by Ned Kerwin
Growing up a twin and one of nine children meant that there wasn’t very much alone time. Days were filled with school, little league and fishing, and evenings were devoted to chores and homework. In order to limit distractions, there was no school-night television, and weekend watching was limited, to say the least. Although I’m sure my father would have enjoyed the technology of color tele- vision, my parents decided that we’d make do with the black-and-white Zenith they had purchased for my Great Uncle Ned back in 1967 so that he could watch the Red Sox during their Impossible Dream season.
The rules were some what relaxed during the summer,but we still had to have permission, and that meant justifying the importance of a National Geographic Special or some other unique event. It was our version of “Must See TV.”
One late-summer Sunday afternoon, I finally had the house to myself. The rest of the family was vacationing in Vermont and I was to join some other soon-to-be-seventh graders the following morning for a team-building camping trip in the wilds of suburban Boston. I had my list of chores, but I was going to do my damnedest to do them in front of the TV. I got the socks and T-shirts out of the dryer, flipped on the tube and sat down to fold.
Frank Avruch, a local celeb (and the first nationally syndicated Bozo the Clown), hosted a show Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons named The Great Entertainment, which revolved around classic films. During commercial breaks, the tuxedo-clad cinephile would share anecdotes from production and tidbits about the cast of that episode’s movie. With few other options, I figured I’d stay with his show because Avruch assured me I was in for something special. I had no idea.
The movie started and up came the title Singin’ in the Rain. I could have guessed that because there were three people–– wait for it––singing in the rain. I kind of knew who Gene Kelly was, Donald O’Connor seemed funny and Debbie Reynolds was cute, so why not?
Within 10 minutes, the sock-folding had been put aside and I was mesmerized. Already there had been a glitzy Hollywood movie premiere, a great song and dance, a swashbuckling sword fight and a hilarious flashback where Kelly’s character, Don Lockwood, tells a completely fabricated history compared to what I was seeing on screen.
I’d watched musicals before, but this was something completely different. They were poking fun at the schmaltz of the musicals of the ‘30s and ‘40s, mocking actors and ridiculing the culture of celebrity worship with a reverential homage of their own. And somehow, I was in on the joke.
The main thrust of the plot is that the movie The Jazz Singer had ushered in the era of the “talkies” and the movie studio Monumental Pictures has to play catch-up. The head of Monumental enlists his silent screen star duo of Lockwood and Lina Lamont (played brilliantly by Jean Hagen). The only problem is that the dimwitted and manipulative Lamont has a grating voice to match. Lockwood enlists his new girl- friend (Reynolds) to overdub all of Lamont’s dialogue and singing. Wacki- ness ensues.
Even though it was abundantly clear that this was not historically accurate, it was thrilling to go behind the scenes of early Hollywood. I was seeing a “director yell action,” cameramen on cranes, stage- hands, chorus girls and crew. I was start- ing to realize how many people are necessary to make a movie: regular people, craftsmen, artisans. Making movies was no longer the exclusive domain of actors. Suddenly, the possibility of being a part of it wasn’t so far-fetched. Despite the lifting of the veil, I was still completely lost in the movie. The wall had come down, yet I was hooked.
As I got into high school, I was often able to convince my parents to let me stay up late on Saturdays to watch more of the classics on Avruch’s show. In my junior year, I started skipping school once or twice a month to jump on the “T” to go catch the daily double features at the Harvard Square Theater: Harold and Maude, WestSideStory, Singin’ in the Rain on the big screen––and in color. Holy crap!
To this day, even after nearly two decades of working in production and post, I still can get lost in a good show. Whether I’m in a theatre, my home or even in my edit bay at work, when I’m not taken out of the scene by clunky dialogue or gratuitous camera moves or too much editing, then all time stops and I’m consumed by the magic of the medium. That’s what happened that Sunday with Singin’ in the Rain, and what I strive for in my work.