In honor of La La Land, we're presenting a week of articles inspired by the film. You can buy your tickets here!
Whether it was the mindblowing transition from sepia to technicolor in The Wizard of Oz or memorizing whatever earworm the latest Disney animated fare put a stranglehold on our childhood; for many of us, our earliest movie memories are closely connected to musicals. For whatever reason, however, movie lovers tend to express any love they have for movie musicals with a sense of hesitancy. A simple Google search of reviews for Into The Woods, Les Miserables, and even High School Musical 3 will turn up critics with roughly the same phrasing in every review.
“This movie won’t be for everyone. After all, it is a musical.”
This “disclaimer” appears time and time again, as if the musical style is lesser than others. The Great Ziegfeld, An American in Paris, Gigi, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, and Chicago are all of the movie musicals to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with many rumbling that La La Land is a strong contender to be the eleventh. Three of the first inductees into the Library of Congress were musicals, and yet people still talk about the genre as if its existence is niche and nothing more.
At some point, moviegoers turned away from the escapism that films provided and instead thirsted for “realism” as the apex of performance art. We no longer wanted to suspend our disbelief; we wanted to convincingly feel and slither into the shell of the cinematic world before us. Musicals are inherently unrealistic in the sense that it’s not common for people to burst into song, but if bursting into song were more socially acceptable, perhaps this behavior would be more commonplace. We as a culture will balk at musicals for singing out of nowhere, but share videos of flash mob musical proposals in the middle of central park across Facebook as if it’s the most romantic thing to ever exist.
I’m not trying to say “EVERYONE SHOULD LIKE MUSICALS AND IF YOU DON’T, YOU’RE WRONG!" Because I don't think every musical is for everyone just like not every movie is for everyone. I do, however, think that there is a musical for everyone and every musical will resonate sincerely and powerfully with someone. If you’re quick to dismiss the snap and tap musicals like West Side Story, maybe something like Phantom of the Paradise is more your speed. Like the upbeat tunes but cannot bare to listen to another singing chorus of children in something like Annie? Maybe look for a more B-Movie esque classic like Little Shop of Horrors. If the success of Hamilton has shown anything, it’s that perhaps film isn’t the right medium for everyone. Musicals like Bat Boy, Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, Assassins, and Urinetown have yet to make the jump to screen, and more than likely, never will. Much like horror, the world of movie musicals is wide and varied. Instead of having that knee-jerk “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” reaction so many have when the word “musical” is uttered, remind yourself of the days of scrolling through box covers trying to find that diamond in the rough, the one that speaks to you when you think nothing else will ever understand.
All the world’s a song to sing, so sing with all your heart.