Monday, February 13, 2006

Favourite Movies #3 Meet Me In St. Louis

My life has been changed twice by this movie. When I first saw it on December 22, 1989 I knew that I was seeing something truly wonderful, something that all movies that followed would have to live up to. Then again around 10 years later reading the following sentence in CD liner notes, "Garland movingly depicts the internal turmoil of a romantically minded young woman and the repressive turn-0f-the century bourgeois society around her." This interpretation of a movie I had seen dozens and dozens of time made me love Film Studies. So fun!
And the movie is, above everything, fun. Filtered through Vincente Minnelli's rose-coloured vision of the past, we're presented with a St. Louis that ought to have been but never really was. Ketchup making, house parties with square dancing, making snow people, talking on the brand-new telephone are all 1903 activities we are privy to here. The costumes are Sears catalogue perfect and set decoration crammed with details (how many busts can one family have?).
The female-dominated household's focal point is Judy Garland. She gives the performance of a lifetime (look at the inner torment she holds in during the proposal scene) and sings like never before or again. The moment at the end of "The Boy Next Door" when the lace curtain falls across her face is completely haunting. She understands the sense of nostalgia Minnelli wanted to inject into the film. Indeed for the rest of her film career there was an attempt to recapture the magic she found while at 5135 Kensington Ave.
The second female lead is Tootie, played by 7 year old Margaret O'Brien, whose intensity and obsession with death keep the film from being sacchrine. Through Tootie we are presented with the dark side of childhood, from being beat up to having to "kill" people on Halloween. The Halloween sequence can been seen as a frightening microcosm for mob mentality, with its central bonfire and grotesquely dressed children.
Minnelli really needs to be credited with creating a film that looks like a moving painting. Each shot is composed and staged so artistically that it's difficult to believe it's only his third movie. His obvious gay style ushered in a series of MGM musicals in the 1940s and 1950s that were made by a largely gay talent pool at the studio; their style and taste pulse through these films, especially in Meet Me in St. Louis. In some ways, these films can be seen as being made by gay men for gay men.

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