That’s Entertainment! (1974)

When your New Year’s Eve plans unexpectedly fail, what more can a poor boy do except be left agog at the mind-boggling camp of Esther Williams’ swimming sequences? (To say nothing of Mickey Rooney in blackface!) That was how I saw in 2011, in a fairly bad mood that was, admittedly, transformed somewhat by a bit of alcohol and this famous bit of Golden Age nostalgia after the midnight fireworks… This celebration of MGM’s 50th anniversary will itself turn 37 this year (it’s about six months older than me) and offers a certain insight, I suppose, into its own time; interesting to see that minstrel show bit from 1941 not only included but included without any comment, as if MGM thought that 1974 audiences might not be, you know, bothered by it or something. But not only did they celebrate a past era, they marked the end of their own, with all the linking introductions being shot on the old MGM backlot which would be demolished once filming was over; I did like that the various hosts didn’t hide how shabby the backlot was by this time, it kind of enhanced that end-of-era aspect. As for me, with a literal handful of exceptions, the musical genre isn’t one I’m normally attracted to, but it was NYE, I was at home and in the mood for something light, this suited ideally… Nostalgia always sells well and fuelled this film’s success in the Watergate era, but now it carries a further nostalgic charge in the digital age, with its celebration of some quite amazing athleticism, and the necessity for possessing certain skills and talents that couldn’t be compensated for by technological enhancement quite as readily as they could now. Astaire had to be able to actually pull off those moves in long shot and long takes; Berkeley’s dancers had to be actually able to arrange themselves in those shapes. If That’s Entertainment does amusingly admit there weren’t many differences between the various Rooney/Garland films, it also pointed out the fact that some sort of real artistry was involved in making these things, and I can appreciate that if I don’t always appreciate the films themselves.

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