The Good and the Disappointing, the musical films that exist.

Now everyone has those movies that are standard when they are home sick.  Well mine is the 1955 Guys and Dolls.  This started for two reasons, Frank Sinatra is my favourite singer of all time, therefore there must be good singing. And the second is that it seems to be the most successful musical on film that I have seen.  Now you have to understand that musicals are very hard to show anywhere else than the stage.  But in Guys and Dolls were able to be one of a few successful musical films in the 50s.  This information can bring comfort to musical lovers, as it is possible to make your favourite musical on film and watch it whenever you want.  Mind you, I will be focusing on the musicals that I have seen both as a production and a film.

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Due to the success from the Broadway production in 1950, it spilled to the film. The films’ setting is Broadway; the audience is introduced to Nathan’s two sidekicks in the first 6mins, before we see any of the big names.  Often, I don’t like it when that happens.  I watch a movie because I like who is in it and see if it is worth a watch.  This is a great exception as the first opening number shows the audience the busy street of Broadway that can be home to several different characters. This opening number always makes me smile, as it shows the tricksters, the fans and the amount of illegal activity held in the 1950s.  Another thing I love about this scene is the use of stage conventions used on film. I’m referring to the ladies who walk into the clothes store and hurriedly get changed while the audience sees the boxer gets KO.  This reminds the audience that it is a stage production to a certain point, as it occurs during a long take, implying that there is little editing and illustrates a convention shown in stage musicals (quick costume changes).

Another great element in this film, is the opening number itself. There are no words, not even any lyrics, just dancing.  This dance sequence illustrates who is a tourist, local, pick-pocket, gambler or police officer.  Although costume helps, the opening number seems to be an extended dance sequence, which is dynamic and fantastic to watch.  The sequence captures the same feeling you may get when you watch professional dancers on stage.  For me, that is just to start smiling in awe.  This film has completed that.  Although it isn’t the only success musical film, it is one film that I see it as one of the few which satisfies the original audience, whether on Broadway in the 1950s, or  the 2008 Australian tour (yes I saw that, Lisa McCune, Marina Prior and Magda Szubanski – Really I couldn’t miss it).

As any production: stage or film, the beginning gives us an idea of how good the rest of the production will be, in this particular case, how long.  The fact that it goes for 150mins can be good for two reasons: its replicates the Broadway production (minus the use of intermission- such as the one offered in West Side Story DVD, 1961). Also, it enables those who are sick to sleep on the couch for a bit and wake up noticing that it is still going.  As the dialogue continuously repeats what has happened so far in the film, this person will never be lost in the film.  Although if they fell asleep and woke up when Marlon Brando sang or dance, they may be a bit lost.

Yes, Marlon Brando does dance and sing, as it is the idea for the main character of a musical to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a wonderful actor, but don’t make him sing.  If there was one thing I could do to change this film, I would change the casting just a bit.  First of all, you have to understand that I will be involving a cast that is from different periods of cinema. Meaning I will be using dead actors and actors of today.  But hear me out.  First of all, I would have used Young Frank Sinatra as Sky Masterson,  James Marsden as Nathan Detroit, Vivian Blaine as Adelaide and Anne Hathaway as Sarah Brown.  Okay that may look strange.  But Sinatra has the voice and can dance, Marsden –same merits as Sinatra.  Blaine depicted Adelaide beautifully and I can’t think of anyone else to take her place.  Hathaway, because she can pull off the innocent Salvation Army girl who falls for a sinner, and she can sing, as proved in Les Misérables and her performance in the Oscars. Now that I say that, Hugh Jackman would be a great Sky Masterson (and he isn’t dead- bonus).

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But luckily, Brando didn’t destroy this musical entirely.  There were others who destroyed musical films for me more.  And unfortunately that it is of the only Musical I cared for immensely. This musical is The Phantom of the Opera.  Now if you have seen the production, whether it is on Broadway, West End or ever Melbourne, do yourself a favour and do not watch it.  Now, when I watched this show the first three times, in Melbourne.  I thought it was the best thing I have ever have seen, hence it being my favourite.  Yet there was only a certain amount of money I could spend on theatre tickets.  So when I heard that there was a DVD version, I thought, how fantastic.  So because I had this honeymoon period with anything to do with Phantom, I originally thought it was great.  Repeatedly watched it, and soon realized that it ain’t that great.

As I watch it more recently, I get bitterly disappointed.  Here is a movie that could have been so much better than what it became.  I wished. Truth be told, that they didn’t make it. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about musicals, and will watch any musicals. So I have figured when I miss listening and hearing the music from Phantom (as that is the main element in musicals), I will listen to the original Broadway Soundtrack, this is mainly because it contains many of the songs I thoroughly enjoy, like ‘Notes’ (Reprised).  Which in the movie they merged with the ‘Masquerade’ song in the movie.  Yet again, another element that lost its effect when on the silver screen.  In my case, the TV screen.  So in the production, there is use of smoke and distractions (magic) to shock the audience as the Phantom ‘suddenly’ appears. I say this as every time I see this production I make a conscious effort to figure out where the Phantom came from.  Each time, being too distracted with the massive (yet not as massive as the film) dance sequence. And I still don’t know where he is coming from.   I know that this is thoroughly rehearsed and so forth.  But in the film it loses its effect as the camera takes the audience up the staircase to show the Phantom standing there.  Nothing is there to distract the audience, the effect is lost.  Did I already mention that?Image

One more word: Chandelier.  Yet again, I suggest everyone to watch the production (in any country), because this is the best effect in musical theatre (yet again, my opinion).  This opening scene, well the best way to describe it is to imagine that you are in a rollercoaster ride. Now as you go up the incline, there is all this anxiety, not knowing when it will drop. And when it finally does, you get that sensation that all your organs stayed in the higher altitude.  Well that is all you get from this scene.  And I’m not joking.  Now the movie does not do that.  As loud as you put your speakers, it doesn’t compare to the sound that you get from the orchestra. Or even the track that is playing on the CD.  Strange, I know.  But still very true.  In this case, the production is best.

So now, I have rambled about the good and the bad musical films.  More like, my favourite to the disappointment.   I will say that majority of the musical films are worth a watch.  Although, there are films can’t live up to the expectations that the production creates.  The musicals that aren’t based on any productions are often more successful (Most Astaire-Rogers films) in general. So for those who love musicals, there may be a version of your favourite musical on DVD.  Just need to make sure your expectations aren’t too high, as it is very difficult to transfer stage productions onto screen.  But go forth and sing along.

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