Thursday, November 10, 2011


Now that Wonders in the Dark has finished counting down their list of musicals, I am moved to comment. First - that's it's been a treat to follow along, as it came out. A bit intimidating, as well... Not so intimidating that I'm not inspired to offer my own list of favorite musicals.

Or best musicals - or whatever they are. The countdown does tend to stir up questions about genre - they seem to have been deliberately vague about the definition of a musical - though they seem to have reached a consensus on some things. Documentaries and concert films seem to be right out - none on the list (that I can see) - I'm assuming that if they were considered eligible, you'd see Don't Look Back or Stop Making Sense or Gimme Shelter in there somewhere. That's a rule that makes sense, though it's odd that everyone seems to have gone by it on their own.

On the other hand - what about Nashville? O Brother Where Art Thou? or for that matter - how did This is Spinal Tap not make it? I won't credit the possibility that they aren't among the 140 best films with music in them - so they must be passed over for other reasons. And - I suppose it's reasonable enough that they are, they don't exactly present themselves as musicals, not in any traditional sense. (Though what else would Spinal Tap be, anyway?) But what is striking about those films, even more than some others that might fall on the edge of being musicals (from - oh - Pierrot le Fou to To Have and Have Not to some on the list - Blue Angel, say) is how conventionally they fit the genre. How is Nashville not, from start to finish, a backstage musical? O Brother Where Art Thou is an even more complete match - it is a backstage musical, featuring multiple performances in the film; plus more than one musical number that is NOT a performance - the Sirens - the KKK rally - the baptism scene. It also has the tone of old movies - light and breezy (with a hint of seriousness) - though I'd say it draws its tone more from old newspaper comic strips than old movies, there's a lot of overlap. It's not just a musical, it's an old fashioned musical - and on top of that, features some outstanding music, played straight. It's interesting that it's not there - not quite surprising - if I hadn't started thinking about definitions, I might not of considered it myself.... But once you think about it - I don't know how you ignore it.

Anyway - that aside - I can't see much to quarrel with on the list. Though - there are a couple films I don't understand missing it. Namely - Fantasia - that might have been definitional, though other Disney cartoons are on there - it is something of a strange beast, though... The other one - and I'm less inclined to forgive this oversight - is Shall We Dance. Fred and Ginger got lots of love - 3 films (that I remember off the top of my head) - #6 and #11 at that - but surely there should be at least one more. I like the early ones the best - you can see that below... but I can see why someone might prefer Swing Time or Shall We Dance - they are sleeker, the formula has been shined to a sparkle - and formula is not a bad thing at all in films... I would take Shall We Dance over Swing Time, but it's not so much the order as the fact that they are both aces... Though I do think this - that over all, Shall We Dance has the best music of any of the Fred and Ginger films. Overall - nothing, ever, beat Night and Day, as a song - but the Gershwin score, the Gershwin songs (You Can't Take That Away From Me; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off) are just marvelous, and add up to more than the music of any of the others....

Okay - enough. What would I vote for? This could bog down into definitions - and so I am going to offer two versions of this list. First - the expansionary one - this is the best films that I can find a reason to call musicals, ranked as movies:

1. Duck Soup
2. Pierrot Le Fou
3. Nashville
4. Blue Angel
5. Love Me Tonight
6. Top Hat
7. Hard Days Night
8. Night at the Opera
9. Gay Divorcee
10. Golddiggers of 1933
11. Wizard of Oz
12. Horsefeathers
13. O Brother Where Art Thou
14. Thirty Two Short Films About Glen Gould
15. Beijing Bastards
16. This is Spinal Tap
17. Merry Widow
18. West Side Story
19. Under the Roofs of Paris
20. Blond Venus
21. Don't Look Back
22. Forty Second Street
23. An American in Paris
24. Singing in the Rain
25. Red Shoes

And then - ranked as Musicals. For - meeting the genre requirements of a musical; and for the music itself - the dancing - the performances, the way the music is used in the film, as an end to itself. I think this is what I would end up with there:

1. Top Hat
2. Love Me Tonight
3. Gay Divorcee
4. Golddiggers of 1933
5. Hard Days Night
6. Duck Soup
7. Wizard of Oz
8. West Side Story
9. Forty Second Street
10. O Brother Where Art Thou
11. Singin' in the Rain
12. Meet Me in St.Louis
13. An American in Paris
14. Shall We Dance
15. Blond Venus
16. This is Spinal Tap
17. Don't Look Back
18. Merry Widow
19. Under the Roofs of Paris
20. The Red Shoes
21. Fantasia
22. Nashville
23. Gimme Shelter
24. Golddiggers of 1935
25. Cabin in the Sky

Today anyway...

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