31 December 2006 | tedg
Michael Jackson Spits
You have only two first choices in making a movie musical; you can preserve its stage nature, or decide at the first to make a movie, something that has a cinematic sense. I like musical presentation and all; I like theater and the contact of performance. Its all fine, but what really transports me is what I think of as opera in the modern sense. Its that multiple delivery of sense, primarily through sweeping enveloping visual grammar, supplemented by coordinated threads: text, narrative, music, emotional and intellectual.
"Moulin Rouge" is my gold standard, born as a child of film, deeply reflexive. Chicago was less coherent some of its cinematic collage really was just chop, but even then they eye needs rhythm and "Chicago" delivered. That film also had something this has only in certain places: sweat if not blood. We knew that Zellweger and Zeta-Jones are uninteresting people, and the songs manufactured emotionally (as opposed to say, blues songs from someone blue). But we saw them work their guts out.
This is an odd, odd thing musically. Start with genuine R&B, sung in Detroit basements and school auditoriums. Now transform that for the market, initially black showgoers. Now transform it again for a similar record-buying public. Again for white recordbuyers (where, incidentally I found myself in the late sixties), and then again for TeeVee watchers (and with added glamor, Las Vegas).
Let that steep for fifteen years, all becoming a joke, then transform it again for the Broadway stage. By this time, any performance related to this collection of genres cannot be genuine in any way, merely a commentary. The performers may be black, but its as far removed from what it pretends to be as a scene in this film depicts: a white teen along the lines of Johnny Vee covering a black song. Its not a matter of how good the singer is, even the earnest Hudson who gets the applause here. Its a matter of market forces: art is brought to us by market forces and those forces bend, filter, bleach.
Now take that stage show, based on a story about just this: how mass music MUST be untrue take that stage musical and transform it one more time, and you'll have this. That's six generations from where this music meant something to what it is before it hits our ears. The only thing that can justify this is the full bore experience.
The stage show delivered it in spades, because it used extraordinary stagecraft. It was to the stage musical what "Moulin Rouge" was to the film musical: the vocabulary stretched to its most colorful (read: moving) excess. Where's that excess here? There are three (three?) moments where a rehearsal sweeps around and you find yourself on stage. Once done well would have been enough, these aren't.
One character in this needs to be the white space, the root of the thing in terms of values. Maybe it could have been the avuncular manager (Glover) or the silent Dad, or the child. But no one is given the nail. One song at least needs to be performed as genuine. Yes, Hudson's number brings down the house. But it is so overproduced and overstaged its clear it is merely dare I say it? a show by a woman trying hard to have a career, not a woman who actually lives in her song.
At least "Hustle and Flow" was obviously dishonest.
Oh well. Seeing Eddie Murphy do James Brown just before the man is buried meant something to me. Its an homage of sorts.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.