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Posts from the ‘Movies Matter’ Category

Going to Town

July 4, 2015

Susan Marg

Looking for a rousing Fourth of July? Watch Yankee Doodle Dandy. This 1942 biopic based on the life of George M. Cohan will have you singing and dancing and feeling downright patriotic.

Illustration by: © nuttakit

Illustration by: © nuttakit

Cohan, known as “The Man Who Owns Broadway,” was a singer, dancer, composer, lyrist, playwright, and producer. His story, told as a flashback, began on the vaudeville stage with his parents and sister. He always closed the act by saying, “My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you, and I thank you.”

Near the end of his career, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal for his contribution to morale during World War I, the first entertainer to be so honored.

Do you know “You’re a Grand Old Flag”? That’s one of Cohan’s songs.

What about “Over There”? That’s another.

So is the song “Yankee Doodle Boy,” which harks back to the Revolutionary War days:

Yankee Doodle went to town

A-riding on a pony,

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it macaroni’.


Yankee Doodle keep it up,

Yankee Doodle dandy,

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy.


But Cohan made the song his, too:

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,

Born on the Fourth of July.

I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,

She’s my Yankee Doodle joy.

Yankee Doodle came to London,

Just to ride the ponies,

I am the Yankee Doodle Boy.

James Cagney won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Cohan. He was a natural. “Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man,” Cagney said of himself. “Those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell.”

Cagney made Cohan proud and, in turn, makes us proud. So put on your marching boots and join the parade.

To put you in the mood this Fourth of July:

From Here to Eternity

March 4, 2015

Susan Marg

The Oscars are over. Birdman, a fictional story of a washed up actor desperately wanting to be relevant, walked away with the most prestigious awards. Although nominated, American Sniper, while earning the biggest box office, won none, nor did Wild, both of which chronicle actual events.

Still, movies based on true stories did quite well at the 87th Academy Awards. Consider that American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Selma, and The Theory of Everything, all commemorating a person, an event, or both, represented four of the eight nominations for Best Picture.

Illustration by: BlueLela

Illustration by: BlueLela

Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) were nominated for Best Actor for their portrayals, respectively, of Chris Kyle and Alan Turing, while Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) won for his depiction of the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking was so pleased with the film that following a screening he sent director James Marsh an email, exclaiming that “there were certain points when [I] felt [I] was watching [myself.] The Academy also recognized Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the true crime drama.

The fairer half in the best and/or supporting actor/actress categories received kudos as well for playing film versions of real-life people. Although the Best Actress award went to Julianne Moore (Still Alice), the Academy nominated both Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything). Jane Hawking had the same reaction as her ex-husband watching Jones with Redmayne, saying, “’How can I be on the screen and in a cinema seat at the same time?” Nominations in the Best Supporting Actress category included Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) and Laura Dern (Wild).

The movie-going audience seems to love seeing real-life past or present personalities come to life on the big screen, whether they’re known for their music, their athletic prowess, their survival skills, their idealism, their creativity, or a quirk of fate. The stories come from history books and biographies. Last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club originated with a lengthy newspaper article and then expanded to interviews with Ron Woodruff, on whose life the movie was based, and his personal journals.

And then there are memoirs. Following in the footsteps not only of Reese Witherspoon, but also, in former years, Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun and Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, Jennifer Lawrence plans on producing and starring in The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ account of her nomadic childhood with her dysfunctional family. The book was a best seller, and the movie should be a hit. It might even garner a couple of Oscar nominations for its star.

© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

For an opinion of the best movies adapted from memoirs, visit flavorwire.

Start Laughing, and Keep Going

December 1, 2014

Susan Marg

Planes_trains_and_automobilesDid you ever have a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles experience during the holidays? The 1987 movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy has become a cult classic, almost always topping the list of best Thanksgiving movies.

Steve Martin’s character is trying to return to his family in Chicago from New York City, following a meeting right before the national holiday. It’s snowing, and his flight is diverted to Wichita due to a blizzard. Due to circumstances beyond his control, this uptight and stressed out businessman is paired with John Candy’s character, a character to be sure, who personifies a oafish affability. In addition to the vehicles mentioned in the movie’s title, together they get on a bus, hail a cab, and hop in a truck for what becomes a three-day journey, squabbling and quarreling all the way home. It’s a comedy, bittersweet despite the pranks and farce.

Certainly, you’ve been in some situations that you’d just as soon forget. But don’t. Instead, write them done. They can be an enjoyable complement to your description of family rituals and holiday rites in your memoir or life history, and we’ve all been there – the time when the turkey was undercooked, the presents didn’t arrive, or the car wouldn’t start.

As Martin says upon reaching his destination, “As much fun as I’ve had on this little journey, I’m sure one day I’ll look back on it and laugh.” He continues, “Oh, God. I’m laughing already.”

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Gold Nuggets Can Be Found in the Details

September 24, 2014

Susan Marg

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I watched Busby Berkley’s Gold Diggers of 1933. We thoroughly enjoyed the depression-era story: rich boy meets poor girl and saves the play. And then there’s the singing and dancing. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, who play the rich boy and poor girl, respectively, sing “Pettin’ in the Park.” Ginger Rogers sings “We’re in the Money,” while showgirls dance on gold coins.

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell in Gold Diggers of 1933

It’s a rather buoyant affair, except that no one has any money, apart from the playboy/songwriter and his relatives who want to keep him from marrying an actress. Like any other thirties musical, it’s somewhat frothy and madcap. Love trumps all, until the end.

The mournful ballad, “Remember My Forgotten Man,” carries the finale. From a close-up of Joan Blondell singing the blues, the scene dissolves first to soldiers, some carrying the wounded, marching in the rain and then to men waiting in a bread line for some soup and coffee. The lyrics tell the story: “You put a rifle in his hand; You sent him far away; You shouted: ‘Hip-hooray;’ But look at him today.”

The scene is visually moving and dramatic, but rather startling to anyone watching the movie today. World War I ended fifteen years before Gold Diggers takes place. The war is not mentioned in the movie until that point. Veterans, despite what they had done for their country, were unemployed, just like everyone else.

Knowledge of history makes the ending more fitting, by providing a perspective similar to that of a thirties movie audience. Here are some facts.

The tragedy of the Bonus Army March was top-of-mind. In the spring and summer of 1932, 43,000 veterans and their families marched on Washington, D.C. for the much needed immediate cash payment of bonuses they had been promised. Although payment wasn’t due until 1945, who could wait? With little sympathy, the Hoover Administration ordered the protestors removed from all government property and their campsite burned. Several veterans were shot and later died.

A second, smaller march early in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was more quietly resolved with an offer of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corp. Transportation home was given to those who chose not to work. As the depression dragged on, by the way, Congress voted in 1936 to pay the veterans their bonus then, rather than later.

Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the top grossing films of the year. To audiences of the era it offered escape from the glum reality of the Great Depression, yet it was still topical. To modern movie-goers it is emotionally satisfying, as well as entertaining, once the details are filled in. The same is true if you’re writing a life or family history.

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved