Ripped from the Headlines?

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“So, Ed, what did you do on your ‘summer vacation’ from movies at the FIA?” Well, since you’ve asked, I had enough time to finish work on a book that was published in June – with an inadvertent reminder of the current global pandemic.

The photograph on the cover of Hollywood Musicals You Missed: 70 Noteworthy Films from the 1930s (McFarland & Co.) is from “It’s Great to Be Alive,” a 1933 mix of music, comedy, romance, science fiction and gender-role reversal – all set amid a worldwide health crisis. (I did say this was a comedy, right?)

The photo choice was not ripped from the headlines of 2020; it was made well before COVID-19’s arrival. In fact, the menace in “It’s Great to Be Alive” is much stranger than the real-life pandemic. It leads to the demise of the Earth’s entire male populace … save for one golden-voiced fellow portrayed by Brazilian heartthrob, Raul Roulien. This character becomes, shall we say, “much in demand.”

Even if “It’s Great to Be Alive” doesn’t seem quite as frivolous now as when I viewed it during my research, I love it, and its ilk, no less. This is my third book about Depression-era American musical films – the more obscure, the better. Historians have analyzed to death the art of Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Judy Garland and other greats. I’m more into little-seen swing music pictures, crooning cowboys, hillbilly singers and songwriter tributes that we would now call “jukebox musicals” – but were made before there were jukeboxes.

The thought of actors bursting into song unprompted is somehow too fanciful to the same 2020 audiences who thrill at “Star Wars” or the Marvel Universe, although the success of “La La Land” and the recent Queen and Elton John biopics provide some hope for the genre. As time passes, the sounds of early films seem to grow fainter, more remote.

Still, people will always want to see movies, even if they might not be seeing them in the old ways. The Flint Institute of Arts is going ahead with the 2020-21 Friends of Modern Art film series – but likely via virtual screenings for the time being.

The series is to begin September 11-13 with a tragi-comedy, “Synonyms,” in which a disaffected young man from Israel journeys to Paris to erase his origins and flee his nationality.

The September 18-20 slot had yet to be filled at this writing, but on September 25-27, Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” is on the slate. Antonio Banderas earned a recent Oscar nomination in the drama about a filmmaker whose life comes crashing down around him.

We’re still ironing out details of what patrons will do to see the films virtually, so check the FIA website at flintarts.org for updates. And remember, as “It’s Great to Be Alive” reminds us, the world could be a lot worse.

adzicnatasa / stock.adobe.com

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