T'eyla Minh (teylaminh) wrote,
T'eyla Minh

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Long Overdue Flail Write-Ups

So, on Easter Sunday commoncomitatus and I finally got around to watching the bootleg footage of Sunset Boulevard on Broadway from last year - essentially the same version as we saw in London, starring the same three leads (Michael Xavier as Joe, Glenn Close as Norma and Siobhan Dillon as Betty) and pretty much identical staging, but with added Broadway spangles. I really have a lot I want to say about the production, but before I can do that I need to do the write-ups of our two other YIM flails, namely the Michael Ball/Petula Clark Radio 2 concert from 2004, and the Alan Campbell/Betty Buckley Broadway bootleg from 1994.

These write-ups are essentially a way to firm up some of the Thoughts and Theories we came up with in the process of watching/listening, if only so they're recorded for posterity and the furtherance of my headcanons. So, be warned, I will be quoting our doubtless incoherent flail at various points. :P

I intended this entry to be a twofer because I thought I'd have less to say about the Radio 2 version, but, er, well... you can probably predict how that went. I'll try and get the 1994 Broadway write-up done this week as well, hopefully tomorrow.

Incidentally, I have seven X-Files season 11 recaps to do as well, but those will have to wait until I can do a rewatch. I livetweeted "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat" at the time, but Channel 5's doubling-up of episodes and terrible scheduling has resulted in me forgetting basically everything I would have put into a write-up.

Incidentally, I did some reviews/flails about this at the time, which can be found here and here. I can't promise that these will be any more enlightening or intelligent, alas. :P

The version that Eni and I listened to - which would have been some point in May 2016 - was the same version as recapped in the links above, namely a livestream recording which was kindly produced for me by Naomi at the time - complete with random clicking/messenger/error message noises throughout. AFAIK my MP3 version is the only one currently available, and to this day I am still really annoyed they didn't televise it. :P

The first thing to note about this 'production' (for want of a better word) is that Michael Ball is, predictably, amazing. Henceforth he has a new middle name: Michael AmazeBall[s]. Petula Clark is better in her spoken parts than her singing parts, though she has some lovely moments, and she's one of the best "mad" Normas I've heard/seen. The rest of the cast are un-notable, except that Lee Ormsby is in the ensemble (the 2002 UK Tour's Artie), and Michael Xavier is playing Artie. Because everything comes full swircle and good Arties become frelling amazing Joes. (Ironically, since we didn't discover that Michael Xavier was playing Artie until the end of the recording, for the first scene in which he appeared we described him as "generic". Well, I guess he had 12 years to grow into it. :P)

We renamed this production "The Ever Increasing Done-Ness of Everyone Who Is Not Joe", thanks to Betty's opening scene in the office with Sheldrake where she was 300% done within about 15 seconds. There's also a lot of hammy acting from Michael Ball, which back in those days was not quite as expected as it is now (it was his pre-TV-celebrity days), but he does pull off the cynicism well for the most part. And in all honesty, you can forgive him a lot by the time he gets to the title song.

In fact, at one point during the opening Paramount sequence I apparently referred to him as the "most punchable Joe ever", which probably says all you need to know...

For the majority of the first scene between Norma and Joe, we spent a lot of time yelling in capslock that Joe should just turn around and run away, which is probably a counter-productive suggestion given my 'ship of choice. Or, as I specifically put it: "Yes, I know, I ship N/J but I still want to save him from hismself." [sic]

"With One Look" also reminded me of a half-hearted headcanon I'd been mulling over, which is that potentially Joe is caught in her trap from the point at which she sings, "Or the love that you've hungered for" - in several productions it's been accompanied by either a longing stare (to prove the point, I guess) or her touching his face in some way. I don't think there's ever a specific Moment (as it were), but that song more than likely plants the seed. Particularly in light of my overarching headcanon of why/how he recognises her in the first place.

During "Salome" Eni came out with possibly my favourite comment of the entire flail, which was this: "You can HEAR the crazy eyes." That in itself is a testament to Petula Clark's delivery of the more manic parts.

The scene at Schwab's was mostly us snarking at Joe being the worst self-saboteur in existence and his complete inability to listen to decent advice, whether that's his own or someone else's. The transition scene back at the mansion contained Michael Ball's incredibly petulant Joe (particularly his delivery of "Out" in response to Max asking where he's been - you can almost see the invisible ":P" tacked on the end). And, in keeping with the theme of Done-ness, Eni commented that Max was "7000000% DONE", which frankly isn't an exaggeration.

Eni also commented, of Joe: "He has NO idea what he’s got himself into, and it’s so so so obvious." - which is kind of interesting in light of the London show and Joe being very aware for maybe 95% of the proceedings precisely what he'd gotten himself into. I'm not sure if it's a new thing, something I've only started noticing due to Age and Experience, or if it's just because only having an audio makes it harder to extrapolate character intentions... maybe a little of all three. ;)

Next, "New Ways to Dream" and the Joan of Arc viewing, which was mostly us flailing over "HANDS!" being canon (more on that later) and this comment from me: " i like the inversion of what happens in the movie here - where there's no sound in the movie but here there's no picture." I can't remember now if I was only referring the fact that it was an audio recording, but it's actually true for every live version I've seen. In the original movie the audience does get to see some of what they're watching (which is, of course, footage from Queen Kelly), but in the musical the audience is positioned where the screen would be and only gets to see the character reactions. (Not that I'm complaining.)

There was also this comment from Eni during the same scene: "I think this Norma has a passion for the screen, as much as her own part in it. Like, she’s as nostalgic for the period as her own fame." It's actually true of every Norma, not just this one, which is an important thing to remember, and probably goes a long way in explaining why Joe is so enthralled during this scene - I mean, notwithstanding he's seen the bloody film too many times to count at this point and would rather be looking at anything else. :P It's one of those key moments that are so important to their changing/growing dynamic - a reminder of who she was, where she came from, and how both of those things contribute to the current situation.

One of the great things about having audio only is that you can interpret the scenes exactly how you like - so for the bit where the script is sent to De Mille and Norma has her little panic about Joe leaving, obviously I was just picturing that lovely moment from the London show. :)

Next, "The Lady's Paying", and this hilarious and appropriate summing up by Eni: "You can just picture the entire cast just patting him on the head at this point and going “roll with it bruh”." Also, Michael Ball's sarcasm and snark are the best thing about the scene. But there's also, as pointed out by me, a lot of "sleazy slimy undertones" and a sense that all of those tailors have been there and seen all that before. If Joe does not figure out what's coming for him by this point then I honestly don't know what to do with him.

After that, of course, New Year's Eve. I remember flailing over this hard the first time I heard it (obviously) and it does have some really lovely moments. The orchestrations really make it shine, with the addition of an accordion giving the whole thing a Mediterranean feel. The music cuts out at the point where Norma slaps him, which makes sense, but I very much suspect Max is going to ceremoniously murder the entire band later for drawing attention to the situation. :P

At this point I got a little capslock ragey with Joe for his stupidity, particularly him saying that he wanted to be somewhere "to hear the sound of laughter", given that not five minutes ago he was MAKING NORMA LAUGH. But I also think he has a tendency to dissociate when cornered, so there's also that. :P

A running joke emerged from this flail about the fact that nobody cares about Artie except me. :P I do wish we had a bit more of Artie to give his relationship with Betty some context...

Reaching the end of Act One and this perfect description of Petula's Norma, again from Eni: "oh wow, she is VERY. ... no adjective, just very." (In reference to the "Happy New Year, darling" line, where she suddenly transforms from frail to predatory in the space of a second and Joe finally realises just what he's gotten himself into... about five scenes too late.) The words "self-aware" and "manipulative" were also used to describe Norma here - the latter is pretty standard, and the moments of self-awareness are The Best. (This 'ship is complex, okay? It's like a canoe with Moya's control system. :P)

Heading into Act Two, we commented on the richness of the score and the way it reflects the two different worlds that Joe is torn between. It's often described as one of ALW's best scores since Phantom and in the instrumental parts you can really see why. My love for the "car chase" music in Act One knows no bounds, but the two different themes are perfect: lots of sweeping strings for Norma's world, and upbeat jazzy brass for the outside world.

Predictably, Michael Ball's performance of the title song is EPIC, particularly that final note. I've always loved that it's such a moment of clarity for the character (though there is an element of him attempting to justify things to himself as well as the audience), but what I possibly hadn't appreciated before is that most of the Eternal Onion layers are in the title song's metaphors.

Onto "As If We Never Said Goodbye", where Eni commented: ": Also the mirroring between Norma and Betty and their love for the painted scenes and carboard trees / streets." This was something I actually hadn't considered for a while but it's a valid point, namely that the similarities between Norma and Betty are more numerous than you might think - and go a long way to foreshadowing Joe's doom.

There's also some stuff here about whether De Mille was around for Norma's downfall / deterioration, given that his default reaction - much like everyone else - is to protect her from the truth of what's happening. A part of me wonders if he'd been half-expecting the screenplay to arrive at some point, or if Norma might have told him about it when she first came up with the concept. This is something I will talk more about when I get to the most recent bootleg, though, so I'll just leave that there for now...

There's some flail about "Too Much In Love To Care" but it's mostly just, like, capslock yelling at Joe and Betty for being idiots, so I won't replicate it here.

The great thing about listening to this after the 2016 London show was that the Young!Norma headcanon had become a thing. So now Young!Norma is basically prevalent in every version we've seen since, regardless of when they were produced. Such being said, during the "New Ways to Dream" reprise, she definitely made an appearance and we commented on it thus:

Me: "i imagine joe is fighting against that mental image at this point whereas max is welcoming it..."

Eni: "Like, that’s the only Norma Max really knows. And Joe is trying so so hard to remember that that’s not the Norma that is."

Which sums up the entire headcanon in a nutshell.

Another thing was that during the instrumental before Betty's arrival at the house I was imagining the awesome flashback from the London show (or at least my own headcanon version of it!) because, like with Young!Norma, I am never going to unsee it.

And then Eni decided she was going to break me by saying this: "I love how when it’s herself she’s hurting, he’ll give up everything to be with her, but as soon as she starts trying to hurt someone else on his account, that’s when he draws the line. He still has SOME morals." This broke me to the point that it actually ended up in "Precious Illusions" as a throwaway comment. For me it just hammered home why I love the pairing so much, and sort of reinforced my headcanon that part of Joe's problem is that he is powerless to walk away when Norma is hurting, which in itself stems from his ongoing guilt over New Year's Eve. Though actually, we see it a lot earlier than that during the original NWTD, the first point where he starts to soften in his approach, whether that's out of pity or something else he's not quite brave enough to acknowledge...

It also led to an associated headcanon that Norma has a similar tendency of wanting to protect him from things she doesn't think he needs to know, so there's a "missing scene" for the fic where she has a nightmare about the events of New Year's Eve but decides not to tell Joe the details because she's so aware of how culpable he feels. They are so similar in so many ways but they just. can't. see. it. - and as much as their lack of communication leads to Epic Feels, I also want to bang their heads together. :P

Anyway - moving on.

The next major thing I should probably mention is that Norma's "Salome" speech is basically her confession, and Max is complicit in drawing it out of her - because he knows that she will inevitably be taken away but he'd rather she was treated as a lunatic than a criminal (which is not saying much considering the time period...) All of the press are loving the fact that they're witnessing her downfall and Max HATES them for it, but he knows that Norma doesn't because she's finally having her moment in front of the cameras. It's just a final, brilliant moment of self-sacrifice from the man who refused to let her surrender - even though that's... basically what she's doing.

Latterly, it occurred to me that Max set the scene for Norma possibly because he harboured a secret wish to direct Salome himself, which in itself makes me wonder just how long she'd been writing it for. He falls so effortlessly back into "director mode" at that point, and appears to know the script inside out with how quickly he's able to give her context. It's one of those moments where you really have to question which of the characters is the most tragic...

Like I say - it's an Eternal Onion (of PAIN).

So, there we go. I didn't expect this to be quite so long, and on that basis I imagine the 1994 bootleg recap will be even bloody longer, because there are Specific Things in there that I desperately need to flail about before I can flail further about the 2017 bootleg. And honestly, the only feasible way I can see of recapping that is to embed the video and flail at it in line with timestamps. :P

One of these days I might run out of headcanon. But I doubt it...
Tags: fandom: sunset boulevard, shippiness, write-ups
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