Friday, January 02, 2004

Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!

That was an interesting poll that Channel 4 conducted to find the 100 Best Musicals of all time, as shown over the holidays. The results were nonsense, of course, but it is interesting to take a peek at who made the grade and who didn’t.

The first question that ought to be asked of course is what exactly is a musical? The first definition is any movie where songs are used to move the plot along, but then we get the tricky situation of Mary Poppins and The Rocky Horror Picture Show being watched by the same demographic. One can imagine a Rocky Horror fan digging Mary Poppins, on the basis that he or she is feeble-minded, but the idea of a kiddy at whom Mary Poppins is aimed catching Dr Frank-n-Furter in his glory has to lead a sensible person to believe that kiddy will grow up funny.

Grease came in at Number One in the poll, thus, I suppose, invalidating all subsequent results. The songs in Grease are admittedly good, but the story is rotten. And as for a thirty-year-old Ms Newton-John playing a teenage ingenue – no; not really.

The Sound of Music at number two is a further hammer blow to the poll’s credibility. The story is weak, and the songs are truly awful. Rotten, rotten picture.

I wouldn’t have even considered The Wizard of Oz as a musical, as I can only think of two songs from the movie, Over the Rainbow and Follow the Yellow Brick Road. I wouldn’t have thought that two songs did a musical make, but there you go.

West Side Story has fantastic songs and the story, lifted from Shakespeare who lifted it from somewhere else, is money too. The only problem is the ballet dancing Jets at the start of the movie – no matter what you do, you can’t exude menace as part of a pas de deux. Doesn’t happen.

Singin’ in the Rain is at Number Six, a movie that’s given me a lot of trouble over the years. Unlike Channel 4’s legion of Greasers, Singin’ in the Rain is considered the great movie musical, and it’s not hard to see why. The movie is set in Hollywood, and nothing is as fascinating to people who live and work in Hollywood as, er, people who live and work in Hollywood. Gene Kelly was a much better actor than he’s ever been giving credit for, as exemplified by his HL Mencken impersonation in Inherit the Wind. And the title song, and its accompanying sequence, is just marvellous.

That said, any movie that features both Donald O’Connor, the most annoying man since Danny Kaye, and that awful, awful, awful Good Morning song, is always going to carry a serious blemish on its otherwise beautiful face. Ah well.

I was glad to see Chicago come ahead of Moulin Rouge in the poll; in truth, Chicago could have won the thing out and it would have been hard to argue against. Certainly not as easy as it is to make a case against Grease. Anyone that saw The Mask of Zorro should have had an inkling that Catherine Zeta-Jones is a star – after her turn as Velma Kelly you realise that she is now the Queen of Hollywood Glam, and long may she reign.

The last point of interest in the poll is the presence of the famous musical episode of BuffyOnce More, with Feeling. Interesting to see it here, and one must suspect that the reason it’s there is that a lot of Buffy fans answer a lot of online polls. Their loyalty is sweet, but misguided.

An Spailpín bows to no man in his admiration of Buffy, and I applauded the musical episode, but it is a noble failure rather than the outstanding cross-genre success that hardline Buffy fans would claim it. Firstly, having the leads sing their own songs was misguided. If MGM could dub Ava Gardner, who was a fine singer, in Showboat, then Sarah Michelle and a few others should have been told that singing was a bridge too far. The only performers who impressed as song and dance women were Emma Caulfield and Amber Benson, the latter also lucky in landing the best song of the show, Under Your Spell. The final stiff of Once More was when Buffy and Giles crack wise about ‘eighties power ballads, and then launch into Into the Fire, an ‘eighties power ballad so unspeakable that it would have been laughed out of the German Eurovision voting. Easily the most frightening monster conjured in seven years of Buffy.