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I am new to "Gypsy". Saw the movie and I hated it. 
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Post I am new to "Gypsy". Saw the movie and I hated it.
Last week I went to see Bernadette Peters perform live at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I got my money's worth and then some... the stand up comedy in between songs was hysterically funny, there wasn't a single bum note in her singing and the song selection was quite unpredictable. I was shocked to discover that she was in her 60s, she looks at least 20 years younger than that and her voice doesn't seem to have aged at all since "Into The Woods" (the video of which was my first introduction to her).

Anyways, Peters performed some songs from "Gypsy" as part of her set and I was blown away by her renditions of these songs. I then realised that I had never seen "Gypsy" in my life, despite the fact that it's often cited as the greatest musical ever and despite the fact that it's referenced in one of my all time favourite films, "The Fisher King".

So impressed was I by Peters' performance of these songs that I resolved to see the movie at the first opportunity, so then I could understand what they really meant in the context of the story. My local hi-fi store was selling both the 60s movie version and the 90s TV movie for $10 each... I decided to buy the 60s version instead of the 90s one, mainly because I dislike Bette Midler - I think that too often Midler just plays herself rather than getting beneath the skin of the character. I thought it would be more rewarding to see a real actress in the lead rather than a star going through the motions of their usual schtick. Also, I was aware that the 90s version had received some pretty damning reviews.

Well, I watched the movie and I immediately regretted my decision. I don't know if the 90s version is really as bad as it's reputation suggests, but it would have to try damn hard to top the awfulness of the 60s version. I absolutely hated it.

The main reason I disliked this movie had to do with Mama Rose. She comes across as a caricature rather than a real human being, and I was annoyed by the amount of screen time devoted to her whilst more complex and interesting characters (mainly Louise and Herbie) were relegated to the sidelines.

Partly this is to do with Rosalind Russell's very one dimensional performance. There are some scenes scattered throughout that give her an opportunity to show real vulnerability or maternal affection and present the character as being something more than just a blowhard-egotist-living-vicariously-through-her-children stereotype - but practically all her scenes are played on the same blowhard emotional level..... this might have worked if she'd hammed it up outrageously, but there's something oddly mannered about Russell's performance here.... she is over the top, but she isn't quite wacky and flamboyant enough to attain "magnificent beeyatch" status.

But it would be unfair to blame Russell alone for how shallow this movie is - the script skims over so much potential for drama.... rarely have I seen a relationship so terribly rushed as that between Herbie and Rose. After one dinner and a short song they are suddenly together in this weird not-quite-coupling, the development of which occurs mostly offscreen. On top of all this, I didn't find the two actors had much chemistry together and I found it hard to work out what Herbie sees in Rose anyway since she's acting like a bitch all the damn time we see them together, the relationship between these two just seems incredibly forced somehow.

Then there are the boys in the dance group - a passing remark about how they need boys in the act and then hey presto suddenly we've got some males in the company.... I felt the creative team squandered a golden opportunity for drama by not having some kind of audition scene or any scenes showing them and the girls getting used to living together. Such scenarios could've made for some interesting musical numbers as well.

The vaudeville sequences... I spent half the time wondering if they were deliberately bad or if it was just my interpretation of the scene. Certainly, I found Dainty June's voice to be incredibly irritating and I dreaded not only the moments when she opened her mouth to sing, but also the moments when she opened her mouth to speak.

Most of the dubbing I felt was atrocious, with the singers as lacking in emotional nuance as the actors. Their voices grated on my nerves for that reason.

The only thing that kept me from turning off the movie was Natalie Wood as Louise. The only genuine human emotion in the film I felt came from her. In her performance, I felt I was watching a character living out their life rather than being concious of an actor playing a role. And I've always liked Marni Nixon's ghost-singing and I think she compliments Wood's acting quite well..... but in a way, the quality of their work here kind of undermines the movie as well. Wood is the only one I felt was demonstrating any real talent as far as acting is concerned, whereas Nixon I felt was the only vocalist who didn't make me impatient for the song to be over already. Louise's wallflower status seems oddly phoney when she's upstaging everyone else in the movie - and I kept wishing there were more scenes with her and that the movie was really about her instead of Mama Rose.

The direction is flatter than my grandma's pancakes. I've seen daytime soap operas that were directed with more visual flair and pizazz than this film. The camera is so inert it pretty much neuters even the most impressive dance sequences, and most of them I thought weren't really awe inspiring anyway.

Now, even though I've trashed this movie quite thoroughly, I could see the glimmer of a good musical struggling to get out from under the huge pile of crap.

Whilst watching the movie, the names of different actors and directors who could've made this material good kept running through my mind.... when I heard Bernadette Peters perform these songs, they had much more emotional range, even though she was performing them in a concert setting. I can only imagine what she must've been like in a proper production, but I'm sure she played the role with more subtlety and complexity than Russell does.... Sam Mendes directed Peters on stage, and although I haven't always liked the content of his films, I've always found them interesting to look at. Whilst watching the 60s film of "Gypsy", my mind kept wandering during the boring bits and I imagined how great a Mendes directed version with Peters could be.... I've seen Peters do well in straight dramatic film roles, I think she'd do great as a more subtle and serious Rose, playing to the intimacy of the camera instead of constantly shouting to the back row - and with Peters I could more easily buy Herbie's sudden attraction and prevailing clingyness... and Mendes is a more visually dynamic director, he could probably make some of the less than stellar musical numbers interesting.

I also kept wondering about the Bette Midler version, and wondering if I should've bought that version instead... the Midler version was directed by Emile Ardolino, of "Dirty Dancing" infamy. Now, "Dirty Dancing" had a rather silly plot and cardboard characters - but there was a real verve and energy to the dance sequences and it had moments of breathtaking visual style. Then there's Midler, whom I can imagine being over the top as Rose in a fascinating car crash kinda way... but really, for all their faults, I find it hard to imagine that Ardolino and Midler could've possibly done any worse than their counterparts on the 60s movie version. If they did, then that level of incompetence would be an achievement in itself.

God, I can't believe I just said that - it's a sure sign that a movie is bad if you think watching Better Midler would be an improvement.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but seldom has a movie made me so angry as "Gypsy" did. Such interesting subject matter, such wasted potential... it's infuriating.

Maybe you more dedicated "Gypsy" fans can answer some questions for me:

I presume that the stage show is better... surely it is?

Is the character of Rose portrayed with more depth and complexity in the stage show?

Is the relationship between Rose and Herbie less rushed in the stage show?

Are the dance troupe better fleshed out as characters in the stage show?

Does the character of Louise have a larger role in the stage show?

About the 90s version... is it any good when judged as an adaptation of the stage show? Is it any good when judged independently of the stage show, just as a film? Is it better or worse than the 60s movie?

Did anyone here have the chance to see the Peters/Mendes version? Can you confirm or deny my suspicions that it must've been a more subtle, intelligent and rewarding experience than sitting through the 60s film?

Is my low opinion of the 60s movie commonly held among fans of "Gypsy" or is it more well liked generally?

Do fans of "Gypsy" generally like the way that "Some People" was used in "The Fisher King"?
(personally I much prefer Michael Jeter's "Fisher King" version of "Some People" to the one in the 60s movie of "Gypsy"... but then again, I think I'd prefer any version of that song to the one in the movie)


It's weird.... even though I disliked the movie, it's made me curious to learn more about this show....


Tue Jun 09, 2009 3:04 am
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I will come back to this when I have some more time, but I agree 100% that the 1960s film version is completely rotten and Rosalind Russell is rotten in it. The show it much better and so is the TV movie, despite its shortcomings.

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Tue Jun 09, 2009 3:55 am
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russell is a wonderful Mama Rose. 10 times better thna Peters or Midler. and no one has yet to be as great a Herbie as Karl Malden.

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Tue Jun 09, 2009 5:59 am
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I can't respond much to your very thorough post (there are parts I agree with, but have never noticed),

BUT

You saw Bernadette? AWESOME. I couldn't afford to go to Adelaide so I have to suffer with Patti and Mandy's tour in Sydney :P, but apparently they are broadcasting the concert on foxtel (Bio channel June 27th I think).

Do you know the names of the songs she sung from GYPSY?


Wed Jun 10, 2009 3:35 am
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Rosalind may not have the voice of midler or peters but she did tow brilliant things with mama rose & gypsy
1) Act the shiznicks outta it
2) make the role and the story WORK on film

Also what I love about the 60's film was that it had such great eensemble casting.

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Wed Jun 10, 2009 4:22 am
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Ok.

The TV movie's script is the original script of the show. So kudos to it for that.

In general, I didn't mind it. The only thing is that Bette peaks in her emotion way too early and doesn't have anywhere to go. I was hooked on Gypsy since I saw patti's performance at the Tony's and the TV movie drew me into my love for the whole show.

Plus many say that the book is one of the best ever written for a show.

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Wed Jun 10, 2009 5:42 pm
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only thing?? peter Reigert while good is No Karl Malden. the tone of the orchestrations is obnoxious and some of the supporting roles are over the top.

the original film is much better.

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Thu Jun 11, 2009 6:04 am
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the tone of the orchestrations is obnoxious


Reminds me of Lansbury's Gypsy :P, do you notice it seems cartoony?


Thu Jun 11, 2009 4:16 pm
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the orchestrations for a stage version are fine. lansbury's gypsy is easily the best.

but for a film they are over done...especially compared to the original film.. where styne conducts his own orchetrations.

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Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:47 am
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dolbinau wrote:
I can't respond much to your very thorough post (there are parts I agree with, but have never noticed),

BUT

You saw Bernadette? AWESOME. I couldn't afford to go to Adelaide so I have to suffer with Patti and Mandy's tour in Sydney :P, but apparently they are broadcasting the concert on foxtel (Bio channel June 27th I think).

Do you know the names of the songs she sung from GYPSY?


She sang "Let Me Entertain You" and "Rose's Turn".

Of course, I am only guessing she'd be good in this role. You can't judge a performer's effectiveness in a role by hearing them do songs at a concert, or by listening to a cast recording - you have to actually see them live in a proper stage production... and alas, I have not...

So Salome may well be right - maybe Peters was absolute crap when she played the role onstage, for all I know....

But seriously, I'm amazed people are saying Russell was so great - I mean, I don't see what's to like about her performance... I don't see any layers to it, to me Mama Rose just comes across as being a loud caricature.

But then again, I'm also the guy who was amazed that people liked Richard Harris in "Camelot" and that he managed to score a hit with "MacArthur Park".

I guess there really is no accounting for taste.


Mon Jun 15, 2009 5:41 am
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Harris was the single most important King Arthur in the histpory of camelot his role is legendary. i saw him twice in the role. a brillaint actor in a brillaint role. up there witbRex in My Fair lady, Prestonm in music Man and Orbach in Chicago.

anyone who disses Harris as Arthur doesnt know Camelot.

in other words i guess you have no taste.

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Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:26 am
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Quote:
Harris was the single most important King Arthur in the histpory of camelot his role is legendary. i saw him twice in the role. a brillaint actor in a brillaint role. up there witbRex in My Fair lady, Prestonm in music Man and Orbach in Chicago.


I should clarify that I was talking about the movie version, which was the only time I've seen Harris in this role - I thought there were some powerful moments of acting from him, but whenever he opened his mouth to sing, well.... is it so much to ask that someone who can ACTUALLY SING be in the role? Or at least someone who can speak-sing better than Harris?


Quote:
in other words i guess you have no taste.


Oh, of course - because any words that come out of your mouth are automatically right and your opinions are naturally more important than anyone elses.

Get over yourself.


Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:51 am
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