First All Black Film – Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Cabin in the Sky

Produced in 1943 at MGM by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincent Minnelli, “Cabin in the Sky” is the 1st all Black film produced by a major studio in Hollywood. “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and sung by the film’s star, Ethel Waters.

This musical take on Faust pits Little Joe (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson) against Luther Jr. (Lucifer’s baby boy). Enter temptress Georgia Brown (Lena Horne). Does Little Joe’s wife, Petunia (Ethel Waters) even stand a chance or will Joe be condemned to Hell?

 

 

“Cabin in the Sky” in featuring an all-African American cast was an unusual production for its time. In the 1940s, movie theaters in many cities, particularly in the southern United States, refused to show films with prominent black performers, so MGM took a considerable financial risk by approving the film. (Wikipedia)

Some remember “Cabin in the Sky” for its intelligent and witty script, which some claimed treated its characters and their race with a dignity rare in American films of the time. Others described Cabin in the Sky’s racial politics as the same “old stereotypes of Negro caricatures”.

Cabin in the Sky

Ethel Waters, Kenneth Spencer, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Rex Ingram

According to liner notes in the CD reissue of the film’s soundtrack, Freed and Minnelli sought input from black leaders before production began on the film.

When I first saw this film as a kid in the 60’s I was absolutely floored. This was during the civil rights era and I had no idea that in the 1940’s a major production company had taken on the issue of the lack of black representation in film. I understand the point about the stereotypical characterizations – Lena Horne, the aggressive, hypersexual black woman. Ethel Waters, the dutiful, prayerful housewife and “Rochester”, the buffoonish and no account lazy black man.

My feelings of the film are mixed because to some extent, it feeds into the political narrative that some black folks aren’t worthy of equality because they wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had it. But on the other hand, there was finally a film with all black faces, the most gifted entertainers of all-time – Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and their stories. These characters weren’t just sprinkled in, they were integral to the plot and couldn’t be cut out in racist southern theaters.

As a black woman, it both breaks my heart and angers me that we even needed to have this conversation, not only in the ’40’s but as an ongoing fight for all aspects of African-American representation on-screen.

 

 

After years of unavailability, Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment released “Cabin in the Sky” on DVD on January 10, 2006. I recommend checking it out with this backstory in mind. These legendary artists deserved to have worldwide exposure the same as their white counterparts of the day.

 

We’ve come along way, but the truth is we still have a long way to go.

 

Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Busby Berkeley (“Shine” sequence, uncredited)
Produced by Arthur Freed
Albert Lewis
Written by Marc Connelly(uncredited)
Lynn Root (play)
Joseph Schrank
Based on Cabin in the Sky (play)
Starring Ethel Waters
Eddie “Rochester” Anderson
Lena Horne
Louis Armstrong
Music by Harold Arlen
Vernon Duke
George Bassman
Roger Edens
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Editing by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • April 9, 1943
Running time 98 minutes

 

 

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“Dancing and Singing at the Movies” 💃🏽🎶

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It seems every time someone asks the question “What’s your favorite? (fill in the blank film) that’s what happens to me…BLANK; there are just too many.  So, I decided to prep for the next occasion.

With the new film “La La Land” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone being touted as this generation’s “Singing in the Rain”, I decided to start with the Musicals genre. These are some of my favorites that also made AFI’s list of the Top 5 Musicals of all time!

 

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Can you name yours?  Let’s share.

# FILM YEAR STUDIO
1 SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN 1952 MGM
2 WEST SIDE STORY 1961 United Artists
3 WIZARD OF OZ, THE 1939 MGM
4 SOUND OF MUSIC, THE 1965 Twentieth Century-Fox
5 CABARET 1972 Allied Artists

 

Some of my favorite quotes!

 

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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Lina:  [with a voice to peel paint]  And I cayn’t stand’im.    Holy crap! This line makes the movie for me!!

 

This celebrated musical-comedy was directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, it offers a lighthearted depiction of Hollywood in the late 1920s, with the three stars portraying performers caught up in the transition from silent films to “talkies.” (Wikipedia)

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West Side Story (1961)

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[singing]

Bernardo:  “I’d like to go back to San Juan.”

Anita:  “I know a boat you can get on!”

Ha!  Bernardo, you do you, cause I’m gonna do me!

 

Ah, the Sharks and the Jets who turn a knife fight into the coolest, choreographed ballet I’ve ever seen. I also have a particular fondness for this film having performed in a community theater stage production.

Jets

Jets

A musical romantic drama directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, the film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris.

Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning 10, including Best Picture (as well as a special award for Robbins), “West Side Story” is the record-holder for the most wins for a movie musical. (Wikipedia)

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)

 

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Cowardly Lion:  ” Alright I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”

Tin WoodsmanScarecrow:  “What’s that?”

Cowardly Lion:  “Talk me out of it!”

 Oh, Lion – you just gotta love him!

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “The Wizard of Oz” is the most well-known and commercially successful adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The classic stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. The co-stars include Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow), Jack Haley (The Tin Man), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion), Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West), with Charley Grapewin, Terry the dog (billed as Toto), and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins.

Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and unusual characters, over the years, it has become an icon of American popular culture. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost to “Gone with the Wind”. It did win in two other categories, including Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart. (Wikipedia)

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The Sound of Music (1965)

 

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Maria:  “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”

 Without a doubt, Maria!  Amen!

 

This song by Christina Perri  “A Thousand Years” isn’t from the film but I felt it perfectly reflected the relationship between Maria and the Captain.

“The Sound of Music” was produced and directed by Robert Wise, and starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. An adaptation of the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music, composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II it was based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp.

 

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Cabaret (1972)

 

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Sally:  ” I’m going to be a great film star! That is if booze and sex don’t get me first.”

This is a very prophetic quote considering the fate of many a would-be star.

 

This stylish, socially conscious musical drama was directed by the legendary choreographer Bob Fosse and stars Liza Minnelli, Michael York. and Joel Grey. The setting is Berlin in 1931 with the Nazis’ violent rise serving as a powerful, ever-present undercurrent in the film.

Liza Minnelli won the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of the flamboyant, cabaret performer, Sally Bowles, with the film also garnering Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Original Song Score and Adaptation, and Best Film Editing. It holds the record for most Oscars earned by a film not honored for Best Picture. “The Godfather” took the prize. (Wikipedia)

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Chicago (2002)

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Although the stylized, Jazz Age hit “Chicago”(2002) didn’t make the AFI Top 5, (#12), I couldn’t omit this sizzling number, Cell Block Tango. “He had it comin'”☺☺

 

A film version of Chicago was to have been the next project for Bob Fosse, who had directed and choreographed the original 1975 Broadway production but he died before realizing his vision.

Fosse’s distinctive jazz choreography style is evident throughout and he is thanked in the credits. The movie explores the themes of celebrity, scandal, and corruption in Chicago during the Jazz Age. (Wikipedia)

 

chicago movie

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger

 

Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere, “Chicago” centers on Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) and Roxie Hart (Zellweger), two murderesses who find themselves in jail together awaiting trial in 1920s Chicago.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah “Mama”

For her part, the multi-talented rapper, actress, producer, Queen Latifah’s role as Matron “Mama” Morton earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The movie was the winner of six Academy Awards in 2003, including Best Picture. The film was the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968.

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There are definitely a lot more for the list so please, let me know some of your picks in the comments!

 

I’ve Got the Music in Me Two!

dancers1

I’ve loved musicals my entire life. Going back to Frankie and Annette in the beach movies when a mandatory song would break out and a beach full of teenagers would get busy doing the watusi.

Frankie and Annette

Some musical numbers stand out more than others. This is Part Two of a glimpse into some of my favorites.



Streets of Fire 1984

streetsoffire

I’ve written about Streets of Fire before as my guilty pleasure. It’s a rock ‘n roll tale about gangs, ex- lovers (Diane Lane and Michael Pare) and some fantastic music! I give mad props to Fire, Inc. featuring Holly Sherwood (on lead vocals), Rory Dodd, and Eric Troyer for their music in the song “Nowhere Fast”. (Diane Lane did not sing) First, because it’s the right thing to do and second, they kicked butt!!

I got into the film primarily because of the musical sequences even though it failed critically and commercially. Its musical score, however, by Jim Steinman, Ry Cooder, and others, as well as the hit Dan Hartman song “I Can Dream About You”, from the film’s soundtrack, helped it attain a cult following.

Fame 1980

Fameposter

I’ll round out this post with one of my favorite inspiring films, Fame. Produced by David De Silva and directed by Alan Parker, its screenplay is by Christopher Gore, choreography by Louis Falco and musical score by Michael Gore.

Starring Irene Cara, it’s a peek into a year of study at a New York school of performing arts. As a result of being fired up by this movie, I took my love of musicals and turned it into a path as an actress in community theater.

“Fame, I’m gonna live forever, baby remember my name!”

 

“Back in the Day” – Let’s Hear it for the VCR! 📼

vhs movies player

Can You Guess What This Does?

My ideas for posts come to me in a very organic way. Doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, if a thought comes to mind I immediately write it down. (if I don’t, it can be lost in the ether forever:) This time, sitting under the dryer at the salon, I came up with the idea for a flashback look at the revolutionary video format from “back in the day”and some of my favorite titles from the hundreds of tapes in my VCR library.

The Video Home System (VHS) is a standard for consumer-level use of analog recording on videotape cassettes. It was developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the 1970s. (Wikipedia)

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Over the years, I’ve been upgrading my VHS tapes to DVDs because of the quality. But, I’d also kept my VCR because of my extensive VHS collection and besides, it was in perfectly good condition. That is until about a year ago. The rewind ceased to function and upon ejecting the tape it became a projectile, hurling itself across the room.

I recently celebrated my birthday and received an Amazon gift card which I was very excited to use in purchasing a new, used VCR. As I started taking inventory of tapes I hadn’t been able to or just forgot about watching over the years, I was like a kid in a candy store, discovering these titles all over again.

Anyone who knows me understands I’m a movie junkie. As a kid, my mom and I went to the “show” (as we called it) on a weekly basis. And on Saturdays, I’d tag along with my sister to the monster matinees.

Growing up in the sixties, I only had access to my favorite films at the movie theater. However, I always believed the day would come when I’d assemble a film library and be able to watch my faves as often as I’d like. It would take another decade, but I got my wish when in 1977 the VCR player became available to the general public.

From the 1950s, magnetic tape video recording became a major contributor to the television industry, via the first commercialized video tape recorders (VTRs). At that time, the devices were used only in expensive professional environments such as television studios and medical imaging (fluoroscopy).

In the 1970s videotape entered home use, creating the home video industry and changing the economics of the television and movie businesses. The television industry viewed VCRs as having the power to disrupt their business, while television users viewed the VCR as the means to take control of their hobby. (Wikipedia)

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First VHS Logo

In the beginning, there were few titles available and the tapes were expensive. ($60-$80) It would take until the early eighties before the format was feasible as prices came down.

The first theatrical film ever released to the public on VHS was the South Korean drama, The Young Teacher, in 1976. The first three titles to become available in the U.S were – The Sound of Music, Patton, and M*A*S*H (at an average retail cost of $50-$70, each).

I have such happy memories of watching The Sound of Music (1965) for the first time and being swept up in the majestic opening number and loving every song. At that moment, Julie Andrews became my favorite songstress and I would forever perform as a soprano!

West Side Story (1961) also made an impression and was one of the coolest musicals of the 1960’s. Winner of ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, this electrifying musical sets the ageless tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the slums of 1950s New York.

My personality is the type that will watch a movie over and over again and I’m so thankful for the advent of the VCR which has allowed me to collect and enjoy my film library anytime I desire. These films have also impacted and inspired me to take my love of musicals and eventually perform in community theater productions.

It’s so wonderful to be able to relive fond big screen memories, and relish home movies of when my kids were young. Starting my video collection was a wish come true and I often enjoy revisiting these special films and moments of days and times gone by.

 

VHS Legacy

Often considered an important medium of film history, the influence of VHS on art and cinema was highlighted in a retrospective staged at the Museum of Arts and Design in 2013. In 2015 the Yale University Library collected nearly 3,000 horror and exploitation movies on VHS tapes, distributed from 1978 to 1985, calling them “the cultural id of an era.” (Wikipedia)

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“Dance and Sing Get Up and Do Your Thing” – AFI’s Top 5 Musicals

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It seems every time someone asks the question “What’s your favorite? (fill in the blank) that’s what happens to me…BLANK.  So, I decided to prep for the next occasion.  Here’s the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 5 Musicals of All time!  West Side Story and Cabaret have already made the list on my Songbird Oscar Winners post.  I think I got this!

Can you name yours?  Let’s share.

# FILM YEAR STUDIO
1 SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN 1952 MGM
2 WEST SIDE STORY 1961 United Artists
3 WIZARD OF OZ, THE 1939 MGM
4 SOUND OF MUSIC, THE 1965 Twentieth Century-Fox
5 CABARET 1972 Allied Artists

 

Some of my favorite quotes from the films!

Singing in the rain poster

Lina:  [with a voice to peel paint]  And I cayn’t stand’im.    Holy crap! This line makes the movie for me!!

 

 

 

West Side Poster

[singing]

Bernardo:  ” I’d like to go back to San Juan.”

Anita:  “I know a boat you can get on!”

 

Ha!  You do you, cause I’m gonna do me!

 

 

Wizard of Oz

Cowardly Lion:  ” Alright  I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”

Tin WoodsmanScarecrow:  “What’s that?”

Cowardly Lion:  “Talk me out of it!”

 

Oh Lion – you just gotta love him!

 

 

 

Sound of Music

 

Maria:  “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”

 

Without a doubt!  Amen!

 

 

Cabaret poster

 

Sally:  ” I’m going to be a great film star! That is, if booze and sex don’t get me first.”

 

Quote is dead on.  What’s up Ms Liza?