Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Speaking Of Over-Edited Movies...

The death of Michael Jackson has brought some new attention to Stanley Donen's The Little Prince, mostly because Bob Fosse's "Snake In the Grass" number was an obvious influence on Jackson. It's also brought renewed attention to just how badly Donen botched that movie, even before he (or the studio) chopped it down to 88 minutes. In "Snake In the Grass," Fosse is doing a brilliant dance routine, and Donen can't or won't let us see what he's doing: not only is he constantly cutting, but he's constantly cutting to different angles, and show-offy ones at that, for absolutely no reason. I sometimes think Fosse had too much cutting in his own movies, but his cutting usually follows some kind of rhythmic logic, whereas the cutting in this number doesn't even match the rhythms of the music or the dance a lot of the time.

The Little Prince is also a case study in how a movie can make a good score sound bad. When Alan Lerner wrote in his autobiography that Donen had ruined the Lerner-Loewe score (their last together; Loewe went back into retirement after this project), I was skeptical, considering it to be just another one of Lerner's self-serving anecdotes. But while Lerner's script was weak and bears some of the blame for the failure of the film, he was right about the score. The songs are lovely, in that lush neo-Viennese-operetta style that Loewe brought to Broadway and Hollywood, and some of them have gained a bit of popularity outside the film (like "I Never Met a Rose" and the title song). But in the movie, they stop and start in awkward places, and are sometimes cut down to nothing; "Be Happy" is a gorgeous melody but you'd never know it from the way it's done in the movie.

And even the ones that are done all the way through are sabotaged by weird arrangement choices, like the decision to do half of "I Never Met a Rose" in a fake "megaphone" sound, and give the orchestra the tinny sound of an old record (which is taking pastiche too far). The dialogue in this clip is dubbed, but the song is in English, and let's face it, the dialogue in this movie deserves to be dubbed over anyway.

Donen, it goes without saying, did wonderful work on many musicals before this; this was the decline phase of his career (Staircase, Lucky Lady, Saturn 3 -- some would consider Movie Movie a return to form; I don't care for it).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I Never Met A Rose" really suffers from that reverb, which is way too heavy. Were Donen/Lerner channeling Rudy Vallee or aping the then long outdated New Vaudeville Band with that bit? "Snake in the Grass" may be Bob Fosse's last major filmic dance solo, coming just before his first major heart attack (the one later immortalized in "All That Jazz"). Donen's late career cutting is marked by choppiness and overuse of the zoom lens. The style of shooting in this number more resembles what was then being done for the filmed live action inserts of "Sesame Street" than it does classic America musical cinema. Much of the seventies was identified with such hopeless lameness. Look at "Logan's Run", for heaven's sake. It's no wonder "Star Wars", made the following year, was greeted as the Filmic Second Coming, because at least it sported a point of view.