Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hello, Dolly!

Barbra Streisand has made a "guest appearance" on this blog before, when I wrote about her receiving a Kennedy Center Honors award and was forced to kiss Bush (click here). Well, Babs is back, because I watched Hello, Dolly! last night. I don't want to call this an official review, because I've seen the movie a few times in the past, although it has been about 15 years since the last time. If any of you have seen last year's animated film WALL-E (which I finally did see about 10 days ago on DVD), then you'll recall a song that recurs throughout the film: "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." The version they play comes right from the 1969 film with Barbra Streisand. Needless to say, after seeing WALL-E, the song kept playing over and over in my head and I had to see Hello, Dolly! again. Would you believe it was released 40 years ago?

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I love this movie. OK, I confess it's not perfect. Sometimes the dance routines seem forced, and the sets are too clean to represent 1890's New York. But it is meant to be a fantasy, and a grand one at that. The music is fabulous and the costumes glitter. This was Streisand's second film, coming out right after her Oscar win for Funny Girl. I'm convinced, however, that the reason why I love this movie is because it plays into my childhood fixation on Streisand. Yes, I'm hereby admitting that Barbra Streisand is my diva. Every gay man is supposed to have one, and she is mine. I know it's a cliche, but I don't care. I think she's the top. Hello, Dolly! came out just before I was born, so I believe I saw it repeated on television in the '70s. But I distinctly recall falling in love with it for the music, Babs, the costumes, the time period, all of it.

The film was one of the last great Hollywood musicals of the time, following award-winning classics like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. It was nominated for a few Academy awards, including best picture, and it won three, most notably for best musical adaptation. It was directed by Gene Kelly of all people. Streisand always believed she was too young at 27 to play Dolly Levi, a role Carol Channing had immortalized in the Broadway version as the slightly more mature matchmaker. Streisand and her co-star Walter Matthau also apparently did not get along (his curmudgeony character Horace Vandergeld makes you believe that Matthau was the problem on the set). However, she has noted poignantly that the best part of making the film was working with jazz extraordinaire Louis Armstrong. You'll also be startled to discover Michael Crawford (of Phantom of the Opera fame) as Cornelius Hackl.

Watching the film again, the one thing about the story that struck me was the strange parallelism between women's rights and women's need to marry. Dolly has determined that she's going to marry Horace, partly for his money, but partly because she's tired of being a widow and wants to return to life. You can't criticize her for this. She even notes at one point in a monologue to her deceased husband Ephraim that she has taken pride in being an independent woman, but she no longer feels sadness or joy anymore, and wants to live again. All of the other women are desperate to be married as well (the boys are just interested in kissing girls, but that's another topic). In its historical context, there was very little women could expect from life except to hope for a decent and secure marriage, because inequality almost enforced the idea that a woman was subservient to men. One would like to hope that we've evolved out of that state, and that women can now marry because they want to, not because they have to. Still, as I wandered through my neighborhood yesterday and saw all the Valentine's Day couples succumbing to the pressures of commercialism, or when I watch a snippet of a ridiculous reality show like Say Yes to the Dress, I realize that things haven't changed all that much. Women are still pressured into thinking they will never be complete until they marry well and have a superb wedding. I can only hope my nieces and goddaughter will be able to resist this pressure as they grow older.

But I've digressed onto a somber note and Hello, Dolly! is not supposed to be about sadness but happiness, joy, and good times. Here's a link to IMDB's information about the film. And in the spirit of how this post started, here's the clip of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from YouTube (if you can't see it, click here). Keep in mind that the original film is a much brighter, crisper version than this presumably bootlegged rip. Get ready to sing and dance!


Sherman Clarke said...

While you were watching your diva, I was watching "My beautiful laundrette" which I had seen before, probably a couple times. Mr Day-Lewis can be my diva any time he wants to be, as can Gordon Warnecke (Omar). I'm amazed that you made it through that whole paragraph about women's need to marry without talking about the current struggles over same-sex marriage but perhaps that would be obvious.

James said...

That video was awesome. For what it's worth, I think my diva was Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame.