Gill-Ty Pleasure Thursday: Movie Musicals

Gill-Ty Pleasure Thursday

MUSICALS — You won’t find too many straight men who admit they enjoy the occasional musical, but the Gill Man is comfortable enough with his sexuality to stand up and be counted. Here are a few musicals I’ve screened over the past few months that walk the line between cult flick and big gay musical production. This is why we call it Gill-Ty Pleasure Thursdays. Okay?

HAIRSPRAY (2007)
Being a big fan of John Waters’ original non-musical Hairspray (arguably his best, most well-rounded feature), I was ready to hate this version, based on the stage musical of the same name. Despite the stunt casting of John Travolta in terrifying drag and pounds of latex as the heroine’s mom, there’s no denying the chripy charm of what’s been done with Waters’ story. It’s the story of Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a fat teen girl living in Baltimore on the cusp of social segregation. Racial conflict is observed in the context of The Corny Collins Show, a local teen dance show in the American Bandstand format, that reserves one day a week for black teens to strut their stuff (“Negro Day”). Tracy with the help of her best friend (a deliciously cute Amanda Bynes), her new hoofer crush (High School Musical pretty boy, Zach Effron) and Negro Day host, Motormouth Mabel (Queen Latifah) pretty much lead a revolution, bringing televised dancy equality to Baltimore to the dismay of evil TV program manager (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her snot-nosed teen queen daughter. The songs are decent though they begin to sound a lot alike as we move into the second hour. One of the things that made the source material so great was Waters’ impeccable ear for period music to fill his soundtracks. None of those great songs are here and it’s a strike against the idea of turning Hairspray into a musical. That the teen dancers in this version never boogie down to the “Mashed Potato Time” or do “the Madison” is a crime. But overall, for a two hour running time, things move along briskly and some of the more inspired casting makes the whole affair fun. Rikki Lake, who played teen tracy in the original, has a cameo as does Waters’ (as a flasher in the opening number!). Christopher Walken plays Tracey’s father and husband to Travolta’s character. They tango and make allusions to sex. The implications of that coupling will provide plenty of material for some inevitable nightmares. Sweet, sincere and faithful to its roots but filled with wall-to-wall numbers that are hardly memorable.
***

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986)
Based on the off-Broadway musical which, itself, is based on Roger Corman’s 60s cheap-o quicky, LSoH is a musical that gets just about everything right. The source material is really only used as a story framework, but everything else is uniquely inspired. In short, a giant flytrap from outer space lands in the hands of a nerdy flower shop employee (Rick Moranis) who must feed the botanical nightmare blood to keep it alive, and keep business booming. Steve Martin’s turn as a villainous sadistic dentist provides the movie’s best number and performance. Moranis is no singer but he belts it out with believable heart as does love interest, Audrey, played by Ellen Green who played the same character in the original stage production. The stage version’s unhappy ending was clipped from the film’s final cut after test screenings boo-hoo’d over it. Instead we’re left with a generic sci-fi throw-down that feels misplaced and lets the air out of the final 20 minutes. One original song written specifically for the movie, “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” was nominated for an Oscar(!).  Frank Miss-Piggy-Yoda-Fozzie-Bear Oz directs. John Candy, Christopher Guests and Bill Murray (as a masochistic dental patient) all make funny brief appearances. If you haven’t seen the original Corman cult-status classic, you should.
***

ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, THE (1975)
Based on Richard O’Brian’s original stage show (The Rocky Horror Show) this campy ode to 50s sci-fi, Americana, sexploitation and cross-dressing is truly one bizarre (and ambitious) flick. Obviously, it’s become more of a pop phenomenon than a movie but strip away the midnight showings, the obnoxious fans and the audience participation and you’re left with…well…SOMEthing. The entire show has Tim Curry to thank for everything. As Frank N. Furter a “sweet transvestite” from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania (no, seriously), Curry minces, stomps and belts out the tunes like no one else. He’s a commanding presence who never seemed to find the niche he deserved in post-Rocky pics. A young and very sexy Susan Sarandon plays one half of a wholesome couple who stumble upon Furter’s castle/spaceship during an alien convention (just in time to witness “The Time Warp”). Before long they’re seduced, betrayed and dropped in drag by their host and his domestic help — RHPS creator O’Brian and Patricia Quinn. The central story is a Frankenstein-esque fable: Curry’s alien scientist attempts a second draft of his ideal “perfect man” (the first being Meat Loaf!) — only to be betrayed by said creation when he corrupts young Sarandon’s good girl, Janet Weiss. It’s hard to see RHPS with virgin eyes after many-a midnight viewings in my teen years, but at it’s core it’s actually a very sweet and endearing love letter to genre movies that has some interesting points to make about gender roles. The pacing is off in many places (a common pitfall of stage-to-movie adapatations) and the sets range from passable to cheaply stupid, but overrall RHPS still holds up as big campy fun.
**1/2

SHOCK TREATMENT (1981)
A sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show is a concept with potential, but this truly bizarre, dreary spin-off is a fascinating misfire. Written by RHPS creator, Richard O’Brian, Shock Treatment is really “the further adventures of Brad and Janet,” portrayed here by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper. Their hometown, Denton, is part smalltown America and part TV studio (?!) where the daily lives of characters play out in literal soap operas, game shows and doctor dramas. The plot is all about Brad getting his groove back so that he’s not such a wuss. O’Brian and Patricia Quinn return in new roles than the ones they played in RHPS — but these characters ALSO happen to be incestuous twins. What’s most disappointing about ST is that the music is solid and some numbers top RHPS’ best – but great songs are framed by a bad, confusing and outrageously UGLY movie that doesn’t seem to know what it’s actually trying to do or say. Worth a look for fans of Rocky Horror and rock musicals. All others are best advised to steer clear.
*1/2

~ by Number5ive on June 27, 2008.

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