy colours, comparable to the better known explorations of colour by Sirk and Ray.
(c) The Dynamic Duo in Derbyshire 2003
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A Period in time.....
A ‘sense of period’ doesn’t necessarily reproduce historically verifiable detail. It serves its purpose if it evokes that more elusive thing: ethos. Pete Kelly’s Blues disappointed jazz buffs, but for most of the audience it examined — not merely cited — a way of life they had only read about or heard in the reminiscences of elders (How do you, dear reader, remember the ‘60s and ‘70s?). The secret is not in what’s different from the ‘now’ of 1955 in costumes, utensils and means of transportation, but in everyday values shared by the characters, the things not spelled-out in the dialogue.
Webb's a tough cop.....
Pete Kelly’s Blues gives us the illusion of being inside an historical milieu (which may or may not be historically accurate) whereas the few earlier films about jazz culture — e.g., New Orleans, The Fabulous Dorseys (both 1947), Young Man with a Horn (1950) — position us outside their fictive worlds. The taken-for-granted information is the key to admission ‘inside’. In some respects this film might have taken too much for granted: the casual reference to ‘Bix’, or the lack of reference to Boss Pendergast, in whose notorious domain the film is set. Webb in the title role defines the film’s poker-faced, tight-lipped style of performance (with the exception of Edmond O’Brien’s brassy hoodlum). ‘Laconic’ and ‘sardonic’ are favourite terms overused by film reviewers. They go together like a bad rhyme. Pete Kelly embodies them both — neither subtle nor ironic, but consistently stylised. He casts cunningly against type: Lee Marvin, "the doves’ favourite hawk", plays a gentle man upset by violence while Andy Devine, the high-pitched overweight laughing stock of countless other movies, comes through as a tough phlegmatic cop. He calls upon two great singers, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, to exercise great virtuosity: the former to sing badly (in a scene that wrings the heart), the latter to make the title song transcend the ‘torch’ genre.
A flaw in the film?
It was a brave and ‘different’ film for the mainstream, and in box office terms it didn’t find its audience. As a director Webb returned to the snappy, tight-framed method which served him so well in another medium — the television series.
There is a besetting flaw to this splendid film. It is confounded by an artistic self-contradiction: while Matty Matlock and his All Stars supply the jazz for Pete Kelly’s band, the incidental music is good old studio standard pseudo-symphonic syrup. Who is to blame? The film’s unusual trailer might give us a clue: the director addresses the camera and introduces Harold Rosson to his public (how often does a cinematographer take a bow?). Webb talks, a little pretentiously perhaps, about his ambitious new project, then reassures us that it still has the familiar story elements (!). Grounds for suspicion: was Jack Webb forced by Warner Bros. executives into an artistic compromise as grievous as that which confronted his alter ago, Pete Kelly?
More follows later.......
Monsters You Love:
|Ray Harryhausen stands out as Hollywood's one true craftsman. Few other artists enjoyed Ray Harryhausen's freedom within the Hollywood system, and none can compare to the hands-on approach he used to breathe personality into his creations. Through his stop-motion animation techniques, Ray Harryhausen's creations - based in myth yet brought to life by his imagination - left a lasting impact on today's cinema. |
Ray Harryhausen's introduction to stop-motion animation came after seeing King Kong (animated by stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien) at the age of thirteen. Inspired to experiment, Ray Harryhausen showed a natural talent for stop-motion animation, and enrolled in art and drama classes to perfect his craft. The generous support of his parents (his father machined intricate jointed armatures, and his mother designed and sewed miniature costumes for his stop-motion puppets) aided his development tremendously.
During World War II Ray introduced his stop-motion technique on training films in the Navy Signal Corps. While in the Navy he acquired several thousand feet of outdated Kodachrome film stock, which was used in the production of his first professional work: A series of Grimm's Fairy Tales shorts.
Although successful, Ray cut the series short in order to broaden his experience, and took a job working on George Pal's Puppetoons. The process by which the Puppetoon shorts were made allowed for little creative input, however, and he soon found himself seeking another challenge. The challenge arrived in the form of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, his first feature film.
Dynamation, Ray Harryhausen's custom method of combining stop-motion effects seamlessly into live-action backgrounds, was used extensively. Not only did this process make his stop-motion effects more realistic, but it was much more cost effective than the slower, traditional method of building miniature sets.
The success of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms led to work on similar science-fiction films. In the late 1950's, his pairing with producer Charles H. Schneer allowed him to make his most personally inventive films, starting with 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and continuing with a series of now-classic movies based on Greek and Arabic mythology. With few exceptions, Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer worked together exclusively from the 1960's to 1981's Clash of the Titans, his last movie. Within the confines of these tightly-budgeted movies, Ray Harryhausen found a means to express his concepts in a way unique to other feature films.
In 1992, Ray Harryhausen was awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer special achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. His contributions to stop-motion animation inspired an entire generation of animators and special effects artists.
(c) The Dynamic Duo in Derbyshire 2003
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