5 Great Modern Movie Musicals That Every Gay Should Revisit
With the imminent release of the movie musical Sparkle, which is a remake of the 1976 film of the same name, we decided to share five of our favorite movie musicals of the modern era.
We asked our Facebook fans about their favorites to get us started, such as the cheeky southern fable The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, the technically wondrous stage version of Disney's The Lion King and the unforgettable and inimitable Auntie Mame ("Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!").
But in the end, we decided to go with an unconventional set of films that include a few that regularly get overlooked. So while you may feel disappointed that we did not include Moulin Rouge or the musical masterpiece Singing in the Rain, we hope our list will perhaps provide a film or two that you haven't seen or make you revisit one that you saw years ago.
Also, We'd like to give a honorable mention to two films which almost made the list: the 1980 German film, The Apple, a campy, disco retelling of the Adam and Eve story where a young Canadian singer inadvertently sells her soul to a corrupt music mogul in exchange for international stardom.
And the "Once More With Feeling" episode of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, where a demon's presence causes the entire town of Sunnydale to admit their true feelings through song and dance. While technically a TV show, the series was based on the movie of the same name and the episode in particular had a beautiful Wiccan lesbian love song called "Under Your Spell" which you should really hear if you haven't.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
2001, directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Before Hedwig, barely anyone had heard of John Cameron Mitchell. But he came blazing onto the national queer art scene as the director, writer and star of the 2001 musical which follows the physical and spiritual transformation of Hansel Schmidt from a naive East Berlin boy into Hedwig, a scorned rock goddess searching across America to find her "other half."
Hedwig's botched sex-change surgery which left her with a one-inch mound of flesh between her legs effectively made her one of the first transgender rock-n-roll role models for most viewing audiences, as well as a metaphor for the torturous process of artistic identity.
Mitchell also managed to weave a powerful song out of a retelling of Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium. The result, entitled "The Origin of Love", describes how the Gods split humans from their original form as Siamese twins into separate people who long for their missing half.
The film's devoted cult following of "misfits and losers" as well as Mitchell's life experience in older age encouraged him to revive Hedwig in an upcoming sequel which he says will premiere onstage this fall.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
1975, directed by Jim Sharman
Richard O'Brien's campy 1973 British stage musical became a midnight cult classic when in 1975 20th Century Fox released a film version of the sci-fi horror send-up. Strangely affecting, the musical follows the rude sexual awakening of Brad and Janet as they spend one dark and stormy night in the castle of transexual Transylvanian Dr. Frankenfurter.
The rock-n-roll musical celebrates the libido of all ages, races and body types with catchy songs like "Touch Me," "Sweet Patootie" and "Wild and Untamed Thing" and also features an incestuous pair of alien siblings, a ripped Frankensteinian sex slave, a Titus-Andronicus style birthday party as well a cross-dressing musical climax complete with corsets, fishnet stockings and a group makeout in an onstage swimming pool--now that's a unforgettable way to spend a midnight.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
1999, directed by Trey Parker
Even fans of the offensively over-the-top animated TV show South Park were bowled over by the film's blisteringly accurate satire on war and censorship gone rampant--all while managing to squeeze in more than a handful of fart and weiner jokes.
In the film, overzealous parents declare war on Canada after their children see and mimic an offensive film called Terrence and Phillip: Asses of Fire. Meanwhile, Satan and his gay lover Saddam Hussein plot to take over the world.
It's not your grandfather's musical, but it did inspire the 20-something Broadway hit Avenue Q, as well as the director's follow-up feature Team America: World Police, another musical satire about American war policy.
Plus, while effectively parodying songs from musicals like Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables, the film's song "Blame Canada" ended up nominated for a 199 Academy Award for Best Original Song--take that, Motion Picture Association of America!
1978, directed by Sidney Lumet
Even though the only thing anyone remembers from this 1978 musical is Dorothy and friends skipping along to the song "Ease on Down the Road," The Wiz remains one of the best musicals, black musicals and homages to the perrenially queer Wizard of Oz ever.
The high-energy film stars Diana Ross as Dorothy, a timid elementary school teacher forced to venture outside of Harlem into the perilous & promising Oz, a dream world overlaid with imagery from New York City. But the film takes the Oz conventions and puts them on their ear, breathing themes of African-American culture and liberation theology into each of Frank L. Baum's characters.
The Scarecrow is portrayed as a black man left spineless by Jim Crow laws and the Tin Man as a sex addict whose heartless philandering has left him crushed. The Cowardly Lion is a vain and insecure momma's boy turned out of the jungle, the evil witch Evillene is a whip-cracking slave driver who runs a sweatshop in the city sewers and the poppies which put Dorothy to sleep are a crowd of prostitutes blowing a tranquilizing powder into the air.
In the end, the wizard is just a scared dog catcher from Atlantic City, New Jersey and Glinda is just a star, too beautiful and far away to actually help Dorothy. But any fan of the modern musical Wicked or the Judy Garland film should take a second look at this amazing work.
1981, directed by Ralph Bakshi
Raplh Bakshi is perhaps best known as the underachieving animator who directed the X-rated Fritz the Cat, one mediocre half of Lord of the Rings or the 1992 flop Cool World. But in 1981 he relased what animation historians have called his best film, American Pop.
The film follows five generations of a Russian family who immigrate to the United States at the turn of the century and become integral parts of the country's pop heritage, from the early 1900s vaudevillians and radio crooners to the countercultural hippy and punk set of the post-war era.
Like Rock of Ages and Moulon Rouge, American Pop incorporates a wide stretch of contemporary music including songs by the George Gershwin, Herbie Hancock, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas & the Papas and The Sex Pistols.
But unlike the aforementioned films, American Pop delivers a eye-popping mixed-media melange of watercolor stills, rotoscoped animation, computer graphics and archival footage that immerse the viewer into an emotional and dramatic re-imagining of character's mindset as they traverse through each time period.