Monday, October 28, 1991
The Michigan Daily
A Golden Age revisited
From the Little Rascals to Fred Astaire to Elvis,
George Sidney has brought us our favorite flicks
by Mark Binelli
George Sidney started directing
films when he was 16.
"(It was) very uncommon,"
Sidney - the 75-year-old director
of such classic Hollywood musicals
as Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat
and Kiss Me Kate - said in a recent
"I always wanted to be a direc-
tor. You'd have to go back to
*when... I was an actor, living with
the circus and traveling. I was an ac-
tor with a man called Tom Mix. I
was the littlest cowboy and he was
the biggest cowboy. And then after
that I played Lord Fauntleroy, with
my own blond hair, in the silents.
"I worked for Frank Capra in his
second picture, which he made in
New York, For the Love of Mike, I
think it was called... I was nine, and.
9he said, 'The scene you did was all
Our Gang shorts. One would not ex-
pect the rambunctious Little
Rascals to "take to being told" by a
"They didn't know," Sidney ex-
plained. "At one point, I think I was
seventeen months older than Spanky
MacFarland. But they didn't know.
I was six feet and weighed two-hun-
dred pounds and... I smoked a pipe
and black cigars. No one figured that
out. I went to work for the studio at
fourteen - said I was twenty-one."
Sidney describes working with
the Rascals as "madness, terrible,
awful," quickly adding with a
laugh, "No, I don't really mean
"It's very tedious. You're out-
thinking them all the time. You're
fair game, and they're all organized
in groups. It's a contest. They came
to the studio, which was the Land of
Oz, and it was R-E-E-L instead of R-
'The life of the Our Gang kids has been
fraught with tragedy. Alfalfa drew a knife on
somebody and the guy put a bullet through his
head in North Hollywood about ten or twelve
-director George Sidney
right, but when you grow up, don't
be an actor.' He said, 'Get an easy job
be a director.' So I've always
accused Frank Capra, of being re-
sponsible for me becoming a direc-
Sidney, who was in Ann Arbor as
part of the Department of Film and
Video Studies' "Filmmakers on
Filmmaking" series, would eventu-
ally serve as President of the Direc-
tors Guild of America for 16 years,
establishing, among other things,
directors' rights on editing, dubbing
But with or without Capra's
wonderful advice, Sidney seemed
destined for his ultimate career
choice. "I didn't take to being told,"
Sidney started off directing
screen tests at MGM. A musician
Sand a choreographer, Sidney said he
soon began "staging musical num-
bers in other people's films," even-
tually making his own musicals for
the shorts department.
"For awhile there, I used to
make one a week," he said. "Write it
and direct it, sometimes act in it, and
turn it in by Saturday night at quar-
ter to twelve. And Sunday you'd
wake up and you'd say, 'Listen to
what we're gonna make next
Sidney also directed a number of
"And of course, I was the man. I
could make anything happen. Press a
button and rain would go. Press a
button and lights come on...
"So you had a weapon. It was
called the Whipping Machine. And
when things got so hectic, you'd say,
'Bring down the Whipping Ma-
chine.' These kids, they'd look at me,
they'd say, 'This S.O.B. just might
have a Whipping Machine."'
Sadly, the lives of many of the
grown Rascals paralleled their Sa-
turday Night Live parodies.
"The life of the Our Gang kids
has been fraught with tragedy," Sid-
ney said. "Alfalfa drew a knife on
somebody and the guy put a bullet
through his head in North Holly-
wood about ten or twelve years ago.
Spanky just works around, as a hand-
shaker. Little Darla Hood died very
young. Bill Thomas, the little boy
who played Buckwheat, managed to
shake off that identity. Bill died
about a year and a half ago."
But Sidney is reluctant to sub-
scribe to the theory that all child ac-
tors are destined to succumb to the
Diff rent Strokes syndrome.
"Shirley Temple has certainly
become a good citizen," he said.
"She's a great woman. (And) I made
a picture once (Anchors Aweigh)
with little Dean Stockwell. He's
become a regular actor."
Sidney is truly known, however,
for making musicals, working with
stars such as Judy Garland, Lana
Turner, Gene Kelly and Clark Gable.
"It was a medium that I liked to
work in," he said. "I just.wanted to
make pictures for everyone, for an
enjoyment. I always said, I don't
want people to walk into a picture
of mine and say, 'Oh, my God, some-
one's gonna get killed.' So you try
"People ask me, 'What happened
to the musical?' Well, my answer is
that MTV has taken the musical
away, because the things that we did
with Ann-Margaret - I told her
she's the mother of MTV, because
all the dances she did - it's what
you get on MTV.
"Now the young people, they
won't buy that type of thing in a
movie. A girl who's so hot...
Madonna, they won't come to see
her in a picture. They won't do it.
But they'll buy those bloody
Sidney explained that the studios
will no longer make musicals sim-
ply "from a money standpoint."
"The movie business has disen-
franchised people over sixty-five
years old," he said. "They don't
want 'em. They're not gonna go out
on Saturday night and... go to a
parking lot at twelve-thirty. If they
wanna see Jeanette MacDonald or
Nelson Eddy, or Judy Garland,
they'll sell 'em tapes."
Sidney also raised a more practi-
cal problem for contemporary musi-
"Suppose you said, 'I wanna
make a musical,"' he proposed.
"Well, in my time, I had the giants:
Kern, Gershwin, Berlin, Rogers and
"Well, you're gonna write a mu-
sical called Detroit Here We Come.
What's the sound? You gonna have
fifty violins? Clarinets? Or you
gonna have Fender guitars and
"So they're afraid to do it.
They've tried to do musicals in New
York. They don't know exactly how
to write the score. So they say., 'I'll
make MTVs. I'll make movies. And
let the other things go to cas-
One of Sidney's best-known mu-
sicals is the Elvis Presley classic
Viva Las Vegas, which he directed in
"Before that we did Bye Bye
Birdie, which was a take-off on
Elvis," Sidney recalled. "He was
very professional, never made any
See SIDNEY, Page 8
The Butcher's Wife
dir. Terry Hughes
by Marie Jacobson
Picture this: you're a Greenwich Village butcher on a
fishing trip to North Carolina. As you guide your boat
to shore, a beautiful blonde goddess named Marina
dashes into the ocean to greet you, leaps into your tiny
boat, kisses you fervently and then pops the question.
What's a guy to do? Marry her, of course - and watch
the world turn upside down.
In The Butcher's Wife, a delightful new romantic
comedy directed by Terry Hughes (of Golden Girls
repute), Demi Moore plays the role of Marina, a well-
meaning but somewhat naive clairvoyant whose
innocent visions add a hilarious dimension to the phrase
"There goes the neighborhood." Exuding a carefree
exuberance and an impetuous charm, Marina shares her
psychic sightings with her husband's customers and
with the people she meets while shopping for shoes.
Jeff Daniels (Arachnophoba, Something Wild), co-
stars as Dr. Alex Tremor, an overbearing, anal-
retentive psychologist who valiantly attempts to
bring order to the lives of those captivated by Marina's
uncanny observations only to find his own sanity
severely taxed in the process ihe supporting cast
includes George Dzunda (No Way Out) as the
Daniels and Moore star in a
comedy that makes the cut
bewildered butcher, Margaret Colin (Three Men and
A Baby) as Alex's unpredictable girlfriend and
Academy Award-winning Mary Steenburgen (Melvin
and Cloward, Parenthood) as the painfully shy church
choir director who dreams of belting out the blues. The
talented combination creates a rare chemistry that
makes The Butcher's Wife a magical, poignant and
utterly enjoyable experience.
OK, so maybe the concept of a clairvoyant who
turns a cold, impersonal neighborhood into charming
chaos sounds a bit far-fetched. But you must remember
that the subject matter of The Butcher's Wife requires
the willing suspension of disbelief as well. For the
most part, this leap of faith is hardly problematic, but
the surprise lesbian sub-plot that screenwriters Ezra
Litwik and Marjorie Schwartz tack on seems stilted
and strained. So does, in parts, Moore's syrupy-thick,
voice-coached North Carolina accent.
Nevertheless, this well-acted film has an important
message: true love captivates both the heart and the
head. Neither can "go it alone," and ultimately, to join
the two requires a substantial leap of faith. Last year's
Pretty Woman was a romantic comedy with a similar
message, but the rich portrayal of humanity in The
Butcher's Wife is ultimately funnier and more
TIE BUTCHER'S WIFE is now playing at Briarwood
Photographers display their
views; alumni choreographers!
g] 3 .
dancers display their
Ibid's got some super bad funk
by Andrea Kachudas
D ave Gould, bassist for Ann
Arbor's Ibid and the Footnotes, is
unaware of the greatest Swedish
band in history.
Me: You're not gonna play any
Dave: I haven't heard ABBA.
Me (aghast): You've never
heard of ABBA?
Dave: They're really good?
Me: Well... no.
Despite my initial disappoint-
ment, Gould turned out to be a nice
Could Ibid really play funk?
There was a pretty good sized
crowd in the Union Ballroom wait-
ing for the band to come on for its
debut performance. Most of the
people were dressed in '70s retro;
maybe they all- called each other.
One woman was wearing the most
amazing pair of silver bell-bottoms.
The lights dimmed and the funk and
soul extravaganza went onstage.
Major Funk, Ibid's vocalist,
started the national anthem. "...and
the home of the..." "BAM!" went
the biggest hit of Red Hot Chili
Pepper-esque funk to hit my face in a
long time! The band powered its
way through a dizzying funk assault
on the senses - it was evident that
we weren't gonna hear "Freebird."
As the members of Ibid all
jumped and danced around the stage
in choreographed unison, you could
also see that this band could play.
The "wall of funk" sound was
driven by a great slap bass, keyboard,
tight horn hits working with the
percussion section, and a wah-in-
fused lead guitar.
The show also featured a lot of
really cool tempo changes and tran-
sitions between songs, so things al-
ways stayed interesting. And the
band medlied all of its songs to-
gether, making the set non-stop mu-
sic. One of Ibid's own songs would
jump into something by Sly and the
a pair of American flag spandex
Me: So I take it that you're not
really too satisfied with the typical
rock power trio - you're, like, a
Dave: I like a larger production.
It's great to incorporate all facets
'Why should music be
denim and a bunch of
guys drinking beers,
going, 'OK, this is the
next tune'? Why
shouldn't it be going
to the max, wearing
the funky outfits and
dancing and smiling
and having a good
time? There's not
enough of that'
lbid and the Footnotes
of music, you know, horns and vocal
and percussion, you can do so much
I asked Gould if he was trying to
bring back pure funk, not in the
retro sense, but Funk as a music
form. He explained that the roots of'
today's dance music - Curtis
Mayfield, Parliament, etc. - who
Through the Lens- -Three Views
Claire Spitler Works of Art
Looking at objects or images
through a camera reveals aspects
about the banalities of everyday
occurrences which might otherwise
be dismissed by the everyday
observer. A photographer, by inter-
acting physically or spiritually
with an object or image, may be able
to capture its very essence.
Through the Lens -d-Three
Views, an exhibition of distinct
works by three Michigan photogra-
phers, allows viewers to experience
the rapport that the photographers
share with their subject matter.
Some of the photographs show sub-
ject matter as having an aura and ex-
istence of its own, while others
were reminiscent of photographs
which have been displayed before.
One first encounters the works
of Virinder Chaudhery upon de-
scending to the bottom level of
Clare Spitler's gallery. Black and
white photographs of the monu
mental Taj Mahal explore the beau-
tiful intricacy of form and design
carved and sculpted into its archi-
tectural structure. Chaudhery poin-
ted out at the opening reception that
many viewers have commented that
his work has a very sensuous, erotic
quality which he does not con-
sciously try to render. "The forms,
he said, "speak for themselves "
In a photograph depicting an egg
placed in front of a piece of bread
his said that his desire was to "bring
together two objects which were
placed far apart on a table and see
how thev can he married " The nho-
as a plant form found in the fields, erupts as the sun hits the copper in
but rather as an entity with a charac- hues of blue, orange and red.
ter of its own. Kirkish, a professor at Michigan
Joe Kirkish, another one of the Technological University, ex-
Michigan artists featured, described plained that his photograph of a dis-
nis photographs as "ambiguous, im-- torted reflection of a woman on a
plying a lot of different meanings." seemingly liquid surface is derived
He discovered images of a dancing from a dream he had one night of a
mythical goddess in a single leaf, hand reflected onto Plexiglass.