I’m still not sure if I’m going to see Rock of Ages. I was a teenager during the big-hair rock era, so I am a little nostalgic for the songs it contains, albeit ironically (I was/am more of a New Wave fan myself).
I have an almost physical aversion to musicals in general, which is what will likely keep me away. With very few exceptions, I find them cheesy, over-produced & too dependent on big production numbers to make up for bad scripts and non-actors. Even when there’s plenty of talent involved, they usually only work for me in segments. I love a great dance sequence or a memorable song, if they’re completely out of context. Usually, my highest praise is, “It was pretty good …. for a musical.”
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised a handful of times. So, in chronological order:
1. Duck Soup (1933) – The joyous anarchy of the Marx Brothers’ best movie carries over into its musical numbers, which is why I love them. Later efforts, like A Night at the Opera, would try to shoehorn in a love story or some such nonsense, but Duck Soup is utterly, wonderfully bonkers. When Margaret Dumont starts belting out the Freedonian national anthem, the boys respond in the only acceptable manner – by throwing produce at her.
2. The Wizard of Oz (1939) – I avoided this movie for most of my adult life, thanks to its association with my home state. Any Kansan who travels elsewhere can tell you how many dumbass “Where’s Toto?” jokes we get. It’s enough to make you hate everything Oz-related, which is completely unfair. Thanks to my tornado-obsessed nephew, I’ve been re-introduced to this classic, and it’s even more exciting and imaginative than I remember from childhood. For me, it’s almost the only tolerable thing Judy Garland was ever associated with, coming well before her tragic diva years (although it probably helped lead to them).
3. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – It figures that a movie about Hollywood history would make a list of my favorites. I’m a sucker for more than its depiction of the silent era’s last hurrah, though. The whole movie just soars, all the time. Plus, Donald O’Connor runs up a wall and does a backflip. That’s enough to make any film worth seeing, especially one that also has Gene Kelly and gags about sound-on-disc failures.
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – It’s a terrible movie, of course, if you try to watch it at home. With an audience, it’s the best time you can have in a theater without getting arrested (although you’re not doing it right if you don’t break a couple of local obscenity laws). I’ve seen this thing at least 50 times, and Tim Curry’s performance never loses its fearless brilliance. Poor guy got typecast from this point on, but it’s only because he’s so awesome.
5. Beauty and the Beast (1991) – As far as I’m concerned, this is the perfect “traditional” Disney movie. I usually have to fast-forward through at least one song in every Mouse House cartoon (don’t get me started on the live-action stuff), but I happily soak up every single moment of this masterpiece. It may be sacrilege to put it above old-school classics like Dumbo or Snow White, but I like a little blasphemy now and then.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More With Feeling” (2001) – It’s not a movie, but it’s one of the greatest episodes of one of the greatest TV series of all time. Leave it to Joss Whedon to write several great songs, play to his cast’s strengths and find a way to have the song-and-dance make sense in the show’s universe. It’s got more humor and emotional depth than most movies, especially in this genre. Also, singing demons. You can never go wrong with singing demons.
7. Chicago (2002) – Maybe it’s the cynical nature of the story. Maybe it’s the complete absence of sappy love songs. Maybe it’s the actors (I can even stand Renee Zellweger in this, and that doesn’t happen often). Whatever the reasons, this is probably the most conventional musical I can enjoy without reservation. And it ain’t exactly My Fair Lady, unless Eliza Doolittle suddenly started packing heat. I’d totally watch that.
- Loey Lockerby