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Monday, June 29, 2015

A Favorite Band Has Its Story Told


The Four Seasons Celebrated in Jersey Boys (2014)

Saw several refer to this as an "old people's" movie, which is reference to myself and peers, I suppose, having come up with the Four Seasons as constant background to 60/70's living. One could argue that Clint (Tarantula) Eastwood led too gentle a dance with the quartet, and yes, there's alternative of a Martin Scorsese having throats slit and eyes popped out over direction the Seasons took in heyday, but do we want that as foreground to Let's Hang On and Rag Doll? I always loved the band, and still smell chlorine from pools swam while they played on juke boxes next to Tom's nab machines we'd visit once dry. Siblings bought the albums when I was too young to consume LP's ($4 a minimum then), so there was access from beginnings to 4S music. Few were so gratified as I when they (at least Valli) made comeback with My Eyes Adored You, Who Loves You, December 1963, these a background to college years and beloved unto now. So was I ripe for The Jersey Boys? Yes, and Yes again.

Here was threshold problem: They didn't use original recordings. These Jersey Boys don't really sound like Frankie and the Four, and that takes adjustment. Once you're reconciled, however, the story makes up difference, and by a third act, even the music makes inroad. Seems the boys were tied to N.J. gang elements (Christopher Walken as lead apostle). Scorsese would have run far with that, but Eastwood stays tentative. No one here gets shot, or even punched. Mischief this crew commits is strictly Dead End kids sort. For many, that made The Jersey Boys seem old-fashioned. Eastwood shot parts on what looks like the Warners backlot. There's even a car driven against an apparent process screen, something I haven't seen since Austin Powers spoofed the technique. Bravo to Eastwood for reviving it, his sort of Marnie moment, and I'd like to think unconscious homage to 60's Hitchcock and other old-timers looking to save costs and not drive so far to work.

These Seasons presumably do their own singing --- at least it's not the original Four we hear (unless there was a reunion to record tracks). Was this a creative decision or a rights (withheld) necessity? Updating was cinched in old days where Al Jolson's backlog got refreshed to 1946 standard for The Jolson Story, with AJ performing anew to modern orchestrations. Plugged into Larry Parks' pantomime, the effect was electric. As satisfying was Universal restage of Glenn Miller standards for their 1954 biopic, decade old hits seeming brand new to a fresh audience. Updating the Seasons by fifty years was tougher commission. You couldn't have 2014 actors performing to (comparative) stone-age tape (or whatever format the masters survive on), though on the other hand, anything done new won't capture raw quality of music recorded when rock and pop was resolutely analog, if that (any music archivists out there to vet, or correct, my freewheeling assumptions?).

Still, I liked The Jersey Boys a lot. Each of the boys are fine. There's a Price Of Fame thread woven throughout, so it's like watching The Gene Krupa Story or something of way-past vintage. One of the writers (Marshall Brinkman) dates to Annie Hall, which for audiences today might as well be a silent movie. And I wonder what drew Clint to this project.  Surely not nostalgia, for he was a grizzled pro before this pre-Fab Four got a first break. But that just adds to fun, as there's retro value to not just the story and setting, but it's telling as well. A younger auteur might make things uglier, more off-putting (not that I mind rougher stuff, but not for a biopic about the Four Seasons). Besides, Frankie Valli and Robert Gaudio as Exec Producers aren't going to do anything to cock-up nostalgia touring (26 concerts slated for 2015-16).

Now comes my geeky call-out of what looks like error in the Jersey Boys telling. There's a scene where the group is in a hotel room watching TV. The movie is The Big Carnival, which one of them refers to as Ace In The Hole (it hadn't been called that since summer of 1951). This is all taking place no later than 1962, because songwriter Bob Gaudio gets inspiration for Big Girls Don't Cry by watching Kirk Douglas slap Jan Sterling. Big Girls Don't Cry was released to Top 40 glory in 1962. Now here's problem for those who care enough to have read this far: The Big Carnival did not premiere on television until December 4, 1965 (NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies). Gotcha, Clint and Company! Digging reveals that Gaudio was actually inspired by tele-viewing Slightly Scarlet, which had been in TV syndication from late 50's onward. Was it easier clearing clips from the Paramount pic? Anyway, it's a fun gaffe, if a minor one, and I'm sure billionaire Clint (especially after American Sniper) would rightly issue "Get A Life" order to me for bringing it up. Don't exit The Jersey Boys early, by the way, as there's merry end credits dance featuring whole of the ensemble cast, this a cheery finish to an enjoyable couple of hours.

7 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

Nice observations on a film that I think was more than a little underrated. Full disclosure, a family member has a very minor supporting role early in the movie, but I would have liked this one no matter what. A couple of points as to the authentic (or non-authentic) sound of the group in the biopic. This is a film adaption of a long running musical, a bit of an institution itself both on Broadway and on the road. Am pretty sure any familiarity with the subject matter the under forty demo has is as much related to stage presentations as to any replay of the originals on oldies stations. Most of the leads were plucked from various productions of the play, so they all brought a little history even before they warmed up the cameras. For good or bad, Clint stuck to the very formalized structure of the original play, with each character breaking the fourth wall delivering his remembrance not just as a flashback, but as a successive 'season.' Pretty sure this seemed more natural on stage, admittedly a little forced on screen. Still, I liked the end result a lot... a little corny around the edges, but I love that!

11:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

James Curtis points up another Clint Eastwood project with musical backdrop:


John,

Re: Clint Eastwood and the Four Seasons, you may recall an earlier film called BIRD, which I personally think is the best thing he ever directed. In this, he actually used Charlie Parker's original performance tracks, stripping out the circa 1950 accompaniment and surrounding Parker's solos with modern musicianship to create the illusion of full stereo. I thought it worked fabulously well in the context of the movie, although I remember the late Tim Hauser, who had a vocal jazz show on local public radio, playing selections from the soundtrack album and criticizing Eastwood for monkeying with the originals. Which, of course, misses the point--the purpose was to give the closest possible representation of Parker's playing in the film; the album derived from that soundtrack was merely an afterthought by comparison, not a deliberate act of vandalism.

Which begs the question: Was Eastwood burned by the criticism leveled at him in some purist circles for BIRD? And therefore chose to go the recreation route for JERSEY BOYS? Or was it simply the technical limitations of voice versus saxophone that made the technique employed for BIRD impractical here? It would be interesting to know if he's touched on this in any interviews, because it must have come up for discussion. Maybe the answer is simply that the voices are approximated for the stage show, and so the movie was produced in the same fashion.
Jim

2:44 PM  
Blogger john knight said...

John, I have not seen JERSEY BOYS possibly because I'm more of a Ricky Nelson
Everly Brothers sort of guy.
Having said that everyone that I know who has seen JERSEY BOYS loved it.
It's certainly on my "must catch up with" list.
I rarely go to the cinema these days,although I did see AMERICAN SNIPER at the
cinema and thought that it was excellent.
I also saw BIRD at the cinema at the time and the audience gave the film a standing
ovation at the end.
For me the most underrated/overlooked of all of Eastwood's films is WHITE HUNTER
BLACK HEART and I hope the Blu-Ray is not too long in appearing.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Marshall Brickman had his own taste of 1960's music fame when he joined The Tarriers, a folk group in the Kingston Trio vein that included a black member, Clarence Cooper. The third was Eric Weissberg, who performed "Dueling Banjos" for DELIVERANCE. All three can be seen here on ABC's "Hootenanny" from October 12, 1963; Brickman showcases his skills as a bluegrass fiddler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwDCwuqOZPA

Interesting that, according to IMDb, JERSEY BOYS is Brickman's first film credit in 20 years.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Wow, didn't know that about Brickman! Do know he directed one of my favorite offbeat 80's comedies SIMON.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Mr. Cool said...

There's a veritable wealth of celebrity connections to The Tarriers, which I refer to as the "iMDB effect".....ie go to iMDB to look up some obscure title or actor....and then get lost for 3 hours. None other than the great Alan Arkin was an original member of the Tarriers, which had two monster hits in 1956 and 1957, "The Banana Boat Song" and "Cindy, Oh Cindy". They also appeared in the 1957 movie musical "Calypso Heat Wave", which also featured a very young dancer named Maya Angelou as well as an equally young Joel Grey, and even a late career appearance by none other than Darla Hood of "Our Gang" fame.

This is the iMDB effect at its best. Check this stuff out over there and you may never return.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

The original Tarriers were Arkin, Erik Darling and Bob Carey. Arkin left first, not long after CALYPSO HEAT WAVE, to try his hand at acting. (Some say he did pretty well with it.) Clarence Cooper joined then, making the group two black males and one white. Then Darling left to replace Pete Seeger in The Weavers; later still he would organize The Rooftop Singers of "Walk Right In" fame. Weissberg joined when Darling pulled out, and then brought his pal and fellow University of Wisconsin classmate Brickman into the group. For a brief time, the group was a racially-balanced quartet, but Carey left in mid-1963 to go solo. By the end of the following year, the group was over, as was the entire folk era.

Woody Allen made a LOT of stand-up appearances on "Hootenanny," including one with The Tarriers, so perhaps that's when he and Brickman became acquainted - if they hadn't already met in some Greenwich Village folk club.

1:51 PM  

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