Monday, November 19, 2007

Chicago

Chicago the movie disappointed me on a number of counts. Never having seen the musical on stage I don’t have any idea how it’s performed there (though I believe the original version was quite different in approach to the later revival in the 90s) so I can’t tell whether it’s the film’s tone or what that didn’t appeal.

The characters are very hard to warm to. Even the cuckolded husband, living as he does in the middle of a bunch of rogues and self-seekers, doesn’t quite call for our empathy, although he’s the only who might. Renee Zellweger loses our sympathy from round about her third scene, and never regains it; Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t fare much better, and Richard Gere’s character never comes close to getting it.

And the story seems something of a mish-mash, at least in this version. I’m told that younger cinemagoers don’t like people suddenly bursting into song. I find this hard to believe. Even if The Sound of Music wasn’t still one of the most popular movies in the world, Grease must still be counted amongst younger people as a movie they love. In both of these people burst into song without so much as a by-your-leave, and no one flees the theatre. And MTV is so popular it has its own channel.

Supposedly Moulin Rouge revived audience’s interest in film musicals. If it did, I’d be surprised: I still find it one of the most annoying movies ever made. The constant cutting from shot to shot as though the editor (or the director) was on speed, becomes so irritating that the film is almost impossible to watch.

Chicago, at least in that respect, is better. The fast cutting is there, but not quite on the same manic level as Moulin Rouge. Here at least you can usually get an idea of what the choreography is about; in Moulin Rouge you had no means of doing so.

But to get back to the story: to me there didn’t seem to be a connection between the songs and the story, except insofar as the songs merely restated what the story had already told us, or only added another dimension. They never carried the thing forward in any way.

Some reviewers suggest that the musical side is seen through Zellweger’s eyes, with her imagining her life as a stage presentation. But if that’s the case, how is it that Zeta-Jones begins the film with All That Jazz, a song that has nothing to do with anything else? Furthermore, at that point, Zeta-Jones is supposed to be in jail for having murdered her sister and husband. Why would she be doing a song in a nightclub?

The opening scenes (apart from All That Jazz itself) have a realistic element to them. But after Zellweger has shot her boyfriend, they go off into this half-story, half-musical hybrid that to me never coalesces. Certainly in movie terms the two intertwine very nicely, but it’s a kind of so what?

Zellweger (apart from her perennial pout) is great in the movie, and does the singing and dancing with great skill. Likewise Zeta-Jones. Gere never seems quite as much at home here as he is in Shall We Dance? where his dancing works. He’s no singer, and sounds thin, and the tapdancing scene is dire. (And again, means nothing.)

The costumes go from skimpy to less-than-skimpy. Maybe that’s meant to distract us from the fact that the rest of it is pretty skimpy too.

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