In 1927 The Jazz Singer hit the cinemas as the first film to have synchronised sound and the impact was enormous. Hollywood was booming, actors were talking and women were swooning, only now they could hear themselves whilst also watching themselves act.
Whether you are aware a film is a musical or simply has a soundtrack incorporated into it, music helps to direct what type of emotion the audience should be experiencing at that moment in time. Original scores for films are certainly something to admire. Modern composers such as Thomas Newman (American Beauty, A Series of Unfortunate Events) and John Williams (Harry Potter, The Book Thief) experiment with various sorts of instruments to create their own, recognisable sound.
Watching musicals can be very entertaining; there’s a dramatic moment but instead of talking through it like a film in the drama genre would, they sing. They sing high, they sing low, they sing whilst their dancing and they sing on top of hills and in puddle-lined streets. They will sing in groups and they will sing in pairs, they will make you laugh and most of all, make you enjoy the beauty of the written word expressed with sound; whilst also acting.
If you ever find yourself at a club that plays “flashback music”, I guarantee you a song from Grease will be played. You will dance and you will have fun, because as much as you don’t want to admit, some of the songs in this film are catchy and are dance worthy. Directed by Randal Kleiser, Grease tells the story of a couple separated by love and who are joined by music, embarrassingly. John Travolta plays Danny, the too cool for school guy that every cheerleader wants. Olivia Newton John plays Sandy, the girl who goes smitten over the Greased up Danny.
The film is now a stereotype for high school flicks – the girl likes the boy who is out of her league but ends up with him anyway. Whilst Grease mixes Saturday Night Fever and West Side Story together, it certainly stamped its territory as a musical film that you must see.
Tagline: “You’re the one that I want, you are the one that I, ooh ooh ooh, honey.”
Moulin Rouge (2001)
The brainchild of renown Australian film-maker Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby, Romeo + Juliet) Moulin Rouge is about a penniless songwriter who is offered to write a show that is set to play at the very risqué nightclub called Moulin Rouge. Ewan McGregor (Star Wars) plays Christian, who falls in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), a singer/dancer who is the prized performer of the club’s owner Harold (Jim Broadbent).
Tying together a tumultuous amount of genres and story arcs, Moulin Rouge employs music with fabulous choreography to create a film that is not only enjoyable to watch, but is enjoyable to listen to. The musical numbers may be extravagant and wildly over the top, but that is what makes Moulin Rouge so daringly beautiful to watch.
Tagline: “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
The Sound Of Music (1965)
No list about musicals would be complete without the mothership; The Sound Of Music. Directed and produced by Robert Wise, The Sound Of Music went on to become one of the most successful musicals ever produced. Starring Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, Princess Diaries) and Christopher Plummer, The Sound Of Music tells the true story about Maria, a governess sent to stay with the von Trapp family. This singing, dancing, ‘hills are alive’ makes use of the scenery and cleverly written songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The Sound Of Music was successful not only because of the sweetness of Andrews, but the way the film was constructed and inevitably edited. The songs flow together, the scenery balances the drama and this musical biopic will be around for a very long time.
Tagline: “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
Starring Judy Garland who was sixteen at the time, The Wizard Of Oz has become a classic that still captivates children and adults today. The reason the film is so ‘colourful’ is because the crew and set designers made use of the brand new technology called ‘Technicolor’, most noticeable when the scene changes from black and white to colour after the house has landed on the witch. Notable songs in The Wizard Of Oz include “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.
What is also interesting about this film is that it took five directors and fourteen writers to bring it to life. It was also not apart of the classic Disney series that was also being produced at the time (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty), instead MGM had the rights to the film.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show incorporates all things transsexual in Transylvania. Based off the stage play by Richard O’Brien, this now cult classic stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. This “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film is such a classic that it has been preserved by the US National Film Registry.
“Science Fiction Double Feature” opens with some disembodied lips, which has been parodied numerous amounts of times throughout modern cinema. This iconic sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film; raunchy, edgy and a little bit naughty. The film tells the tale of a couple who stumble into a castle that is holding the Annual Transylvanian Convention. It is there they meet a multitude of interesting people, including Dr. Frank N. Furter who has created a man named Rocky, who stirs things up a little bit. There’s also Meatloaf (the singer) who plays Eddie, and the outlandish people who do The Time Warp and make it look awesome. If you haven’t seen this classic then stop using pop-culture references to it and just watch it.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
So it may not exactly be a classic but this film is a bunch of British actors who are singing about bloody murder and love. Yes that is Johnny Depp, starring with Helena Bonham Carter. Oh and the film is directed by Tim Burton of course. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells the story of Mr. Todd, an English barber and serial killer who is helped by Mrs. Lovett who turns corpses into meat pies. Snape (Alan Rickman) and Borat (Sasha Baron Cohen) also make appearances in the film and it is quite entertaining to see such a brilliant cast play so well off of each other.
Although it is not the standard musical where characters stop what they are doing and intently break out into song, this film is more of a movie with singing to express what each character is feeling at the time. Remember the actors that you see are not musical actors, with Tim Burton commenting on the cast saying they did really well despite having to train their voices and step out of their own comfort zones. It’s brilliant, entertaining and a pleasure to watch nonetheless, and Johnny Depp brings his quirkiness to the screen with full intent and ambition.