Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Bye Bye Birdie

I was recently horrified.  I heard from a friend that, at this very moment, there is a remake of "Bye Bye Birdie" being written somewhere out here in the bowels of Hollywood.

Bowels, indeed.

Why don't you just kill me now?  At least start the process and then please know that you will have to finish when some fool ultimately decides to do remakes of my all-time favorite films, "The Apartment" and "Some Like It Hot."

There is nothing sacred anymore.  Not even formerly pristine memories from my childhood.

I think about "Bye Bye Birdie" and wonder just what a remake would look like. 

Instead of Elvis Presley going off to the Army, is the 2013 plot finding a Justin Bieber knockoff headed off to prison as he serves his sentence for a DUI convicton?

The famed "Telephone Hour" production number?  Gee, let's update that by having all the Sweet Apple, Ohio texting each other about Hugo Peabody and Kim McAfee being pinned.

Of course, some genius out there will try to connect to the original movie by including former stars Ann-Margret and Bobby Rydell in cameo roles.  Wow, they can be exasperated parents now.  Or maybe the mayor and his wife.


If the lunatics entrusted with this reboot were smart, they would throw the money back and walk away from the project right now.  As a creative work, "Bye Bye Birdie" is almost hopelessly and joyously bound to the 1960s.  First as a Broadway musical and then as the 1963 film, it was a product of its time.  And works only in that context. 

Now, the movie is a bit different from the Broadway production.  The filmmakers felt a need to make it even more rooted to the decade that spawned it.  There is a subplot tied to the Cold War and Russian hostilities.  Numerous gags reference Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy, the latter made even more painful because he died a short six months after "Bye Bye Birdie" was released. 

But, still.  The movie still works.  For me.  I just watched the recently remastered Blu-ray edition and fell in love all over again.  I still hear the dated jokes.  I can recite most of the lines.  I can show you a blooper where you can actually see the glass ramp that the drugged turtle zooms up.  I can point out to you amongst the teenagers Linda Kaye Henning of "Petticoat Junction" and Elaine Joyce.

I am truly a geek when it comes to "Bye Bye Birdie."  A movie that came in at #12 when I documented my Top 25 Favorite Films of All Time on this blog over five years ago.

Indeed, "Bye Bye Birdie" was my first non-edible obsession. When I initially saw it when it arrived at the Loews Theater in Mount Vernon, I couldn't get enough of it. Because I wound up seeing it six times over the next seven days. I'm not sure why I skipped a day, but it must have been, in the most Biblical of senses, our day to rest.

How did I wind up there in the darkened theater all week?  Very simple.  Neither of my parents had any interest.  My mother wasn't particularly fond of musicals.  And my dad?

"I can't stand that Dick Van Dyke.  He falls downs a lot."

A bit of a random reaction I agree.  But, even at this tender age, my parents acknowledged the safer world around us. 

"Okay, we'll drop you off at the theater and pick you up after the movie." 

Just to be clear, I wasn't completely unchaperoned.  My father would slip five dollars to the guy taking the tickets or maybe the deadly theater matron with her dreaded flashlights.  They were entrusted to watch over me.  And did so gladly.  Back in that day, five bucks went someplace.

Of course, my absolutely crazed reaction to the first viewing of "Bye Bye Birdie" made me want to go back and back and back.  My parents surprisingly didn't care.

"Well, it's your allowance."

I often wonder if each visit to Loews for "Bye Bye Birdie" cost them five dollars for the in-theater babysitting service.  Or, after the third or fourth time, they threw their hands in the air and said "what the hell."  He came back in one piece.  Maybe he doesn't need the supervision.

I certainly wasn't going to raise a ruckus as I sat gaping at my very favorite movie of all time.  I was completely mesmerized.

You see, "Bye Bye Birdie" also probably marked the official grand opening of Len's Hormones.

The ribbon cutter was none other than Ann-Margret. The record album cover at the top of today's posts gives her limited justice. I immediately used my very next allowance to go to Brodbeck's Record Store on Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York to purchase the stereophonic long playing soundtrack record.

And I will tastefully refuse to tell you what I used to do with that record jacket.

In an incomprehensible twist, the other thing that made me love this movie was the presence of Paul Lynde as the father. I was, of course, way, way too naive to understand all the sordid details of Mr. Lynde's private life. All I knew was that I thought the guy was a stitch and that I wished secretly my father was just like this guy. Years later, I doubt that I wanted my dad to be cruising Santa Monica Boulevard looking for teenage boys.

I played the "Bye Bye Birdie" soundtrack on my record player constantly. I knew all the words to every song and wanted desperately to be in the show if it ever was done in my school. In retrospect, I creep myself out at how nuts I was about this movie. And now I wonder what the hell drew me to it, beyond Ann-Margret's multiple scenes in Spandex.

Well, the music is quite underrated. There are shows/movie musicals that have been more successful, but I couldn't tell one song from another. Indeed, "Bye Bye Birdie" harkens back to a simpler time. Perhaps it's all this teenage angst that drew me in. It was a harbinger of things to come. Amid all the drama of the world, these kids seemed to be okay and even thriving. Maybe that was the future I was hoping for. That life would be so comfortable that I could sit on the telephone and talk to my friends all day like the kids of Sweet Apple, Ohio did.
And perhaps I would be grown up enough to dance around in a night club just like this trailer shows.  The famous "Birdie" dance. 

Admittedly, it's probably a little weird that I would walk to grade school, singing the lyrics to "I"ve Got a Lot of Livin' to Do." I mean, think about it.

"There are chicks just right for some kissing and I mean to kiss me a few."

I can almost hear the call from my teacher and the school psychologist right now. The express train to puberty making no stops. So, if I spent a year obsessed with "Bye Bye Birdie," big freakin' deal! I think I turned out okay.

What did my parents think? Well, consider the song that could have been their anthem as well.  

"Kids, I don't know what's wrong with these kids today."

As I wrote above, I now have the newly restored Blu-ray.  And they recently released a remastered CD with some of the musical numbers, originally omitted, now included.  The album cover is intact.  And, years later, I still stare at the damn thing.

Luckily, I did get to see "Bye Bye Birdie" on a big screen a few years back when the Alex Film Society ran it. It was a true time machine. I felt like I was back in the Loews Mount Vernon, eyes riveted on the screen with a mouthful of Pom Poms. Now, I want to experience that all over again.  It's the 50th anniversary of its original release.  I wait for some film society like the Egyptian or the Aero here in Los Angeles to put together a night devoted to the film.  Dick Van Dyke is still with us.  So are Ann-Margret and Bobby Rydell.  They would be available for a Q & A after the movie.  In my fantasy world, I am the moderator.

But, rest assured, I probably won't be sharing what I was doing with that record album cover. But, before you let your dirty minds go too far off course, keep in mind that I wasn't even ten yet.

Dinner last night:  Honey walnut shrimp and garlic chicken at Panda Inn.


basura said...

Well at least you weren't singing "How lovely to be a woman" on your way to school.


Anonymous said...

Favorite moment: Maureen Stapleton pulling her head out of the oven to sing a duet with Paul Lynde. Inspired.