Vampire snooker and other weird and wonderful musicals

Paramount Pictures have released a
sing-along version of hit musical Grease which is even now playing in theatres
across the States including Hollywood Bowl.

It marks something of a return to
roots for the popular movie, which was based on an original stage musical by
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The film version, notable for both John Travolta’s
dimple-chin and Olivia Newton-John’s lycra catsuit, has long become a classic
amongst moviegoers and fans of musicals alike.

The movie musical is a constantly
popular vehicle for stars old and new. It’s both a way for fading forces to
show a new, vibrant side of themselves and a method to introduce brand new
talent to a different audience that they may not have otherwise reached.

Over the years, there have been
some weird and wonderful constructions that are occasionally outrageous in
concept but surely worth the time for various reasons. Here are some of our
favourites either for their non-obvious subject matter, musical material or
oddball brilliance.

Billy the Kid and the Green Baize
Vampire (1985)

The title itself reads like it was
made up at the end of a particularly heavy night’s writing. The plot, such as
it is, revolves around a young snooker player – Billy the Kid – whose manager
has fallen into debt with a loan shark. In order to cancel the gambling debt, a
match is arranged between the snooker world champion and Billy. The twist, unbeknownst
to the players, is that the loser will never play snooker again. Nonetheless,
they sing rather a lot in an admirably atmospheric and very, very strange and
claustrophobic tale. This 1985 movie won no awards but starred Phil Daniels
(Quadrophenia) as Billy. Snooker fans will recognise that Billy the Kid is
based on then-precocious snooker genius Jimmy White, and the Green Baize
Vampire on Ray Reardon – whose real-life nickname was ‘Dracula’.

The Harder They Come (1972)

Intelligent, sharp and ultimately
distressing, The Harder They Come traces the difficulties that reggae singer
Ivanhoe Martin faces in pulling himself out of the clutches of crime and
drug-dealing. But when he kills a police officer, things get quickly out of
control. Memorably played by Jimmy Cliff, Martin’s struggle was based on the
real-life tale of Rhyging, a Jamaican bad boy who found both fame and notoriety
in the 1940s. The movie was released in the United States in 1973 and is
generally felt to be one of the key factors in reggae’s growing popularity in
America. As the superb title track says, “I’d rather be a free man in my grave
than living as a puppet or a slave.”

Team America: World Police (2004)

A movie-length stop-motion
animation from the team behind South Park, Team America: World Police is
ostensibly a James Bond/A-Team style romp through international terrorism. The
anti-terrorist force, Team America, encounters a singing Kim Jong Il of North
Korea in mind to destroy the world. The film’s plot, then, is no less
ridiculous than most action movies. As with South Park, the surface silliness
and scatological humour hides beautifully sharp satire and brilliantly-observed
political commentary, pricking at egos and playing with the concepts of power,
money and fame. It’s a massive irony that US soldiers have admitted to playing
the main theme – not surprisingly, unprintable in a family publication – when
going into battle.

The Producers (1968)

Mel Brooks’ debut directorial
vehicle remains one of the most engaging music-based comedies of the sixties.
Struggling Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom (Gene
Wilder) cook up a sure-fire Hollywood flop, overselling shares by 25,000 per
cent, in order to avoid prison and generate enough cash to disappear to Brazil.
Unfortunately, the play they decide to put on, Springtime for Hitler: A Gay
Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, turns out to be a smash hit. Rather
than running off with the cash as planned, now the pair cannot pay their investors
and to make matters worse they are also chased by the murderous writer (and
ex-Nazi), Franz Liebkind. Leo and Max are soon imprisoned but their new
project. Prisoners Of Love, also written by Liebkind, is a hit behind bars. The
Producers was revived as a successful Broadway musical and a subsequent 2005 movie
that starred Uma Therman and Matthew Broderick.

Jubilee (1978)

Derek Jarman’s raw punk movie stars
Adam Ant, Toyah Willcox and punk icon Jordan and out muscles its contemporary
movies in suitably spiky style. In contrast to the Sex Pistols’ disappointingly
self-satisfied The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Jubliee is a Warhol-esque
collage where narrative is secondary to atmosphere. The unnerving, lawless feel
of the movie and bleak imagery is considered by many to represent the decline
of the UK in the late 70s. Then, unemployment was rife, money was short and
there seemed no way out of a recession that was disuniting the country. In not
just reflecting but amplifying the face of the No Future generation, this
remarkable work therefore presents a true insight into some of the social
factors that helped to create punk rock in the first place. There is a fabulous
sound-track although music sidles into the movie rather than appearing as
explicit set-pieces. Jubilee sets out to shake up the establishment with a
malicious streak that retains most of its aggression 32 years later.

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