Sunday, December 30, 2007

The question of "the musical" really seems to depend on the notion of music as a source of expression. That is: when someone sings (or dances), no matter what the circumstances, there has to be the feeling that this song or this dance does express the person. It can be a simple moment, as when Audrey Hepburn sings "Moon River" on the fire escape in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (it's silly to say that hers is the best interpretation of the song, since the song was written expressly for her; if she couldn't carry that song, what could she carry?), or it can be as elaborate as the full-dress "Let's Face the Music" Astaire-Rogers number from "Follow the Fleet" (the number which Arlene Croce described as "awesomely grave"). Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe are test cases: their voices are very limited musically, yet who would not want to hear Hepburn sing "How Long Has This Been Going On?" in "Funny Face", or who would not want to listen to Monroe cooing "I'm Through With Love" in "Some Like It Hot"? They're so much better than mere singers, because when they (try to) sing, they're using everything they have to express their characters. (And Hepburn, of course, could really dance.)

But that's also one of the lessons that was learned during the rock-and-roll era: there are some people who have truly expressive voices, often because they are singing their own material. Bob Dylan's voice is really kind of excruciating (and listening to him pumping himself up in "Don't Look Back" is painful: when he explains how he sings better than Sinatra or Bing Crosby, you wish someone would just flatten him, because he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about), but it's often of-a-piece with his songs. (But one thing: in the 1960s, a lot of people covered his songs, including Odetta and Nina Simone, and Larry and i had a lot of those albums as well as Dylan's own albums.)

One of the test cases was Laura Nyro. Though a lot of people covered her songs, her own voice really resonates. Let's put it this way: i'd rather hear Laura Nyro singing than Barbra Streisand. (Ok, bad example, since i can't stand Barbra Streisand at all!) But Stresiand covered Nyro's songs, and Streisand's voice is similar, but it never convey the emotion that Nyro was able to bring to her own material.

There's a question that always arises in terms of "musicals": should people use their own voices, even if they're not trained singers? (Of course, there are the people who are trained singers, even though they're noted for their acting. Two examples: Blythe Danner and Meryl Streep. I've heard both of them sing on the stage, and they're better than most of the people noted for being musical-comedy performers. For example: Meryl Streep is a better singer than Liza Minnelli.)

On Joe Baltake's blog (, he had a little item about Diane Varsi. Which reminded me that, when she was being publicized by 20th Century Fox around the time of "Peyton Place", the articles always stressed how she was "unconventional" and a free spirit and a bohemian... she was like 20th Century Fox's answer to Shirley MacLaine (who was also being publicized as "bohemian"). But in Shirley MacLaine's case, it was a crock, because Shirley MacLaine was really a very conventional movie star at heart... but in Diane Varsi's case, she was the real thing, she really didn't want to play the Hollywood game, and after a few attempts ("Compulsion", "Ten North Frederick"), she left.

Last night, Larry and i watched an episode of "Burke's Law", the episode was called "Who Killed Andy Zygmunt?" The reason i bring it up is that Andy Zygmunt is a "pop" artist who gets killed... and Ann Blyth plays an artist who spraypaints her models, and then has the girls roll around on the canvas. Shades of Yves Klein! This was in 1964, and already Andy Warhol and Yves Klein were being parodied on TV. (Just as the Beats became a joke on "Dobie Gillis".) What's so sad is that Warhol, whose "importance" was his refusal to take art "seriously", was a joke, and yet no one (now) is laughing. To think that people like Benjamin Buchloh and Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson would spend their time and effort trying to sanctify Warhol's "enterprise" in the most "serious" critical terms, and yet, in 1964, Warhol was to laugh at! Harlan Ellison (yes, that Harlan Ellison) wrote the teleplay for "Who Killed Andy Zygmunt?" and he was as perceptive about pop art as Rosalind Krauss.


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