Sunday, December 26, 2010

Suddenly Ellen Greene

I ended up with "Suddenly Seymour" in my head yesterday, resulting in a long repetitive loop of listening to the track as performed by Ellen Greene and one of the many "Seymour"s from The Little Shop of Horrors' Off Broadway inception in 1982. I'm not too sure who it is, but it definitely isn't Rick Moranis, the actor who played the role in the 1986 film adaptation.

Speaking of that Frank Oz-directed movie, let's take a look at "Suddenly Seymour". It's gorgeous.

Which brings me to Ellen Greene. She's a knockout as "Audrey" in The Little Shop of Horrors (from what I've heard, all incarnations of it, not just the film) and this performance ranks as one of my favourite performances from a musical and one of my favourite performances of the 1980s. You certainly don't expect that belting singing voice to come from that mousy speaking one, but it does and it's amazing.

One of the best write-ups I've read about the film and Greene's performance is Nathaniel Rogers' at The Film Experience.

Greene's Audrey is a risky and unmovie-like creation (it's easy to imagine the same thing on stage -- which usually isn't a compliment), but her confidence and creativity are stunning. She so thoroughly owns the role that the performance transcends its origins. She'd performed Audrey hundreds of times but it's still vital and alive. She's Seymour's heart and the heart of the movie. ... Greene's voice is a marvel both in song and spoken word. And so's her look: that impossible silhouette, round cartoon breasts, helmet hair, and tiny frame were surely visible from the back row in the theater and so, undoubtedly, was the performance. Yet for all of that she's still endearing in closeup.

She gives that movie so much and I'm not entirely sure the film gives back (I admit to being lost about the appeal of the Steve Martin/Bill Murray dentist stuff), but the film is indeed enjoyable. I admit to never being particularly fond of Rick Moranis' shtick, although this remains my favourite performance of his since it seems so oddly out of the box for him and he and Greene make a kooky pair - even when they don't interact with each such as during the "Skid Row (Downtown)" number at the film's star.

Maybe I should rewatch it and see whether the film itself holds up as well as Greene's performance does. Watching certain scenes from the movie does make me suspect I'd like the whole much more than just the parts. I do love the look of the movie, that sort of strange hybrid of stage, but with really cinematic qualities. Just look at those two above musical sequences and compare them to, say, Susan Stroman's The Producers. I enjoy that movie a lot, too, but it was hardly creative when it came to cinematography and the like. I love that shot during "Suddenly Seymour" where Greene's Audrey and Moranis' Seymour sing to each other and the audience watches them through the hole in the wall of the building. Really inventive stuff. Despite the obvious artificiality of it all, I would much rather have seen Horrors nominated for Best Art Direction at the 1987 Academy Awards over The Color of Money (really?!?) I refer back to Nathaniel Rogers...

I've always been fascinated with the decision making process involved in stage to screen transfers. Many movies based on plays are notoriously nervous about appearing "stagy". Little Shop of Horrors mostly avoids this awkwardness and seems delighted to be an odd hybrid of both traditions. The movie version never tries to present reality. The sets come with painted backdrops; pouring rain never once douses the trio of narrators (doo wop girls as Greek chorus = endlessly amusing) -- but it also takes obvious care to honor the "motion" in pictures. The camera is always moving, restlessly trying out new angles and there is a nifty depth of field to the production, even within small rooms. Little Shop acknowledges the diorama views provided by stage shows, but your eye is continually moving around and inside the prosceniums: up and down staircases, peeping through smudged windows and traveling through doorways. Frank Oz is taking you into every nook and cranny of Skid Row.

How true.

"Somewhere That's Green" | "Suppertime (Reprise)"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am checking this blog using the phone and this appears to be kind of odd. Thought you'd wish to know. This is a great write-up nevertheless, did not mess that up.

- David