My Favorite Musicals from Hollywood – 2

Can you believe this???!!! Ofcourse you do!! This is not the first time I have delayed writing something on this space!! It’s been 4 months since I wrote here!!

Last year in July I wrote about my favorite Hollywood musicals, and well, the time has now come to revisit that. So let’s continue our journey. Most of the movies we saw in the last post were children’s movies.  In this post, it’s the other way round.  Musicals have always been an attractive genre for me. For one, they hold mirror to the developing tastes in music through the decades.  From Elvis’ hips to Chicago’s Razzle Dazzle, music has carved a spectrum of varieties that have each been incorporated radiantly in many of the movies that we shall now see.

Grease: John Travolta with a hair so well set, it almost looks like it was nailed down stole the heart of many through this iconic movie that went on to become one of the celebrated musicals of all time.  Much before the time of High School Musicals, this coming of age movie set in California, rocked the Hollywood scene ushering in an era of romance that was unbridled and wildly infectious. With John’s killing looks (the perfect dimple in the chin) and Olivia Newton-John’s blonde abandon, they had probably become the one of the most celebrated young couples in the movie.  The songs busted the charts that year resulting in grandiose plans for sequels. Unfortunately Grease-2 was such a box-office disappointment that thankfully it put a full-stop to the idea of generating more sequels.  There is only so much you can do with teenage love story and Grease had already accomplished it.  Love, conspiracy, heartbreak, scheming rivals and dumb friends – this movie had it all and more. The songs are a pleasure even to this day – “You’re the one that I want”, “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, “Born to Hand Jive”, “Beauty School Dropout”, “Hopelessly devoted to you” ….

West Side Story:  It pains me endlessly to be writing about West Side Story – a movie that I had loved and enjoyed so thoroughly all through my college days, only to watch with horror as it was destroyed to bits by the Bollywood gang of insufferable Mr. SRK, sloppy Aishwarya Rai and whatz-his-name Singh.  A love story in the backdrop of ethnic and cultural struggle in a developing American economy, this movie was a Romeo-Juliet love saga of the modern times.  With amazing performances by all the lead roles, the movie had foot tapping music, memorable songs and a story that was captivating inspite of its worn out theme.  It was not a big surprise that it swept the Academy Awards bagging 10 out of 11 categories. The tragic love story on Manhattan streets tugs on your heart and leaves a lump. It almost feels like a criminal act that Bollywood took this classic and turned it into a shit-pile called Josh.  The songs that haunt include “I just met a girl named Maria”, “Tonight”, “America”, “One hand One heart”, “I feel so pretty” while the electric performance for the “Mambo” is a thrill to watch!

The King & I:  Based on a true story, the movie King & I appealed to me a lot mostly due to my affection towards “Sound of Music”. Both of these movies were incidentally made by Rodgers & Hammerstein and have been adapted to Broadway.  Although quite different in their treatment and stories, the underlying current of creative expression and dogmatic ideas that surrounds the love of Anna and the King on one hand while that of the slave girl and her lover on the other, made the film a viewer’s pleasure.  With grandiose sets, Victorian dresses, melodious numbers, topped with excellent performances, the film won critical acclaim.  Songs like “Shall we dance”, “Getting to know you”, “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “We kiss in a shadow” have made the movie a delight.   Deborah Karr’s performance and the humor laced story line remain the highlight of the movie.

Cabaret:  Jazz, Music, the razzmatazz of the kit kat club, Berlin under the Nazi regime, the then sexy and steaming Liza Minnelli, Helmut Griem with his weird caterpillar mustache, and a shy Michael York  – all of this together made Cabaret a phenomenal movie – one that swept the Oscars with eight wins but lost the Best Picture award. The plot revolved around the relationship between an academician and a sexy Cabaret dancer. Homosexual tension, love, tears, betrayal, reconciliation – the movie was peppered with it all and the classic cabaret to top it off.

Originally a novel by Christopher Ishwerwood, the plot was adapted into a Broadway musical which eventually found its way to Hollywood and into the hearts of millions of movie buffs. Though I don’t really have any favorite numbers from this movie, this movie deserves a mention for the sheer brilliance that was put together to make this an everlasting master piece.

Beauty & the Beast:  I have had a huge dilemma including this in the list. I mean, in all honesty, we can classify almost every Disney animation to be a musical – or actually do another post for animated musicals! But I guess, given my promptness in posting on my website, that would be a far cry. So when the time came to choose, for me, of all the musicals by Disney, this movie really stood apart. (And I have kept the irritating ‘Frozen’ out of this purposely.. and hence effectively earned myself a horde of enemies!) The story is known to almost everyone. But with this movie, I could really find that Disney animation had come of age. There was an outstanding talent that came forth through this movie, that I feel even Disney has failed to match. There was a sensitivity to the story and the treatment of the characters in spite of the usual spicing with despicable villains. This was a movie that really tugged at many emotions, and a story that really left a mark. A timeless classic!

Moulin Rouge: For a long time through the 90s it seemed as though Hollywood had washed its hands off of musicals. They were mostly to be found in animations. But all that was set to change with the release of the brilliant production – Moulin Rouge that revived the glory of the musicals and added to it the zest and glamour of glittering production sets and the tragic romance. It seemed as though we had traveled back in time! Nicole Kidman as the dying Cabaret dancer, Ewan McGregor as the be-smitten poet rewove the magic of love on the grand sets of the MontMartre Quarter of Paris. It was interesting that the movie had a sub-plot set in India involving a courtesan, a Maharaja and a poor Sitar player – alluding to the main plot. And in line with this, the movie had included the song “Chamma Chamma” from the movie China gate.  Given its lavish settings, it was no wonder that the movie grabbed the Oscar awards for Production Design and even Costume. A veritable treat to the eyes and ears, Moulin Rouge succeeded in reviving the musical genre and establishing them as top grossing even in the midst of the high voltage action movies. The song below is my favorite from the movie 🙂

Chicago: What Moulin Rouge set in motion in 2001, was taken to new heights by Chicago that was released in the year 2002.  Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and the awesome Queen Latifah turned this movie into a phenomenon for me! I can’t count the number of times I have watched this movie. There are so many things about this movie that I can list which are so outstanding – the acting, the music, the lyrics, the costumes, the dance, the settings and most certainly the plot of the movie. Every character is introduced through numbers that hold a mirror to the character.  The plot itself holds a mirror to the society, the media and the questions of justice and morality.  If ever there was a film in the past decade that would mock the modern day for all its vanity and hypocrisy with such glory, I would pick this movie.  Songs like “When you’re good to mama”, “the cell block tango”, “Roxie”, “All I care about”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “We both reached for the gun” are just awesome.  The Cell block tango that outlines the stories of other inmates along with Roxie is possibly the best in the entire movie followed by Latifah’s “When you’re good to mama”.  The movie swept the Oscars that year, including the Best Movie, Best Supporting Actress, Costume, Sound and even Art. All of these were very well deserved for the movie.

Mamma Mia: I had written about this movie in an earlier post.  The two best parts of this movie were the ABBA songs and Meryl Streep.  That Meryl Streep was belting out some of my favorite ABBA numbers was the icing on the cake.  The famous broadway musical was finally made into a movie and though disappointing in parts, over a period of time, it kinda endeared itself to me.  Now I am not sure if that’s because I have started getting older or if I am struck with Stockholm syndrome. In any case, the story of a young to-be-married girl attempting to discover who her father is became lovable to me only because it took me back to my childhood. Having grown up listening to ABBA I could see the beautiful shady Malleshwaram unwrap before my eyes.  The leisurely summers and the lovely Mariyappanapalya Park stood before me.  Ofcourse they are all history now. Everything that Bangalore was and represented has become a history now. But these songs still warm my heart! “Money Money Money”, “Voulez vous”, “Winner takes it all”, “Mamma Mia”, “Dancing Queen”, “Chiquitita”, the list just goes on and on.  All I can say is “Thank you for the music…” 🙂

Sweeney Todd – The demon barber of fleet street: That Johnny Depp is a splendid actor is a given. But imagining Johnny do the singing was a bit weird!  Added to that, the grim and dark play that was adapted to a Tim Burton movie obviously had its charms. It was this combination that really drew me to Sweeney Todd. Cringing at the cold blooded slashing and baking of the victims, yet sympathizing with the Barber’s anger, I watched the movie marveling at the creativity of Depp. The transition of the simple and loving Benjamin Barker to the demon barber Sweeney Todd is captured brilliantly. Though he wasn’t grand in singing, Johnny Depp definitely did his part for the character and with such aplomb, that he set a new benchmark for himself.  Helena Carter as his female accomplice in the crime and his eventual victim was equally splendid. She after all seems to have made weirdness a second nature to her acting. That the visitors to her bakery do not even recognize the ghastly secret hidden in the pies they are eating is a mirror that the plot holds to our current so called civilized society. Sweeney Todd is a movie that must be watched not only for its music but more so for the top class acting essayed by all the characters in the movie.  A heart rending dark tragedy this movie is one of the best to have come out of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s partnership.

Les Miserable: I guess it was in my 3rd or 4th standard that I read a part of the classic Les Miserable. The Gulmohar book that we used to have carried the story of a thief who had a change of heart when the pastor in a church does not hand him over to the cops inspite of knowing that he had stolen the candle stands from the church. The story remained in my mind and after several  years, I eventually happened to learn that this story was actually a part of Victor Hugo’s historical masterpiece.  The movie adaptation was a revelation. Anne Hathaway was perfection personified on the screen. It was no wonder that she won the Academy award for actress in a supporting role. As the movie unfolds through the eyes of the main protagonists, the questions of right and wrong, the turbulent times of France, the morality, the helplessness of human nature in the face of adversity all bursts forth in stark nakedness. In the end ofcourse hope triumphs and love survives.  Oh watch it!! Just watch this movie!

With this, I finally come to an end of this series. It has taken me several months to give this post the light of the day. But the fact that it is done is a relief indeed.  The musicals are a genre that can never ever go extinct. They will continue to reinvent themselves and stay relevant no matter what age we may live in and no matter how advanced technology may be. Music is an integral part of human life and the movies would do well to celebrate it.

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