Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Candlewood Isle Film Fest continued last Saturday night with a holiday dinner party screening of Meet Me in St. Louis,” a 1944 movie that introduced the Blane & Martin song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 

During dinner we projected a 16mm kinescope TV broadcast print of the 6th installment of “The Judy Garland Show” (1962), which included memorable commercials of odd products of the time (Wondra Flour, Winston Cigarettes, Head & Shoulders Shampoo). 

The show featured June Allyson and Steve Lawrence, as well as sidekick Jerry van Dyck.  We focused our eyes on the screen when Ms. Garland began her solo finale, her “informed” heart throbbing version of a rousing Jeanette McDonald song called “San Francisco.”  Triumphant as the credits ran, she contentedly rolled about the stage ending in a fetal position.  

Then we projected the Blue Strip Technicolor transparencies of Meet Me in St. Louis, a print from Rochester New York, perhaps from the George Eastman House, purchased from The Cure Thrift Shop on East 12th Street for $5. 

The movie commemorates the transformation of St. Louis’s marshland into fairgrounds for the 1905 World’s Fair. Its episodes cover a year of holidays in the lives of a St. Louis family threatened with a move to New York.  Its screenplay drew from a collection of stories Sally Benson wrote for the New Yorker magazine as a series called 5135 Kensington Street.   Ms. Benson’s varied credits include screenwriting Shadow of a Doubt, Viva Las Vegas and The Singing Nun.

By 1944 Vincent Minelli, had left set designing for Radio City Music Hall and had already directed for MGM the black and white musical “Cabin in the Sky.”  He had a way of creating an intimate family atmosphere in his movies.  Another highlight for me is his Shirley MacLaine bar scene in Some Came Running.  

The Three strip Technicolor printing process used for Meet Me In St. Louis, developed by MIT scientists in 1918, was still precious in the 1940s, so the studio indulged Mr. Minelli’s attention to color detail while allowing him to direct this film.   The color palette is intoxicating.

To photograph in Technicolor, Red Green and Blue filters cover the exposure of three strips of black and white film.  The three films are imbibed into one strip of film, such as the strip we ran through the projector on Saturday. 

The blue strip on our print suggests that the print itself was from the 1940’s when it was necessary to conserve on silver for the war. For some reason this adds to the softness of the high color saturation, giving viewers a blue rather than black base.   

The no-place-like-home warmth of the film becomes satirical against such highlights as the anarchy in the streets bonfire of the Halloween segment,

This is the movie where a bonfire burns brightly in the background as Margaret O’Brien, playing a 5-year-old child, bravely goes forward toward the home of a cat killer and throws flour in his face.  As she runs away the house-dog laps it off the floor.  Throwing furniture into the street fire she yells, “I’m the most horrible.”  Ms. O’Brien demonstrates her range to me in the Secret Garden (1949) where she and another boy engage in a yelling match and I think she wins.  The camera crew must have stood back and let that happen.  She’s a pretty great actor.  . She’s still alive, by the way.  

It was such fun having dinner with the movie that we plan to charge $10 and serve dinner and drinks at all future screenings, which are the third Saturday of the month.