Happy Birthday Tracy Hyde

Tracy Constance Margaret Hyde is sixty years old today. That means it was 49 years ago that she turned 11 and celebrated on the set of the movie that made her famous, early in the shooting. Obviously I am talking about Melody, filmed in 1970 and released in 1971.

She took her second husband’s name, so these days it’s actually Tracy Ayoul.

No matter how old she gets, and how old we get, for better or worse, Tracy will always be best remembered like she appeared here with Mark Lester:

 
Mark Lester and Tracy Hyde as Daniel Latimer and Melody Perkins in the cemetery scene in 1971 film Melody, originally released in some markets as SWALK.

Still Confused, Apparently

I keep thinking of the kids in Melody as being in 5th grade, in US terms. In looking at stats, I ended up reading my own post on ages in Melody and found that I had concluded that they were equivalent to 6th grade. That because they are “First Form” and that is the year when you’d generally turn 12. In the US, sixth grade is the year when you’d generally turn 12. This does fit the story better, in that it was the earliest there were generally strong interests in the opposite sex and kids have girlfriends or boyfriends.

So I’ll have to remember that when I think about the story it’s sixth grade, it’s on the edge of 12, not fifth and 11. That means Tracy Hyde was a year young but looked older (well, her apparent age was highly variable in the film), and Mark Lester was exactly the age (looking on the young side of close enough to it). Jack Wild of course was playing much younger than his actual age, and always looked at least a year older than the age he was attempting to play. Perfectly plausible in the real world and Ornshaw’s apparent circumstances.

I could totally see this happening to me in late 6th grade. Heck, that was when I met my best friend, Zack, who would probably have been a crush had he been a girl. My daughter, a year older than that, has a huge girl crush on her best friend, even though she’s never shown any sign of being interested in anything but boys. Other than that, I still wondered about the 4th grade crush who disappeared, and had a crush on Paula, who was a year and a third younger than me. She’d be the obvious analogue for a scenario based on my life. If I merged her and Carol, I’d have dancing, but she’d have a brother who was a friend in my own grade. There’d be an alcoholic father, but a more stable, larger family otherwise, and more friends. Clearly the idea of writing something based loosely on me has not let go. Not a big market for youth romances, though, notwithstanding the success of Moonrise Kingdom.

But I digress. Writing this was intended to poke fun at my memory and to help reinforce what I had figured out previously so I might not forget it this time.

When You Never Watched The Movie…

You write a DVD cover blurb that sounds like this utterly ridiculous one from the Melody DVD:

An excellent musical score by the Bee Gees adds appeal to this curious little movie about two ten year olds, Daniel and Melody (Mark Lester and Tracy Hyde) who are completely taken with each other and announce to their parents, in all seriousness, that they plan to get married. This marriage is not planned for the distant future, but as soon as possible. The uproar that is caused when their seriousness becomes clear is not too surprising. Their best friend Ornshaw (Jack Wild) is not too thrilled with their plan either. What makes the film work is that the entire story is told from the children’s point of view in which the grownups’ objections, since they have no relation to the truth of what the children are feeling, come across as silly or inconsequential. This film is a reunion of sorts for Oscar-winning Oliver! co-stars Mark Lester and Jack.

My aim is to rewrite this using the same amount of words/space, so my text could be used in the same spot on a DVD case. Or as a brief description that might actually make the film sound like something you might enjoy seeing. I transcribed from the case to help with that end, but that allows me to post and critique it her. This is vastly more annoying than the reviews you see by people who sound as if they never saw the film.

The music not only adds appeal, but also was incorporated into creation of the story concept and the writing of the script. That phrasing sounds like damning with faint praise.  That gets worse when it is described as “this curious little movie.” That tells me the writer found the movie odd at best and is warning people that there is a good chance they won’t like it.

The kids are not ten. They are eleven. While their age is never outright stated, the school year and time of year makes them 11 or so close as not to matter. This also fits with the ages of the actors, though that is moot in that Jack Wild was 17 and Lesley Roach was 16, yet they were playing kids who were also 11. It’s possible that kids in the grade level could be as old as 12, but few would be lower than 11 by late in the equivalent of American fifth grade. Not that it matters. My equivalent crush with some surprising similarities was around the time I turned 10.

Why do we need to mention Mark Lester’s name twice? Why do we cut off in the middle of Jack Wild’s name, at the end, so he is mentioned one and a half times?

At no time do the kids announce to their parents that they intend to get married. It is probable that both sets find out, but the only ones we see knowing and doing a poor job of talking her out of it are Melody’s. The closest we see Daniel coming to announcing it (which doesn’t mean it didn’t happen off-screen) is when his mother finds the note saying that they are eloping.

Melody and the love between the two kids is central to the story, but not remotely the only part of it. If you could say it’s about one thing, that would be love. But it’s love between friends as well.

About the only thing in the description that is accurate is that the story was told from the point of view of the children. I’m not sure it’s the objections to the marriage idea that come across as silly and inconsequential so much as it is the general incompetence of the adults that makes them come across that way in general.

I might never have paid enough attention to this to tear into it, except my oldest used the description as the basis for her decision not to watch the movie. That was what cause me even to read it. I was horrified.

Peggy Swailscroft

Kay Skinner, now Kay Worsfold (I really like that picture), played Peggy Swailscroft in Melody. It’s always interesting to see whether the kids had been in other things before, and how long they acted after. In her case, that was her first role, and her short acting career ended with a 1972 release. Melody filmed during May through August 1970, when Kay was 12, and came out at the end of March 1971.

I bring her up for a few reasons. She is one of Melody’s closest friends. Besides her, that seems to include Rhoda, played by Lesley Roach, and Muriel, played by Camille Davis. Peggy plays an especially pivotal role, being with Melody at the dance. That makes her the foil – is that the right word? – making it harder for Daniel simply to go up and ask Melody to dance with him, but providing Daniel the excuse to bring Tom Ornshaw for moral support (courage in numbers). My take is that Peggy doesn’t read the situation right and, distasteful as dancing with Ornshaw may be, bear with it for the sake of Melody completing that dance with Daniel. Can’t really blame her, since he’d obviously rather be anywhere else but dancing with her.

Kay did a wonderful job playing that role. She captures the personality of the kid who would be amused to clue Robert Sinclair in so he’s aware of Muriel, then run away before Muriel can get her for doing it, and would play a central role in grilling Muriel about her apparent boy crazy exploits.

I’ve noticed that Kay has noted the cult following of Melody and has popped up online to note what a blast she had being in the film. The kids who were the stars have said similar, that it was a lot of fun.

Even if it was also work, can you imagine growing up, growing older, and having not only the memory, but also the thing you were in to watch. Like home movies, but different. So cool. And hey, she got to work with Roy Kinnear in her last role! She didn’t share scenes with him in Melody, but it looks like he might have played her dad in Raising the Roof. If so, that gives her something in common with both Melody Perkins and Veruca Salt.

We either never learn or have to be paying really close attention to learn both first and last names for the supporting kids. Is it strange that the girls we tend to know by first names and the boys by surnames? We learn Peggy’s name, though, except it took a transcript for me to catch it.

At the dance, there is an exchange between Ornshaw and the gang of boys, one in particular, in which we learn two things:

Hey, look at Swailscroft.
She thinks she knows it all.

Go on, Tom. Dance with her.

No, you won’t get me out there, mate.

I couldn’t hear all this clearly, watching even the best copy on YouTube. I thought Ornshaw was referring to Melody when he said something indistinguishable and that she thinks she knows it all. After all, there was no love lost between those two, and they had made faces at each other in the cafeteria scene. (Actually, Ornshaw does later say of Melody “She’s a bit stuck up, that one.” Forgot that when I first typed this.) But perhaps he’d know not to make fun of Melody in front of Daniel. If Melody was the last to know Daniel loved her, Ornshaw had to be the first. At that point, I had no reason to expect Ornshaw to dislike Peggy.

This is the one and only time in the entire film where Ornshaw is addressed as Tom, and the reason why the more perceptive or obsessed knew his full name. Then famous last words, not getting him out there. Between wanting to do most anything for Daniel and being susceptible to goading and the need to keep up his image with the guys, it was all over just after that.

As for the others, I think Lesley Roach as Rhoda is adorable in the film, and perfect in the key scenes she is in. Her last role was in 1976, but she was in a ton of stuff starting in 1966. She appears to have enough of a career that it’s odd that she stopped. But then, child actors often remain such and don’t make the leap to adult roles. Her name stands out because there was a Roach family locally that were family friends for a while when I was little. It appears that she and Kay have remained connected, or become reconnected. Here’s little clip of her playing a 9 year old when she was 16. I see that was 1971, which means she was closer to Jack Wild’s age than to the age of Tracy Hyde or Mark Lester. She tended to look as young or younger.

Of course, I’m going by IMDB, for film and TV roles. Any given actor could have gone on to do stage work. Camille Davis is listed with Melody as her first role, then with four more roles, all in 1982. She seemed older and more mature than some of the others, but she was “the big one” after all.

I took a big break with this unfinished, so I hope I didn’t lose the thread and end up sounding incoherent. The other kids, including Kay as Peggy, did a lot to help make the movie as great as it is. It’s just a shame it did so poorly in most markets.

I forgot to note that you hear Peggy’s last name not once, but twice in the movie. When Ornshaw is trying to get rid of Melody after the Latin punishment, before Daniel comes out, knowing full well why she is there, among other things he says: “Is old Swailscroft
waiting for you, is she?” That’s actually cleared than at the dance, but originally I had no clue who he meant.

Update:
The correct spelling may be Swailescroft. You never know what’s going to happen in something like a transcript. Both are out there, anyway. In either case, it doesn’t seem to be a real surname, so Google returns limited results. Kay seems to be involved in a Facebook group for Melody fans, which is cool.

Ages In Melody

I was thinking. I know, sounds dangerous. Unless I am mistaken, we are never given a definite age for the kids in the movie. Right? There are now two references that come at the possible ages indirectly.

One is when Melody is inconsolable with her parents, after the bad day that followed the day they skipped school to go to the seaside. When told that people generally wait to see if they like each other when they’re older, she asks how old. Her father says “in their twenties, older sometimes.”

She plaintively says “but that’s twice as old as I am now.”

Which only tells us she is at least 10, and that much was already obvious. She could be as old as 12 and still shorthand it to “twice as old” in reference to twenties.

We do know that Tracy Hyde’s age was 10 at the very, very beginning of filming in May 1970, and 11 from May 16 through the end of filming in August.

We also know that Mark Lester’s age was 11 when filming started in May, and 12 when filming ended in August, since his birthday was July 11. Probably just as well he was a year older, as it worked well for them to look the same age in the film.

Finally, we know that Jack Wild was 17 during filming, and turned 18 the September 30 not long afterward. He very much looks and seems older in the film, while still looking young enough to pass. In his case, actual age of the actor tells us nothing.

Now that I know what the headmaster is actually saying to Melody after Daniel discloses that they want to get married, there is another clue. Which I guess is about what I always took to be implicit. “I assume you’ve already promised your fair, freckled first-form hand in marriage to this young gentleman?”

As I noted, I could never figure out that the headmaster was saying first-form in that exchange. That’s an indication of grade or level in school, or it was at the time. First form in North America is equivalent to 7th grade. The surviving British term seems to be sixth form, but in that article it notes:

Pupils started their first year of secondary school in the first form or first year, and this was the academic year in which pupils would normally become 12 years of age.

In the US the year for turning 12 would ordinarily be 6th grade, or the 7th year of school including kindergarten. In a typical system with a middle school, that would be the first of three middle school years. I went to a jr high system, so elementary went through 6th grade, jr high was 7th and 8th, and then it was four years of high school. I think the system that ends at 10th grade, or 11th year, makes a lot of sense. A lot of high school was repetition or boredom, and that could be a good point to separate out the harder core academic track students from those who would pursue a more vocational or job training path. But I digress.

I had always imagined this as 5th grade, and thus particularly early, based on their ages. Further, it is obviously late in the school year, based on my analysis of the timeline from various cues. That’s a big difference, 5th to 6th. You could say that was the leap from cooties to not cooties, generally speaking. It didn’t take a stretch to imagine a similar story happening to me in 5th grade. For 6th it would just have been a matter of being one of the lucky guys who had a girlfriend. There was one I knew of in just my classroom, which was one of four or five classrooms for the grade.

In Melody, the kids actually seem younger and more innocent than that, except sometimes they don’t.

I’ve seen reviews or commentaries that range from describing the kids as 10 years old to 12 years old. Then again, I’ve seen reviews that made me wonder if the reviewer actually watched the film. Sort of the equivalent of dashing off a last minute book report for school based largely on the jacket description and what you imagine was in the book, or get from opening and reading a couple paragraphs in a few places and maybe the conclusion.

Speaking of conclusion, I think what I should probably conclude is that they are in the equivalent of 6th grade, AKA 7th year, and that if they are 11 in the film, they won’t remain so much longer. It all works with the skilled depiction of showing the two of them growing up dramatically over a short time. For that matter, it’s not clear either of them were still comfortable acting as young kids even when they still were shown that way. Melody was out of place with the gang of little kids mobbing the rag man. It was just… what she knew at the time.

So I’m going to call them 11, but high side. I am prepared to believe that Tom Ornshaw was actually older, maybe by a year. Wiser, if not. He’s a study all by himself. Bright but treated as stupid. Clearly older in outlook and wisdom than his form one cohort. I’m going to call them 6th grade.

When the Pedestal Goes Away

Original title was Shower Thoughts, but since that’s the name of a site or whatever, I figured I’d go with the other one. It is, however, where I had the train of thoughts.

I ended up thinking about what it must be like to be a celebrity and to need or want to protect your safety and privacy. Rebecca Schaeffer came to mind. It must be especially weird when you aren’t a big name, but are nonetheless a name to some.

Melody was essentially a commercial flop, as delightful and well made as it is, and was saved from complete obscurity and financial ruin for the production company’s first film by runaway success and a favorable distribution deal in Japan. So the film was always huge in Japan and a few minor markets, so Tracy Hyde, not already a big name like Mark Lester and Jack Wild, was an idol regionally. She went on to do some other roles through her twenties, but nothing huge. Melody went on to become, increasingly to this day, a cult classic.

Thinking of her life was a trigger to this. You’ve been moderately famous. You’re not hugely sought after, but in some circles there’s still demand. You were paid fairly modest amounts for the roles you did. Now you have to cope with staying private, the possibility of being stalked, the possibility of being more in demand by fans than you’d prefer. Perhaps paid appearances now and then are a boon, but it’s not the same as having been on a series that gets you steady employment as a convention guest for decades. You have a life.

That made me think of Keanu Reeves, who is an amazing human being, quietly humble, charitable, and an ordinary guy. He reportedly simply goes ahead and rubs shoulders with everyone, riding the subway and so forth. Reading about him makes you want to be more like him. He’s just a guy, who just happens to act for a living. Perhaps we ought to see actors more like that.

All of this, which took far less time to think about in the quick shower before work than it takes to write and expand slightly upon, reminded me of my revelation of the past few years (it’s been around five or so since the provocation and probably between 3 and 4 or so since I worked this out) that I have tended to put people on pedestals in my life. I make them, in my mind, something they can’t ever be. I did this to my friend Zack, but never to my friend Frank. Two very different people met at two different times. If anything, I was the one on Frank’s pedestal, but not the same problematic way.

Being seen by me as falling off the pedestal, or not having belonged there in the first place, was messy. The mess was made and can never be unmade, but I made the breakthrough of recognizing that Frank Zack is and always was just a guy. A good guy. A guy with strengths and foibles like any of us. Which gives me an inverse thought I should address, if not in this post. (Typed the wrong name, though the same applies. Or did, since Frank died several years ago.)

I generally did the same with girls. Those I crushed on, anyway. But if I saw things I didn’t like, that already created cognitive dissonance. Anyway, the more the pedestal, the more difficult for me to see her as approachable and act accordingly. If the wasn’t a pedestal, or it was countered too greatly, I’d go the other way, and be talking myself out of it. I recognized the pedestal problem with girls before I ever recognized the harm it had done to that friendship over the decades, and before I ever saw Zack once and for all as a mere mortal. And figured out that being a mere mortal in not a bad thing!

This also made me think about the way I have always looked at authority figures, which includes teachers/professors and bosses. I have no idea how I developed it. It has to go back to an extremely young age or be somehow inherent to me. I always had a fear of authority figures. I was the last kid who would ever have gotten in trouble with the police. I had no dealings with them. Yet they terrified me.

With bosses, I would either be afraid of them or, if I saw them as stupid or incompetent, not take them seriously at all. Neither thing works very well. Usually they are just people doing a job, and have strengths and weaknesses. Usually they are not in fact out to get you, and do not want you to fail. That’s the opposite of what they’d be after. Duh. Arguably this also intersected unhealthily with my perfectionism problem. Forget bosses. I never thought did a good enough job at anything. Except sometimes I knew I was great, and it would be times like that when I’d know a boss was stupid for not realizing it. Then I’d not take them seriously, rather than being afraid of them. Seldom have I ever realized later that I wasn’t as good as I thought, in those cases. Usually, though, I assume I am awful unless regularly and vehemently told otherwise. I’ve gotten better about this. Assuming you don’t take the state of my employment as an indication that, no, I have not, which could be. If you’re awful, who would hire you, and why would you go trying to get a job you can do better than most people that you’re sure you can’t possibly do as well as they’d expect? Why go there? So maybe not.

But I digress. I know I always do, but these are topics neither thought of in the shower nor contemplated for inclusion when I thought of writing this.

I think my point was to compare my realization about my friends just being people, and girls just being people even if they give me elusive butterflies, to the fact that celebrities are just people. People who sometimes need or want to cope with the potential problem of other people not seeing them as such. Of course, fame can be a rush. I’ve had a minor form of it in the past. It really was kind of a kick. So maybe that’s the price of that rush, but you’re still just people. If you were a kid when the fame started, maybe it’s nothing you ever sought or could have known the price of before you started paying.

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.

Melody Links

I keep referring to this and that regarding the Melody movie, but I have been sparse with links. Even if I link in future posts or I retrofit with some of the links in context, I want to create a one stop place for some of them. It’ll help my own reference, too.

You can find multiple instances of the entire movie by searching Melody movie, but the picture and sound quality various, and sometimes they don’t synchronize. That, to me, is far worse than something like Spanish subtitles or having the video include the movie, then start again and show half of the movie after it’s over. That’s the best one I have found so far, until I can arrange to get the DVD, which is like pulling teeth and needs to wait until I can afford it anyway. So…

Melody movie (1971)

Incidentally, ignore all the nonsense about S.W.A.L.K. being the real/original title of the film. It was written, filmed and cast to be named Melody and the other thing was an unfortunate move by a distributor for some markets. Also ignore that some people, including the person who posted the above, refer to it as Melody Fair. That is the name of the Bee Gees song that was part of the inspiration for the story and name.

To Love Somebody, video right from the film.

Melody Fair, video right from the film, not the crispest picture.

First of May, compiled clips from the film, rather than the part of the film that uses the song. The song is interrupted by some of the most famous dialogue in Melody, then reprises, so it has to be adapted to be a straight music video for the song.

Melody BFI Panel Discussion - Right at the beginning is the part where we learn it was always Melody and how the alternative name happened.

The Making of Melody  - This has interesting stuff in it, including the difficulties of working with all the children and of complying with the law on children in films, and Tracy Hyde’s mother’s more sympathetic view of the law, discussion of Mark Lester’s education, and what it was all about.

Lame trailer for Melody  – I might not have gone to see it either, if I saw this trailer. Not sure if it’s original or if it was something done for a video release.

There’s all kids of other stuff. Variants of videos using the music, shorter clips of the film, looks at the locations as they appear now (video and still), reunion clips of Mark and Tracy, and so forth.

Storytelling

One of the things I wanted to write about in regard to Melody and myself involves the skill involved in the storytelling – the presentation and progression involved in showing what needs to be shown, without starving or overfeeding the audience. We get a wonderful, thought provoking, moving story without being left short and wanting more, beyond a modicum of curiosity or blanks we might like but needn’t have filled. Much is shown, not stated in dialog, enhanced with setting sequences to songs. I was sure this would be a huge post, so I have hesitated to start. Perhaps I can start, get as far as I get, then complete the thoughts in subsequent post(s) if needed.

I started writing a book a couple years ago, finally bringing together some ideas and things niggling at my mind for many years as to setting and such. I ended up drifting away from it, partly because I got busier, partly because writing is hard, and partly because loss of focus, direction, or inspiration can derail you for a time or a lifetime. Melody, specifically the way the story was presented, has helped inspire me. Along with that, I’ve had some additional ideas, and may be ready to try again. As I wrote, it was already visual and film-like, to me. Not hard, being inspired by my childhood, where I grew up, and my kids.

Needless to say, anything that goes into this kind of detail about the movie will spoil it if you haven’t seen it.

First, the setting is established while a Bee Gees song that had been unfamiliar to me plays. Completely suitable, though, since it talks about morning, ends in evening, and how it’s the morning of his life. It is the morning of the lives of the children involved, and the introductory song seems to touch on a dreamy relationship at the end of the song. It has a childlike innocence and magic, and urges patience. This fits with details much later in the film, but could have helped inspire it:

building castles in the shifting sands
in a world that no one understands

I probably had heard and dismissed the song years ago, but I love it now. It means so much.

You see the area where to story will take place from the air, and then you meet Daniel and Ornshaw as they participate in Boy’s Brigade. Ornshaw first, in fact, then Daniel held up as a comparison. We get an idea that Daniel’s mother is obnoxious and snobby. We get an idea of Ornshaw’s situation and see Daniel’s home life. Even his father makes fun of his mother’s antics.

Daniel seems sweet and innocent, but lights his father’s newspaper on fire by way of acting out. The song we hear playing on the radio is the same one the kids will dance to days later, a nice touch.

Then we meet Melody, the title character, to instrumental strains of her theme song, as the rag man arrives out front and she looks wistfully at what’s in his cart for trade. This introductory part does the job of portraying a more childlike side she is perhaps already losing. It also, in a more subtle way than Danny’s acting out, shows the anarchic nature of children when she takes clothing from the house to trade for things.

Back with Daniel, we learn he is talented at painting, but his mother objects to his moving to painting nudes and having something that someone gave him at school to show what they look like, She subtly destroys his painting and diverts him with the model rocket his father had broken, while she takes the material showing topless women. Thus we learn he’s good at painting and building models, and cement that she’s a lousy parent, not very nice at heart.

Back to Melody, we establish that she plays the recorder, which she’s doing in the bathroom to her mother’s annoyance. It appears that her mother and grandmother might not know she had traded clothing for a goldfish. The pinwheel is a symbolic connection to childhood. Sent to find her dad at the pub and get money for ice cream (we never see ice cream until she is with Daniel at the seaside, intentional resonance or not), she takes her newly acquired goldfish for a walk. During this part, Melody Fair by the Bee Gees plays, and it’s essentially a music video for the song. She doesn’t go find her father at first, but lets the fish go for a swim in a metropolitan water trough, still in the same spot at Lambeth and Kensington Roads almost fifty years later, but as a planter.

After catching the fish back into its jar, she heads to the pub, which is also still there. She looks through the windows, and into the door as an entering customer holds it open, but waits outside, looking worried. I had the impression kids weren’t allowed in. Her dad steps out, drink in hand, no indication how he ever knew she was there. we see her show the fish and presumably explain her mission, and he gives her money and tousles her head. She may make fun of him spending all his time in the pub later, and may glare at him repeatedly as only a girl that age can, but they obviously adore each other. She walks off. We segue into a scene of mayhem as kids race through an overgrown cemetery to school.

The initial introduction of the main two characters, and to a lesser extent the tertiary main character, are basically complete and now we set the stage with the school and surroundings that will play a big role. There’s an extended crowd scene of kids doing as much mischief as they can manage on the way to class. We meet the headmaster and get a humorous introduction to both the lame instruction and the challenge the kids can be.

That segues into kids going to morning recess, or break. The play games, fight, hang out and talk, one of them smokes, and we get to meet some of the supporting cast of friends. We see Melody in the context of a big group of friends, including the one who has kissed boys and is most advanced. Very much 5th grade as would have been familiar to me in 1971/1972. All the girls laugh when Muriel says she never used to kiss boys because she thought kissing would bring babies.

We move to history class with Daniel and Ornshaw, with more humor about the teaching. Ornshaw asks a valid question, showing how smart he actually is, but gets treated as cheeky and stupid.

After school, some boys go out by railroad tracks while one of them tries his latest attempt at a homemade explosive. Daniel follows. He’s apparently new and has no friends in the school yet. They tell him to go away, but Ornshaw defends him and he joins in. Bomb is a dud and they go to the bus stop. First bus leaves without most of the kids, then Ornshaw and Daniel establish their friendship by going out on the town, to Trafalgar Square, running around and goofing off to Give Your Best to Your Friends. This parallels a similar, later sequence when he is with Melody.

When Ornshaw needs to get home, Daniel freaks him out by getting a taxi, because money. This is one of many ways in which class distinctions are established.

We find that Ornshaw takes care of his grandfather and will have hell to pay if he doesn’t get home now. Daniel volunteers his mother to come help them out, as she does social welfare volunteer work.

That ends the beginning part of the film, where the basics are established. Melody and Daniel haven’t met yet. Daniel and Ornshaw had immediately become besties. This makes Melody displacing Ornshaw possible, because it will put Melody into Daniel’s life. At least, sooner rather than later. Same school, same year, they could have met eventually.

Now, my story started with minimal setup, then action, of sorts. That could work, but now I am thinking that maybe the kids should be better introduced. In writing it can be explained, but if it were on screen, there would have to be establishing scenes that show in a wider way where they are, who they are, why they are there, and how they reach the scenario where the action starts. I figured out how I can make this happen and give what comes next a more logical basis to boot. Since I was thinking about the story and the pacing as a result of this, I also solidified how to deal with one of my concerns about the later sequences. For that matter, they are not the only character and scenario to be introduced. That one was actually going to have more of an introduction, but I see how I can improve it, and perhaps that will unstick me on that part. I hadn’t even been able to begin writing it, and had written the character starting from the point where he meets the other three.

This observation is more about the storytelling subsequently in the film, but I was struck by the use of vignettes separated in time, sometimes ambiguously so, and by what was left out because every little thing need not be told or shown. It might not affect my writing, but I also observed just how much can be conveyed by minimal action. Tiny bits of dialog. Expressions, looks. Tracy Hyde was a master of that. It’s a wonder she didn’t have more of an acting career, but perhaps that’s a reflection of how poorly Melody did at the box office, and how long it languished before getting a DVD release in 2010.

I may break down the rest of the story later. I also need to talk about my Melody-like experiences, and about the mechanics of production. Having been there for one long day of shooting footage with a bunch of kids, I can imagine how grueling it was. All the more so after hearing the description of the whole day of shooting it took just for the obnoxious dinner party, and the large number of takes it took of the scene in the headmaster’s office, where the director thought he’d never get Mark Lester riled up enough to express Daniel’s anger.

Roy Kinnear

I found myself watching Melody and thinking Mr. Perkins, whose name we learn in passing is Richard when Daniel is at tea, seemed super familiar. I looked him up and sure enough! He was Mr. Salt, whose name we learn in passing is Henry, in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Two great 1971 releases!

Thinking about it just now, how much does Peter Ostrum/Charlie remind you of Mark Lester/Daniel?

It’s a shame Roy Kinnear died so young, at 54 in 1988. He was 36 when filming Melody. To me he looks perhaps a bit older, but that might be hair and demeanor. He may be my favorite adult in the film, drinking problem or not. Perhaps I could relate, having not so long ago had daughters that age, and having a son basically that age. The times are different, as is the place, but when he was talking to a hysterical Melody about being unable to marry Daniel, I could see myself in those shoes. I’d meant this observation, and how I’d have handled it, to be a different post. Indeed, this was supposed to be about having noticed who he was and having been tickled by him in both roles.

Update:

I later learned from a good transcript and a replay to listen and watch lips to confirm it that Mr. Perkins is named Reg, not Rich. Presumably short for Reginald.