Musicals. Who doesn’t love a good musical? All those show tunes and glittering love stories. Bright eyed dreamers who belt out number after number because they want something more from the world. From My Fair Lady to Mary Poppins, we’ve been over saturated with show tunes and sickly romance, so much so that we groan every time they appear on screen.We’ve gathered some lesser known films that may warm your cockles.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
As an avid Bjork fan, it’s quite obvious that I would harp on about her musical effort the instant the word alternative springs up. Her role as Selma, an almost blind factory worker who’ll go to all lengths to stop her son suffering the same fate, won the actress the top prize at Cannes. Though she and director Lars Von Trier hated each other throughout filming, they were still able to capture an emotional and poignant film that beats with Bjork’s original songs, crafted to represent Selma and her terrible journey. Warning, though, it has the most soul crushing ending of all time and you definitely need tissues at the ready!
Begin Again (2013)
Torn between this and director John Carney’s equally stellar Once or most recent escapade Sing Street, but I love Begin Again. The film starring Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley effort won out because it is poignant, heart-warming and has, at its core, character development through song. Though perhaps not conventionally a musical, the use of songs to tell the emotion and story filters throughout and makes this a warming film. The plot revolves around alcoholic Dan who stumbles upon the heartbroken Gretta when they are both at pivotal heartbreaking crossroads. Through her music, they connect in a platonic way and begin to evolve. Charming with amazing music, this is a movie exploring about moving on.
Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
This is a Zombie Japanese Horror Musical. You read that right: a Zombie Japanese Horror Musical. Coming from the warped mind of Takashi Miike, the man behind Audition and Ichi The Killer, Happiness of the Katakuris has so many “what the hell” moments that it is impossible not to fall in love with it. This is a completely insane musical that mixes CGI, special effects and Claymation. Craziness pursues even in song and it’s that good kind of folie a deux that keeps you watching. From the moment a Japanese American Secret Serviceman (or more specifically British secret serviceman) to the random moment when the dead come back to life; please go seek it out to unearth it’s insanity.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Bringing the phenomenon of Chicago and its music to the screen, The Blues Brothers was certainly not appreciated when it first came into our lives. Luckily, we’ve all come around to the raucous car chases, rhythm and blues musician cameos and explosive action pieces that make this film so great. The dynamics between Dan Akroyd and John Belushi are electric and pulsate throughout the film. They star as the titular siblings who explore the musical greatness of Chicago when Belushi’s Jake gets out of prison and, along with his brother Elwood, attempts to save their old orphanage from shutting down by raising the appropriate funds. But with the police on their tale at their every turn, can the pair do it? With songs such as Shake Your Tail Feather and Everybody Needs Somebody, this is just an insatiable musical that you must see!
John Walters is one the most prolific cult directors whose work transcends normality but still cascades with humanity and hilarity. From Hairspray, which did not start as the conventional musical it is today, to Pink Flamingos, his work has been camp, disgusting, fun and filled with difference – making it the correct definition of alternative, in every way. Long before Johnny Depp was having his talent wasted in films, he was a young rogue leading man who was cast in a platitude of teen movies such as Walters’ musical, Cry-Baby. Named because of the tear drop tattooed underneath his characters Wade Walkers eye, Cry-Baby revolves around a bad-boy who has a lot of heart. But because of the gang he hangs around with and the prejudices in the town, he is locked up for a crime he didn’t commit.
Rock and roll has never looked so good and by the time you get to Please Mr Jailer, you’ll be lapping up the greatness.
Purple Rain (1984)
I’m not even saying it is the best overall film. In fact, story and acting-wise, it is ridiculously over the top. However, it’s Prince. If you go in expecting anything less than a massive cinematic ego trip, then you are going to be strangely disappointed. Big hair and bigger guitar solos is what powers this film into unforgettable. Prince stars as The Kid, a self-centred leader of a rock band who leaves after one song and has riled up his band mates. He is in direct competition with an equally vain Morris Day. With trouble at home, his interests are piqued when Apollonia arrives into his town. Look, all you really need to know is that this is the film that birthed the songs, Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy and I Would Die 4 U. That is all you need to know.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
This movie started already as a cult musical when it appeared on stage in an Off Broadway production. John Cameron Mitchell made a truly astonishing creation that he later translated onto film with the epic Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Revolving around the band of the film title, the lead singer Hedwig is touring them around sea food restaurants adjacent to her ex’s gigs after he stole all their songs. Not to mention that a botched sex change surgery left her with one inch genitalia. But true to the rock and roll form, Hedwig is never giving up.
This film has everything you will ever need from a musical. With a wicked glam rock soundtrack of original songs that is reminiscent of Janis Joplin and David Bowie, it’s hard not to fall in love with Hedwig and her angry inch. Check out the finale because it is soul crushing and hopeful all at the same time that strips your breath away. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is now a top Broadway production winning Tony Awards since it’s return last year.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
Trey Stone and Matt Parker are geniuses and that has emanated through their work both on screen and on the stage. From Cannibal the Musical to The Book of Mormon, they have always created a different hilarious level of work that is satirical, far-fetched and impossibly catchy. Whilst I urge you beyond every fibre of my being to go watch the previous too, for all your offended but fucking hysterical needs, you need to turn no further than the film based on the cult television show, South Park. Centred on four foul mouthed kids, Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny, the movie sees political correctness gone made when the children go see an R-Rated movie and the parents decided to wage war on Canada. All the while their friend Kenny is in Hell and, well, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens there.
If you are one of those people who gets offended easily, it’s probably not for you. Because you really need to put that forethought away and not give a shit. You’ll be crying so much because this movie leaves no social, religious or political group behind. Plus the songs are so good – including Blame Canada, which’ll be stuck in your head forever.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Paul Williams is a mastermind and has created some legendary movie musicals. More famed for Bugsy Malone, and The Muppets (and soundtracking our childhoods), Paul Williams actually created some of his best work with the Phantom of the Paradise. With an epic seventies flare, it focuses on songwriter Winslow Leach who aspires to work for famed but devilish Swan (Williams himself). All Swan wants is the music, so causes the downfall of Winslow who soon becomes scarred in an accident and vows revenge. With some amazing songs that are a mix of poignant and fun, this fantastic musical combines the stories of Phantom of the Opera, Faust and The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The finale is sorrow-filled but throughout the musical there is tongue in cheek black humour and larger than life moments. It is utterly captivating and brilliantly done. It is also directed by Brian De Palma so now it is imperative for you all to watch it.
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
As if I couldn’t talk about this musical enough, I have managed to sandwich it in here because frankly, not enough people have seen this film. It’s sad to see such a superb musical with all the juicy cult bits have a waning fanbase when it really should be soaring. Repo! The Genetic Opera is iconic, gory and harps of all that operatic goodness; combining blood and ballads to a terrific effect. Set in the distant future, it revolves around a man named Nathan Wallace who is a Repo Man; collecting synthetic organs when debtors cannot pay the hospital bills. Yikes. His boss Rotti Largo still has a grudge against him and will use Nathan’s daughter Shiloh in a pawn for revenge.
With the sultry tones of Anthony Stewart Head and Terence Zdunich (who co-created the musical with Darren Lynn Bousman,) this musical is all kinds of awesome. It has catchy songs and a blood bath to boot that places it firmly in the cult category. And yes, that is Paris Hilton but she actually works in this movie hamming it up. Repo! is a great piece of cinema that will enter your heart….then tear it still beating from your chest.
What are your favourite alternative musicals?