A Time Out piece I wrote, about the Hollywood Musicals festival (Fri Aug 19-Sun Aug 21) at the American Centre. Rocky Horror got cancelled but I'm including the writeup I did for it here, mainly because it gives me an excuse to hear "Hot Patootie Bless My Soul", which is hands-down the funniest title in rock 'n roll, again.
Berlin, Astaire, Berkley, Kelly, Rogers, Crosby, Caron. If they’re all in heaven together, that cloud they’re on must be one non-stop party. Rather like the films they left behind. This fortnight, revisit classic song-and-dance films at Celebrating the Hollywood Musical, presented by The American Centre and Cine Darbaar. The eclectic selection dates back to 1929, but also includes releases as recent as 2007. Here’s our picks from the line-up.
Top Hat (1935)
Hollywood ignores the Depression and heads to a Europe of the imagination, with Venice recreated, art-deco style, in a studio. Dale Tremont is awoken one night by someone tap-dancing on the floor above her. The culprit is Jerry Travers, and since he’s played by Fred Astaire and she by Ginger Rogers, we all know where this is headed.
Reasons to watch: Dance equals love whenever Fred and Ginger are together onscreen. Watch them tear up the floor in “The Piccolino”, and tear up yourself when they do “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”.
An American in Paris (1951)
Gene Kelly is an expatriate painter (why doesn’t he get a job dancing?) who, despite his wealthy patron’s advances, only has eyes for Leslie Caron, who’s engaged to someone else.
Reasons to watch: Eye-popping colour, the smoothest of opening scenes and a stunning climactic ballet (with one of the sexist moments in filmed dance), all of which bear the overblown touch of director Vincente Minelli. Oscar Levant as a misanthropic pianist is great too.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly meets Debbie Reynolds on a 1920s movie set. He’s a star, she’s dubbing for his opposite number. They dance, sing, fall in love, dance some more.
Reasons to watch: The elasticity of Donald O’Connor in “Make ’em laugh”. Jean Hagen as Kelly’s co-star, with a voice so ridiculous it earned her an Oscar nom. The title track, in which Kelly uses everything from a lamppost to a stern cop to augment his hypnotically graceful moves.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton’s macabre vision found a perfect match in this 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical. Based on a Victorian pulp serial, it’s the story of a barber out to avenge his wife’s death. Sondheim’s cerebral melodies guide the viewer through shaving contests, throat-slittings and the baking of human meat pies.
Reasons to watch: The emotion that Alan Rickman and Johnny Depp, neither of them trained singers, bring to their rendition of “Pretty Women”. The artistry of production designer Dante Ferretti, also responsible for creating the grimy, cruel worlds of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Two lovebirds out on a rainy night take shelter in a castle: a standard B-movie start for a B-movie that set its own standards. The young couple are soon beset by dozens of perverted cross-dressing glam-rockers, led by Dr Frank-N-Furter of Transsexual, Transylvania.
Reasons to watch: The possibility, however remote, of this being the one link between Elvis and Lady Gaga. The song titles: “Sweet Transvestite”, “Dammit Janet”, “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”. Tim Curry, who is so outrageously winning as Dr Frank-N-Furter it’s difficult to believe this was his first onscreen appearance.