A Very White Christmas in Atlanta: The Plaza Lets It Snow with Two Bing Crosby/Irving Berlin Christmas Classics

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2013 By:

HOLIDAY INN (1942); Dir. Mark Sandrich; Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds; Friday, Dec. 20 – Wednesday, Dec 25 (visit the Plaza Theatre website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954); Dir. Michael Curtiz; Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen; Wednesday, Dec 25 – Tuesday, Dec 31 , in repertory with MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) (visit the Plaza Theatre website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

How much Bing is too much Bing? Trick question. There can’t be enough Bing this time of year. So when the Plaza Theatre offers up Der Bingle in HOLIDAY INN and WHITE CHRISTMAS—teamed with stars like Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye and Marjorie Reynolds and built around numbers by the legendary Irving Berlin—well, it’s a Christmas present for every classic Hollywood musical lover.

In 1940, songwriter Irving Berlin came to Paramount Pictures with an idea he’d first toyed with after writing the song “Easter Parade” in 1932: a film set at an inn open only on holidays, featuring a series of different holiday-themed musical numbers. Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby—both riding high on waves of popularity—were quickly attached to the project, and filming began on November 1941. However, despite its reputation (and that the film begins and ends during the holidays), the film isn’t really a Christmas film at all. It’s the tale of a love triangle between Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby, as the retired stage performer who runs Holiday Inn), Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire, as Jim’s caddish former performing partner on a path set for stardom) and Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds, as the inn’s featured performer and Jim’s love interest, who is tempted by the future of fame and fortune promised by Ted).

Furthermore, while the song “White Christmas” is featured three times (once in the opening credits, twice in the film itself), its appearances are dictated more by the dramatic developments of the plot than to evoke memories of Christmases past or holidays longed for in the future. In fact, the song was unpopular at first (being released in the middle of summer might have had something to do with that) and was overshadowed by another song from HOLIDAY INN. “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” Crosby himself was initially indifferent to the song, simply saying “I don’t think we have any problems with that one” when first hearing it. (Irving Berlin, on the other hand, was more enthusiastic, calling out to his secretary “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”)

By the end of October, things had changed. The song skyrocketed to the top of the “Your Hit Parade” chart where it sat until the new year dawned. It also nabbed the “Best Song” Oscar in the 1942 Academy Awards. To date, it is the best-selling single of all time. (There’s some dispute over that, however: because standard record charts weren’t in existence when Crosby’s single was released, there’s a lack of hard info on just how many copies were sold. As a result, some have claimed that Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997” holds that title at 33 million copies sold. However, Guinness World Records—after extensive examination—concluded that the single had sold 50 million copies as of 2007, thus beating out Elton.)

As a result, the film has become somewhat pigeon-holed as a Christmas staple, even though little of the film takes place during that holiday (the Fourth of July seems to take a much more prominent role, due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor plunging the country into war during the filming). What the film lacks in explicit Christmas content, though, it more than makes up in the fantastic performances of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Berlin’s music is tailor-made to be sung with the easy-going elegance of the film’s stars, and Astaire is at the top of his game during the film’s dance sequences. Marjorie Reynolds is a standout dancer and utterly convincing as the aspiring performer Linda (though her singing was dubbed by Martha Mears). The film is crisply directed with a sure hand by Mark Sandrich, a veteran of numerous Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, and his camera showcases the musical performances beautifully.

Because the film was such a success, and because people just kept buying that Bing single, Paramount decided to return to the well again 12 years later with the film WHITE CHRISTMAS. It was intended to be the third Crosby/Astaire/Berlin feature (after 1946’s BLUE SKIES), but Astaire passed on the script. Crosby did, too, deciding to spend time at home after the death of his wife. When Bing returned to the project, finding a co-star proved problematic. Donald O’Connor was slated to take Astaire’s role, but suffered an injury prior to filming, so Danny Kaye stepped in at the last minute.

Determined to take full advantage of “White Christmas”’s perennial popularity, Paramount decided that the entire film should take place at the holidays. This time, the plot revolves around two ex-Army men who have made it big in show biz after WWII (Crosby and Kaye). They find themselves tangled up in a romance with two aspiring singer/dancers (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) and a deal to perform a new show at a ski resort run by their former commander over Christmas. However, when the winter proves unusually warm and no snow is due on the forecast, the resort’s future is in jeopardy and the team step in to try to save the day.

Keeping in line with the song’s continued success, the film was the top moneymaker of 1954, bringing in almost twice as much as its closest competitor, THE CAINE MUTINY. And why not? It’s hard to go wrong with such an appealing cast and such a great set of Irving Berlin tunes. However, I feel it lacks the dramatic edge of HOLIDAY INN, and while it may be a more traditional Christmas movie, it errs on the side of schmaltz a little too often for my taste. Danny Kaye makes for a particularly saccharine replacement for Astaire, replacing Astaire’s lean elegance for a cloying sweetness.

But on the plus side, Crosby’s as on as he ever was (though he’s a bit long in the tooth by this point to be the love interest of Rosemary Clooney, some 25 years his junior), and Clooney and Vera-Ellen are both incredibly engaging. Director Michael Curtiz brings his trademark flair for inventive camera set-ups and capturing the emotion of a scene to the proceedings and makes the film—Paramount’s first shot in the widescreen VistaVision process—a visual delight. My small criticisms aside, the film is undoubtedly worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of great Hollywood musicals, and is a bona fide Christmas classic.

With the holidays as hectic as they are, it’s important to take the time to cool down. And here’s a perfect excuse to do just that. Simply sit back at the Plaza and let the glorious tunes of Irving Berlin and the incomparable pipes of Bing Crosby carry you away to a White Christmas of your own.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: Getting the Third Degree from The District Attorneys’ Drew Beskin on Their First Album and Their Next Gig with Modern Skirts and Tedo Stone at The Earl This Saturday Jan. 14

Posted on: Jan 10th, 2012 By:

The District Attorneys. Photo courtesy of Drew Beskin.

The temps are supposed to be dropping again by the weekend. So when we heard several reviewers peg The District Attorneys’ sound as summery and that they were opening for Modern Skirts along with Tedo Stone at The Earl this Saturday Jan. 14, it was easy to warm us up to interrogating lead singer/guitarist Drew Beskin as the first Kool Kat of 2012.

True, the Athens-based quintet only have been around since 2009, but they’ve been turning a lot of heads and getting some rave reviews for their first two EPs. Atlanta Music Guide’s Eileen Tilson even suggested that the seven songs on their debut EP, ORDER FROM (2010), “would easily make them an appropriate opener for The Rolling Stones circa 1963.” As for WAITING ON THE CALM DOWN:THE BASEMENT SESSIONS (2011), Eric Chavez, also in Atlanta Music Guide, effused that “With southern rock riffs mixed in with some dreamy pedal steel and a touch of surfer vibes soaked in reverb, these guys make you want to chillax on the porch with an ice cold Lone Star and reminisce about the good ‘ole days.” The District Attorneys also just finished recording their first full LP produced by Drew Vandenberg (The Whigs, Drive By Truckers, Deerhunter, Futurebirds, Modern Skirts), due out around March. And hey, Drew lists The Replacements, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Smiths as the band’s biggest influences.

Enough back story already. Download their first two EPs for free here, and while you’re chilling and listening, let Drew fill you in on how the DAs got started, some more 20th century musicians he and the band dig and why you need to come out to The Earl Saturday!

What’s the secret origin story of The District Attorneys and what’s in the name?

The band started when me and Chris (Wilson, drummer) decided to form a band after I graduated and he was still at UGA. After that, we acquired a few friends to play with us until it became the line-up that it is today. The District Attorneys became something real when we discovered Frank Keith IV (bass) who is basically Love Potion #9 in human form and has been the main reason we’ve been able to get cool shows to play on. The band name is a tribute to the Bob Dylan song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” as well as a love for bands like Interpol and The Police.

Your Facebook page describes your sound as Americana and rock, and reviewers have likened you to California country rock and described your EPs as summer music. How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard you and what song should they listen to first?

I would def be confident in my answer if the new record was already out. The first two EPs were just as much about finding out our strengths and weaknesses as well as rushing to get something out there to show people we have our own original material that isn’t awful. I’m cool with the summer music vibe, but I think one of my favorite things about this band is that our songs are starting to get very different with each song. Some are fast and rockin’ 2-minute pop songs and some are like the California summer rock stuff. I think if you check out “California Fire” and “Slowburner” from the most recent EP of demos (WAITING ON THE CALM DOWN: THE BASEMENT SESSIONS), you can hear a big difference in style. I always really liked “Sweetheart All Reckless And Humble” from the first EP as well, which reminds me more of a Cure/Jesus and Mary Chain song than anything else.

Can you name a few 20th century musicians who have been key influences and inspirations for you and the band, and why?

I’ll just mention the first few that come to me…um…I always say The Replacements, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Smiths. I probably say that because I love their guitar tones and how soundtrack-like they sound. I love those bands and I def try to add some of that to our stuff. I will always be obsessed with Elton John and Prince, but I don’t think I have found a good way to showcase those influences in the band…yet.

How do you approach songwriting and select which tunes make it onto your recordings?

I don’t really have a formula for songwriting. It happens differently every time, but I have noticed that it’s usually not the stereotypical sitting down at the keyboard or guitar and writing. I usually come up with something in [my] head or the start of something in my head, and then I bring it to an instrument to accompany whatever new random idea I might have. When bringing new songs to band, I like to play two or three of them at a time and then have the band pick which one they are most eager to add their own ideas to. If it sucks, we can just move on to another one. The new record started out as an 18-song record, but after some options were thrown out, we recorded 14 good songs but ended up ditching two of them because they didn’t fit the vibe we were going for.

What can you tell us about your first full-length album and when will it be available?

The album will be 12 tracks. We are close to deciding what the name of the record will be ,so I don’t want to say just yet. It was produced by Drew Vandenberg at Chase Park Transduction in Athens and will be released hopefully in March, if not a little sooner. We will be releasing it through This is American Music which is a label that houses one of our favorite artists ever, Glossary.

Will we hear any of those new cuts at the Earl on Saturday night?

I’m pretty confident that 97% of the material we play on Saturday will be from the new record. We have been living with these songs for the album for a good while now so we actually are pretty eager to start bringing out some brand new and unrecorded material. But we will try and wait a little bit before we do that.

What else can you tell us about the show and playing alongside the Modern Skirts and Tedo Stone?

The Earl is one of my favorite venues to see shows at. I’ve seen The Tallest Man on Earth, AA Bondy and most recently the Diamond Rugs show [there], which was an eye-opening experience. The venue and all the bands playing this Saturday night will make it a very fulfilling night of music. Modern Skirts are incredible, and we are so excited to share the stage with them. Tedo Stone is a pretty new band with some of the best music I have heard in awhile.

How did you first get into making music? Is this a passion that goes back to when you were a kid?

I always wanted to be a drummer, but I was given a guitar at age 13 because drums would have been too noisy for my rents. At first I just wanted to learn the riffs to “Day Tripper,” “Crazy Train” and “Heartbreaker,” and then I wanted to get all the way through “All Apologies.” After about three years of that, I wanted to start writing my own songs to see what I could come up with.

What did you do musically before the DAs?

Everyone in the band has a colorful musical past, but before The DAs I spent most of my time writing songs by myself, occasionally playing open mic nights in Bloomington, Indiana, when I was at Indiana University. I also played bass for a local art-punk band while I was up there, but mainly I just wanted to work on my songwriting and demo as much as possible.

What do you do when you’re not writing and/or playing music?

We are all working or in school at the moment so whenever we aren’t focusing on The DAs or other musical projects we are busy with that not-so-fun stuff.

Any other news you’d like to share about what’s coming up in 2012 for the District Attorneys?

We are hoping to get to Austin for SXSW and tour more behind this record and hopefully get it in the ears of many new listeners. We have some exciting local shows coming up and hopefully a CD release gig sometime in the spring. We can’t wait for everyone to hear the record, and then we can’t wait to start working on the next one and any EPs in-between.

What question do you wish a reporter would ask you but they never do? And what is the answer? 

Let’s see, no one ever asks me what my favorite John Travolta/Nicolas Cage movie is. It is FACE/OFF (1997). Thanks for asking finally!

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Kool Kat of the Week: The B-52s Fred Schneider Dons Shiny Spandex and Dances This Mess Around at Discoween Fri. Oct. 28

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2011 By:

In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, The B-52s turned disco on its head with sci-fi new wave numbers that were sure to get you twisting and twirling faster-than-the-speed-of-light. So it’s hard to imagine a more phenomenal host for Discoween, this Friday’s ‘70s inspired Halloween party at Paris on Ponce, than vocalist Fred Schneider. Indeed all the pre-buzz suggests an outrageous extravaganza worthy of the gregarious glitter-glam era, amplified by seasonal tricks and treats, including ‘70s dance hits spun by DJ Vickie Powell, Hustle dance lessons by Go-Go Ghoul Dancers, female impersonators selling ‘70s fashions, costume and dance contests for iPad prizes (OK, did you really want to win an old-school Atari?), a photo booth to record your ‘70s awesomeness, Bad Taste but good tasting ‘70s snacks provided  by Dennis Dean Catering, a raffle with period-authentic prizes including a vintage ‘70s Gucci purse and a framed photo of Elton John in the ‘70s taken by famed photographer Kate Simon, and much more.

Best of all, you don’t have to feel any shame when partying like it’s 1979, because all proceeds go to Canine Companions for Independence, a global nonprofit that provides highly trained service dogs to people with disabilities. Discoween was conceived by Fred’s friend and lifelong animal lover Cathleen (Cathy) Smith-Bresciani, who recently founded the Violet Trust to sponsor training of CCI’s service dogs. Known for throwing fashionably fun charitable fetes, she also chaired the 2010 and 2011 official after-parties for Jeffrey Fashion Cares and Fred Schneider’s Spring Thang benefiting PALS and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Tickets (age 21 & up) are $60 in advance ($75 at door) and can be purchased at the Website for Dixie Dog Wear, Cathy’s online pet accessories boutique which donates 100% its profits to various charities.

Designer Jason Wu, Cathleen Smith, Fred Schneider and Violet - a CCI service dog in training. Photo courtesy of Caren West PR.

ATLRetro caught up with Fred for a fabulous pre-peek at Discoween, his personal love of ‘70s dance music, how he got involved and what’s up next for the B-52s and his sensational side project The Superions, which he playfully described to another blogger as “the most exciting group to hit the music scene since Elvis or Lady Gaga.” At ATLRetro, we have no doubt that’s true, Fred!

ATLRetro: Why will Discoween be Atlanta’s best Retro-inspired Halloween party this year?

Fred Schneider: Any party Cathy Smith throws is the best. Ask anyone. And DJ Vicki and I know how to get people shakin’!!

What will you be doing as host of the party? Are you performing? Or Emceeing?
I’ll be doing a little of everything. I’m not performing, but the disco glitter dancers make their debut! And I’ll screen the Superions’ BATBABY mini-movie

Paris on Ponce is a very unique and cool venue. Do you shop there yourself (in which case what was your coolest Paris on Ponce purchase?) And how will that location play into the fun?

Yes, I’ve shopped there. Got a great 1931 modern designer furniture book. The venue for the party already looks like something from TRUE BLOOD!

What disco finest will you be pulling out of your closet, and any tips for putting together the ultimate outrageous ’70s disco costume?
I’m shopping tomorrow for an outfit! Anything shiny spandex is a must. Especially if it’s unflattering!

How did you get involved and why are you so passionate about Canine Companions for Independence?
My good friend Cathy Smith named a dog and is sponsoring one. I also do a line of dog cookies for her Dixie Dogwear [called] Fred Schneider’s Dogstars.

The B-52s were New Wave, which some people think of as anti-disco, but yet you were absolutely danceable. Did the band owe anything to the disco sound?
I love new wave disco. There’s lots of disco music we all liked.

What else are you and the B-52s up to now? Any recordings, other upcoming Atlanta appearances, eclectic hobbies, passionate causes?
The B-52s have a new live CD, WITH THE WILD CROWD, we taped in Athens. A DVD will come out later. One dream would be to play our 35th anniversary show at the Fox next year. My side project, The Superions, have a single and mini-movie out now, BATBABY. Our Xmas CD, DESTINATION…CHRISTMAS comes out again to save the holidays!

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