During the past year, the one film which polarized critics to extremes was musical Dancer in the Dark. Whatever one thinks of this production and its Icelandic pop diva star Bjork, the film did at least bring new life and much-needed attention to the musical genre.
Musicals are the last old-time genre which have yet to enjoy a full comeback. This is not too surprising, considering the expense in mounting a film musical and the overwhelming lack of new quality source material from Broadway and the West End for these productions. A few years ago, the Madonna version of “Evita” was cautiously hailed as bringing back old-style musicals. Since that film came and went, though, the hoped-for return of musicals has not happened.
If no one is creating new musicals, perhaps it is fitting to dig deep and locate some older musicals which never received proper due their first time around. Four musical obscurities are worth a second look: two of them enjoyed theatrical release but then fell out of the popular memory, the 1954 New Faces and the 1975 Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and two others were barely seen when they were first presented but can perhaps find a second chance on home video, the 1994 Highway of Heartache and the 1997 Dika: Murder City.
Let’s take a look at these musical obscurities and see what we missed the first go-round!
NEW FACES ^ * * * 1/2 ^ In 1952, Broadway audiences were charmed by the musical-comedy revue “New Faces,” which introduced a line-up of bright and talented young performers to the spotlight. The show was a huge success and 20th Century Fox brought the cast to Hollywood to recreate the production for movie audiences. The resulting 1954 film version of “New Faces” turned into one of the most winning diversions of that decade…though strangely, the film has become virtually forgotten over time and is rarely seen today… Read the review >>>
JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS ^ * * * 1/2 ^ If any theatrical property seemed to be an unlikely choice for cinematic adaptation, it would be “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” A plotless four-person musical revue based on the songs of Belgian balladeer Jacques Brel, the show opened Off-Broadway in 1968 and quickly became a staple of smaller, intimate theaters and cabaret venues. In creating a film version, however, the simple and charming concept behind the stage production was happily tossed away and a completely new vision was put into place. The resulting film turned into one of the most bewildering and gleefully insane productions captured on camera…and in the process, the film accidentally foretold the coming of the MTV-style of music production… Read the review>>>
HIGHWAY OF HEARTACHE ^ * * * * ^ Greg Wild’s “Highway of Heartache” holds the distinction of being the first (and, to date, only) Canadian country western drag queen movie musical. Imagine John Waters remaking a Douglas Sirk soaper under the ægis of the Grand Ol’ Opry and you have an idea of what to expect here… Read the review>>>
DIKA: MURDER CITY ^ * * * * * ^ You haven’t lived until you’ve seen “Dika: Murder City,” Michæl D. Moore’s jaw-dropping 1997 tribute to septuagenarian punk rocker Dika Newlin. For those who subscribe to the notion that rock music is the exclusive domain of the young and old age is the bailiwick of sedate seniors, “Dika: Murder City” offers a topsy-turvy journey into acoustic insanity fueled by a wacky lady who crashes through all known barriers of good music and good sense with the power of a runaway train… Read the review>>>