Friday, March 5, 2010

In Praise of the Modern Movie Musical

Back when Uncle P was writing movie reviews professionally for the LGBT entertainment site, one of the first reviews I wrote was for the 2001 film version of John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I loved the movie and its amazing performances. And in particular, I loved the animation-infused version of the show's best song, "The Origin of Love"

That's the amazing Miriam Shor (late of "Damages" and "Swingtown") as Hedwig's bandanna-headed back-up singer, Yitzhak.

Of course, turning stage musicals into movies is far from new - one need only go back to the first true American musical Oklahoma for proof of that. But the movie musical seemed to have all but died after Randall Kleiser's 1978 adaptation of Grease. Oh, there were plenty of attempts at musicals after Grease, including Milos Forman's version of Hair; the late Gene Kelly's (sadly) last film Xanadu; Robert Altman's under-appreciated Popeye; the godawful Village People disco musical Can't Stop the Music; a far too-stagey version of The Pirates of Penzance (the movie that made Uncle P fall in lust with Kevin Kline); an abysmal adaptation of A Chorus Line and the Christian Bale kiddie musical Newsies. None of them did very well (though Xanadu would later fare much better in its tongue-in-cheek Broadway adaptation a few years ago).

That number would show up again in Adam Sandler's bizarre and misguided attempt at "serious" acting, Punch-Drunk Love.

It wasn't until Aussie auteur Baz Luhrmann made Moulin Rouge in 2001 that the movie musical once again regained its place on the big screen. Combining existing and original songs with a plot as creaky as an old boot (Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Boy Gets Girl/Boy Loses Girl Again to TB), Moulin Rouge was a sensation and proved that the movie musical was indeed a still valid art form:

Of course, Bollywood has been producing similar musicals forever:

Still, thanks to Luhrman's triumphant film, American audiences were able to experience the joy of Rob Marshall's version of Chicago, the first musical to win the Oscar for Best Picture since Cabaret...

...and Adam Shankman's highly entertaining film version of the stage musical based on John Waters' Hairspray:

Though of course, the less said about the downright boring film version of The Phantom of the Opera; Tim Burton's completely humorless version of Sweeney Todd; Susan Stoman's stagey version of The Producers; Julie Taymor's decidedly odd Beatles' musical Across the Universe and Marshall's most recent failure, Nine, the better.

Lately, the trend has been toward turning movies into stage musicals, as seen with the Broadway versions of Beauty and the Beast; The Lion King; The Producers; Mary Poppins; Young Frankenstein; Chitty, Chitty Bang-Bang and Uncle P's favorite Evil Dead: The Musical.

There's plenty of room for more musical movies, as far as I'm concerned. And there's been some chatter of film versions of Kiss of the Spider-Woman (as far as I am concerned, the best Kander and Ebb musical, ever); Batboy; Avenue Q; Spring Awakening and Wicked, but I'll believe 'em when I see 'em. Until then, I'll continue to hold out hope that the movie musical isn't dead and that this very American art form hasn't seen its last incarnation. Of course, having started my theatrical career in musical theatre, I may be a bit biased. Keep singing, Hollywood. Gay boys, theatre geeks, teenaged girls and "Glee" fans need you to keep providing us with hope, glamor, music and romance. Is that really too much to ask?

More, anon.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Why is it so hard for Hollywood to get it right? Mame?
I agree... I came back to Musical Movies with Moulin Rouge & stayed for Chicago. I love the film of Little Shop Of Horrors. Pirates is a often missed gem.
I think films have been made of musicals that should be re-done. They deserve a 2nd chance:
Guys & Dolls, A Little Night Music, & Annie Get your Gun?

How about SHE LOVES ME?