#75 42nd Street (1933)

One of the first filmed backstage musicals, MGM’s 42nd Street is a razzle-dazzle trip to the beginnings of what would carry Hollywood for the next thirty years. Archetypal characters, business intrigue, the sweat and dedication of the performers, love, politics, and musical number after musical number at the end of the film, this classic literally carries many of the tropes that are still in use today both on stage and on the screen. Saccharine puns and witty banter abound as TEN FAMOUS STARS and their dancing feet bring you down to 42nd street. The songs are memorable, and little can keep one from smiling while watching this “dazzling (film) that brightened the decade and remains a highlight in screen musicals.” (Schneider)



“Now go out there and be so swell you’ll make me hate you.”

While this is not one of my favorite musicals, all the performances are solid. 42nd Street is a film with a much-duplicated plot: star breaks her ankle right before the opening night. An unknown girl in the chorus must replace her.  There is a wedding.  There are young lovers.  Finally, a director’s one “final” show before his medical issues overwhelm him. This film is where all these old movie clichés originated.

I personally really enjoyed seeing all the 1930’s hats, gloves, and dresses. This film almost has it all: wonderful songs, dances, and acting.The dialogue is fast-paced, sharp-tongued, and cynical (reflecting the depression).  The honeymoon number is delightful. The plot could use a little firming up… and I felt like the movie ended abruptly.

If you are a fan of musicals at all, this is a movie you should not miss!


I am a huge fan of Broadway and have seen this film and the stage version on several occasions in my youth.  Approaching it as a grown man, I watched the film again with joy and attention as my expectations were met for a classic, early Hollywood studio musical.

Brilliant sets, impressive dance numbers, fun performances, and a toe-tapping pun-riddled script made for an ensemble piece that is about as close to broadway as one can get on the screen. Many musicals (and films) today deny film the right to be anything but real – and that goes for musicals as well. At times this can lend itself to something entertaining because of its absurdity (Cannibal the Musical), funny because of it’s self-referential, fourth wall comedy while translating it from the stage to the screen (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), but when it is too serious, too realist, and forgets its stage origins, it can actually get weird to watch (RENT, the 2015 ANNIE, and others, and I hate to see what they are going to do with Wicked, and also hate to see what they are going to do with Hamilton so I am just hoping that the OBC stage performance they filmed was edited and directed well with many, many camera angles, and please release it already. I will pay. Take my money.)

Regardless, this is a fun film. It is not nearly on my list of favorite musicals, but the elaborate sets, dance sequences, and original camera work influenced many films that came after it. While I’ll take Dancer in the Dark, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, West Side Story, Little Shop Of Horrors, and a hundred other comedies from the same time period over this one, I won’t turn down an opportunity to watch it. I appreciate Lars Von Trier’s film-within-a-film sendup in Dancer in the Dark, and most certainly appreciate it more for what it gave to The Big Lebowski – which I’ll probably end up picking before 42nd Street every time.

The Neverending Story & Labyrinth 30th

We were lucky to have the opportunity to head to our local cineplex the past two weekends and see The Neverending Story and Labyrinth in a gigantic digital glory that wasn’t even available when they were first released. Stunning, gigantic, bold, beautiful, and magical, these films defined our childhoods in many ways – not to mention that the practical effects available in the films are not only still relevant, but can hardly be replicated by what the industry attempts to achieve with computers.

Both films came with an extensive documentary before the show, The Neverending Story’s doc beating out Labyrinth’s by a lot. This was very disappointing since The Neverending Story’s was so great, and the fact that Bowie left us this year, but the good news is that there are some great mini-docs on both Labyrinth and The Neverending Story available (click!)…and stuff like this still happening three decades later.

Still, to experience this with our son in the theater on the big screen with amazing sound was a beautiful experience. We own both films, we’ve seen both countless times, we know every word, but there is simply nothing like seeing this on the big screen with big sound in a dark room with strangers. The magic, the wonder, the mystery, the butterflies… It was still very much all there. Unforgettable. These films are not in the 1001 book at all, but should be – the groundbreaking production value, gorgeous scores, and…ok the nostalgia…but these films at the top of our list of life movies. They’re fun, technically mesmerizing, and appeal to all ages. The transitions are weak and bizarre, but so what? We still greedily devour them every time.

Thanks, Henson. Thanks, Bowie. Thanks, Ende. Your work changed the world.



#868 My Own Private Idaho (1991)

In My Own Private Idaho, a young Gus Van Sant explores existence and geographic identity through the lens of a beautifully reinterpreted Henry cycle. Following the intrepid voyage of Reeves and Phoenix as they search for meaning and identity around the globe while questioning their relationships, sexuality, profession, childhood, and examining where parental figures play into these questions. In this piece, Van Sant takes Shakespeare’s piece and unapologetically turns it into a strange, somewhat elusive and pointless search for “a myth of maternal love that the audience sees as the scratchy home-video footage of Mike’s mind… and (he) succeeds in…conveying the subjective experience of troubled, disaffected youth” (Shneider). A film we both truly enjoyed from beginning to end.

We watched My Own Private Idaho on Criterion (#277), and were quite happy that Criterion brought the film back after having been out of print for many years.



I think it is absolutely mind blowing that this movie was in theaters in 1991… literally incredible.  This movie covers a range of controversial topics (some of which are sadly still controversial today) including teen prostitution, mental illness, epilepsy, homelessness, and sexual orientation.

When I first a summary of the plot I was not feeling particularly excited to watch a movie about a homeless teen prostitute.  However, this movie is absolutely brilliant. The writing is memorable and employs many, many different and innovative techniques to move the narrative.  There are endless ways to appreciate the different nuances of the writing and the craft of story telling in this movie.

I also appreciated that this movie presents its characters to the viewer with no judgment.  They are flawed and make horrible choices and have no happily resolved endings, but the movie somehow leaves you feeling slightly optimistic.

Also, River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves…



I am an absolute junkie for Shakespeare, and about a quarter of the way through this film it became clear that there were too many references to ignore (and every time I saw one, I would shout it out – ‘Falstaff Beer!’ being the first). After a quick Google, it was clear (and obvious by the time the banter shifted to high iambic pentameter in the abandoned hotel) that we were in Henry IV, and I immediately fell in love with what Van Sant was doing. I was impressed by a great deal of what he was doing in the film, and I found it difficult to reconcile this with the work he did with Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester. My Own Private Idaho is an edgy film that is clearly way before its time. Even if it were to come out today, I think the reception would be somewhat lackluster.

I was perhaps most impressed with three major things in the film. One was the camera and editing work. His decisions to bounce between these really intimate oral history scenes, sprawling and perfectly-framed beautiful landscapes, and then strange dreamlike slow motion nature imagery and hard home-videos… It seems ridiculous but it worked so well. This is one thing that I remember being a major part of his work in later pictures – the most notable was the fourth-wall breaks in Finding Forrester. Second, I was impressed at the writing. There were some scenes that really jumped out at me at their genuineness – namely the oral history of the hustling in the Chinese restaurant, the fire scene where Phoenix confesses his love for his best friend, the scene where Phoenix’s origins are being revealed in the trailer, and the scene in the hotel where Kier sings his weird German pop tape. In the trailer scene and campfire scene I literally gasped a “wow” at the end, and as a writer I think the most amazing thing between the writing and the performances is that on paper the dialogue would be garbage and make no sense… But these characters and performances create these truly beautiful moments that capture the human condition throughout the film, and I was in awe the entire time. Third, the performances.On paper, this piece is probably ridiculous – bouncing between the oral to the Shakespearean to the dreamlike atmospheres and mid-action sex scenes, but what is perhaps most impressive is how Reeves, Phoenix, Richert, and the rest of the ensemble manage to make this dreamworld concrete and believable while we journey on the road with them to exploring self-identity, love, and existence on the same roads they travel.

A truly beautiful, genius, and well-executed postmodern fantasy masterpiece that is incredibly real without pandering or begging to be taken seriously. It just is, and works incredibly well for what it is – impressive and awe-evoking.