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Cinco DeNio

Musical Mondays Week 107 Pennies from Heaven

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Dennis Potter learned from this movie and went on to create that undeniable classic, The Singing Detective.  We watched

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Uh, no.  We watched

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Uh, no!  We watched

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YES! That's it!

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I'll kick things off.

First, I loved the movie but I get why not everybody did. I mean there is a lot about the movie that is unique and different and I can see how that's off putting. Honestly as much as I liked the movie I still have problems with it or questions about the handling of certain things. It is by no means a perfect movie but what it is something different. Something that tries something and in its own way on its own terms succeeds and I have to give it credit for that. That said the movie is not a feel good romp by any means. I would watch it again for sure but this is not the kind of movie in which one could rewatch endlessly. Nor do I think the technique involved in making it warrants constant rewatching to marvel at. Where the movie succeeds though I think is in its story and what it has to say. Apparently Fred Astaire was very bitter about footage of him being used in the film and not having a say in it. He went on to chide the film talking about how the movie should have been set in the 80s because it was vulgar and crass while the 30s were innocent. Yet that's one of the things I loved about the movie. We want to think of these times as more innocent and pure yet objectively they were not. People are fundamentally the same and we didn't become more debase over time. It's very easy to look at eras like the 30s from its films and music and imagine this innocent time, because we are just listening the the lyrics and the words. Steve Martin's character very much wants this perfect idealized world of the songs and movies but at the same time has very base and selfish thoughts and wants. There are so many interesting cases of Steve Martin's perceived wants and actual truths throughout the film. He sees Bernadette Peters and is mad that these men around him are admitting there base desires towards her. He builds her up as this innocent that he must save and have. But what does he do the moment he's got her? Immediately lies and chases those base desires he lashed out at others over. He's unable to handle the truths of the world and is constantly deluding himself, which I think the music numbers do a good job of showing. He lives in a world where the grass is always greener, and he's constantly chasing it. This all may not be the 30s of our memories and pop culture but more likely an accurate depiction of things were despite us just listening to the words and pretending otherwise.

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Holy shit, if EVER there was a musical that should have been directed by David Lynch, this was it. All of the sexual humiliation/kinks felt very Blue Velvet-y to me, except performed in a painfully monotonous way.

I will admit that the musical numbers were amazing—I loved the bank number, the school number and the bar room number where Steve Martin briefly plays the banjo in particular—but I started fast-forwarding through the movie proper after the lipstick-on-the-nipples scene.

As Cinco referenced above, this was apparently an adaptation of another Dennis Potter BBC show (like The Singing Detective) and THAT SHOW sounds interesting,was critically acclaimed, and I would like to watch. At least the first episode is available for free on YouTube. Bob Hoskins plays Steve Martin’s role in that version and this role—as much as I LOVE Steve Martin—should have remained on Bob Hoskins’ hands for the screen version. This character is such an asshole that he needs an actor with Hoskins’ brute force charisma to make him watchable. Steve (although he’s great in the musical scenes) was too green as a dramatic actor to make this guy compelling and is often upstaged acting-wise by his cast mates. It’s not a terrible perfomance, but I read Roger Ebert’s two-Star review (which is dead-on, in my opinion) and it said Martin’s performance was “technically perfect” but empty because you couldn’t see the character inside. I agree 100% with this. The way he plays his character, he is a cold fish from scene one.

The film is beautifully shot and dazzling to look at, I’ve always been interested I watching it but never got the chance. Now I’m interested in watching the original show, because the movie had the weird effect of having not much going on while also having the character beats feel truncated. It was an interesting pick and I’m glad I watched (sone of) it, it just wasn’t successful at what it was trying to do.

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I agree with Cam Bert but Steve Martin is also just as debased as the society he tries to escape from (or rise above or whatever) in his songs. I can't say lipstick on nipples is an especially debased fetish, but, considering the songs he wants to live in, it's pretty far out there. He also cheats on his wife with a woman he never met. He's as much escaping from himself as society.

In case anyone was wondering, his $1000 loan is equivalent to $19000 in today's dollars. Given his "nearly 30% of every sheet sold," he would need to sell 33,333 pieces of sheet music at 10 cents a piece to recover that. These people can already order music from the wholesaler. That's already an uphill climb. Illinois' population was 7.72 million in 1934. Chicago was over 3 million and Steve Martin was only covering central Illinois. He'd have to sell sheet music to every 132 people in his area. Not likely.

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I nodded off at the wrong place I guess. I completely missed lipstick on nipples!

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21 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

I'll kick things off.

First, I loved the movie but I get why not everybody did. I mean there is a lot about the movie that is unique and different and I can see how that's off putting. Honestly as much as I liked the movie I still have problems with it or questions about the handling of certain things. It is by no means a perfect movie but what it is something different. Something that tries something and in its own way on its own terms succeeds and I have to give it credit for that. That said the movie is not a feel good romp by any means. I would watch it again for sure but this is not the kind of movie in which one could rewatch endlessly. Nor do I think the technique involved in making it warrants constant rewatching to marvel at. Where the movie succeeds though I think is in its story and what it has to say. Apparently Fred Astaire was very bitter about footage of him being used in the film and not having a say in it. He went on to chide the film talking about how the movie should have been set in the 80s because it was vulgar and crass while the 30s were innocent. Yet that's one of the things I loved about the movie. We want to think of these times as more innocent and pure yet objectively they were not. People are fundamentally the same and we didn't become more debase over time. It's very easy to look at eras like the 30s from its films and music and imagine this innocent time, because we are just listening the the lyrics and the words. Steve Martin's character very much wants this perfect idealized world of the songs and movies but at the same time has very base and selfish thoughts and wants. There are so many interesting cases of Steve Martin's perceived wants and actual truths throughout the film. He sees Bernadette Peters and is mad that these men around him are admitting there base desires towards her. He builds her up as this innocent that he must save and have. But what does he do the moment he's got her? Immediately lies and chases those base desires he lashed out at others over. He's unable to handle the truths of the world and is constantly deluding himself, which I think the music numbers do a good job of showing. He lives in a world where the grass is always greener, and he's constantly chasing it. This all may not be the 30s of our memories and pop culture but more likely an accurate depiction of things were despite us just listening to the words and pretending otherwise.

We were posting at the same time😁

I agree with your points about the material being interesting 1000%. I liked how it subverted the traditional musical. That’s why I’m interested in the TV show. But I can’t stress enough how badly misc ast I felt Steve Martin was in this. Christopher Walken would have been the better lead.

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How does everyone feel about changing the setting?  Did moving it to Central Illinois kill it? Here's one line from the Amazon synopsis.  It seems like those themes (except sexual repression) were thrown out.

Potter's dark vision digs into British stoicism, sexual repression, the class system, and even the coming of fascism in Europe. 

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7 minutes ago, GrahamS. said:

Holy shit, if EVER there was a musical that should have been directed by David Lynch, this was it. All of the sexual humiliation/kinks felt very Blue Velvet-y to me, except performed in a painfully monotonous way.

I will admit that the musical numbers were amazing—I loved the bank number, the school number and the bar room number where Steve Martin briefly plays the banjo in particular—but I started fast-forwarding through the movie proper after the lipstick-on-the-nipples scene.

As Cinco referenced above, this was apparently an adaptation of another Dennis Potter BBC show (like The Singing Detective) and THAT SHOW sounds interesting,was critically acclaimed, and I would like to watch. At least the first episode is available for free on YouTube. Bob Hoskins plays Steve Martin’s role in that version and this role—as much as I LOVE Steve Martin—should have remained on Bob Hoskins’ hands for the screen version. This character is such an asshole that he needs an actor with Hoskins’ brute force charisma to make him watchable. Steve (although he’s great in the musical scenes) was too green as a dramatic actor to make this guy compelling and is often upstaged acting-wise by his cast mates. It’s not a terrible perfomance, but I read Roger Ebert’s two-Star review (which is dead-on, in my opinion) and it said Martin’s performance was “technically perfect” but empty because you couldn’t see the character inside. I agree 100% with this. The way he plays his character, he is a cold fish from scene one.

The film is beautifully shot and dazzling to look at, I’ve always been interested I watching it but never got the chance. Now I’m interested in watching the original show, because the movie had the weird effect of having not much going on while also having the character beats feel truncated. It was an interesting pick and I’m glad I watched (sone of) it, it just wasn’t successful at what it was trying to do.

I was curious if anyone had seen the miniseries. I felt like the movie could be expanded to explain a few things more, but not to seven hours unless they really go into some detail on the other characters.

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6 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

In case anyone was wondering, his $1000 loan is equivalent to $19000 in today's dollars. Given his "nearly 30% of every sheet sold," he would need to sell 33,333 pieces of sheet music at 10 cents a piece to recover that. These people can already order music from the wholesaler. That's already an uphill climb. Illinois' population was 7.72 million in 1934. Chicago was over 3 million and Steve Martin was only covering central Illinois. He'd have to sell sheet music to every 132 people in his area. Not likely.

Now that's the sexy math we're after

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Just now, Cam Bert said:

Now that's the sexy math we're after

Math with lipstick on its nipples.

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2 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

I was curious if anyone had seen the miniseries. I felt like the movie could be expanded to explain a few things more, but not to seven hours unless they really go into some detail on the other characters.

It looks like this YouTube user might have posted the first three episodes.

 

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6 minutes ago, Cinco DeNio said:

I nodded off at the wrong place I guess. I completely missed lipstick on nipples!

I mean I'm no expert in matters of American geography, but I think no. A lot of the themes and issues of the time are universal. America was in in the depression, the midwest being a focus of that in things like Grapes of Wrath and the like. Conversely, if it was set in someplace like New York I think it would feel a little off. The midwest also in my mind has some of that repressed like nature to it that is needed. The main difference I could for see is I think the class system in America is different to that of the British one and you might lose some of that but I think those issues are covered in the movie well.

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At least one shot from this movie is used on the Turner Classic Movies bumper. The Hobson's Fur Co. shot at 11 seconds. The final shot from this bumper is from Hopper's Nighthawks which Pennies From Heaven also recreates, but I don't know if the TCM version is from this movie or not.

 

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This film cost $25 million in 1980 dollars! Don’t know what that is with inflation, but that is A LOT of money for what is essentially a dark independent film.

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1 hour ago, GrahamS. said:

This film cost $25 million in 1980 dollars! Don’t know what that is with inflation, but that is A LOT of money for what is essentially a dark independent film.

$79 million which is insane to think about for this movie.

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2 hours ago, grudlian. said:

I can't say lipstick on nipples is an especially debased fetish

I'll say it. Steve Martin is a total freak

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'll say it. Steve Martin is a total freak

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I first heard about this movie years ago when they covered it on The Canon. It was weird because I had pretty much stopped listening to it at that point so why I decided to randomly hop back on for one episode, particularly for a an episode covering a movie I'd never heard about, is pretty odd. It's one of those weird vivid memories of a prosaic event type things. I remember what I was doing at the time and everything. Weird. 

Anyway, the way Amy spoke about it made me super curious and it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to see it. So a couple months ago when I saw this on sale, I picked it up right away. 

Pretty much, I agree with what everyone has been saying. Although, I think I disagree with Martin being miscast. I especially wouldn't want someone like Walken in the role as I feel like he would be too intimidating, and I think the role requires someone a little more off beat. Besides his physicality, I think Martin brings brings an off-centeredness to his character. He seems handsome and normal, but there's something that's not quite right about him, too. It's more than just being a horny creep. He gives off an almost serial killery vibe, or, too normal to be normal, if you catch my drift.

Anyway. I'm glad I bought it. I doubt I will watch it often, but I think I will definitely revisit it from time to time. 

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28 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

I first heard about this movie years ago when they covered it on The Canon. It was weird because I had pretty much stopped listening to it at that point so why I decided to randomly hop back on for one episode, particularly for a an episode covering a movie I'd never heard about, is pretty odd. It's one of those weird vivid memories of a prosaic event type things. I remember what I was doing at the time and everything. Weird. 

Anyway, the way Amy spoke about it made me super curious and it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to see it. So a couple months ago when I saw this on sale, I picked it up right away. 

Pretty much, I agree with what everyone has been saying. Although, I think I disagree with Martin being miscast. I especially wouldn't want someone like Walken in the role as I feel like he would be too intimidating, and I think the role requires someone a little more off beat. Besides his physicality, I think Martin brings brings an off-centeredness to his character. He seems handsome and normal, but there's something that's not quite right about him, too. It's more than just being a horny creep. He gives off an almost serial killery vibe, or, too normal to be normal, if you catch me drift.

Anyway. I'm glad I bought it. I doubt I will watch it often, but I think I will definitely revisit it from time to time. 

I watched this for the first time last year also because of Amy. She gushed about it on Unspooled. I'll admit to tuning out the first time (and a bit this time). As you said in your review, it's kind of repulsive in a way.

I think Martin is a great choice (partly because I assume he pushed to get this made therefore, it doesn't get made at all without him). I think he's able to give off the vibe of a guy who really does believe in this dream world he's built up around himself. I haven't watched the miniseries, but I don't get this feeling even from Bob Hoskins as an actor. I suspect the tone is a bit more, I don't know, grimy? because Hoskins feels a bit more rough around the edges than Steve Martin. For this version, I'm not sure who else you could cast in 1981 that can pull off the dreamer character in this way. Robin Williams maybe or Jonathan Pryce (if he can do an American accent).

One thing that's weird about this is that, I felt like Steve Martin deserved to be arrested. He didn't do anything though. He didn't kill the blind girl. I don't condone cheating on one's spouse, but that's the only thing wrong he really did. I'm not sure why I felt glad that he was caught.

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19 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

One thing that's weird about this is that, I felt like Steve Martin deserved to be arrested. He didn't do anything though. He didn't kill the blind girl. I don't condone cheating on one's spouse, but that's the only thing wrong he really did. I'm not sure why I felt glad that he was caught.

That’s a great point! He’s such a weasel that you want to see him punished — but the punishment doesn’t fit the crime at all. That’s such an interesting dynamic. Why does a death sentence feel justified here?

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I really liked this film, atmosphere, misery, music and all, and it only deepened my respect for Steve Martin as a performer and as the architect of his own career. When comparing the film to the series, a BBC miniseries is going to, by necessity, be of a much smaller scale and confined, maybe even claustrophobic. While this may be appropriate thematically for the story's motifs of isolation, delusion, and base desires, but you lose the grand 1930s Hollywood Busby Berkeley-style musical numbers. Why, I think, they work in the film is that they initially provide some respite from the grim setting (especially the Bernadette Peters number with her class in the gleaming white performance space), but once we get to the Christopher Walken performance in the seedy bar, the musical numbers become just as much a nightmare as real life. Even the fantasy is despairing. Ultimately, the film goes back on that with the sort of "dream" ending, which strikes me as just as outlandish as Steve Martin, due to a wild set of coincidences, going from arrest to hanging in what seems like two hours, so I'm still on the fence on the ending as a whole.

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I like this tidbit in particular: 

When asked in Rolling Stone about the film's box-office failure, Steve Martin said: "I'm disappointed that it didn't open as a blockbuster and I don't know what's to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy. I must say that the people who get the movie, in general, have been wise and intelligent; the people who don't get it are ignorant scum."

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10 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

Pretty much, I agree with what everyone has been saying. Although, I think I disagree with Martin being miscast. I especially wouldn't want someone like Walken in the role as I feel like he would be too intimidating, and I think the role requires someone a little more off beat. Besides his physicality, I think Martin brings brings an off-centeredness to his character. He seems handsome and normal, but there's something that's not quite right about him, too. It's more than just being a horny creep. He gives off an almost serial killery vibe, or, too normal to be normal, if you catch my drift.

 

9 hours ago, grudlian. said:

I think Martin is a great choice (partly because I assume he pushed to get this made therefore, it doesn't get made at all without him). I think he's able to give off the vibe of a guy who really does believe in this dream world he's built up around himself. I haven't watched the miniseries, but I don't get this feeling even from Bob Hoskins as an actor. I suspect the tone is a bit more, I don't know, grimy? because Hoskins feels a bit more rough around the edges than Steve Martin. For this version, I'm not sure who else you could cast in 1981 that can pull off the dreamer character in this way. Robin Williams maybe or Jonathan Pryce (if he can do an American accent).

You know that was one of the thing I wanted to bring up. I thought for the first 15 minutes or so that Steve Martin was miscast. I felt he was a bit muggy at first. In the musical numbers I could get it because being a style thing but maybe I was just thinking of his more toned down later dramatic work. I think it wasn't until he picked up the accordion man that I started to click more with his performance. Then by their next meeting I was sold on him and his performance which I think only gets better the more we see his character unfold. I'm curious if going back to the start now knowing who he is and what he's really like if the performance is better for me. Like you said it's more because Martin is kind of unassuming. He can be funny, he can be charming, be innocent and he can have a bit of an edge to him. I think Hoskins was a great actor but it's hard to shake that feeling that he's two second from a knocking your lights out even when he's being a nice guy. I think Jonathan Pryce would have been good. 

5 hours ago, GrahamS. said:

Here’s a link to some interesting trivia: Steve Martin was not the initial star the film was offered to— it was Jack Nicholson.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082894/trivia

Nooooooope. One of my unpopular opinions is that The Shining is overrated. In the truest sense of that. Not that it's bad, it's a good and very well made movie but not the untouchable scariest movie of all time it is often sold as. The biggest problem I have with the film is Jack Nicholson. He's not a bad actor but the character is suppose to slowly slip into madness as he struggles with his alcoholism and inner demons. I think you don't get that from him at all. He's almost at the same level through and film and from the start seems already a little off. Considering that the Arthur role requires a bit of the same I just don't see it at all.

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10 hours ago, grudlian. said:

One thing that's weird about this is that, I felt like Steve Martin deserved to be arrested. He didn't do anything though. He didn't kill the blind girl. I don't condone cheating on one's spouse, but that's the only thing wrong he really did. I'm not sure why I felt glad that he was caught.

 

9 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

That’s a great point! He’s such a weasel that you want to see him punished — but the punishment doesn’t fit the crime at all. That’s such an interesting dynamic. Why does a death sentence feel justified here?

Yes I feels so right yet he has done nothing (criminally) wrong. I think it's because we've seen him selfishly ruined two people's (three depending on your stance of where life begins) lives that there is a lot of emotional anger towards him that seeing him die is cathartic. 

The other thing I will say is while he did nothing to the girl I did get creepy vibes from their meeting. When he tells her that she's the most beautiful woman he's ever seen I just thought "how is he going to ruin her?" Wasn't sure if he was being honest of had ulterior motives but it just made me uneasy. I think therefore subconsciously blame him for her death that just meeting him jinxed her.

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