Saturday mornings I usually have breakfast with my daughter Elizabeth and her daughter Opal and (when she’s in the country) my Stanford colleague Elizabeth Traugott. Last Saturday Elizabeth and Opal backed out because they were suffering miserably with a cold/bronchitis, so Elizabeth Traugott and I chatted about things like if only and no doubt (which I hope to post about soon).
But Elizabeth then decided that she and Opal would like to get out of the house in the afternoon, so they came by to my place to watch movies suitable for the sickroom. I was hacking some myself, Elizabeth was hacking more, and Opal was barking like a seal. But we settled on two movies.
Digression: When Elizabeth was a child, she was often taken with afflictions like this, and then her mother would admonish her: “Stop barking!” Then Ann got it herself and apparently cracked a rib coughing. She went to the doctor, who verified that she had indeed cracked a rib (though there was nothing that could really be done about that) and advised her to take things easy and be careful. “But, Doctor Mezger”, she replied hotly, “I was lying quietly in my bed, alone, when it happened. I don’t know how to be more careful than that.”
Turns out she broke bones pretty easily — not a good thing for someone who did ambitious horseback riding all her life.
Back at my house, Opal checked out my DVDs and extracted Yellow Submarine. For my part, I’d selected the Joe Papp Pirates of Penzance (with Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, and others).
Yellow Submarine is an old favorite of Opal’s (and it was the first movie her mother ever saw). There’s plenty of scariness in it — the Blue Meanies and all that — but the Beatles frequently break out into glorious songs (with psychedelic visuals), and that takes the edge off. All three of us were able to say some of the lines and sing along with some of the music — not always the same bits for the three of us — which made the whole experience communally pleasurable.
The movie is full of joy, and energy, and sweet silliness. Just the thing for the day.
On to Pirates, also full of joy, energy, and sweet silliness. This was Opal’s second G&S experience (after Mikado, which I posted about a while back), so she understood that whatever happened along the way, all the major characters would get married at the end. I’d told her that the operetta started with dogs and ended with dogs — Opal is an intense dog person, so that was a big plus — and we’d explained leap years (a major plot point, along with the confusion between the words pilot and pirate), and though she was a bit dubious about pirate movies (she’d had a very hard time with Muppet Treasure Island), she was willing to trust Elizabeth’s judgment and mine.
Digression: The two Elizabeths and I talked a bit at breakfast this morning about the RLS Treasure Island and the movies made of it, especially the 1934 version with Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery. A genuinely scary movie, which I adored as a child. We were shown it in grade school, presumably because it was based on a work by a Major Writer, moreover a work that was billed as for children. By the time I saw the movie I’d read the book, along with some other RLS novels — I was a voracious and precocious reader — so I was prepared for the tough parts of the movie. A certain number of the other children ended up covering their eyes at these parts.
I think we’ll have to wait a while for Treasure Island for Opal.
(Treasure Island has a great little bit of vernacular poetry, Ben Gunn’s wistful “Sometimes I dreams of cheese. Toasted mostly.” With dreams – cheese and toasted – mostly.)
In any case, Pirates elicited cries of delight and wild laughter from Opal as well as the rest of us. She pronounced it tied with Mikado.
We introduced her to the notion of the patter song, and talked critically about a bit near the end of the movie, where all the major characters essay patter singing. Of course, George Rose, playing the Major General, is splendid, but Rex Smith (Frederic) and Angela Lansbury (Ruth) aren’t very good; Linda Ronstadt isn’t bad; and Kevin Kline is excellent.
I then went on some about my college roommate Frank Carr, who did the patter song parts, magnificently, for the Princeton Savoyards, and explained that I was a stage manager for the company. Elizabeth and I explained what a stage manager does; Opal listened attentively and then went all quiet and focused, an indication that she had just taken in something she considered to be very important to her: this is something that you can do, you can help make a show work (and for G&S, when things are going smoothly, you can stand in the wings and sing along with the chorus!).
A splendid afternoon.