04 May 2013


Locus Focus: Take Ninety-One!

Now Showing: May at the Movies, Part 3!

The first time I did May at the Movies, I was also thinking a lot about mothers, so I found settings from movies that were also about motherhood. The theme premiered with a scene from one of the most famous almarum matrum from a movie: Shermer High School Library.

When I produced the sequel, I decided to tie the twist to my usual literary routine and feature movie settings full of books, like pretty much the only good thing about the Sabrina remake.

This year, since May's theme is actually May I Have Some Music?, I'm taking all the settings from movie musicals. Preferably settings that are also romanticised in the musical numbers.

St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis

"Don't tell me the lights are shining any place but there!"

For an opening number to a big-budget MGM musical, Meet Me in St. Louis is hardly a show stopper. The first singer hollers as much as she sings, and even sneezes some of the words. The second singer "forgets" half the lyrics and dodders through silly choreography. Only then do we get Judy Garland . . . but she just closes the number and begins the build up to another song. 

We soon get a second performance of the title song which is all Garland. But she's wearing what seems to be underwear and a robe. And her grand finish is interrupted by someone telling her "to stop that screeching."

Oh, director Vicente Minnelli was a genius, wasn't he?

The point of this unorthodox opening is that St. Louis isn't some utopian Shangri-la where everything is absolutely perfect. (Well, okay, pitch perfect: I'll grant you that.) St. Louis is just a regular town that a regular family thinks of as home. Like all families, the Smiths are not always dressed for company, and they let their hair down in embarrassing ways when alone with each other. They're also very happy where they are--and St. Louis being scheduled to host the World's Fair the very next year is just the cherry on top. The whole movie is a series of episodes highlighting what they love about their home and climaxing with the fair.

Esther Smith and John Truitt:
Oh, to be young and in love at the most glorious fair in the world!

Now, you can argue that any family which includes a member with Judy Garland's star quality (but none of her nuttiness) can hardly be described as "regular," and therefore, the illusion spoils itself. But I'm a bigger sort of wet blanket than that these days and would rather talk to you about Ota Benga.

Long before Hollywood's finest asked audiences to suspend disbelief for the "regular" Smith family, the organisers of the St. Louis World Fair asked audiences to suspend empathy and collective decency for its human zoo exhibit.

Do you suppose John got Esther one of these for posterity?

I blog about these things because I'm a walking buzzkill.

But a buzzkill working toward a point, which is that many hometowns that do not share turn-of-the-century St. Louis's backlot beauty still share its spirit--while many families that do not share the Smith family's star power still share its heart. But the happiness of anyone's home should never be at the expense of those of others.

Question of the Week: Do only picture perfect places have shadow sides, or are dark underbellies inevitable?

Image Sources: a) Meet Me in St. Louis screen cap, b) "I went to the Igorot Village in the St. Louis World's Fair and all I got was this dumb souvenir"


The Mike said...

I love this movie! And it's not only because the color palette of the Halloween segment was a major influence on John Carpenter as he was making...you guessed it, Halloween. As you noted, the film's best quality is easily its heart.

In response to the question, I'm of the dark underbellies are inevitable mindset. You can't have sweet and perfect without a struggle to get there. And if you could, why would you want it?

Enbrethiliel said...


I love it, too! That probably doesn't come across too clearly in this post, though. LOL!

I'm still working on my own definite answer to the question, but I think it's safe to say that the prettiest places have the darkest underbellies. Which is why I'm a believer in "letting it all hang out" once in a while and not caring what the neighbours think. ;-) But seriously, it's the facade of respectability--and the things we do to keep it up--that gets us in the end, I think.

It's lovely to see you again, The Mike! =D

Sheila said...

Hm, my town lets it all hang out. It's grimy and run-down and chock-full of crumbling motels advertising "COLOR TV!" and "AIR CONDITIONED!" (We are a relic of the automotive age; once people stopped road-tripping through to see the caves and go canoeing, there was basically nothing left to live here for. Except maybe the nasty, polluting plant that went out of business rather than clean up its toxins.)

What I didn't expect was that it's also the statewide hub of the drug trade. I guess I thought it was just aging and dirty.

Oh, but the people are nice, though! Drug trade notwithstanding! I only wish they would not play their country music quite so loud, or let their dangerous dogs roam around the neighborhood. Sigh.

Enbrethiliel said...


After reading your comment, Sheila, I went to an Internet radio station to play some Country music really loudly. Just so you'd have some symbolic company for a while. =P

My own "barangay" used to have character. I still remember how it looked in the 80s (and my mother remembers the 70s). Recently, rich developers started coming in, tearing down the Art-Deco-ish buildings, and replacing them with high-rise condominiums and shopping malls. They're joyless and unsustainable. =( And having so many people together in one place means monster traffic jams. I could go on and on . . .

Sheila said...

I hate hate hate the big-box stores and identical apartments. There is a strip like that near the highway, but in town itself, at least we don't have that. We have rundown hardware stores, thrift stores, pawnshops, and mechanics ... ugly, but at least not soulless. For all its faults, "Fro Ro" does have a soul. And somehow I'd take ugliness over sameness any day of the week.