November 4th, 2009

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A 'Bolero' before its time

That's Josh Brolin (James' son) in a scene from the film "No Country For Old Men"...but something's wrong with this picture. What is it, you ask? Look at the background, where you see a Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant. The film is set in Texas in 1980, when the California-based chain had no restaurants in Texas. (It expanded to the state in the mid-eighties, pulled out a few years later when sales proved sluggish, and now is returning to the Lone Star state.)

Yep, today's topic is anachronisms. Since tonight marks the first time a major-league baseball game will be played after election day (game six of the World Series), the anachronism I really wanted to begin with was from the film that made Alex Rodriguez's lady love Kate Hudson a star, "Almost Famous" -- which is set in the early 1970s, but features Post-It notes, an item that didn't come around until the 1980s. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any examples of that on the Web.

Another goof that comes to mind was from a TV movie some years back about the infamous 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. In it, you see a poster advertising a Charlie Chaplin movie...amazing, considering Chaplin didn't make a film until 1914.

The anachronism we're examining concerns Carole Lombard's 1934 dance film with George Raft, "Bolero," where the two dance to that famous orchestral piece after the close of World War I (and of course, back then, there had only been one World War). Just one problem...

..."Bolero" wouldn't be composed, or performed, for nearly another decade.

Maurice Ravel's piece premiered in Paris on Nov. 22, 1928, and didn't debut in America until the following November. (If you're a jazz fan, imagine placing Louis Armstrong's famed "West End Blues," also from 1928, in a 1919 context, when the music was still in its infancy and far simpler. It wouldn't make sense.) So "Bolero" was less than half a decade old to most American ears, though Paramount probably figured most film buffs weren't classical music experts.

Ravel's "Bolero," commissioned by dancer Ida Rubenstein, is certainly among the most famous classical compositions of the 20th century. (The bolero is a form of Spanish dance.) Ravel and famed conductor Arturo Toscanini, who debuted "Bolero" in America, had a major disagreement over the tempo of the piece. Toscanini's tempo was significantly faster than Ravel preferred, and they publicly quarreled about it for several months, further boosting "Bolero" popularity.

Here's a film clip of Lombard and Raft performing the bolero, with the famed dance team of Veloz and Yolanda obviously doubling for them in most, if not all, of the long shots ( The orchestra's version is clearly influenced by Toscanini's tempo, which was more familiar to American audiences; I'll add that to me, this arrangement sounds rather banal. Hear (and see) for yourself:


To hear the piece the way Ravel preferred it, with a slightly slower tempo that plays up its more sensual elements, here's a 1994 performance by an orchestra in Cologne, Germany:

It'd have been interesting to have seen Raft and Lombard (not to mention Veloz and Yolanda) tackle that "Bolero" might have been too steamy, even by pre-Code standards.

Finally, there's a nice thread at the Turner Classic Movies message board site called "Kyle In Hollywood's CENSORED Poster Gallery" ( It had been called the Once-A-Day poster gallery, but got its new tag after board officials briefly deleted a rather racy poster of the Hedy Lamarr film "Ecstasy" -- ironic, since the channel has shown the film.

The thread has all sorts of posters, usually (but not always) related to films TCM is about to show, and not long ago a poster for "Bolero" was run. (It's actually something called a "window card"; the white space above the image could be printed with the name of the theater where it would be playing, along with its scheduled dates.) Double-click to view it at its actual, colossal size:

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