Musicals on the Silver Screen – by Charlotte Canelli

Read the published version of Library Director Charlotte Canelli’s column in the July 19, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Saturdays spent at double and triple-features were not, unfortunately, part of my happy childhood.  My family didn’t go to movies very often, if at all.  By the time my mother deemed me old enough to go alone with friends I’d moved to the suburbs and the downtown theaters were no longer close by.
I actually can’t recall one memory of going to the theater as a young child although I must have seen some movies on the big screen such as101 Dalmatians or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
I’ve always envied the silver screen memories of others my age or older.
When I was lucky, I saw movies as reruns on the televisions that sat in my friends’ living rooms. That is how I first saw Bye, Bye Birdie (released in 1963) when I was a young teen.  One viewing and I was hooked. I asked for the soundtrack for Christmas.  My favorite was the Telephone Hour, sung by Ann-Marget and her teen friends. I still know many of the songs by heart.
By 1967, I was going to the theater with friends. However, I must have seen Camelot (1967) and Oliver (1968) with my mother because we played the vinyl soundtracks over and over on our turntable in the living room.  I saw Gone with the Wind with a large group of teenaged girls when it was re-released on the Big Screen in 1967.  We sobbed so many times that we left the theater to the exterior bright afternoon light with stuffy noses, red-rimmed eyes, and a love for Clark Gable.
Those days of my youth might have been the last of the golden days of the movie musical, however.  In “Musicals on the Silver Screen: A Guide to the Must-See Movie Musicals” (2013), author Leonard Kniffel admits that “musicals began a precipitous decline” as early as the 1970s. Oh, there is no denying that it was the decade of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Liza Minelli in Cabaret and the revolutionary era of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.  And then the 80s brought in fun stuff like Fame and Dirty Dancing but the great dancing and singing movies of the 20th Century were over.
Leonard Kniffel’s book is rich in detail of hundreds of musicals over the past century. It begins with The Jazz Singer (1927) and ends with The Artist (2011) with some wonderful description in between. There are whole pages devoted to Singing in the Rain (1951) and Porgy and Bess (1959). It’s a terrific resource for anyone with gaps in their musical history. (And, of course, the library is a fantastic resource for all DVDs).
If you’d like to dance down the movie musical lane, there are other books to check out. Some were published 10, 20 or nearly 30 years ago but are still wonderfully annotated volumes and relevant to the golden era:  “A History of Movie Musicals: Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” (1983) by John Kobal, “The Hollywood Musical” (1981) by Ethan Mordden, and “Hollywood Musicals Year By Year” (1999) by Stanley Green. Two others focus on the melodies, so to speak, in “The American Songbook: The Singers, the  Songwriters, and the Songs” (2005) by Ken Bloom and “The Melody Lingers On: The Great Songwriters and Their Movie Musicals (1986) by Roy Hemming.
The best way to review the history of musicals and film is, of course, on the screen itself.  “Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical History” (2008), “MGM – When the Lion Roars” (2009) and “That’s Entertainment: The Complete Collection” (2004) are three DVDs with multiple discs and hours of home viewing.
This summer the library is presenting a 7-part film series focused on the Broadway Musical on the Silver Screen.
The series began on July 10 with the latest 2012 release – Les Misérables starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Tom Hooper’s version,  released Christmas Day 2012, is a magnificent cinematic version of the 25-year old Broadway musical. My favorite characters (Thénardier and his wife, Madame Thénardier) are played by Sasha Cohen Baron and Helen Bonham Carter.
The series continued on July 17 with a made-for-TV version of South Pacific (2001) starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick, Jr.  (The 1958 version starred Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor and John Kerr.)
Five more musicals on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM complete our Summer Film Fest: Broadway Musicals on the Big Screen. They are Dreamgirls (2006) on July 24, Rent (2005) on July 31, Chicago (2003) on August 7, Evita (1996) on August 14, and Sweeney Todd (2007) on August 21.
Film fests at the library are a tremendous value and library staff delights in dreaming up different themes each season. In the summer months, we screen one movie each week. Our Simoni Room is comfortably air conditioned and seats up to 70. (Over 55 people attended the screening of Les Misérables on July 10.) Movies begin by 6:30 PM sharp in order to end before the library closes at 9:00 PM and registration is required.  Please call the library to sign up for each movie.  Movie popcorn is always provided free of charge and it is graciously donated by the Regal Cinemas in Bellingham, MA.   All movie screenings are free to the public and are legally licensed for an audience.  That license is purchased for us by the Friends of the Library.  This summer the Friends have also provided one door prize each week.  A lucky attendee leaves with the movie soundtrack of the musical that is shown that night.
While sing-along-voices are not required for attendance, we hope each viewer feels free to sing and dance during and after the show.  It’s important to note that most of the movies shown in the evening film fests are meant for adult audiences.  Many of the films are rated PG13, but some like Sweeney Todd are rated R.
We hope we see you at the movies!

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