Tuesday, January 29, 2019

37. Newsies

The movie: Newsies (Kenny Ortega, 1992)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD.

The recommender: Emma Jones.

Emma's rationale: It’s the best movie of all time and Christian Bale is wonderful and it’s a musical and it’s about New York and it’s just the best. Oh, and Spot Conlon.

My familiarity with this movie: Newsies made less than $3 million at the box office, but it's had a fairly enormous cultural imprint, especially among Long Island (and, apparently, Massachusetts) millennials. (It does seem right up my alley: I like musical numbers, New York accents, and American history, although I'm iffy on vagrants.) And over the past several months I've come to feel like I've already seen it, because Emma spends a lot of time reciting the lines in her scrappy newsboy voice. “Never fear, Brooklyn is here!” she says, all day and all night. I have decided to find it charming.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.”

What I thought of the movie: It was v fun! Ludicrous, but fun. But I like that! I liked it v much, and I’m not just saying that because Emma is looking over my shoulder as I type this.

Seriously, though: there’s a lot to like here, even the adults (Bill Pullman as a friendly reporter, Robert Duvall as freakin’ Joseph Pulitzer). Let’s dispense with the nit-picks: only three speaking roles for women! Young Emma, not v concerned about the Bechdel test, wowwwww. And while a couple of the songs are great (especially “Seize the Day” and “King of New York”), Christian Bale’s big song, “Santa Fe,” is (turn away Emma) not my favorite. He’s not that good of a singer, but honestly it would be unfair if he were a great singer! He’s so talented! Did y’all know he’s Welsh!? (I should note that Bale was 17 when this was filmed, a fact that did not stop Emma’s eyebrows from wagglin’ up a storm during our screening. Problematic!)

I generally try to avoid roving packs of filthy, street-smart youths in my daily life, but they were delightful; spirited in that heavily accent-coached theater kid kind of way, zipping their way through the sprightly choreo. They’re havin’ fun out there! And the way they talk is truly insane. They refer to the newspapers as “papes,” a word that I can’t stop thinking about. Papes! “Buy me last pape, mister?” It’s too much. And once the Manhattan newsies (led by Bale) go to Brooklyn to meet up with Spot Conlon and the Brooklyn newsies, everything goes to another level. (A character named Racetrack (!) reading the pape: “Look at this: ‘Baby Born with Two Heads.’ Must be from Brooklyn.”) Every other word out of Spot Conlon’s mouth is “Brooklyn.” The kids get arrested, and this dialogue ensues in the courtroom:

SPOT CONLON: I object! JUDGE: On what grounds? SPOT CONLON: On the grounds of Brooklyn, your honor.

Out. Of. Control.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the film’s excellent politics. It is extremely pro-union (the newsies go on strike and threaten to beat up the scabs!), pro-journalist, and anti-billionaire! I bet AOC loves this movie. In fact, it’s a real shame it was such a floppo, because if more people had seen it, we might not be in the trouble we’re in today. Someone arrange a screening for Jonah Peretti, pronto! On the grounds of Brooklyn!

In short, I had a wonderful time, and I learned a lot about life on the streets. And American history! If I didn’t think these cynical teens would turn up their noses at it, I would consider showing Newsies to my students. Even if most of them have never read a pape.

Am I happy I took Emma’s recommendation? “I say… that what you say… is what I say.”

What’s next?

UPDATE: Molly Brady gives me a CHOICE, which is v nice of her: Freeway, "a 90s dark revision of Little Red Riding Hood," or a film that I've often been pilloried for not having seen: Lethal Weapon. I'd prefer to stop getting pilloried, so Lethal Weapon it is.