It PASSED! I'm going to call a spade a spade. This is a G rated movie, but if I tried really hard, I could make it R. Like, you have to shut off a piece of your brain to make that happen, but it is possible. There's a scene where the toxically masculine entitled antagonist tries committing genocide. Like, he almost wipes out the whole town. Consequently, the people of Brigadoon become a police state. The morality of freedom is discussed in a roundabout way. One of the protagonists is a raging alcoholic jerk. But again...PASSED!
DIRECTOR: Vincente Minnelli
I'm an idiot. I closed the window without saving it. My original opening paragraph was all about how I didn't want to write about a movie that I wasn't even that interested in finishing. Now I'm writing that a second time. The only silver lining is that I wasn't caffeinated when I wrote my first draft and I was a little sluggish and disjointed in my writing. Because of my mistake, I decided to wake up and have some vigor while writing. I mean, I still didn't want to finish this movie the first time. But this thing is entirely my fault. My wife was in the rare "I want to watch a movie" mood. That's not the whole story. She wanted to watch a bunch of musicals on Filmstruck and I like watching movies, regardless of genre. She let me pick the musical and I had never seen Brigadoon. People told me that Brigadoon is tough to get through. I didn't believe them for some reason. I know that lots of people get bored easily and I tend to like boring things. I actually sometimes prefer boring things as opposed to watching stuff that is in my face the entire time. But about half-an-hour in, I knew that I had made the wrong call. There is something inexplicably ignorable about Brigadoon.
The thing about it that kills me is that it checks off a lot of my boxes when it comes to Hollywood musicals. I love Gene Kelly. When I find out that Gene Kelly is a lead in a Hollywood musical, I go all Lockwood and Lamont over it. I like the early technicolor stuff with lots of impressive dancing. When the opening credits scroll by and I see that not only is Gene Kelly in the movie, but he also choreographed it, my expectations went through the roof. It's even a time-travel movie. As established, I like time-travel movies for the most part. It is a very specific kind of time travel, but I'm okay with variations on a theme. But everything is just off about the movie. The reason that I like Gene Kelly's choreography is that it is often a series of fun and playful stunts. There are elements and moments in the movie that teased fun and playful stunts, but much of the film is tying back to a classical style of dance associated with ancient Scotland. For a hot second, I was impressed that Kelly was doing something out of his wheelhouse. But that very formal dancing matches the tone of the film. The movie matches the old timey Scotland, not the attitudes that can be seen in Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris. In those films, the exception to the rule about playfulness comes in the dream ballet sequences. Those are my least favorite things about those movies and they really play the central role in Brigadoon.
The structure of the movie is off. I'm going to try to verbalize it right now, so if this seems all meandering, I apologize. It's not that weird for a Hollywood movie musical having thinly constructed archetypes. It's actually probably more the norm because characters often reveal their motivations through song. Musical numbers are a way for communicating what a character is thinking, or believing, or just general characterization. Instead, Tommy and Jeff just straight up narrate their character backgrounds at the beginning. These backgrounds are troubling. They do not make compelling protagonists unless they were to undergo a major change. Tommy is afraid of marriage and is delaying the inevitable. For a while, I understood this to be that he broke off a marriage because she wasn't the right girl. That's fine. It's a perfectly fine character trait, but then I misunderstood it. He still had a fiancee through all of the events of the movie. Boo for you, Tommy. That doesn't make you heroic. That makes it look like he was a cheater. SPOILERS BECAUSE I'M NOT IN LOVE WITH THIS MOVIE: He wanted to abandon society to live with this girl. He was going to go Brigadoon time-travelling with her and just never tell his fiancee that he left her. He's mighty quick to flirty with this girl too. I know, a movie has to have a love-at-first-sight moment for the story to continue on. But this story is pretty bare bones when it comes to plot, so I think that the movie could have spared a few for some introspection. I still wouldn't have liked that he would have just abandoned a fiancee in New York over the course of a day, but I think I would have liked the character to be torn about the events of the day just a little bit. Van Johnson's Jeff is way worse. I can't help but now appreciate Dudley Moore for being able to portray the lovable selfish drunk. Van Johnson is a far more realistic selfish drunk. He's the kind of drunk who wears misery on his sleeve. I don't think that Van Johnson's portrayal of Jeff was what the playwrights were thinking when they wrote the character. There's nothing sympathetic about this character. He keeps crapping on everything. He's literally in a supernatural town and is skeptical about everything. He makes constant rude jokes and seems like he can't keep his drinking under control whatsoever. I'm reading about the brutality towards the natives by the Spaniards in my night class right now and Van Johnson's character is the kind of character who just needs a little nudge into the realm of selfish murder. He treats a girl (who admittedly just throws herself at him because she has this one chance to meet a new person) like absolute trash. There's not even a hint of the social contract in effect. You meet someone new, you have to be moderately kind to them until you get to know them. It's a really weird choice for one of the heroes of the story. When he wants to go back, it doesn't really make sense. New York has more booze than fantasy land. You could say that he wants to make a change. The film even implies that the booze doesn't make Jeff happy, but there's never a formal declaration for the misery that his life has become. Also, continuing on with the spoilers, did the power of love bring back Brigadoon way earlier? That seems like it isn't part of the miracle / curse. It is extremely lazy writing. The entire movie is based on a binary choice. There's not even an attempt to live with the consequences. If Tommy leaves Brigadoon, he can never come back. You know, unless he wants to. That's literally it. He doesn't undo a curse. He doesn't find a way to survive a hundred years. He literally just shows up again. Boo.
The theology of this movie is goofy as all get out. The supernatural elements of this movie stem out of a weird version of religion. Because the local priest was concerned about outside forces influencing the town of Brigadoon too much, he asked God to hide Brigadoon from time, only allowing it to appear every hundred years. If anyone attempted to leave Brigadoon, everyone dies. What? What kind of bargain is that? What kind of God would make that stipulation? I have an even bigger concern. Only the antagonist refers to the miracle as what it is: a curse. Why are they so afraid of progress? This is such a weird obsession with yesteryear. It is toxic nostalgia. On top of that, God requires the priest who made this prayer unable to participate in the great experiment? I mean, it's very Moses of him, but Moses at least made a mistake. The movie says that God needed a sacrifice to make this happen. So the one guy who actually wanted to avoid progress had to experience progress as he unmoored Brigadoon into the space-time continuum? Look at the problematic storytelling here. It had been 300 years our time since Brigadoon left. For them, it had been three days and there already was a threat of everyone being killed. From their perspective, the first guy to go nuts from being locked in Brigadoon lost it only after three days. What happens when entire generations grow up in this world? Seriously, when we are post-apocalyptic and their a year older, what's going to happen then. Can they even have children? Will children understand what normal time looks like? Is it going to be Room for them? Eventually, if the world is still around and not sunken into the sun, will the locals treat the boundaries as a horror story? Someone is going to get dared to leave and then everyone dies. Also, what about a mass evacuation of Brigadoon? It mentions that everyone would die in their sleep that night in Brigadoon. I'm pretty sure if everyone left, they could just live in the future. I mean, would any version of God really want what is going on here? It's like it's a metaphor for traditional family values, but completely unconcerned with actual consequences. The filmmakers had to know that something was really fishy when they had to go on a manhunt for the guy trying to leave. Yes, the movie needs that scene. It's the first thing we thought of when they said that they couldn't leave or they would die. The movie had to show what would happen. But is that guy just going to go to local jail for all of history? He's a serious flight risk. The problem isn't solved when he's caught. Geez, did they kill that guy? I mean, I have so many questions about the rules of Brigadoon that I can't even wrap my mind around it. I now want to write a dark fantasy narrative about Brigadoon 100,000 years from now. It's reasonable to think that one day, someone would build something over the land in Brigadoon. 100 years pass per day. Think about the change in Time After Time. That was 100 years and it shows how insane the world changed. It's not completely unreasonable to think that one day, that land in Scotland would be developed. Would the people there just fuse with the buildings? Would the new inhabitants be sent off into a limbo until Brigadoon disappears again? Would scientists discover Brigadoon and try to study its effects? IT'S A REALLY WEIRD PREMISE!
But again, this is a boring movie. I wish it wasn't. The fact that I've thought this much about it shows that there's something there. But mostly, these thoughts stem out of an element that just asks you to ignore the possibilities. It's a really dumb premise that is supposed to come across as artistic and whimsical. It fails at both. Sorry...
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.