Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Carousel" (class-analyzed)

For the 1st-time, at 66 (2008) I've seen Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical "Carousel" (Broadway 1945; Cinemascope film, 1956, principals: Gordon Macrae, Shirley Jones.) on DVD here at Valley Village as a Fri nite free movie shown in the central Social Center.

I really only went for the story, adapted from a 'dark' 1909 Hungarian play by Ferenc Molnar (Neumann), "Liliom" (Hood/thug)" - that R & H reset in coastal ME sometime pre-automobile. Apart from its songs & dances, it's a study in social class & one outsider's failure.

Billy Baxter (Liliom) is a carousel-barker who tries to go ME-mainstream (girl, wife, child due), but desperate for money, is persuaded by local thug, Jigger (cited as having done time in prison in Bangor) to try to rob a member of the local upper-middle class (his wife's employer), fails, falls on his borrowed knife, dies. Post-death, he bargains with the heavenly station-master for one day to come back to see his daughter, now 14, does, finally whispers to her to go mainstream Mainiac. She listens, & presumably does. Ends with the nobly uplifting chorale sung by all at her h.s. graduation - "Walk On, Walk On" - & his over-the-shoulder glance of final redemption as he walks back uphill to heaven. (The only visible transportation is on foot or by boat.)

What struck me (coming from MA Bay's near North Shore) was the easily discernible class & caste differentiaton between characters - Billy, as just a seasonal circus carousel-barker, the carousel-owner as his middle-aged mistress & employer, the girl he falls for, a quasi-cloistered shopgirl whose aunt owns a fish-restaurant on the dock; a herring fisherman named Snow who owns his own boat & becomes prosperously middle-class (presumably as Snow's canned Clam Chowder), the father of 9, etc. - as well as its easily visible local class-hierarchy.

The film was re-sited as a variation on Mt. Monadnock-area NH-sited Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" (1938.) Barker Billy, laking any real commercial "trade or skill" (as his young wife explains to people) fails because he fears to seek a righteous path to substance as the small coastal-cove ME town defines it. Seduced by a crafty ex-con thug who illustrates his class-situation (if caught attempting this robbery, he will only go before a police-court, not the supreme-court), now unemployed, Billy does, fails, falls on his borrowed knife & dies (implausibly) quietly, unbloodily. Neither waked, eulogized, nor seen buried, his face is touched gently after he dies by his widow-wife, then his ex-mistress.

"Carousel"'s building pathos depends upon a constantly plucked thread of class & caste, which I'd certainly never expected. Fluff, it (actually) wasn't.

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