Archive for January, 2012

January 30, 2012

Musicals

At this point in my blogging, I would like to deviate from the format I set out for myself.  I want to write a bit about the format of the musical and how much I fucking love them.

While I may live near Boston now, I grew up in New York.  Not the city, but close enough for frequent trips.  I think the first musical I went to was Beauty and the Beast with Terrance Mann and Susan Egan in 1994.  I think I was most excited about seeing Tom Bosley because he was Mr. Cunningham and David the Gnome.  I was 10 in 1994, so I don’t remember much, only that we sat in the balcony where it was freezing. That was the last time we sat in the balcony.  Orchestra all the way. Anyway, I made my parents buy the cast recording and I played that shit into the ground.  I haven’t heard it in about 15 years and I still know most of the words.  Over the years I lived in New York I saw: Beauty and the Beast, Grease, Chicago, Rent, Into the Woods (2002 revival), Les Miserables, Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Urinetown, Cats, and probably some I am not remembering right now.  I think my parents wanted me to have culture, but they absolutely instilled in me a love of musicals as a form of expression.  By the way, the only one my father didn’t fall asleep during was The Scarlet Pimpernel.  In Boston the boyfriend and I saw an small production of Assassins in 2008.  Even with a non-Broadway level cast it was stunning and powerful.

I always feel that I have to jump to the defense of the musical, it is a much maligned format.  People don’t seem to understand the appeal of people getting up and singing their feelings.  I don’t think these people have seen many musicals, at least not many modern musicals.  Something like Hedwig and the Angry Inch is not just a series of songs strung together to justify a weak narrative.  The songs in Hedwig are beautiful and illuminate Hedwig’s inner world and beliefs in a far better way that monologue would.  In fact, they do this far better than the monologues actually do.  Hedwig’s monologues are breezy and self-effacing whereas the songs are where she allows herself to admit to her feelings and be real.  It doesn’t hurt that they are catchy, poppy, and glam rock.

There is a reason that early talkies were musicals.  Music can be a joy that transcends class, race, and all the other boundaries that people set up.  Of course, musicals like Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer can point out how wrong dominant culture can be.  Musicals like Rent can point out that no matter who we are what we all really want is to live our lives and matter.

I have not seen many early musicals, but I have some on my Netflix instant, so in the next two weeks or so I’m going to watch one and write a nice big review up here.

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January 11, 2012

The Politics of Casablanca

Yes, I know that most of the things I say here will have been said before and said better.  I’m just starting out, internet.

Maybe it is because I am of the female persuasion, but for most of my life all I had heard about Casablanca was the love story.  Rick and Isla’s doomed love was at the forefront of every recollection of the film I had ever heard or seen (The Great Movie Ride at Disney comes to mind).  To me that did not sound like some amazing movie that I had to see.  Especially since I knew they didn’t end up together.  If I knew the ending already, how interesting could the rest of the story be?

Well, I was so incredibly wrong about Casablanca.  I saw it for the first time on Valentine’s Day in 2008 when I was about 24.  I thought it might be fun to spend the evening watching a “great romance” with the boy.  I was completely blindsided by it.  Yes, the love story is grand and tragic, but holy shit, the politics are shocking.

This is a movie made in 1942 that explicitly states that Nazis are putting people in concentration camps and either working them to death or outright murdering them.  At a time when, according to Hollywood Goes to War* by Clatyon Koppes and Gregory Black, most Hollywood productions were concentrating on creating the idea of the “good German” Casablanca successfully disregards that idea.  The Germans and the French collaborators are shown to be corrupt, though the French Captain Renault gets to be funny and corrupt, as well as clueless.  The most sympathetic character is Ilsa’s husband, Victor Laszlo, a Czech freedom fighter who was thought to have been murdered in the camps.  It’s all right there on the page and on the screen.  Looking back you hear a lot of “I didn’t know.”, “I had no idea.”, “It was the politicians, not me.” from Germans (and many others) when discussing the camps.    Even coming at the subject from only this big Hollywood production you can come to the conclusion that everyone knew.  If these people 5,000 miles away knew, everyone knew.  I think I had been rather naive about who knew what and when before seeing Casablanca, but they all knew.

Casablanca completely identifies with the downtrodden French people who are trying to get out of Vichy controlled Morocco.  For me, the most emotionally resonant scene has nothing to do with Rick and Ilsa.  It is the scene where the Germans sing “Die Wacht Am Rhein” and the French refugees counter with “La Marseillaise” drowning out the German song.  I have seen the movie between six and ten times and I cry every time I see that scene.  According to IMDB the song was supposed to be the “Horst Wessel Song”, which was the Nazi anthem about an assassinated party member, but there were copyright issues.  Either way it is a powerful and highly emotional moment.  Since some of the actors were German Jews and subversives that had escaped the war they hardly needed to act.  The conviction and tears are real and it is an incredibly stirring moment.

Casablanca is more than just a love story, it is a testament to what people knew and when they knew it.  I think it gets sold short as just a romance; the political meanings are much stronger than people let on.  It is a very funny film as well, which I didn’t even begin to touch on here.  I may pick this thread up again another day, but let’s leave it as just one of my favorite films.

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*I by no means recommend this book, other than as an index of WWII films and their basic themes.  It is, quite frankly, repetitive and boring, bringing up the same ideas again and again.  The main idea of the book is to distinguish between the moves that Hollywood made about Japan and those they made about Germany.  There are many movies mentioned but a few are repeated as evidence over and over until if you see one more reference to Little Tokyo you’re just going to throw the book against the wall.  The only thing it succeeds at is documenting the development of the offices of propaganda the US had during the war.

January 10, 2012

An Introduction

Hello there, internet.

I’m HistoryGirlandFilm and we’re going to have a long a fruitful relationship.  I hope.

Let’s start with my blog name and what it means.  I hope it tells you that my main focus is history, not film.  There are millions of blogs out there about film and I wanted to put a little wedge between film and myself.  I do not have any formal education in film.  None.  I have taken two classes at a state school that involved film, one of them was focused on adaptation from literature and the other was focused on filmic representation of the World Wars.  Neither class was focused on the art of film making.

The biggest education I have received in terms of film was actually making one in 2008.  I was one of the two leads in a small independent feature filmed in Western MA.   I learned more in those two weeks about how film making actually works than I think I could have at my crappy state college.

What my education has focused on, however, is history.  I am quite close to getting my BA in history with a minor in political science.  I am pre-law and my main focus has been American history, but I do have a background in English history, Japanese history, French History, and the World Wars with a smattering of African history and South American thrown in there too.

So, with that in mind I don’t feel qualified to talk about film in the usual critical fashion.  The papers I wrote for my World Wars in Film class have been the best writing I have ever done and I think that is because it blended my two biggest loves.  If only I could incorporate craft beer we would have all the bases covered!

I want to begin this blog with some classic movies, so my first real history/film entry is going to be about the politics in Casablanca, a topic I do not think is discussed enough.

Personally, I am 28 and I live just north of Boston with my boyfriend and the cutest cat in the world.  I am a waitress at a pretty awesome cafe/bar and I drive a pink moped instead of a car.  I will graduate in December 2012, after 10 grueling years working my ass off to pay for college.  I am not sure what comes after college, but it will probably be graduate school and some sort of job working for a political office.  The dream job would be as some sort of historical accuracy checker on movies/tv shows, but I am trying to be realistic.

And, yes, I seriously have the cutest cat in the world.