Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bluebirds, etc.(even Twitter?)

My neighbor's late and well loved cat, one blue eye

For many years I was puzzled by the musical, Carrousel.  It seemed out of place in Maine, especially in its spirituality, neither acadien nor Protestant.  Not that the music wasn't wonderful.  Eventually Louisiana's Public Radio station, in service to the French part of our heritage, broadcast the 1934 film, Liliom, starring the young Charles Boyer, and there it was: an unforgettable mixture of French and Hungarian symbolism, involving very striking primitive special effects, too.  Also, I had seen schoolchildren performing a version of the Maeterlinck play and later the very awkward Shirley Temple film (she was too large and too old, in 1940, to do it credibly).  The Maeterlinck, though, is a Bluebird of Happiness, just not the Hungarian-American one that Jan Peerce made famous.  The symbol of a blue bird for happiness is evidently as old and as universal as the black bird of doom.  It is, however, the popular symbolism and cultural mood of Frederic Molnar's play, faithfully rendered in Liliom in 1934, so Franco-Hungarian, that Oscar Hammerstein (more than a decade later), transposed for Carrousel, but not quite.  Oklahoma is not puzzling in the same way; its original play was itself of the midwest; its score is as middle American as Aaron Copeland's Rodeo.  It is not simply that Hammerstein was New York and Jewish that Carrousel embodies so much of the central European sentiment.  I wonder whether it wasn't that Hammerstein had a deep personal feeling for Molnar, and Jan Peerce, too.  After all, neither the poem (least of all its spoken soliloquy) nor the music by Sandor Harmati, composed explicitly for Peerce's song, was up to the standards that both his popular and his operatic repertory represented.  We do find, I think, something of the same feeling in early Kertesz photographs, both the country and the traveling circus  subjects.  It has made me wonder just how "French" his bistro pictures are.  These are rather subtle and subjective questions, of course.  Sometimes, though, not in the figures but in the compositions, especially in Pinocchio, I think that I see things that the immigrant artists brought from Europe to Hollywood.  No matter, of course, except that it may help us to understand the complexity and wealth of the fabric of New World culture.  Of course, I am of a generation that is wary of the notion of purity.  I am sorry that immigrants to Hollywood felt that they had to change their names or baptize their children (not that they were the first or the only ones to feel that they needed to do so, and, of course, persons who actually embrace Christianity—or ethical humanism, for that matter—are quite right to choose).
The most striking fact, I think, is one I found in Wikipedia: the only recording to outsell Jan Peerce's Bluebird of Happiness of 1945 (and my own well worn copy is here, in the next room, my own choice to purchase in my early 'teens) was Enrico Caruso's Over There.  Nothing, perhaps, is exotic or alien in America.
That is why, I think, I was so comfortable with Susana Clarke's writing of pre-modern thought and feeling in terms of witches and fairies.  No, I won't venture an analysis!
But what about the choice of a blue bird for Twitter?