Jan 25, 2013

[Movies] The "Modern" Movie Musical?

As I prepare to write my formal review of the recent movie adaptation of Les Miserables (beyond my initial Twitter reaction), I realized that I seem to have a weird tendency to view the recent movie musicals in a different light compared to their prior incarnations. It's hard to explain things in precise detail, but I'll try to approximate my thoughts in words using this blog entry.

You see, a lot of reactions for Les Miserables, for example, focus on how good or how bad the actors sang their numbers in the movie. And I guess that makes sense given it is a musical after all - we have to judge the singing to some extent sooner or later. But I realized that while I do recognize who could sing well and who couldn't, I noticed that I appear to be grading the actors on a bit of a curve.

When I think of musicals, I think of traditional theater. And to some extent, I still factor in the old movie musicals of the MGM era - think of the movie adaptations of productions like The Sound of Music with Dame Julie Andrews or West Side Story, these were movies of a different level entirely. In many ways, they were essentially stage plays and stage musicals filmed in sound set. Sure they took advantage of certain elements that you can only achieve in movies, but for the most part it meant casting actors and actresses who were known to be able to sing or to ensure they had excellent "ghost singing voices" or whatever to ensure the quality of the performances.

And this was mostly true up to a certain point, probably as far as movie adaptations like Hair and Little Shop of Horrors, or thereabouts. But the "traditional" movie musical sort of fell out of style outside of Disney movies or something.

Then we reached an interesting turning point with movies like Moulin Rouge!, where we had actors not particularly known for their singing, well, trying to sing. But we forgave them because the movies were fantastical spectacles with big dance numbers, larger than life sets, special effects and really big name stars. Who cares if they can't sing? And sometimes, they actually can!

Come on, movies like Mamma Mia! were surprisingly good while movies like Nine had us feeling weird since how often do you get to say that Fergie was more impressive than Daniel Day-Lewis, right?

But they're still very hit-or-miss with regard to actual musical talent and I guess I've just come to see them more on the movie level and not the musical level. I just stopped expecting a lot from them in terms of their singing abilities and focused on the overall production as a film. And that's neither good nor bad - it's just the perspective I've chosen to take when watching these movies. It also helps temper my reactions when the singing is particular bad and at the same time making me a heck of a lot happier when the actors can actually carry a decent tune.

What about you readers? Do you feel that the "modern" movie musical is distinctly different from the movie musicals of years gone by? Or am I just being overly picky when it comes to music in an almost hipster-like fashion?

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