Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thankfully Sweet Charity Had a Bitter Ending

I was able to catch some films excluding the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Tiburon International Film Festival screenings.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 directed by Kevin Rafferty; documentary; (2008)
Cabaret starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey; directed by Bob Fosse; (1972)
Sweet Charity starring Shirley MacLaine; directed by Bob Fosse; screenplay by Federico Fellini; (1969)
Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay; directed by Andrei Konchalovsky; screenplay by Akira Kurosawa; (1985)
Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman; animated; mostly Hebrew with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website

I watched Cabaret, Sweet Charity and Runaway Train at the Castro. I caught Waltz with Bashir at the 4-Star. I saw Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 at the Landmark Lumiere (gave me an opportunity to ride the cable cars).


Sweet Charity which is based on Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957) is quite possibly the best musical I've ever seen. What made the film transcendent was the unhappy ending and MacLaine's standout performance. She brilliantly conveyed humor and sadness in equal portions. Two recognizable tunes added to the fun - "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now." There was an extended dance sequence called "Rich Man's Frug" that was a showstopper. Finally, Ricardo Montalban made the most of his small part as the Italian movie star.

After having a good time for most of the film, Fosse and MacLaine masterfully tugged my heart strings. The scene at the end where MacLaine realizes that her wedding has fallen through brought a tear to my eye. I could have done without the Flower Power ending but I won't quibble because I read that Fosse was pressured into tacking on a happy ending.

I saw Irma la Douce (1963) a few years ago at the Castro and enjoyed that musical very much. There is something about a young Shirley MacLaine that is tremendously appealing to me. She is not beautiful by Hollywood standards and her comedy is not as wacky as Lucille Ball for example but she combines the two into a vibrant screen presence. What put her over the top in my book was when she displayed her vulnerability in Sweet Charity.

Tragedy (or at least melodrama) can be extra powerful in a musical because the emotions are so incongruous with the song and dance. Fosse understood this very well as shown in Cabaret and All That Jazz. Having never seen Sweet Charity before, I was caught flat-footed at the ending. I didn't I could be emotionally manipulated by a film anymore. It's good to know that some remnant of the original reason I fell in love with movies is still present.

Here's to you Miss MacLaine. You may believe in aliens and reincarnation but to me you'll always be Charity Hope Valentine.

Shirley MacLaine in 'Sweet Charity'

The 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival is screening Nights of Cabiria on May 3 at the Castro and May 5 at the PFA.

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