Greg Moberly: Westerns 101 and the modern musical
The Union Staff
Who wouldn’t want to take a film class in college?
The way I figure it, there are those who don’t know their university offers a film course and those who are studying agriculture.
OK, I’m sort of joking here.
I took a film course at a community college in Illinois where I grew up and a film course at Iowa State University where I got my bachelor’s degree.
The community college film course was about what I expected with screenings of “Dr. Strangelove,” “Vertigo,” “Seconds” and ” Dirty Harry.” I expected a little more at Iowa State, maybe with some experimental or freaky independent films thrown in with classics.
“We’ll be studying the two original film genres: musicals and Westerns,” the instructor said (as best I can remember).
There was “Singing in the Rain,” “High Noon,” “The Searchers,” and “Calamity Jane” (which is both a musical and a western).
The course wasn’t what I expected but when I finished it I had a new appreciation of musicals and westerns. I also gained somewhat of an understanding of how today’s films evolved from those two genres.
The westerns of yesteryear largely headed to modern times and urban settings.
For anyone who has seen it – and that should be a lot of you – who can forget the intense shootout on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1995 film “Heat”? It had good guys and bad guys, an epic confrontation between screen legends Al Pacino and Robert Deniro and chase scenes. That sounds like elements of a typical Western to me.
It’s a bit more complex to trace what happened to the musical or maybe I’m forgetting something I learned in the course.
Just about every film today features music. But that doesn’t make them all musicals, does it?
Do the characters suddenly need to sing at the top of their lungs because they are happy, sad, in love or whatever? That’s probably the way most people view musicals. Is it the correct and only way? I’m not sure.
Was the 1999 film “Magnolia” a musical when all of the sudden several main characters in separate locations began individually singing the same song in the middle of the movie. That didn’t happen any other time during the film.
Magnolia’s writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson said he was making a film based on the songs of Aimee Mann. Does that make it a musical?
Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” clearly is a musical in a more traditional sense. The film reinterpreted modern-era songs from Elton John, Nirvana and Madonna and cast them in a powerful forbidden love story. I think the songs worked well and the film featured beautiful visuals and was highly entertaining.
The 1984 film “Footloose” also had dynamic songs, great visuals and a compelling story.
The “Footloose” collector’s edition DVD has commentaries dubbing the film “a modern musical.”
The characters don’t exactly sing – they dance, as the title implies. Kevin Bacon’s character, for no other reason other than he was angry and ready to rebel, breaks into a wild dance number in an abandoned factory in the middle of the film. Does that alone qualify “Footloose” as a musical?
Frankly, it was excellent timing for a film like “Footloose” to succeed with MTV still in its infancy, playing all sorts of music videos (Remember music videos on MTV. Ahh, those were the days).
Timing is key. Isn’t it?
When most people think of musicals, they think of over-the-top films of the ’50s and ’60s. Does that need to be rethought?
Greg Moberly is a copy editor for The Union. He had a recent dream where the legendary soul singer James Brown, wearing all white, pitched a shutout for the Chicago Cubs and smacked the game-winning double in the ninth inning for a 1-0 victory. Would that be a musical? To contact Moberly, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4234.
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