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.

Melody Remake

Melody is definitely a product of its time. One of the topics that came up in the BFI roundtable video was someone wanting to do a remake. The director and writer didn’t understand how that would be possible, on the one hand, and on the other hand described Moonrise Kingdom, partly inspired by Melody, as a remake. That movie is one I’ve never seen, that never pinged my radar, but that I’d now like to see. It appears to be funnier and perhaps less adorably innocent, while leaning that way.

But a remake? A new Melody? Hard to imagine. An exact analog? Just about as hard to imagine. You might have to do it as a time travel movie to capture anything like it, or as a memory/dream of the past. I could totally see either of those kinds of scenarios. Peggy Sue Got Married, but with a childhood crush. Since mine all went wrong, I could imagine making one go right, or giving it a better shot. But if you go back and are the youngster, knowing what you know, you’re not exactly innocent. Maybe you go back as a friend or classmate and exert influence.

You know what I wouldn’t mind? A book version. Not sure it’d sell, but the film leaves me wanting more detail, to know more about what they are thinking and feeling, and about their families and situations. I’d been thinking to post about the timeline of the movie, what happens when, how much time passes between scenes/events, and how much time the whole thing covers. Maybe I’ll launch right into that, now it’s on my mind. I am normally a reader of SF and fantasy, though I’ve been known to read almost anything. What would you call it? Fictional biography? Young adult romance? Juvenile romance? Emphasize the school aspect, the other kids and the revolt, and call it something else?

Yeah, I don’t think a remake seems like a good or viable idea. A direct one would be a period piece, but the past is a foreign country and it’s hard to capture the scenery or the feel with modern locations. A book? I’d read a book that was the exact story, expanded. Heck, I’d read the script it was made from, and watch any deleted scenes. It’s a shame it was made in pre-VHS days, let alone pre-DVD days. Few people even had cable TV then. If Melody appeared now and had mediocre box office, it’d be out on DVD shortly, complete with deleted scenes, interviews, etc. It’s amazing we have the 17 minutes of “making of” footage we do on YouTube.

Melodye and a Dog Named Boo

Funny thing with the Melody movie discovery is that I have a story of my own involving that name and with a connection to 1971, but the name was spelled Melodye. I never knew the name until my recounting the story on Facebook led someone to goad me into researching.

However you spell it, in retrospect it’s a great name and I could easily have used it for my daughter. I’d long since realized the same about Molly. But that’s neither here nor there.

When I was a kid, on the green in the town of East Bridgewater would be free concerts on the gazebo/bandstand. I’d go sometimes, usually with my grandparents, sometimes with additional family. A local country group called The Chisholm Brothers played more than once. While I was never a big country fan, it was fun, especially since my grandfather had taught one of the guys to play harmonica and got pointed out in the audience one time.

In 1971, Lobo released Me and You and a Dog Named Boo. I loved that song from the first, and still do. It’s hard to resist singing along. That’s the 1971 connection, but I have no idea what year we are in at the concert. I can guess. Obviously the earliest it could be is sometime 1971, if the song was released early enough int he year to be a hit before those summer concerts. No way, even if I didn’t know I was older than ten. (This all brings to mind another topic: music and my life. Note to self…)

It wasn’t 1974. I wasn’t that old. Thus it was 1972 or 1973. I believe it was the former, because the following summer I’d have been focused on hanging with my friend and would have been less likely to have stayed with my grandparents a lot. 1972 Put me at 11, and a sensitive age. I was in chorus and loved to sing, but was terrified of singing alone in front of others. Though that is its own story and had more of a basis than mere shyness or anxiety.

So here are these guys, performing at this little concert on the green, and they put the daughter of one of them up to try her hand at singing for us. She was older than me. Three years older, I now know, and that would have been my guess. I was 11, she was 14, and she sang Me and You and a Dog Named Boo beautifully. I was smitten. Obviously it was one of those transient things, if you don’t count that I never forgot it, and never forgot how it felt to be instantly taken with her. Not to mention admiring her voice, her nerve getting up there and performing as I was sure I would never be able to dare, her choice of song, and the fact she did it so well.

I kind of miss the mystery. Having searched starting with little but her surname, now I know she was Melodye Chisholm, now Bushkin. I also learned that I knew her aunt’s family when I was younger. Apart from having attended my childhood church – her father still does, so I could have found out a lot of this just by asking my sister the right questions – her cousin was a good friend of my cousin, and we spent a fair amount of time hanging out when I was around my late teens and maybe into my twenties. Small world.

So there’s my Melodye story inspired by my attention having been drawn my Melody.

Discovering Melody

I love the Bee Gees. I have since I was a kid and they were still producing their early, pre-disco hits. Before my record collection got destroyed, dating to before CDs were big, I owned most Bee Gees albums and had heard songs dating back to the earliest days of singles only, found on collections later. I saw them in concert on August 28, 1979 and it was amazing, though I was sad that some of the favorite older songs were done as a medley. This sets up how I came to be playing videos of Bee Gees songs on YouTube. I still do that sometimes, even with music I own. Early in our marriage, the wife gave me a four CD Bee Gees anthology. She tolerates them, unlike her distaste for The Carpenters.

Recently I discovered that favorites of mine, less mainstream than some even among their older hits, had videos associated with scenes from a movie. Heck, it wasn’t even that recently, but it was recently I went back and watched the movie in full. Repeatedly.

The movie is Melody, released in 1971, just before I turned ten. It didn’t do well in the US, and I never saw it back then. It was popular in Japan and a few other places, which is perhaps the only reason it’s not even more obscure. Besides the Bee Gees connection and two of the kids in it being famed child stars of the time. They had rights to several Bee Gees songs, so the writer incorporated Melody Fair and First of May into the plot. It would be easy to assume the songs were written for the film, but they predated it. It also makes perfect use of To Love Somebody, which may be my favorite Bee Gees song of all.

I have so much to say about or inspired by it, this is going to end up being a whole series of posts. I just created a subcategory for the film under the movies category. It dredged so many memories and feelings. It has also been a study in making a good movie and telling a story. Had I seen it at the time, and no been inexplicably bored or sleepwalking through it, it would have been formative. While this isn’t the topic I intended to explore in this post, the year it came out I was one year younger than the age depicted of two of the main characters, who in real life were also that age during filming a year before. That is, Tracy Hyde and Mark Lester are two years my senior. The other primary actor was already about 17, but looked young. I interpret him to be slightly older than them, but in the same grade level in school. That was the late Jack Wild.

At the time when the movie released, I was experiencing my first crush, in fourth grade. I was completely clueless, except it felt amazing. I didn’t really understand what I was feeling. Seeing such a thing shown in a movie would have been interesting, especially given Melody’s somewhat resemblance to the girl in question. I never knew her name! It was pure chance that I learned several years ago her name is Cheryl.

One of the first things I wanted to write about after seeing the movie was the ending. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, even though it’s coming up on 50 years old, go search on YouTube and watch it: Melody movie. Some are better than others in picture quality, but some have unsychronized sound that can drive you crazy.

At the end, there is a revolt of the classes the star characters are in. Melody and Daniel are in love and want to get married, because isn’t that what you do to be together all the time? Sweet and innocent, and not taken well by the adults and, initially, classmates. You go from scenes of heartbreak to what appears to be the next day – timeline of the thing is another post – when they are just getting married. Daniel’s annoying mom finds a note he left saying they are eloping, freaks out, contacts the headmaster, and when he finds the kids never showed back up after morning break, the chase begins. The ending is entertaining, but in some ways feels disconnected from what precedes it. And yet, how do you end a film in which 11 year old fifth graders, were they American, are in such serious puppy love that they want to marry and can’t understand why they can’t, with too much they don’t yet know. I remember how love felt then, and I don’t recall any barking. If it were me and someone reciprocated, I might not have been thinking in terms of marriage, but I would have understood exactly how the characters felt.

The headmaster and bunch of teachers, plus Daniel’s mother, drive off to where they’ve learned the kids are. The kid who has been trying to make a successful homemade explosive during the course of the film was the only one to stay behind. He runs off to warn the others and reaches them just ahead of the adults. Being a fan of The Princess Bride, I can’t help thinking “man and wife, say man and wife” when they are interrupted right after they give the “I will” responses to the friend who is officiating.

Of course, this is not a real marriage, and they are being kids. The sheer level of panic strikes me as uncalled for. It wouldn’t be as exciting an ending, though, if the kids did the ceremony, went back to class, and everyone carried on. Prior to the elopement note, you never see Daniel’s parents being aware of Melody, even after the day the two kids skipped school to go to the seacoast. Whereas Daniel meets her parents and they like him a lot.

While the other kids give the adults a hard time about being captured, Daniel and Melody run off to escape, aided by Ornshaw, Daniel’s ne’er do well friend who figures so heavily into the story, including provoking the “meet cute” scene where Daniel falls at proverbial first sight. Eventually they get on a trolley on the rails – one of those little flat carts you propel by pumping two ends of a handle up and down. So it ends with Daniel and Melody riding off into the distance on an partly overgrown track.

My thought: Now what?

Seriously, I couldn’t help thinking what happens next.

Besides Melody and Daniel, now “married,” heading off, the chase of the kids ended when the kid who’d been unsuccessful with improvised explosives manages to blow up Daniel’s mother’s fancy car. Class issues in the film are another topic. And there’s good reason that one of the categories the movie falls under is black comedy. The teachers run off. The kids cheer and dance around. Mom looks lost and bewildered.

Is there anyone who won’t face consequences? What happens.

First, where are Daniel and Melody going to go? What are they going to do? Unless it turns into fantasy, like a fan thing I saw where they’re suddenly at Hogwart’s and people are wondering how 11 year olds can say they are married, the answer is home. They go home. And they go to school. And they continue to hang out together as much as possible. Which they could have done without the whole marriage notion.

If you extrapolate from First of May, they are in love while others are being kids, but it doesn’t last. Or if it does, when they are sufficiently older, they have lost their romantic feelings for each other. I know someone who set her sights on marrying a classmate when we were in third grade. Third! They recently moved to Maine, and have a bunch of grandchildren. The long term isn’t impossible.

The mom has to get home and explain to her husband what happened to the car. When Daniel does go home, they won’t exactly be happy, unless they are willing and able to shrug it off and move on.

Melody will arguably be in the least trouble at home. Her family are as supportive as they know how, a loving, lower class family rather than distant or absent. Her family isn’t involved in the ending at all, and would not be in a panic the way Daniel’s mother was.

The teachers and headmaster have to slink back to the school with proverbial egg on their faces. Assuming there are no authorities that give them trouble, the best thing they could probably do is carry on teaching as if nothing ever happened.

The rest of the kids are going to have to return to school later if not that day. They’re going to be seeing and dealing with those horrible teachers again. That could be bad, unless everyone just pretends nothing ever happened.

It’s definitely a fictional ending, because consequences.

Sprechen Sie Deutch?

There are 21 counties in America where a substantial number speak German at home, which I agree is more fascinating than the amazing number where that is true of Spanish.

The real story lies in where, and in what other languages are included. Predictably, in my neck of the woods, it is Portuguese. There is enough of this that you see a demand for portuguese speakers to work for doctors, and bilingual signs in places like banks. The same applies to Chinese in Eastern Massachusetts. When I lived in Quincy, you were almost out of place if you weren’t either Irish – and not necessarily umpteenth generation off the boat – or Chinese. Bilingual signs everywhere, and a Chinese supermarket near my apartment.

No surprise there’s a lot of French up near the border between Canada and the Northeast.

Surprising might be the lack of Pennsylvania counties where German is 10% or more, and the number where it is not the highest even when looking at the specs for the uncolored counties that fell under 10% of one or another.

Happy Anniversary!

On this day nine years ago, we were on our way from Fresno to Las Vegas, arriving late in the afternoon at the Luxor. After checking in, we searched for the place where you pay the government for the right to be married. And searched. Eventually, we found it. A clever sales guy outside snagged our business for the Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. No idea where we’d have ended up, left to our own devices. That worked out, and we rewarded him for the good sense to patrol the opposite side of the street from the mob of other chapel sales people.

And so we got married, as originally planned, sight unseen, we’d hit it off that well long distance. Is friendship the best basis for marriage? Does agreeing on most things supply longevity that might not be there if it were mainly about an overheated attraction? Perhaps. We each had some second thoughts, even then, and we’ve not been problem-free. Yet we don’t seem to be going anywhere, and non-traditional though we may sometimes be, the kids do not appear to be doomed to grow up in a sundered household, as I and so many did. Have the rocky parts ultimately strengthened us? Arguably so.

All told, I can’t imagine my life alone, or with that hypothetical wasn’t-gonna-happen someone else. Or without the three kids. These specific kids, born of this particular mother. I can regret my age and timing, and ponder mightabeens, but wow. Just wow.

Time travel to the post I wrote after my return home, five days later, apparently my first substantive post following the wedding.

Backpacks

I was thinking about backpacks just the other day. My three kids all had to have them to start kindergarten. It’s required. I already knew that they were pretty much ubiquitous these days, but…

I was in school until 1979, and never once had a backpack. Not even in high school. Nor did other people, at least not enough for me to notice. Books and such were carried in your arms. It was awkward, inconvenient, even sometimes painful, but at least during school there were lockers, and generally not everything had to come home overnight. Yet I am no sure how we managed without them.

College was different. While I didn’t start college until 1982, they’d long been a given in that environment. I may not have known that until contemporaries started college in 1978 and 1979, but by the time it was my turn, I knew to head to the store and spend $30 (in 1982 dollars! For one far less good than my kids have for much less!) in anticipation of the backbreaking load of books I would have to cart around.

Funny how that works, seeing the same topic addressed right after I’ve pondered it myself.