Thursday, December 19, 2013

Classic Sports Thursday

I was five years old at the time of the 1965 Bluebonnet Bowl, played between Tennessee and Tulsa in Houston. I had no great rooting interest in the game - at that age, I probably didn't root for anyone - and yet it must have made an impression on me.  For one thing, I found a TV Guide clipping on it in one of my old scrapbooks.  More significantly, I had a clear recollection not only of the game being played in a driving rain, but of one of the teams actually changing their jerseys at halftime so that it might be easier for people to tell the two muddy teams apart.

Well, you know how the mind can play tricks, especially when you're talking about something that happened almost 50 years ago with very little notice, so it was with a sense of vindication that I ran across this clip the other day - the game footage of the 1965 Bluebonnet Bowl, which indeed confirmed my memories.  Not a particularly notable game, but great fun to watch nonetheless.  See how much more interesting football can be when you don't remove the elements from the equation?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Retro TV Monday - This week in TV Guide: December 16, 1961

It's a week until Christmas, and this issue of TV Guide is full of programs we’d never see on network television today.

Take, for example, NBC’s Project 20 documentary series, which on Wednesday night presents “The Coming of Christ.”  “The life and ministry of Christ and prophecies of His Coming were constant themes for painters of the 15th to 17th Centuries.  This taped, half-hour show, first seen last December, uses photographs of the works of many of these painters – to depict ‘The Coming of Christ.’”

A few thoughts on this: first, if a program like this were on today, it would be on PBS or one of the shrinking number of “arts” shows on cable, and the emphasis would be on the art, rather than the religion.* The sidebar ad underscores the idea that art is being used as a vehicle for the greater religious event: “’Project 20’ brings art treasures to life to tell their deeply moving story.”  This is reinforced by narrator Alexander Scourby’s reading of passages from the Old and New Testaments as the pictures are shown (in a “’still-pictures-to-action’ technique [used] to create the illusion of movement”; similar, I suppose, to what Ken Burns uses today).  It’s also interesting to note the capitalization of the pronoun “His” as well as “Coming,” and later capitalizations of “Virgin” and “Child.”  Again, this denotes a respect for religion that isn’t seen as often today, but was taken for granted back then even in secular publications.

*I say this because TVG clearly labels this as “religion” and not, say, “art.”  I think programs such as Sister Wendy’s undoubtedly had religious overtones, but were still packaged as art documentaries. 

Alexander Scourby had a fantastic voice; I wish I could track down a copy of this show, though an audio version is available, as well as a book tie-in.

Immediately following Project 20 is Perry Como’s Christmas show, which includes a scene in which “Perry reads the story of the first Christmas” to children from the production staff.  That’s very similar to Friday’s Bell Telephone Hour, where hostess Jane Wyatt “recites the story of the Nativity from the Gospel of St. Luke.”  Now, I’m not going to get into the larger question of a “War on Christmas” or anything like that; it’s simply to point out, as this blog is want to do, of how we can see the culture’s evolution through the programs on TV.  Undeniably, we’re at a point now where there seems to be a reluctance to even use the word “Christmas,” let alone discuss the religious ramifications it contains.  And while there are a lot of Hallmark- and Lifetime-style “Christmas” movies out there, they almost always deal with it as a secular event, perhaps with some quasi-touchy-feely “spirituality” wrapped up in its message.

Not so in 1961, where religion was seen as an integral part of Christmas.  Sure, there were variety shows such as Garry Moore’s and Red Skelton’s (both this week) that focus more on the secular, celebratory aspects of Christmas, but the larger point is that even within that context, it would not have been uncommon for the host or one of the guests to say or sing or otherwise do something that contained an explicitly religious message.

Perhaps it’s the fact that New Year’s isn’t far away, but I’m reminded of a song by Louden Wainwright III shortly after The New York Times building in Times Square (hence the name of the square) was renamed Allied Chemical Building.  “Have you been to Allied Chemical Square?/It used to be called Times, but times have changed.”

Indeed the times have changed.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Amahl redux?

While penetrating myself through the first hour of NBC's The Sound of Music Live with Carrie Underwood in the lead role (I had to be in bed early because of another hard 6 AM workout), I read many criticisms of it compared to the 1965 movie, and much of the problem with the live event was the majority of viewers do not understand the difference between live theatre and a motion picture that is filmed and edited.

The biggest observations of the performance were twofold; one, the use of pre-recorded soundtracks, which Arturo Toscanini would have never approved. Mr. Toscanini was the conductor of NBC's orchestra until the 1950's. This is a problem we are seeing everywhere today, even in churches, which forced me to leave our church choir. The second observation was that it had roughly been fifty years since NBC had commissioned live musical theatre for television. Now Fox had commissioned a live Roc and NBC had live ER episodes, but they were just episodes for certain occasions.

For a generation that hasn't seen a live musical theatre event, and do not understand the importance of NBC's annual (1951-63) performances of Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, including myself, that we have discussed on the blog, the live staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein's big musical was a throwback to that era. I can understand the criticism of the lead role being former Pop Idol Carrie Underwood, but other than that, the larger issue is something I hope will return to television annually, and that is live theatre. Is this the modern-day Amahl? Might we have a return to live theatre on television the way it was, with live orchestras too?   
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