Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #17: "My Name is Tallulah" from BUGSY MALONE


Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone is one of the few films from my childhood that I still look at with the same adoration I first felt for it. Its melding of the adult and juvenile worlds seems now seamless. It stands as perfection, in its own odd way. When, as children, we all play at the grown-up games of rampant violence--whether it be cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, superheroes and villains--I think Parker's clear, humane vision is exactly what we have in our heads. And I really like that Bugsy Malone doesn't short-shrift the loftier sexual aspects of all this rigamarole. Of course, we have Jodie Foster as the moll at the center of this very post. But we also have the now forgotten Florie Dugger (GREAT NAME!) as Blousie Brown, whom we root for as the eventual match for the title character, played by Scott Baio (surely the actor's finest showing--talk about peaking early!). Scott Baio's Bugsy is a playa, for certain, and he has his pick of the litter. I find that fascinating. Should it be shocking to note that kids have sexual lives, too? This movie seems to be one of the two or three I can name that has no problem in admitting that.


Bugsy Malone follows the title character as he tries to bounce between two gangster families who're aiming their pie-thrusting guns at each other (the "deaths" in this film are, for me, as stunning as anything I later experienced in, say, GoodFellas). Parker has the character buffeting between show biz, the boxing gym, the indigent and the well-fed realms in equal measures. It's an incredibly smart film. Bugsy Malone was largely ignored in the US, even though its score and songwriter, Paul Williams, garnered an Oscar nomination for his song score in 1976. In Britain--its country of origin (even though none of its cast members were British)--the film won five BAFTA awards, including two for Jodie Foster (Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer), Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Screenplay (it lost the award for costume design, direction, and Best Film). I seriously think it should have been in the running stateside for almost all of these awards (but it WAS an especially competitive year that year--Foster got a Supporting Actress nomination, but for her not-so-different role in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver). Maybe Parker's film was ignored because it was literally a diminutation of a uniquely American genre--the gangster film. But that makes no sense, ultimately, because the gangster film genre has never gotten much love from Hollywood. But never mind all that. The fact that a sweet, meaty, well-made movie like Bugsy Malone is now footnote in film history makes me angry even as I write now (there's not even a great DVD out there--and I think The Criterion Collection, if it were as ballsy as it purports to be, should get on this immediately).


The art direction, by Geoffrey Kirkland, is at first outstanding. All the sets had to be built in congress to the size of its all-kid cast (the pie-guns and bicycle-powered cars are a major plus). The film editing, by Alan Parker mainstay Gerry Hambling, is exquisite. And the same goes for Monica Howe's costume design, as well as for the expert makeup and hair styling team. The film gets absolutely nothing wrong in completing the illusion that these are adults in kid costumes. This becomes doubly amazing when you consider that none of the lip-synching is done to kid voices; Parker made the brave decision to have adults do all the singing, and even though it seems like a choice that could have spelled disaster, it works (he makes no effort to hide the fact, either, which makes it an extra-snap). In fact, Bugsy Malone doesn't just WORK, it's compelled into the stratosphere by the very things that must have seemed most risky. It's a strange effect, hearing these adult voices and attitudes behind these kid faces, but it is completely successful, in a variety of bizarre ways. After its all seen, Bugsy Malone is a one-of-a-kind picture. There's nothing out there that resembles it.


The BAFTA got it correct when it awarded then newcomer Alan Parker with the screenplay award. If the dialogue hadn't rung true, then none of this would've carried out. But Parker's writing is convincing, even out of babe's mouths. (It helps that the film is extraordinarily well-cast, down to the most expendable bit players; there are some actors here that you cannot believe are not adults. I especially like the unforgettable John Cassisi as Fat Sam, who's surely one of the greatest gangsters ever committed to film.) And the plot is never uninteresting. In a lot of musical comedies, the plot becomes beside the point. Just get us to the laffs and songs, usually, But not here: here, we actually CARE what happens. Given that, to this day, Parker's movie remains funny, clever, adorable, and threatening at a moment's turn. And when coupled with the exacting film craft and the wise selection of Paul Williams' music and lyrics, Bugsy Malone is unbeatable.


I could choose almost all of Williams' Bugsy Malone compositions as Forgotten Movie Songs entries. And I still might. But the first I will point to is Jodie Foster's introduction, called "My Name is Talullah." For me, this is a stone-cold classic of movie-centric songwriting. The only way I can explain its exclusion from the Academy Awards' Best Song race is that the movie itself seemed so wild (and, perhaps, uncomfortable to watch) for so many male Academy members that it's chances were sunk from the get-go. (This film has gone on to be a popular production on local stages, with "My Name is Tallulah" as a centerpiece; meanwhile, here are three of the Best Song nominees of that year: "Ave Satani" from The Omen, "Come to Me" from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and "A World That Never Was" from Half a House -- surely you've heard of them). Even the eventual winner, "Evergreen" from A Star is Born (co-written by Paul Williams--coincidence?--with Barbara Streisand) is not as catchy as this tune.


I don't know who sung this song originally. But it's Jodie Foster lip-synching the performance (and I love how she plays it--especially when Parker has her interrupt her performance by taking a drink off a passing waiter's tray). I also have to comment on Parker's direction here; is it me, or has he been heavily influenced by Bob Fosse's Cabaret, in his use of lenses and varying shots? Certainly the sexuality is there for all to see; is this perhaps the thing that's kept this movie from being appreciated? Are we all so afraid of being perverts, after the Reagan era, that we can't enjoy this perfect movie? Well...I say, screw that. The exquisite music and lyrics are by Paul Williams (whom I suspect also arranged the tune). It's impossible not to want to see this movie in full, if you haven't seen it already, after you view this (it's available now on You Tube, in parts). The fun lyrics follow the clip:



My name is Tallulah
My first rule of thumb
I don't say where I'm going
Or where I'm coming from
I try to leave a little reputation behind me
So if you really need to
You'll know how to find me

My name is Tallulah
I live till I die
I'll take what you give me
And I won't ask why
I've made a lot of friends
In some exotic places
I don't remember names
But I remember faces

Lonely
You don't have to be lonely
Come and see Tallulah
We can chase your troubles away, oh
If you're lonely
You don't have to be lonely
When they talk about Tallulah
You know what they say
No one south of Heaven's
Gonna treat you finer
Tallulah had her training
In North Carolina

My name is Tallulah
And soon I'll be gone
An open invitation
Is the road I'll travel on
I'll never say goodbye
Because the words upset me
You may forgive my goin'
But you won't forget me

Lonely
You don't have to be lonely
Come and see Tallulah
We can chase your troubles away
If you're lonely
You don't have to be lonely
When they talk about Tallulah
You know what they say
No one south of Heaven's
Gonna treat you finer
Tallulah had her training
In North Carolina


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