i'm hans christian andersen!

Meet Me in St. Louis
Wikipedia refers to this movie as a masterpiece, and yet all I could manage was a yawn. It's about upper-class people in middle America and their various goings-on. It's set during 1904, right before the World's Fair in St. Louis, though it was released in 1944. While I was watching it, I kept asking myself, "Why was this movie made?" The only thing I can figure is that it was meant to inject a little wholesome loveliness into the country. People were tired of the war, and they wanted to remember the simpler times. Over and over, the characters kept saying, "And right here in our own back yard!" as they were constantly astonished at the wonders of St. Louis.

There was an extended Halloween scene which I found surprising. Apparently, in 1904, children dressed up in costumes and burned furniture in the middle of the street. Periodically, they would go to someone's house, ring the bell, and then throw flour in their face. Considering all the complaints about Halloween being a devil's holiday that we get every year, I can't help but think that it used to be a lot worse.

Songs and Dance: Not much dancing, though there were some songs that you might be familiar with, including "The Trolley Song," "Skip to My Lou," and this little number.

Okay, fine, that one song makes the whole movie worth it. Is there anything more wholesome and lovely than Judy Garland?

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Absolutely not. I don't even want to see it again.

My brother-in-law, who is a Revolutionary War buff, really hates this movie, due to the raging historical inaccuracies. I had a really lousy public school history education, so I thought it was awesome. Josh, who watched it with me, told me there was going to be some talk about slavery which would delay the signing of the declaration, and I accused him of giving away the ending.

Now that I've seen the movie and read the Wikipedia article, I consider myself to be quite an expert on the Revolution. I was surprised to learn how much singing there was in the Continental Congress. If only my teachers had mentioned that, I might have been more engaged.

I have made peace with the inaccuracies. There is a long scene where the Southern delegates argue to remove a passage in the draft of the Declaration about slavery. In actuality, the passage was not quite the abolitionist screed the movie made it out to be. So this whole scene, which includes a really dramatic song and reenactment of a slave market, is pretty much made up. I've decided that I'm okay with that, for a couple of reasons. One reason is simply that it was a great scene. It's absolutely riveting. This is a movie, so one of the goals is entertainment. Two, it shows that the slave trade was a lot more complicated than South=evil, North=good. The Senator from South Carolina points out that it's very easy to talk about how awful slavery is when you're far away, but if they took away the slaves, all those rich Northerners wouldn't be so rich anymore. Of course, we all really ought to find a way to get rich where no one has to be owned by anyone else, but that fight came later. For a historical movie, it is obviously very much a product of its own time. The various issues that were stressed were ones that were in the forefront of the minds of people in the late 1960s.

So yeah, the movie was inaccurate. That was just one example out of many. But the movie was interesting and I ended up reading more about the Continental Congress and its various members. You could argue that some of the artistic license was unnecessary, and I'd agree with you (for example, the whole part about Jefferson needing some sweet loving from his wife before he could get the Declaration written). But it wasn't meant to be a complete lesson so much as an introduction to get people to get interested in history.

Songs and Dance: For the most part, the songwriting was really excellent. The lyrics and the dialogue used a lot of actual quotes from the founding fathers, which is pretty smart, since everyone is basically in agreement that the country was started by some real smart guys. The scene I'm posting is a lovely little minuet that the senators performed, which basically indicates that they personally are happy with the status quo, so why rock the boat? In the meantime, the secretary reads a letter from General Washington, who periodically sent letters that usually said something like "Guys, it sucks out here. Can we get some shoes or guns or food? Are you even listening?"

"Traitors, Mr. Dickinson? To what? The British crown? Or the British half-crown?" Zing!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He watched it with me. He liked it for the most part, though he said that some of the songs were boring.

Hans Christian Andersen
This movie started with a disclaimer - that it was a fairy tale which really had nothing to do with the actual life of everyone's favorite Danish children's author. Maybe fairy tale enthusiasts the world over hate this movie because of the inaccuracies. That's no reason to not like this movie. You should dislike it because it's just not very good.

Aside from the plot sort of wandering around for nearly two hours, the real problem with this movie is that it didn't give me any reason to root for its protagonist. Hans is a starry-eyed dreamer, who likes to make up stories to entertain children. That's great, except that I really sympathized with the schoolmaster who complained that none of the kids were going to school ever. Imagination is wonderful, but math is useful, too.

Then our hero goes off to wonderful, beautiful Copenhagen, where he falls in love with a ballet dancer. Half the movie is spent on this love affair that doesn't exist. She is happily married, but Hans thinks her husband is a brute. When he finally finds out what the audience knew all along (that the ballet dancer loved her husband, not the silly writer of tales), I didn't feel at all sorry for him. How am I supposed to sympathize with a character whose problems are all of his own making?

Songs and Dance: I did like the songs. The dancing was almost all ballet, which is one of those things that I realize is Serious Art, but don't particularly enjoy. I watched this with my mom, and we were debating whether to finish the movie or stop it to go take a nice mid-afternoon nap. Our compromise was to fast-forward through the ballet and then go take a nap. So the whole performance of "The Little Mermaid" by the Royal Danish Ballet was sped up. Honestly, I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself so much watching ballet. They should try this in real life, and I bet they would find more patrons.

My mom was familiar with a lot of the songs, without having seen this movie before. Apparently, it must have been popular enough that the songs found their way into the popular consciousness.

Here's Hans singing his own theme song, which is downright catchy. I've decided not to hold this movie against Danny Kaye, who was married to the same woman for a long time. That counts for something.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Not a chance.


Sandra said...

Have yourself a merry little Christmas is one of my favorite non-sacred Christmas songs.

Sandra said...

Agreed. It is simply lovely.