Monday, May 14, 2007
Does America Hate Movie Musicals?
I saw the trailer for a new movie called "Across the Universe" which is a musical based on Beatles' songs. What struck me right away was that the preview only showed a moment of someone singing and then lots of dramatic dialogue sequences. This is the same thing they did for the initial trailers for "Dreamgirls" and "Chicago" as well. Is hollywood trying to trick people into attending a musical? What is going on here?
It seems to be a cynical marketing ploy by the studios. They seem to say "I know the audience hates musicals but we'll get them to see this one by mistake" or "Maybe their husbands and/or boyfriends will agree to go if we make the trailer less musical" etc. I think this is insulting to the movie audience and not accurate to the tastes or wants of the public.
It is true that the movie musical isn't the powerful force in Hollywood it once was. There was a time when several movie musicals came out a year and were extremely popular with audiences and critics. The studio MGM became one of the most powerful studios in Hollywood due to their successful musicals.
By the 60's musicals were starting to lose ground with audiences and by the 70's they were gasping for breath. This was due to a lot of different factors. One was the end of the 'studio system' that whole heartely created musicals from the composers to the stars to all the magic inbetween. (Think Wizard of Oz) The studios became companies controlled by other industries or became merged with other companies. Add to that the lack of good musicals being made - for every "Sound of Music" or "Funny Girl" there were several big flops putting the knife in the back of the movie musical. (Clint Eastwood singing in "Paint Your Wagon" is a good example)
The 70's brought a whole new realism to the movies. They became gritty, tough and more real life than fantasy. (More "Godfather" than "Guys & Dolls") Movie musicals seemed almost passe in this movie landscape. Even material made for the era didn't seem to work (Like the disappointing "HAIR" musical or "The Wiz"). Even a couple huge musical hits didn't seem to save the downslde. (Cabaret & Grease)
By the 80's Hollywood had pretty much given up on the movie musical. They instead had some "dance" movies to take their place. (Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Fame) They had decided that America really didn't want to see musicals anymore and stopped making them. A self fulfilling prophecy. It took Disney to revive movie musicals starting with "The Little Mermaid" in 1989.
Througout the 90's movie musicals were mostly animated features. Some great (Beauty and the Beast) and some not so much (Hercules). These movies not only revived the genre somewhat but caused Disney to take these shows to Broadway. (The reverse path of the past musicals)
I think one more thing that added to the musicals demise was the "parody" factor. Musical numbers became an easy joke for an audience. Sitcoms, comedy movies, animated shows all started to have musical numbers in them. Some making fun of the genre and some reverent to it. (Think The Simpsons) This however also caused musicals to become "uncool" - or something to be laughed at.
However the success of "Chicago", "Dreamgirls", "Moulin Rouge" and other musicals shows that there is an audience out there for musicals. They just seem to be demanding good musicals that are made well. The Bombs (Phantom of the Opera, RENT) deserve to be bombs because they are not up to the standards of the modern audience. Audiences pack Broadway shows, Touring shows, and local theatre groups. There is a demand for this type of entertainment.
I read that "Chicago" got made because the musical numbers came from Roxy's subconscious and not just people singing their feelings. In other musicals the songs are coming from the stage like "Dreamgirls" or "Cabaret". I actually heard someone say "I don't like when people burst into song it's just not realistic" - Hollywood buys into this logic as well. I don't buy this at all. If audiences can suspend their disbelief that a grown man can crawl up a building like a spider don't tell me they can't imagine people singing.
There are so many great musicals that haven't been made into films yet. (La Cage Aux Folles, Les Miserables, Into The Woods etc) Here's hoping the genre can be revived and brought back to life. (Hairspray, Sweeney Todd, Mama Mia and others are going to try)
No matter what I hope the Hollywood marketing departments realize that musicals are not something to be ashamed of but to be proud of.