Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

South Pacific -- South Pacific and a dream

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.


Darlene said...

When my son was twelve the Choir Director in our town was putting on the production of South Pacific. He was using the college musicians supplemented by a few adults in the orchestra. Mark was a gifted musician and his teacher wanted him to audition for the orchestra. The reason being, Mark was so far advanced musically from his contemporaries that he needed a challenge. The Director said he was willing to let Mark audition, but he doubted that he would use him. We did not expect Mark to make the Orchestra, but he not only made it, he was second chair. His playing surpassed the other clarinetists.

The production was put on in the summer with a stage in the middle of the football field. Proud parents and grandmother that we were, we glowed as we heard people around us saying, "Look at that little boy." He was half the size of anyone else in the orchestra.

The evening was beautiful and there will never be a better production of South Pacific in my eyes.

HMBabb said...

Oh, great; now I have to watch "South Pacific" again.

mandt said...

It is significant that our 'story' dreams are rising so passionately these days, as if the dreamers mind were highly sensitive to the enormous changes our failing culture is experiencing.

Mary Lou said...

We are considering re-doing it this year too, although there are many who think OH NO NOT AGAIN! and others who will watch it every year. Both were very good, and I especially enjoyed Harry Connick Jr. (BIG SIGH!!!)

TaraDharma said...

My parents and I watch the 'old' South Pacific with some regularity and it is one of our favorite musicals. We love the Glenn Close production, and I agree with you that the acting is better than the original.

I remember being a child hearing the lyrics of "You've Got to Be Taught." It had a huge impact on me, as this was the time of civil rights movement in America, and the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Great post -- thanks!

Kay Dennison said...

I still like the old one best!