Monday, 28 July 2008


Well excuse me, but if the newly released film "Mamma Mia!" is a musical, then I'm Fred fucking Astaire.

Understand I have no particular antipathy toward Abba, their songs or their success. Good luck to them. Beats making an honest living from something like margin lending, I suppose. But I have no great nostalgic fondness for their work either, having been far more interested in other musical genres at the time of their chart supremacy, and I'd always found their lyrics a little ... well, dumb ("Feel the beat of the tambourine"? Tambourines don't have a beat, and the only time you'd ever "feel the beat" of a tambourine is if someone thwacked you over the head with one. Talking about the beat of a tambourine is akin to talking about the "exquisite tonal range" of a bloody kazoo. It's just silly).

Now, most actors who’ve undergone some form of sustained professional training in their craft will have, at some point, been required to do a little singing. It’s an excellent way of instilling and understanding the basics of breath control, phrasing, and hitting key words in a text (Frank Sinatra was, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best example of this talent for hitting specific key words in a lyric and I still regard him as the finest interpreter of popular song from the 20th century. So there).

Yet most actors can’t sing, and
some really shouldn’t be encouraged to try. However, if a director really insists on it, they should also insist on ensuring that the actor or actors in question sing within their range and register, even if that amounts to the type of rhythmic speak-singing that Rex Harrison admirably managed to get away with in “My Fair Lady”.

But for Christ’s sakes, taking a bunch of extremely talented performers and asking them to belt out a bunch of insipid pop songs at the top of their bloody lungs and rip their throats to ragged shreds in the process is just fucking insane. It’s a form of horrible abuse for the poor actors and complete and utter torture for anyone being asked to listen to it.

Stop it. Stop it at once.

Anthony Lane, writing in
The New Yorker had this to say …

“I thought that Pierce Brosnan had been dragged to the edge of endurance by North Korean sadists in his final Bond film, “Die Another Day,” but that was a quick tickle with a feather duster compared with the agony of singing Abba’s “S.O.S.” to Meryl Streep through a kitchen window. Somebody, either a cheeky Swede or another North Korean, has deliberately scored the number a tone and a half too high, with visible results: swelling muscles along the jawline, tightened throat, a panicky bulge in the eyes. There is no delicate way of putting this, but anyone watching Brosnan in mid-delivery will conclude that he has recently suffered from a series of complex digestive problems, and that the camera has, with unfortunate timing, caught him at the exact moment when he is finally working them out. What has he done to deserve this? …”

And this …

“… Study any of the classic musicals, and you see how they pull away from head shots and become meditations on bodies in space and voices on the move, whereas Meryl Streep, given a windy cliff top, a red silk wrap, and “The Winner Takes It All,” is obliged to hold still and belt it out like Cassandra calling down ruin on Troy. And poor Brosnan (him again) has to stand in the blast area and listen to her at a distance of eighteen inches, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as if to check when he last shaved …”

And, as for “dancing” … well, jumping up and down on the spot or skipping along a footpath waving your fucking arms in the air with no thought to rhythm or reason is not dancing, it’s St. Vitus’ disorder with a soundtrack.

It’s simply horrid.

Vincente Minelli and Bob Fosse knew how to make a musical. The people responsible for “Mamma Mia!” do not.

Nor should they ever try to do it again.

From 1979, Ensemble “Take Off With Us/Air-Otica” from “All That Jazz” directed by Bob Fosse

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