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Sorry, Eva… I’m Weeping

EvitaRecently I came across the soundtrack for the movie Evita at Goodwill for $.075 (it was on cassette).  I bought it and have listened to it in my car a few times.  About eight years ago I saw the musical performed live onstage and loved it.  I rented the movie, and… I didn’t hate it (like I wound up ultimately disliking the movie made of the musical Phantom of the Opera), but I certainly didn’t like it as much.  At first, it was a mystery as to why.

Aside from the way the movie handles “Oh, What a Circus” that is.  Che… you’re reasoning with a painting!  That just doesn’t look good.  Stop it.

But basically, the stage production and the movie have ultimately two very different agendas.  The stage production makes Eva Peron a more ambiguous figure.  She has qualities of a femme fatale, but she’s very sincere about her work, and has very few illusions about what she is.  She also kept working while on her deathbed from ovarian cancer (a detail both the movie and the play leave out).  The movie makes her more sympathetic, such as by having her sing the downer-song “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” instead of Peron’s ousted, teenage mistress.  The movie also has a faceless bureaucrat skimming funds from the Eva Peron Foundation treasury instead of Eva herself.  These are huge differences, and without them, Che Guevara’s (if anyone even recognizes him) unrelenting criticism of her through his narration comes off as remarkably petty, and one can brush him aside as easily as the nagging upper class chorus, or the disgusting military chorus calling for Eva to get back on her back and stay out of politics.

And speaking of which… this has nothing to do with the quality of either the movie or the show.  But when my old music teacher first told us about the movie/musical she described Pryce’s Peron as “a sweet ol’ grandpa.”  My eyes did a variation of the Tex Avery thing when I first got an eyeful of him in the movie.  “Sweet ol’ grandpa?”  Just what sort of litmus test are you using, Mrs. Dearborn?  And I’m not all that shot with either Peron or Pryce, but I sure wouldn’t call him a sweet old grandpa.

Anyway, back to actual critiques.  I’ve mentioned before that I found that Antonio Banderas’ Che is basically unrecognizable as the historical figure.  That may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers– to avoid controversy– but it doesn’t work.  We don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s there, or what his schtick is.  He needs to be a clear radical leftist (in contrast to Peron), and more importantly separate from the action.  It gives him a better standpoint as the omniscent narrator than being a waiter in one scene, an obnoxious journalist in the next, celebrating the arrival as a result of the Foundation even as he criticizes it… something’s just missing.  And then there’s the tango.  It’s a beautiful scene where Banderas and Madonna dance together, but it just doesn’t work.  These are people who, it seems, despise each other, so having them do a sexy tango (even if it’s just a hallucination while Eva is under anesthetic) doesn’t make sense.  In the stage production, they tango– but they never touch.  In fact, they barely get close at all.  It’s eerie, and it still feels in character.

So I’ve said my piece.  I may be whining, but I still like the musical.  Tim Rice is a great lyricist (although I still don’t understand the song “The Lady’s Got Potential”), and Webber writes lovely music.  Everyone has a stinker in their resume, but Evita is not it.  That would be Love Never Dies.

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Top 10 Vampire Destruction Scenes Dishonorable Mention Dracula (1931)

Norma Desmond would be proud.

A face like that needs to go out on a high note.

Time for another list, and this time I decided to take a leaf out of the book of a favorite YouTube personality– Calvin Dyson (he reviews James Bond media) and start with a “dishonorable mention.”  However, instead of listing the one I absolutely can’t stand, I’ll go with a movie that I otherwise like and was incredibly influential, but at the same time suffers from one of the worst endings ever.

Of course I’m talking about the original Universal Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Given its origins… it’s amazing that the movie has the iconic status it enjoys to this day.  The movie was adapted from a Broadway play rather than the novel (Broadway adaptations are always watered-down and disappointing compared to the actual play).  The director was drunk most of the time and the cameraman did a lot of directing (luckily Karl Freund was a capable director, even if he never found his niche).  Aside from three standout performers (Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward van Sloan) the cast is wooden and forgettable, or worse annoying.  Luckily the aforementioned men keep the audience er, well… hypnotized, until the very ending.  And then the truly unforgiveable sin comes in.

Dracula strangles Renfield.  It’s a very well-shot scene, with great acting from both Lugosi and especially Frye.  But then the sun rises and Dracula retreats to his coffin.  Now we’re down two-thirds of the capable cast, and are left with just van Helsing (van Sloan) and Harker onscreen.

The two men look for Dracula and Mina, to drive a stake through their hearts.  They realize Mina is not yet a vampire, and the camera focuses on her (inexplicably clutching her breast) while van Helsing drives a stake through Dracula’s heart offscreen.  All we hear is a sort of gasp when the Count is truly dead.  Van Helsing sends the lovebirds away (why is never explicitly said), and the movie ends.

The movie opened so powerfully in Transylvania, and the scenes with Renfield sparkled with intensity.  Bela Lugosi could always speak volumes with one look, so it really was a shame the film didn’t show the Count seeing that he would be destroyed after centuries of immortality.  That would have been powerful.  And the next year Freund would direct The Mummy, which featured a man being completely run through with a spear.  They could have shown more here.

But for some reason, director Tod Browning was compelled to end his horror films with an old man saying goodbye to a young woman.  Even when it was horribly inappropriate to the story.

But without this dishonorable mention, the rest of the list probably would never have been made.  I think that probably makes Browning’s gaffe worth it in the long run.

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Les Saints Miserables

Please don't sue.

Please don’t sue.

A well-loved cassette that resides in my car is the original Broadway cast soundtrack of Les Miserables (oh, dear, I’m showing my age).  I have no idea what I’m going to do when the tape finally breaks… it seems like every other cassette I play is that one.  And during the long car-trips, I have opportunity to think in varying degrees of detail about the musical.  One thought is particularly persistent, though… the religious aspects of Hugo’s magnificent octopus.

When I watched Cinema Sins for the new Les Mis movie, the narrator complained about the movie’s Christ imagery for Valjean (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KETiiptWKM).  I hadn’t noticed, honestly, but once he pointed it out, I agree with it as a quibble… but only because I see Valjean as a different early Christian figure.  To go into this further, I’ll go into Holy Week (out of season though it is).

Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday) features a lot of different characters in its story.  Two notable figures, besides Jesus, are Saint Peter and Judas Iscariot.  Both feature very prominently.  And the both betray Jesus.  Judas betrayed Jesus to the soldiers with a kiss (NRSV Matt. 26:14-16 and 47-56). Peter not only ran away with the other disciples, but denied Jesus three times before the cock crew twice (NRSV Matt. 26:69-75).  They’re both pretty major mistakes, but the big difference comes in their reactions.

Poor old Judas gives in to despair and hangs himself (NRSV Matt. 27:3-10).  Peter, however, only weeps, and lives to be forgiven by Jesus after the Resurrection.  It can then be argued that the major difference between the two of them was that Simon Peter, the rock on which the church would be built, had hope.  Judas, in the end, only had despair.

The outspoken St. Peter.

The outspoken St. Peter.

Now look at Les Mis… or more specifically Valjean and Javert.  It is established that both of them are devout Christians, probably both Catholic, since they are French.  They both have very strong ideas of right and wrong, and will defend them to the nth degree.  However, it becomes apparent just as early on that Valjean’s theology is that love and forgiveness, while Javert’s is that of condemnation and flames.  Their mistakes even illustrate this difference.

Valjean stole the bread to feed his family, and tried to escape from prison whenever he could.  He also tried to steal from the Bishop, who, like Christ did so often for Peter, forgave him and gave him another chance to do better (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elp47TSQZVc).  Valjean kept his hope and took that chance.

Javert on the other hand, had only his obsession, which is a huge mistake.  He’s an inspector throughout most of the play, which is a pretty low-rank.  His vendetta against Valjean hurt his career.  And he later betrays the man who saved him (Valjean), by trying to arrest him in the sewers.  When he realizes that he is wrong, he gives in to despair and throws himself into the Seine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFQvGJGpM1s).

It’s all debatable, of course, but worth giving the musical another look or listen to.  Poor Javert… won’t he be surprised to see who’s holding the keys to the kingdom!

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