Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Isn't It Kind Of Stupid

In a previous post, I wrote that in pop culture of the late '50s and '60s you'd often get "absurdly sexualized material within what was supposed to be a "wholesome" piece of family entertainment." Nothing better exemplifies this bizarre type of G-rated sleaze -- as well as how truly clueless the American movie industry was in the early '60s -- than a number in the 1962 remake of State Fair, now on DVD with a commentary by (heaven help us) Pat Boone.

This is the infamous "Isn't it Kind of Fun," a song from the 1945 State Fair re-conceived as a solo showcase for the young, and obviously destined for stardom, Ann-Margret. (There's a story that the following year, at the wrap party for Bye Bye Birdie, Maureen Stapleton got up and said: "I guess I'm the only person in this room who doesn't want to fuck Ann-Margret." Whether Paul Lynde was in the room at the time is not recorded for posterity.)

The number is, first of all, just terrible: poorly staged, cheesily designed, choreography that consists of nothing but walking back and forth. Even the song is all wrong for Ann-Margret's vocal range, so she sounds bad singing it. Musicals were dying out by 1962, except for the occasional pre-packaged blockbuster like West Side Story; and you can see why: nobody knew how to film a musical number any more.

But the thing that makes the number so perversely memorable is that it is so sleazy and trashy within the context of what presents itself as a wholesome family film. What exactly is an audience, settling down for a nice piece of Rodgers and Hammerstein Americana, based on a very wholesome 1945 film, to make of a musical number that goes from this:

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To this....

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And finally to this:

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It's a tasteless, garish, leering striptease number -- but the producer, Charles Brackett (at one time the producer and writing partner for Billy Wilder; after he and Wilder broke up, he spent the rest of his career producing glossy schlock and being a Republican party activist, and whether those things are connected I couldn't say), thinks he's making a family-friendly movie. The weird hybrid a number like this embodies, the combination of hypocrisy and sheer obliviousness, is characteristic of a lot of '60s entertainment, and explains why people were on so many drugs in that decade; how else can you make sense of an Ann-Margret movie?

By the way, and I think I've mentioned this before: despite its sheer awfulness, I still enjoy the 1962 State Fair more than the bland 1945 version, just because, a, the 1962 version is insanely stupid rather than bland, and b, the 1962 version has the glorious accomplishment of featuring the young Ann-Margret and the young Pamela Tiffin in the same movie, a feat matched only by the even more insane The Pleasure Seekers. The best version of State Fair is the still DVD-less 1933 nonmusical version with Will Rogers.

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