Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Final Installment of the Stanley Donen Mini-Film Festival

After enjoying Indiscreet I was looking forward to more Stanley Donen movies.  I decided on The Pajama Game and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the late afternoon on Saturday, November 6th.  Unfortunately I had an exam that morning that required 3 straight hours of essay writing (it was a pain in the hand), so I couldn't make it to the earlier ones.  I had originally made plans to see at least one of the movies, with a friend of mine in the late afternoon.  But, after not hearing from said friend, I decided to just head into the city anyway and enjoy my late afternoon/evening of classic movies.  I always seem to have this problem with friends...I want to share my love of classic movies with someone, have someone to talk to before and after the movie and expose someone new to classic movies, maybe get them interested in classic movies in general.  However, it never seems to work out and I end up experiencing many of these things on my own.  I don't mind, I'm certainly not complaining, it just might be nice to turn to someone during a funny scene or recall some of our favorite parts after the movie ends.  In any case, back to Stanley Donen.

For this adventure I decided to drive into the city because I didn't want to run the risk of being late again because of the train and I had found an amazing coupon for parking near the theater ($8 for 6 hours!).  It turned out that the parking lot was much further from the theater than I had thought and, for a change, I showed up a tee tiny bit late to the 4pm movie.  I'm sure the theater employees thought I was some kind of jerk who loves to show up late to movies.  In reality, I'm usually pretty early to just about everything, I'd like to go on record and say that these instances of lateness were out of my control.  Anyway enough about my trip and personal life, onto the Stanley Donen-ness!!

The Pajama Game was a wonderful treat to see in a theater.  I have seen it before.  The music was infectious and the dancing and 'big numbers' were glorious.  It was a pleasure to see the "steam heat" number and to experience Doris Day larger than life.  The only other Doris Day movie I've seen in a theater was 'Pillow Talk' in my film class at USC, but that was many moons ago.  The only issues I had with the film was that the print that they had seemed to include the lead out and lead in portions of 2 of the 5 reels, so we got to see the numbers counting down and those color test strips from the good old days.  I'm not sure if this was due to the print that the theater had or if they didn't have two film projectors and there was a problem in the projection booth.  Overall, I'm not sure why it happened, but I think ultimately I kind of enjoyed seeing those things that we're not supposed to see as film goers.  But I really could've done without the guy behind me making the same 3 jokes every time it happened.  "I want my money back."  "Bring out Stanley."  ""I think the projector's broken."  It never got funny. 

After The Pajama Game, I went back to the box office and picked up my ticket for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and waited in line to get back into the theater.  It was a miracle, I wasn't late for a screening :).  As I walked to my seat I saw that Stanley Donen was sitting about half way back from the screen.  It was exciting to know that he'd been watching the movie along with the rest of us.  I guess I should've expected it since he had been in the audience for the screening of Funny Face on Wednesday, but it was still exciting.  The film was wonderful.  It wasn't the best print in the world, (which Mr. Donen commented on during his Q&A) but it was still spectacular.  Seeing the barn raising scene was exhilarating.  The athleticism of the dancers was so evident and made the dancing that much more enjoyable.  After the film ended Mr Donen came up to the front of the theater and was joined by, Kent Jones (I'm not sure who he is, I shall research this).  I was wise enough, this time around, to bring a camera, however I was not wise enough to bring a pad and paper to write down all of Mr. Donen's gems.  Here are some pics:

To begin this Q&A he started out by discussing why movies like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers couldn't be made today.  He said that there isn't a garden where you could find those kinds of flowers...there aren't any more song and dance actors who are believable in those roles and you can't fake that kind of dancing.  He also said that he had a very hard time convincing the studio to let him work with the actor/dancers he wanted.  The studio insisted that he select better known actors instead and sacrifice the dancing.  But, he stuck by his choices.  He also discussed how this was Julie Newmar's first film, she was billed as Julie Newmayer (she was one of the future brides named, Dorcas, which got a few laughs during the movie).  He also discussed that the studio was concerned that widescreen format wouldn't work out, so he had to film the whole movie in standard format.  He says that there's a print of the non-widescreen version floating around that has never been shown.  In the middle of the Q&A the moderator, said that they had found the clip that they had wanted to share from Cover Girl, you may recognize the clip:

Before showing it Stanley said that this was his first directing job.  He had been 17 and was assisting Gene Kelly on the movie.  He had suggested a scene where Gene Kelly dances with his own shadow, the director of the film said that it couldn't be done.  Stanley insisted that it could, the director said again, no it can't be done, and then added if you want to do it I quit.  He quit and Stanley ended up being the director.  He believed that it was possible to accomplish and he then said, "I was the computer."

After the clip was shown, they decided to take some questions from the audience, someone asked why the studio meddled so much in movies.  Mr. Donen responded very diplomatically by saying that it's a business, the studios were investing a great deal of money and wanted to have some say, but at the same time the studios are not the ones with the artistic vision and not the ones creating the art.  So it's a tough balance.  Someone else asked what the atmosphere was like on the set and asked if the cast liked each other.  Mr. Donen didn't seem to really like the question, but he answered it, he said that everyone got along well enough.  The moderator asked if Stanley had ever considered being a film teacher and if he taught would he encourage the use of computer and CGI or try to promote more in camera and done more authentically.  Again, he didn't love the question and just kind of brushed it off by saying that he wasn't interested in being a teacher and that if you're a film lover and want to make films you don't need to go to school for that.  He then politely informed everyone that he couldn't stay much longer, he had "promised to take his lady friend to dinner."  Kind of a nice way of ending a Q&A.

I considered trying to get his autograph again, but I didn't want to keep him from dinner with his lady friend, so I made my way out of the theater and ended up on the escalator with him and just nicely smiled and tried to just enjoy the fact that I was riding on an escalator with the one, the only Stanley Donen.  I'm so grateful to the Lincoln Center film society for putting together an event like this and I'm glad I was able to make it to some of the screenings, thus ends my recap of the Stanley Donen Mini-film festival.  Thanks for tuning in!  In the next edition there should be a Joan Crawford Biography Give-Away.  Stay Tuned!


  1. I've been loving your Stanley Donen series. There are some things that I remember from when I saw him at the Harvard Film Archive but you have lots of new information here too which I enjoyed.

    I don't agree RE: 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. I think there are amazing dancers today that could pull it off. And only a few of the brothers were actual dancers, the other brothers do some light dancing. I've seen some dancers today with incredible acrobatic and athletic skills that if they added acting to their resume they could pull of a musical like this. But I think those musicals are really only for Broadway and theater. Not for movies anymore!

    I'm sorry to hear about that guy behind you. I hate when people are like that. If you don't want to be there, get out! Ha!

    I admire you for trying to get Donen's autograph or at least trying to approach him. Pretty awesome.

    I think very highly of Donen for doing this. Us classic film fans who get to experience this really appreciate it. :-)

  2. Thank you so much for the compliment. I've loved putting these posts together, but it means much more that someone else has been enjoying them. So thanks!

    I agree with you about there being amazing dancers/actors who could be in a movie like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I was surprised by his comment especially since we were less than a block away from Julliard, where I think there might be some people there who would beg to differ. But like you said, it seems like these days musicals are for Broadway and the theater.

    You're so right; it's amazing that Stanley Donen took time out of his life and made the commitment to take part in something like this. I don't think I mentioned it enough in my posts, but I honestly can't begin to express how grateful I am to him for allowing a classic film fan, like me, to have an experience like this.