August 29, 2005

Viewer Discretion Advised

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This week MTV will air their annual music video awards in Miami. Music videos are certainly an overlooked art, but before video killed the radio star the only way for audiences to see musical numbers acted out was on the silver screen. While the glittery Hollywood musical has long seen its heyday, the genre isn’t totally dead. 2003’s Chicago earned the Best Picture Academy Award and while panned by critics, last year’s Phantom of the Opera still had a strong box office showing. Here are my top 5 song and dance productions:

5. The Blues Brothers (1980)

OK, before you start laughing at this choice, this dry-comedy classic celebrating its 25th anniversary is actually the best highlight of purely American rhythm and blues ever to be produced. Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, and other legends give stellar musical performances. Director John Landis (who also created the legendary Michael Jackson “Thriller” video) even choreographed the epic car chase scenes to music. Besides, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd performing “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is one of the most entertaining music numbers on screen. “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Hit it.

4. An American in Paris (1951)

This colorful film melds Gene Kelly, perhaps 20th Century America’s best dancer, with George Gershwin, perhaps 20th Century America’s best composer, and the result is nothing short of magic. While Kelly and his love interest, played by equally talented Leslie Caron steal the show, especially with their beautiful number singing “Our Love is Here to Stay” on the banks of the River Seine, watch out for great performances from Oscar Levant and Georges Guetary. Of course the climax of this film is Kelly’s amazing ballet performance to Gershwin’s moving symphony that lends the movie its title.

3. Moulin Rouge (2001)

Sure it was Chicago that earned the Oscar recognition, but it was Moulin Rouge that turned the musical genre upside down with great results. Who knew that Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor could sing so well? However the real credit for the brilliance of Moulin Rouge is the vision of director Baz Luhrmann, who skillfully and surprisingly successfully merged modern pop songs with a belle epoch Paris setting. Even more impressive than the music was the extrodinary cinematography of bright colors, fast moving camera work, and dazzle which were such concrete components of the typical Hollywood musical. While some find the film a little too off the beaten path, Luhrmann’s unique vision is certainly worth checking out.

2. West Side Story (1961)

The story wasn’t new, but the portrayal certainly was. Leonard Bernstein’s moving score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics energized the tried and true Romeo and Juliet theme totally reinventing it. Of course the highlight of this film is Jerome Robbin’s masterful choreography. His original idea of translating murder, assault, and rape into dance was so genius it still inspires countless spoofs in TV spots and movies today. While the dance fighting scenes may sound corny, their visual spectacle immediately convince the audience that they are watching a classic

1. Signin’ in the Rain (1952)

This film has rising to be the undisputed king of the movie musical. So perfect is Singin’ in the Rain, it’s impossible to describe all of its cinematic aspects. However what makes Singin’ in the Rain so great is the fact that it is the happiest hour and 43 minutes ever captured on film. Period. The classic scene where Gene Kelly sings and dances his way through a downpour is representative of the entire film; Hollywood magic on all cylinders powering through any doom and gloom.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor