Tuesday, June 10, 2008

cinema obscura: Bradley & LaBrache 's "Pittsburgh" (2006)

odd·ball (äd′bôl′) - noun - Slang an eccentric, unconventional, or nonconforming person

In June of 2006, Variety printed film critic Ronnie Scheib's review of "Pittsburgh," a mockumentary about Jeff Goldblum's intent on playing fast-talking con man Professor Harold Hill - "the Robert Preston role" - in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man."

Goldblum's motivation had less to do with tackling a classic American musical than with getting a job for his then-fiancee Catherine Wreford, a Canadian singer-actress, to keep her in the country. Wreford is perfect for the role of Marion and Goldblum would seal the deal by offering himself in the star role. Not only that. In a bit of truly novel casting, he also drafted friends Ed Begley, Jr. and Ileana Douglas to play Mayor Shinn and Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn.

"Pittsburgh" would be either an irresistible gem or god-awful, but either way, it had to be a lot of fun.

Well, the film opened in Pittsburgh (of course), where is received an unenthusiastic review from Ed Blank in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and then it, well, disappeared.

Now out on DVD, the film is indeed irresistible fun, with filmmakers Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache attempting what Christopher Guest does so easily - and almost hitting their target. Almost.

There's not much to "Pittsburgh." It may be the most bizarre vanity project that I've ever seen, but you have to love a film in which the show's director, Richard Sabellico, casually tells Goldblum that "you're not exactly my first choice for this role" and in which Goldblum mugs his way through the role of Harold Hill with all the finesse of Groucho Marx. (Zero Mostel?) He does the most curious things with his hands, literally drumming his fingers across his face at choice moments.


Begley makes a great clueless foil and Douglas comes through as few friends would, actually staging a breakup with boyfriend Moby for the cameras.

Frankly, everything feels staged in "Pittsburgh." It's veracity is questionable. A comic con job.


There's still Warners' pristine 1962 film version to enjoy, but the production of "The Music Man" that the Civic Light Opera staged looks as if it was impressive, too.

Note in Passing: There have been unsubstantiated rumors going around that director Adam McKay and Vince Vaughn are planning a remake of "The Music Man" with Vaughn as Harold Hill and John C. Reilly as Marcellus Washburn (the role Buddy Hackett played in the '62 movie). Sounds like perfect casting to me. No one can truly replace Robert Preston in the lead but if any contemporary comic actor can handle the fast dialogue and the lyric to the tongue-twisting "Trouble," it's Vaughn. Plus any new version that can erase the harrowing memory of the recent Matthew Broderick TV version of Willson's show is most welcomed and most appreciated.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Coming out of nowhere - Jeff Goldblum as The Music Man in "Pittsburgh"; the poster art for the original Broadway production; Robert Preston - the real thing - in Warners' 1962 film version of the musical, and Vince Vaughn, perhaps the next Harold Hill?)


Jamie Swift said...

Being a big "Music Man" fan myself, I heard about this a while ago and am planning to see it soon. Was it a put-on on the part of Jeff Goldblum or was it real? Great cast.

I would love to see Vince Vaughn in that remake -- who would you see playing Marian the Librarian?

Jake Carruthers said...

It sounds pretty funny to me - I think Ileana Douglas is terrific and would like to see her get more publicity and more movies or TV roles.