Category:animated musical

January 31, 2005

Musical, Re-Animated

genekelly_vw_ad.jpgAfter the initial surge of self-righteous outrage-alin subsided in my veins, I decided that this British VW commercial that re-animates Gene Kelly in order to have him Breakdance In The Rain is, in fact, a rather brilliant tribute and an awesome piece of work.

Someday, we'll all need to think about who makes decisions about who gets to decide how and when our content and likeness will be used after we're dead. Kelly got lucky here; you wouldn't (would you??) want heirs like Samuel Beckett's, whose fundamentalist dictums foreclose any possible future innovations. Of course, you wouldn't want Fred Astaire's heirs, either, who sold him out to a freakin' vacuum commercial, or MLK's, who pimped one of the most important speeches of the 20th century to a phone company that probably doesn't even exist anymore.

No, you'd want--ok, I'd want--to come up with a committee of sorts, a group that self-perpetuates, with a diverse enough membership that stays able to judge the current context, and position dead-me in it an innovative, relevant, and reputation/"brand"-enhancing way.

xanadu.jpgWho knows, the people I designate--and the types of people they're replaced with; I wouldn't want my committee to ossify or to get hijacked/blockaded by any one generation--might even make better career choices for me after I'm dead than I make while I'm still here. After all, Gene Kelly's last dancing movie was the hapless Olivia Newton-John rollerdisco musical, Xanadu [here's the DVD].

VW GTi, Gene Kelly - Singin' In The Rain (60s) [ via via]
A generous and funny Xanadu synopsis []
A Pile of Rubble Topped by Nudes. Now That's a Musical!

[Update: Holy crap, Xanadu was the first feature film of Robert Greenwald, who directed Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism and Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War]

[On the other hand: Wayne Bremser--he of the Matthew Barney vs Donkey Kong fame--sends me to the showers thus:

I disagree with you, Greg. The first thing that stands out is that the music isn't "breakdance" music at all - it's bad generic euro dance music. They should have done a mash up of something, would have been more interesting and perhaps there is something related to "rain" that would have been more interesting.

While I don't think this scene is sacred, I do think there is something perverse about manipulating Gene Kelly to look like a much worse dancer than he was. It's not that bad at the end when the camera is not so close, and they don't have to maintain the illusion of his head, but the rest of it, the way they have manipulated the head to always look at the camera, it looks like Jim Carrey doing a dance while trying to keep up a wacky face.

With the wealth of original homegrown media mashups online (i.e. Planet of Apes remixed as a Twlight Zone episode), a commercial like this seems amateur in concept and style (perhaps more polished, but certainly amateurs would use better music).

I DID totally call it on Xanadu, though. - g.o]

Stephen Frears, the rather gritty naturalist British director, is finishing his first musical, Mrs. Henderson Presents, which tells the story of a London burlesque-like theatre during the Blitz.

I get cheered up when I hear stories of people who didn't want to make a musical making a musical, and in the NY Times, James Ulmer's October visit to the set reveals a bit of how Frears did it. One key was taking a page, literally, from Hollywood:

[Frears said] "Alan Parker once told me you can wing a movie, but you can't wing a musical. So yes, I did feel trapped."

Until, that is, he and his team discovered a book and saw a documentary on the world of Arthur Freed. From the 1940's to the early 1970's, Freed's ability to lure top actors, directors, choreographers and composers to work cheek-by-jowl in his MGM production offices delivered such classic musicals as Singin' in the Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis and Gigi. The Freed Unit created Hollywood's first and greatest musical repertory company, and counted Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly and Busby Berkeley in its fold. That model gave Mr. Frears the key he had been searching for.

"Freed had figured out that you must have all these creative people working together in the same room," the director said. "You can't do it right unless they're all present and thinking the same way. So I got everybody into the same place - the writer, composer, musical director and choreographer - and worked it all out. Thank God we read that book."

That book, I'm guessing, is Hugh Fordin's expert M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit and the documentary is probably Musicals Great Musicals by David Thompson, a global public tv-style puff piece which is not as informative, but is still pretty and entertaining.

We just caught the end of Signin' In The Rain on TCM, so my Freed awe factor is running kinda high right now. [Musicals Great Musicals is included in the Singin' In The Rain 2-Disc DVD, by the way.]

A Pile of Rubble Topped by Nudes. Now That's a Musical! [NYT]

An ecstatic review by Jason Scott of possibly the geekiest musical possible (without disrupting the space-time continuum, I'm sure), The Last Starfighter.

As every teenage videogame addict living in a trailer park in the eighties knows, the movie, The Last Starfighter tells the story of a... teenage videogame addict living in a trailer park who is tapped by aliens to save a distant planet the universe from destruction or something.

In any case, it's now a musical, exuberantly and complexly well-done (apparently), and playing off^3-Broadway at the Storm Theatre. Don't procrastinate and blow it like you did Rent; go see it before it moves to the big stage.

"Geekdom, extreme geekdom, does not just have depths, my friends; it has heights...Sometimes, we think we have achieved the pinnacle, and then, slowly, we glance upward and see we have even farther to climb." [ASCII by Jason Scott, via waxy]
The Last Starfighter: The Musical, now playing at the Storm Theatre

cribbed but shrunken and credited, from the new york times article, image: robert dennisonAt last, the Hebrews have hearkened unto that voice in the wilderness, that great prophet who came down off the mountain.

Translation for the godless: The Times has a review of Ten Commandments: The Musical ("Val Kilmer IS Moses."), which Defamer has been preaching about for days.

Figuring that Christian audiences are well known for embracing wild-ass reinterpretations of biblical texts [??], the producers of TC:TM VKIM went ahead and rewrote The Commandments: "'Thou shalt not steal' becomes the considerably less pithy 'Don't take things that belong to someone else.' There's also the interestingly ambiguous 'Never lie about others.'"

Here, for your salvation in the Promised Land, are all ten of Val Kilmer Is Moses's Ten Commandments, as revealed to me this morning while I was burning through a bushel of Crunchberries:

God saysVal Kilmer IS Moses says
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.What part of "Do you know who I Am?" don't you understand?
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image."the taking of photographs and use of recording equipment is strictly prohibited [in the Kodak Theatre]."
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.Step 1: Instead of ass say buns, like "kiss my buns" or "you're a buns hole"
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.No, I will not use a Crackberry.
Honour thy father and thy mother.Dick Grayson : You can't understand. Your family wasn't killed by a maniac.
Bruce Wayne : Yes, they were.
Thou shalt not kill.ibid.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.Inexplicably dropped from the original French production.
US production: Sorry, no kissing.
Thou shalt not steal.Don't take things that belong to someone else.
Thou shalt not bear false witness.Never lie about others.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, &c."rules for the press line: DO NOT ASK 'Who are you wearing?'

He Sings, He Dances, He Parts the Red Sea [Charles Isherwood, NYT]
The Ten Commandments: Val Kilmer up to his old tricks [Defamer]

not_my_type_iv_lycette.gifAlso worth checking out from Strange Attractors is Mark & John Lycette's Not My Type IV. Although it dates from 2002, it's just started getting attention and awards from festivals this year.

The Lycettes' Not My Type series uses typographic elements to create pared down characters and landscapes. A comma becomes a teardrop falling from o-within-O eyes, for example. Very smart, not cheesy stuff; it's the best animated typography since Donald visited Mathmagicland.

That said, the pacing drags a little; when the protagonist gets annoyed at the whining leafblower, you feel something stronger than just empathy. Very nice stuff that makes me want to see I-III.

Not My Type IV by the Lycette Brothers [Strange Attractors, ABC]
Lycette Bros. studio site
Developing a Storyboard [Note: that untraceable typewriter sound is coming from an embedded Flash image waayy down the page that looks just like the jpgs around it. Flash is the new midi, apparently.]

qing_the_way.jpgStrange Attractors is a showcase of short films by 12 Victoria (Australia) animation artists sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. It looks very promising, in that "utter absence of commercial pressure=trippier than normal animation" kind of way.

Surfing through the offerings, bios and highly particular technical/instructional articles, the first film I decided to watch was Qing Huang's The Way.

The Way is a beautiful 3-d cgi transformation of traditional Chinese painting that explores the Taoist's view of art and nature. Although it's all done in Maya, not actual stop action animation, it reminds me of the best aspects of William Kentridge's work (i.e., the unification of technique and aesthetic, drawing/erasing and brushstroke, not the heavy-handed political melodrama.)

Watch it before reading Qing's meticulously conceived philosophical approach to the project, if only to realize how, unlike so many of Kentrige's works, the Big Message doesn't overwhelm the film's expert, enjoyable lyricism.

Strange Attractor [lo-band entry, easier than flash, via MeFi]
Painterly Effects in Maya, by Qing Huang [Strange Attractor, ABC]

Last year I was blown away by the beautiful artistry that went into the eerily slick corporate propagandotainment comic book, The Atomic Revolution.

I'm using the cool, Golden Age comic style as a major visual reference point for my As Yet Unannounced Animated Musical, which has more than a little good, old-fashioned apocalyptic flavor to it.

The cool animation artist Ethan Persoff rediscovered it, scanned it in, and hosted the entire book on his site (and now accepts donations to pay for the significant bandwidth the increasingly popular book consumes. Why not drop some change in the jar?)

Now, finally, after getting smoked on a couple of previous auctions, I can announce that I've finally received my own copy of the book this week from an Austin ebay-er. It wasn't expensive, just rare. Henceforth, you all have my permission to search for your own issue. Good luck.

Rebecca Traitser, oft of the NYO and some online zine called Salon, notes in the NYT that the studios haven't quite ironed out all the details of that post-Chicago musical revival we've all been waiting for. Ignoring that Miramax-spun history of contemporary musicals for a moment (Moulin Rouge? South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut? 8 Mile?), it seems musicals need a certain studios ne savent quoi to escape development hell.

Some examples: Broadway films [Do we know that Joel Schumacher's Phantom won't bring on the Apocalypse?], classic musical remakes, hip-hop musicals, pop stars performing, and --shockingly--something original. [I would add animated anime-style thriller to that list if I'd moved forward with it at all in the last three months...]

The only musical in the article that doesn't already bore me to tears is John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, starring James Gandolfini and Susan "Rocky Horror" Sarandon. The producers call it "Pennies from Heaven meets The Honeymooners," and say it'll include covers of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Man Without Love" and Tom Jones's "Delilah" along with original music and choreography. [Christopher Walken's in it, and as Spike Jonze's Weapon of Choice video proves, the man can dance.]

R&C is currently in post-production. Back in 2002, it was a Coen Brothers joint, they dropped out and left Turturro to direct. Greene Street Films is producing, and my boy Bingham Ray's UA is distributing.

Salon ad for PBS's Oklahoma! starring Hugh Jackman

I may have a new tagline for my As-Yet-Unannounced Animated Musical: it's not Terminator meets West Side Story; it's Swordfish meets Oklahoma!

But I'm already too late. Starting Saturday, PBS will broadcast the Royal National Theater's 2002 revival of Oklahoma! starring hacker, mutant, and musical theater whore, Hugh Jackman.

Related Links:
Salon. For once, I didn't make it past the ad
Oklahoma! on PBS, starring Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman starring as Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli's gay husband (is there any other kind?) in The Boy from Oz (I'm leaving a whole HBO joke on the table there, you know.)
It turns out the National Theater revival was already the occasion for a post, but from an anthro/cult stud perspective.

On BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow calls Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World "one of the most important texts of the decade." I'm pretty sure he means the decade starting in 2000, (or, say, September 11, 2001), not the last ten years.

Schneier's a/the security expert, and Beyond Fear, Cory says, "utterly demystifies security" for a non-technical audience. My bet is, it guts every Ashcroftian rights-and-power grab in the name of security like a trout on a church griddle. [I know, Ashcroft is so not Catholic, so the fish thing's not applicable. Work with me here, people.]

I'm using Schneier's landmark text, Applied Cryptography, as a reference for my animated musical script, of all things. After all, the video store's bargain bins are overflowing with tapes of animated musicals that included crypto but couldn't bother to get it right. Aren't they?

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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