Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day 149: The Boy Friend (1971) - Rank 3/5


Simply put: Ken Russell does Busby Berkeley. The director known for excess indulges in a desire to pay homage to the early talkies of the 1930's in the story of a girl's first night on stage. Polly (Twiggy) lands her first performance when the star of the show "The Boy Friend" is injured and she finds herself forced into the starring role with little rehearsal. To her surprise, as well as that of teh cast, a famous Hollywood director, known as De Thrill, shows up looking to recruit some fresh talent. What follows is an amalgamation of a number of three realities/stories. The first is a down-and-out repertoire group endeavoring to please a Hollywood director with their efforts. The second is the storyline within the play "The Boy Friend." The third is the performance of the play the stage players wish they could perform, and as a result, the viewer is treated to the gala musical numbers on giant sets that are often expansive renditions of the song performed in the preceding scene by the cast on their mediocre stage (such transitions are often sparked by the director commenting "If only I had a bigger budget, I'd really do that number right...). Amidst all this, Polly's relationship with her beau ends up on the rocks and summarily patching itself in sequences that mirror the action taking place on stage.

It should be evident based upon that description that the film is not only operating on a number of levels, but it has a great deal going for it. That's why I almost felt betrayed by one of my favorite directors when much of the story fell flat for me. The performances were rather decent, especially Twiggy in the leading role and an entertainingly dour Bryan Pringle, but nothing stupendous. I suppose one great fault is the film's music, and that's certainly a moot point for me when watching a musical. The way I see it is: if you watch a good musical, there should be at least one song you find yourself humming long after the film ends. No such luck here. Whether that's the fault of Ken Russell's adaptation or just the fault of the source material, I can't say since I was unfamiliar with the play "The Boy Friend" prior to this movie.

My second big problem with the film was the multiple Berkely-inspired musical numbers. I felt like Ken Russell was endeavoring to recreate the splendor of Busby Berkely's work rather than put his own spin on the style. As a result, the numbers came off feeling...well...conventional. The camerawork was very straightforward, almost "shot point blank" at times, and when Russell had just shown extreme prowess and creativity behind the camera a year prior when shooting "The Music Lovers" (a character study of a classical composer that rivals "Amadeus" in scope), "The Boy Friend" feels like a small step back. In it's defense, I will say that there's still an ample offering of striking visuals to hold your attention, for it is a Ken Russell film after all. It's just that those moments pale in comparison when compared with the director's other works.

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