Storytelling Part 3

Might as well get around to finishing what I started in Part 1 and Part 2, and finish spoiling the whole 48 year old Melody film for the almost everybody who’s never seen it. Of course, you can see it if you want, using the link discussed here.

When I left off, we had gone through the vignettes of Daniel falling for Melody and then attempting to get her notice, summed up in the great use of To Love Somebody during athletics/field day. This also ends with one of those things that never gets explained or expanded upon, but is pretty dramatic, when Daniel faints after winning the race with visions of Melody going through his head. We don’t know how long had passed between the dance and field day, and we don’t know how much time passes between field day and the next school day shown. Except we do, because we are about to have firm evidence that the timeline is one week from the time he sees her in ballet class to the day they first hang out together.

I could write about how short that seems to me for the sort of scenario the kids are involved in, and for certain things to have been said and done. I went through something like it, less successfully, and we’re talking months, not a week. But that might be another post. I also learned just when filming took place, besides that it was in 1970 and happened to include May, so Tracy Hyde had birthday cake on the set. It was May to August, which supports my observation about the state of vegetation in some scenes. Since filming is hard, it makes sense to have taken that long. But not longer, allowing editing and production time before it started being released in March 1971. You figure the horrible dinner party scene took an entire day of filming, and that was just one little scene to show more about how awful the adults in the Latimer family were. The scene in the headmaster’s office took a lot of takes because Mark Lester was too unflappable to express anger without being provoked sufficiently. Which might explain some of Tracy Hyde’s acting in that scene, depending on how things were spliced. But I digress.

He loves her. She seems to reciprocate. Just one thing remains. It’s another school day, and we see Daniel and Ornshaw both get in trouble with the beastly Latin teacher for not being able to present what was supposed to have been “prepared ‘omework.” We never see the kids doing homework in the film, or worrying about it, but they probably had at least as much as my kids tend to have. That’s vastly more than the almost none I had at their ages, but the British schools seem to have been different from my experience.

After school the boys go to the teacher’s office to face his wrath. Ornshaw has the trick of stuffing a towel down his pants to soften the blow while he pretends it hurts. He has Daniel do the same, but Daniel gets caught and is actually harmed after Ornshaw has left the room. Nice bit of acting, the look on the teacher’s face when he notices the towel and pulls it out. This whole thing ties into a couple of later scenes.

When Ornshaw comes out, he sees Melody hanging around one floor below, waiting. He knows darn well why she is there and tries to encourage her to move along. There’s been animosity between them and of course Daniel is his so don’t come between them please. Too late!

Daniel comes out, sees her, and she smiles at him. I haven’t written about how much the apparent age or maturity of the kids varies through the movie, but in this part she looks particularly old and mature. At any given time, the school blazers tend to contribute to that. I suspect that the filming was long enough that growth was a factor, so they look taller or shorter at points during the film. My youngest is very nearly the exact age as Mark Lester during filming. He’s growing like a weed, and any second will become the tallest of the three kids, even versus the exceptionally tall one who just turned 13. She’s just taller than I was when I turned 13, but then I grew 4 inches in the five months after I turned 13, getting most of the way to my final height. The youngest is that height almost a year and a half sooner. But I digress. I risk digressing into my son having crushed on a girl who played cello, which made him more enthusiastic about his decision to play violin. I think he got over that, but there’s an example of a crush at that age.

There’s not really talking in any of this, except by Ornshaw. He doesn’t want to lose Daniel, yet he helps by telling him not to let her see him cry, then taking the towel from Daniel so he doesn’t have to carry it. They start down the stairs.

There’s Melody, planted inexorably at the foot of the flight of stairs, in a pose that could be described as forward. It’s completely confident and unambiguous. The boys stop. Ornshaw looks at Daniel. They continue and Ornshaw resumes trying to get Melody to toddle off. When they get to the bottom, she just looks at Daniel, saying nothing, meaning everything. Ornshaw talks, trying to persuade Daniel to go do things with him that afternoon. Anything! Just to be with his friend. It’s a great way of showing just how heartbreaking this will be for Ornshaw.

Daniel walks to Melody,a s she walks away, stops and looks back. They walk off together while Ornshaw pleads. Then they run to the doorway where they’ll go down the final flight of stairs.

We see them round a corner and come down an aisle between seats that would be used for assembly, heading to the door at their theme, First of May, starts to play. The next part is brilliant visual storytelling with no audible dialogue.

We see Daniel try to carry her bag for her, to her amusement, and then she takes it back. They walk close, obviously a pair. When they walk through an arched stretch in the schoolyard, they hold hands, then let go when people might see them.

Oh heck. You can see this sequence without ever watching the whole film. You just need the video of First of May with cemetery scene left in.

They talk as they walk along, but we don’t know what they say. They make their way to an old cemetery and end up chasing around like puppies for a bit, playfully. Then they are walking together again, holding hands as they head into another section of cemetery. Ultimately it’s her leading him to a spot. The music fades and they are sitting, talking.

She says that her friend Muriel says that he’s been going around telling people he loves her, which she doesn’t mind, but why not tell her if he has to tell someone. She’s always the last to know. That last has just the right plaintive tone. Apparently Daniel has been busier than we’ve seen. Perhaps this was why they showed him being impetuous enough to light his dad’s paper on fire, or forthright enough to tell the director of the Boy’s Brigade that he didn’t know what he was doing there, it was his mother’s idea. You need to have enough innocent boldness, or just boldness, to do something like going around telling everyone you love some girl in school.

Sharing the apple is a cute touch. Not sure I’d ever have done that. Germs, you know. It fits the song. Some of the later cover art they did features the apple in a way that sums up the themes of the film. I have never figured out whether there was a point to her tearing up a handful of dead grass or vegetation when he hands her the apple.

She does most of the talking.He’s very quiet, and we’ve already seen that she’s more social, talkative, and can be a smartass when expressing herself. To the degree she reminds me of Ella, a similarity is her being surrounded by groups of other girls who were her friends at school or from the drum and bugle corps. In 9th grade, we read The Merchant of Venice in English, which was one of the classes we shared. She was kind of behind me, so I couldn’t stare at her there as I did in the horrible algebra class. I loved that book! I used to describe the friends around Ella as “Portia’s train,” the way that sort of retinue was described in the book.

She observes it’s nice there, and that her mom tells her not to go there but she’s not frightened. Nothing to be frightened of when you have the boy with green ears and so forth. LOL. Looking for something to say, since he’s about as much help as I’d have been around that age, she looks around and then reads a nearby gravestone. The name of the woman on it is Ella Jane, appropriately. They’d been married 50 years of happiness and then he died just two months later. This is crucial, since this sparks the idea of marriage. Storytelling prop.

I wonder if that’s a real gravestone or if it was a prop they produced for the purpose of the story. I’ve seen video of people walking through the very cemetery decades later, but nothing where someone found the exact spot.

Anyway, she observes “he only lasted two months after she died.” Finally speaking a full sentence, Daniel says “he must have loved her very much.” This is pretty much the most famous dialogue in the entire film.

She asks him how long is fifty years. He gives the reply in number of school terms, which shows how young they are and how limited their worldview is. It’s also kind of funny.

She asks “will you love me that long,” turning to look at him with an adorable smile. He nods. She says “I don’t think you will.” Wise observation, but hey, it can happen.

He replies “of course, I’ve loved you a whole week already, haven’t I?” He smiles and looks almost tongue in cheek. He laughs slightly and they both smile. This is when we first hear him say he loves her. It gives us the timeline from the day he sees her to now, locking everything through that day into place. I know life can move fast at that age, but it seems like too little time for the strength of the friendship with Ornshaw, and for the antics between Daniel and Melody to have happened and come to fruition. It works great for the dialogue, though! This is the scene that Tracy and Mark reenacted on at least one of their reunions decades later. The acting here is great, and so is the way things are conveyed.

First of May reprise kicks in as they continue eating the apple and looking at each other, and we segue into them walking along a road again. I’d love to be able to read lips to know what they are saying when they stop and try to duck through the fence to jaywalk. They pause and are foiled. Not sure, but I assume that is trying to show them being kids and not always angels. Then they are walking through the yard in front of her building. A little girl runs up to her and they pause for a kind moment between her and the kid. Maybe that means to show them as not little any more, by comparison. They reach her door and they have an exchange. It may be that he has seen him as walking her home, and is reticent, while she is inviting him for tea. She opens the door and, in one of my favorite, funny touches, she reaches back out the door and pulls him in by his tie. Inside the door, she looks amused, as well she should. Even though it was different sets and might have been widely separate days of filming, it’s seamless. Her mother and granny look up from the table and at the doorway, surprised. Melody announces “he’s come for tea.” This brooks no dissent.

We get more of her family dynamic when they are at tea. We see her being daddy’s girl, since he is home. We see tension between him and her mother, if not outright fighting as we saw with Daniel’s parents. Her father is obviously someone who can’t do with silences, so he has to find something to talk about, a story to tell. Melody gives him a number of “if looks could kill” looks as he goes along. Ultimately, though, it’s a nice interlude. It cements things and caps off the day.

At no time do we ever see Daniel’s parents meet or be aware of her. Interesting.

This is the end of certainty about the timeline of events. The vignettes used in telling the story until now could have been separated substantially from each other in time, if not for the confirmation on this day that it all took place over a week. To me that timetable is a borderline anomaly, or creates some. But it’s a story. You make decisions and trade-offs.

And so we have no idea whether the next day is the next day or sometime later. The only evidence we have that it’s not the next day, beside it seeming rather abrupt, is when Melody’s father refers to Daniel having been to tea multiple times. That suggests a longer build up once he is her boyfriend, and more opportunity to reach the point of planning that day together. Also that would give more time for them to be so attached that marriage seems reasonable to them, at least in their perception of it. They don’t always seem innocent enough to be that innocent.

The next scene is a morning at school, attendance, and they aren’t there. We see they are on a train. They hop off, looking sort of furtive even though by then who’s going to catch them. There are a lot of questions about how they managed to sneak away like this. They are dressed for a day of fun. That means their school clothes, blazers, satchels… those are all at home, should someone notice. They had to get out the door that way, with what they were carrying for the day out, not for school. But that’s mechanics that are outside showing the story. We can wonder and imagine, but really it just is. Hand wave.

We see them on amusement park rides. During some of this the some Give Your Best plays, as it did when Daniel hung out for an afternoon with Ornshaw. We see them eating cotton candy and buying ice cream cones. We see them walking along the beach in bare feet, spying and then jumping on trampolines. Then they watch a wee kiddie pageant, which she is totally into and he tolerates because he is with her. We see them sitting on a sheltered bench, which is still there. You could go sit where they sat, if you wanted to seek it out. Mostly it’s companionable silence, which is a great thing to be able to have with someone, but they converse and some of it is lame. It doesn’t entirely fit with them having hung out and talked on other days.

If that tells a story, it tells how limited their world is. They talk about what they would be doing in school right now if they were there, and what subjects they like. He pretends he doesn’t like history so much after all, since she hates it. She loves geography. Can’t blame her there. That actually factors later, as some things do throughout the film.

When the rain is over, we see them on the beach, building a sand castle and talking idly. Her dad doesn’t like the beach and usually stays home, “in the pubs, mostly.” She’s aware of his drinking problem, if it’s a problem.  That reaches back to the beginning when she had to go find him at the pub. That pub is still there, operating under the same name. His family rides in the car, but they don’t generally get out. The adults have a row and don’t talk until they get home. We get some of their view of adults firsthand, besides the over the top adult acting intended to convey how kids see them. He goes down and steps into the water with a container, brings some water back, and then she wonders why it all went away. That’s particularly lame, because a six year old would probably understand that water poured onto sand is going to dissipate through it. Do they really want us to see the kids as being that young and ignorant?

While patting sand in place, one of their hands pats onto the other one’s hand and they are sort of… startled. I don’t know why, given all the hand holding they did, even if it was just the one day prior and this is the very next day. Still, that is the impetus for him asking if they should get married. She thinks maybe someday, perhaps, which is a smart answer. They talk about how old might you have to be before you can get married. As old as our parents? He worries if they wait they might be “old miseries.” Great expression! The wife is an old misery. LOL. Too much social media. I never would have said LOL in blog posts 15 years ago. Most adults they know are old miseries. Melody stands and looks out across the water, getting sandy hands in her hair and wistfully saying to the world at large “I don’t know. I really don’t know…”

That segues into a scene where the two of them pop up from behind a screened enclosure, now wearing their swim suits, clothes hung on the enclosure. Initially holding hands, they run down to the water, step in, then step out because it’s COLD. you hear her say “I’m done!” while pointing to herself. Then she goes back in, which he is supposed to do together with her. He’s a little slow about it. She kicks water to splash him, then he splashes her, and fun ensues. Considering he stepped into the water shortly before this, if it was cold he should have noticed. A little glitch there. That scene ends with a musical thud. We see nothing of when and how they get home, the rest of their day, the reaction at home if any of the parents figured out what they had done, nothing. This is another absence of telling what isn’t essential to be told. I’d expect to see more of it in a book. A film or show would trim things exactly this way.

It goes straight to the two of them in school clothes, insides the door of the headmaster’s office, unambiguously the next day. This scene required many takes, at least the part where Daniel gets angry and yells at the headmaster. We don’t see anything about how they wound up being sent or called there. We don’t see whether there is or will be interaction between school and parents.

I should note, as I may have before, that if kids that age skip school here, the school calls home to see if the parents know the kid is home. A parent is supposed to call to tell the school the kid will be out. In elementary it’s a special number where you leave voicemail. In middle school it’s just calling the office. I don’t know if anyone goes to even that length in high school. The schools seem to be good at treating the kids as being older and more responsible as the get older in age and year. In my day, there was nothing like that. There was no hyperactive fear of kidnapping, which is what actually drives the safe to school line concept. We were simply expected to take an excuse note from a parent the next day and give it to the office.

Anyway, the headmaster is funny. He’s actually quite gentle with them, and I saw Mrs. Latimer’s hand in that. since she is buddies with him and he’d want to keep in her good graces. The range of expressions from Melody during part of this is amusing, since I am not sure that’s what we ought to be seeing. I can’t help wondering what the director was telling them during this. When the headmaster stands behind the two of them and puts a hand each on one of their shoulders, she looks at his hands and has a “get that off me you creep” look, an amused look, a worried or alarmed look, an amused look, and so forth as he speaks.

When Daniels tells him they know what their priorities are: they want to get married, she whips her head to the side and looks at him like WTF. I mean, we never saw them actually come right out and decide with each other that yes, this was absolutely what they wanted to do. However, that doesn’t mean they didn’t. I figure the look was more “OMG why are you telling him that.” Then, when asked if she’s offered him her hand, she says she doesn’t know, she’s not sure what it all means. That sure is a switch from their vehemence. Daniel gets mad because he thinks it funny, but it’s not and he’s treating them like they’re stupid. The headmaster tells them that’s it, “the matter is finished.” Then the real fun starts.

They go back to their classrooms. Weird thing is that if they got sent to the office while other kids went to class, they should be entering a class in progress. Instead, they are entering classes where the kids await arrival of the teacher. She gets tormented, even by some of her closest friends. He gets tormented worse, and ends up in a fight on the floor with Ornshaw. Latin teacher breaks it up. Daniel is nursing his bloody nose while Ornshaw apologizes from the next desk, feeling terrible.

After school, in one of the most iconic scenes, we see Daniel and Melody sitting in the rain in his cemetery. Her head is on his shoulder and his arm is around her neck. His other hand is holding his satchel above them, in a vain attempt to keep them from getting completely soaked. We don’t know what he is saying, but he is talking furiously to her. That is the one clue I figure we have that says the next day’s events take place the actual next day, rather than at some later date. We don’t need words, anyway. This tells the tale of what the day has been like for them and his strength in trying to make her feel better.

Then she is home, hair getting dried, sitting at the table while her father does most of the talking to her and her mother interjects from behind. Granny lurks around back there, and we see some good facial acting on her part. They know about her wanting to get married and are telling her people just don’t get married at her age. In this whole scene, she seems pretty young, whereas there are so many times she seems older than she is. They do a poor job of explaining. She doesn’t accept it. If the plans for what in film terms appears to be tomorrow have already been made, it is moot anyway. As I said, I felt for her father here. Tracy Hyde does an excellent job being pathetic. It calls back to her love of geography. She likes being with Daniel more. Daniel is home, in bed, thinking. We see nothing of his parents.

Final bit. Flash to what we could take to be the very next day. Complete turnaround from the classmates. Daniel’s mother is frantic because he left a note that they were eloping. First we have known that she has any clue about the girl or the depth of things, and she’s a mess. It’s ridiculous. Headmaster takes her call, assures her things are fine, he’d seen them in class. He’ll go check. When he does, he learns one of the classes never came back from morning break. The one kid there is the kid who’s been trying to make a homemade bomb the whole time. Turns out their classes went to the railroad arches for a wedding.

Headmaster gathers up the teachers to go break it up. As they are driving off, Mrs. Latimer drives up in her fancy car and ends up following. Nothing to worry about. They get to the barren land by the rails and break up to try to flush out the kids. Meanwhile, Stacey, the bomb kid, has run off to warn them the teachers are coming. Obviously his planned role. The headmaster is so oblivious, he doesn’t notice Stacey had a bomb right on the desk when he walked in and asked where the others were.

We see the kids gathered and Ornshaw starting the ceremony. The kids laugh and he tells them it’s not funny, it’s serious. Rhoda is the maid of honor, even though during most of the movie you might think Peggy or Muriel were closer friends. I didn’t identify the boy who seems to be the best man. I like Rhoda. The actress, Lesley Roach, was in a lot of stuff before Melody, then disappeared after 1976. We had a local family named Roach when I was a kid.

It’s funny when Ornshaw tries to read the whole thing, fumbles it, and basically leaves it as taking the respective other to be their husband and wife. “Will you?” “I will.” “Yeah, I thought you might.” same with Melody, blah blah obey blah. “I will.” She has kind of a blushing bride look, and seems amused. Maybe Tracy was trying to keep a straight face and almost not managing it. This also had to be funny if they shot the scene earlier in filming than they did some of what built up to it. The more extras involved, the earlier they shot it. These were more the core group, but they still might have done this sooner and then completed what had only the main characters afterward.

Before Ornshaw can say man and wife, years before this was a thing in Princess Bride, Stacey gets them the warning and they scatter. The main wedding party goes one way. The rest go the other to run interference. At this point it’s a revolt. It was just the thing with Daniel and Melody that provided the impetus. This is where Teach Your Children plays. I’ve seen it described as out of place or inappropriate. I don’t think so, for the scene and the ending the team decided on. I might have come up with a different ending, though I can’t say what.

The kids fight back with the teachers, who are outnumbered. Eventually it’s down to Ornshaw, Melody and Daniel, running from the evil Latin teacher. They lose him and Ornshaw has the newlyweds hop on a hand trolley that we saw in a much earlier scene of a test of one of the explosives.

In the meantime, Stacey has lit his latest bomb attempt and tossed it into the back of Mrs. Latimer’s car. It works spectacularly. He is amazed and overjoyed. That stops everything in its tracks, including, briefly, the running that Ornshaw and the newlyweds are doing, while they and the Latin teacher look back to see what the noise had been. The headmaster and teachers run away. Mrs. Latimer looks at her burning car in dismay, looking completely lost. More than she had during the brawl.

That’s it. Teachers are a mess and not looking good. Kids are not going to be able to escape being in trouble. Mrs. Latimer is going to have to explain the car to her husband and might want to reexamine her life. The honeymoon is presumably going to be short because where can they go, what can they do? They’re 11. It’s not a real marriage. They can’t support themselves. They’re carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. But all of that is neither here nor there. What happens next. What people face. Those aren’t part of this story. Leave it to the imagination. Leave it as an ending that is too absurd for reality so why ask those questions. It was fun and told a tale that was meant to be told.

I don’t think I accomplished with this set of posts what I thought I was setting out to do. It ended up being more of a breakdown of the movie, much as people on YouTube break movies or show episodes down and look at what happened and some of the finer points in videos. I still say that watching this and seeing how the story was conveyed helped inspire and make me think, with respect to my old story that I should complete eventually. The lesson for me is it being OK to leave gaps and leave unanswered details the reader doesn’t have to know. There’s also a lesson in tying elements from earlier to later, and how to introduce people and places.

It’s late and I should already be in bed, since alarm time is 2:15 AM. I either have to leave this a draft or publish it but then proofread it when I get home later in the morning. Probably the latter.

Comments are closed.