We know all the songs, we want all the costumes, we still join in to watch this classic. To close this year’s Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival in Piazza Maggiore, we are invited to a screening of Grease. When it came out it hit fast and globally, making it the movie musical with the highest box office success to this day. Much like Singing in the Rain, Grease is one of those movies we hear people refer to as “I don’t really like musicals, but…”. Audiences are hopelessly devoted to it. Part of the story is sad to tell, as it deals the conflict many teenagers face when they need to adapt different sides of their personality to fit in.
Only five years apart, we get two noir movies intertwined with romance. While in In a Lonely Place we get a classic black and white noir, in the projection of Stahl’s fragile print we get to see the first film of the same genre to be shot in technicolor. The first is Leave Her to Heaven, in 1945. Richard and Ellen meet on a train. She’s reading his book and is caught by the man’s resemblance with her beloved father. They later find out that they are headed to the same destination and it only takes a few days for the two to get married. In In a lonely place, the neighbors Dixton and Laurel are the star crossed lovers.
What looks exceeding, is meant to be exceeding, theatrical and hysterical. Even Hula, as the best bimbo-girl/Stepford wife secretary fits the role perfectly as the most un-helpful secretary ever seen. All in the name of non-functionality, the result ends up being an outstanding play. Not of “so bad it’s good” kind, it’s just great. So great that later on, the movie was adapted in Broadway in the format of a play into a play, directed by Susan Stroman. In today’s climate, it is hard to make this not political. Satire has two faces, one that deprives the object of its power, one that on the long run puts our guards down and leads do an underestimation of the object, in this case hiding the risk held by terms such as “Nazism” and “nationalism” when history repeats itself.
In 1934, Fox Film Corporation releases Caravan, a musical film directed by Erik Charell. On her twenty-first birthday, countess Wilma travels to Hungary, to the house where she had spent her childhood, to claim her inheritance. At this time of the year, life at the villa orbits around the vineyard and the harvest, an activity which relies on the conjunct work of the villagers and of some superstitious practices, the most important being the aid of the gypsies, whose music will make the difference in the final outcome. A scene depicting a welcoming tasting of the house’s fines wines offers a laugh over the thirst of the characters we just met, because alcoholism is hilarious.
Released on Thanksgiving day in 1944, Meet me in St Louis tells the happenings in the eventful year of a well-set middle-class family in a bright, residential corner of Missouri. It could be easy to tell this story through the songs that made it part of musical history, which are the kind we know even before knowing where they’re from. Somehow, it makes us feel at home. Together with this look at the future, we also notice glimpses of the 1800s, with a shot which is an almost exact replica of Renoir’s Jeunes filles au piano. All of this abundance of details of mixed origins is coherent to the story. Costume design, together with home décor, makes the mood a bit more colorful than what an exact reproduction of 1903 fashion would look like, borrowing cuts, lengts and prints from the ‘40s.
Tieshan gongzhu is known to be the first Chinese animated feature film and is treasured as such by the CDCC in Paris. It was realized in Shangai during WWII, during the Japanese occupation. The conflict had been going on for decades and also had led to the Rape of Nanjing in 1936. Wan Guchan and Wan Laiming, the directors, wanted to make the movie to be a contribution to the resistance. “Seeing an apolitical story used for a political issue is an artistic approach that has been used and is used in China to this day” says Tony Rayns during the presentation. The rotogravure technique is largely used and gives to the female characters a naturalistic elegance. When we first see Princess Iron Fan, she’s waking up and it’s there, in the way she stretches, that we can see the recall of Disney’s Snow White the most. After all, it was also because of its success that the Wan brothers were inspired to produce a story which featured a princess.