Musical fantasy

The Band Wagon (1953) is about a washed-up movie actor and dancer (played by former dancing extraordinaire Fred Astaire) who is seeking a comeback (aren’t they all?) in a new show about Faust. A musical about selling your soul to the devil isn’t a box office draw card. This he indeed knows and swiftly enters his disapproval. But the director slowly and surely convinces him to reconsider and this he does. Wrong or right move? As the show flops, the director comes up with another angle on the downbeat Faust classic: make it with upbeat musical routines (but that seem to have little to do with Faust). It works. Quite rightly for a musical, The Band Wagon relegates Faust—which is about temptation and damnation—to the too hard basket. Rather, this is a film about the merit of escapist entertainment. “The world is a stage of entertainment.” But entertainment this is not. About a minute of “Girl Hunt”—by far the best segment—stands out. Saying that the world is a stage of entertainment is the pinnacle of escapist fantasy, all done tastefully, of course, but with no sense of its falsehood. Reality is not a stage, is not an illusion, but is very, very real. This is nostalgic viewing, and one better left there.

Published 2020,

Artistic vision

The dilemma this one posed was not the treatment of Vincent Van Gogh’s outlook on life, but his outlook on Jesus in history, which, however, I can sort-of forgive as his Dutch liberal viewpoint. It makes a small part of the film, but a noticeable one. In At Eternity’s Gate (2018), post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh wants to follow his artistic instincts and ‘follow the light’. It’s a noble quest that seeks beauty in the world. So, mild mannered Van Gogh goes to Arles, in the South of France (a lovely place!), on the suggestion of fellow artist Gaugin (played intense by Oscar Isaac). It was Van Gogh’s description of his faith that caused me to question how he saw the history of Jesus, rather than question his artistic vision. In this film, Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) says Christ was only really known in the late first century, and earlier than that he was obscure. But to say Christ was obscure earlier is false. The records in the Acts of the Apostles show the beginnings and rapid growth of the Church and Christ’s message in the early and middle first century. But the film’s better points are what makes it rise above this historical flaw.

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Street sight is long, run-by the forlorn,

A cloud settling across. The street mastered by a turn, as ghosts come and go.

Darkness one thinks she sees, ghosts flashing across trees, deafening cries of the lost souls from purgatory,

Lingering in her mind the fraternity,

Their callings exciting the moon

And along comes the white and spot of lunar light and valleys of doom,

There she finds Silence rambling, the day languishing, but not in the heart of someone lying down.

Curious she bent Surprised to find one who rose to meet her, with a crown.

The light brighter than before. Enlightened, wonder-awed, by the face,

She fell into the calm, the breeze behind.

And saw the street unlike before.