The decision to use a still from Ken Russell's "The Boy Friend" as the representative image for this blog's homepage was an easy one. From the time I first saw the movie in 1971 at age 14 at the Alhambra theater in San Francisco, it has remained, unchallenged in all these years, the one film that epitomizes all the magic, artistry and creativity that lie at the core of cinema's unique capacity to inspire dreams and feed the imagination.
|Twiggy as the "Spirit of Ecstacy" hood ornament on a vintage Rolls Royce|
The plot, as reworked by Russell is this: A seedy theater company in 1930's
is putting on a production of "The Boy Friend" when they learn that the great Portsmouth, England Hollywood director, Cecil B. DeThrill (Vladek Sheybal), is in the audience. Onstage, amidst technical disasters large and small, members of the troupe attempt to sabotage and upstage one another for DeThrill's attention. Backstage, rampant egos, rivalries, and romantic intrigues compound the drama presented by the inexperienced stage manager (Twiggy) having to go on in place of the show's ailing star (Glenda Jackson!) who is laid up with a fractured ankle. Throughout (in large-scale set pieces), DeThrill imagines what his film version will look like, while, in turn, the cast members project their personal wish-fulfillment fantasies onto the material they're performing. Whew!
|The striking of archly theatrical poses serves as a device to distinguish the stage acting from all the insincere play-acting going on backstage|
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
"The Boy Friend" just may be the first deconstructionist / auteurist musical. Ken Russell rather brilliantly takes an innocuous, sweet-natured musical — with nothing more on its mind than idealized nostalgia — and uses it as a vehicle through which to explore the themes of the demythologizing of popular art, the artifice of romanticism, and the passion of creativity; the very themes he returns to in film after film. The way in which Russell turns his lens on the glamour images of 30s Hollywood (as popularized in its musicals and the promise held forth in their romantic clichés)--and contrasts these with the shabby dreams and unglamorous realities of a tatty theater troupe, makes "The Boy Friend" a cheerier, but no less piercing , thematic companion-piece to those other Depression-era masterpieces of deconstructed Hollywood myth: The Day of The Locust & They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
|In this musical sequence, Maisie (Antonia Ellis) attempts to convince movie director C.B. DeThrill that taking her to Hollywood with him would be no gamble...if you get my cruder meaning.|
|All in Fun? - The elaborate recreations of Busby Berkely-style production numbers evoke the escapist entertainments of the past. When fantasy was king and Hollywood was known as the Dream Machine|
|The more humdrum reality|
A true ensemble piece, "The Boy Friend" is one of those rare films (like "Young Frankenstein") where everyone is so perfect in their roles that you can't single out an individual performance. Like many directors in the 70s, Russell often worked with the same actors, creating a kind of film-to-film repertory company. "The Boy Friend" was my first exposure to Ken Russell so the pleasure of seeing gloomily dramatic actors from "The Devils" or "Women in Love" exhibiting such gleeful dexterity in singing, dancing, and comedy, was a pleasure I had to experience in reverse. Quite deservedly, Twiggy received above-the-title billing and was promoted heavily on the film's release, but the movie is full of sensational actors.
|There's No Business Like Show Business: The entire cast of "The Boy Friend"|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
Ken Russell's films rarely cease to dazzle the eye. In "The Boy Friend" the meticulous period detail of Shirley Russell's ingenious costumes and Tony Walton's witty and breathtaking set designs make for one eye-popping experience.
|Sur Le Plage|
Jellyfish perform a sand-dance while starfish sway in rhythm!
I'm sorry, but this is just brilliant. I don't know what kind of mind would think of such a thing, but I wish I had one just like it
|Perfect Young Ladies- An example of Shirley Russell's keen eye for period costuming|
|Another peerless Tony Walton set design|
|The late Shirley Russell (Ken's first wife) designed the costumes for every Ken Russell film from"Women in Love" to "Valentino"|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:What played a significant factor in my early fascination with "The Boy Friend" was that I was unfamiliar with the work of Busby Berkeley at the time. Sure, I watched a lot of old movies on TV, but I had an elder sister who tended to monopolize the channel selector - she hated musicals and had a penchant for "black & white-shoe" pictures (her name for 50s teenage-delinquent movies. The "black & white shoe" sobriquet, a reference to the compulsory 50s accessory of saddle shoes). Consequently, I grew up with a vast awareness of the entire Mamie Van Doren oeuvre, but little knowledge of cinema choreography. I've since seen almost everything Busby Berkeley has had a hand in, and though I wouldn't have thought it possible... not after seeing Carmen Miranda cavorting amongst a sea of oversized bananas in "The Gang's All Here"... but in "The Boy Friend" Ken Russell, as some critic must have certainly noted, really manages to out-Berkeley, Berkeley.
"The Boy Friend" ranks top among my "comfort movies": those films I return to time and time again for that feeling of familiar pleasure they always guarantee. Like a child who giggles anew at the same “knock-knock” joke endlessly repeated, there is something so delightfully soothing about revisiting a beloved film that has the power to always cheer you up. Every known line of dialog, each dependable laugh, all the recognized pleasures…they reignite my sense of nostalgia (which has really increased now that I’ve reached the age of having something to actually be nostalgic about) and invite me to surrender to the long-ago-discovered charms of an old acquaintance and friend.