pseudopodium
. . . Meet Me in St. Louis

. . .

Movie Comment: Meet Me in St. Louis

  1. Probably the only example of Technicolor that's both classically MGM and unironically beautiful. Much more than the chintzy Americana of the script or the schematic performances, it's the impossible combination of impossibly rich and impossibly restrained color that fuels the movie's nostalgia. Vincent Minnelli's crew must've worked like mad to coordinate sets, costumes, lighting, and lab work to such an extent.

  2. I've seen Judy Garland's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" described as an "attempt to comfort her sister." On the contrary, it's very clear that Garland's character is intent on making her sister hysterical with grief, and not at all adverse to getting a little weepy herself. It's a sadomasochistic impulse I remember as pretty common in childhood (telling horror stories that scare the teller, making emotional threats that threaten to isolate the threatener...), but it's not usually depicted with so little editorializing.

    Of course, Minnelli was in no position to criticize. While Garland's fictional character struggled on screen to induce childish hysteria and adult melancholy, he was sweating bullets on the reality of the set toward the same ends.

    Aside from artists of the sentimental, the need for this kind of boundary testing mercifully tapers off in adulthood, only springing out in romantic crises (e.g., "I don't like you -- but I love you"). Which brings me, as I'm brought so often, to thoughts of that master of mature collaborative pain, Frank Borzage... and there is something Christmasy about that ridiculous sublime last shot in Man's Castle....

. . .

Lazybones (1925)

This film is the world, really, in an hour and a half, in eighty minutes, it shows us the world. And manages the job without donkey torture.

In most other ways, though, Borzage's titular saint anticipates Bresson's: patient, gentle, a bit obtuse, stubborn, and above all passive. What makes the difference isn't so much the leading man's species as the filmmaker's spirit. For all the catharsis he provides, Borzage is not in the least tragic. His waterworks run at full capacity in happy endings, and even in his unhappiest endings which can be very unhappy suffering's redeemed by a gain so vast that its loss still counts as treasure.

Lazybones, in particular, keeps to the cornball comic mode as closely as it can while circumventing a suicide attempt, casual cruelties, meticulous soul-crushing deceit, and the Great War. At least one writer associates that circuit with 1930s generic mélanges like Borzage's screwball-thriller-disaster-romance History Is Made at Night, but the tone isn't that much darker than the Americana of Will Rogers, or, later, The Strawberry Blonde and Meet Me in St. Louis, even if its final import seems more global.

Lacking the body-and-soul lust that propels Borzage's other transcendences, what power propels this one?

Not the characters or incidents or hoary gags of the script, certainly; types and tableaux wheeled atop and off the stage, they could have been drawn as stick figures, almost, in their unadorned familiarity.

The performers are wonderful, but never this wonderful with any other director. Dithering Zasu Pitts? Cowboy Buck Jones? (But then Borzage himself began as a movie cowboy.) Even the five-year-old engages us.

The conceptual audacity of centering a movie on a good, decent man has something to do it, but Borzage made other conceptually audacious movies kids invent fascism; Jesus harrows a prison break which never fully send us.

What makes Lazybones effective, for those affected by it, is all of the above: the unfussy performances, the drifty protagonist, and the parabolic simplicity they enable. Lacking the prefab Hollywood structure of goal and conflict and resolution, the film marks time by what marks it most forcefully in life: the growth of a child.

Young Agnes
Agnes
Mature Agnes
... and Agnes
Distraught Ruth
Ruth
Sick and distraught Ruth
... and Ruth
Mature Mrs. Fanning
Mother Fanning
Old Mrs. Fanning
... and Mother Fanning
Young Steve Tuttle
Steve
Veteran Steve Tuttle
... and Steve
Kit in infancy
Kit
Kit at five, comforting Uncle Steve
... and Kit

The only parental role accessible by Steve Tuttle is that of peer: a patient, gentle, and slightly obtuse peer.

Kit in her early teens
... and Kit

Understandably, if disturbingly, the pose deceives him more than her. There are reasonable limits to a child's playacting; to an adult's, none.

Kit all growed up
... and Kit

"Rip van Winkle" is mentioned in dialog only as an example of extreme age, but in retrospect the film embodies the sense of the tale itself, in its hero's life-long doze and occasional perplexing rouses, and in an audience who blinks across three decades into the sort of moments we recognize even at the time as memorable, instantly nostalgic or rueful or both. Moments which reduce us to points on a trite plotline. The moments we recognize we'll be left with.

 

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Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.