Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seventy-six trombones...

Well, I did do one thing kind of special for the Fourth.

(Minor spoilers ahead, but I suspect most people have either seen some version of the movie/play or, if they haven't, wouldn't care too much about spoilers...)

I watched "The Music Man." (The original version, the one with Shirley Jones and Robert Preston). I love the movie; it's got to be among my favorites. I remember being mildly obsessed with it when I was about 16 - I taped it off of the television (I think they ran it on the local PBS channel) and I watched it over and over again.

Part of it is that it's good and funny. But part of it is that I think I represents the sort of fantasy-world I would like to escape to, especially the sort I would have liked to escape to at 16. Things are a lot simpler. The 1912 Iowa of the movie is all pastel candy colors. Girls are only expected to give up a "kiss" on their third date (true, there are subtexts galore in the movie - some of which I see now at 39, but at 16 I was a lot more innocent, and I was able to sort of willfully ignore the fact that traveling salesmen did more than 'kiss' the girls they visited in all those towns). There are "sociables." People randomly break into song and dance. It seems a happier world - a simpler world.

I think perhaps I was drawn to the small-town River City because I was growing up in a small town, but one that, by the 1980s, had lost a lot of the community things that made it nice - when I was a small kid, there was a summertime ice-cream social where people actually brought cakes and pies, but that went by the wayside at some point because of concerns about food-safety and who-knows-what-they-might-put-in-that-cake. And also, I think I was beginning to recognize that the world was a bigger place than I had thought, and a more dangerous place, and that it was actually pretty hard to find friends or even kindred spirits at times.

But in 1912 River City, it seemed simpler and perhaps kinder.

Everything is kind of pre-ordained: you know that even though "Harold" Hill (whose name is, apparently, really "Greg") starts out as a rounder, he is going to actually fall in love with the girl (who he originally intended only to exploit) and some miracle is going to occur so that he won't actually have cheated the townspeople out of their money.

And at the very end of the movie, you can imagine "Greg" thinking, that for the first time in his life, he's done something worthwhile, and heck, he might as well abandon that old persona and BECOME Harold Hill and stay there and marry the librarian and....well, I'm not sure how he'd manage to make a living but at least that's what I imagine - that he finds some honest employment and marries Marian and settles down, but that the town is better for his presence.

Part of the fun of the movie is the townspeople. Some of the casting seems pretty near perfect to me- Paul Ford as the bloviating small-town mayor, Hermione Gingold as his "I'm bringing Cult-Char to this town if it kills me" wife (who of course expects to be referred to by her full name). All of the "pick a little" ladies.

I will say there's one moment in the movie where, now that I over-think some things, I was a bit uncomfortable with how close it comes to modern attitudes. This is almost at the end - where "Professor" Hill has been caught and handcuffed and is being subject to a sort of kangaroo court. And the marching band (in their new uniforms) march in, and they line up. And Marian encourages Hill (still handcuffed) to lead the band.

And they try to play that Beethoven minuet. And they are TERRIBLE. But then, parents start jumping up and exclaiming, "That's my boy!" and the like - the parents are entranced by their kids' playing, no matter how bad it is, how off-key or off-time. And while I suppose parents have always been such, it seems to me a bit uncomfortably close to the "Everyone's a Winner!" high-esteem mentality. Or at least it does to me, perhaps because I deal with the aftereffects of kids going through the "Everyone's a Winner!" programs on a more-or-less regular basis.

(But whatever, it's redeemed by the "magical" transformation right afterwards - where the dingy uniforms become new and spiffy, and the instruments become fresh and new and the kids can actually play them).

But there's sort of an innocence to the world of the film (even despite the traveling-salesmen and the jokes about going-steady-and-we'd-rather-do-it-behind-her-father's-back). And there are the soft colors and the music and the edges of things seem softer, somehow. And it makes for a nice escape.


Dave said...

On the 4th a friend of mine launched into reciting the Gettysburg Address, just to show that he hadn't forgotten it since school days, and right away I thought of Mayor Shinn's (Paul Ford's) repeated attempts to do the same which rarely got beyond "Forescore..."

You're right, Ricki. It's a wonderful movie. I never get tired of it, and it represents an America that we suspect is idealized but basically used to be, and which we wish we could bring back. I suppose one problem today, among others, would be the inevitable objections to a "boys band" that excluded girls. The assumption circa 1912 was that boys were naturally fallen creatures who desperately needed wholesome diversions such as a band, and most girls weren't except for "the sadder and wiser" ones (as in "I hope/and I pray/for Hester to get just one more 'A' ").

On a trip last summer I stopped in Mason City (i.e., "River City"), Iowa for gas. Meredith Willson's home is available for public tours, and there was a fairly good-sized crowd waiting in front. I wish I hadn't been in a hurry to get to my appointment to see a relative a few towns further up the interstate.

Today I'll celebrate your thoughtful post (and thought-provoking site) by finding reasons to say "Swell!" or "...and so's your old man!" Or maybe I'll just rebuckle my knickerbockers below the knee as soon as I leave the house.

Lisa said...

My mortgage is with Wells Fargo, and when I get my bill, pay my bill, even REFER to my bill, I break into, "Well, the Wells Fargo wagon is-a comin' down the street. . .".

It's a sickness