Please excuse the possible, uh, magic realism of my posting style today; my brain is abob in a swell of fever, held afloat by little more than sheer will and Dayquil.
*Meet Me in St. Louis *is surely the Great American Musical. Set lovingly and nostalgically in the very heart of a “normal”—i.e., middle class and turbulent-but-happy—family, it simultaneously celebrates the quaint conventions of a bygone era and contrasts them, slyly but unfavorably, with the modern society of 1944.
It’s astonishingly plotless for a big studio entertainment. The film maintains the traditional three-act framework a mainstream audience would, but moves blithely through the various interweaving stories of each member of the Smith family of St. Louis, Missouri, in the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair.
I’ll skip over this part, which would normally be a capsule of the plot, on the understanding that we’ve all seen the movie, or are at least planning on seeing it. Instead I’ll jot some thoughts regarding some of the things about Meet Me in St. Louis* that, after probably a couple dozen viewings, I feel are worth noting and considering.*
[li]I’ve heard the movie derided because it “celebrates” an antediluvian society wherein men hold all the power, including over day to day decisions made in every household, and women can claim control over even the smallest aspect of their lives only through subterfuge and manipulation. I disagree. I think it’s more likely that an audience in 1944—the era of Rosie the Riveter—would see these sly little spotlights on such quaint sexual politics as a gentle reminder of how far we’d come (baby). The film doesn’t celebrate them so much as present them without any explicit comment, leaving that up to the contemporary audience.[/li][li]The movie has a surprisingly modern view of child psychology. Tootie’s obsession with death and the macabre is never presented as something that’s wrong with her. More importantly, no one in her family seems to give it much weight. She’s portrayed in such a way that we see her obsessions as natural milestones along the journey of a little girl learning about the planet she’s only recently been deposited on; she’s processing such vast, universal imponderables as life and death with the curious and playful—though utterly serious—mind of a real child.[/li][li]Note Minnelli’s use of picture frames. I haven’t decided what this means, if it means anything other than a careful attention to compositional details. But watch how often a character’s face is framed by actual frames in the background. And watch how frequently the geometric structures of the frames, doors, and windows are taken into account within the composition. Perhaps this is meant to give a physical presence to the central theme of the Home as a place of safety and familial intimacy. Perhaps not . . . (Minnelli’s use of color harmonies is also careful enough to be significant, but I haven’t given it much analytic thought either.)[/li][li]Despite the comfortable, loving atmosphere of the Smith family, they undergo a real crisis: nothing less than the loss of that home, and removal from the paradisiacal St. Louis to the cold, frightening-sounding New York. Not only is this a crisis of the family’s very identity—St. Louis is the center of their universe—but it results in something of a paradigm shift for the father, who’s flabbergasted to learn that his family is made up of individual people who actually have their own thoughts and opinions.[/li][li]Judy Garland had very little confidence in her looks; the studio abused her horribly in its attempts to “beautify” her. What a bunch of idiots. If she had been more conventionally—i.e., blandly—beautiful, she would not have been such a perfect center for such a perfect film: she’s a real girl, in a real family, in a real house, in a real place. But she was ever the consummate performer: watch, and rewatch, the Trolley Song segment: she is constantly present, in every molecule of her body, and every thought and feeling plays clearly and beautifully across her face. I’ve never been a “fan of Judy,” like a lot of gay men who are obsessed with her. I have my divas, but she’s never been one of them. Nevertheless, her performance in* Meet Me in St. Louis *is among the greatest performances of Hollywood’s “golden age.” Especially in the Trolley Song.[/li][/ul]
. . . . .
There’s more that I can add, but my Dayquil’s ebbing . . . I’ll bring up more points as the discussion continues.