Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Movie Musical's Last Stand?

Billy Flynn (Richard Gere): This is Chicago, kid. You can't beat fresh blood on the walls.

It probably isn't obvious to modern movie viewers, but, for awhile, movie musicals were frequently recognized as the best movies of the year — at least by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But, after "Oliver!" won Best Picture in 1969, no musical won Best Picture again until 2003, when "Chicago," the film that was released 10 years ago today, beat, among others, the second installment in the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.

And, as a matter of fact, "Chicago" is the most recent musical to be nominated for Best Picture. (That isn't surprising, really. Musicals represent a much smaller segment of filmmaking than they once did.)

(As a one–time newspaper copy editor, I get a kick out of the way that newspaper front pages in movies always have banner headlines for the very story that the movie happens to be about. It will be that way in the filmmakers' universe even if the president is assassinated at the same time or nuclear tensions reach an all–time high.)

Renée Zellweger, who played Roxie, a housewife who coveted a career in show biz, and Catherine Zeta–Jones, whose character, Velma, already had a career in vaudeville, were the focal points of what was a truly satirical story.

Both women were accused of murder. Initially, Zellweger killed her lover after learning that he did not have the show business connections he told her he had, that he had only told her that in order to sleep with her. She convinced her husband (played by John C. Reilly), who showed up after the fact, to take the fall for her, claiming that the man was a burglar.

But Reilly's character got cold feet, and Zellweger was taken to the county jail, where she crossed paths with Zeta–Jones, who was in custody for killing her husband and her sister, and Queen Latifah, the jail's unethical matron who lived by one rule — when you're good to Mama, she's good to you.

Enter Richard Gere, who played Billy Flynn, a smooth operator of a lawyer of whom it was said he had never lost a case in which he represented a female client.

[BILLY (as Roxie)]
Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes we both
Oh yes we both
Oh yes, we both reached for
The gun, the gun, the gun, the gun
Oh yes, we both reached for the gun
For the gun.

Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes they both
Oh yes, they both
Oh yes, they both reached for
The gun, the gun, the gun, the gun,
Oh yes, they both reached for the gun
For the gun.

Of course, it helped if the client did and said everything as Billy instructed.

And Roxie was eager to do precisely that.

The story was clearly told with one tongue pressed firmly against the cheek. With music titles like "Cell Block Tango," "Mister Cellophane" and "Funny Honey," what would you expect?

If your answer was "bawdy musical," I'd say you were right.

If you haven't seen the movie, I will try not to let any cats out of the bag.

Let's just leave it at this:

When the final credits rolled and the last notes of the last song faded away, Roxie and Velma had patched up their jailhouse differences and appeared ready to take on the world together.

Roxie was skeptical until Velma observed that "there's only one business in the world where that's not a problem at all: show business."

Roxie couldn't argue with that. A partnership had been born.

And the groundwork for a possible sequel (although, whether that was ever a realistic possibility, no sequel has materialized in the last 10 years) had been laid.