Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anthropomorphising Spring

1. Last October I sent in my entry for the National Poetry Competition. Although they have not yet announced the winners I have been contacted to tell me that I have not been successful. Apparently there were nearly 13,000 entries so even someone as egotistical as I must admit that there were probably a couple of hundred worth comparing to mine.

2. Since it is out of the competition I can now publish it elsewhere without it being eliminated. This seems to be an appropriate day:

Persephone’s Dance

The Greeks used to call her Persephone
Personification of the season
She’s had six months in hell (there are reasons)
Now celebrating her liberty

Remembering on this cross quarter day
Promises of summer and winter that’s passed
Is it festival or is it a fast
Somebody else will be leading the way

Gathered in a field we start to sing
Air and land no longer silent and still
Maybe she won’t and maybe she will
Join us to dance on the first day of spring 

3. Since I wrote the poem last spring (for May Day in fact), sent it in October, and deliberately ignored it since then, I had actually forgotten what I entered. I had thought that I hadn't actually written any poetry since then, but it turns out that's not right. I wrote the lyrics for a (fictional) song called Robot Lover for another piece, and also...

Well, this poem was for a creative writing class. Later in the term we were given the task of taking something serious we'd written for the class and making it funny. As some of the other students thought that this was a tender and beautiful poem* I went out of my way to spoil it with this comic version:

Dance, Persephone, Dance!

A Goddess arrives at our May Day fair;
The Greeks used to call her Persephone.
Celebrating her seasonal liberty
(She really has the most beautiful hair).

Maiden’s white dress decorated with beads
Promises of Summer, Winter has passed.
Is it a festival or is it a fast?
Turn down the salad with pomegranate seeds.

Her skin’s so pale I’m a bit concerned
She’s had six months in hell (there are reasons)
Personification of the season;
Without Factor 50 she’ll get totally burned

Out at last from the underworld hole
Remembering on this cross quarter day
She follows us as we lead the way
Frowning at the symbolism of the Maypole.

Maybe she won’t and maybe she will
Join us as we celebrate spring.
We gather together to dance and to sing,
She’s lying in the grass looking pretty chill.
4. These together mirror two views of the Greek Gods. The first has them as primal powers, existing in the hearts and minds of people and the new life of the season. The second as powerful, but human-like, the personification of spring hanging out at a May Day festival like a slightly bored teen, or maybe a disapproving young woman.

*Air and land no longer silent and still was admired which is amusing as it was entirely there for the line that follows.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Academy Award For Best Original Song: 1935

The 8th Academy Awards, for 1935, took place in 1936. This was the first year the statuettes were called "Oscars" and also the first year for Best Dance Direction Award, of interest for reasons that maybecome clear. More details at the Wikipedia link.

So what were the nominees for Best Original Song? I'm glad you asked.

"Cheek to Cheek" from Top Hat – Music and Lyric by Irving Berlin
"Lovely to Look At" from Roberta – Music by Jerome Kern; Lyric by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh
"Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935 – Music by Harry Warren; Lyric by Al Dubin

So again we have two songs from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, and this time a solo from another big song-and-dance musical. What were they like, what did the Academy choose and how wrong were they?

Cheek to Cheek
So here's the thing; this is a song about dancing and comes with a dance routine (or two in fact). If we ignore the dance we're left with a pleasant enough Irving Berlin romantic song. But by ignoring the dance we lose the whole point of it, that it's about the moment of dancing with someone you love. Anyway, on it's own it's inoffensive and moderately amusing lyrically. Both Astaire and Rogers sing well, but their voices are not first rate, which is just as well as then they would be aggravating over-achievers.

Lovely to Look at
Oh, that's a lovely dance, her dress is great and he really does wear the tails well... what we're judging Best Original Song not Best Dance Direction or Best Art Direction[1]? Well then. This is another dance tune that trips along pleasantly. It is neither exciting nor depressing.

Lullaby of Broadway
Well this became something of a classic, an anthem to New York, or Manhattan, or just Broadway or something. And it's a bit of an old-fashioned show tune but it's a full-bodied show tune with confidence in itself. It has no problem just coming in, declaring that Broadway is great and clearing off. (The singer is Wini Scott). Probably the only thing that would improve it is if about a hundred tap dancers came on and danced to it.

Who won.

Lullaby of Broadway won, and I can't argue with that. Fred and Ginger and Top Hat in particular may have had a greater longevity in the public consciousness, but Gold Diggers of 1935 and Lullaby of Broadway are not forgotten. Is this an example of good taste by the Academy or was this the effect of an Oscar Winner helping make it more than a historical curiosity? Difficult to untangle at this historical distance. Perhaps worth noting that Best Dance Direction went to neither Busby Berkley for Gold Diggers of 1935 or to Astaire's collaborator Hermes Pan, but to Dave Gould for the (to me) forgotten Broadway Melody of 1936 AND Folies Bergère de Paris. Big hits at the time but now obscure.

Next Time

Six songs? Well, can't argue with a larger field although it may take me a little longer to get around to it.

Youtube Playlist

[1] Best Costume Design was not introduced until 1948