23 April 2020

Nostalgic Musical Merriments

Nostalgic Musical Merriments!
by Kristin Battestella

These sentimental and comforting but no less fun and informative musicals, movies, and documentaries provide nostalgic feeling and most importantly, some great tunes.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years – This hour and forty-five minute 2016 documentary from director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) traces the band's early formation and their epic tours from 1962 to 1966 with new interviews from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr alongside archive film with George Harrison and John Lennon audio. Vintage photos accent concert footage of “She Loves You,” “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Can't Buy Me Love,” “Help,” “Nowhere Man,” “Don't Let Me Down,” and more classic tracks. Cues from the likes of “Please Please Me,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “I'll Cry Instead,” “A Hard Day's Night,” “I Feel Fine,” and of course “Eight Days a Week” set off onscreen timelines and locations – a linear narrative from Liverpool innocence and the risk of failure in America to initial newsreel interviews getting their names wrong and The Fab Four's humor over the baffling Beatlemania. More clips and radio reports capture the era as the relatable group transcended cultures thanks to welcoming, colorless music and freedom of expression. Their compassion was more important than the hysteria, and the Four historically refused to perform segregated concerts while writing fast on the road and sharing their experiences through songwriting. After their simplistic love songs made to appeal to the masses quickly caught on, they laughed at the thought of their music's lasting impact on western culture. However with the A Hard Day's Night movie spurring the out of control teen movement, John, Paul, George, and Ringo began to realize how big they really were. 30,000 seat tours and everybody wants a piece of them over the sheer logistics and money to be made even if the amplifiers couldn't carry the sound at Shea Stadium. They turn to the recording studio to express themselves deeper despite the rapid singles pace and album release pressure – uniting against touring as drug use escalates. New interests in art, Indian music, and life not lame photo sessions lead to album growth while controversies, negative interviews, and persona non grata threats begat apologies and increased security. The circus was no longer about the music, and the Sgt. Pepper sessions provided a chance to freely experiment with mature, innovative sounds rather than catering to the masses on the road. No longer mop top boys, our long haired sophisticated men go their own way before final, rare footage of the 1969 Savile Row rooftop concert. Although this may be nothing new to longtime, hardcore fans, this behind the scenes focus is a great starting point for new, younger listeners.

Dirty Dancing My sister the dancer and I watched this 1987 hip grinding fest starring Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Jerry Orbach (Law & Order), and Patrick Swayze (I prefer North and South myself) a lot. I mean a lot. At least the dance scenes anyway. I think she went along with us getting a pool just so we could do that lift in the water, too. Though specifically set in the summer Catskills with mid century cars, frocks, pearls, and budding sixties flair; there are also heaps of eighties hairstyles, sneakers, hip dialogue, and thirty year olds playing teenagers to match the original Swayze tune “She's Like the Wind,” “Hungry Eyes,” and the massive “I've Had the Time of My Life” hit. Whether ticklish traditional routines or forbidden steamy – that “Cry to Me” scene, come on – the dance moves remain energetic. The characters are cliché thanks to the fifties elite mentality and the poor boy from across the tracks social barriers, yet everyone's likable thanks to subtle humor and quirky charm. For what on the surface seems to be nothing more than a dance movie, there are some progressive abortion and pre-marital sex debates. Here women are supposed to go from daddy's little girl to the wholesome wife of a doctor with no other options– dating the bad boy or having career dreams were unacceptable. While some of the life imitating art coming of age is heavy handed and melodramatic, the female focus retains surprising depth. When recently catching this on television late at night, I thought the sweet, sweet oldies like “Be My Baby,” “Do You Love Me,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and more would just be great background noise. However, the comforting storytelling and sexy dancing put a smile on my face. After all, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”

Hello, Dolly! Gene Kelly (Singin' in the Rain) directs this 1969 musical adaptation starring Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl), Walter Matthau (King Creole), and Michael Crawford (Phantom of the Opera) – an overlong two and a half hours with excessively orchestrated, meandering set pieces and dull, unnecessary songs that all feels ten years too late. At times the battle of the sexes banter, zingers, and personality shine better without the music. There are too many misunderstood couples creating more confusion than comedy, and it's easy to zone out or skip around once viewers stop caring about whether this is supposed to be about the matches or the matchmaker. The fast talking backtalk stalls the momentum rather than moving the chemistry along, and the exaggerated, tip toe, butt in the air dance steps are so awkward it borders on parody. This over the top performing for the back row never actually breaks the fourth wall to let the audience in on any meta wink, and sometimes it's all just an hour and a half exercise in making it to the titular show stopping Louis Armstrong (High Society) number. Having said all that, the specific attention to turn of the century New York detail is superb nonetheless thanks to on location pretty, period storefronts, lovely trains, trolleys, and carriages. Feathers, lace, parasols, spats, hats, waistcoats, buttons, bows, and baubles add flair to the wonderful costumes. The bumbling couples are both so flamboyant with their fawning over each other yet completely repressed in their pesky Victorian high collars. Despite the fifties whoopee safe tunes, these corseted women are about to explode and the cross legged men are so grateful to be near enough to a lady to dance. The it's complicated and for love or money hi jinks may be cheeky – the one on one battle of wills where performances are allowed room to maneuver are best – but there's a nostalgic comfort and innocence to the slightly out of touch simplicity. This musical denouement in changing times provides enough whirlwind charm and visual splendor to keep the golly gee giving for young and old.

Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams – With weepy fan voiceovers, airplane arrival montages, shaky cam introductions, and made to look retro footage, this 2013 documentary chronicling Stevie Nicks' In Your Dreams album collaboration with the Eurythmics' David Stewart is very slow to start. Fortunately, rainy California scenery sets the ethereal mood and we're all here for Stevie's recorded messages and interview sit downs on her pen and paper approach to writing or music production and inspirations. Poetic genesis, military impetus, literary references, and more background on each of the songs from the titular 2011 album pack these 100 minutes with “Everybody Loves You”, “You May Be the One,” “Wide Sargasso Sea,” “Secret Love,” “New Orleans,” “Annabel Lee,” “Italian Summer,” and more. At times, it's difficult to know which tune samples you're hearing because Stevie's lyrics and titles don't always immediately reveal themselves. However, onscreen notes, music video snips, and raw, home recording studio sessions balance the sometimes heated discussions about which tracks sound best – it takes hours, sometimes days for just a few minutes of music. This fly on the wall viewer perspective provides an inside peak at the stress, difficulty, nuances, and all the little things that go into such pretty, sweeping orchestration. Chats with Mick Fleetwood, fun moments with crew, childhood audio clips, early photographs, and home movies create a personal touch. Though occasionally pretentious over waxing on life, love, and music being one and the same with heavy spiritual and emotional thoughts, humorous moments and sarcastic quips keep the time lighthearted. Our rock stars don't forget to rock, and by sampling enough songs and sharing the touching inspirations behind them, this documentary does what it is supposed to do – make you want to buy the album. Why wouldn't you anyway?

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