Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 67

(42/M/London, England)

Again a really precisely captured sense of time: interesting that all the paraphernalia around the music - precise type, brand of record player, etc - is so much part of the experience.

I read Marsha's response to your post and I think it is more complex, as you say, than Girl-wants-romance and Boy-wants-IT. It's also, at least some of the time, about both wanting to believe in the dream, the delicious possibility, even if you know it's playacting: the willing suspension of disbelief, if only for the three minutes of that song.

Have you seen John Sayles' great movie Baby It's You, set in the 50s/60s (can't remember)? It's about an illusion that lasts a little longer - in fact, Clarke, it's precisely about what you said in an earlier post: romances not surviving high school. A "nice" girl falls in love with a “Fonzie" type at school, gets a kind of respect and status through doing so, but when she goes to a Sarah Lawrence-type establishment he's something to be disowned, mocked.

But the beauty of this totally convincing, small-but-big movie is the ending: Sheik's (the guy's) illusions about Sinatra-type stardom have been brought down to earth with an almighty bump, but meanwhile the girl is finding herself excluded in her new world: her Trenton, New Jersey roots make it harder for her to be accepted. He comes to see her once his world has fallen apart, trashes her room, angry at being excluded from her new life. But it ends with them agreeing to dance together at a college dance: her way of saying to snooty fellow students “This is part of who I am, deal with it"; and a way, too, of giving back some status to the battered Sheik: once again, as in high school, they're causing a sensation together.

But there's no way they'll get back with each other; it's about two damaged people realising that on that night, just for that moment, they can support each other. The film's not multi-protagonist, like American Graffiti, and less glamorous (no big cars) but it touches on a great deal of what we've covered in these postings. Because these two have (however uneasily and temporarily) reconciled past and present: living, for a moment, in the illusion which is also the truth of their bonding on some level: they had been an integral part of each other.

In a book of interviews, Sayles on Sayles, JS amusingly talks about the studio's reaction: despite his being totally upfront about his intentions, they were hoping to cash in with another Porky's! But it's a deeply moving, truly "adult" (ie offering no easy solutions) movie, and a story that has apparently resonated with many women trying to reconcile roots with aspirations. I also love his Passion Fish, another tale of two damaged lives. (Can't remember soundtrack for Baby It’s You, though.)

Still not onto my own childhood! Back after melting - or meltdown? Starting all over again is gonna be tough ... (=who, trivia fans?)

Totally agree about Mean Streets, by the way; my first encounter with the Chips’ Rubber Biscuit...

Incidentally, I've just worked out what I am: a doowop Helene Hanff. Or Frank Doel.

More discussion of Baby, It's You, which stars Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano, on Ned Merrill's film blog. To be fair (sort of) to the studio, I think Sayles says in the book that it was not until Porky's became such a huge and unexpected hit while Baby It's You was being made that the studio suddenly saw dollar signs, leading to an almighty battle about the edit; the Sayles-approved version was finally released with a conspicuous lack of promotional fanfare, but it is superb. I saw it in the mid eighties at my then local arthouse cinema, the GFT (Glasgow Film Theatre), so it did get an international release of sorts.

On the music front, it's worth mentioning that as they dance at the Sarah Lawrence-type college at the end (pictured above), a band is playing a so-so version of Strangers in the Night which gradually becomes, in their heads, the Sinatra recording they once smooched to a diner in the early days of their romance.

And the moment when Sheik's dreams are crushed is masterly: he's been working in a restaurant and occasionally doing a bit of miming to the jukebox (we see him ringadingdinging his way through that kitsch masterpiece Wives and Lovers), but always on the understanding that he'll get the chance to do some proper singing. One day a middle-aged guy comes in, asking for a microphone. When the penny drops, and Sheik protests that he is going to be the only one doing any singing, the guy replies: "Listen, if you think I could sing, do you think I'd be in a dump like this?" And that's when Sheik rushes off to the college to try to make it right again.

(Find the film trailer on the imdb site
here; interesting to see that Chapel of Love also features here: the Rosanna Arquette characters' girlfriends chant it when they learn she's going out with Sheik - though I have a feeling that in the film, after a moment she joins in too, sharing the fantasy while half laughing at it, exactly like the girls in Be My Baby. George Goldner would have approved.

Starting All Over Again, if you need to be told, is by Mel and Tim. It touched something in the late English deejay John Peel, not normally a soul fan, who played it on his show in the seventies.

Doel/Hanff: There are still bookshops in Charing Cross Road, though less than when I first moved to London in the mid eighties. But number 84 is no longer one of them.

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