Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Accept No Substitutes

"...the Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double 
sense in which some things can be taken." 
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

In the recent televisual Sound of Music, Poor Miss Carrie Underwood was given the unenviable task of filling the shoes of the likes of Miss Martin and Miss Andrews.  The phenomenon is hardly new.

Here, for example, Miss Jane Powell tackles a veritable cinematic Everest.  It's 1959, and it appears to have seemed to someone that a lapse of 15 years was enough to justify a remake, and on live television yet, of Meet Me in St. Louis.

It was, if nothing else, a starry cast.  Whatever qualms Myrna Loy may have had about following Mary Astor, or (God help us) Tab Hunter the same for Tom Drake, nothing could be more daunting than Miss Powell's job in attempting to obliterate the memory of Judy Garland.  That she fails, even I (no Powellite) have to admit is hardly her fault.  She does what Jane Powell does as adequately as ever Jane Powell did (albeit in a wig that appears to have a mind of it own, and frosted to boot), and if she's rather a mature Esther at 30, well, I suppose there's no harm in an older woman ogling the boy next door or wanting to go to the Fair.  I'd be more worried about a 13-year-old Tootie (in the person of Miss Patty Duke, yet) still getting hysterics, something that seemed far more appropriate at Margaret O'Brien's eight.

The layers are multiple: 1904 Americana as seen by 1944 gala big-studio Hollywood as reinterpreted for 1959 network television; one technology (late-early video) replacing another (high Metro TechniColor); one kind of star taking on one of the most famous personae of an entirely different kind (and level) of star.  All that remains is the song.

And the magic of that damn song is such that even here, in dim kinescopic black-and-white, it actually kind of works, one of the faithful friends that, each year, gather near to us once more.  It's not Judy, true, but it's no Carrie, either.

The success of the Von Trapps live was such that it looks like we'll be getting at least one more dose of shaky cameras, buzzing mics, and (unless we're singularly lucky) out-of-their-depth performers staying just this side of full-on panic.  We can only hope that St. Louis is not the unlucky classic of choice.  Rent seems to be odds-on favorite at the moment.  Maybe they can get Patty Duke for a cameo; failing that, perhaps Jane Powell's wig.

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