Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pennies from Heaven

Back in 1979 the ABC Australia ran the BBC production of Pennies from Heaven[^] over 6 weeks, late Thursday evenings. I was enchanted. I loved the way Dennis Potter combined drama with British dance songs of the 1930's. Some of my most treasured CD's are of that music.

As I've already written, I suspect in part this is childhood memory at work; my father had a reasonable collection of that kind of music though, after 45 years, I couldn't say definitively if he had that song or this. Nonetheless, for me, I consider Pennies from Heaven as my introduction to that wonderful music.

In 1980 a Hollywood[^] film was announced, based on Pennies from Heaven; it came out in 1981.

Well things happen and mostly we cope; but what annoyed me was that the BBC series was withdrawn; something to do with contractual obligations. I boycotted the movie when it came out. (You might recall there was a wonderful film noir account of the murder of The Black Dahlia made sometime in the 1950's, not seen since Lucie Arnaz did the remake[^] in 1975. The earlier film withdrawn as part of the contract... 'Nuff said...). In fact the earlier film is so withdrawn it doesn't even appear on imdb.com.

To my delight the series reappeared on late night TV on ABC Australia in 1992. I taped all six episodes and wore the tapes out. As with other favourites I regretfully left them behind when I moved to the US - not only were they PAL tapes, they were also Beta tapes.

I was delighted to see, on Amazon, a bit over a year ago, that the series was due out on DVD in July 2004 - I placed my advance order there and then. Got it right on schedule and spent the next 2 nights absolutely wallowing! More than once Morgan, ascending, or descending, the stairs, would stop to watch what started out as a dramatic scene, only to be puzzled when the lighting changed and the actors broke into a ballad! Even more puzzled when they'd stop singing and go back to dramatic!

Now that the original is back I'm prepared to give the remake a try. Which I did a few weeks ago; Phoenix Public Library has a copy. To be honest, it was disappointing (and I say that in the full knowledge that I brought considerable prejudice to it). But there was one scene in the movie that made it completely worth the watching.

The original used exclusively British music; the remake broadens the scope a little and uses American music from the same era. Which isn't bad; they wrote some damn good tunes on the Western side of the Atlantic too!

Remember Fred Astaire in Follow the fleet[^]? The routine where he sings 'Let's face the music and dance'. So picture that routine up there on the big screen and two audience members climb up onto the stage and start to copy their dance moves. You see their shadows falling across the film. And then imagine that they become part of the film and now, instead of Fred Astaire, we're seeing Steve Martin dancing the part.

It's a magic moment of film-making. Magic enough that I bought a copy of the 1981 remake!

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