Oklahoma

We just saw a high school performance of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, and I was surprised at how much darker it was than I remembered.  Aside from the cynical humor of the Ado Annie subplot, the story of the brooding, uncouth Jud is really disturbing.  He’s scorned for hiding away in his lonely smokehouse with his dirty pictures, but it’s really unclear how much of this is his fault; do people really treat him like dirt, because he’s the lowly hired hand, or is he just imagining it?  My husband pointed out that he’s not the only one to enjoy dirty pictures or lust after women–Will shows all the cowboys his special picture tube, and even Aunt Eller joins in–but for some reason everyone except Jud is excused because they’re funny, or they’re just boys being boys.

“Everything’s up to date in Kansas City! / They’ve gone about as fer as they could go…”

And when Ali Hakim offers him new pictures to assuage his loneliness, basically telling him “marriage is boring–stick with your porn”–Jud refuses and sings the hearbreaking song “Lonely Room.”

I set by myself
Like a cobweb on a shelf,
By myself in a lonely room.

…a dream starts a-dancin’ in my head.
And all the things that I wish fer
Turn out like I want them to be,
And I’m better than that smart aleck cowhand
Who thinks he is better’n me!

And the girl I want
Ain’t afraid of my arms
And her own soft arms keep me warm.

He ends by rejecting the temptation of the pornography and resolving to turn his longing into action and get a real woman of his own.  I guess they cut this song out of the movie version, so I had never heard it before.  To my mind, it makes him a lot more sympathetic.

“Goin’ outside, / Git myself a bride…”

Later on, when he tries to kill Curly with the hidden knife in the picture tube, I was struck by the fact that the pornographic pictures are used as a symbol of evil and death.  I usually try to not over-analyze movies and books and see symbolism where there isn’t any, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that there is a lot of symbolic undertext in Oklahoma.  During Laurey’s dream sequence, there’s a jarring moment when the theme “Kansas City” unexpectedly shows up, introducing a cynical note into Laurey’s idealistic ideas of romance.  And then!  “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” begins playing when Laurey suddenly finds herself dancing with Jud.  I think they were trying to show that Laurie has more in common with Ado Annie than she would like to admit.  Annie’s a victim of her own desires and weakness, as well as of the men who take advantage of her, but Laurey coldly takes advantage of Jud, using him as a pawn in her game to get Curly–even though she knows Jud is in love with her.  Because of this she’s partially responsible for everything that happens afterwards, I think.

What’s disappointing is that this theme is introduced but not really followed through.  Laurey continues to be self-absorbed, teasing and humiliating Curley till the very end, and even complaining that Jud’s death is ruining her honeymoon; but she gets her happy ending all the same.  Similarly, Will Parker, even though he’s presented in an unpleasant light with his story of the burlesque in Kansas City, succeeds in demanding Ado Annie’s completely fidelity.  She complains that he is asking for a double standard–fidelity from her, but completely freedom for him–but he never reassures her that his roaming days are over too.  Instead he calms her down by kissing her, which seems to be the moral of the whole show: sex solves everything.  It reminds me of something my mother told me about growing up in the 50’s, when everything was outwardly wholesome and decent, but in reality anything was allowed as long as you maintained the appearance of chastity.  As long as you technically stayed a virgin, you were allowed to “go about as fer as you could could go.”

“You ever had an ‘Oklahoma Hello?'”

I still can’t decide whether Rogers and Hammerstein meant to introduce these themes, but didn’t follow through on them in order to preserve the happy ending, or whether they really didn’t see how degenerate all their wholesome characters were.  It’s still an enjoyable show all around, but I had a much harder time laughing at the jokes this time.

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Seven Quick Takes: Bollywood!

If the only Bollywood movie you’ve ever seen is Bride and Prejudice, you’re in for a treat!  Seven quick film reviews, from the epic and heart-breaking to the aliens/mentally disabled/Singin’ in the Rain mash-ups.  Okay, there’s only one of those.

1. My Name is Khan

A portrayal of a man (played by the fantastic Shah Rukh Khan) with Aspergers, struggling to adjust to life as an immigrant in California, that manages to be charming and moving without being condescending.  This movie successfully deals with the tensions between Kahn’s devout Muslim family and his Hindu wife, who is also a single mother; the biases and fears of a society recovering from September 11th; and the gamut of responses run by parents suffering the loss of a child–all while keeping a sense of humor.  The second half of the movie portrays Kahn’s impetuous trek across America, half the pilgrimage of an innocent fool and half the romantic hobo’s rambling of O Brother Where Art Thou.  This movie requires less suspension of disbelief than most Bollywoods, but it does require quite an emotional commitment.  Underneath the dramatic events, it’s really just a beautiful story of love and crisis in marriage, patience, prejudice, and forgiveness.

2. Lage Raho Munna Bhai

A hapless small-time thug pretends to be a Gandhi expert to impress a girl, and gets predictably involved in a Wodehousian tangle of lies and mistaken identities.  Things get more complicated when Munna begins getting apparitions of Gandhi, who urges him to tell the girl who he really is.  Starring the marvelous comic face of Sanjay Dutt, and featuring some very catchy songs, Lage Raho Munna Bhai weaves together together reality, fantasy, slapstick humor, high ideals, sappy melodrama, and musical routines the way only a Bollywood movie can.

3. Johda Akbar

This movie is a feast for the eyes–rampaging battle elephants, royal palaces, ornate historical costumes, whirling dervishes, and color-soaked, sari-swirling dance routines.  Hindu princess Jodha is forced into a political marriage with Akbar, a Muslim ruler reminiscent of an Old Testament king: pious and righteous, but also prone to impulsive violence and revenge.  Lots of classic fairy-tale elements, including the king’s treacherous old nurse who is the power-behind-the-throne.  Underneath the historical and martial drama runs the story of a marriage beginning in convenience and distrust that gradually grows into respect and mature love.  (Warning: several scenes of disturbing violence)

4. Singh is Kingg

A really sweet, Roberto Benigni-type comedy about a naïve, small-town Sikh who mistakenly inherits a mafia dynasty in Australia and sends his henchmen out to do boy scout-style good deeds.  (Warning: some sexy club scenes)

5. I Have Found It (Kandukondain Kandukondain)

The lesser-known but more authentic cousin of Bride and Prejudice, this is a well-cast retelling of Sense and Sensibility.  Austen’s themes of class prejudice and city vs. country culture shock translate very believably into an Indian setting, with its busybody relatives, arranged marriages, stiff-upper-lip Englishmen, and tradition-defying youth.

6. Lagaan

Set in 1893, Lagaan is a drama about a cricket contest between a drought-plagued village and the local British forces.  The wager is three years worth of the exorbitant lagaan tax.  The villagers’ team includes an untouchable, and they are aided by the British captain’s sister, who is in love with one of them.  One of the most bittersweet scenes is her painfully awkward and unexotic love song, unable to compete with the lively dancing of the village girls.  A really satisfying and enjoyable movie even if (like me) you know very little about Indian history or cricket.

7. Koi Mil Gaya (“I’ve found someone”)

This is the most amazingly weird movie.  It stars the impressively versatile Hrithik, who played the king in Jodha Akbar, as a sweet, mentally disabled man who makes accidental contact with an alien.  Ripping elements and whole scenes from E.T. and (really!) Singin’ in the Rain, it also includes a few good songs.  I…don’t even know what else to say about this movie.  But I’m glad I saw it, I guess.

Check out the rest of the 7 Quick Takes, hosted at http://www.thisaintthelyceum.org  Thanks for letting me play, guys!