Like most people, I had seen 1958's South Pacific with Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi-- in my case, many times. I love it. Although I had not seen the 1949 Broadway version with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, I felt that the movie probably captured it pretty well. I had read the criticisms about the changing of lighting to tell the viewer a song was coming, but it never really bothered me. Until I began to write about it for here, I didn't know that only Mitzi Gaynor and Ray Walston did their own singing, the rest were all dubbed including Juanita Hall who had played Bloody Mary on Broadway. Not sure why they dubbed her voice but the version of Bali Hai that I knew was certainly exceptionally beautiful.
Although the book and the play had an undercurrent of war, love that doesn't always work, and racism, the overall feeling of Mitzi Gaynor's South Pacific is very upbeat. It is, however about the kind of racism that infects the best people. It seemed to me that the film sugar coated that to a degree as it made it very easy for the good people to overcome it. It is, however a musical and nobody expects them to be that realistic. Or maybe I don't expect that.
The themes of love, the cost sometimes of life, and those wonderful Rogers and Hammerstein songs pretty much made any flaws easy to overlook. It's the kind of musical that I can use now and then to escape reality for two hours even if it is a reminder of some real problems that are still obviously with us.
When I had heard that there was going to be a television remake in 2001 starring Glenn Close, Harry Connick Jr., Robert Pastorelli and some stars whose names I didn't recognize, I thought I'd like to see it. It's hard to pinpoint why I never had, but I think when it came out I was possibly at our house in Tucson where at that time we often didn't have cable. I don't know if it got good reviews, but it didn't seem to be repeated when I had a chance to see it.
Maybe people had a hard time with any remake of a classic. Maybe the unknown (at least to most American audiences) male lead, Rade Serbedzija, dulled enthusiasm. Maybe because it was made for television, it simply didn't find a venue to be repeated. I kind of forgot about it for a long time.
Then last week, we watched 1949's South Pacific again and as always I loved it but it reminded me that with Netflix I might be able to see the version I had missed. They had it. I ordered it with uncertainty for how I would like it. Glenn Close as Nellie Forbush? Wasn't she a bit old for the part? Did she do musicals? I love Harry Connick Jr. and that really decided the issue. I knew he'd make a good Lieutenant Cable.
When it began I was for a moment a little put off by Glenn Close as Nellie until I absolutely fell in love with her portrayal. She was so perfect, like the real Nellie would have been. And Emile de Becque, well he seemed more the French planter he was supposed to be. While he also did not do his own singing, he brought the power of a gifted actor to the story and I was swept away by the place, the story, and the characters.
In short, I loved the 2001 version so much that I ordered the DVD from Amazon as an additional choice for those days when I want to escape for a few hours. It is much closer to what the world would have been like at that time. It was also much tougher on how it showed the racism of those good people who were trapped by the song that says it all-- You've got to be carefully taught.
They said Oscar Hammerstein was warned to leave that song out of the musical as people would turn from it. He laughed that they had to be kidding because the whole musical was about racism. You can't leave it out and understand any of it. In watching the extra features, Glenn Close mentioned that when Harry Connick Jr. recorded that song to lip sync it, he decided he didn't like it and instead asked to sing it live. His version is beyond excellent for how it captures the anguish of someone who realizes their way is wrong but finds it so hard to change.
In the 2001 version, the actors are better, the singing just as good, the songs still integral to the story. Although it changed some elements, it also tied together a few questions that the 1958 movie didn't bother answering.
Overall the producers (Glenn Close was one as she said it had always been her dream to play Nellie), took the familiar story and made it their own. Filming it in places very similar to those where the story was set lent an authenticity that added depth. They were really two versions of a story that is so complex and filled with nuances that there could easily be more that would be the same and yet different also.
For me it really hit home in a much stronger way than my beloved version. I didn't know how much until I woke up the morning after seeing it with a dream, one of my story dreams that sometimes I forget in the morning but that this time was still vividly with me. Sometimes these dreams are like watching a movie and I am not a character in them and sometimes I am. This seemed to be at least partly the latter. It's coming next blog to keep this one from turning into a book.