austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I've taken my bows and my curtain calls

Heavenly Music is a curious little M-G-M short from 1943, starring Frederick Brady as Ted Barry, a popular yet dead crooner who goes up to the pearly gates, is interviewed by the secretary --- Mr Frisbee, played by Eric Blore, who did Jameson so well in almost all the Lone Wolf pictures --- and sent to a panel of experts to be judged on his fitness to be inducted to Music Heaven.

The jury is headed by Beethoven --- in a nice moment, Barry talks of how often he's played the Moonlight Sonata, and Beethoven says, ``we bear no malice here; I'll forgive you'', played by Steven Geray. Wagner, Paganini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Chopin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Strauss are the associate judges of the fitness of Barry and by implication modern music.

There are some interesting cross-currents here. The short can't come out and say modern music is good, since it is after all liked by the youth and if we know anything about the youth it's that their music is a bunch of noise. However, the short can't call it bad either, since it would irritate at least as much of the audience consisting of that youth who listen to stuff. So there's a curious display made in which one of Barry's ``compositions'' is alleged by Wagner to be a ripoff of one of his melodies; but Barry notes the same melody used by earlier and earlier composers until we finally reach Strauss, from which all music begins.

I may have the composers wrong; what was distracting me during this was recalling a new addition to my old-time radio station, Can You Imagine That?, which broadcasted all sorts of Ripley's-grade trivia, real and delusional [1], and pointed out how popular melodies like ``Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here!'' also appear in real music like the anvil chorus or earlier compositions, going back to the invention of real music, sometime around Chopin. It's obviously part of the same current, to try to insist that modern music is not worthless since it's a lot like classic music and by the way you kids who like this so-called popular stuff should see it's just like this classic stuff that's real music.

After being forced to compose something on the spot, Beethoven issues a judgement that Barry must wait 200 years to see if his music stands the test of time. But an angel Barry met on the way in --- dressed like a Woman In Sailor's Outfit for a nautical-themed Ziegfeld Folly revue --- and who was a fan of him before his implicit but unmentioned death demands he be allowed in because the melody could be immortal, and she challenges Chopin and Liszt to play it in their styles. And sure enough there's a happy end, because if there's any kind of music sure to be immortal, it's early-40s big-band-style music.

This short won the 16th Academy Award for best two-reel live action short film, raising the question, wait, that's Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) in the last scene as Gabriel blowing a trumpet? The heck?

Trivia: RKO's first Amos 'n' Andy movie, the 1930 Check and Double-Check, included a second storyline featuring white characters for fear audiences would not follow Amos and Andy in segments much longer than the 15-minute daily shows. Source: The Adventures Of Amos 'N' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon, Melvin Patrick Ely.

Currently Reading: Gilded City: Scandal and Sensation In Turn-Of-The-Century New York, M H Dunlop.

Tags: movies

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