Stewart Lee once described musical theatre as combining "the worst aspects of music with the worst aspects of theatre to create a mutant hybrid that is the worst form of live art that exists", and for a long time I was inclined to agree. The extravagance, the jarring switches in emotion, the histrionic singing and the massive, overblown orchestrations never did anything for me but make me feel violently ill.
However, whilst an appreciation of musical theatre still alludes me to a certain degree, much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I have begun to see the brilliance of movie musicals, so much so that I now lament the genre's demise and get excited at the possibility of another being released. There are so many great songs to have come from the cinema, but these are the ones that taught me to love the genre.
Pure Imagination - Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
The more I think about it, the more I think that this is my favourite film. Gene Wilder's performance is impeccable, his singing voice sweet and hypnotic, and this song just holds me in the palm of its hand. It's that first cut to the factory, which as well as being an array of sweets, confectionery and chocolate, still looks like a factory, just one of the many mistakes Tim Burton made when making his bastardized version, and it's the combination of the awe inspiring and the unsettling that makes this scene so iconic.
Scrooge - The Muppets Christmas Carol
You'd have to be a cold, cold person not to like The Muppets. As cold as Ebenezer Scrooge, you might say! But remember guys, at the end of A Christmas Carol even Scrooge is won over by the magic of Christmas, so if you have a friend who doesn't like The Muppets then you best endeavour to confront him with the demons of his past in order that he realise that Gonzo is one of the greatest characters ever created. This film is obviously a Christmas staple, but truth be told, there's not a day goes by that I don't feel like watching it.
Lonesome Polecat - Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
The plot for Seven Brides And Seven Brothers is...well...it's a little rapey to be honest with you. A burly woodsman gets married to a pretty country girl who is shocked to find that her new fella lives in a cabin with his six brothers. She convinces them they'd be much better off with a bride, and so they essentially ride into town and steal a bunch of women! The townsfolk are furious, especially the Dads, but eventually Stockholm Syndrome sets in and everyone gets married. As far as film messages go, it's up there with Grease's "slut up to get your man" shtick, but the music in it is sublime, with this song the standout.
Singin' In The Rain - Singin' In The Rain
If I could be any man from history, I'd probably choose to be Gene Kelly. In fact, I'd give my left foot to be able to dance like him, though that would obviously impair my dancing skills...though I'm sure if Gene Kelly lost a foot he'd still be far more graceful than I am. Motherfucker can dance on roller skates for crying out loud. Singin' In The Rain is a Hollywood classic for a very good reason. The musical numbers are beautifully choreographed and brilliantly orchestrated, the jokes have stood the test of time brilliantly, and it's a brilliant analysis of the conversion from silent to sound cinema in Hollywood - much, much, much better than The Artist, since you didn't ask.
My Forgotten Man - The Golddiggers Of 1933
Another classic from Hollywood's early days, Golddiggers Of 1933 is interesting in that its plot is centred around a crisis of unemployment in the movies. Generally whenever musicals have a go at social commentary it ends up being at best, very didactic, and at worst very, very cheap (Hairspray, Spring Awakening, I'm looking at you). Golddiggers is neither of those things, as this incredibly powerful closing number attests to. There were sequels made, but none of them hold a candle to the original.
Hey Big Spender! - Sweet Charity
Containing probably the dirtiest horn section of all time, Hey Big Spender is the flagship song in this excellent musical. It's great on stage, but the way the film showcases the darkness and seediness of the strip club here is unparalleled. Bob Fosse too is a legendary choreographer and here you can see why, the mannered, almost robotic movements of the girls combined with the lengthy point of view shot serve to remove any trace of glamour from the scene. Hey Big Spender is a war cry from a group of desperate, disenfranchised women, and we're the ones they're screaming at.
Say It To Me Now - Once
Once is probably the best musical of recent years, so good that I know people who will fervently deny its status as a musical, guilty of the same prejudice against the genre that I was before I had heard all of the songs in this list. It may not have song and dance numbers, it may be direct sound, but there's no denying that the songs are integral to the flow of the narrative, which to my mind makes the film a musical. In this opening scene the relationship between "boy" and "girl" as they are known is wonderfully established, the camera curiously moving forward towards this wailing busker, before pulling back to reveal the girl who's been watching all along.
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