In Defense of Movie Musicals | Reader's Digest

In Defense of Movie Musicals

Why the musical is a great genre, with some examples.

By Jim Menick

The movie musical is dead. Oh, sure, occasionally a new one comes out, and occasionally that new one is even good, but that’s just a fluke. There are no studios in the business of making musicals, much less multiple studios, and there are no reliable stables of performers to appear in those musicals. And the musicals that are made mostly seem to miss the whole point: for one thing, when people dance, the new musicals seldom just show the person dancing. It’s all cutaway shots and fast editing and every sort of distraction possible from the virtuosity of a performer doing good work. Back in the day, when Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly danced, you saw them from head to toe in long takes. Now it’s a lot of heads and toes in a lot of short takes. It’s not dancing; it’s editing.

Not only have musicals fallen by the wayside, but as David Benedict writes in Prospect, being a fan of musicals has become not only unfashionable but downright shameful. It’s okay to be a fan of science fiction or thrillers, but “declaring publicly that you like musicals invites either derision or, worse, pity.”

Musicals don’t deserve this treatment, and Benedict explains why:

“Most musicals pivot on their song ‘n’ dance numbers, stand-out moments that transcend their surroundings… It is not that musicals cannot work through narrative, it is that they choose a richer, more expressively full-blooded route consciously abandoning realism for idealistic fantasy.”

In a careful deconstruction of some musical classics, Benedict cuts to the core of the genre in general. Join the celebration in Odes to joy.

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