“Musicals are boring”. I have to admit that I wasn’t in the slightest surprised to hear this statement yesterday, as I often come across film lovers who downright reject the genre, as well as examples that confirm the claim by being slower than death and dull beyond belief. However, what is said, explored and communicated through most of these films is a whole different story. Yes, their façade is often dull, but what lies underneath is usually… pretty wild.
Here are stories that if told through a standard narrative and dialogue, would completely lose their appeal, fail to get wide recognition and at times even shock or offend us and end up being banned for good. But instead, some musicals have officially entered the field of classics –meaning that nothing can touch them anymore, and for a good reason. Apart from Singing in the Rain – which is cinema at its best and nobody in his right mind could ever put it down or consider it tiresome — there are several classics that may have given this type of storytelling a go out of fear that any other kind of narrative would scare or offend its audience. My Fair Lady would be awfully arrogant and sexist, The Sound of Music would never get away with tackling religion, war and exile in such a prominent way, and don’t even get me started with Oliver! and the hundreds of dark and controversial themes it brilliantly exposes us to.
Instead, all these films are now established works of art – and calling some of them boring every now and again, I guess has been the price that the filmmakers chose to pay for being freely controversial and covering it with singing and dancing. In the process, they have all demonstrated remarkable skill and offered us something new, but the only way they managed to connect with us to a certain extent, was through music. And if it hadn’t been for their cheery tunes and perfectly coordinated routines, their then not-so-hidden messages would kill us – if they ever reached us in the first place.
Which is why some of them go as far as to sing all the way through, and not even break the music with regular dialogue. It seems to me, that the more the singing and dancing, the more the filmmaker can get away with, which is at the same time rather rebellious and… dull. But was there really any other way for Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar to make it onto the screen? Would any of these two films ever reach a broad enough audience otherwise? I seriously doubt it. So, if composing some incredible music and casting great performers to sing the filmmaker’s manifesto is the way to get the word out there, some artists seem to say “why not?”
And it’s funny to think that something as drenched in hatred as West Side Story, dark as The Wizard of Oz, insane and messed up as Mary Poppins and discriminating as Grease would belong in a genre that is generally considered boring. It’s also interesting to observe how many Disney’s musical classics such as Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast or Lion King and The Jungle book hide behind songs once again to pretty much reveal everything that is wrong with this world. And hats off to all those who conceived such a brilliant front for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Moulin Rouge!. Any other kind of storytelling would have prevented them from seeing the light of day. Instead now… They’re enjoying a much-deserved cult status and hang out with other closeted rebels of their field.