We recently borrowed Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Frida from some friends. While completely different movies I don’t have enough on either of them for full reviews so I’m bunching them up in the same post.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a pretty by-the-books MGM musical. It is based on a book entitled The Sobbin’ Women which is in turn based on a Roman story titled The Rape of the Sabine Women. Which, like the title implies is about the kidnapping and rape of several young women who eventually come to ‘love’ their captors. How someone decided to make a musical out of this one wonders.
The movie is very sexist. The oldest brother, Adam (Howard Keel), sets out at the beginning of the movie to find a wife. He doesn’t do this because he is lonesome, or loveless, or in need of company. No, he seeks a wife because he lives in the mountains with six brothers and they need someone to cook for them and clean up after them. Even his method of finding a wife is pretty awful. He comes to town to shop for various goods and reckons to add a wife to that list. The remainder of the story focuses on the wife he finds, named Millie (Jane Powell), and how she manages to turn the brothers into refined gentlemen. The original story figures in with a kidnapping plot designed to win the hearts of potential brides for the remaining single brothers.
Sexist plot aside Seven Brides really does sparkle as a gem in the musical hat of MGM. This can be mainly attributed to some fine songs by Johnny Mercer (including the hillbilly charm of “Bless Your Beautiful Hide”) and some incredible choreography by Michael Kid. The ‘Barn Raising’ scene is worth the price of the ticket alone. Add to that the subtle beauty of ‘Lonesome Polecat’ and you have a winner.
I have personal memories of this film being watched in a dormitory lobby in college. Some bubbly friends of mine insisted that we had to watch it immediately after finding I had never seen it. They proceeded to quote most of the lines, sing every song, and practically dance along with every scene. They did so with such energy that I was swept along as well, hardly paying attention to the jokes or the plot. Upon viewing it again I couldn’t help but remember that enthusiasm, but this time I was unable to miss the bothersome plot. In the end, one must realize the time and place this movie came from without overlooking what is a pretty disturbing bit of plotting. The songs and the movements will most assuredly win most of the skeptics over though.
When Frida was released into theatres I had absolutely no desire to see it. I’m not a fan of Salma Hayek, biopics in general, and biopics about artists especially. Add to that my zero knowledge about the artist Frida herself and the movie’s fate was sealed into never being seen by the likes of me. However, my general lack of new movies here in France and being able to borrow them from a friend for free helped me to reconsider watching it. When I realized it was directed by Julie Taymor who also directed a marvelously beautiful version of Titus then I was actually excited by it (almost).
Like Titus, Frida is an amazingly visual movie. Taymor, who is known mainly for her Broadway adaptation of the Lion King, has an artist’s eye for visual flair. She has found a way to take something as static as a painting and made it alive. Throughout the film, she recreates several of Frida’s works and makes them a part of the action. It’s impossible to explain on paper (or cyberspace) but what she creates is something pure magic.
I can’t say how accurately Frida is portrayed in this movie. The picture we get is of a rather flawed woman who lived with a great deal of suffering. Her suffering comes in both physical ways (stemming from an accident early in life) and emotionally (from a cheating husband and her own mistakes). Yet it is this suffering that creates such remarkable art. Taymor manages to create an interesting and moving story within her excellent images.
Both Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina pull out excellent performances. I was especially impressed with Molina portraying the very flawed and yet sympathetic Diego. I had pretty much written this actor off after playing Doc Oc in the highly overrated Spider-man 2. But here he shows a real sensitivity to his character. Don’t be fooled by the billing of this film. The cover of the DVD would have you believe that Ed Norton, Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, and Geoffrey Rush all star in it. In fact, with the exception of Geoffrey Rush, all of them have, what amounts to cameos in the picture. Rush is in the movie a bit more, but I wouldn’t call even that a starring role.
Though neither Seven Brides or Frida are perfect films. Both of them win you over with sheer energy and charm.