Monday, June 03, 2013

Random Musings on 'Hello, Dolly!'

I love Barbra Streisand in her belle époque ( hello! Funny Girl )

I could seriously watch her forever. She is so strikingly alive. She owns the space she inhabits. She flounces and flairs and flings her arms wide and she invites you in: to every harsh and adorably edged quip laced with her New York vernacular, to everyone wide, dewy-eyed glance and profile shot, to her triumphs, insecurities and sheer, strong femininity.

Hello, Dolly! has some pretty terrible musical numbers; but upon recent re-viewing I didn’t pay attention to that. This, friends, is spectacle. This is the type of musical that was meant for the screen: broad sweeping canvases: from Yonkers to nameless parks and avenue parades in New York city in the late 1800’s. This is the type of musical that is best viewed as a lavish, too-much, too-often, over-hyped, over-sung, over-repetitive sweep of musical goodness. This is “Glee” – on speed…. As directed by Gene Kelly: a veteran of movie-musicals with the same timbre.

'Put On Your Sunday Clothes' goes on illogically forever. Random characters show up and dance across train tracks: it is the epitome of delicious musical frounce and frou-frou. The poorly-lyrical “Dancing” number spills from Irene Molloy’s hatshop ( and the misdaventures therein with Cornelius and Mr. Vandergelder ) and out into the street, magnetically picking up other couples like lint to Velcro. 'Before the Parade Passes By' starts in one of the movie’s soft and wistfully reflective moments: urging us to spare a moment for Dolly the vulnerable widow---not Dolly the control freak. Her lavish exterior winnows away and we are given a glimpse of lost hope and utter humanity; before she is swept into the whirlwind of coloured kaleidoscope noise once more; parading with hat and feathers aplomb, over-taking the streets and forcing the attention on her. Craving from a nameless, faceless crowd what she had just mused on losing beneath a tree but minutes before.

"Hello, Dolly!' itself is a wonderful song. Seriously. Louie Armstrong, people, and good old Satchmo shows up, too! But it goes ON FOREVER and EVER! Two reprises. Bridges galore …. The denouement gets you revved up just as the central chorus whirs in again.

This is movie musical whipped cream. This is the feeling after you eat turkey dinner. This is cake.

What interests me most about this entire mélange of strange and wonderful sparkles and tomfoolery is that it is a marriage bred of Thornton Wilder whose silent escapades epitomized communal American life: Our Town, for example, revels in the quiet, the normal, the quilted pattern of community, home, hearth. 'Hello,Dolly!' , based on his play the Matchmaker marries Yonkers with the big broad city; the small Hayfeed clerk with the brokerage of matrimony in the high town. The high city life spilling back into Yonkers at the end of the film ( with Cornelius and Irene ready to flee away with money from the safe and Dolly willing and ready to be tamed) and the eruption of whirl and business descending upon a rural and very 19th century setting.

'Hello, Dolly!', for all its frills and flounces and terrible lyrics makes a bolder statement, thus, it’s about change, disenchantment and …dare I say it…. urban expansion.

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