". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Inn -- Christmas Movie

Holiday Inn (1942), black & white. This is the predecessor to White Christmas, (1954 - color), for which the Christmas song classic "White Christmas" was originally written. It stars the Bingster and Fred Astaire -- Danny Kaye takes Astaire's spot in the White Christmas remake of Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn is essentially a music & dance revue of American holidays, bracketed by 3 – maybe 4 -- Christmases. The plot, such as it is, is the crooner vs the hoofer -- which one gets the girl(s)? Astaire swipes both girls, but one of them, the second one, comes back to Bing. This is a decidedly odd little movie, particularly since includes three Irving Berlin classics, "White Christmas," "Happy Holidays" and "Easter Parade," recycled from the Astaire / Garland vehicle Easter Parade (1948) – which is sung with all those specific references in the lyrics to Manhattan and Fifth Avenue – in the country. That there are two girls creates more confusion, hopefully of the venerable dramatic slapstick or comedy of manners kind, though neither mode plays that successfully. It's also a Support Our Troops WWII movie, but they keep forgetting that part. You really can't tell there's a war on, with the exception of one terrific solo Astaire tap number.

My personal favorite number is for Valentine's Day. Bing sings to 'Linda' (Marjory Reynolds), a song he wrote about her, he says, though he loses himself in his own voice and performance in the piano and doesn't even look at Linda. Behind his back, instead of having to stare goo-goo at the guy singing while the girl has nothing to do, Linda starts dancing with herself. Then Fred shows up, sweeps her off her feet into a classically Astaire courtship dance of high Romance. This is the second time they dance together, a reversal of the first, during which Fred is deeply inebriated and always threatening to go off his feet. We haven't seen Astaire pretend to drunk dancing before, unless drunk on love. It isn't funny or comfortable – he seems to have no heart in it, it feels cold as it supposedly is outside the Inn, it feels wrong. Reynolds isn't a dancer skilled enough to partner with the brilliant Astaire.

My other favorite revue number is again with Fred and Linda, dressed in 18th century court clothes and wigs, for Washington's birthday. The jealous Bing keeps changing the music from faux minuet style to hot jazz and swing styles whenever Fred is about to close The Kiss.

The problematic revue number is for Lincoln's birthday. "Abraham" provokes discomfort in today's audience. This number early got cut for television broadcast, except on Turner Classics. In this number both the Bingster and Linda put on blackface and the style of a minstrel show, supposedly because Bing doesn't want Linda to be recognized by Fred. They enthusiastically sing of how Lincoln freed "us darkies," while in the kitchen the black Jemima cook and her two black pickaninnies sing along of the good Lincoln who "who freed us darkies."

Then we get to the Hollywood section, in which a movie is made within a movie of this very movie, which is ostensibly a story about a Connecticut farm turned into a nightclub. Comes the second go-round of "White Christmas," which brings the escaped Linda back to the Bingster on the farm for Christmas because she hates the phony Hollywood so much. But all is well, as Astaire ends up with the first girl, 'Lila' (Virginia Dale), whom he already had swiped from Bing to be his dance partner when Bing wanted to quit show business so he could have holidays off. But Lila didn't want to quit performing and farm, so she broke off the engagement and ran off with Fred. Bing found that farming is even harder than performing – so hard he had a nervous breakdown and went to a sanitarium. Since a farmer still has to work on holidays, he decided to turn the farmhouse into a nightclub that is only open on holidays, so he can have the days in-between off. Or something like that.

During the course of the movie several years pass, and it feels that way watching it. This quality of endlessness could make Holiday Inn the perfect movie to have running on Christmas Day, when everyone has eaten too much and there is too much running around by children, teenagers and fussing grandmothers, while you are waiting for that very special phone call or text message from the one you really want to be with, but who is far, far away.


K. said...

My favorite holiday movie. In addition to the rare Crosby-Astaire pairing and the song-and-dance numbers, HI has a genuine wit ("This time I'm sincere," "I'm giving him plenty of doubt," "I'll have a bowl") that's become part of our family lexicon.

I have long maintained that there's a line in HI appropriate to just about any happenstance in life. This came to me after a Bruce Springsteen concert, when my late wife turned to me and said "He was wonderful!" "It's a great act, isn't it" sprang from my lips before I could think!

The Washington's birthday number is hilarious...

Foxessa said...

There was that other Bingster - Astaire pairing, the deeply problematical Birth of the Blues -- which is set in New Orleans and is about white guys seeking instruction from the black men on how to play hot jazz (which is what is meant by the blues here -- how to make those blue / hot notes).

It's a movie about jazz's invention by white guys, and it really, really bothered me, despite it being a pretty good movie as a movie. But it is insulting to everyone in this country and the world in the same way that the Back to the Future movies are -- with Michael Foxx teaching Chuck Berry how to be a rock and roller. Caucasian, puleeeze. Another variation on the perpetual assumption of black face by white guys, and this one is as strange as all the rest. Though perhaps the weirdest, most perverted of all was Lee Atwater.

Love, C.

K. said...

You might be thinking of Blue Skies, another Berlin confection with Bing and Fred. Crosby bears heavy responsibility forBirth, but Astaire is innocent.

There's at least an article and maybe even a book on the subject of movie white characters appropriating and taking credit for black cultural achievements. On the other hand, maybe movies like Birth served as a back door into serious jazz for some...

Foxessa said...

Yes, I do mean Blue Skies, not the other one!

Um, since so many were already ready and doing jazz, puleeze, since at least WWI, which was spread around that war torn world by the dreadfully segregated and badly treated and disrespected black musicians who did also all the dirtiest jobs in the U.S. Army, again, I say puleeze, Caucasian.

Oh, and Puerto Ricans were a big part of that whole WWI black band / dirty jobs, etc. too.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

The two were on the same dvd, which is how I got mixed up.

K. said...

A disc of Blue movies, huh? :)

Foxessa said...

Well -- New Orleans and all that jazz, yanno.

We are currently in a weather mess here -- not really bad weather, but very sloppy, and somehow I am expected to be all dressy and stuffs, and go out to a party and stuffs, and without a limousine.

I tell ya, the stuffs a girl is supposed to pull off.

Well, Ginger did everything Fred did in, backwards and in high heels -- except when she did it on roller skates.


Looking over my reading and watching journal for this year in prep for what V. wants me to do for da list, in some ways, I could say 2008 for me was about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I watched all 10 of their duet classics. Among other Astaire vehicles.

Love, C.

Renegade Eye said...

On the jazz station in Minneapolis on Saturday night, plays an hour of Crosby, preceded by an hour of Sinatra.

Crosby was the first star of movies, records and radio, at the same time.

Astaire was the best male dancer in history.

Foxessa said...

Well yes. And the point is?

Love, C.

K. said...

"I tell ya, the stuffs a girl is supposed to pull off."

I'm really having to restrain myself from making a comment here.

K. said...

"Astaire was the best male dancer in history."

On a 60 Minutes feature about Astaire, they quoted Gene Kelly of saying the he was a mere acrobat compared to Astaire. And at the mention of Astaire's name, Mikhail Barishnikov's eyes lit up as he said "he was a genius!"

Foxessa said...

I can't stand Kelly as either dancer or lead. I don't like him. Or, in any case, I cannot like the characters he plays. He gave me the creeps in An American in Paris (1954). An American Macho Man in Paris would have been right on the money for accurate title. Blech.

Thinking a lot about this reading James Lee Burke's Swan Peak -- his real post-Katrina novel -- and John Dunning's The Bookwoman's Last Fling(2006). These books wouldn't have plots without men going all and weenie-wag and in each other's face. They threaten each other with violence without ever having even spoken or seen each other, they start threatening to rip each other's heads and other appurtances off and shove them up their whatsuses. And having done that then they need to do that. Physical violence ensues. And these are the good guys, protags and principals. It's just stupid. Why are so many men like this? Thank goodness not all of them are, but one fears those others who are sane are endangered by these posturing blowhards. When you listen to such books on cd, these guys come off as even more ridiculous and pathetic. Where are the real heroes?

I think maybe it was Ann Miller, but won't swear to it, who said that her husband knew who her current screen dance partner was. When it was Kelly she was black and blue with bruises. When it was Astaire, there wasn't a mark on her.

Love, C.

K. said...

Plainly, men -- some of them -- are more prone to violence than women. I suppose it's genetic at its root; from there, it depends on the culture. Not that I'm telling you anything you don't know.

In a novel, the appeal is to a male fantasy because our culture -- despite the guns and violence in movies and books -- luckily frowns on actually using violence to settle disputes. But while we've moved away from that over the centuries, the primal instinct is still there. Which is why there's a strain of popular culture that appeals to and resonates with that urge.

Foxessa said...

I'm not so sure how primal it is, and how much of it is social conditioning. Particularly in this nation after Hemingway and the noir private dick and all those other world weary but don't even think of messing with me protags of our entertainment for over a century now.

It's part of the jock culture, the shock jock culture, the warmongering culture that loves ever more violent and ugly and soul-killing psychopathy and sociopathy and even torturing serial killers as the Hero.

I really am alienated from this culture and I have been maybe all my life. But it gets progressively more intense as I grow older.

Love, c.

Foxessa said...

I mean -- like in Holiday Inn. The Bingster and Astaire don't physically go at it. They compete with words, with song, with dance, with music. And they stay friends. They make people happy, provide the means for people to celebrate and enjoy their happiness and special occasions -- they are socially productive and useful people. And you like them! They both know how to flirt, they both can sing and dance, each one of course to a greater degree in his largest talent. They both make good livings. What's not to like? You'd love having dinner with them. With Clete Purcel or any of the guys in Burke's novels -- not so much.

Love, C.

K. said...

My thinking along these lines has been influenced by a sociobiologist friend, a guy who actually worked with E. O. Wilson for a year. There's not much doubt in my mind that there are significant biological factors at work here. Not everyone sees it this way, and there was a time in my life when I rejected it out of hand.

Foxessa said...

Then the species is doomed isn't it?

Love, C.

K. said...

I've been oversimplifying. Wilson sees himself as part of the tradition of the Enlightenment. Naturalist, his memoir, is an excellent book that I highly recommend.

My belief is that human behavior has a significant biological basis that has evolved with us. The sociobiologists believe that they will eventually prove that culture and religion have a genetic basis. I'm much less certain, if for no other reason than other natural factors such as geography intervene.

However imperfectly they may be applied, one of things culture and religion are all about is an effort to transcend our primal origins.

Foxessa said...

K. -- a book you really need to read, if you haven't already, is Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection by Sarah Hrdy (stet).

She's an evolutionary sociobiologist who has turned the field upside down. The men went nuts when she began publishing. But she's just so brilliant and her work was so careful that she cannot be denied. She studied what men never thought of studying.

Which reminds me of one of my circle of friends' favorite stories from archeology. A very high ranking member in the field who I will leave nameless was running a field excavation in Mexico, of an ancient Mayan site. There was this small stone object, obviously worked, that was found all over the site. He and his male colleagues solomnly declared it a ritual object involved with ceremonies invoking the gods blahblahblah and wrote it up that way in their papers.

The next year there were a couple of female grad students on the dig team. They got friendly with the local women who lived in the area of the dig. They couldn't help but notice that the same stones were in all the women's houses. They were spindles ....

Men just miss so much and interpret according to what they don't see.

I'm really depressed today. Mia Farrow just got back from a fact-finding mission with UNICEF in Congo. The males in eastern Congo are utterly out of control and have been for years -- this is what has come out of Rwanda. Babies are raped constantly. They rape and rape and rape. And the women and girls and babies are literally destroyed by the violent brutality and torture that is the rape. Mia is remarkably self-possessed describing what she saw and what she heard. I knew about this, of course. I've know about this all the time this is going on. They men are wreaking war on women. Why? And the world just doesn't care. 10 million have died there since 1996.

Love, C.