Try not to get worried, try not to turn onto problems that upset you, oh, don’t you know, everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine, and we want you to watch all the great musicals of the ’70s, many of which have been helpfully complied for you by Rian Johnson in one handy list.
We’re in week two of extensive self-isolation throughout the United States, and if the internet is to be believed, folks are getting a bit, ah, stir-crazy. Perhaps you feel like you’ve run out of things to watch. (You haven’t, but we get the feeling.) Perhaps you just can’t do anymore lightweight reality TV, or soapy dramas, or comfortingly familiar procedurals, or Tiger King. Lists like these are a handy solution, especially if you’re not someone who’s spent a lot of time with movie musicals, or who has stuck mostly to Disney or the Rodgers and Hammerstein technicolor joints of the ’50s and ’60s. The 1970s were a wild time for movie musicals.
While Johnson stresses that his is “not a comprehensive list, it’s one movie per year, and is highly personal, meaning better movies were ignored for ones that I have more of connection to, or just something to say about,” this particular movie musical nerd can attest that he has assembled a very cool list that’s just idiosyncratic enough to be interesting, and his brief commentary on each of these 11 films (he included 1980, for very good reason) is worth reading.
As you’d expect, Cabaret, All That Jazz, and Jesus Christ Superstar are all present and accounted for, but so is Donkey Skin (a “whacked out fairy tale from Jacques Demy... occasionally feels like an amusement park ride that hasn’t been renovated in thirty years, but it’s also charming and fully committed to its insanity.) Here’s his entry for Pete’s Dragon, a controversial selection for 1977:
Yeah, I know this is taking a spot that could be New York, New York. But when I was a kid this was THE Disney movie, and I can still sing every song. The tunes are terrific, and now I can appreciate the effects work, not just the mixing of animation plates with live action but the truly impressive practical effects. The scene where Elliot is under the big tarp at the end TERRIFIED me as a kid. And a bonus memory: I was in charge of the projectors at our grade school when we showed a 16mm print to the whole class for movie day, and I took great pride in making those reel changes smooth. Anyway, I still love this movie. Sorry Martin Scorsese.
And most interestingly, here are Johnson’s notes for 1974's Phantom Of The Paradise:
I have not seen this movie. And I will not see it anytime soon, because I have made a pledge to myself (and to Edgar Wright) that I will watch this movie for the first time ONLY in a cinema. So support your local cinemas any way you can during this time, and when they’re back up and running let’s all meet up together at one and watch Phantom Of The Paradise, because my god it looks freakin great.
So hey, consider buying a membership or gift card to your local independent movie house before you dial up At Long Last Love or Bugsy Malone.
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