Sunday, November 04, 2012

Music Sunday: The Music in Movies Edition

I've been thinking about music in movies lately. Go figure. I love music and I love movies, so it makes sense that I would go there, either here or in Movie Mondays, eventually. And, of course, there are bits from movie musicals that I like and want to share with you.

There are really two different kinds of music in movies. Well, three. There is the soundtrack music - that dramatic swelling of music at dramatic moments, and that "danger music" that telegraphs that something bad is about to happen to the hero or heroine of the film, for example. I don't know a lot about instrumental music, so that's not what I'm here to write about today.

Then, there are movies that happen to have songs in them. A lot of those songs appear over opening or closing credits, or incidentally, as background music or accompaniment to montages during the action of the film. Or there are songs in the movie because the movie is about a musician or a band; a good fairly recent example is That Thing You Do (1996, distributed by 20th Century Fox). A little bit older an example is Victor/Victoria (1982), which I'll be using for purposes of comparison in just a bit. I'll probably write about that kind of movie music at some point. Some directors make really good choices about that kind of movie music, and some make abysmally bad choices in that regard, and the effect on the movies can be really interesting. But that's not what I'm going to be writing about today, either.

What I'm here to write about today are movie musicals.

I'll be honest. I love musicals. Some are better than others, and they've evolved over the years (boy, have they evolved...I'll get to that, too), but in general, I like the genre. So, people burst into song in completely unbelievable places and circumstances. It's a movie. What did you expect? Reality?

Julie Andrews has been in both kinds of movies, the kind with songs and the kind where people burst into song apparently inappropriately. She was in Mary Poppins (1964, Disney), which is a classic traditional musical. Mary Poppins bursts into song at the most unlikely of moments, as when she is trying to get her young charges to clean their nursery, coming out with "A Spoonful of Sugar" (please ignore the animatronic birds; they're creepy):

She was also in Victor/Victoria (1982), which I mentioned above and which has songs because it is about a "woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman", who is masquerading as a cross-dressing cabaret performer. The songs in this movie come in the form of her nightclub performances, as here in "Le Jazz Hot":

Just like it seems wrong to write about movie musicals of the past few decades (and I'm not going to go back further than the 1960s today, mostly due to limited space and time), it's just wrong to write about the genre without including something from Barbra Streisand. She has also been in both kinds of movies with music - movie musicals in the traditional sense, such as Funny Girl (1968, Rastar); Hello, Dolly (1969, distribted by 20th Century Fox), and Yentl (1983, MGM), and in movies with songs, such as A Star Is Born (1976, First Artists) (at least, I can't recall any bursting into song in inappropriate places in that movie).

Here, in a clip from Funny Girl (1968, Rastar), in which she portrays Fanny Brice (if you don't know about Fanny Brice, go look her up, becuase you should know about her), she sings "I'm the Greatest Star" when facing early rejection as a performer:

Again, this is very traditional.

One might be forgiven for thinking that movie musicals are passe, but they aren't. Enchanted (2007, distributed by Disney), makes fun of traditional movie musicals, but it is a gentle teasing, and it still retains the form of the traditional musical, for example when the characters burst into song and a production number in the middle of Central Park:

But some movie musicals that retain the traditional form are traditional in that way only. Of course, the best example of that has to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, 20th Century Fox). "Sweet Transvestite" is not your typical production number, yet it follows the form:

The musical, more or less in its traditional form, has even come to the Internet. It has been tried on television, as well, with various levels of success. There was Cop Rock (1990, ABC), which has been called one of the worst TV series in history, of course. And Joss Whedon's series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, famously did a musical episode, "Once More, With Feeling", in 2001.

Whedon is also the one who brought musicals to the Internet, with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008), which was relased in three episodes. From the first episode, this is "A Man's Gotta Do":

For someone like me, who likes musicals, it's kind of comforting to know that the form persists and is being perpetuated in new venues, such as on the Internet, while remaining traditional in significant ways.

Then, again, we've already established that I'm a geek.


CinnamonOpus said...

If loving musicals is wrong, I don't want to be right. I love some horrible musicals and some brilliant ones. But movie musicals seemed to be losing their quality, and we just don't get to see as many stage musicals here as we once were able to do. When Dr. Horrible came out, I was thrilled that it could be done so well, so accessibly and in a way that made it, dare I say it, COOL to do musicals again.

(Secretly? As long as NPH and Hugh Jackman -- old fashioned song-and-dance men- are around, I have hope.)

littlemissattitude said...

The thing that bothers me about some musicals now - and I think Enchanted is an example of this - is that they are so often so self-conscious. I mean, I think it's kind of cute the way the example I posted tips its hat to the absurdty of a production number suddenly breaking out in the middle of Central Park. I think it works pretty well in that instance, actually. But I also think it is an exception. In general I don't like that sort of almost breaking the fourth wall for a wink to the audience that points and says, "Yeah, we know this is kind of silly but we're doing it anyway."

I really liked how Dr. Horrible didn't really do that. I only recently saw it all the way through for te first time, and I was surprised and delighed that they didn't. Or at least, if they did, it was way too subtle for me to pick up on.

Carolynne said...

I LOVE all these music selections and I have even seen them all before. I love musicals too :D Awesome.

littlemissattitude said...

I'm glad you came by and commented Carolynne, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes, I just wish I didn't have to keep the Music Sunday posts at a reasonable length. There were several more clips I would have liked to include in this one. I might have to do another movie musicals post at some point, so I can do that.