Reviews & Ratings for
"Great Performances" The Great American Songbook (2003)

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the best on the subject.

8/10
Author: Ed from New York, NY
26 December 2004

While I might argue with some of the choices made in representing the musical numbers such as not giving the names of all the films the clips were from, as a whole I found this a fascinating documentary which gave an excellent idea of musical influences over the years.

It also helps to have a fine performer and expert on this vast subject in Michael Feinstein. While I wouldn't put him up there with the greatest entertainers, he certainly is impressive in what he can do with his fine musical gifts. And as an archivist for Ira Gershwin, he is in a unique position to talk about it. And, yes, I do understand that he and his associate Andrew J. Kuehn were not able to get all the permissions they would have liked, (The song "Singin' in the Rain" was represented but the film was conspicuous by its absence.) they have done well with what they had to work with.

I was struck by how often Judy Garland appeared in this documentary and I was glad that Betty Hutton finally got some long overdue appreciation for "Annie Get Your Gun". Despite the comments on this DVD, that film is now actually available on DVD but that probably happened after this one was released.

I was also amused that Michael spoke of the inaccuracies of musical biopics. He said they were all more or less fictionalized but the ones on Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter were singled out. The first, "Words and Music" ignored Larry's homosexuality and alcoholism and the second, "Night and Day", Cole's homosexuality, later only partly rectified by Kevin Kline's film, "De-Lovely" (which I have now seen and reviewed.). But these topics could not have been broached at the time these films were made.

8 out of 10.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Should be 'The Great American Showtune'

2/10
Author: cliffskoog from Ireland
10 April 2014

The insufferable Michael Feinstein has loaded this historical survey with clips from movies and above all clips from movie musicals. His smarmy, anodyne presentation avoids anything really controversial, stews in stereotypical sentiments about the personal lives of the songwriters, and bows often in the direction of political correctness. A few of the clips are of genuine historical interest (25 minutes worth?), and one, of Fats Waller performing (about one-fourth of the way through) is truly astonishing. Most, though, serve Feinstein's own taste in ways that betray the objective stature of his purported subject matter. I think him now as a tinier version of a Harold Bloom, or a Joseph Campbell, or a Kenneth Branagh: someone riding on the coattails of a great subject to stoke his career and his sense of self.

What is most deeply offensive about this project, finally, is the presumption of its title 'The Great American Songbook'. That name belongs to a tradition of songwriters and singers that rivals, in its own way—albeit briefly—the tradition of lieder and chanson in Continental Europe. Instead Feinstein brings us 'The Great American Showtune', larding on 6 or 7 helpings of Judy Garland (mostly in decline). He also uses Ethel Merman—twice, along with many second and third rate voices (celebrities in their own time) who have little technical or interpretive capability. Lots of numbers were evidently chosen for their extravagant cinematic choreography.

The important and enduring story of 'The Great American Songbook' is not about musicals, movies, or even popular culture. Instead, it is about the music—how great singers made the songs their own, often in the context of American Jazz. Where in Feinstein's execrable production is Annette Hanshaw, Connee Boswell, Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, Maxine Sullivan, Ella Fitzgerald, Margaret Whiting, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, and Nat King Cole? How about Art Tatum? The list could be considerably longer, and everyone on it would surpass all but a handful of the performers Feinstein showcased. The aggregate of Feinstein's largely mediocre selections, and his failure to tell the real story, in no way deserves to be titled 'The Great American Songbook'. Shame on him.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Good, But should have been better!

6/10
Author: girvsjoint from Australia
25 February 2006

I have this program on the DVD release, and although I agree with the previous critic about the poor showing of Doris Day, I think the same thing about the lack of clips on Bing Crosby, again prominently featured on the cover, apart from being seen in the background in 'Anything Goes'[1936] whilst Ethel Merman sings a couple of songs, the only Bing performance is his 'True Love' duet with Grace Kelly! Come on Michael, I've heard you state on Australian Television that Bing Crosby was your favorite male singer, this is the guy who literally invented 20th. Century 'Pop' music, and blazed the trail for ALL who were to follow, I would have thought he rated more than a passing mention in a program like this. Enjoyable, but for me, disappointing as well.

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Awesome DVD

Author: zman767 (zman767@hotmail.com) from annapolis, maryland
27 December 2003

I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed this DVD. What a WONDERFUL tribute to our musical heritage.

I also watched Band of Brothers this week. Can it get any better than these two DVDs? Holy cow.

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An Astounding Tribute

10/10
Author: tessler
10 May 2003

When I was in music school in the 1980's I discovered and was fascinated by, the composers (and their songs--many of which are "classics" and "standards") featured in this superb documentary.

Whether discussing George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter or Harold Arlen, I was simply awestruck by the articulate and painstaking attention to detail delivered in the narrative. Richard Rogers has been for quite some time amongst the top 5 of my favorite American Composers (along with Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Charles Ives and John Corigliano). Regardless of era or form, you won't find a better musical history documentary anywhere.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Too Much Judy!

3/10
Author: nneprevilo from United States
16 October 2005

I believe I saw this documentary on PBS. If this is the same one with Michael Fienstein talking about composers and showing clips throughout, it must be the same one. I watched the show because Doris Day was prominently advertised, but it turned out to be another "Judy Garland Show." You'd think by looking at all these documentaries about movie musicals, etc., that Garland was the ONLY female making this type of film. FYI, Doris Day, almost single-handedly, saved this dying art form upon arriving at Warner Brothers to make "Romance on the High Seas" in 1948. During her seven hear contract at WB, she made 17 pictures, mostly musicals, including the legendary, "Calamity Jane."

Day, because of the backlash she received during the late 60s (the sexual revolution was taking place), is purposely slighted when today's retrospectives on Hollywood's "golden age" are presented. People felt it "fashionable" to disparage Doris Day as "un hip" and a "goody goody girl." Of course, all of this was nonsense, but it DID impact on how Day would later be treated when look-backs centered on the 50s and 60s movie stars. You'd think, by looking at these shows that Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor were bigger stars than Day. They were not. Doris Day remains, to this day, the top female box office attraction in the HISTORY of films. They can't take THAT away from her.

As I recall about this documentary, there was one clip of Doris Day, even though they have prominently placed her on the DVD box-cover. That's just to sell the product. Misleading.

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