"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Darwin Was Right -- Everything Evolves, Even The Ritz!

I'm not puttin' you on ... (sorry, I couldn't stop myself) ... Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On The Ritz" made a startling evolution in lyrics and meaning from the time it was first written until Fred Astaire's famous film version.  I think most people would be very surprised (I was) to find that the original lyrics and dance milieu in the 1930 film below portrayed the top-hat-and-tails crowd going to Harlem to watch black people dress and dance in the stereotypically offensive way of days gone by. Even the set is racist.  As always with classic films, we have to remember the era in which movies and songs were created and see them as such.  Actually, I think it is not a bad idea to be reminded not only of history, which cannot be changed, but of the enormous evolution of thinking in our culture, by all except the most dim-bulbed Americans.  Even by the time Astaire's number came along in 1946, the lyrics had been changed, all of the black American reference removed, and the song had become much more sophisticated as well.

I've found four completely different, completely original versions of "Puttin' On The Ritz" that range from 1930 to 2012.  I had never seen No.1 before, and I doubt if many have. It incorporates the original lyrics, and I have printed those below it.  No.2, the Astaire film version, is spotlighted in a video created by someone who is not only very clever, but also who, I would bet good money, is a classic movie fanatic! This one, as we know, uses the changed lyrics that we all know today, which are also printed below it.  No 3 is a version that Irving Berlin would never have dreamed of!  No.4 is one that takes the song and puts it to use celebrating youth and happiness, and I just love it.

No. 1:  Harry Richman in Puttin' On The Ritz, 1930, original lyrics printed below.

Have you seen the well-to-do; Upon Lennox Avenue; 
On that famous thoroughfare; With their noses in the air.
High hats and narrow collars; White spats and fifteen dollars; 
Spending every dime; For a wonderful time.

If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz
Spangled gowns upon the bevy; Of high browns from down the levy; All misfits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
That's where each and every lulu-belle goes; Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus; Rubbin' elbows.

Come with me, we'll attend their jubilee; And seen them spend their last two bits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
(Instrumental break -- (Boys, look at dat man puttin' on dat Ritz; You look at him; I can't.)
If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz.

No. 2:  Fred Astaire in Blue Skies, 1946, (with a difference), and lyrics we all know today.

Have you seen the well-to-do, up and down Park Avenue,
On that famous thoroughfare, with their noses in the air;
High hats and Arrowed collars, white spats and lots of dollars,
Spending every dime, for a wonderful time

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to,

Why don't you go where fashion sits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.
Different types who wear a daycoat, pants with stripes
And cut away coat, perfect fits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.

Dressed up like a million dollar trouper,

Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper.)
Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks
Or umbrellas in their mitts,
Puttin' on the Ritz.

No. 3:  Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, 1974.

Lyrics don't even matter with Wilder and Boyle!

No. 4:  The Moscow Flash Mob, 2012, one of my favorite favorites!

That is some wedding gift!

As a special bonus, click here to see a really funny version where the only things that dance are the upper keys on a musical instrument of complete gorgeosity (my Dad made up that word)!

Boy, after all this, If I had some Ritz to put on right now, I would go out on the town!

This all started because I had a yen to watch Astaire/ Rogers numbers on Youtube.  I'm just in a musical mood, I guess, something that my friend and fellow CMBA member Page  experiences all the time with her great love of musicals.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Overlooked at the Oscars -- Part Two

"Geez, I lost?  Waddya mean?  I was workin' with ya here!"

*This article contains plot spoilers*

When I settled in to watch the 1996 Oscars, I just knew for sure that William H. Macy would win Best Supporting Actor for Fargo. With all the truly fine performances in that movie (including a well-deserved Best Actress award for Frances McDormand), Macy practically carries the show as the ultimate weasel, Jerry Lundegard -- a character who at first seems like a pathetic clown, someone to laugh at and pity.  However, as the story evolves, Macy makes us shiver as he creates the true character of Jerry -- a greedy loser who can't even embezzle money successfully, a cruelly indifferent husband and father who puts his sweet, dimwitted wife in mortal danger and never even thinks of the effect his actions will have on his young son.  Watching Macy's face carefully, the viewer can see that in every scene, every situation, Jerry's eyes are as dead as any killer-for-hire, not the eyes of a normal person.  Jerry, the passive-aggressive criminal, eventually wreaks murderous havoc on every person he involves in his scheme.  And yet, he still makes us snicker and snort throughout -- until his last scene, when we begin to laugh, then stare in shock at Macy's acting chops with Jerry's reaction to the punishment for what he has done.  To my mind, it was the best performance of the year.

So what happened?  "And the Oscar goes to....Cuba Gooding, Jr. for Jerry Maguire."  What?!!  You've got to be kidding...  Now I know Jerry Maguire was a very popular movie, and Gooding was, well, good.  Not great, but good.  His performance paled against Macy's primo portrayal of a difficult character to play.  I remember thinking that Gooding was new and popular that year, and so often that affects votes during Oscar time.  So, in my opinion, a good performance was lauded over a great one.

Last month's movie for Overlooked at the Oscars post, White Heat, was an easy one in which to highlight one scene of  fantastic acting.  Fargo doesn't really offer that -- it's a totality of performance that shows it.  However, I chose a favorite scene in which Macy runs most of the gamut of Jerry's character, all the time with those eyes that remain dead and expressionless, no matter what the face is doing.

My next installment in "Overlooked at the Oscars" will be a little different -- about a great film artist whose entire body of work was Oscar-snubbed!