Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making something new out of old is no easy song and dance

The theme of this week's American Idol,songs from the Rat Pack,got me to thinking about musical styles over the decades and how the way some things change yet certain bits of business never completely go away.

For example,the performances last night(which I'll expand upon more in my TV Thursday post)were mostly trying to keep true to the original way those songs were sung,unlike the disco numbers from the other week that were given all new twists and turns.

Was it respect for the music or simply wanting to showcase their vocals in a more commercial way that lead to those choices? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle,but it does make me wonder which is harder;to sing a standard selection in the expected way or to create an original song with themes based on works of the past?

While the first option is a matter of technical difficulty,the second one is a slippery fish to fry. It requires through knowledge of that musical time period as well as the talent and creativity to make something altogether new from it. Let's check out a few examples and see how well they were done.

Xanadu tackles this challenge pretty well,not only by having Gene Kelly in the cast but using his skills as a song and dance man to full advantage. This charming duet with Olivia Newton-John,"Whenever You're Away From Me" even has a tap dancing section in it that recaptures some of Kelly's former glory days:

Phantom of the Paradise went thru several musical genres in the course of the plot,not only as a passage of time gimmick but to satirize the worn out cliches and the devious marketing ploys used to push this compromised artistry onto the listening public.

The first target on the hit parade was doo-wop groups,the equivalent of boy bands mixed with the showboating style of Sha-Na-Na. The hero of the piece,Winslow Leech, tries to make his creative voice heard over the loud and lyrically crass Juicy Fruits,who ultimately pay a price for having Winslow's work being stolen for them by their evil music master:

The satire in Chicago was more focused on the celebrity culture of crime,but it was helpful to have a character who was already in show business there. Thelma Kelly's cynical style of established success on stage played off Roxie Hart's desperate wannabe attempts to claw her way into the spotlight. The two of them hooking up together was inevitable in the end:

Dreamgirls retold the rise of Motown and the not so thinly disguised story of The Supremes. While Beyonce fancied herself the star of the show,it was Jennifer Hudson who ultimately came out on top. Even in the battle for excellence with new songs written solely for the movie,Hudson reigned supreme:

Some may feel that it's more like cannibalizing the past rather than making the best of the old and new come together in harmony. In my opinion, the only way to really judge such a thing is in the execution. Many try to pull it off,but only a few really get to reach the heights of greatness with their megamix:

1 comment:

Ladytink_534 said...

Xanadu was the very first movie I ever saw with Gene Kelly in it but certainly not the last! He's one of my favorites. :) Oh Chicago was awesome, I don't care what anyone says lol.