The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song 40/250…The Rainbow Connection from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of The Muppet Movie

When it comes to the world of movies and television shows aimed at children, one of the colossal figures in the scene…or should I say, under that scene, was a man named Jim Henson. Mr. Henson was a master puppeteer. His career began with a little TV show that you may have heard of called Sesame Street. As a child, I was a devoted follower of Sesame Street. I knew everyone who lived in that neighbourhood, whether they were in human form or whether they existed as a puppet. As a child, I know that I found the show to be funny and entertaining, and it helped place me in an environment where I thought that learning about things was a natural way to spend my time. As an adult, I look back upon Sesame Street and I marvel at how incredible it all was. The people responsible for programming those episodes deserve special recognition for how easily and seamlessly they introduced such politically sensitive topics as racial harmony, women’s rights and so on in ways that made sense to the young children watching at home. I have said this in a previous post, but my favourite TV episode of all time, in any era and from any style of television show, was the episode when long time character Mr. Hooper dies (as he did in real life). The writers of Sesame Street wrote it into the show and framed the episode around Big Bird’s character learning about what had happened to his friend and what it means when someone you care for actually dies. *(You can read that previous post here). That Sesame Street could tackle the topic of death in such a respectful way spoke volumes to me about the quality of the character of the people who were running the show. One of those people was Jim Henson. 

Jim Henson learned about puppeteering in college in the late 1950s. He began his professional career as a puppeteer by making a short five-minute show segment that appeared as part of a TV show called Sam and Friends that appeared on Public TV in Washington. One of his early puppets was the early version of a talking frog. That talking frog would eventually go on to become the character we all know as Kermit the Frog. As Henson began to receive attention from his Sam and Friends segments, he began to appear with his puppets as a guest on TV shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show. His work on those national television shows brought him to the attention of the producers of Sesame Street, who hired Henson to join their production team. He agreed and, along with friend and fellow puppeteer Frank Oz, went on to create some of the most iconic characters in the history of television, such as Bert and Ernie, Big Bird (who was played by Caroll Spinney on the show), Oscar the Grouch, game show host Guy Smiley and many more. Henson believed that puppets could be made to seem so realistic in their appearance, their movements and their speaking ability that they would appear to be real and thus, would be believable to children. Thus, all of Henson’s puppets (which he called Muppets) were created using soft material, with movable rods hidden inside their bodies (as opposed to strings hanging down from above) and mouths that were easily manipulated from within the puppet. The overwhelming success of puppets such as Kermit the Frog led to a spinoff television show simply called The Muppet Show, a further spinoff called Fraggle Rock and a series of movies based upon the Muppet characters. The very first of these movies was given an equally simple title as the TV show had been given. It was called The Muppet Movie. From that movie came a song about rainbows that was about rainbows and so much more. “The Rainbow Connection” was a song written by the team of Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher. This song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in a Feature Film. The entire musical score was nominated for Best Film Score. “The Rainbow Connection” actually cracked the Top 30 Pop charts in 1979, making it as high as position #25. The song has since been selected for inclusion at The Library of Congress because of its cultural significance.  

The Muppet Movie opens with a scene in which Kermit the Frog is sitting on a log in a pond. Kermit sings the song “The Rainbow Connection” as he wonders about his purpose in life. Someone overhears him singing and tells Kermit that he could be an entertainer who brings joy into the hearts of millions of people. Kermit takes this suggestion as being a sign that his “rainbow connection”….his purpose in life… lay in finding a career in show business. To do that, he travels across America in search of Hollywood. Along the way, Kermit meets all manner of Muppet friends who, in the end, become like his family. The movie concludes by Kermit having his dream realized in a most explosive and unusual way that also involves a rainbow appearing, which he takes as a sign that he has made the correct choice in life. One of the things that most people in the audience for this movie didn’t realize was how difficult it was to film that opening scene where Kermit sits on a log in the middle of a pond and sings “The Rainbow Connection” song. 

If you think back to how Jim Henson and Frank Oz worked with the Muppets, they did so from below. Thus, all of the sets used in The Muppet Movie had to be built five feet into the air so that Oz and Henson could stand and move about freely from below. So every time you saw a scene using a muppet in the movie (or on Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock) keep in mind that those puppets were actually five feet in the air and a whole lot was going on under the camera’s view. In the case of “The Rainbow Connection” scene, Jim Henson couldn’t stand underneath Kermit the Frog because they were using real water to film the scene. So, in order for Henson to be able to operate Kermit from below, they had to build a sealed diving bell-like contraption. The diving bell was a fully sealed submersible device. Henson was able to breathe for the several hours it took to film the scene because oxygen was being pumped in from behind the bell. In order to feed him, food and water was brought in through a hatchway that could be opened from the outside yet remain sealed from the inside. The hatchway would be opened, the food would be placed in a cubby way, the outside door sealed shut and then, at that time, Henson could open the hatchway from inside and retrieve his food and drink. So, as you watch the video for this song, try and imagine all that went into creating this scene. What a lot of ingenuity was at play!

I will end this post with the following thought. The song “The Rainbow Connection” is about finding your purpose in life and believing yourself capable and worthy of finding it at all. There is no one single, universal “rainbow connection” out there. But there is one such connection waiting for us to find that is meant just for us. I truly believe that we are all worthy of finding a path in life that works for us and will help us become the person we were always meant to be. No one can dictate what that connection is any more than you can buy it from a store. Whatever your true rainbow connection turns out to be, it will be beautiful and wonderful. If you haven’t discovered it yet, keep looking. The journey may be long, but the reward for your heart and mind is immeasurable. To all those who believe in rainbows, I salute you. Good luck on your journey.

The link to the video for the song “The Rainbow Connection” as sung by Kermit the Frog from the original motion picture soundtrack of the film The Muppet Movie can be found here.  *The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to The Muppet Movie can be found here.

The link to the official website for Jim Henson can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #39/250: What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to The Barbie Movie

I went with my family to see The Barbie Movie this summer, and I have to say that I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful and creative it was. Like many who went in that initial wave of attendees, I assumed that we would be watching a light comedy which would, essentially, end up being a children’s movie. Boy was I in for a surprise! What we ended up watching was a poignant treatise on the promise of feminism and the impact of our perceptions of gender on our society. We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. At the end, many people in the theatre cried a lot, too. As we left the theatre and walked back to our cars, we did so with the mindset that we had just seen a movie about a toy that, daresay, might actually warrant being deemed as important.

While this post is meant to act as a music post, it is difficult to discuss the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish without first placing the song in some sort of context. To do so requires a brief account of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie and wish to at a later date then you may wish to stop reading right now because some SPOILER details are soon to come. If you have seen the movie then feel free to enjoy this brief summary, or else skip on ahead to the next paragraph. Here we go.

Growing up, I always took the presence of Barbie dolls for granted. They were just a toy that my sister played with. No different than any other toy that came and went from our home. However, from watching The Barbie Movie I learned that the original Barbie doll was created by a lady named Ruth Handler who worked at Mattel and that the doll was created to act as a feminist alternative to the traditional “baby” dolls that acted as a training tool geared toward motherhood. While there is nothing at all wrong with the idea of motherhood, society at that time (the 1950s) was only just beginning to accept the notion that women could expect to have a future that extended beyond the home. Thus, Barbie dolls were created so that young girls were able to imagine themselves being astronauts, scientists, doctors and even the president of the United States. This is where the movie begins. In Barbieland, all of the various iterations of Barbie over the years live in blissful happiness. Every day is perfect. There is laughter and sunshine all of the time. The Kens exist on the periphery and only play a meaningful role when needed by a Barbie. As the movie opens, Margot Robbie’s character, “Stereotypical Barbie”, dances and hangs out with her other Barbie friends until one day when she gets a weird feeling that manifests itself in thoughts of mortality. She then develops cellulite and flat feet. In a panic she seeks help from “Weird Barbie”, who takes care of all the other Barbie dolls who are misshapen and/or who never fit in. From her, Robbie learns that whoever is playing with her in the “real world” is having issues that need to be addressed. So, Robbie (and Ken…Ryan Gosling…,who hides in her Barbie car) head to the real world to meet this mystery person. Once in the real world, Margot Robbie’s Barbie discovers that the promise of feminism hasn’t quite taken root there. She is ogled and touched without her consent. Meanwhile, Ken is admired for his buff physique and is introduced to a concept known as the Patriarchy. A young teenage girl berates Barbie for having created generations of women who feel badly about their body image because they can’t compete with Barbie’s sexualized figure. Finally, Robbie meets the person who had been playing with her. It was America Ferrera, who plays the mother of the teenage girl who gave Barbie such a scolding. As it turns out, Ferrera’s character had grown tired of trying to find her way in a “man’s world” and had been viewing her daughter’s Barbie doll with a mixture of emotions that were potent enough to have reached Robbie’s Barbie all the way in Barbieland. In the midst of all of this, Mattel executives become aware that Barbie has crossed over into the real world and chase after her so that she can be repackaged and rebranded to their liking. Barbie ends up running for her life through the Mattel headquarters and beyond. In the course of this, she runs into a ghost-like figure played by Rhea Perlman who turns out to be Ruth Handler. As mentioned off of the top, it was a woman named Ruth Handler who created the original Barbie doll. So, when Barbie meets Ruth, it is akin to you or I meeting God. It is at this point that Handler has a motherly talk with a very confused and distraught Barbie. While this talk unfolds, a montage appears on screen of moments between mothers and daughters and between girlfriends and between sisters. Accompanying this ode to Sisterhood and all that is maternal, the song “What Was I Made For?” is played. It is not an exaggeration to say that the sobs emanating from the audience I was a part of were audible and unrestrained. Any critic can say anything they want about The Barbie Movie, but the fact remains that director Greta Gerwig touched the hearts and minds of a great many people with her work on this film.

One of the many things that work well in this movie is the way music is used. The soundtrack to The Barbie Movie is populated with many of today’s hottest stars such as Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and, of course, Billie Eilish. With her brother Finneas, Billie Eilish wrote “What Was I Made For?” after having been given a sneak peek at the movie by Gerwig before it was released. According to Eilish, she was greatly moved by what she saw onscreen and immediately recognized herself in the character played by Robbie. Eilish understood the impact of being a woman and of body image and how all of that takes away from her work as an artist. Eilish has stated many times that it is one of her most fervent wishes that articles about her focus on her lyrics and her music and not on what clothes she is wearing or the colour of her hair. In the movie, her whispery song delivery is perfectly suited for the reflective nature of the grand talk between Barbie and Ruth Handler. This song resonates with so many who feel unfairly burdened and typecast by gender and appearance and societal expectations and traditions. That we live in judgie times is acknowledged and not shied away from in the movie, which to its credit, does not seek tidy solutions to the plotline of this film. The world is a complicated mess and it is, indeed, difficult to know what one’s purpose is at times. You don’t have to be Barbie to understand that.

Here is something that you can take to the bank. If there happens to be an Academy Awards ceremony this coming year (and, with the screenwriters’ strike ongoing as I type this, that is not a given), I boldly predict that “What Was I Made For?” will win for Best Song in a Motion Picture. It was the absolutely perfect vehicle to pair with the onscreen visuals and dialogue. In any artist’s lifetime, if you can ever create work that touches the hearts and minds of those who encounter it, then you have really realized your own purpose. Billie Eilish and Finneas have done that with “What Was I Made For?”, just as Greta Gerwig has done so with The Barbie Movie. This movie was pretty amazing, and I am better for having seen it.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***NOTE: There is no video released from the actual Barbie Movie that pairs this song with the visuals that are shown when Barbie and Ruth Handler have their chat. The video that accompanies this link shows Billie Eilish and is solely featuring her.

Just for fun, the link to a video from The Barbie Movie called “Just Ken” can be found here. This song is sung by Ryan Gosling who, as Ken, chews scenery left and right in a terrific comedic turn that should earn him Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor. In this song, Ken wrestles with his feelings about having no self-identity outside of his association with Barbie. Even though this video comes across as light-hearted, it carries the point that one of the keys to a fulfilling life is being true to yourself, no matter who you are.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen…Song #38/250: This Is Berk from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, How To Train Your Dragon

If I was to ever write an advice book for expectant parents, one of the first things that I would say to them would be to make time to read with your children from the moment they are born. I could easily spend the remainder of this post discussing language development and literacy, in general. But, as important as that is, I would also stress to new parents the equally important aspect of the bonding that takes place between parent and child when you hold your newly born baby close to your beating heart and share stories together. If you are lucky, the act of sharing stories and songs will inspire your child to develop a love of language and of reading and of personal discovery. My wife and I feel very fortunate that both of our daughters have grown into literate, knowledgeable young women who are critical consumers of information and who also simply enjoy a good read when time allows.

The original How To Train Your Dragon book.

Some of my fondest memories as a father to date stem from reading with my girls when they were younger. Because of the way my wife and I divided up our parental responsibilities, I ended up reading mostly with my eldest daughter, Leah. My wife spent the bedtime ritual mostly with our youngest daughter, Sophie. For Leah and I, reading together was a very special part of our day. We started out with picture books but Leah’s ability to attend for longer periods of time rapidly grew, which meant that our reading material soon transitioned over into chapter books. If a book she liked happened to be part of a series, then Leah liked to read the whole series. We started out with easier chapter book series such as Magic Tree House and the Rainbow Magic fairy books. Before long, we were into the Harry Potter books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables and so on. Along the way, Leah discovered some interesting newer books that ended up becoming a series in their own right. One of the best of these started with a book called How To Train Your Dragon by British author Cressida Cowell. What started out as one book grew to become a series of twelve. Leah and I read them all. Three feature-length movies have been released, too. Leah and I have seen those, too. In time, Leah grew up and asked that she be allowed to read on her own at bedtime because she could read books faster to herself than I could read aloud. She also wanted to start exploring books that involved more grown up themes that were better suited to the actual events of her teenage life. So, our bedtime reading ritual came to an end…sort of. What has happened is that we have transitioned to reading together at bedtime to reading together online. Leah is one of the most faithful readers of my blog. I appreciate her comments and the questions that she asks about what I write. In turn, she has her own book-related blog (which you can check out here). She always asks me to proofread her posts before she hits the publish button. I enjoy reading what she writes, too. She is a pretty amazing writer.

How To Train Your Dragon: the movie.

Getting back to How To Train Your Dragon, on the surface, the series involves a community of Vikings who live on the rugged, rocky Island of Berk. As the series begins, these Vikings feel threatened by a wide assortment of dragons who steal their sheep and burn their homes with regularity. One of rites of passage for young Vikings is that they have to capture and train a wild dragon, taming it for a life of servitude under Viking rule. Like many book series, the main characters are younger. In How To Train Your Dragon, we get to follow a young Viking named Hiccup Horrendous the Third and his friends as they grow up together in this dangerous world of Vikings and dragons. But again, like most series of this type, what you see on the surface is not the real message of the books. As Hiccup and his friends grow up, they soon discover that dragons are not their enemies and should not be viewed as an enslaved workforce waiting to be captured and subdued into obedience. Instead, Hiccup and his friends come to respect dragons as being sentient beings in their own right and discover that it is possible to establish relationships with them based upon mutual respect and tolerance. Taken to the next level, it seems obvious that the lessons meted out in these twelve books could easily be adapted to the real world. Instead of Vikings and dragons, we could have capitalists vs communists, white nationalists vs immigrants, heterosexuals vs anyone who chooses to love differently, men vs women, the super rich vs the rest of us and so on it goes.

How To Train Your Dragon musical composer John Powell.

The musical score of the movie How To Train Your Dragon was created by a composer named John Powell. Mr. Powell is famous for creating the scores for animated feature-length films and has worked on many popular movies such as Happy Feet, Chicken Run, Rio, Shrek, Horton Hears a Who and many more. Powell trained under the mentorship of film scorer extraordinaire Hans Zimmer. Like Zimmer, John Powell has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and, as well, for an Academy Award for Best Score for today’s film, How To Train Your Dragon. The soundtrack for this movie is almost all orchestral/instrumental. In order to best illustrate the difference a great score can make, I am going to share three videos of the opening composition entitled “This Is Berk”. In the first video, I shall share with you the opening scene as it appears in the film (complete with dialogue and special effects sounds, too). In the second video, I will share the same scene, except this time it will only have the orchestral music present. Finally, I will share with you a live performance by an actual orchestra that took place as part of the international animation awards. In this video, you can watch the orchestra play live against the backdrop of a huge screen that is showing the opening of the movie. Taken together, all three videos give you a glimpse behind the scenes at how a film score works in conjunction with dialogue and special effects. Specifically, in the case of How To Train Your Dragon, you will get to see how this saga of tolerance and empathy begins on an isolated island teeming with fear and ignorance. You will also be introduced to Hiccup, who is one of the great characters in modern children’s literature (a worthy peer to the likes of Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls, Anne with an “e”, Jack and Annie, Prince Caspian and so many more).

On a more personal note for my area readers, there is going to be a special screening of the original How To Train Your Dragon movie on Saturday, April 22 here in Cobourg. The screening will be held at the Rainbow Cinemas and is a fundraiser for the fantastic local charity The Rose Quest. (You can visit the official Rose Quest website here for more information). So, if you want to see a sweeping, epic animated story on the big screen, with its Academy Award winning score and wonderful message of tolerance and understanding, all the while supporting a great cause, then you know where to go and what to do.

Happy birthday to this beauty! Thanks for a lifetime of wonderful memories…including introducing me to How To Train Your Dragon.

For now, I will end this post as it began. The Arts have a unique ability to touch the hearts of those who experience them. Reading with my children enriched my life and helped my heart grow. Because of books and stories, we got to discuss all manner of subject matter, visit museums as a follow up, listen to music, watch movies together and much, much more. The most important part of that last sentence is that we got to share these experiences together. Spending time with those you love is the ultimate luxury. I wouldn’t have traded a single second of anything that I did with my girls. Life is truly a gift. I will conclude with a simple birthday wish for Leah (whose birthday is today): may your days ahead continue to be filled with opportunities to experience the world in the company of those you love, whether that be with your mother and I, your sister, your extended family, your friends or with your life partner who is out there waiting to meet you right now! Your company has always been like a treasure to all who are lucky enough to know you. May you feel that in your heart always and forever. Thanks for being you. Happy birthday.

The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the complete opening scene) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “This Is Berk” (the opening scene with music only) from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video of a live performance of “This Is Berk” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film How To Train Your Dragon can be found here.

The link to an article written about the books Leah and I ended up reading together can be found here. (It was a guest post I wrote for a friend who runs the fabulous website Happy Hooligans. This website is all about children learning through play. It has scores of activities, craft and cooking ideas and so on. As websites for children go, Happy Hooligans is the gold standard in my opinion).

***All original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #37/250: Feed the Birds from the Original West End Cast Recording of the Musical Mary Poppins

Do you know the story of Mary Poppins? I don’t mean do you know the plot of the 1964 Walt Disney version starring Julie Andrews in the lead. I mean, do you know the origin story of the flying nanny? Who was Mary Poppins based upon in real life? Are you aware of how her story went from book series to movie to musical and back to a movie about a movie, again? Is it news to you that the author of the Mary Poppins books disliked Walt Disney? Well, she did. In fact, by the time I am finished peeling back all the layers of this story you are going to need to sit down and rest for a while. The story of Mary Poppins is one wild ride that all begins in a lawyer’s office with the reading of author P.L. Travers’s will. Buckle up!

When I set out to begin my research for this post about the musical Mary Poppins, I thought it was going to be fairly standard stuff. Boy, was I in for a surprise! I was barely a paragraph in on my first article when I came across the news that securing the rights to adapt the story of Mary Poppins for the stage was fraught with difficulty because of stipulations in the Last Will and Testament of author P.L. Travers that forbade any new productions from employing Americans and/or anyone associated with the 1964 Disney movie. Wait…what?! My immediate question was what did Ms. Travers have against Americans that she would ban an entire nation? As I sought the answer to that question, I ended up going down a rabbit hole of epic proportions. As I think back upon it now, I am reminded of a scene in the movie All The President’s Men (about the Watergate scandal) when reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post is questioning his inside source code named Deepthroat about who in the Nixon Whitehouse he should talk to next. Deepthroat replied by saying, “This goes everywhere and involves everybody”. The story of Mary Poppins is like that, too.

Helen Lyndon Goff aka Pamela Lyndon Travers aka P. L. Travers

In order to present this tale in the most coherent fashion possible, let’s start at the very beginning, before there ever was a Mary Poppins. The character known as Mary Poppins first came to the attention of the world through a series of children’s books written by a woman who went by the name Pamela Lyndon Travers or P. L., for short. That turned out to be a pen name that she used for privacy reasons. Her real name was Helen Lyndon Goff. Ms. Goff was born in Queensland, Australia. Her mother was a direct relation of the former Premier of Queensland. *(I have seen her referred to as his niece and also as his sister). Her father, on the other hand, was a failed banker who suffered from alcoholism and died while she was in her teens. Throughout her childhood, Helen Goff was often left to her own devices, so she whiled away the hours reading copious amounts of books, writing poetry and short stories and playing games that showed a vivid sense of imagination. After her father’s death, Goff began participating in plays and became a published poet, too. In her early twenties, she joined a traveling theatre troupe and toured New Zealand. It was at this time that she adopted her pen name. She picked Travers for her last name because it was her father’s first name. She opted for Pamela because she thought it was pretty. The middle name of Lyndon she kept as a means of retaining touch with her legal identity. Eventually, P. L. Travers moved to England where she continued to publish her poetry and write for several newspapers and magazines. During her time in London, Travers became acquainted with people such as the poet W. B. Yeats and the philosopher Carl Jung. It was also during this time that she published her first of eight Mary Poppins books. In interviews, Travers was quoted as admitting that the character of Mary Poppins was based upon her Great Aunt Helen Moorehead from Australia. Because of how busy her parents both were with their adult lives, young Helen Goff spent much of her childhood in the care of her Great Aunt Helen, who was her namesake. In those same interviews, Travers was always quick to paint a rather bucolic portrait of her childhood years and was very protective of her family members, especially when it came to her father’s reputation.

Walt Disney circa early 1960s ** I.V.

P. L. Travers published her first Mary Poppins book in 1934. A second soon followed in 1935. By 1940, both books were beloved the world over. Two children who loved hearing all about the adventures of the flying nanny were the daughters of a man named Walt Disney. Like many good parents, Walt Disney found time to read aloud to his children. The Mary Poppins books were among their favourite stories. Being fully aware of what their father did for a living, his girls asked him if, one day, he would turn the Mary Poppins books into a movie for them. Walt Disney promised that he would see what he could do. For the next twenty years, Walt Disney met with P. L. Travers in an attempt to acquire the movie rights to her book series. When he first decided to pursue this idea, he figured it would be a business negotiation like all previous negotiations before it. How wrong he turned out to be. In reality, P. L. Travers was fiercely protective of her stories and the characters within. She did not trust Walt Disney to be able to translate her vision onto a movie screen. She was afraid he would alter the characters, add in animation and create a musical score that would change the tone of how her characters appeared in her head and in her heart. Walt Disney entered negotiations thinking it would be all about money and financial considerations. What he discovered as the process unfolded was that the negotiations were all about trust and about Travers protecting the story of her childhood life (which was what the Mary Poppins stories were all about).

Poster for the 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

As part of the two-decades-long courtship of P.L. Travers by Walt Disney, Mr. Disney traveled to London to meet with her at her home. He also had her flown to Hollywood in First Class so that she could meet him at the Disney Studios and get to see how a movie of her book would be produced and who might be involved in such a production. Because he was so invested in acquiring the movie rights, Walt Disney granted Travers unprecedented access to his studio. She was present for all pre-production meetings, including those with the Sherman Brothers who would go on to write the classic musical soundtrack that included such gems as “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the subject of today’s post, “Feed the BIrds”. Everyone at Disney Studios found P. L. Travers to be extremely difficult to work with. She objected to almost every aspect of the script. She particularly objected to how Walt Disney was attempting to portray her father. However, Walt Disney had one big advantage in these negotiations and that was the luxury of time. P. L. Travers, on the other hand, had a finite amount of income and could not afford to remain in Hollywood battling Disney executives and underlings, day in and day out. She needed to get back to work and earn her own income again. Eventually, Walt Disney made his final offer for the rights to her books. P. L. Travers felt as though she had no choice, so she finally agreed. With her signature in hand, Walt Disney no longer required her approval for any aspect of the movie. He hired the actors he desired. He commissioned the songs he felt fit best. Finally, he added in a few scenes that included animation because he felt it helped bring the story to life in a magical way. So frustrated was he with P. L. Travers that he did not even extend an invitation to her so that she could attend the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins in 1964.

So, flash forward to the year 2000 and place yourself in the shoes of producer Cameron Mackintosh. He is a British producer of musicals for the West End theatres in London. He was given the task of approaching P. L. Travers to see if she would sell the rights to her books so that a musical adaptation could be created. After her negative experience with Walt Disney, P. L. Travers had a lot of stipulations to set out before she would consider any agreement to sell the rights to mount a stage production to Mackintosh. Foremost among those were that no Americans were to be involved, and especially no one who had been involved in making the 1964 movie that she so disliked. Cameron Mackintosh was able to score one key triumph for the proposed stage adaptation, and that was that Travers agreed to allow him to reuse the songs from the film score. As a result, the Sherman Brothers (who write the Disney songs) are credited with being co-creators of the West End musical score for the stage version of Mary Poppins. One of the reasons that the Sherman Brothers’ music was allowed to remain had to do with one particular song from the movie, called “Feed the BIrds”. While not the most popular song to be included on the original movie soundtrack, “Feed the Birds” was viewed as actually being the key reason that P. L. Travers agreed to sell the movie rights to Walt Disney in the first place.

The Sherman Brothers: Robert and Richard. They wrote the songs for the 1964 movie including “Feed the Birds”.

“Feed the Birds” is a song written by the Sherman Brothers for the film Mary Poppins. It is a song that appears four times throughout the movie and was used to set a more serious tone for the scenes in which it was included. Without going into the details of all four scenes, what is important to note is that we are introduced to the song by Mary Poppins and shown images of a beggar woman in Trafalgar Square who is selling bird seed to tourists so they can feed the pigeons who are found there. When Mary Poppins sings the song, the images are magical and filled with warmth. However, in a pivotal scene later on in the movie, the father, Mr. Banks, is seen walking through the same square on his way to a meeting at the bank, at which time he will be fired from his job. There is no joy in the scene with Mr. Banks. This was such an emotional song for P. L. Travers. It helped her to decide to trust Walt Disney enough to sell him the movie rights to her books. In her mind, with this song Mr. Disney had proven that he finally understood that her books were more than just fodder for movie scripts and were actually stories from her own life. The closing scene in which “Feed the Birds” is used isolates the father, Mr. Banks, illustrating how his life could have been different if he had invested more time in “feeding his own birds”, which Travers understood from the song to be his own children. In her heart, she knew that the Sherman Brothers were speaking directly about her and her childhood and how her life could have been different with greater attention afforded her and her siblings from her father. Perhaps he could have even remained alive and not been consumed by the stresses that led to his losing battle with alcohol. “Feed the Birds” was the one song that P. L. Travers approved of. It helped to get the Disney film made, and it helped get the West End musical made, too.

The final chapter of this story took place in 2013. Disney Studios knew that the 40th anniversary of the movie Mary Poppins was approaching. They also knew that the story behind how the movie came to be was an extraordinary one. So, a movie was made about how the original movie came to be made. This new movie was called Saving Mr. Banks. The movie starred Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak starred as the Sherman Brothers. Emma Thompson was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this movie. Unlike the real P. L. Travers, she was even invited to attend the film’s Hollywood premiere.

The original book in the Mary Poppins book series with Great Aunt Helen Moorehead aka Mary Poppins on the cover.

One of the very first pieces of advice given to new writers is to write about what you know. Helen Goff wrote under an assumed name in order to protect the integrity and privacy of those family members she wrote about, especially her father, whom she adored in spite of his alcoholism. To P. L. Travers, the Mary Poppins books were never just stories to her. They were semi-autobiographical chapters from her own life. Consequently, it is to be expected that she would be protective of them and cautious when it came to placing them in the hands of strangers to her life. For others, such as Walt Disney, her stories were a commodity to be purchased, repackaged and sold to generations of consumers for whom Mary Poppins has no emotional attachment. That is how show business works. It isn’t wrong. It is just how it is. I still view Walt Disney as a man of principle. I appreciate how he came to understand P. L. Travers’ point of view by including a song like “Feed the BIrds” that spoke to her heart. To me, it showed that he understood that the world of commerce from which he operated his business was built upon a foundation of creativity that came straight from the hearts of those who create…including himself. Creativity is an exercise in personal passion. Walt Disney understood that. So did P. L. Travers. My parting thought today to all of you is that I know real life can get busy at times, but always make room in your world to feed the birds in your life. In the end, nothing is more important than that.

The link to the video for the song “Feed the Birds” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Mary Poppins can be found here. ***The lyrics version (from the movie) can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Mary Poppins can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the musical Mary Poppins can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Saving Mr. Banks can be found here.

The link to the official website for P. L. Travers can be found here.

The link to the official website for Walt Disney can be found here.

The link to purchase your own copy of any book from the Mary Poppins book series can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Her mother, Margaret Agnes Goff (née Morehead), was Australian and the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890.[

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #36/250…Montage by Manchester Orchestra ft. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Swiss Army Man

Daniel Radcliffe as Manny and Paul Dano as Hank.

If you are a follower of this blog then you will be aware of my interest in films that possess a certain quirky sensibility. I love a movie that makes me think and that makes me question what I am seeing on the screen. Recently I watched a movie that falls directly into this category. The movie was a 2016 release called Swiss Army Man. Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano, who you may know from his star turn as the silent teenager in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It also stars Daniel Radcliffe, who you may know from a little film and book series where he played a character named Harry Potter. Swiss Army Man was directed by two men named Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. The Daniels, as they are known in movie circles, won the Best Director prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival for this film. They also recently won three Academy Awards for writing and directing the movie Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Their awards were all well earned.

Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan: “The Daniels”.

Simply put, Swiss Army Man is one of the most unique and beautiful and thought-provoking movies I have ever seen. It is a movie about falling in love, but it isn’t a romance movie in the Hallmark sense. It is a movie about friendship in which one of the two friends is a corpse. It is a movie about loneliness in which the lead character is rarely alone. Finally, Swiss Army Man is about harnessing the flatulence we all have inside of us for the good of our souls. This movie is, at times, silly but also very poignant and moving. It is filled with love and imagination and generosity of spirit. The final ten-fifteen minutes will blow your mind and make you reevaluate what you thought you knew about the movie up until that point. The closing scene ends with a preschool-aged child laughing uproariously, her mother mouthing, “What the f*ck!?” (which stands as the closing line in the film), as Daniel Radcliffe roars out to sea like a human jet ski. I kid you not. And what’s more, it all makes perfect sense and will leave your heart filled to overflowing.

Robert McDowell and Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra.

A large factor in helping Swiss Army Man to have the emotional feel that it does resides with the musical score. There are no hit singles on this soundtrack. In fact, there were no instruments used in the creation of any of the twenty-four tracks used throughout the film. All twenty-four tracks were made exclusively for the human voice and for human sounds. By that I mean a capella singing that doesn’t often use real words, and hand made sounds such as percussive clapping and banging on found objects like plastic buckets and cardboard boxes. The entire soundtrack was scored by a band out of Georgia called Manchester Orchestra. The voices that you hear throughout all twenty-four tracks belong to lead actors Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. The resulting music sounds joyous and uplifting and aligns perfectly with the action on screen. Like the very best musical scores, the one used in Swiss Army Man can be felt in every second of action and dialogue contained in the movie, and yet, it is unobtrusive. If this movie can be considered as life, then the soundtrack is its breath. To give you a sense of how unique and glorious this movie powered by flatulence actually is, I am going to stop this post now and ask you to listen to a track from the film called “Montage”. It is not important that you understand the references contained in the middle of the track. What I want is for you to get a sense for how this music makes you feel as you listen to it. There is no story to this song and barely any lyrics, and yet it may just give you goosebumps. If that happens, then this movie is for you. Let’s stop and have a listen to the track called “Montage”. Click here. ***PS: There is no lyrics version because there are no lyrics per se in this song. It is mainly just sounds. Trust me. It is wonderful. Go. Listen.

Hank teaches Manny what happiness looks like.

Without giving too much of the movie away, the story starts on a deserted island with a man named Hank (played by Paul Dano) about to commit suicide by hanging. As he is about to step off of a cooler and hang himself, he opens his eyes one last time and discovers a corpse has washed up onto the beach. That corpse belonged to a man named Manny (played by Daniel Radcliffe). Hank, who wished to see his life unfold before his eyes as he drew his final breath, instead finds himself dealing with a corpse that has the propensity for farting loudly and with great frequency. Hank discovers that Manny’s farts have the power to propel himself through the water so Hank mounts Manny and rides him across the ocean with unbridled joy. What unfolds from this point is a buddy movie, of sorts. Manny comes back to life (Was he ever really dead? Is he actually alive? Is Manny still dead? Is Manny even real?) but does so with the mind of a small child. Hank tries to help him rediscover his identity by teaching him about life. Together, the two men travel together through the forest/jungle in an attempt to get back home, whatever “home” means. Along the way, there is scene after scene of imaginative role-playing, inventive use of found objects (trash) that litter the landscape and instances of personal growth and acceptance and of true, deep-rooted love. The core message of the film is that the path to personal happiness is found through love and acceptance of self. Combine that message with the glory of the music integrated into every scene throughout the entire length of the film and you really have something that will move you and make you look at your life a little differently afterwards.

Manny the corpse serves as a jet ski propelled by the power of his own flatulence as Hank drives him across the sea in an attempt to find “home”.

Dano and Radcliffe are alone on screen for ninety-five percent of this movie and both do a magnificent job of acting. Although Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse, this movie is no Weekend At Bernie’s. It is so much deeper and better than that. If you need a comparable, Swiss Army Man combines the absurdist imagination of a Terry Gilliam movie with the deserted island character study of Tom Hanks in Castaway, combined with a movie like Fight Club but without the bare knuckle brawling. It is a movie about mental illness and depression, love and friendship, a girl on a bus, a bear, a father’s approval, but most of all, it is about finding peace with who you actually are inside and not giving a “toot” what anyone else thinks. I watched Swiss Army Man online through a streaming service called This service was free but contained approximately a half dozen one-minute long “commercial breaks” along the way. It felt like I was watching network television from the old days. The commercials didn’t bother me at all, so if you feel like checking this movie out, you can do so via Tubi. I hope that you do give this film a chance. There are very few like it that I have seen. As bizarre as my post may make it seem to be, Swiss Army Man is easily one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. I loved the story and all of the many layers it contained. I loved the music and how seamlessly it enhanced the emotional storytelling at play. But most of all, I loved how deeply satisfying it was to watch the finale of the film and revel in the beauty of a tremendous reveal. Never has the story of a lonely man and his flatulent corpse friend been better told and enjoyed than in Swiss Army Man. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Swiss Army Man can be found here.

The link to the official website for Manchester Orchestra can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Pretty in Pink by The Psychedelic Furs from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Pretty in Pink…Song #35/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The stories behind the most memorable songs found in Broadway musicals or Hollywood films

Writer-Director, John Hughes

It is really difficult to nitpick at a man like John Hughes. His filmography reads like an honour roll of the best and/or most popular films of the 1980s and 90s. For example, he wrote the script and/or directed all of the following classic films: Uncle Buck, Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and, of course, today’s featured film, Pretty in Pink. Not only did Hughes gain fame for himself as a director, but he also helped to establish the careers of many young Hollywood actors, such as Emilio Estevez, Mare Winningham, Michael Anthony-Hall, Macaulay Culkin, Matthew Broderick, Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald, just to name a few. John Hughes seemed to have a magician’s touch when it came to his ability to present the world of children and teenagers with a sense of realism and respectfulness. Through his films, Hughes was able to touch upon the childhood dream of living a life without rules and then counterbalance it with an exploration of accepting the responsibility for your subsequent actions. He was also able to take us into the world of high school and help us to understand the inner angst that comes from trying to navigate the social world of teenage life. John Hughes’ films were at times funny, action packed and often poignant, too. He is considered one of the most successful directors of the past half century for a reason. So, how did one of his movies…Pretty in Pink…seemingly get so much wrong?! In today’s post we are going to take a closer look at a film that appears to have gotten some of the character relationships wrong, needed a reshoot of the ending and uses a song as its title track that, at first glance, doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the storyline of the film. And yet, Pretty in Pink continues to be held up as a model of what a great teen movie should be. So, get your swim trunks on and come with me as I take a deeper dive into the story of one of the most misunderstood songs and films of all time. This is the story of Pretty in Pink.

For those who may not be familiar with the storyline of Pretty in Pink, here is a quick summary. The movie is set in high school as the annual prom approaches. Molly Ringwald plays a girl named Andie. She has a male friend named Duckie who is played by Jon Cryer. Duckie has feelings for Andie, but she has placed him clearly in the “friend zone”. Instead of returning Duckie’s sincere affection, Andie has her eyes set on a preppy boy named Blane played by Andrew McCarthy. Blane’s best friend is a fellow “richie” named Steff, who is played by James Spader. Steff once asked Andie out and was rebuffed. Since that time, he has made it his mission to mock her at every turn. As the movie plays out, Andie and Blane get together and agree to go to the prom as a couple, but Blane is getting ridden unmercifully by his friend Steff about it and Andie is embarrassed about Blane seeing where she lives, the state of her dress and so on, all because she comes from a lower-class section of town. The contrast between the socio-economic classes that Andie/Duckie come from compared to that which Steff and Blane come from propels the plotline forward and provides most of the dramatic tension of the film. As the movie reaches its climactic scene, those characters whose hearts were true are taken care of nicely, while those in need of a comeuppance get that, too. I won’t give away the ending except to say that when the film was officially released, it left audiences with a satisfied feeling. Thus, the reputation of Pretty in Pink as being a classic in the teen movie genre was born. However, if we go back to how this film even came to be in the first place, you will see that it is a movie that was built upon misconceptions that damaged/helped the career of the band, The Psychedelic Furs, that confused members of the cast and that caused the ending of the movie to have to be re-shot long after production had wrapped up and the actors had moved on to other projects.

The Psychedelic Furs and the somewhat unexpected and unwanted hit they had on their hands.

The movie, itself, was inspired by a song of the same name by one of the original New Wave bands, The Psychedelic Furs. In 1981, the band released an album called Talk, Talk, Talk. On that album was a song called “Pretty in Pink”. Way back in 1981, New Wave, Punk Rock and Alternative were the emerging trends across the western world when it came to music. Bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Tears for Fears, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and many more were what the “cool kids” were listening to. One of those cool kids was a young actress named Molly Ringwald. She had heard the song “Pretty in Pink” at a party. She thought that the song told an interesting story and brought it to director John Hughes to listen to. At the time, Ringwald had completed Sixteen Candles with Hughes and was wrapping up work on The Breakfast Club. As she handed a cassette of the song to Hughes, she remarked that she thought this could be the basis of their next movie together. This is where things begin to get murky. The story goes that Hughes listened to the song that Ringwald gave to him. Apparently, he agreed with her that there was the nugget of a movie contained within the lyrics of this song. So, off he went. When he came back a few weeks later, he had a draft of a script that ended up becoming the movie, Pretty in Pink. The problem with that is the story contained within the lyrics of the song is nothing at all like the story Hughes wrote for the movie. What Hughes ended up doing was akin to listening to a Christmas carol and then writing an Easter movie.

The original version of the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs is about a girl named Caroline. Caroline is a popular girl at school. She is popular, in part, because she is sexually promiscuous. In fact, the phrase “pretty in pink” is actually a derogatory phrase that means that a girl is prettiest to boys when she is pink or naked. Because she is constantly surrounded by the boys at her school, Caroline begins to believe that she is really “all that”. In fact, the boys regard her with disdain because she is such an easy mark, as it were. Behind her back, they are all laughing at her and about her. The song explored the question of who is really controlling the situation. Was it Caroline by taking control of her sexual experiences or was it the boys who were happy to let her believe that she was the one on top, so to speak? The 1981 version that first appeared on The Psychedelic Furs albums was rough and raw and sounded completely in tune with the sound of many other New Wave bands at the time. Through the first half of the 1980s The Psychedelic Furs enjoyed some modest success with songs such as “Love My Way”, “Heaven” and “The Ghost In You”, but they never exploded to the top of the charts the way some other bands did. Consequently, when they were approached by John Hughes about using their song as the title track for his latest movie, there was some sense that what happened to Simple Minds with the song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” for The Breakfast Club movie was about to happen for them with “Pretty in Pink”.

Feeling that their big break was about to happen, the band agreed to lend their song to Hughes for his new movie. Immediately, they were informed that they would have to re-record their song in order to make it “more suitable” for a mass audience. Making the song “more suitable” meant polishing the rough edges off of the song and making it sound more like a Pop song. To their original fan base, going “Pop” was essentially selling out. By opting for a more commercial sound, many fans felt that the band was turning its back on its roots. But, if the members of The Psychedelic Furs had any internal debates about whether to go “commercial” or not with their song, those doubts and debates disappeared in a negative way when they finally were able to watch the movie. When the movie came out and they saw that it had absolutely nothing at all to do with the story they were telling in their song, they felt a sense of betrayal and embarrassment. There is no one named Caroline in the movie. Molly Ringwald’s character is not promiscuous at all. In fact, Ringwald has been quoted as saying that she always felt a great moral responsibility to portray her characters in a certain way because she knew that her onscreen actions would have real-life ramifications for many teenage girls. So, even though the song “Pretty in Pink” is the title track for the movie, it has absolutely nothing to do with what actually transpires on screen. This left The Psychedelic Furs in a precarious position. As predicted, the popularity of the film, along with the success of the movie soundtrack brought a level of attention to the band that they may never have achieved on their own. But, they were left with the dilemma of debating how much they valued their integrity as a band. To their credit, they have publicly disavowed how their song was used in the movie. However, they continue to play the revised version in concert and collect royalties from the song to this very day so…..

Blane, Andie and Duckie

The other aspect of this movie that sits funny is the ending. SPOILER ALERT TIME!!!! If you have never watched the movie and feel that you may wish to as a result of this post, then please stop reading now and begin again at the start of the next paragraph….off you go! Bye for now….ok, good! For those of you still with me, the ending of the movie was problematic for the cast and for test audiences as well. It is a fairly common plot line to have one character seek true love with another all the while not realizing that the one who truly loves them is the quiet “friend”-type who has been there all along and who the original character has never thought of in that way. Well, there were many who felt that Andie and Duckie were meant to find each other while the prom unfolded at the end of the movie and, in fact, that was the original ending. Initially, the closing scene had Andie and Blane having a falling out and Duckie showing up at just the opportune time to allow her to finally see that he was the one for her all along and that the preppy boy was never her true match. However, when test audiences watched the film, they were dismayed that Andie never got to be with the one that she wanted all along. So, months after production had wrapped, the final scenes were reshot and the movie now had a happy ending for Andie and Blane. In order to not leave Duckie heartbroken, a new love interest was provided for him at the last second as a bystander emerged from a crowd and asked him to dance. Because his love for Andie was true, he now let her leave for her beloved while he turned to this new girl and went with her. That is how Pretty in Pink ends in the version that most people saw in theatres and in their homes on their VCRs or on DVD.

In many ways, the dilemma over the way the movie ended is exactly what the original song by The Psychedelic Furs was about. Pretty in Pink (the movie) and “Pretty in Pink” (the original song) both pivot on the central idea of which character is getting to control the narrative. In both the song and the movie, when the story is told from the woman’s perspective, the woman gets what she wants in the end. When the story is told from the perspective of the men in the story, the men get what they want at the expense of what the woman may have really wanted deep down inside. So, even though the lyrics of the song and the script of the movie have their great differences, the central idea of allowing the story of the female character to be told in the end is what helped make the movie and the song both resonate so much at the time. John Hughes passed in 2009, so he is not around to shed any light upon the decision-making that went into his film. So, it is left to us to debate whether or not he knew all along that he was going for a figurative retelling of the song handed to him by Molly Ringwald instead of a literal retelling. Perhaps it is a case that he made a mess of things and did his best to straighten everything out in the end, which many believe he managed to do. Regardless of which take you believe, the decisions that John Hughes made along the way had consequences for many who were involved in the project.

For Jon Cryer (as Duckie), he didn’t have the big romantic lead breakout role he envisioned, which, in many ways, lead to his casting as Allan, the unlucky in love sidekick to suave Charlie Sheen’s character in the TV show, Two and a Half Men. The Psychedelic Furs had to deal with the problem of their most commercially successful song always being a version that was never their original intent and which seemed to portray the band in a way that alienated them from their fan base. As mentioned earlier, their response was to swallow their pride and accept the push to their careers provided for them by the magical hand of John Hughes. Molly Ringwald deserves credit for her taste in music back in the day. Without that, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time would never have seen the light of day. As for her career, that trio of John Hughes movies was the apex of her time in the Hollywood spotlight. But, having said that, Ringwald has had steady work over the years in all sorts of projects ranging from being the voice of Darla on the animated children’s show Doc McStuffins, to appearing as a cast member on the show Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, to making a star turn on the recent mini-series about the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In the end, I guess that the world of Pretty in Pink did a pretty good job of capturing the ins and outs and the ups and downs of life. Perhaps, instead of nitpicking at a man like John Hughes, he is actually deserving of much credit for a job well done.

The link to the video for the original version of “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs can be found here. ***The lyrics video is here.

The link to the video for the song “Pretty in Pink” by The Psychedelic Furs as used in the movie, Pretty in Pink, can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.

The link to the video for the entire official soundtrack to the movie Pretty in Pink can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Psychedelic Furs can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim from the Original Cast Recording of Sunday in the Park with George…Song #34/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The stories behind the most memorable songs from Broadway and Hollywood.

In music, it is customary to refer to musicians or bands in terms of the genre of music they play. For example, if you went to a Black Sabbath concert you probably heard a style of music called Heavy Metal. If you went to see Tammy Wynette perform when she was alive then you, no doubt, heard Country music played. If you went today to a Cardi B. show, I am sure that Hip Hop would be on the menu. While most musicians are capable of performing in a wide range of styles, we often associate them with a certain brand or a style. The same holds true for artists who paint. Rembrandt had a certain style when it came to his portraiture work. The faces of his subjects would be clearly in light while the background would often be so dark as to be almost black. Vincent Van Gogh was known for the short, feather-like paint strokes he filled his paintings with. His brush stroke style is one of the most characteristic traits he had as an artist. This brings us to a painter who you may or may not have heard of named Georges Seurat. Georges Seurat is an artist who has become the poster boy for a style of art called pointillism. Pointillism is a style of painting in which the artist creates whole images by making a series of very small point-like marks on the canvas. The idea is similar to the way we view pixels on a screen. Pointillism works because the artist knows the viewer will not view the individual dots or points on the canvas but will, instead look at the totality of the image the points create in the mind’s eye, much as we look at a screen and see whole images as opposed to individual pixels. Georges Seurat is the most well known practitioner of pointillism. His most famous painting that employs this technique is called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (which you can see at the top of this post).

25th April 1985, American composer Stephen Sondheim, left, and playwright James Lapine pose in front of the marquee of the Booth Theatre on 45th Street, New York City, where their Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical, ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ is playing. (Photo by Sara Krulwich/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

The story of today’s song begins with this very painting. One day a writer named James Lapine was visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and happened upon Seurat’s painting. He found the painting to be captivating. As he studied the scene before him, two things popped into his head: 1- he noticed that the many people who were incorporated into the scene were all looking away from each other. Not one single person in the park was interacting with another. They were all a collection of individuals in a group setting, all staring off into the distance. 2- Lapine noticed that Seurat, himself, was not represented in the painting. The longer Lapine stood before A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the more he found the painting speaking to him about the artist, Georges Seurat. As a result, Lapine decided to look more into the life of Georges Seurat. In doing so, Lapine believed that a special story was waiting to be told. So he wrote a story treatment that he called Sunday in the Park with George. This story was not a biography in the true sense of that genre but was a fictionalized account of the artist and his life. James Lapine was a frequent collaborator on Broadway with Stephen Sondheim. After showing Sondheim his story about Seurat, Sondheim agreed that it was a tale worth telling. So the pair adapted Lapine’s work for the stage, with Sondheim creating the music and song lyrics. In 1985, Sunday in the Park with George debuted on Broadway. It ended up winning two Tony Awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Mandy Patinkin as George and Bernadette Peters as Dot from the original cast of Sunday in the Park with George.

The story that Sunday in the Park with George tells is essentially about the vision that people have about their life and how they wish it to unfold. The play centers upon the two main characters of George (painter Georges Seurat) and his mistress, Dot. The short strokes of the story are that Dot has agreed to be George’s mistress because she admires his skill as an artist. However, Dot has dreams that go beyond merely being a mistress to a successful man. She envisions a fully-formed life with George. Dot wishes for romance and attention and fame-by-association. However, the very thing she admires most about George…his skill as a painter…is the one thing that makes such a union impossible. George is such a successful artist because he has skills, for sure, but more, because he is driven to perfection. He has set impossibly high standards for his art and therefore, never feels as though he is ever truly finished with his work. Thus, he works tirelessly on each painting, devoting all of his being toward the canvas and never toward Dot. When the play debuted on Broadway, Mandy Patinkin played George and Bernadette Peters played Dot. At a certain point as the story unfolds, the audience begins to sense that both parties have different desires and priorities. This sense of foreboding is confirmed in a song entitled “Finishing the Hat”. As the song is sung, George has promised to take Dot out on the town. Dot is very excited because she believes her dreams of the two of them becoming a real couple may be about to happen. But as the scene goes on, we see that George cannot seem to pull himself away from his painting because he needs to “finish the hat” on one of the character’s heads. However, the audience soon comes to learn that George can never actually finish the hat because of his perfectionist nature. He will never be fully satisfied with the hat he is painting and therefore, he can never leave his easel. In time, as this scene unfolds, Dot comes to recognize that she will always be second to his art in George’s mind. “Finishing the Hat” is a simple song about a small moment in the lives of two people, but, like all good art, it captures a much deeper and more profound layer of emotion and meaning between them. It may be a song about painting a hat, but in the end it is a song about dreams dying and love ending in a way that both people seem powerless to stop.

There is no other hand I wish to hold.

Sunday in the Park with George is a musical in two acts. The storyline involving George and Dot ends with the conclusion of Act One. Many people feel that the musical could have ended there, too. However, Act Two opens two generations later and focuses upon George’s grandson. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you how it all wraps up, but I will say that generational trauma takes many forms, and if you ever go to watch this musical being performed, you will be able to recognize George in Act Two because of some of the behaviours and attitudes possessed by his grandson. Whether the grandson has better luck with finding a balance between love and his career is something that you will have to discover for yourself. As many of us understand, it isn’t always easy to strike that perfect balance between having a successful career, a loving relationship with someone, raising a family and so on. Some people equate balance with mediocrity and feel that to be successful requires uncompromising commitment and drive. At the end of the day, the question this musical really asks is what do you value most in life and are you prepared for the costs associated with experiencing that version of your dream life? For me, I have chosen love and I have chosen my family. I will probably never make the best seller lists with my writing because I am more than willing to “finish the hat” as it were and move on to spend time with those I love and hold dear. A long time ago I was like Dot and George were at the beginning of the musical. I had a clear vision of what was important to me in life and what I considered to be the true measure of that success. I wanted to be a father and I wanted a hand to hold as I grew older. I have been blessed to have had both parts of my dream come true. I can’t imagine how different life would be if, early on in our courting days, I had turned my back on Keri because I had a novel to write that I just couldn’t seem to finish. We all make our choices in life. In the musical, George chooses his art. In real life, I chose family and true love. I’m OK with my choices. I hope that Georges Seurat was OK with his choices in his own life, as well.

The link to the video for the song “Finishing the Hat” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Sunday in the Park with George can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the Musical Sunday in the Park with George can be found here.

The link to the Art Institute of Chicago, where Seurat’s famous painting is on display, can be found here.

The link to the official website for artist Georges Seurat can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Truman Sleeps by Philip Glass from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, “The Truman Show…Song #33/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

In my previous post concerning The Big Lebowski, I mentioned that the movies I find most interesting are ones that make me think and that have a quirky element to them. Today’s cinematic selection is a perfect example of what I was talking about. The Truman Show was released in 1998 and starred Jim Carrey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris in the main roles. Originally written as a science fiction movie about alternate realities, The Truman Show is most noted for accurately predicting the reality TV show trend that would come to dominate the airwaves in the decades since. It also predicted our fascination with social media and living our lives in the spotlight’s glare, even if it is just to share photos of our cats on Caturday each week. Much like how The Big Lebowski was made, The Truman Show is a movie told in layers. It is the attention to detail that helps to elevate this movie from merely being good to being a great film. One of the keys to understanding the organizational structure of the storyline is by how music is used throughout the film. So, grab your popcorn, put your cell phone on silent and get ready to learn all about one of the most thought-provoking films of the last quarter century, The Truman Show.

Seahaven, Florida

In the movie, Jim Carrey plays a man named Truman Burbank. Truman has lived his entire life in the idyllic community of Seahaven, Florida. Everything is perfect in Seahaven. All of the homes are neatly painted and have manicured lawns and small gardens in the front. Everyone who lives in Seahaven is friendly and neighbourly. Truman has grown up surrounded by love and the friendship of many other children. He has found love and gotten married (to Meryl, as played by Laura Linney). He has a good job. His colleagues are all pleasant. The weather is consistently good most days, only raining when the “lawn needs a drink”. The only thing about life that has created a bit of an empty space in Truman’s heart is that he had always wanted to travel and seek adventure. But, no matter how hard he tries, who he talks to about it or where he turns for help, he is always told that he is best off staying exactly where he is in Seahaven, Florida. Eventually, as Truman settles into adulthood, he begins questioning certain aspects of his life. SPOILER ALERT!!! At a certain point, he begins to realize that something is actually wrong with the people in Seahaven, which leads him to attempt a dramatic escape from there to anywhere else beyond the limits of his town. This escape attempt leads him to learn that Seahaven isn’t actually a real place. It is a television studio set and that his entire life has been staged for television audiences and controlled by a director named Christof (played by Ed Harris). Everyone he thought he knew…his parents, his childhood friends, his wife, his work colleagues, his neighbours, the citizens of Seahaven…were all paid actors! Everything he thought was real was revealed as being fake. Every aspect of his life was a lie. And now, at the end of the film, Truman has learned the first real, true thing in his life, and it leaves him shattered and disappointed, and yet he is now free, so those emotions are at play as well.

Behind the scenes, Philip Glass plays the piano while Ed Harris caresses the onscreen face of a sleeping Truman, whose face was airing “live” on TV.

When you watch the movie The Truman Show, you are really watching a play within a play. We are a movie audience who, in turn, are watching other people (a television audience) watching characters on a TV show. The entire storyline is built upon a foundation of how we perceive reality. What is real and what is fake, and how can we be sure that we know the difference? Twenty years before a reality TV star named Donald Trump cried about “fake news” and successfully blurred the lines of what the media promotes as news, The Truman Show was taking us behind the scenes and showing us how easy it was to trick people into investing their hearts and minds into something that was manipulative and phony in all regards. Not long after The Truman Show aired, Fox TV aired one of the very first reality shows entitled The Joe Schmo Show which was a Big Brother-style competition set in a house in which all of the competitors competing for a prize turned out to be actors and only one person….Joe Schmo…turned out to be really playing the game. From there, we had the debut of Survivor, Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Real Housewives series, The Kardashians and so on. All of these shows are completely staged and totally fake, and yet we have willingly become that audience shown in The Truman Show. We are no longer one step removed, as we were as a film audience for a movie. Now our perception of real life comes to us from staged shows and from social media “friends” we have never met and from online influencers who act as the new “Christofs” of our time.

When we watched the actual movie in 1998, the producers knew that they had to let audiences in on the secret of what was going on. We weren’t just seeing the movie unfold in Seahaven through Truman’s eyes, we were shown the television control room where Christof presided over Truman’s world. We saw the building facades. We listened as the television director voiced instructions to the onscreen actors. We knew what Truman didn’t know. What helped us to be able to differentiate between the movie we were watching and the fake television show being aired within the movie was how music was used throughout the entire film. The Truman Show movie employed two different composers named Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz. These two composers were tasked with the job of using music to create two versions of reality. So one composer (Burkhard Dallwitz) wrote music for the onscreen, in-movie “TV show”. His compositions tended to reflect the inner emotions of what the character of Truman was feeling or experiencing at any given moment in the reality show that was his life. Philip Glass, on the other hand, composed the music used in scenes in which we, as a film audience, are taken into the confidence of the movie’s producers and allowed to know that we are watching a play within a play. One of the most touching of Philip Glass’ compositions was one entitled “Truman Sleeps”. It is an instrumental composition that is played as we watch Christof, in the control booth, watching Truman sleep in his bed. The scene is relatively short, but it allows us, as an audience, to realize that even though Christof has dedicated his life to manipulating the existence of another human being, he still possesses an ounce of humanity because we can clearly see that he has come to care for Truman based on his actions while Truman sleeps (much in the same way that a parent lovingly looks in on a sleeping child at night).

Because he was constantly being observed in real life, Jim Carrey felt that he understood the character of Truman Burbank.

The Truman Show was a major career turning point for Jim Carrey. Leading up to this film, Carrey had starred in a series of comic hits including The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. He had gone from being a comedian on television to a major Hollywood movie star. He was making millions of dollars per movie and was living a pretty wild life at the time. However, Jim Carrey was always more of a cerebral guy than he was being given credit for. While his career was exploding, and he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he agreed to play Truman Burbank for one particular reason. Having read the script prior to signing on to join the cast, Carrey knew how the movie was going to end for Truman. Carrey understood that the adulation, the talk show appearances, the social media gossip, the paparazzi…all of it, was making his own life not that much different from the staged world inhabited by Truman Burbank. So, Carrey decided to pull a “Truman” and opted away from the bigger budget movies going forward. His next movie was another quirky movie called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Carrey was now a dramatic actor. He felt freer to follow his heart and be who he really wanted to be…just like Truman Burbank did, too.

I will close by relating a discussion my wife and I had on the weekend. Like many people in the world, there was a time in our relationship when there was no social media. When we first met, if we wanted to know how someone was doing, we picked up the phone, we wrote a letter or we went for a visit. Since 2007, when I joined Facebook (Keri signed on a few years later), we have been immersed in the social media scene. In the past year, I have begun to deal with my own social media addiction by deleting my Twitter account. I used to have an Instagram account, too. Both are now gone. This past weekend, my wife and I talked about the news that Facebook may start charging to use its service. We agreed that if/when that time comes, we will say goodbye to Facebook, too. As part of that discussion, we both agreed that since we were actually able to maintain friendships with real people prior to the introduction of social media into our lives, that we assumed the same would be true for us in a social media-free world, too. That social media has become so integrated with our version of what real life is all about says a lot about how fully we have been pulled into the world portrayed in The Truman Show. I have lots of online friends that I chat with and support with my words. However, I would probably not be able to recognize most, if any, of them if they sat beside me on the bus. I have never heard the sound of their voice. I have never shaken their hand or had a hug. Are they real people or have they been computer-generated entities all along? I would like to say that I know the answer to that question, but do I? Truman Burbank didn’t know the answer to that question until the very last moments of the film. Then he walked away into a completely new and uncertain future. Perhaps that is what awaits all of us, too. Good luck with your decision-making process as your boat hits a wall that you always believed was sky.

The link to the video for the composition “Truman Sleeps” by Philip Glass can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Truman Show can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post shall remain the sole property of the author. No portion of thispost shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film The Big Lebowski…Song #32/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

When people ask me about what kind of movies I like to watch, I never reply with a genre like horror or comedy or drama, instead I always reply with a single word, “quirky”. I like movies that are slightly askew when it comes to the storyline. I appreciate being challenged to piece together what is actually happening as a movie unfolds. I enjoy mulling over the implications of what I have just watched long after the final scene has ended and I am alone again with my thoughts in the dark. Movies that flip convention on their ear such as Memento, Alien or Apocalypse Now are favourite movies of mine for this reason. I have watched each movie multiple times and still am finding new details or filming techniques that give me pause to think.

Another favourite film that falls into this category of being unique and highly original is Barton Fink. This movie was my introduction to the cinematic creativity of the Coen Brothers. Without going into too much detail, Barton Fink was a movie filled with contradictions that caused me, as a viewer, to question whether what I was seeing on screen was real or not. The contradictions were integrated everywhere into the fabric of the movie. The attention to detail by the Coen Brothers impressed me. This movie starred John Turturro and John Goodman which, in turn, introduced me to the fact that the Coen Brothers like to work with a familiar company of actors because in today’s movie, The Big Lebowski, Turturro and Goodman play prominent roles again. As with just about all Coen Brothers movies, The Big Lebowski defies convention when it comes to plot structure and character arcs. Most importantly, The Big Lebowski is built upon a foundation of contradictions and misdirections. The Coen Brothers don’t even attempt to hide the fact that they are deceiving you. Here is a simple example: Jeff Bridges is the star of the movie. His character’s name is Jeffrey Lebowski, but everyone calls him “The Dude”. If you were to conduct a Google search for this movie, I am certain that you would find movie posters or stills from various scenes that all show Jeff Bridges. All of these images would lay beneath the movie title of The Big Lebowski. So, you have the star of the movie playing a character named Lebowski smiling from beneath a title that says The Big Lebowski, which would lead one to the conclusion that Jeff Bridges’ character IS The Big Lebowski…but, he is not. The real “Big Lebowski” is someone else in the movie. The confusion over the identity of which Lebowski is which is the plot device used to start the action in the movie. But, if The Big Lebowski movie title isn’t actually referring to the “Big Lebowski” character, then what else about the movie is being made to seem obvious and upfront but is actually fake or a conman’s shell game? As it turns out, much of the movie is that way.

When The Big Lebowski premiered, it did so to mixed audience reviews. Part of the reason for this was that audiences were confused by the storyline. However, what this movie really needed was time. In the decades since its release, The Big Lebowski has become one of those movies known as a “cult classic”. One of the reasons that it has dramatically improved its popularity with movie goers is that people have had the time to study the film, peel back the layers of deceptions that are everywhere and discover the thematic truths that pin the whole premise of the movie together. So, let me illustrate the length the Coen Brothers went to in order to build a world riddled with deception. I will do so by talking about how music is used in two iconic scenes from the movie. At the end of the post, I will give my take on what I think The Big Lebowski is actually about, and we can see if you agree or disagree.

John Turturro….your own personal Jesus!

Scene one tends to be known as the “Bowling with Jesus” scene. Bowling plays a central role in the movie. In this scene, we discover that The Dude, his friend Walter (John Goodman) and their friend Donnie (Steve Buscemi) are on a team in a league tournament. We meet a rival team led by a man named Jesus (John Turturro, in a scenery-chewing scene if there ever was one). The contradictions start right away. In Southern California there is a strong Spanish influence based on its geographic proximity to Mexico. Almost every man named “Jesus” who lives there pronounces his name the Spanish way, with an “h” sound for the “J”, which causes the name to be pronounced in English as “Hay-seuss”. In this scene, Turturro plays a man who pronounces his name as if he was the Son of God. Unlike the biblical character, Turturro is a foul-mouthed convicted pedophile who talks tough to The Dude and his friends but who never actually does anything to back up his words. While Turturro struts in front of Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi, the song “Hotel California” written by The Eagles plays in the background. However, this version is a cover in Spanish by the band The Gipsy Kings. So, let me peel back the layers of deception that The Coen Brothers have built into this one scene by using this one song as they have, which again, I repeat, only plays in the background.

The Gipsy Kings

First of all, I am going to start with the assumption that you know the original version of this great song. (If not, click here to read a previous post about it). The Eagles are synonymous with the West Coast/California sound that took hold during the 1970s. But did you know that none of the original members of the lineup were actually from California. All were midwest boys who came to California in search of the mythical west coast laid back lifestyle. The song “Hotel California” is about the lifestyle they found themselves in once they started playing music there. It concerns addictions and false friendships and losing touch with the real world as it was once known. All throughout The Big Lebowski, there is a running gag in which The Dude hates on The Eagles because he views them as a fake California/fake rock n’ roll band. And yet, there is their biggest hit playing in the background of this iconic confrontation at the bowling alley. But wait, the layers of deception deepen further. The version used in the movie is sung in Spanish by The Gipsy Kings. The Gipsy Kings are an internationally known flamenco band who are not Spanish at all, but who actually come from France! So, in this one minor background moment, you have a French band that is often taken for being Spanish singing a song that is not their own about living a fake lifestyle as experienced by musicians in The Eagles who are not from California but are often credited with being one of the main bands that drove the momentum for the California sound back in the day. Now that is commitment to detail on the part of The Coen Brothers.

Here is just part of the set for the elaborate “Gutterball Dream Sequence”.

The second scene that illustrates this point is called “The Gutterball Dream Sequence”. On the surface, this scene starts when The Dude passes out after having consumed a spiked White Russian drink and evolves into a send-off of the old Busby Berkeley musical dance scenes from the 1940s and 50s. However, as always with The Coen Brothers, there is much more going on than meets the eye, and it all starts with a layer of musical duplicity compliments of The Gambler, himself, Mr. Kenny Rogers. In this fantasy scene, Jeff Bridges finds himself in a heavenly bowling alley filled with scantily-clad beautiful women whose costumes all have something to do with bowling. One of the women there turns out to be Julianne Moore, who plays the sister of the man who actually is The Big Lebowski in the movie. She is someone that The Dude is attracted to but who, so far, has completely rebuffed him in the film. However, in this drug-induced dream, The Dude teaches her how to bowl.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition

Throughout this dream sequence, we hear the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition. When this song was first released in the mid-1960s, it was believed that it was a song about the dangers of LSD. It was also a song that stood out for the band because it was a psychedelic rock song at a time when The First Edition was mainly known for folk and country music. But again, let me peel back the layers of deception that form the foundation of this movie scene. The First Edition was composed of members who mainly came from another well known band called The New Christy Minstrels. The New Christy Minstrels were a band that was inspired by a 1940s act called The Christy Minstrels, which was a group that performed in blackface. The New Christy Minstrels formed in 1960 and were meant to be a side project, mainly for session singers, as a way for them all to earn a few dollars while waiting for other projects to appear. On their debut album, they covered the famous Woody Guthrie tune “This Land Is My Land”, which unexpectedly became a hit for them. The record label who had released the album demanded that they go on tour to promote the single. Suddenly, this band, which really wasn’t a band, had to quickly become one. Many of the original members of The New Christy Minstrels dropped out because touring wasn’t something they had signed on for when they recorded the album. Thus, over the next few years, numerous members were added and deleted as time went on. Some of those members who quit went on to form The Byrds or, like Kim Carnes, to have a Grammy Award winning solo career or, as in the case of Kenny Rogers, drop out with several other New Christy Minstrels and form a new band called The First Edition. As many of you will know, Kenny Rogers emerged from The First Edition the same way that Diana Ross became the face of The Supremes. Soon the band was called Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, which had hits such as “Reuben James” and “Don’t Take Your Love To Town”. Again, like Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers eventually became a solo artist with dozens of chart-topping hits and Grammy Awards to his name. So, in this movie scene from The Big Lebowski, you have The Dude dreaming of sharing the thing he loves most (bowling) with the woman he desires most (Julianne Moore) all the while a song plays by a band who came from a band that was inspired by blackface actors pretending to be people they were not, all the while singing a song about the dangers of drugs in a musical style that was unusual for them in the whole course of their history.

It is a time, no doubt.

The Big Lebowski is a movie that has transcended Hollywood. In the time since its initial release, The Big Lebowski has become studied and analyzed by academics of all subject areas from Feminist Studies, to English Literature, to Economics and History, too. There are yearly conventions in which academic papers are presented and debated as to the underlying message The Coen Brothers were attempting to give with this movie. The Coen Brothers have stated that they were only creating a comedic send-up of Raymond Chandler-esque film noir movies. But I took a different message from it. I think the main message of The Big Lebowski is about masculinity in these times of ours. Throughout the movie, the male characters are presented in ways that give viewers distinct versions of what being a man is like. The Dude is passive and avoids conflict and only seeks to bowl and get his rug replaced. His friend Walter is a Gulf War vet who presents as a right wing, hardcore rules enforcer for others but not for him. Their other friend, Donnie, represents those faceless, voiceless people whose opinion is never asked for nor is it respected if it happens to be given. Jesus turns out to be like those “Karens” of the world who threaten and shout down others to hide their own emotional deficiencies and lack of life successes. The Big Lebowski turns out to be a millionaire who measures his self worth in the form of the pretty/shiny things he surrounds himself with, including a trophy wife, but who, at his core, remains unhappy. There is also a mobster who is a porn movie director who spends his days making movies about fake intimacy that go straight to video when all he wants is to be a real filmmaker and tell real stories again. None of these men are truly happy nor feel complete. So, what is the nature of being a man? How does the answer to that question impact the women in their lives, as well as people of other races, religions and ethnic backgrounds that they come into contact with? I will leave the answer to that question to Sam Elliott, who stars as The Cowboy, an all-wise, all-knowing man who appears throughout the movie to offer clarity and point us in the right direction. He ends the film with his thoughts on this matter and on the story as a whole. All that I know for sure is that I have watched The Big Lebowski and thought it was a take on the state of masculinity in our world. But, I could be wrong and it is simply a comedy about a man whose rug gets peed on in a wacky case of mistaken identity. Therefore, let the hijinks ensue!

If you have watched this movie, what is your take? I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer to that question. In any case, I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment box below. Have a wonderful day. Thanks for reading my words. I appreciate your presence on my blog.

The link to the video for the “Bowling with Jesus” scene featuring the Spanish version of “Hotel California” as sung by The Gypsy Kings can be found here. ***Please note, NSFW.

The link to the video for the “Gutterball Dream Sequence” scene featuring the song “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by The First Edition can be found here. ***Again, viewer discretion advised.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie The Big Lebowski can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Music of the Night from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical The Phantom of the Opera…Song #31/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

If I were to conduct a survey that asked random participants to name any three to five musicals that they have heard of, I am willing to place a very large wager that The Phantom of the Opera would easily be one of the top responses. Opening on Broadway in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera has gone on to become the longest running musical in Broadway history with well over 10,000 performances. In London’s West End, it is the second-longest running musical after Mousetrap. Phantom has worldwide sales of over 6 billion dollars, trailing only The Lion King in that regard. It has won every conceivable award including Best Musical, Best Actor (Michael Crawford), Best Set Design, Best Director (Harold Prince), Best Musical Score (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Best Costume Design, Best Lighting…you name it, The Phantom of the Opera has won it. Beyond any debate, it is one of the most popular and successful musicals ever created anywhere in the world. Here is the story of The Phantom of the Opera.

The smash hit musical Phantom of the Opera is based upon a 1910 book of the same name by French writer Gaston Leroux. His book was, in fact, inspired by a mid-1800s German opera called Der Freischutz or “The Marksman”, which is considered to be Germany’s first romantic opera. The original opera centered around a love triangle that involved hunters and marksmanship and “magic bullets”, one of which was cursed by a spurned lover named Kaspar. In the end, the “evil” final bullet that was intended to be fired via trickery into the heart of a woman named Agathe by her true lover Max ends up deflecting into the body of the nasty Kaspar, who dies and is cast away to reside in the underworld. Max and Agathe fall in love and get to live happily ever after. In his book, The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux took this storyline and changed the setting to be the Paris Opera House. But, he took great pains to keep the vital love triangle intact. Instead of a shooting contest being the mechanism that moves the story along, Leroux set his story on the opera house stage and had it revolve around the world of musical performance. His book was well received at the time and spawned a popular movie version that starred Lon Chaney in the 1920s and another in the 1940s that starred Claude Rains as The Phantom.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber

However, it was the magical touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber that launched this well-known tale into the stratosphere of cultural consciousness when he sought to adapt Leroux’s literary work for the stage. By the time Webber got around to thinking about turning The Phantom of the Opera into a musical, he was already one of the most successful creators of musicals in the world, having previously launched Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and Starlight Express on Broadway and the West End. The songs for the new musical were written by Richard Stilgoe (who wrote the songs for Starlight Express), along with Charles Hart. Andrew Lloyd Webber then created a musical score that was, at times, more operatic than purely a musical. In this way, he was able to tip his creative hat toward past geniuses of opera such as Mozart and Puccini. Much of this was done via the creation of a play-within-a-play, which occurs during the second half of the musical when The Phantom’s own musical, Don Juan Triumphant, is used as the vehicle that brings the story to its riveting conclusion. Overall, Webber felt the time was right for a huge romantic musical and he was correct. The ending of The Phantom of the Opera has gone on to form part of the western world’s idea of what true love and selflessness really look like in action. The Phantom, himself, has gone on to be viewed as the archetypal anti-hero for movies, literature and musicals that have followed in The Phantom of the Opera’s wake.

Michael Crawford (as The Phantom) and Sarah Brightman (as Christine)

Without giving away the plot and ending of the musical for those who haven’t seen it and may wish to after reading this post, let me simply say this about the storyline…Andrew Lloyd Webber has successfully created his own love triangle on stage featuring the disfigured anti-hero known as The Phantom, a beautiful understudy named Christine and her childhood friend and true love, Raoul. And just like how the ending of Der Freishutz plays out, in Webber’s musical The Phantom has set a series of traps that will seemingly lead one true lover to hurt or cause the death of the other. In the climactic closing scene, Christine first and then the Phantom, soon thereafter, both make decisions from the heart that cause the storyline to veer off into the stars and cause the musical to veer away from being a morality play (as the original opera tended to be) and steer toward becoming one of the most romantic stories ever told on stage by anyone. There is a reason that The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running musical of all time. That reason is love.

The score of the musical had two big songs that rose above the rest and they were the theme song, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and today’s song choice, “The Music of the Night”. Both tunes first appear toward the end of Act #1. “The Music of the Night” is sung by The Phantom. At this point in the story, he has kidnapped Christine and taken her to his lair below the opera house. As he sings, he appears to exhibit many facets of his personality at once: he is scary, unpredictable, and yet tender and loving, too. For many people, it was Michael Crawford’s performance during this song that won him the Best Actor awards on both sides of the ocean. Not many actors could pull off that delicate balance that exists between madness and love but Crawford did, as you shall soon see when you click on the link to the song below.

That time The Phantom came to town.

I will close this post by betraying my age a bit. I spent much of my adult life living in and around the city of Toronto. Toronto has played an important part of the story of this musical. Initially, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted The Phantom of the Opera to premiere in Toronto. But, untold “political pressures” caused the premiere to be held on the Great White Way in NYC. But that didn’t stop The Phantom of the Opera from eventually coming to Toronto and having a long, multi-year run. For most of that run, Colm Wilkinson played the role of The Phantom to great acclaim. But what I remember most about it is the marketing campaign for the musical and how it became interwoven into the cultural identity of the city. The tagline of the campaign was spoken in the deep, dulcet tones of The Phantom, who simply implored us all to Buy Phantom by phone. As long as The Phantom spoke out over the airwaves and in print in newspapers, on billboards and in magazines, we were always part of his world. Rarely has a fictional character managed to become so intertwined with the identity of a place as did The Phantom with the city of Toronto. In the end, I truly believe that The Phantom of the Opera was as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was a musical. Andrew Lloyd Webber helped to create something that has transcended the boundaries of the stage and has become part of all of our lives. Whether or not we ever bought a ticket to see this musical in person, we all know some aspect of this show in the same way that we all know of Hamlet or Elvis or Star Wars in some way, too. It is rare when a story becomes more than just a story but that is certainly the case for all involved in The Phantom of the Opera. Take a bow, everyone! You are all part of something that you can be very proud of. Well done, all! The stage is yours.

The link to the video for the song “The Music of the Night” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical The Phantom of the Opera can be found here. ***The lyric video is here.

The link to the official website for The Phantom of the Opera can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber can be found here.

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