Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Music in the Time of Cholera

With sincerest apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez...

I've been busy with other activities but I engaged in two that would make great movies (not porn either).

I read a book called The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink by Dr. Robert B. Morris. It is the story of civilization's water supply since the early 19th century. I have heard the story of the water pump handle but this book puts more detail on the man and the incident. For those not familiar with the story, Dr. John Snow (a pioneering epidemiologist) was convinced a specific well was the source of contaminated water that was causing cholera in London. He had the pump handle removed and the cholera stopped. That's simplified and dramatized but the story of cholera and how Dr. Snow and others tried to stop it is fascinating. That's the best part of The Blue Death although Morris includes other page-turning anecdotes that are nearly as fascinating. Morris starts with cholera's terror and leads us to present day terrorist threats. Although non-fiction, I think the book could be adapted for the screen.

I also saw the musical The Drowsy Chaperone at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Billed as "a musical within a comedy", I thought for sure that this was some faux revival from the 1980's but was surprised to discover it debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001.

As long as I mentioned it, let me plug the San Francisco Fringe Festival that runs September 3 to 14 at the Exit Theater. The Exit Theater is not a single venue but multiple, small venues in the Tenderloin. Fringe Fest is a festival of short plays produced with minimalist staging.

Back to The Drowsy Chaperone - this sweet natured musical is a lampoon of the musicals of the 1920's (think Gershwin or Cole Porter). A man (with decidedly effeminate mannerisms) is sitting at home alone and pulls out a vinyl record of The Drowsy Chaperone (a fictitious musical from 1928). The music and staging from the The Drowsy Chaperone proceeds to play out in his living room as he spouts expository dialogue about the actors in the 1928 production. The plot is secondary (like a porn movie as our guide likens it) but suffice to say it is the story of boy meet girls, boy loses girl & boy gets married. There is a lot of stuff layered on but this is as much an homage as a spoof.

I think the movie rights for this musical must have been optioned given the current revival of big screen musicals. Among my favorite numbers were Show Off, I Am Aldolpho and Message From A Nightingale. The latter song was from a different, fictitious musical recording from the era that had been put in the wrong album jacket. It must have been a least partially based on the musical version of The King and I except more racially offensive. It featured several of The Drowsy Chaperone actors in yellow face and wearing outrageous Chinese costumes. It is patently offensive by today's standards and could only be performed as satire but I'm not as PC as many (particularly in San Francisco) and think I could view a similar musical as an interesting and quaintly amusing artifact from the different era.

The Drowsy Chaperone plays until August 17 at the Orpheum.

I don't watch TV too much anymore but one of my favorite shows is ending this upcoming season. I am referring to The Shield. The Shield deserves many posts so I won't rehash (i.e. bore) why I am impressed with the show. It premieres on September 2. Last night, I watched a number of cast interviews on the internet.

Just to keep my hand in the pot, I saw Ride Lonesome at the PFA.

Ride Lonesome with Randolph Scott, Lee Van Cleef, Pernell Roberts, James Coburn and James Best; (1959).

That's right, Adam Cartwright and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in a movie together. Actually, both actors play against type if type is defined as their signature roles. The film has an existential feel to it as Randolph Scott is hyper-laconic as the bounty hunter that must face his prisoner's murdering brother (Van Cleef) and a pair of decent but realist outlaws (Roberts and Coburn). The plot is your basic chase movie but it delves into to the psychology of Scott, Van Cleef and to a lesser extent Best as the cowardly prisoner. At the center of these damaged men is the beautiful Karen Steele whom I hadn't seen before. She plays a recently widowed woman that is along for the ride and forms an emotional love triangle with Scott & Roberts. The film only runs 71 minutes and that includes a marauding Indian subplot that could have been trimmed down.

This film was quite a find for me. It certainly was influenced by High Noon and must have influenced Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood.

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