Saturday, February 25, 2017

But I Digress... Mardi Gras in Movies

By Cat

This is an insanely busy time of year around my neck of the woods. Not only is it Girl Scout Cookie time, but we’re smack in the middle of the Mardi Gras season. After last weekend’s big parade festivities, and as I prepare for one more round this weekend, I definitely have this time of celebration on my mind.

I was also curious to see how many movies I could come up with that were set during Mardi Gras. I’ve compiled a handful for you, but there are likely more.

Before I get into that, some of you might be wondering “what’s the deal with this Mardi Gras thing?!”

This is one of my favorite holiday seasons, right up there with Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s parades, parties, lots of friends gathering, and good food. (Crawfish, y’all! All the crawfish!) The fact my birthday usually falls somewhere in this timeframe is just icing on the king cake.

Louisiana is actually the only state in the US where Mardi Gras is considered an official legal holiday.

Mardi Gras has its roots in Carnival, as celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, and was introduced to North America by French Catholics. It’s not a celebration unique to that region. Many places around the world celebrate one form or another of a festival during this same time of year. Of course, celebrations of spring and fertility in this timeframe date back thousands of years. The holiday as we know it today is more closely tied to the Christian calendar.

The season begins on the 12th Night, or Epiphany (also called Three Kings Day). Basically, it’s the signal to kick off the biggest party you can before Lent begins - the season of fasting and penance. Mardi Gras culminates on Fat Tuesday (also called Shrove Tuesday), which is the night before Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent, which is the 40 days immediately preceding Easter. The practice seems to have stemmed from people clearing out their cupboards and binging on everything that would spoil or be an undue temptation during the fasting period-to-come.

You might have seen the meme about these trees 'growing' in New Orleans or Louisiana in general. These trees are a common sight along parade routes where branches get in the way of bead throws. There's a tree just like this at the end of my street. The leftover beads tend to remain on it year-round.

The tradition of parades and the like started in New Orleans back in the 1830s. Though, many of the gulf coastal states carry on this tradition in current day. Each of the parades is sponsored by a ‘Krewe.’ These are the folks that get to dress up and ride on the parade floats and toss goodies to the crowds. There are some crazy things that get tossed from floats down in New Orleans. Krewe of Zulu has coconuts. Others have shoes or handbags. Some even give out real jewelry. These bespoke items are generally handed out by parade walkers rather than lobbed into the crowds (they used to throw the coconuts once upon a time, though). In my area; we get plastic beads, cups with parade themes or the krewe logos printed on them, Mardi Gras colored stuffed animals or toys, and plastic or aluminum doubloons. I am not ashamed to admit that Mardi Gras cups collected over the years are my household’s staple for every-day use. Actual glassware doesn’t come out unless we’re having a formal or holiday dinner.

Images from 2017 Krewe of Centaur Parade, Shreveport, LA 02/18/2017. Photos by Greg Atoms

The Krewe of Centaur and the Krewe of Gemini have been rolling in Shreveport, LA for over 25 years now. People (and port-a-potties) line the parade route for a day of food and fun. Streets get shut down and traffic getting in and out of the parade zones can be a bit of a pain, but when you live on the route, it’s just part and parcel of this time of year.  

But I digress… Back to the movies! Now that you’ve got a little more of an idea of what Mardi Gras is all about, take a look at how the Mardi Gras scene has been reflected in the world of cinema.

French for "Let the good times roll," a common Mardi Gras phrase.
Honorable Mention – Rio (2011)

Tag Line: He's going to the wildest, most magical place on earth ... home.
Production Companies: Twentieth Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Writers: Carlos Saldanha, Earl Richey Jones, Todd R. Jones, Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, J.R. Ventimilia, Sam Harper
Actors: Leslie Mann, Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, Rodrigo Santoro, Jamie Foxx,, Carcinha Leporace, Phil Miler, Bernardo de Paula, Carlos Ponce, Jeffrey Garcia, Davi Vieira, Jake T. Austin, Jemaine Clement, George Lopez Bebel Gilberto, Tracy Morgan
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated: G

IMDb Synopsis: When Blu, a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, meets the fiercely independent Jewel, he takes off on an adventure [in] Rio de Janeiro with the bird of his dreams.

This movie is an honorable mention here because it is set in Rio during Carnival. There’s an important scene in the movie centered around a parade and gives you an authentic peek at the flash and dazzle that draws millions every year.

5 - Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (2015)

Tag Line: Boys on the Hood
Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Bagdasarian Productions, TSG Entertainment, Sunswept Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox Animation
Director: Walt Becker
Writers: Ross Bagdasarian, Janice Karman, Randi Mayem Singer, Adam Sztykiel
Actors: Jason Lee, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Josh Green, Tony Hale, Bella Thorne, Eddie Steeples, Christina Applegate, Kaley Cuoco, Anna Faris, RedFoo
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated: PG

IMDb Synopsis: Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in Miami...and dump them. They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves not only from losing Dave but possibly from gaining a terrible stepbrother.

In this cute family movie cashing in on the Chipmunks nostalgia wagon, the ‘Road Chip’ only makes a pit stop in New Orleans. Lucky for them (and for us), they arrive during Mardi Gras. Shenanigans, of course, ensue.

4 - Dracula 2000 (2000)

Tag Line: The Most Seductive Evil of All Time Has Now Been Unleashed in Ours.
Production Companies: Dimension Films, Neo Art & Logic, Wes Craven Films, Carfax Productions Ltd.
Director: Patrick Lussier
Writers: Joel Soisson, Patrick Lussier
Actors: Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer, Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Waddell, Vitamin C, Jennifer Esposito, Omar Epps, Sean Patrick Thomas, Danny Masterson, Lochlyn Munro, Tig Fong, Jeri Ryan, Shane West, Nathan Fillion, Jonathan Whittaker, Robert Verlaque
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
Rated: R

IMDb Synopsis: A group of thieves break into a chamber expecting to find paintings, but instead they release the count himself, who travels to New Orleans to find his nemesis' daughter, Mary Van Helsing.

The majority of this movie takes place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Parade crowds are featured in parts of the movie and there’s even some scenes in the famous cemeteries where the burial vaults are all above ground. (They have to be that way due to the high water table since New Orleans is actually below sea level.) I have a feeling that those weren’t shot on location, though, due to another movie I’m listing later.

Bonus? It’s Gerard Butler (Gamer, How to Train Your Dragon, Olympus Has Fallen) at the beginning of his career, long before his kingly role in 300 (2006). So what if his accent doesn’t fit the character stereotype?! Double bonus - Nathan Fillion (Serenity, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Castle) dons priestly garb in this role that predates Firefly (2002-2003) by several years.

The movie poses an interesting theory about the vampire origin story. There’s some cheese and definitely some standard tropes here, but it’s an entertaining movie.

3 - Easy Rider (1969)

Tag Line: A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere.
Production Companies: Pando Company Inc., Raybert Productions
Director: Dennis Hopper
Writers: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Actors: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Mac Mashourian, Sabrina Scharf, Sandy Wyeth, Robert Walker Jr., Jack Nicholson, Toni Basil, Karen Black
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Rated: R

IMDb Synopsis: Two counterculture bikers travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.

When I mentioned earlier that there was a movie that sparked some crack-down on filming in cemeteries in New Orleans, this was the one I was mentioning. They really didn’t even have permission to film in St. Louis Cemetery #1 for the infamous LSD scene. There have been other movies since this that have filmed in various cemeteries around New Orleans, but special permission is required – and generally it is not granted for this particular cemetery.

This iconic movie didn’t really have a script; and, for the majority of the film, didn’t even have an official crew. They just picked up people along the way.  While this might not be an ideal family movie, due to the drug use, etc; it is certainly a classic and was a groundbreaker back in its day.

The road trip featured in this movie culminates in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. In fact, the Mardi Gras scene was supposedly shot as a quasi proof-of-concept as they were securing funding for the film.

2 - Mardi Gras (1958)

Tag Line: Not Available
Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director: Edmund Goulding
Writers: Curtis Harrington, Hal Kanter, Winston Miller
Actors: Pat Boone, Christine Carère, Tommy Sands, Gary Crosby, Fred Clark, Dick Sargent, Barry Chase, King Calder, Robert Burton, Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Frank Mills
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Romance
Rated: Unrated

Synopsis: A military school cadet wins a date with a French movie goddess who happens to be the queen of the Mardi Gras parade. The two fall in love, but the starlet's movie studio wants to capitalize on this newly found love for publicity.

Now this one’s a real throw-back. It’s not something you can find on Netflix, but it is accessible if you really go looking for it. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t include a movie titled after the actual holiday in this list.

This is an old school musical from the age of crooners. There isn’t a trailer available for this movie, either, due to its age. I did find a clip that might give you a feel for the vibe of this film.

1 - The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tag Line: Every love story begins with a kiss.
Production Companies: Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, Rob Edwards, E.D. Baker
Actors: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth Dampier, Breanna Brooks, Ritchie Montgomery, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, Jerry Kernion, Corey Burton, Michael Colyar, Emeril Lagasse, Kevin Michael Richardson, Randy Newman, Danielle Moné Truitt
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated: G

IMDb Synopsis: A waitress, desperate to fulfill her dreams as a restaurant owner, is set on a journey to turn a frog prince back into a human being, but she has to face the same problem after she kisses him.

In this Disney animated movie, Mardi Gras is a prominent theme and plot point. This film has a little something for everyone in it. There are some pretty dark moments, but Disney doesn’t shy away from that as much as they did back in the day when The Black Cauldron (1985) got semi disowned by the studio due to its darkness. (The movie didn’t find re-acceptance and resurgence until a much later anniversary edition re-release. That Horned King was too much nightmare fuel for many.)

At this time, this movie is available on Netflix DVD service, only. One of these days it will make it to streaming and I trust the dice will let us offer you a full-blown review. ‘

If you'd like to read more about the Mardi Gras holiday or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, feel free to follow the links provided. 

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

No comments:

Post a Comment