What to Do This Weekend: Bye Bye Birdie

by

comment

The 1960 stage musical Bye Bye Birdie was the first fictional work of mass-media consequence to take satirical stabs at rock-star idolatry. It poked fun at Elvis with a retro-hip wink, but pulled it off during the King's early reign impressively without benefit of hindsight. The story, concerning a cheesy and slightly sleazy Elvis parody (Conrad Birdie) on a promotional visit to small-town Ohio, was inspired by the real-world event of Elvis getting drafted into the army.

The 1963 film adaptation is even more of a pop-culture treasure trove. It justly made Ann-Margaret a sex-kitten superstar and featured a pantheon of entertainment icons, including Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Janet Leigh and Ed Sullivan (as himself). It also exploited the kitsch value of Donna Reed/June Cleaver TV-style middle-class America while co-existing in the thick of it.

One of the obvious reasons Bye Bye Birdie is such an enduring success is its body of clever, catchy songs. Although a few numbers (i.e. “Put on a Happy Face”) are indefensibly corny and unintentionally kitschy, the film boasts a subtle, surprisingly sly sophistication. “Honestly Sincere” (sung by Conrad Birdie as he rides his motorcycle into Sweet Apple, Ohio) is a hilarious send-up of early rock hit formulas. “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” (sung in worship of Ed Sullivan) possesses campy content and over-the-top delivery which feels closer to a John Waters moment than Ozzie and Harriet.

The film's super-saturated color production design and caricatures of teen subculture invoke the Cinemascope equivalent of a vintage Archie comic. Its stylized, extreme-widescreen composition puts Birdie in the 2001/Ben-Hur league of films that must be seen uncropped on the largest screen possible.

This weekend, the Cleveland Cinematheque shows a newly restored 35mm archive print. It screens first on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. and again on Sunday at 4 p.m. Also, Paul Lynde biographer Joe Florenski will attend the Sunday screening and answer questions afterward. —Michael David Toth

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club


Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.


Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.


Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.