The Classic Musical You May Not Know

Cabin in the SkyIf you look at the Knickerbocker Theatre lineup for classic musicals, don’t be alarmed if one of them does not ring a bell.  Sure, we’ve got Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, the big musical, Sound of Music, and even something fairly recent, Grease (“fairly recent” is defined as anything that I actually saw in the movie theatre). But, Cabin in the Sky?

Chances are, you’ve never seen Cabin in the Sky. But if you do go to the July 29 performance you’ll see why we picked a film that includes music performances by Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Even Louis Armstrong is in it, but he only plays that trumpet for around 10 seconds — the rest of the time he is a junior devil. (He did play a solo version of “Ain’t it the Truth,” but the number was cut from the final production!)

Main Cast for Cabin in the Sky
Main Cast

The film was released in 1943, but because of its all black cast, the film was not shown in parts of the country. Then the movie disappeared from rotation and it wasn’t until 2006 that Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment finally released it on DVD. The film was recently highlighted on Turner Classic Movies when guest host, director  Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) selected it as an “essential” film.

I’ve now seen the film several times and can list it among my favorites (which, admittedly, is a long list). Waters is incredible and her rendition of “Happiness is a Thing Called Joy” (which was nominated for an Academy Award) is how a love song should be sung. Horne is a temptress who uses her beauty and voice to go after Joe. But not too much of her beauty since a scene featuring her in a bubble bath was cut from the film because, according to Horne, a black woman singing in the bath was not morally acceptable in 1943.

And then there is the dancing. One amazing scene shows people entering a nightclub, but they do not just walk in — they dance in and every one of them is great. Inside, the dancing is no less amazing and John Bubbles, the “father of rhythm tap” tears up the number “Shine.”

Bill Bailey doing the "back slide"
Bill Bailey doing the “back slide”

And, just in case you think Michael Jackson invented the moonwalk, watch closely when Waters sings “Taking A Chance on Love” and you’ll see Bill Bailey do a short “slide back” in what is considered the first recording of what is later called the Moonwalk.

If you want a fuller version, click here to see Bailey at the Apollo Theatre in 1955. [Even more trivia — Bill Bailey’s sister is the singer/actress Pearl Bailey.]

So, we have a musical with great singing, great dancing, and great songs. What more could you want? How about Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, best know as Jack Benny’s sidekick (“Oh, Rochester”) and a great actor in his own right. He even belts out a song (and I mean belts out!) with that gravelly voice and shows off some subtle dance moves.

The film is based on a hit 1940 Broadway play. Anderson plays Little Joe Jackson, a gambler who tries to reform for his incredibly patient and loving wife, Petunia (Waters). But when he is shot over a gambling death and is near death, Petunia prays for him to get to heaven. An angel appears as devils are ready to take him to hell and they make a deal — if Joe can live a good life for six months, he goes to heaven. The catch is that Joe does not know about the deal. While the angel counts on Petunia’s faith to save Joe, the devils use Sweet Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) to draw Joe back to his evil ways. It is a classic morality tale which does not veer away from Christian themes.

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and Vincente Minnelli
Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and Vincente Minnelli

Cabin in the Sky was the first movie directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli who went on to direct hits such as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Gigi,” “Brigadoon,” “Father of the Bride,” and “An American in Paris.” He married Judy Garland after “Meet Me in St. Louis” and is the father of Liza Minnelli. He was concerned enough about being a white man directing a black film that he submitted the script to the NAACP prior to its release to make sure he was avoiding stereotypes. A letter from the NAACP sent a note to the writers  “congratulating [them] on the treatment of this black fable, which avoided cliches and racial stereotypes.”

So, come and see the classic film you’ve probably never seen. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events
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The 2019 One Night Only Classic Musical Film Lineup
July 22 — Jailhouse Rock
July 29 — Cabin in the Sky
August 5 — The Sound of Music
August 12 — Grease

All shows begin at 7:30 p.m and tickets are $5 for everyone at the door.

 

Our 2017 Fall Film Series

Fall brings colors to the leaves, a chill in the air, and films to the Knick! Yes, the fall film series is off and running.

The Knickerbocker Theatre at Hope College is showing four films through November 11.

Maudi posterThe series opens with Maudie, an Irish-Canadian biographical romantic drama, through Saturday, Sept. 16. In Nova Scotia, Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), who suffers from severe arthritis, is hired as a housekeeper by reclusive local fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). Despite her crippled hands, Maud yearns to be independent and to live away from her overprotective family, but most of all she wants to create art. An unlikely romance blossoms between Maude and Everett as she hones her skills despite her pain and overcomes the physical challenge of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually, she rises to become one of Canada’s premier folk artists, with paintings hanging in the White House. The film is in English. It has a running time of one hour and 55 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Past Life posterThe series will feature Past Life on Monday-Saturday, Sept. 18-23. The drama/thriller depicts the pilgrimage of two sisters — Sephi Milch (Joy Rieger), an introverted talented classical musician, and Nana (Nelly Tagar), a boisterous journalist — in the late 1970s as they unwind the shocking revelation of their father’s past during the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Selphi not only must struggle with the unraveling of her family history and its possible consequences but also must compete in a male-dominated profession as she seeks to be a classical composer. The film is in English, German, Hebrew and Polish with English subtitles. It has a running time of one hour and 49 minutes and is not rated.

The series will continue with The Trip to Spain on Monday-Saturday, Oct. 9-14. The comedy depicts the many changes and challenges faced in middle age. British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan once again come onto the big screen, touring their way through a variety of European cities during a week-long drive filled with sightseeing and taste-bud adventures leading them to epiphanies regarding history, fame, and fatherhood. This film is in English. It has a running time of one hour and 48 minutes and is not rated.

The series will end with The Unknown Girl on Monday-Saturday, Nov. 6-11. The Belgian-French drama is a searing saga of guilt and redemption. Young doctor Jenny (Adele Haenel) leaves the clinic door unanswered, and shortly after a young African woman is found dead by the side of the road. Consumed with guilt, Jenny embarks on a journey to discover who the woman was and to see to it that she is remembered. “The Unknown Girl” is both a gripping mystery and a profoundly human moral tale encompassing “no end of guilt, and just enough grace,” as said by the New York Times. The film is in French with subtitles. It has a running time of one hour and 53 minutes and is not rated.

Tickets for the individual films are $7 for regular admission and $6 for senior citizens, Hope College faculty and children. Tickets will be sold at the door but are also available in advance at the Events and Conferences Office located downtown in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.). The office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at (616) 395-7890.

The Knickerbocker Theatre is located in downtown Holland at 86 E. Eighth St.

Our 2017 Winter Film Series

The marketing slogans are easy. “Films to Heat Up Your Winter.” “Four Ways to Beat Cabin Fever.” “Cold Weather, Hot Popcorn, Great Movies — The Perfect Mix.”

Those did not make the cut. Actually, we rarely have a catchy slogan as we think the films sell themselves. Our unofficial slogan for this next series of films is “the solid series” — a variety of films, all different, all strong.

Loving
Jan. 30- Feb. 4, 2017 — 7:30pm

loving_onesheetThis movie was named the number three film of the year by Time Magazine, despite the fact that it was out on limited release. This fictionalized drama is based on the true story of the incredibly named Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial married couple who took their battle to be legally recognized all the way to the Supreme Court. That it took until 1967 to have this happen makes the story even more amazing. The film is raking in award nominations and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says “There are few movies that speak to the American moment as movingly — and with as much idealism — as Jeff Nichols’s Loving.”

Watch the preview.

The Salesman
Feb. 13-18, 2017 — 7:30pm

Here we offer an Iranian-French film by Academy-award winning directorthe salesman image Asghar Farhadi. (He won the Oscar for A Separation which we showed 2012).  An Iranian couple rehearsing for a performance in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” have to move to a new apartment. But the previous occupant’s past intercedes with their present, turning their lives inside out. Taking Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Farhadi’s latest film adds to his legacy. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls it “smart, ambitious…a well-crafted, valuable drama” and Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter says it “leaves the viewer tense and breathless.”
Watch the preview.

The Eagle Huntress
March 13-18, 2017 — 7:30pm

Just watch the preview and dare to miss this movie! The cinematography alone makes this a big-screen must, but the story of 13-year-old Aisholpan working to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations just adds to acclaimed documentary. This has the big themes — coming of age, women’s (girl’s) rights, the beauty of nature, the clash of ancient traditions and modern life, and, a glimpse into a culture few of us know. Receiving rave reviews, both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times named it a “Critic’s Pick,” with the NY Times saying it is “Thrilling! A movie that expands your sense of what is possible.”

Watch the preview.

Things to Come
March 27-April 1, 2017 — 7:30pm

Her husband is leaving her for another woman, her mother dies, and her professional life as a philosopher is in turmoil. Well, this sounds like a crazy comedy or a French film. And the winner is…French film! This unlikely plot line has a 100% rating by over 70 critics on Rotten Tomatoes and stars the incomparable Isabelle Huppert as the woman who decides not to fold under the challenges, but instead reinvent her life. Time Magazine says “Huppert is extraordinary—she reveals everything even when you think she’s showing nothing—and she’s the perfect actress, right now, for Hansen-Løve’s (director) fine-grained perceptiveness.” Time Out calls it “warm, thoughtful, surprising.”
Watch the preview.

We think you’ll agree that this is an incredible line up of films, likely to be heard about for years to come. We’ll feature each of these individually on the blog shortly before we show them, but please check out the trailers. And, tell your friends! You are the best advertisement we have for our unique film series. Thank you for supporting us and great films.

 

Derek Emerson
Hope College Director of Public Affairs and Events

Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Series Blog

130618Knickerbocker009Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Blog!

We’ve created the blog to give us some space to explore the films we show, hear from other film fans, and, basically, find a new way to celebrate the celluloid film (or digital film — we’ll cover that in a future blog).

If you are not familiar with us, the Knickerbocker Theatre is a historic venue in downtown Holland, Michigan owned and operated by Hope College. In addition to year-round live events, we also do three film series each year (winter, spring, and fall) with four independent or international films. 7:30pm is our usual starting time.

We also have a “One Night Only” series where we focus on one actor, director,150330KnickerbockerSign003 or genre over four weeks. In the past, we’ve looked at Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, and Famous Couples. In the summer we host four free family films on Thursday evenings where we throwback to some classics we all love, such as Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and The Goonies.

091013KnickerbockerTheatre007There are many great reasons to spend some time with us. Our ticket prices are reasonable and our concessions are actually delicious and inexpensive. No $40 tab when you have popcorn and soda while watching a movie with us! We have friendly students helping with tickets, concessions, and often running the movies. We also always have one of our Events and Conferences Office staff hanging around (and most of them are friendly). And, we do all this in a historic theatre!

So, this is just our way of saying welcome!

We would love your comments on our blog or our films. Suggestions? We’ll take them.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events