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!)


Top 5 Thursday | All-time favourites.

One of the regular features I want to do here is a series of top 5 posts. I decided to start with my all-time favourite top 5 movies. This is a tricky feat, indeed, for someone who is easily pleased when it comes to cinema (I once posted a top 50 to my Tumblr and even that will be out of date, now).

For me, I define a favourite as a film I can watch over & over & over and not get sick of (however, there are some exceptions to this rule but none appear in my top 5) so my favourite films may not necessarily be indicative of all the sorts of films I will watch and enjoy/appreciate but that I can watch them so many times may be telling…of what, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose I can let you make your own minds up about that.

Note: I did mention in my introductory post that I want to start thinking more critically about the films I watch…but I found it was almost impossible to be objective about these films (not to say I discount valid criticisms but that I find it difficult to form them myself) because most of them have been in my life for such a long time, now. Maybe this is something I can address as this blog progresses but I guess what I’m trying to say is this is really just a gushing sort of a post.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show directed by Jim Sharman, 1975

This is legitimately my all time  favourite movie. I doubt anything will ever change that as I’ve been watching and loving this film since I was about four or five years old. I have my older (by 14 years) sister to blame/thank for my love of this film – my mother was uncertain if it was ‘appropriate’ for a small child to watch; my sister told her that I just liked the songs and colours. I’m sure this was somewhat true as there were certain scenes that I definitely didn’t understand until I was much older! I do remember putting on my mother’s high heels and acting out the floorshow scene with my friends at least once. I still have the taped-from-TV VHS copy that I grew up with (it has episodes of Family Ties on the end as well as some great ’80s music videos.) Watching this film is like coming home, again, I think. I know every line by heart, I sing and dance along and I never tire of any of it. A girl in high school once told me she didn’t ‘get’ this film and I still don’t entirely know what she meant…I wonder if my years of watching it have clouded my judgement when it comes to whether or not other people will enjoy it. But what’s not to enjoy? It’s campy, kitschy, glittery, there are sexy singing aliens, death-rays, nods to B-movies of the 30s-50s and some of the best songs that have ever been written. Could one really ask for more?

[Tumblr posts tagged Rocky Horror Picture Show or RHPS.]

2. Grease directed by Randal Kleiser, 1978

Grease is another film that I’ve loved since I was a small child – and another one I acted out in the living room (this time with my BFF – our song is ‘We Go Together’ by the by). I wonder if I have Grease to thank for my interest in mid-century America & teen culture (despite its costumes, etc., not being entirely authentic but as a 5 year old I wasn’t quite so discerning about these things)…I once read a website about how American teenagers really dressed in the 1950s and the author of the site said how unrealistic Grease is in that respect – but it is a musical. I don’t usually look to musicals for historical accuracy but, even so, the costumes in Grease capture the essence of what is stereotypically 1950s. Even musicals made in the era in which they are set are exaggerated representations of the fashion, etc., and that’s what I love about them. Grease doesn’t quite fit into the hyperreality of other musicals that I love from the 40s and 50s but I think it’s a similar kind of idea. The world of musicals is another world entirely and why people can be so divided by them.

I wonder if the enduring popularity of Grease has anything to do with the tend toward nostalgia not just at present but maybe in general? That it highlights everything we may love about 1950s Americana/teen culture: the milkshakes, drive-ins, froofy dresses, school dances etc., whilst making invisible the nastier side of things, like racism and homophobia (neither of which, of course, are gone now) just as the tip of the iceberg. It does touch on how some girls were (and still are) ostracised and talked about because they may have gone ‘with a boy…or two’ and/or got pregnant (like Rizzo) and maybe it also touches a little on gang rivalry (Scorpions vs T-Birds) but with less violence…it may not quite be Happy Days but I think it still sugar coats a lot. Despite all of that I love this movie unabashedly (maybe I’m better at thinking critically about my favourites than I thought).

[Tumblr posts tagged Grease.]

3. Charade directed by Stanley Donen, 1963

Oh my…yet another film I’ve been watching since I was a little girl! My mother’s favourite actor is Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is one of mine. Needless to say this is a favourite we both share (though my mother is, perhaps, less obsessed with the film than I am!) Even though films like this rely heavily on suspense (and therefore first viewing) I am enthralled by this film no matter how many times I watch it. I know exactly what is going to happen and be said, I know each twist (and boy, there are a lot of them!), I even know which piece of music is used when but I’m never bored. Both Hepburn and Grant exude charm and play off each other beautifully. Grant’s comic timing is, as always, spot on…one of the things I love about this is that Grant was meant to be the one chasing Hepburn’s character but they switched it around when he said he felt he was too old to be chasing after a woman so much younger than him. My mum told me this as she’d read it somewhere or other but this review says the same thing. I think it works so well with Grant’s character trying to resist Reggie’s (Hepburn) advances that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. This film has often been described as ‘the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made’ and I think that’s one of the most apt descriptions I’ve ever read of a film. Oh, it also has a fantastic theme tune (yay, Mancini!) with incredibly cool ’60s graphics.

[Tumblr posts tagged Charade.]

4. Laura directed by Otto Preminger, 1944

I bought this film on a whim as it was only $1…then I watched it about 7 times in one week! (I wish I’d bought lots more copies so I could give them to everyone as gifts and bestow the glory of this film upon each and every person I know.) This film borders on necrophilia, could be interpreted as becoming the dream of Dana Andrews’ character halfway through, and has the ‘evil homosexual’ character that is so prevalent in film noir (well, sometimes morally corrupt) in the form of Waldo Lydecker. The first two points may be unsettling/confusing but not necessarily bad points about the film…I’m more uncomfortable about the coded ways in which gay characters were represented as morally corrupt (of course it could never explicitly be said that a character was gay because of the Hayes Code) in this and other similar films. There are a lot of things to unpack there and I am a little wary of breezing over the topic like that but I’m trying to keep this brief! But Waldo Lydecker gets all the great lines in the film and I’m going to have to do a feature post on it just as an excuse to bombard you with his one-liners. And what else do I love about it? It’s dark and strange without being explicitly so, Laura is an intelligent career woman (who, admittedly, may have dubious taste in men), it flips over on itself somewhere in the middle and it has one of my favourite ever onscreen kisses. Laura and Mark are on equal footing and there’s none of that manhandling so prevalent in movies of this era (manhandling is all well and good but I get a little uncomfortable at the violence of them, I suppose.) I don’t want to give too much away because if you’re not spoiled for this film then I find it’s a lovely surprise. Oh, and it’s gorgeous to look at too and not just because of the babely actors but because of the photography, lighting, etc., and the costumes…Gene Tierney has some beautiful clothes.

[Tumblr posts tagged Laura.]

5. Velvet Goldmine directed by Todd Haynes, 1998

This film baffled me when I first saw it – I think I was thrown by the beginning…does it imply that Oscar Wilde is an alien? Now I don’t even care and I love it completely and wholeheartedly; I have a big space in my heart for glitter and glam rock and the pop culture of the 1970s and I adore the colours and costumes in this film. I was even more impressed by it when I finally watched Citizen Kane and everything I’d read about the parallels between the films fell into place. Scott Tobias, in 2009, wrote that “…the Citizen Kane structure is perhaps Velvet Goldmine‘s biggest masterstroke…by presenting Slade, like Kane, as a mystery to be solved (or not), Haynes can evoke the glam-rock movement without destroying the all-important mystique that sustains it.” To be honest, once I fell in love with film I stopped thinking about it…but reading some other reviews and articles on it whilst writing this, I think I would like to take the time to read and think a bit more about it. (Maybe another future feature post?!)

David Bowie apparently wasn’t keen on this film (nor was Roger Ebert but some other critics had kinder things to say about it). I love Bowie but I love this film just as much…so I guess Bowie and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to Velvet Goldmine.

[Tumblr posts tagged Velvet Goldmine.]

Of course, as these are my own personal favourites, there is no point debating the placement of any of these on my list (that’s how personal favourites work) but I’d love it if anyone would like to share their own top 5 favourite films with me! And if anyone has any ideas for top 5 lists for me, feel free to throw them my way.