A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 509 – Newsies

Newsies – July 22nd, 2011

Several years back, when Christian Bale was announced as the new Batman, I remember being immediately excited. I stated at the time that I thought he was an excellent choice and I was looking forward to seeing him in the role. And, at the time, Andy looked at me and wondered where he should know Christian Bale from. My incredulous reply was “NEWSIES!” Which didn’t really help him, because he had never seen it. I, on the other hand, had it memorized and had entertained a brief early teen crush on Bale based solely on his performance in it. I stand by my 12 year old self on this one. Bale was a cutie even at 17/18 and he dances in this!

Given my antipathy towards both Disney and musicals, one might wonder just how in hell I came to watch this movie so many times that I know it by heart. One would have to know my family’s history with cable for that. We didn’t have cable when I was younger. Most of my friends and classmates did, but we didn’t. For the most part, while I knew that in theory there were many things to watch that I was missing, I was content with what we had on broadcast television. And then my family spent two weeks renting a house on Cape Cod one summer. And this house had cable. And on A&E, for two hours every evening – just at the right time for dinner – The Avengers was on. Two hours of Steed and Emma or Steed and Tara(raboomdiay) that we hadn’t seen in ages because no broadcast channels were airing the show and the episodes we could buy on tape were limited. We lasted about four days when we got home. The cable guy was called in before the week was out. My mother had him lock out MTV and VH1 and subscribed to Disney as a “wholesome” channel for myself and my brother. Of course, she never changed the default code on the remote so I unlocked MTV whenever I was home on my own, but I did watch the Disney channel every so often as well. And they played this movie over and over and over and over and over.

Eventually I taped it off tv so I could watch it whenever. Inexplicably my brother also enjoyed it enough not to complain when I put it in. We’d sit and watch it and I’d make jokes about it (I was a born riffer) and make him laugh and somewhere along the line I memorized every line, every song, every stage direction. Everything. It was hard-pressed not to sing along with it watching it now, but I thought Andy would likely look at me funny. I’m sure he was laughing at me when I couldn’t help but mouth the words. Really, I should have been watching this with a couple of friends from college who love it like I do, so we’d have outnumbered him and been able to sing along. I mentioned on facebook that I was watching it and immediately one friend posted “I’M DA KING OF NEW YAWWWK” and we discussed the upcoming stage musical opening in September (why yes, I will be going). So what I’m saying here is that this movie is full of nostalgia for me.

Oh, it’s not perfect. I have to wonder what the impetus was for this movie, to be honest. It’s the story of the Newsies strike in 1899, which was a real thing that happened and was part of the whole labor reform movement in the US. And I find early labor reform really fascinating. So I’m all for a story about children organizing a strike to demand fair treatment. But what an odd choice for Disney to make a movie about. For children. I mean, it’s about kids, but it’s about a period in US history that’s rarely touched on. I mean, who covers the Spanish American War and its domestic consequences in depth at the age at which this movie is targeted? The late 1800s and early 1900s aren’t really a time period that gets a lot of kids movies made about it. Apparently it was originally conceived as a drama without musical numbers. And yet here we are, watching Christian Bale and David Moscow leap and kick and tap their way through Seize the Day, King of New York and several others. It’s a truly bizarre combination that to this day I can’t quite wrap my head around. No wonder it was a theatrical flop.

Despite all that, however, there is something about this movie that I find irresistible. I’m not sure what it is, specifically, that draws me to it because if all I wanted was to see Bale dancing I could just watch clips of this movie set to songs by Lady Gaga (yes, this is a thing, and it is wonderful) but that’s just not as satisfying. I do like the story, which follows Bale as Jack “Cowboy” Kelly and new friend David Jacobs (played by David Moscow) as they urge their fellow newspaper-selling peers to strike in protest of a price increase they can’t pass on to their customers. Jack’s an orphan with a history he’d like to forget about, sings about going to Santa Fe and is generally considered the best of the best by his peers (except the kids from Brooklyn, who have their own leader) where David gets into newspaper selling at the beginning of the movie to help out his family while his father is recovering from a work injury. With David’s smarts and Jack’s charisma and connections they manage to rally all the newsies in the city.

Of course the movie needs a villain and we get two good figures: There’s Joseph Pulitzer, played by Robert Duvall – the man who, in the movie, introduced the price hike that spurs the strike. And there’s Warden Snyder, who runs a juvenile detention hall where he stiffs the kids their meals and pockets the money that should be spent on their care. Snyder is after Jack since Jack escaped from the hall several years back. He goes to Pulitzer and identifies Jack as an escaped criminal, giving the city cause to send in the police to break up the strike. Of course you know that the newsies will prevail here. Regardless of any actual historical events this movie wouldn’t be getting a negative ending. It’s certainly going to be triumphant and involve singing and dancing because that’s how it works. But before it does there are threats and betrayals and people get beaten up and the reporter who’s been helping the newsies gets reassigned and just when you think it’s all going wrong the newsies print their own newspaper and distribute it to all the working kids in New York. Who are, of course, literate.

Not that I’m complaining about widespread literacy! But I highly suspect that this movie is embroidering the truth just a bit in terms of how many dock workers and laundry girls could read. One would expect the newsies to, but not necessarily everyone else. Still, it makes for a good crowd and a good feeling at the end, seeing all these child laborers standing up for their rights. This isn’t a movie that’s trying for verisimilitude. It’s trying to give a little bit of a history lesson, dressed up with song and dance. And some cute male leads. The acting isn’t fantastic and the script is somewhat predictable. But the songs are catchy (I’ve had King of New York in my head since watching it) and the dancing is fun to watch and really, it is a time period and subject I’m interested in. I still think it was an odd choice for Disney to make a movie for but it’s become a favorite of mine. And judging by the response I got from every friend I mentioned it to online, I’m not alone.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newsies

July 22, 2011

Newsies

Now here’s a movie that I probably never would have watched if it were not for our project. I know Amanda has an abiding love for the movie, but it’s not really one that I had any interest in seeing. Indeed this film has been somewhat of a running gag between us ever since Batman Begins came out. I was trying to remember where I had seen Christian Bale before and Amanda declared – as though it were obvious to any simpleton – “He’s in Newsies!” So, yeah, Christian Bale is that guy from Newsies – a movie I had never seen until we watched it for our movie-a-day project.

As with several of the movies that Amanda has introduced to our collection to balance out the fact that a very large majority of the films were purchased by myself without her input I am clearly not the target demographic for this movie. What I find unusual, however, is that Amanda fell so very much in love with this movie in the first place. Before we started this project she often said that she was not a fan of musicals, and she has never been a fan of Disney either. (We’ve both been somewhat surprised to discover just how many musicals we own, given her supposed dislike for them.) But here this film is – a Disney musical – an it’s one she’s been really looking forward to having me watch for a long time.

I fully understand exactly what the appeal of this movie was for Amanda. It’s full of cute boys dancing and being cool and she saw it for the first time when she was twelve or thirteen years old. It is, as she points out to me, a very strange film in that it is a historical drama about the newspaper boy strike of 1899 but presented as a musical full of teen heart-throb type guys for young girls. I found it even more strange to see Ann Margret – the Kitten With a Whip – as a burlesque dancer. How does that fit into this movie?

After a brief voice-over introducing us to the historical period we join the young boys who will be our heroes in a orphinarium. There’s a kid with an eye patch, a kid who fancies himself a ladies man, a kid with a crutch (called “Crutchy”) who is doing his very best Eddie Deezen impersonation, and our hero Jack ‘Cowboy’ Kelly. They are newsboys. Every day they get up at five in the morning, half an hour before they went to bed, and go out onto the streets of New York City to hawk papers for a penny a piece. They pay fifty cents for every hundred ‘papes’ they buy, so there’s the potential to make fifty cents profit per hundred – if they can sell them all. Sure their lot is not great, but it’s no “Hard Knock Life.” In fact they seem pretty happy with their lot, singing and dancing and tricking the rubes in the street into buying their papers.

Jack teams up with a couple new kids, a fellow named David and his precocious little brother, and decides to show them the ropes. (His reasoning being that David’s kid brother would be an asset to work with because of his age and David clearly has a good head on his shoulders.) No sooner have the three of them become friends, however, with Jack being invited to have dinner with David’s impoverished family and singing afterwards about how he dreams of an escape from his own lonely life, than the megalomaniacal newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer decides to increase his profits by forcing the newsies to pay 60 cents for every hundred papers instead of fifty cents. Oh no!

The newsies will not stand for this – being forced to pay an extra ten cents threatens to destroy their livelihood – so they decide to strike. All the newspaper selling underaged children of New York band together to insist that this injustice be corrected. Of course things do not go smoothly. They have to crack down on scabs attempting to sell papers in their stead and a mob of older kinds hired as strike busters. They have a lot of trouble getting the word out about their strike because of course the papers themselves don’t print stories about them. (As a sympathetic newsman points out – if it’s not in the papers it didn’t happen.) There’s friction in the ranks as they have to convince all the kids in other boroughs to join them – such as the tough slingshot wielding guys from Brooklyn. There’s a corrupt warden who is hunting for Jack because Jack has escaped from his state-sponsored refuge for wayward boys. And there’s Joseph Pulitzer ranting and raving and attempting to corrupt jack into joining his side.

As an aside – Robert Duvall’s wild-eyed and generally insane portrayal of Pulitzer is one of the stranger things in this movie. I have to wonder just what inspired him to deliver this performance. Was it an attempt to inject some levity into the primary villain? Was he trying to live up to the evil villains of the Disney animated films (who do tend to chew a little scenery?) Whatever the case, it’s very strange to have a historical figure depicted as such a raving lunatic.

Still, I suppose it makes sense. This isn’t a movie about historical accuracy. It’s a movie about scrappy kids joining together and proving that they can stand up to corrupt adults. It’s about performing big synchronized dance numbers in the streets of nineteenth century New York. It’s about Christian Bale singing with a hilarious accent and floppy hair.

The movie has an undeniable charm. I am not the target audience (being the wrong gender and about three decades too old) but I can understand why the mention of this movie makes just about every one of Amanda’s friends swoon. Who doesn’t like a story of children winning out against the unfairness foisted upon them by adults? And clearly it helps if they’re dreamy.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments