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