Sunday, May 30, 2010

Musing on Musicals


Andrew over at Encore Entertainment sent me an email some weeks back simply stating that he was hosting a Musical blog-a-thon, and asked if I'd be willing to participate. Aptly noting that I seldom mention Musicals much, even less so in a favorable fashion. Yet as sure as I am alive, musicals have stood the test of cinematic time, reaching new bounds, and ever expanding portrayals.

You see, I do not loathe Musicals (as Andrew so cautiously pondered in his email to me), but rather that it is among the few genres I judge most harshly. Perhaps it is because it is a genre most susceptible to simple norms, and cheap antics. Or perhaps because I firmly believe as a medium it possesses a capacity to astound so far beyond the realm in which it is often portrayed.

Take the best of musicals. Your Wizards of Oz, Singin' in the Rain, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music. I'll even be so kind as to offer you Mary Poppins and Cabaret for captivation's sake. Moulin Rouge and Chicago for modern's. What do they all have in common? Yeah, actors sing, smart alecks. You see, in fact they do far more than that.

Their songs rain from the depth of their personality. They exude the screen. Define the mood. Create the world. Breath life into each and every moment. The musical is a form of auditory art, in which the vocals, soul, and visuals must align so rightly. Loudness, and gimmick, cheapen this to the point of blandness. Musicals that fail to capture the heart of their own characters sit well with me not.

Even Disney in its most classic of tales understood the importance of balancing song with character. And displayed this so in their animated films throughout the years.

Still, great songs, dance numbers, and characters do not make a musical great. There has to be something more. It has to feel real. No matter how outlandish the tale (Wizard of Oz), no matter how fantastical the characters (Mary Poppins). We, the open viewers, must be taken on a journey through the songs, and into a world unlike any other.

We seek depth into the characters. The kind of which lay beyond basic narrative scope. The song must speak for them when they cannot. Not undermined them with randomness for popularity's sake. Nor seem so weak in vocal range that they are more comedic than intended, or desired (Mamma Mia). A certain trust must be made between the viewer and the filmmaker.

This trust, that what the filmmaker presents is something seen before, but hardly felt in such depth. That is was makes a great musical rare. An immortal genre. Created to show us what we can never simply see. An open invitation to the mind of a character that lay beyond the camera's scope.

my favorite musical scene (cliche choice, but oh so awesome)

So there you have it. My opinion on the Musical genre. What do you think? How does the genre work, or not work, for you?

5 better thoughts:

Alex said...

Oh dear I think I love musicals more than a lot of people. I'm very easily taken in by them, and a lot of the movies I'll watch over and over again are musicals because I'll tire of them less quickly. I love the heightened drama that comes with expressing something in song, and I was raised to appreciate dance in all its forms. Of course there are some pretty bad musicals out there (Mamma Mia is an apt mention, also I'd put forth Nine), but generally I'll find more to enjoy in a bad musical than I will in any other kind of crappy movie.

Mostly I'm frustrated at Hollywood's current insistence on using name actors who can't sing or dance very well to star in big musicals. It really takes away from a lot of the modern ones.

ANYWAY, very nice post!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Oh, you rule breaker you. One musical, one musical! Nice article, though. I think musicals suffer because they're not a genre like "crime" but just a method like animation.

And Cool is such a fantastic number.

Univarn said...

@Alex Yeah, nobody cares if a film dubs over their actors so I don't know why they stopped doing it (or didn't for Mamma Mia). Musicals are very hit or miss with me, but I do enjoy them.

@Andrew Hehe. I tried writing a review last night, but wasn't in the mood for it, so I traversed here. As for genre vs. method argument, I don't know. I think it struggles because it's so much easier to do a bad musical than it is to do a good one. Especially because of the combining of mediums.

DEZMOND said...

As with most other movies, I prefer my musicals to have a contemporary twist and to be creative and original. I don't really enjoy the classic ones (I believe you need to be a part of American or English culture to really enjoy those songs). But MOULIN ROUGE is my favourite movie of all times, because it has everything I stated above: it's original, creative, fantastic, has great, modern songs plus the remakes of old ones, amazing actors (McGregor and Broadbent), stunning sets, and the one and only Buzz Luhrman. For some reason I'm glad his AUSTRALIA wasn't made as a musical as well :)

CMrok93 said...

I have always though that Moulin Rogue was one of the best mostly cause it used songs, we are already familiar with, while not becoming too much of a gimmick.

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