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November 10th, 2008


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11:53 pm - Nobody's perfect
Was lucky enough to see Sunset Boulevard last night. It's a brilliant film, even moreso if you like being kept in a perpetual state of unease all the way through to the end (and that final shot, oh lord that final shot, in which Norma Desmond all but vows she is going to haunt your nightmares. Gloria Swanson was absolutely amazing.)

A rather innocuous line of dialogue jumped out at me, though. It comes during the morbid New Year's Eve dance, where the former silent film star Norma has thrown a party solely for Joe Gillis. Gillis is a hapless screenwriter who stumbled upon her decaying mansion by chance, and at the time of the New Year's Party, seems destined to stay there now as her kept man. A quartet has been hired to play for just the two of them and they tango across the tile dance floor (the tiles, Norma mentions, were recommended by Valentino.)

At one point during this sequence Joe realizes he's the only guest at this party. And that Norma is in desperate need of a younger man to keep around and constantly remind her that she's still attractive. And that she's picked him to be that man whether he wants to be or not. Being as brash as possible to try and put Norma off, Joe sarcastically remarks "Let's blindfold the orchestra and smash [the butler] over the head with champagne bottles."

Let's blindfold the orchestra. Huh. That was the line that got me. I know I'd heard it before in another film from around the same time. Where did this expression come from and what, if Joe was using it satirically, was it supposed to mean in the first place? Google, trusty Google, help me in my time of need.

The phrase "blindfold the orchestra" turned up only as references in two other films: Some Like It Hot (which is where I remember the line from) and The Lost Weekend. Now here's the curious thing: All three of these films were written by Billy Wilder. And two of the films (Sunset and Hot) feature the line during a tango. I have deduced without any further help from the Internets that this must've been a pet phrase of Wilder's. And suddenly I had a little personal connection with Mr. Wilder, a complete stranger to me (and one who's not been with us for a while.) I smiled to myself thinking about it (and I'm smiling now.) I'm on to you, Billy. I know the enjoyment one gets when one writes in a favorite word or phrase for an audience who will hear it and comprehend it, but not Get It. It's all about the little pleasures sometimes.

(Wilder apparently also enjoyed writing tango scenes, but then again, there's a lot of passion and sexual tension that can be expressed through the tango that wouldn't otherwise get past the Hays Office.)

And then I saw the kicker. One of the Some Like It Hot links was to a transcription of a CNN "Week in Review" show that aired the week of Jack Lemmon's death in 2001. See if you can spot the, well, transcription error:
GREENFIELD: As we go to the break we are going to take a look at a scene from one of the many movies by Oscar-winning actor Jack Lemmon, who died this week at 76.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: About the road house?

JACK LEMMON, ACTOR: Oh, they have a Cuban band that's the berries. Let's go there. Blindfold the orchestra and tango to dawn.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You know something (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LEMMON: What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You are dynamite.

LEMMON: You are a pretty hot little firecracker yourself -- ruff!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
Didja spot it? Besides the "Unintelligible" line (which happens to be "Mr. Fielding".) I'm guessing the transcriber didn't catch the sound of the name from the clip and true, sometimes you need a little context when listening to dialogue to realize oh yeah, that's a name or a place or what have you. No, there's something else fundamentally wrong about this transcription and it probably would have been caught if there'd been a little context given to the transcriber.

See, Some Like It Hot is a drag comedy. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two musicians on the run from Chicago gangsters, so they disguise themselves as women and travel to sunny Florida with an all-girl jazz band. At one point Lemmon's girl character, Daphne, catches the eye of an aging gentleman played by Joe E. Brown, and all this fellow wants to do is cut loose and have some fun. He takes Daphne out on a date where they, yes, blindfold the orchestra and tango until dawn.

There you have it! That's the mistake: in that video transcription, the lines are reversed. Brown's character (Osgood Fielding) is saying the lines that here are attributed to Lemmon. And Jack? Well, he's the "Unidentified Actress".

Looks like the getup worked!

And I guess the transcriber didn't know what Lemmon looked like, or at least went "Man, he musta been OLD."

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:resk
Date:November 11th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
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I saw Sunset Boulevard for the first time 2 years ago at a private screening room in the basement of some people's house with about 15 others. It was fantastic. And I'm a big fan of Wilder, so the "blindfold the orchestra" line is an excellent little gem to be aware of.

As for the transcription thing, it's pretty funny. To quote the last line of the film, "Nobody's Perfect."
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 11th, 2008 05:44 am (UTC)
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(and it's the title of the post, too.) :)

One of the greatest punchlines of all time.

Edited at 2008-11-11 05:46 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:resk
Date:November 11th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
(and it's the title of the post, too.) :)

Not sure how that escaped me. I can only blame the lateness of the hour.
[User Picture]
From:wolodymyr
Date:November 11th, 2008 09:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
I saw Sunset Blvd the first time at home, which was convenient, because when the whole butler thing came out my boyfriend was able to use the remote to stop the film while I howled my pure shock for about 40 continuous seconds and then rolled under the coffee table where I remained for the next minute or two asking if what I thought I'd heard and seen was what I'd heard and seen. He kept saying yes, but I kept asking.

To this effect, hard as he's tried, M. Night's never gotten close.
[User Picture]
From:modpixie
Date:November 11th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
there's also a blindfolded orchestra in the saddest music in the world. which is NOT directed by herr wilder, but merits inclusion anyway.
[User Picture]
From:tansu
Date:November 11th, 2008 12:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Aw, man. "Unidentified Actress". Now that's funny.
[User Picture]
From:vylar_kaftan
Date:November 11th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
(Link)
You'd be amazed how little information transcriptionists are given sometimes. I could totally see myself making this mistake as a transcript editor. (Though I would have known this one.)

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