Actor Obsession: James Spader

[Note: this post will most likely not be articulate in any way and possibly full of fangirling, at which I excel. Also, some of the links will contain spoilers so proceed with caution if you really hate spoilers.]

Starcrossed, 1985

Every now and then I get the urge to seek out every single film that a particular actor has been in, in the space of a short time. The latest obsession of that kind, for me, is James Spader. Strangely enough, it started when a friend reblogged a gif-set of Robert Downey Jr looking wide-eyed and beautiful, as usual, on Tumblr. It was uncredited and my curious nature won out and I decided I had to know what film it was from. After at least a thousand notes of ‘OMG He looks so young!!!11!1’ I decided to systematically go through each film credit listed on IMDB (I eventually found it – it was One Night Stand). Then I thought I may as well watch a few of his earlier films I hadn’t seen yet…and this is where we get to Spader. When I, er, procured Tuff Turf I remembered I’d once wanted to go through Spader’s filmography, too. You know how there are actors or directors one may proclaim to love then realise you’ve only seen a very small number of their films? Well, I guess Spader was one of those for me. And so I have been obsessively seeking out any film that he has been in, no matter how bizarre or plain awful it may be (or how little screen time he gets). 

White Palace, 1990, with Susan Sarandon

So far I have gone through: 

  • Tuff Turf 1985
  • Less Than Zero 1987
  • Starcrossed 1985 
  • Sex, Lies and Videotape 1989
  • White Palace 1990
  • Bad Influence 1990
  • Crash 1996
  • Pretty in Pink 1986 (re-watch)
  • Secretary 2002 (re-watch)
  • True Colors 1991 (re-watch)
  • Mannequin 1987 (re-watch)
  • Critical Care 1997
  • Wolf 1994
  • Baby Boom 1987
  • The Watcher 2000
  • Supernova 2000
To go: whatever is left here that I can get a hold of!

The Watcher, 2000

Yet, no matter how terrible the film may be (I’m looking at you Supernova, for one) Spader manages to be brilliant (or am I just blinded by his astoundingly beautiful face?!) and plays creeps and/or jerks (Mannequin, Pretty in Pink), yuppies (Bad Influence) or individuals with somewhat unusual sexual proclivities* (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Secretary, Crash…) with the same dedication and…Spader-ness. (Yes. You know what I mean. Lots of actors have mannerisms that come through in most of their roles and tend to have a style. I love Spader’s hand gestures and…face). Even when the movie is so bad you wonder how anyone could take it seriously, I feel like Spader’s acting is spot on…then again there is always the change that I am so immersed in his films, right now, that my perception is slightly warped and he is terrible sometimes. But I’ll just stick with my first assessment. 

Supernova 2000

I haven’t read up much on his career except for his film credits (this is usually the most effort I go to with anyone) and not at all on his personal life (because I rarely care about actor’s private lives) and I’ve only read a few articles on some of the films that I’ve watched so far. But I’ve put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into seeking out and watching his films. And then swooning because, seriously, that face. And, you know, great acting and all that.

If I were to write everything I thought about each of the films I’ve watched so far, I think it would need to be a series of posts (I will probably write feature posts on some of the films in the future…the very distant future because I even procrastinate with things I LIKE doing) so, instead, a few words about a few of them (as this post is getting rather a bit too long already):

Tuff Turf directed by Fritz Kiersch, 1985

I thought I’d got to a point in my life where I just didn’t care for stories about rich (in this case, ex-rich) white boys getting themselves in trouble. I guess I was wrong because this delightfully trashy film with Spader as Morgan, a ‘troubled teenager’ who has moved from Connecticut to LA with his parents, completely got me. It didn’t hurt that RDJ played his BFF and that Kim Richards, playing his love-interest (she hates him at first, of course) had the longest hair I’ve seen in a non-fantasy film possibly ever. It gets ridiculous fairly quickly – that club scene that turns into Kim Richards dancing at not only Spader but everyone in the club, for one – but I can handle ridiculous if the cast members just go with it. In fact, Spader is in a fair few ridiculous films where the cast (often equally fantastic acting talents) just embraces it (Wolf with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Plummer is one that comes immediately to mind). I may do a feature post on this movie one day, once I get a nice copy to screencap!

Starcrossed 1985, with Belinda Bauer

Starcrossed directed by Jeffrey Bloom, 1985

This TV movie from 1985 is about an alien (Belinda Bauer) who runs away from her planet (I think because she has been enslaved? Or everyone has?) and literally runs into mechanic Joey, played by Spader, as she is running away from two very slow walking men from her planet who followed her to take her back. The film also involves an exploding car, floating billiard balls, run-ins with the FBI and the single most ’80s spacecraft I’ve seen to date. When you add that to James Spader being legitimately adorable for the entire film, how could I not love this? And, to be fair, I’ve seen far worse TV movies in my time.

White Palace, 1990, with Susan Sarandon

White Palace directed by Luis Mandoki, 1990

This film revolves around Max (Spader) a business executive in his late 20s (27, to be precise) who still hasn’t recovered from the death of his wife when he meets Nora (Sarandon), and the two begin a relationship. Not only is there an age difference (Nora is 41 or 43) but a class one, as well, as Nora is and always has been working class. I’ll admit right off the bat that this is not the kind of film I’d usually watch and I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of it, so I was pleasantly surprised when I not only enjoyed but completely fell in love with this film. Spader and Sarandon are both superb and the chemistry between them is palpable. There is a lot of tension in their relationship from the outset and a lot of obstacles (both internal and, when others find out, external) and there are a lot of things you’d expect in this sort of story but I found it a little bit sexy, touching and, at times, poignant. But it was when Sarandon tickles Spader (the two meet twice in one night, the second time at a bar) and I nearly exploded from how adorable it was that I knew I was going to love this film. (You can see what I mean at around 2.37 here.)

Bad Influence, 1990

Bad Influence directed by Curtis Hanson, 1990

The plot of this film is a well-worn one (the uptight  – ‘wimpy’ – business executive meets a mysterious stranger who shows him how to have fun but he doesn’t realise the guy is a ‘dangerous sociopath’ until it’s too late) and the film is laughable  but I opted to write about it over a couple of others (like Sex, Lies and Videotape which I felt I couldn’t properly write about in a few sentences) for purely shallow reasons: look at Spader in those glasses! Seriously. And because I was slightly surprised when I looked at the director’s (Curtis Hanson) IMDB page and noticed I’d watched two other films of his: LA Confidential and Wonder BoysAnd the film co-stars Rob Lowe as the titular ‘bad influence’, who is just plain odd in this movie. I can’t quite articulate it but there’s something about his delivery of the role that was just a little strange (I mean, his character is strange but it’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on). As I suggested, this film is just plain bad: the plot is silly, the dialogue ridiculous and the ending even more so but the old ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ really fit how I felt about this film.

True Colors, 1991, with John Cusack

But I haven’t enjoyed every single film that I’ve watched (though I’ve enjoyed looking at Spader in practically all of them). True Colors, despite also starring John Cusack, did nothing for me (political dramas generally don’t), Critical Care had a message I could get on board with but it was heavy handed and obvious, Baby Boom is the kind of film I’d usually avoid watching (I hate plots that involve people inheriting children, especially women who never wanted children of their own) and Supernova was just a mess (but, woah, Spader is hot in this film). Oh, and I haven’t made it all the way through The New Kids, yet, because Spader’s character, Dutra, and his entire gang were so vile that I didn’t want to go to bed angry (I started watching it before bed).

Secretary, 2002, with Maggie Gyllenhaal {source}

If I were to compile a top 5 (for the top 5 Thursday I forgot all about) it might look something like this: Tuff Turf; Secretary; Sex, Lies and Videotape; Starcrossed and White Palace. Maybe.

You may have noticed that I’ve opted to not write about some of the bigger or better known films he’s been in but I think I’d like to dedicate whole posts to a few of them, including Pretty in Pink, especially, because I find the more I watch that film the less I seem to like any of the characters. But that’s a thought to be explored another day.

It’s obvious that Spader gets a lot of love for playing assholes, and I love him in those roles (Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, and so on) because he does it so well but I love that he can play nice guys (not Nice Guys™) and other, more complex, characters equally well. Because he’s a great actor (such insight I have!). And a babe. (Just to reiterate that point).

Pretty in Pink, 1986, with Molly Ringwald {source}

I know that I know quite a few other fans because I’ve written this at the urging of quite a few of my twitter followers so I’d love if we could all just talk about how much we love Spader in the comments (I’m also keen on critical discussion on any of the films I’ve watched though there are a couple that I’m still digesting and processing so I may not have any coherent thoughts on them at present).

I don’t know if the obsession/phase will fizzle out before I get through every film I can find, or not…I can only wait and see. But, either way, I know I’ve found a new favourite actor to add to my list.

* I spent so long trying to word that properly. I use unusual in terms of what is generally seen in cinema, I suppose.

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Smashing Time, 1967

I’m more than a little bit fond of the pop culture of the 1960s. But I always feel like the ’60s is one of my least-watched decades for cinema so I’m always seeking out more to watch. I am especially keen on seeing more British films of this era, and one that has been on my to-watch list for a few years now is Smashing Time from 1967.

Smashing Time stars Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave, two of the finest acting talents to emerge from that decade, as Brenda and Yvonne, young women from the North of England who come to London to become famous. Yvonne is colourfully dressed, vain (which is a quality generally shown to be bad, but I don’t think it is necessarily so) and dreams of being a model or just famous in any way she can. Brenda is demurely dressed, pessimistic and equally as annoying as Yvonne. But Swinging London isn’t all that they’ve thought it would be and they go through a lot of ups and downs (and messy food/paint fights that result in some very silly, but charmingly so, scenes) and squabble a heck of a lot before the end of the film.

Much of the squabbling between the two comes from their personality clashes as well as Brenda’s attraction to and interest in Tom Wabe (Michael York), the photographer who embarrassed Yvonne by taking a photo of her for the paper only to make fun of her (as pictured below). But the plot isn’t necessarily that important as the film is episodic in nature…

As stated in the wikipedia article it is clearly a satire of the aforementioned Swinging London created/influenced by the media and pokes fun at models and photographers (like Michael York’s Tom Wabe who wears a wig for some inexplicable reason) and pop singers (as Yvonne records the hit song ‘I Can’t Sing But I’m Young’) and everything associated with that scene.

Michael York as Tom Wabe photographing a model on Carnaby Street.

The two girls go through a number of jobs from nightclub hostesses (pictured below) to working in themed pie shops and secondhand clothing stores to rising to fame as a pop star (Yvonne) and model (Brenda). Yvonne buys her way into show business, Brenda makes her way into it due to her relationship with Tom Wabe.

Yvonne’s ever inflating ego can be seen reflected in her clothes such as the black, red and white striped dress she wears in the recording studio with her name written across it (I’d happily wear one with my name!) and her more outlandish outfits and wigs as money from her successful pop career (her singing is awful in the recording studio but the song played back sounds remarkably better, hinting already at fixing singer’s voices in-studio).

Brenda is a little more down to earth but seen as no less silly than Yvonne; I wonder if the development of her character’s storyline is a comment on how the ‘natural’ look of certain ’60s stars and models (and photo shoots, etc.) was just as constructed as the very obviously constructed ones.

One of my favourite features of the film is the number of songs inserted at various points, all sung by Redgrave and Tushingham. The first is the title song but my favourite is one in which Tushingham’s character, Brenda, sings about feeling great in her new (though secondhand) clothes. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on YouTube. The sequence that the song plays over shows Brenda passing a number of reflective surfaces and preening and staring at herself in each one.

While I feel like this is maybe making fun of her character I love the way it taps in to how new clothes, even if it’s a secondhand nightie and bed jacket, can make you walk differently, with more confidence. And this sequence tapped into my interest in self-portraits using mirrors. It’s also an interesting counterpart to her uncertainty looking at the mirror in the shop and her initial reluctance to wear a bed jacket and nightie on the street (it was hinted that the nightie belonged to royalty, which swayed her). The mirror scenes in the shop also show off Tushingham’s skill with physical comedy. Indeed, exaggerated facial expressions are used by her and Redgrave throughout the film (though Tushingham’s to more comic effect).

The opening titles, created by someone (or more than one person?) credited only as ‘Trog’ show a series of brilliantly drawn caricatures of the two main characters taken from different scenes throughout the film whilst the title song plays over them.

There are so many things that happen in this film, that it is difficult to sum it up properly in one post without going into rambling territory. It’s rather episodic and films like that are always difficult to summarise, anyway. I don’t like to use the word ‘dated’ because it’s generally used in a negative way. ‘Of its time’ sounds much nicer and is very apt for this film. Does that mean it can’t be enjoyed now? I don’t think so, but if you don’t know anything at all about the ‘swinging London’ scene of the 1960s you may struggle a little. But it’s a great watch if you feel like something that’s easy to laugh at, lighthearted and fun. I was gasping for breath at some points during the film, though others may very well not find it funny at all. Regardless, it is a nice little film that I think is quite underrated when it comes to talk of 1960s cinema.

Top 5 Thursday | Hitchcock Films

Apologies for the list being late and also for the brief write-ups. I’m too drained to write very much at the moment.

Like many others I am fascinated and captivated by the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock…the first I ever saw was North by Northwest and I suppose the next one was Psycho when I was 13, which thoroughly disturbed me at that age (and still does now). It wasn’t until I was older that I began to fully immerse myself in his work and I’ve now seen about 33 of his feature films. I love his world full of romance and suspense and today, I bring you my top 5 Hitchcock films. It was a difficult task as I’ve enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen so far but I managed to pick 5 for the time being.

1. North by Northwest, 1959

This is a bit like Stanley Donen’s Charade for me (which I wrote about here) – it doesn’t matter how many times I watch it I still enjoy it and find it suspenseful, which doesn’t usually happen with this kind of film when it’s watched over and over. Though this is part of Hitchcock’s appeal for me as I find this to be the case with many (if not all) of his films. I suppose he isn’t called ‘The Master of Suspense’ for nothing, then. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this film as I grew up watching it but it’s truly a great film with or without sentimental attachment. I love stories in which an ordinary person is put into an extraordinary situation, especially when they’re framed for something they didn’t do, and must go through all of these (often ridiculous) incidents before they can clear their name. It’s unbelievable, in some ways, but isn’t that what cinema is for? More than the suspense, though, it’s the humour of this film that I adore. Cary Grant has, as always, perfect comic timing and I’ve lost count of the amount of fabulously quotable lines that are from this film.

Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.

And then, of course, there’s the romance and sexiness – the combination of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is nearly too much to handle at some points! Ha. Oh, this movie also has two of the greatest voices to ever make it in Hollywood: Cary Grant and James Mason.

2. Spellbound, 1945

Ingrid Bergman + Gregory Peck (swoon!) + a dream sequence designed by Dali (!!!) + psycho-analysis = Spellbound = amazing. Obviously when you’re talking about Hitchcock and dream sequences Vertigo comes to mind but I like this one, too, because it was designed by Dali.

What can I say about Spellbound? I find the incorporation of psychoanalysis (so much psychoanalysis in film noir and Hitchcock, really) intriguing, though I will admit to not necessarily knowing a whole lot about it. The use of visual triggers that disturb Gregory Peck’s character is really effective, too, and foreshadow the similar devices (though different triggers) used in Marnie nearly twenty years later. And I like films where women take the role of the detective, as it were, though it is almost always (at around this time, anyway) to clear a man’s name when he is in prison, either a physical one or a mental one such as Gregory Peck’s character in Spellbound.  Plus I’ve always admired Hitchcock’s use of camera angles, perspectives, etc., like at the end of this film with the gun! (If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean but I suppose I oughtn’t give anything away?)

3. Rear Window, 1954

The pacing of this film is perfect – the progression of voyeurism from innocent (well, as innocent as spying on one’s neighbours can be) pastime to obsession to something more sinister is filmed so well and acted wonderfully by James Stewart. It took me a long time to appreciate Grace Kelly – in fact, she usually still leaves me a bit cold – but I can’t imagine anyone else acting alongside Stewart in this film, now. The use of photographic equipment is interesting to me as well – I’m sure there is a lot to be said (and probably has been said) about using a telephoto lens to spy on his neighbours (framing them as he would a photograph? etc) but my brain cannot handle that, right now. But the contained set(s), the distancing of action by the viewer seeing only what Stewart’s character does, etc., is brilliant. And another one where the suspense doesn’t seem to dissipate on repeat viewing.

4. The Lady Vanishes, 1938

Ah, Hithcock and trains…one of the recurring motifs in his films and this is, I think, the longest use of a train (as most of the film takes place on one) of all Hitchcock’s work. This is one of Hitchcock’s earlier films, made in the UK, and it is very British (whatever that may mean) and somehow more benign than the others I’ve listed, I think. There is still suspense, mystery and even conspiracy yet it seems slightly more jolly? It’s a very charming film and Michael Redgrave is quite dashing with his moustache and bow-tie. And the leading lady, Margaret Lockwood is not a blonde! Gasp. I think it’s the only film on this list not to feature one of ‘Hitchcock’s blondes’ (though I suppose Ingrid Bergman is debatable in that respect?)

5. Notorious, 1946

I haven’t watched this film as many times as the others on this list, so I don’t remember it quite as well, but I feel like it is deserving of its place in my top 5 nonetheless. The (in)famous kiss scene between Bergman and Grant is steamy to say the least – to get around the censors/Hays Code that stated ‘Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.’, Hitchcock broke up the kissing scene so it seems that they are kissing for longer than they actually are. Very clever. And the story is just so great, isn’t it? Spies and semi-forbidden romances and what-not. And that’s not to say anything of Ingrid Bergman’s gorgeous wardrobe.

This list will probably change again, soon, when I watch a different Hitchcock film for the umpteenth time – maybe I’ll want to add in Strangers on a Train or Stage Fright or maybe even Rope because I love all of them nearly as much as I love the films I’ve chosen for this list. What about whoever might be reading – what are your favourite Hitchcock films? (Assuming, of course, you have favourites.)

April Roundup

Somewhere after the end of each month I plan to do a roundup post of every film I watched during that previous month for the first time (if I tried to keep track of ALL the films I watched it would get out of hand). I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I want to go about doing them, so the first two or so will be trial runs before I hit the right formula, as it were. I’ve liked the way Kate started setting out her posts so I’ve taken a few tips from her in that regard.

The movies:

Legion directed by Scott Charles Stewart, 2009

Being Julia directed by István Szabó, 2004

The Black Cat directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934

Electric Dragon 80.000V directed by Gakuryu Ishii, 2001

Parting Glances directed by Bill Sherwood, 1984

The Black Cauldron directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, 1985

Teesri Manzil directed by Vijay Anand, 1966

The Magic Christian directed by Joseph McGrath, 1969

The War of the Worlds directed by Byron Haskin, 1953

Favourite:

Obviously I was very taken with The War of the Worlds but I think my favourite from April was Teesri Manzil…it’s only the second Bollywood film I’ve seen but I can easily see myself falling in love with them (though obviously they are as varied as films made anywhere). I love the vibrant colours of this film, the fun songs and I enjoy how important facial expressions (often exaggerated) seem to be, as well. Plus, I have to mention that it is a thriller/murder mystery, one of my favourite kinds of film (or TV show).

Least favourite:


Well, it’s a tie between The Magic Christian and Legion. Now, The Magic Christian should have been something I loved: satirical, black humour, Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, a nearly unrecognisable Laurence Harvey as Hamlet performing a striptease during the famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy (imagine if Kenneth Branagh had taken some inspiration from this brief performance for his film! I know I’m imagining it), Yul Brynner in drag, Raquel Welch as ‘Priestess of the Whip’, Christopher Lee as a vampire…but somehow I ended up bored. According to Wiki Vito Russo referred to the film as ‘viciously homophobic’ in The Celluloid Closet but I must have missed those undertones whilst trying to force myself to somehow stay engaged with a film that didn’t grab me.

Then there was Legion. I like trashy films, I like ridiculous films, I like films that are terrible (either on purpose or accidentally) and I love Paul Bettany (swoon!) but I just couldn’t get into this film. At all. It felt like it perhaps took itself a little too seriously? Some of the criticism on IMDB comes from the small amount of action scenes in the film (and the slow pacing of the scenes between) and, whilst I usually like films that involve a lot of talking, for once I agree. The characters are flat, despite making time for a bit of a back story for each, the pacing is off and it’s all a bit messy. I think it would have been easier to write about if I’d hated it but, as with The Magic Christian, I mainly just felt ‘eh’ about it.

Honourable mention:

I don’t know if I will do this each month but I feel like Parting Glances deserves an honourable mention if only for the complete and utter babeliness of Steve Buscemi. This picture keeps circling around my Tumblr dashboard, largely uncredited of course, and I feel like everyone should know which film it’s from. Not only because Steve Buscemi is beautiful but because the film is lovely and poignant and important (it was apparently “one of the first American films to address the AIDS-HIV pandemic”). Buscemi certainly steals the show – I love watching big name actors in their early work, especially when they are just as impressive as ever.

By decade:

1930s: 1

1950s: 1

1960s: 2

1980s: 2

2000s: 3

You can see my ratings for each of these films here but I will say that I find rating things on a scale or what-not quite arbitrary. I find it difficult to quantify my reactions to/feelings about something with a number out of 5 or so on but you’ll get a bit of an idea I suppose.

Top 5 Thursday | Movie Musicals

I asked my twitter friends for suggestions for my ‘top 5’ lists and got some really great ideas. One was an idea I’d already had so I decided that, this week, I would do my top 5 movie musicals…made after 1970. Musicals are my favourite kind of movie so to do a definitive top 5 of all time would be just too difficult so I’m breaking it up. I’ve also not included the 3 musicals that appeared on my top 5 all-time favourites list. Even doing one for post-1970 (not sure why I picked that year) was very difficult! But I managed to make a list so here we go…(the write-ups are going to be a lot more brief this time as I’ve ‘real life’ things taking up my time.)

1. Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse, 1972

When did I first see Cabaret? I don’t even remember now but it is easily one of my favourite movies even if I now often skip all the bits that aren’t songs when I’m watching it. It’s all so great but sometimes I just want to watch Liza sing! Putting aside the fact that Liza’s Sally Bowles is one of the single most fabulous characters to ever grace the screen (that make-up! her hair! clothes! nail polish!) I love the blending of the seemingly carefree lives of the main characters (which we do know aren’t that carefree at all) and the world of the Kit Kat Klub contrasted with the progressively, well, scary situation of the world outside. Also, Bob Fosse. I just adore his choreography, as cliched as it may be by now. It was interesting when I finally watched I Am a Camera and then Christopher and his Kind and experiencing the very similar stories (obviously, as they are all based on Isherwood’s book) in different ways…and without the musical lens we view it all through in Cabaret.

2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by John Cameron Mitchell, 2001

“It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks? The luck? The love? Were we really separated forceably or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?”


How do I sum up my feelings about this film? A high school friend urged me to see it but I think it took me far too long to get around to it (I was still in high school but he’d been insisting for a long time before I watched it). It’s such a gorgeous film and it’s funny and it’s serious and Origin of Love has to be one of the loveliest, most beautiful songs ever written. I honestly can’t think of anything else to write about it, at the moment.

3. Hairspray directed by Adam Shankman, 2007

This is the only film on the list of which I’ve also seen the stage production…twice. Once in New York and once in Melbourne – very different productions, but both thoroughly enjoyable. I’m also a huge John Waters fan so I’m familiar with the film the stage production is based on. Neither of these facts lessened my enthusiasm when I learnt a motion picture was in the works and I think I may have even seen the film the day it was released (with my mum). It’s such a visual feast and so beautifully filmed and designed (the sets, costumes, etc.) and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the casting (I certainly never realised James Marsden could sing) and just plain delighted by the rest (Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Christopher Walken et al)! And the cameos by John Waters, Ricki Lake, et al were a nice touch, too. My only disappointments were that some of my favourite songs from the stage production were cut: Cooties, Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now and It Takes Two, though all were recorded for the movie soundtrack. (I was also disappointed that the line ‘without love, life is like making out with Perry Como’ was cut from Without Love – I guess they thought kids wouldn’t get who Perry Como is? Or was it the previous line referring to Bromo-Seltzer? Oh well). I do love The New Girl in Town, which was written for the film and how the scene it is in is a nod to how many songs were re-recorded (ripped off, really) by white singing groups at the time. It may just have one of the best endings of a movie musical that I’ve seen. Oh, and Seaweed makes me swoon…sigh.

4. Little Shop of Horrors directed by Frank Oz, 1986

One thing that’s noticeable in stage to movie productions (well, in this case, movie to stage to movie) is that there is a conscious effort to tone down the theatricality (I noticed this in Chicago where many of the lines are delivered with more gravitas than I’d heard in some stage recordings) but that’s not something I feel with this film. From the acting style, many of the sets and the way scenes are choreographed it definitely feels a lot more like a stage musical than necessarily a movie musical, if that makes sense. The song Skid Row (Downtown) always gives me shivers which I usually only experience when I see musicals onstage. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are perfect as Seymour and Audrey, and Steve Martin as her jerk boyfriend is kind of genius. Oh and Bill Murray as the masochistic dentist patient?! But I think my favourite thing about this film is the chorus of three local girls named after ’60s girl groups: Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette.

5. 8 Femmes directed by François Ozon, 2002

It’s set in the 1950s. It’s a musical. It’s a murder-mystery. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. I’m not sure I have to say a whole lot else about why I love this film, really. Each of the costumes was created around each character and I feel the songs have been treated in the same way, whilst still reflecting various kinds of French pop music from around the time the film is set. And I really don’t want to give anything away because I want anyone who hasn’t seen it to be able to (hopefully) react the same way I did. (I once wrote a post at my other blog about how much I love all of the costumes in the film.)

I had got to the end of my top 5 list when I realised that I’d made a horrible mistake because Xanadu was nowhere to be seen on it! As a way to rectify that, whilst still keeping the 5 films I originally wanted on the list, Xanadu gets an honourable mention for being one of the most amazing films I’ve ever seen. (As I’m writing this I’m thinking of all the other films I forgot while I was compiling the list…)

I doubt Xanadu is all that well thought of by critics (or, indeed, by many people on IMDB it seems) but I love anything campy, trashy, tacky, etc., and Xanadu kind of embodies a lot of that. It has Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, roller-skating, bizarre costumes, a cartoon sequence I always forget about and incorporates Greek mythology. Yeah. But if you think Xanadu couldn’t get kitschier or more camp then you clearly haven’t seen the stage production.

Once again, I’d love to hear anyone else’s top 5 list for this theme. I’ll probably be debating my own list with myself but I will happily take recommendations of other musicals (even if you think I may have seen them) that fit the theme (i.e. made after 1970…we can keep others for my other lists!)