Music is a huge part of my life, but I don’t ever talk much about musical film. We have the kind of household where me, or my Mom, and siblings would just start singing around the house. So really, I kind of lived in a musical already, where singing would just spontaneously occur! We grew up listening to the music our Mom liked, which was Blues, Country, and R&B. We all grew up listening to the Opera, and Classical music, that was in the Looney Toons cartoons. Later, I started getting more adventurous and branching out into different kinds of music, to Punk, Rock, and Club jams, and then even later, Metal, and Indie.
I have always been fearless, when it comes to expanding my musical tastes, and I have never allowed other people’s tastes to dictate what I would and would not like, or listen to. (Trust me, when I say that used to be a fucking thing!) It always baffled me, how people could go through their entire lives, and only ever listen to the one genre of music, that made them feel comfortable. Music is like food. It would be like eating macaroni and cheese your whole life. (I mean, I love mac and cheese, but even I would get tired of eating that, even in its many different versions, after about a week.)
Some songs speak to me on a foundational level, and I am always in search of those types of songs, and i thought everybody did this. You memorize all the words, and walk around singing it in your head, and sometimes, they make you feel so strongly, (sad or happy, makes no difference) that you just burst into tears, or chills, whenever you hear it! Now couple that with a moving image, and Wow!!
Here are ten of my absolutely favorite Musical films, and the one song in that movie that just works for me every single time. These are movies that just happened to show up in a particular stage of my mental and emotional development (yes, even as a adult) that had an out sized influence on me, whose songs resonated with me in some way, or changed my thinking on some issue I was going through, at the time. Or… just made me really, really happy!
I think this movie hit me at just the right time in my formative years, for every single one of the songs to resonate with me, and now for whatever reason, it’s largely forgotten, except by Streisand fans. I suppose, there will come a day when Streisand herself will be largely forgotten, and that will be a sad day, indeed.
This particular song spoke so directly to my teenage self because I lived in an environment not unlike Yentl’s, where I had a loving parent, who indulged my interests, only to be constantly told by the people outside our house, that I couldn’t do certain things (drawing), listen to certain types of music (Rock), watch certain kinds of movies (Horror), and yes, even read certain types of books (Science Fiction). Why? Because I was a Black girl, and Black girls didn’t do any of those things…
…and “where is it written” is, of course, the question I always asked myself! The first time I heard this song, I think I bawled my way through the rest of the movie. I watched the movie multiple times, went out and bought the album, memorized all the songs, and then I backtracked to watch all of Barbra’s movies from the past. Later, I heard a story about how someone in Hollywood told her she’d never be a star, because she was lacking in the looks department. So Barbra, considering that a challenge, started creating her own musical vehicles, and producing and starring in her own movies, to prove them wrong.
That’s my girl!
I have to admit, this is not my favorite musical, but it does have great appeal, and three of my favorite songs, Michael Jackson’s You Can’t Win, Diana Ross’ Ease On Down the Road, and Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News. I first saw this movie when I was a kid, and a couple of years before I saw Wizard of Oz. I remember this movie was a huge event in the Black community. It’s really funny how I didn’t realize that Black people lived in an entirely different entertainment eco-sphere than white people, until I got to college. None of the white people I met were remotely aware of any of the movies and music I grew up with, and it took me a minute to figure out why… didn’t they have radios and TVs? Yeah, they did, but white people only paid attention to things that involved white people. I met white people who were as limited in their idea of entertainment, as some of the Black people I met growing up, and I never understood that.
A few years ago there was a televised reboot of this movie, and white people were deeply puzzled, saying the reboot was a ripoff of The Wizard of Oz, and Black people had to take time out of our busy schedules, to explain to them on Twitter, that this reboot is based on the Black version of the Wizard of Oz, and that making Black versions of white movies was a perfectly normal occurrence, because mostly we were not allowed in white theaters to see those films. So a Black version got made, with all the stars we knew and loved, like Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and Diana Ross (some of the hottest Black entertainers of the 70’s), with the type of music we enjoyed.
I’m kind of glad that people are becoming a little more adventurous though, and looking at different entertainments that are not geared towards them as the audience, and I’m especially glad that a lot of people get that some entertainments are not made with them in mind, but are still entertaining regardless. If you have not watched this movie, you should check it out, because it’s a lot of fun.
The Nightmare Before Xmas
Of all the Tim Burton movies he ever made, this one is my all-time favorite, and I was charmed right from the opening scene. Honestly, these are some of the cutest vampires I’ve ever seen. Y’all know I’m a huge fan of Halloween, which is the first time I saw this, of course. I watched this movie multiple times, and memorized this song, and several others in the film, (Sally’s Song, and Oogie Boogie Man) just for the sheer fun of it.
What’s really funny is that this movie features a classic case pf cultural appropriation. It’s a perfect definition. In fact, if anyone argues with you about exactly what cultural appropriation actually is, I would point them in the direction of this movie (and the cheerleading movie, Bring It On). Jack Skellington, who is the King of Halloweenland, accidentally ends up in Christmasland, and loves it so much, that he decides to do his own version of it. Unfortunately, these two holidays do not mix well, as one is a time for fear and gloom, and the other is supposed to be a time for hope and joy, so Jack has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christmas is. He kidnaps Santa Claws, tries to take his place, and puts the future of Christmas in jeopardy, when Santa’s life is threatened by his rival, the Oogie Boogie Man. Yeah, Jack is kind of stupid, but I did like Oogie Boogie.
The Little Shop Of Horrors
I’m going to admit, I was sort of low key rooting for the plant in this movie, because he got the best songs. This movie held such resonance for me, because of the voice of Audrey II, Levi Stubbs, who was a baritone in the singing group, The Four Tops, which was a very popular group in our house. All that, and Audrey II’s (Twoey) final song is just bad ass, Audrey is scary as Hell, and the song is also deeply funny because the imagery is hilarious, and the lyrics contain phrases my mother used to regularly say around the house (ie. tough titty, walking on thin ice).
I have no idea how or when I encountered this movie. It was probably on late at night, when I wasn’t supposed to be up, since so many of the movies that had influence over me, were shown at that time.
My Fair Lady
This is not my favorite musical of all time, but this song, along with Eliza Doolittle’s, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, And Ascot Gavotte, are three of my favorite songs. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, it just doesn’t reach Yentl levels, as far as the characters and plot. But I have watched this movie multiple times, the singing is divine, the costumes are extraordinary, and I know all the songs, so it makes this list!
The first time I heard this song though, was when it was sung by Harry Conniff Jr. ,and I liked it right away. Yeah, the song sounds just a little stalkery today, but the idea that some guy is so smitten with your charm, that he just likes hanging around your street is deeply funny to me. C’mon, how many teenage boys you know did that kinda thing? On the other hand, this is really creepy from a grown ass man, so…stop that!
Beauty and the Beast
I grew up watching all these Disney movies, especially during the 2-D era, and Beauty and the Beast sits at the top of my list of faves. I am not a particularly romantic person, but I do indulge, from time to time, and I love this movie just for the fun of it. It didn’t especially resonate with me, or have some deep meaning, although as a bookworm myself, I did heavily identify with Belle. I imagine that if I was younger when I saw it, it would have had a major effect on my emotional development, but I was an adult, and while it did have an effect, it was largely an emotional one.
I just love this song because its fun!
Its Always Fair Weather
There are some movies that I’m just ho-hum about ,except for that one very awesome scene, that makes the entire movie worth watching. I first saw this particular scene in another movie, The Professional, which starred Natalie Portman and Jean Reno. The lead character is in a theater, watching this scene with a gleeful, child like expression, and I was curious about the movie this scene came from. It turns out it was one of the few Gene Kelly movies that I missed, It’s Always Fair Weather, about a group of guys who promise to meet back at a favorite bar, in a few years, after they all come back from military enlistment, only to find that their characters have changed so much, they don’t even like each other anymore.
This has since become one of my favorite Gene Kelly scenes, and this is one of my favorite songs. I can’t do anything on skates, so the sheer talent this took, makes this an incredible scene for me. And the song is about the joy of finding out how much you love yourself, just because someone else finds you worthy of being loved.
Toy Story 2
My criteria for this list was any movie that had some prominent songs or music in them. I think Toy Story qualifies, because not only is this a Pixar film, but these films are known for having the primary “I want…” song. That is a song where the lead character (usually female, but not always) sings about her most fervent desire, the one thing in the world she really wants. Here, Jessie the Cowgirl laments her old life, when she was loved by the little girl she was given to as a toy. She just wants that kind of love again, and is cynical enough to believe it will never happen.
I don’t know how anyone in the theater could have listened to this song, and not been brought to tears. Jessie’s’ song speaks to anyone who has ever had love, and then lost it in some manner. In Jessie’s case it was simply love outgrown.
The Blues Brothers
For me, this is one of the best scenes in the entire movie, not just becasue it stars The Queen of Soul, but because of all the tiny, funny details, once you look for them. From watching The Queen get down, to the girlfriend’s chorus, to the food stains on her clothes, to Jake and Elmo’s embarrassed expressions, at witnessing their friend’s public “domestics”, this scene is a pure delight, and Think is one of my favorite songs!
The rest of the movie isn’t too bad either, and well worth watching!
To be honest, this was never I movie I had any plans to watch. I remember the trailers for it, and have the distinct memory of saying to myself, naw, I’ll pass, only to watch it on TV a couple of years, later because my little sisters insisted. It was a very enjoyable experience. I really liked the music, although I simply could not get pass the idea of dancing nuns, which seemed sacrilegious, which is ironic, considering I’m not at all religious. I think Whoopi Goldberg turned in a great performance, (even if she has no voice to speak of), but my favorite character would be Sister Mary Patrick, played by Kathy Najimy, whose acting I’ve loved ever since.
I chose this scene because of Dame Maggie Smith’s long suffering, dagger shooting, facial expressions, because that’s what had me laughing the hardest. If looks could kill.