Monday, April 14, 2003

Chicago (Movie)

Went, somewhat reluctantly, to see Chicago Saturday night. Niether my wife nor I are very big fans of the American musical, but living in Lethbridge, we had run out of other evening-out options. To my great surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I think there were three elements that elevated Chicago above the usual run of musicals.

First, the music was carefully separated from the 'action'. The integration of these two elements through cutting and thematic matching was not only highly effective, but very different from the usual musical where the characters go about their business until suddenly bursting into song mid-scene. I have never felt comfortable with this former approach, which lacks for verismilitude. If I were walking through a mall and various retailers suddenly burst into a big musical number, or a factory floor or an office or where ever, I don't think I would join in so much as freak. So I much prefered Chicago's careful distinction between staged musical numbers and movie clips.

Second, this sharp division allowed each format to work to its own best advantage without worrying about creating impossible seques between one and the other. The result was the staged musical numbers came across as just that -- I can't remember when I last had the same sense of being at a live performance while in a movie theatre. The staged numbers (perhaps thanks to the improved sound systems of recent years) felt very much like I was in the second row of a live musical and could have reached out and touched the performers. Live musicals of course score several points over a recording, but in this case the performances were a lot better than one could ever expect from a live caste. The immediacy of a live performance with the advantage of the multi-take, top star caste, was fairly unique in my experience.

Third, and what brought it all together for me, was that there was a compelling logic for the music. Unlike the typical Hollywood (or even more so, the typical Bollywood) movie where characters often appear to sing for no reason other than it is expected, here the musical number was the key metaphor of the art. The lead character being a chorus girl saw her life story portrayed as a series of musical numbers, so the numbers when they occured come across as the heroine's interior dialog rather than as some artificial construct. As a metaphor for the heroine's self-image, her perceptions of events (the tapdancing lawyer in the production of the court scene, for example) the music was great, high art. This contrasts every sharply with the pointless ness of most musical numbers in most American musicals, and made the whole exercise intellecually respectable for me. That the music itself carried a great deal of social commentary was an added bonus.

And, I must say, I really loved some of the music.

So, I highly recommend the movie to anyone who has not seen it yet. And you won't hear me recommending many musicals.

Quote of the day:

A list serve member commenting on an odd email he had received:
"It seems to be Hare Krishna spam. Now there's a sentence that
would have meant nothing to our grandparents."