Classic Cult: Musicals

Musicals as a genre within film have been approached somewhat apprehensively in recent years and yet they formed an integral part of the formation of modern cinema. The transition that occurred in the 1930s from the silent films, popularised by luminaries including Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, to a new form of entertainment made possible through the arrival of sound marked the beginning of the musical feature.

However, beyond the success of the early musicals that were made between the 1930s and 1960s (and a handful released each year in the following decades) it has remained a relatively unappreciated genre. Away from smash hits such as Singing in the RainThe Sound of Music, and the animated films of Walt Disney, there have been a surprising number of cult musicals which cannot be overlooked when considering this distinct genre.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the ultimate cult musical. With much of its success generated from midnight screenings featuring hundreds of dedicated followers clad in transsexual attire, it has gone on to harbour some of the most bizarre instances of audience participation. Projectiles of toast, toilet paper, water and rice alongside answering back to the screen and mass reproductions of the “Time Warp” make this not just a cult film, but a cult experience.

Numerous famous musicians have featured in cult musicals that have developed a devoted fan base often years after their initial flop. The Wiz is an urban retelling of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all African-American cast set in a fantasy version of New York City. With Diana Ross as Dorothy, reconfigured as a Harlem school teacher, and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, It illustrates a combination of soulful song and dance numbers written towards the end of the blaxploitation movement.

Few cult fans will be unaware of Labyrinth, a fantasy film directed by Jim Henson, starring David Bowie as the beleaguering Goblin King, Jareth. Its combination of puppetry, human performances and Bowie crotch shots – which have sparked pages of critical analysis – mean it remains one of the best cult musicals ever made. Rock opera Tommy, based upon the album of the same name is a musical by British band The Who. Starring Who lead singer Roger Daltrey as a deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard, and featuring terrific cameo performances from the likes of Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson and Tina Turner. It is a surrealist production that features one of the most innovative soundtracks of the genre.

In recent years, cult musicals have received less acclaim, generally staying predominately under the radar. However, Lars Von Trier’s Palme d’Or winning Dancer in the Dark, starring Icelandic singer Björk has redefined the musical genre by introducing an extreme emotional aspect to what is generally frivolous escapism. It is clear from examples like this that it is anything but a dying genre. Still retaining merit in what is often a prejudiced art form, musicals are constantly reassessing the necessary requirements for entertainment.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Oct 4th 2011.

Year of the Rabbit

Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture and has become increasingly celebrated throughout the UK. Starting on the first day of the new moon which takes place around the end of January or beginning of February, the Festival (also known as Spring Festival) lasts 15 days.

2011 marks the year of the rabbit, perhaps not the most notorious of film creatures but a species that has had its fair share of cinema stars. In honour of this cotton-tailed year, The Student has decided to look at some of the best rabbits in film. Here are the top 5:

5. Harvey, Harvey (1950). The six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch imaginary companion of Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) said to be a creature from Celtic mythology known as a Pooka. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning play by Mary Chase, Harvey, though not a real rabbit, plays a pivotal role in a story that although comedic at the start is ultimately depressing in nature.

4. Roger Rabbit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Although it was tempting to have had Jessica Rabbit, unlike her husband she isn’t actually of the lapin species. Played by Charles Fleischer, Roger Rabbit is an entertaining animation put alongside the live-action of Bob Hoskins as private investigator Eddie Valiant in a feature that has undertones of film-noir.

3. Frank, Donnie Darko (2001). Though not technically a rabbit, Frank is perhaps the most sombre character in this list. The demonic vision of Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall) who tells him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, he is seen in reality as the boyfriend of Donnie’s sister Elizabeth who wears a rabbit costume for halloween. Played by James Duval, Frank is a chilling addition to the surreal story.

2. Hazel, Watership Down (1978). It was difficult to choose which of the title characters to pick, however, Hazel (voiced by John Hurt), the real saviour of the film who rescues his colony, is arguably the most amiable. Guaranteed to make any child or adult bawl at the end, when Art Garfunkel’s “Bright Eyes” is played, Hazel secures a top place in this list.

1. Thumper, Bambi (1942). One of the first animals to meet the young Bambi when he is born, Thumper (brilliantly voiced by a four-year-old Peter Behn) helps teach the young fawn his first steps in what is a heartwarming tale from Walt Disney. As he ages with Bambi and becomes an adult (now voiced by Sam Edwards) he inevitably succumbs to the allure of ‘twitterpation’ and somewhat sadly they part ways.

Other notable mentions: Rabbit of Caerbannog, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Bugs Bunny, Space Jam (1996), White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland (1951), Were-Rabbit, Wallace and Gromet in the Curse of the Were Rabbit (2005), Br’er Rabbit, The Song of the South (1946).

Taken from The Student, published Tue Feb 8th 2011.