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The Great American Songbook 2003
Description: Sparkling performances by Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Al Jolson, the teenage Dorothy Dandridge and the flash-dancing Nicholas Brothers light up this nice documentary that originally aired on educational television. Using rare and never-before-seen footage, singer-pianist and musical historian Michael Feinstein hosts an informative look at the composers and lyricists who wrote America's standards from the 1890s through the mid-1950s.
Released: 11 Mar 2003 Director: Andrew J. Kuehn Writers: Joe Gilford, Mary Cleere Haran, Scott McIsaac (additional narration), Frederick L. Greene (additional narration), Tracy Young (script), John Ardoin Actors: Robert Alda, June Allyson, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, The Andrews Sisters Genres: Biography, Drama, Music
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The Great American Songbook Reviews:

While I might argue with some of the choices made in representing the musical numbers such as not giving the names of all the movies the clips were from, as a entire I found this a fascinating documentary which gave an perfect concept of musical influences over the years.It also supports to have a fine performer and expert on this vast topics in Michael Feinstein. While I wouldn't place him up there with the best 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 special position to talk about it. And, yes, I do understand that he and his associate Andrew J. Kuehn were not able to receive all the permissions they would have liked, (The song "Singin' in the Rain" was represented but the movie 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 Receive Your Gun". Despite the comments on this DVD, that movie is actually now accessible 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 told 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, soon only partly rectified by Kevin Kline's film, "De-Lovely" (which I have actually seen and reviewed.). But these subject should not have been broached at the time these movies were made.8 out of 10.


The insufferable Michael Feinstein has loaded this historical survey with clips from films and above all clips from film musicals. His smarmy, anodyne presentation avoids anything really controversial, stews in stereotypical sentiments about the private lives of the songwriters, and bows often in the direction of political correctness. A several of the clips are of genuine historical interest (25 mins worth?), and one, of Fats Waller performing (about one-fourth of the method through) is truly astonishing. Most, though, serve Feinstein's own taste in methods that betray the objective stature of his purported topics matter. I think him actually as a tinier ver of a Harold Bloom, or a Joseph Campbell, or a Kenneth Branagh: someone riding on the coattails of a nice topics to stoke his career and his sense of self.What is most deeply offensive about this project, finally, is the presumption of its game 'The Nice 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 Nice 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 tiny technical or interpretive capability. Lots of numbers were evidently selected for their extravagant cinematic choreography.The necessary and enduring storyline of 'The Nice American Songbook' is not about musicals, movies, or even famous culture. Instead, it is about the music—how nice 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 Lord Cole? How about Art Tatum? The list should 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 say the true story, in no method deserves to be titled 'The Nice American Songbook'. Shame on him.


I have this tool on the DVD release, and although I accept with the previous critic about the terrible 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 Tv that Bing Crosby was your favourite 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 tool like this. Enjoyable, but for me, disappointing as well.



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