Friday, 4 May 2012



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1933 - USA (Warner Brothers Pictures)

DIRECTOR: Lloyd Bacon
SCRIPT: Rian James, James Seymour, Whitney Bolton (uncredited)
MUSIC: Harry Warren

     Now, where was I...
Busy, is the answer. It is not a witty answer, nor especially exiting but at least it's honest and the best one I've got. Also, it's not really worth wasting any more time on, so let's just get started. There's a film's carcass on the operating table awaiting to be dissected. I better try and stop myself from the urge to lick the scalpel.

THE 42nd STREET is one of those films I had to approach with tabula rasa of mind and expectations. I've never heard of it before, I've never heard of Lloyd Bacon and I haven't seen any of his other films either. It's a good job I'm not a professional film critic, otherwise I guess I would have to start to feel bad about myself. Someone has seen it though and decided it was not only good enough to include in 1001 FILMS... but also to select it for the American National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Well, I'll tell you one thing - if I should feel bad about myself for not seeing such a classic, then what am I to do about the fact that I have found it neither culturally, historically nor aesthetically significant? Worse still, I don't find it significant in absolutely any way.
Which, of course, indicates that the problem lies with me. Or the fact that the works of art once proclaimed classics remain on an adequate shelf unquestioned and unchallenged, because... well, they're classics, so they've got to be good.
The big problem I've got with THE 42nd STREET is that I am, of course, fully aware of the eye of the beholder distortion. I've done my time in journalism, I know the drill. I've tried as much as I could to detach myself from the reception of this film and still couldn't find anything to hold onto. The only aspect I can admit to me being not fair here is historical significance. Since it relates to the history of another country, which I do not share in any capacity and therefore I should not really comment on that. But even here I've got a feeling I'm being generous out of pure courtesy.

I've said it before and it seems that I will have to keep on repeating the same argument here again and again. When you look at the book, which is listing films 'to see before you die', published in A.D. 2011, you would be excused (at least the way I see it) to expect to find in there titles that can be in said year, at least somehow relevant. And it would also help to establish, who this list of films is aimed at. A film critic? A film enthusiast? A novice? The first option we can discard. Film critics wrote that book, so they already know the films. Fair enough. The other two groups are not mutually exclusive at all, so we can roll them into one, called 'normal people'. Well, if you're going to present the 'normal people' with a list of 1001 films that are more important to watch, than just about any other film, you better give them a good reason. And in case of THE 42nd STREET I see none. Honestly. The story is banal (was it more revolutionary in 1933? The reviews I've read so far don't seem to support such claim), the performances and production are so very (and I mean VERY) 30s. - stage-like, exaggerated, artificial, and there's also nothing to write home about in the visual department either.  I might be wrong, of course, and I may be missing something significant and important but even if I do, they hid it well from me, those cunning film makers. I have made three pages of notes during watching this film and they are all complaints. Even the very beginning is annoying. The story hits the ground running (and shouting a lot) and didn't slow down for the viewer to catch up until it was too late and I stopped caring. Not that there's much to care about. The characters are so paper thin you could make Chinese lanterns out of them and even sets are horrid. When the action moves from New York to Philadelphia there's a scene on the train platform when people unloading the luggage shout out the name of the city. It's a trick taken out straight from a radio show narration and thanks god it's there. All the decorations are still the same as before and we would never know that we've changed the city if it wasn't for the announcement.
And then, there also seems to be some sort of a problem with the musical formula. I had no idea I was watching a musical until the last fifteen minutes of the film. Yes, there are just a couple of songs and dance numbers at the end, not throughout the film. Now, get this: I hate musicals. I just don't see the point. When I want a film, I watch a film, and when I want to listen to some music, I go to a concert. Mix those two and they just get into each other's way. So far, I have made only three exceptions - SINGIN' IN THE RAIN,  FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. And yet, the final bit was the best part of the film. The dancing wasn't too bad and some stage ideas (the train, for example) amusing. But that's it. Good enough to be one of the most important films in the history of cinematography? Well, make a guess what I think.

And at the same time, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the film is bad. Not in a 'complete failure' kind of way, no. It's all right and for the enthusiasts of the genre will be enjoyable, but from a picture that is being considered by many as such a classic I expect more. Much, much more.

Rent it from LoveFilm
Get it on AMAZON

Previously on 1001 FILMS TO SEE AND NOT DIE: The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) - François Truffaut, 1959
Next on the list: 8 1/2 - Federico Fellini, 1963

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