Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Would you believe that I originally saw this film about a US family preparing to move states… while it was still on film?

In 1996 I was privileged to be the projectionist screening this at a local old folks' home. There were maybe 20 residents packed into the dining-room that afternoon, plus my mum and dad.

Any worries that I had about the room being too light or echoey for their eyes/ears were well and truly defeated by the applause at the end.

Being a Technicolor musical, the story isn't so much about the nuts and bolts of preparing to moving house as the emotional journey involved, told here through the colourful picture, beautiful singing and feel-good attitudes. Well, set about 40 years before it was made, it was always intended to be a retro period piece.

Though the film proudly demonstrates the giant budgets that these epics are known for, director Vincente Minnelli also knows full well when to be minimalist too.

For example, for much of the iconic Trolley Song he seems to have just turned the camera on and left it running for nearly two full minutes, capturing the performance of Judy Garland and her surrounding chorus in all their glory.

Of course, it may have been editor Albert Akst who actually employed this strategy in order to avoid showing too much of said trolley-bus' back-projection, which, it must be said, is possibly the worst in the history of cinema.

It's so washed-out that I might suppose this to be a symptom of the amount of daylight in that retirement home's lounge, but I've since caught this number again twice on TV - once on late-night programming in darkest Matamata New Zealand in 2004, and then again this lunchtime back here in London. Said background also dutifully bounces up and down throughout, exaggerating the effect of the swaying bus into that of an earthquake. And with no stops one poor guy looks like he's chasing after it by running on the spot!

But with such a bright, breezy atmosphere, so what if the occasional outdoors scene has been obviously filmed indoors?

By the time the melancholic Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas comes on, this classic has easily worked its magic.

Available here.

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