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Happy Birthday, Wanda June

February 13th, 2008 · No Comments

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Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a 1971 film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s play. The title sequence song is a traditional spiritual, popularized by Johnny Cash as “I Got Shoes,” but more commonly titled, “Heav’n, Heav’n.” I’m not quite sure who wrote it, but here it is sung (in a truncated version) by an anonymous folk singer. But there’s something going on with her delivery that perfectly suits the attitude of the film. That is to say, black and comic.

In the preface for Happy Birthday, Wanda June, Vonnegut claimed he was done with the novel and that he was destined to write plays until the day he died. However, in practically the same year the book was released, he did a 180. “I have become an enthusiast for the printed word again. I have to be that, I now understand, because I want to be a character in all of my works. I can do that in print. In a movie, somehow, the author always vanishes. Everything of mine which has been filmed so far has been one character short, and the character is me.”

Wanda June is Vonnegut’s sole screenwriting credit. Time has been unkind to the author’s films, and this one does not exist on DVD, and only exists on 35mm prints and bootleg videos. This transfer was made while running a 35mm print on projector, and transferred to a digital format. Thanks to Charlie Allen for assistance in the transfer.

Director Mark Robson’s adaptation is deliberately stagey, but suffers from hokey acting, and a dated 70s set dressing and wardrobe. However, I feel like it could be a great film, if handled differently.

In Vonnegut’s heaven, everyone plays shuffleboard.

Unknown artist – I got shoes

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Heav’n, Heav’n

I got a robe, you got a robe,
All God’s children got a robe.
When I get to Heav’n gonna put in my robe,
Gonna shout all over God’s Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n
Everybody talkin’ æbout Heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n.
Gonna shout all over God’s Heav’n.

I got shoes, you got shoes,
All God’s children got shoes.
When I get to Heav’n gonna put in my shoes,
Gonna walk all over God’s Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n
Everybody talkin’ æbout Heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n.
Gonna shout all over God’s Heav’n.

I got a harp, you got a harp,
All God’s children got a harp.
When I get to Heav’n gonna play on my harp,
Gonna play all over God’s Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n
Everybody talkin’ æbout Heav’n ain’t going there,
Heav’n, Heav’n, Heav’n.
Gonna shout all over God’s Heav’n.

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