Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jerome Kern #SwingTime cameo in #TheSimpsons

Seth MacFarlane, "Family Guy" creator,  sang "The Way You Look Tonight" in "The Simpsons" "Dangers on a Train" episode:

the Jerome Kern song that won the Oscar from the film "Swing Time":

Not certain how consciously the meta references are in this Simpsons' episode.  The biopic "Till the Clouds Roll By" of Jerome Kern (composer of above song) starred Robert Walker of "Strangers on a Train" fame, ironically, or not ... it all seems to come full circle.

Meandering further off on this tangent, Richard Sherman, of "Mary Poppins" and "Saving Mr. Banks" fame, was rather snarky on Jerome Kern's lack of pulchritude, which seems rather judgmental for someone suffering the same level of handsomeness-challenge. From "Real to Reel" documentary

This clip below of "Till the Clouds Roll By" presents an RKO trifecta. Irene Dunne appeared in RKO 1936 adaptation of "Showboat", the first clip in montage.  Irene Dunne also appeared with Fred and Ginger in film adaptation of"Roberta", the third show in montage. Georg Metaxa appeared in stage version of "Cat in the Fiddle", the second show highlighted in montage, as well as with Fred and Ginger in the film "Swing Time":

btw Ginger had to experiment various hair treatments to finally settle upon whipped cream as photogenic, summarizing an anecdote from her autobiography: "Ginger: My Story" (the Google Books bio of Ginger conveniently ignores that she won an Oscar,  I suspect because she was a Republican and leftists, in Saul Alinsky fashion, like to denigrate their opponents):

About the author (2008)
A dancer in American theater and film as well as an actress, Ginger Rogers began her career in vaudeville, which led to engagements in Broadway shows. She co-starred in George Gershwin's Girl Crazy (1930), and that role led to Hollywood contracts. Blessed with a comedic gift and the willingness to engage it, Rogers played opposite Fred Astaire, offsetting his sophisticated presentation while matching his dancing skill. Among the many films in which she starred are Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Kitty Foyle, and Monkey Business

An informal transcript of the dvd commentary by John Mueller, author of "Astaire Dancing" (who received a 9/10 review for his academic efforts on the ratethatcommentary website, but who, judging from his bibliography ,is something of an anti-war hippy, but it's a free country)

John Mueller: A musical number brings Rogers around. Astaire now enters the apartment with the connivance of Broderick. He will soon be serenading Rogers with the Academy Award winning "The Way You Look Tonight". Rogers is understandably bewitched by this beautiful song, just like the Academy, and is drawn toward Astaire and is moved enough to forgive his various transgressions like being a common gambler and such.  The song is written as a heartfelt declaration of love. Because the Astaire Rogers' romance has not progressed that far, this song is delivered as a randomly selected ballad that Astaire happens to have at the tip of his larynx at the moment. It is staged as a light joke. While Astaire rhapsodizes about "the way you look tonight", Rogers is supposed to be in contrasting disarray because she is in the process of washing her hair. The disarray, to say the least, is hardly convincing. When she emerges, her shampoo looks like a sculpted wig.

The song is in standard AABA form.  Beginning in the 1920s, or so, a large percentage, the majority, in fact, of American popular songs were written in that form. It wasn't a new idea, the traditional song. "Drink to Me only with thine Eyes" is in that form.

Mueller's assertion seems to warrant a musical interlude within an interlude: "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes" by Paul Robeson:

Aretha Franklin - "Drink to me only with thine eyes"

The musical bridge in the above Franklin accompaniment is, as poster yaskam notes, from 1.38 until 1.58, the pianist plays "Cantate BWV 147/Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben/Jesu bleibet meine Freude" by Bach, but better known as" Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring" for English speakers (BWV 147)

Johnny Cash - "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes":

Johnny Cash was presumably acting as nonchalant as Astaire in appearing to just vaguely speculate that the lyrics to song were Elizabethan. Words are adapted from Ben Johnson's "Song to Celia", from the poetry foundation, with Mueller's AABA structure overlayed:

1st Stanza:

1st Strain A:
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
         And I will pledge with mine;
2nd Strain A:
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
         And I’ll not look for wine.
Strain B:
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
3rd Strain A:
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
         I would not change for thine.

2nd Stanza:

1st Strain A:
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
         Not so much honouring thee
2nd Strain A:
As giving it a hope, that there
         It could not withered be.
Strain B:
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
         And sent’st it back to me;
3rd Strain A:
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
         Not of itself, but thee.

Hence, as John Mueller points out,  the melody of "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes" does indeed follow the structure of AABA.

Back to the "Swing Time" dvd commentary:

John Mueller: but [the AABA form] came to be much relied upon and it is ideally suited to the song's sensibilities in the golden age of American popular song because it's so spare and economical. Essentially, songs of the era were very short and were built around a single melodic idea. The form of this idea would be laid out or milked in every possible degree. It gets presented in the first A strain and then repeated. An additional repeat would be a bit much so the contrasting strain, the B or release strain, would come next and then the A strain is repeated. Hence, AABA

John Mueller: This is the main strain, the A strain.:

(Abbreviating from the "FRANK SINATRA LYRICS")
1st A Strain

Some day, when I'm awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight

Mueller: Now that musical idea is repeated with different words. The second A strain:

2nd A Strain

Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft
There is nothing for me but to love you
And the way you look tonight

Mueller: Music of this  strain  has an effective ebb and flow, but gradually builds and gently subsides. Now the contrasting release strain:

B Strain

With each word your tenderness grows
Tearin' my fear apart
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose
Touches my foolish heart

Mueller: [Lyricist] Fields reports she was moved to tears when she first heard this on the piano played by [composer] Jerome Kern. It begins somewhat tentatively and resolves satisfyingly. Now a transition to the last utterance of the main strain. 
3rd A Strain:

Lovely ... Never, never change
Keep that breathless charm
Won't you please arrange it? 'Cause I love you
Just the way you look tonight

Mueller: There's a beautiful line "never, never change."  This echoes nicely with the film's last song "Never Gonna Dance"

another musical interlude, where you'll notice that the intro to "Never Gonna Dance" is, in fact, from "The Way You Look Tonight":

Now a prose interlude, from the documentary on the director of the film, George Stevens "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" that describes how he championed the integrated musical structure, where lyrics of songs advance the book of the stage play:

From the documentary "The Swing of Things: Swing Time Step by Step " allegedly, it took 47 takes to get this dance on film, and the choreographer, Hermes Pan, asserts that poor Ginger bled through her shoes:

back to the "Swing Time" dvd commentary:

Mueller: What you and Astaire are looking at is whipped cream. They tried soap first, but that ran, as did shaving cream. They also tried whipped egg white and you don't even want to hear about that. There's a nice linkage here. We now move to the Silver Sandal Night Club where Astaire's song is perfectly reprieved by his rival for Rogers' affections, the singing band leader, Georges Metaxa.  Metaxa was a Romanian tenor making his second screen appearance. He had done some work on Broadway  before coming to Hollywood, for example Kern's "Cat in the Fiddle" in the early 1930s.

Another musical interlude from "The Cat and the Fiddle" starring Jeanette MacDonald and Ramon Novarro (not Nelson Eddy or Georg Metaxa):

Mueller: The character he plays is both ill tempered, pompous, arrogant, and humorless.  It is characteristic of Astaire's films in the 1930s that his rival is either laughable, or contemptible, or, as the case of Metaxa, a bit of both. Later on, in "Carefree" in 1938, Astaire's rivals became to be more acceptable as human beings, thereby making a challenge for him. More interesting dramatically.  
 and Metaxa singing without dvd commentary voice over:

In contrast to random tweeter:

Mueller alleges Rogers was having an affair with the director, Stevens, which is purportedly why she liked this film best of all in her repertoire.

However, one thing Ms Rogers disliked was Ted Turner's attempt to colorize black and white film, from MAUREEN DOWD's May 13, 1987  New York Times article "FILM STARS PROTEST COLORING"

"Miss Rogers read a statement from Mr. Stewart saying he had been repelled by the colored version of Frank Capra's 'It's a Wonderful Life,' which he called 'a bath of Easter egg dye.'
'Gloria Graham played a character named Violet, so someone thought it would be cute to have all her costumes in violet,' Mr. Stewart wrote. 'That is the kind of obvious visual pun that Frank Capra never would have considered.'
Miss Rogers said she had been upset by watching her performance in the colored version of '42d Street.' 'All those lovely girls in '42d Street' suddenly had the same orange face, the same orange legs, the same green costume and the same blank look,' she said."

so she would've been annoyed with this tweet that colorized a screen save from her film:

In case you wondered, Congress arrived at a compromise between art and commerce by establishing the National Film Registry to preserve films as originally released and, conversely, allowing current copyright owners to edit films for commercial release, as explained in Brian Real's paper "From Colorization to Orphans".

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