Wednesday, March 25, 2009

white christmas

last week sara and i watched this 1954 nostalgia piece with my parents in Baltimore. it was interesting to see the many set song and dance routines, especially the climactic one in which the old general's former soldiers, gathered from around the country, line up and sing "we love him, we love him," and submit to his "inspection."

psychologically, there is a powerful desire for the authoritarian but caring father figure: the general walks between the two rows of men, barking "you're soft! you're no good!" but when he mounts the stage and turns, he says, "and i can't think of a more wonderful sight."

there was a longing for the order, hierarchy, and intimacy of wartime, both for soldiers and civilians, if i read this film and its popularity right. and spectacles of order such as "white christmas" fulfilled this desire. it reminds me of the popularity among older taiwanese people of carefully choreographed spectacles such as the Ciji Buddhist organization's various ceremonies and meetings. these meetings always feature lines of monks, nuns, and volunteers garbed in various uniforms, moving about in orderly ways. the 90s was quite stressful for these people -- society went nuts, often literally, with the media in the lead.

back to "white christmas," several other dance pieces are modernistic las vegas-type acts, with many synchronized dancers, mainly women, dancing in lines or formations, almost in a mechanistic (if frenetic) way. the effect is one of abstraction and coldness. i am reminded of the odd 'dream dance' sequence in "singin' in the rain." these pieces seem to be aesthetic claims for modern mass culture on the cusp of tv, but represented on stage. but they are emotionally dead. the viewers yawn (at least we did).

contrast these cold pieces with what was, for me, the most affectively charged mass or crowd scene in the film: seeing the ex-soldiers piling off the train in Pine Tree, Vermont, to surprise their old general. the scene is one of delightful chaos, of shouting and backslapping, collisions and recognitions, happy noise and camaraderie. the freedom in this scene is almost primal, and points to the homoaffective draw of the military experience. contrast this scene not only with the modernistic (feminine) dance sequences, but also with the mock inspection carried out by the general later on. the loving chaos is brought to order by the stern old man.

there are plenty of fun scenes in this movie, but those were the culturally striking ones for me.

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