Saturday, July 12, 2008

WHAT KIND OF SONGS BELONG IN AN ANIMATED MUSICAL?


No, I'm not gay, and I'm not obsessed with musicals, but I've had to study dance moves lately and I'm glad I did.  Animation people could learn a lot about about the way the best Broadway people used to set up musical numbers. Maybe part of their secret was that they started out with good, danceable music. By way of an example here's  (above) "Steam Heat" from the movie "Pajama Game", choreography by Bob Fosse.  Here's an excerpt from the lyrics by Richard Adler (music by Jerry Ross):

I've got ::cling cling:: fsssss steam heat.
I've got ::cling cling:: fsssss steam heat.
I've got ::cling cling:: fsssss steam heat.
But i need your love to keep away the cold.
:::Instrumental:::
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
But that don't do no good.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
But that don't do no good.
Coal in the boiler. No good. Oil in the burner. No good. Cold? NO! Hot?
YES! sssssss yes yes yes come on union get hot!!
:::Clapping:::
BOINK BOINK!! BOINK BOINK!! BOINK BOINK!!
:::Instrumental:::
I need your love to keep away the cold. I need your looove to keep awayyyy the colddd....fsss YEA!!

Interesting lyrics! With a song like this the dancers didn't have to struggle to interpret a song that was meant to be passively listened to on the radio,  they got to dance to music that was tailor-made to look good on the stage. I wish more animation songs were like that. I don't mind one or two passive listening songs in an animated musical feature because they get radio play and that brings people into the theater, but all the rest of the songs should be stage songs, songs that lend themselves to visual interpretation like "Steam Heat."




Here's (above) the "Steam Heat" song watered down to make a popular radio version.  Most of the funny, quirky sound effects and repeats in the film were deleted or softened to make passive radio listening easier. Do you see why radio versions suck? 

In the case of animated musical features, you should never hamstring the project by using too much visually neutral, radio-type music in the story.  Actually the Pajama Game people did it right...they had one version for the film and one for the radio.  They didn't handicap their movie with too many passive listening elements. 

I should quit while I'm ahead, but I can't help commenting on another idea that handicaps animated musicals, namely the idea that a song is needed to cover every major story point.   I've so often wanted to strangle Disney executives for loading features with songs like: "Here I am a perky, intelligent young girl and I'm ready for love if I can find the right man, provided of course that I also have a fulfilling career." Nobody in their right mind wants to dance to that. No animator with any guts wants to draw it.

You don't have to cover every story point with a song.  Remember Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz?" She never had a song where she sings about how weird and frightening Oz was.  The wicked witch never had a song. Lots of important emotions never got a song...yet there was time for fun stuff like "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."



31 comments:

trevor said...

All the emotional stuff was in 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'.

- trevor.

TentCamper said...

I I I I I just do't know what to say. ME...and musicals...just don't mix. I think the last one I saw was Grease...way back when.

None of it makes sense to me. no action...and why can't people just talk? its much easier to follow.

Max Ward said...

Why did you have to study dancing?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Everybody: Sometimes I get comments on old posts and here's a great one that just came in on the subject of Scottish women. Boy, it must have been a year and a half since I posted about that! Anyway, I said red-headed Scottish women were the most beautiful women in the world when seen naked. Apparently this outraged this guy. Here's the letter:


What a load of rubish! I live in scotland and first i have to say that it's very rare i see a freckled red head and even rarer is a scotish goth skinhead (whatever one of them is), and if this eddie had ever even stepped foot on our beloved isles would know that is no such thing as a goth skinhead, our skinheads are soul boys who wear suits, and have a love for tamla motown and 60's soul music and dont stick our fingers up like the stupid moran on the pics, what a load of crap, makes me laugh, typical american nonsence where you have this idea that us scots and irish are red heads, where the reality is we have mainly black or brown hair,no such thing as a red haired celt, if you had an education you'd know was vikings that had red hair, who ran from our isles after us celts drove them out and as for that pic of the red haired girl, if shes supposed to look scotish then im the f**king pope, maybe eddie should try spending some time here and see that are women aint red heads but are mainly sexy brunnettes instead of posting pics of some girl who looks like she belongs out in the swamps in america playing a part in the film deliverance,lol.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Max: I was researching another post I wanted to do on Hip Hop dancing. I don't know anything about hip Hop but it was fun to see what's around.

Hey, did you graduate or do you have another year to go?

Jorge Garrido said...

The reason "Somewhere over the Rainbow" works as a song is it's a song with subtext and a universal theme. That's also why it works as a pop song. Modern musicals have songs too specific. They sing about the parcticular situation/setting they're in. Th

If Wizard of Oz's songs were written today, the song would be called "I really don't want to be in Kansas right now" and everyone would be a puppet.

I find it interesting that you find the dancing in hip-hop the msot interesting part of an artform that is based primarily on the spoken word.

To me, the most intersing kind of hip-Hop is one with 1. An intersting and original beat that stands on its own as a good piece of music 2. Clever rhyming and rapping technique (including good multisyllabic rhymes, similes, wordplay, and metaphors) and 3. An interesting story or message to tell. I think the key to appreciating hip-hop is knowing that it's not as important WHAT is being said, it's HOW it's being said. Same goes for Shakespeare.

As for Max, I have it on good authority (Kali) that Max attends art college with his best friend Thad K and they play poker together every Thursday

Sometime Thad acts as Max's wingman when picking up nerdy alchoholic art school chicks. Get the PBR in ya, jr!

trevor said...

I can tell you anything you want to know about hip-hop, Eddie.

I've been listening to it ( and everything else, including country and a little bit of polka ) since I was a youngin'. Plus, I worked as a DJ for many years, and during my stay in Philadelphia, I worked at a lot of after hours clubs where the hip hop scene was rampant.

I even shot and produced a documentary about a rapper named Rampage ( a member of his cousin Busta Rhyme's group The Flipmode Squad ) about the making of his album 'Have You Seen...'

I'm extremely selective about what I like, but I know a lot about everything rap-related.

G'head. Ask me anything.

- trevor.

buzz said...

Couple of divergent points:

All art forms share one basic rule: You can do anything you want except bore your audience.

American Broadway musicals are primarily stage plays in which the musical numbers reveal some emotional insight to the characters; remove the musical numbers and the spine of the story remains intact.

Opera and ballet (classical and modern) tell their stories entirely through the music. In the words of one classical composer, they "don't have to make logical sense, they just have to make emotional sense."

Music in movies does not need to fit either definition above. There is no rule requiring the music to be integrated into the physical action on the screen; indeed the "choreography" can be entirely through editing.

Some of the greatest musical sequences in the history of film are Maurice Binder's titles sequences from the early Bond films.

THUNDERBALL:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTaLhbNQ34o

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdKU3cBmu-c&feature=related

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLoMp49tY-E

HELP! is a great musical. All the choreography is in the cutting.

Love your blog, Eddie. You come up with some great topics.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever notice that naked redheads have a distinctive, musty odor? What the hell is that? And why are their teeth always yellow?

buzz said...

One other thing (and I can't remember if it was John Lennon or Van Morrison who said this) but music and image will ALWAYS find a way of juxtaposing themselves. The juxtaposition may create an entirely new synthesis and meaning, but it will create something.

Anonymous said...

John Lennon once did say that any music will synchronize with any film, but he was kidding on the square.

Anonymous said...

Buzz is pretty damn smart. What he said.

-jenny

Chappell said...

Eddie, I'm loving love the musical themed post.

I think Kander & Ebb were really onto something. They wrote musicals that never took themselves too seriously while always delivering something the audience could sink their teeth into.

Ben Vereen's version of Mr. Cellophane on The Muppet Show recently reminded me of how much I love him as well as Kander & Ebb's style. Ignore the Muppets, whose presence is completely unnecessary for this song.

It's fun to compare Vereen's style to John C. Reilly's performance in Chicago. I feel like Chicago is one of the only recent, broadway musical-to-big screen adaptations that has worked. I'm not sure why. For example, Hairspray is an incredibly fun play to see on the stage but both film versions should come with epilepsy warnings. It simply didn't translate well.

I wish that we still had a place in our hearts for the Song-and-Dance Man. It just doesn't work on the big screen anymore.

pappy d said...

"I've so often wanted to strangle Disney executives for loading features with songs like: "Here I am a perky, intelligent young girl and I'm ready for love if I can find the right man, provided of course that I also have a fulfilling career.""

Hahaha! You're so right. Except typically the heroine isn't particularly interested in love. She usually longs for a wider world, free from the restraints of patriarchy. The handsome prince is just icing.

It used to amaze me that an art form with an audience whose median age is 65 can merge with one whose median age is 6 (animation) & create a date movie for teenagers.

A good musical number moves the story along & sometimes can sell a plot conceit that can't stand on logic alone, but needs to be pitched to the audience on an emotional level. Also in the clusterf**k that is story development, it's good to have a libretto & a few tentpoles in place in the form of songs before you start.

The comments from the scotish (sic) guy confirm my belief in red-headed exceptionalism & convince me more than ever that the Ginger People need a homeland of their own. They will always suffer persecution as long as they are forced to live among us. The Scots have considered themselves British for a long time now, so there's precedent for terming Scotland "a land without people". There's a lot of cloud cover too beneath which a race of delicate complexion might thrive.

pappy d said...

"I've so often wanted to strangle Disney executives for loading features with songs like: "Here I am a perky, intelligent young girl and I'm ready for love if I can find the right man, provided of course that I also have a fulfilling career.""

Hahaha! You're so right. Except typically the heroine isn't particularly interested in love. She usually longs for a wider world, free from the restraints of patriarchy. The handsome prince is just icing.

It used to amaze me that an art form with an audience whose median age is 65 can merge with one whose median age is 6 (animation) & create a date movie for teenagers.

A good musical number moves the story along & sometimes can sell a plot conceit that can't stand on logic alone, but needs to be pitched to the audience on an emotional level. Also in the clusterf**k that is story development, it's good to have a libretto & a few tentpoles in place in the form of songs before you start.

The comments from the scotish (sic) guy confirm my belief in red-headed exceptionalism & convince me more than ever that the Ginger People need a homeland of their own. They will always suffer persecution as long as they are forced to live among us. The Scots have considered themselves British for a long time now, so there's precedent for terming Scotland "a land without people". There's a lot of cloud cover too beneath which a race of delicate complexion might thrive.

Anonymous said...

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is the 'I want' song in "The Wizard of Oz" that sets up Dorothy's aspirations. Pretty much every musical had such a song: in "Pippin" it's "Gotta Find my Corner of the Sky", in "Gypsy" it's "Some People". In Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" it's the first song Belle sings. In "The Little Mermaid" it's "Part of My World", etc. BTW, the second half of "The Wizard of Oz" has no music because it was cut after the first premiere in San Bernardino. "The Renovation Sequence" and "The Jitterbug" got whacked because it was felt they slowed things down and "Jitterbug" dated the film squarely in the swing music era. A cobbled-together version of it appears on one of the DVDs and the Laser disc of the film, along with the intact soundtrack.

Kali Fontecchio said...

CLANG CLANG CLANG GOES THE TROLLEY! DING DING DING GOES THE BELL!

I.D.R.C. said...

I don't know what makes Fosse so fun. I enjoyed how there were no close-ups. It's all about body movement and Fosse-isms.

Thanks for digging that up.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Buzz: Interesting point! You're right, sometimes the cuts are the choreography...but you have to be careful. You can be lulled into accepting substandard performance by the belief that editing can save everything.

It's interesting to think of the James Bond openings as miniature films. I guess they are. I have new respect for Binder now.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Pappy: It's often done that way, with the songs being written first, but IMHO things should only be done that way if you have a genius song writer. If it's someone with more ordinary talent, and if the director or some of the artists are exceptionally good, then I'd like to see them provide the "tentpoles."

I see every production as a hunt for talent and genius. When you've got the good people together you skewer the project in whatever direction takes most advantage of their assets.

I.D.R.C. said...

Any similarity is purely coincidental.

Max Ward said...

Nope, I still have TWO more years!! Agony! It's getting better though. Thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

Except the times when you get the good people together and they eat each other.

pappy d said...

Yes, you're right, Eddie. That's the way to do it.

In my own cloistered experience, doing the songs & libretto first means that the idea is the vision of a single person before it goes to committees & "brain trusts". Sometimes story meetings end in compromise & decisions emerge that are dumber than the sum of its participants. In the process, a lot of creativity gets pureed in the blander until its gray & insipid. It's more typical nowadays that the songwriting gets folded into story development.

I was thinking specifically of Howard Ashman (Mermaid, Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors). He was a great storyteller & an extremely clever lyricist. He could be making all the big-budget musicals he ever wanted today if he'd only had a rubber.

Let that be a caution to all you youngsters!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

IDRC: Wow! Thanks for the link! Yeah, the Fosse influnce is definitely there, but Jackson adds a lot to it. This is a stunning video. Man! Jackson was a great dancer!

Well, this combines Broadway and Hip Hop, proving it can be done! I'd love to write a story that would justify dances like this.

Mr. Trombley said...

Did you know Enrico Caruso was a caricaturist? I am interested in your appraisal of his drawings, though most of them are fairly average.

Some of drawings are available here:

http://search.ppsimages.co.jp/cgi-bin/search.cgi?rm=results&site=Meta&do_search=1&form_name=metahistory&keyword_and=%E3%82%A8%E3%83%B3%E3%83%AA%E3%82%B3%E3%83%BB%E3%82%AB%E3%83%AB%E3%83%BC%E3%82%BD%E3%83%BC&per_page=60&orientation=&search_id=

But not his caricature of Toscanini, which is my personal favorite. I have that picture on my own blog here:

http://tbgloops.blogspot.com/2008/07/picto-images.html

The picture of Toscanini is tenth from the top and fourth from the bottom.

David Germain said...

I personally don't care about musicals one way or another. I'm perfectly fine if noone ever sings in a movie. I don't think musicals are crap or anything, they're just way down on my list of favourite genres.

I apologize in advance if this link of mine derails this topic too far, but here goes: COME SEE MY NEPHEW!!!!

trevor said...

Anyone here like 'Spamalot'?

- trevor.

Anonymous said...

The late Howard Ashman deserves much of the credit that Katzenberg took for the successful silver aged Disney animated musicals. Ashman was able to simultaneously parody and play expository lyrics straight, and he knew exactly where to put his songs to advance the plot. Nobody writing music for animation since came close to his ability.

Tanonymous said...

Shamus Culhane directed the greatest and most underrated animated musical, ABOU BEN BOOGIE, 64 years ago.

Right up there with Clampett's BOOK REVUE and Jones' WHAT'S OPERA DOC?, IMO.

pappy d said...

anonymous said:

"Nobody writing music for animation since came close to his ability."

Amen

Ashman was dying during production of Aladdin. Tim Rice was called in at the end to finish up.

Compare Howard's lyrics from "Prince Ali"...

Prince Ali! Handsome is he, Ali Ababwa
That physique! How can I speak
Weak at the knee
Well, get on out in that square
Adjust your veil and prepare
To gawk and grovel and stare at Prince Ali!

...to Tim's in "One Jump"...

One jump ahead of the slowpokes
One skip ahead of my doom
Next time gonna use a nom de plume
One jump ahead of the hitmen
One hit ahead of the flock
I think I'll take a stroll around the block

Doesn't that sound like a songwriter whose cracking up under a deadline?