AFInity: Yankee Doodle Dandy
By Kim Hollis
June 26, 2009
We're a list society. From Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to BOP's very own Best Horror Films (one of our most popular features ever), people love to talk about lists. They love to debate the merits of the "winners" and bemoan the exclusions, and start the whole process again when a new list captures pop culture fancy.
Perhaps one of the best-known, most widely discussed lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies. A non-profit organization known for its efforts at film restoration and screen education, the AFI announced its first version of the list in 1998, chosen by 1,500 leaders in the movie industry. Since then, the 100 Years... 100 Movies list has proven to be so popular that the AFI came forth with a 10th anniversary edition in 2007, along with other series such as 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Musicals, 100 Laughs and 100 Thrills.
In addition to talking about which films are deserving of being on the list and bitterly shaking our fists because a beloved film was left out, we also love to brag about the number of movies we've seen. As I was looking over the 100 Years... 100 Movies list recently, I realized that I've seen 47 - less than half. As a lover of film and writer/editor for a movie site, this seemed like a wrong that needed to be remedied. And so an idea was born. I would watch all 100 movies on the 2007 10th Anniversary list - some of them for the first time in as much as 20 or more years - and ponder their relevance, worthiness and influence on today's film industry. With luck, I'll even discover a few new favorites along the way.
#98: Yankee Doodle Dandy
When I was growing up, music and dance were a big part of my life. After years of tap classes and singing in choirs and ensembles, I had the chance to perform in my first musical. That musical was George M., and though I was featured as one of the three dancing girls that appeared between scenes rather than a "name" character, I knew all of the words to every single song. The life story of George M. Cohan made for an upbeat, joyous musical theater experience and I've always had a soft spot for the man who owned Broadway's patriotic, corny little tunes.
Having had such a positive experience with a musical based on Cohan's life and works, I'm already inclined to respond favorably to a movie adaptation of the same. Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biopic about the entertainer/composer/playwright/producer/actor/singer/dancer, but it also intersperses its story with songs written by Cohan. In true musical tradition, these tunes fit perfectly within the plot, but it does vary a bit in that people don't really spontaneously break into song. Since much of the movie's action takes place in the theater, we're transported to performances that took place throughout the showman's career. It's an effective technique for storytelling, and we've seen it time and again in stuff like Ray and Walk the Line.