Sunday, August 22, 2010

What If Double Feature: Meet Me in St. Louis

We here at Metro Classics are a big fan of double features, after all, who wouldn't rather see twice as many movies? Unfortunately, economic reality constrains our ability to actually have as many double bills as we would like. So, since I've already written about the history of the musical and I can't think of anything else to write about this week (and my wife is busy doing other things), we're launching a new feature: what movies would make great double features with this week's Classic, Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis?

I was recently surprised to learn that I've seen 23 Vincente Minnelli films, though I can't say I've paid close attention to all of them. One of his recurring situations is that of a young person in conflict with a small town, yearning to break away and led a different kind of life, often in something artistic. That's not the case in Meet Me in St. Louis, however, where no one really wants to leave their nostalgia-tinged ideal Middle American town. So my first proposed double feature would be one of Minnelli's other portraits of small town life, either Some Came Running or The Pirate. It would really depend on my mood. In Some Came Running, Frank Sinatra's war veteran writer returns to his hometown and finds only bitterness and heartbreak. In The Pirate, Judy Garland yearns to break out of her tiny village and lead a life of adventure with murderous rapey pirates or, failing that, a song and dance troupe. Some Came Running brings out the darkness in Meet Me in St. Louis, The Pirate emphasizes its playfulness.

Minnelli grew up in the Midwest, and Meet Me in St. Louis is very much a personal film for him, an idealized portrait of the world he came from. The Magnificent Ambersons serves somewhat the same function for Orson Welles, also a Midwesterner. Ambersons, however, teems with Welles's sardonic worldview, his voiceover narration mocking the turn of the century world of the film. Often that mockery is of the pleasant, ironical type, but his opinion of the film's main character, the loathsome George Minafer is quite withering. Welles shows the world he came from (or rather, the world his parents came from), but always at a distance. A performance like the one that Minnelli manages to get out of Margaret O'Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis would never be possible in a Welles film: it's too natural, too rawly emotional. Minnelli can show the world through the eyes of a child; Welles view is always from the outside, even when filming terrific actors giving heartfelt and heart-breaking performances. Minnelli could be innocent, but Welles was always a hipster.

My favorite double feature idea is Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, his pseudo-documentary remembrance of and tribute to his home town. Maddin's Winnipeg is surreal and lunatic: a cabal of witches and old hockey players runs city hall, his mother is a minor television personality, horse head sit strewn about a frozen river all winter long, some of which might be true, but really it's no stranger than a turn of the century trolly breaking into song because a crazy girl caught sight of the boy next door. Maddin's film never condescends in the way Welles's sometimes does, it's ironic without being superior, and it highlights the inherent whimsy of Minnelli's musicals, while translating their core concepts into a more modern idiom.

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