Saturday, 18 December 2010



Let's be clear about one thing right from the start: I'm not that interested in musicals. The big blowsy showtunes musicals, the Broadway hits, Rodgers and Hammerstein - there's no chance I'm ever going to sit down with a DVD of Carousel or State Fair or South Pacific. Of the Golden Age Musicals, I can enjoy Singin' In The Rain for its wonderful film studio background sequences but during all the romantic and comedy stuff and the huge massed dance numbers I would literally rather be sticking pins in my eyes. More recent ones have been a bit more interesting: I was amazed how much I enjoyed Sweeney Todd given that it was a Tim Burton film AND a Broadway musical (though I would imagine the spurting arteries and cannibalism lent some appeal). But the song and dance spectaculars from Busby Berkeley through the heyday of MGM leave me absolutely cold.

Maybe part of my problem has always been taking the film's action too literally: wondering where that big orchestra and choir and dance troupes suddenly sprang from, why these people suddenly went into a huge and intricate routine, and then stopped for no apparent reason. I tend to like my film music as non-diegetic underscore rather than source or diegetic music (that the characters are actually aware of) and musicals obviously don't work that way. In some cases, such as setting a movie in a club or a theatre, you can blur that line so the sudden singing and dancing isn't quite so out of place. That's what Burlesque does, although the goings-on are not really burlesque in the traditional music-hall and variety sense of seedy striptease and standup; rather it's a series of slickly choreographed bump-and-grind numbers in which attractive young ladies lipsynch while wearing little more than hosiery and waving their bums at the camera. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The plot is nebulous and the kind of thing that Cannon Films used to put in their daft youth musicals from the 1980s such as Breakdance, Salsa and Lambada: a young woman (Christina Aguilera) gets tired of her Nowhere Wisconsin town and moves to Los Angeles looking for dancing opportunities. She winds up as a waitress at a struggling burlesque club run by Cher (who's 64 and so plastically enhanced she might as well be made out of Lego), gets her big break, becomes the star of the show, antagonises the bitchy alcoholic prima donna (Kristen Bell), beds the bartender and gets hit on by the evil real estate billionaire who wants to buy the club and erect a 20-storey office block over it. Can her idea of actually singing the songs rather than just miming to records save the club's fortunes before the banks foreclose?

With all the raunch and flesh, the women in the stockings and pants and skintight costumes with their legs in the air or shaking it all about, it's actually a bit reminiscent of Showgirls, except that it has a 12A certificate and the nudity is brief and very discreet. I was also reminded of Coyote Ugly, which was similarly thin but which I kind of almost half-liked. And I confess I did enjoy Burlesque: Stanley Tucci is great, Alan Cumming is fourth or fifth billed but isn't actually in the movie very much and I even rather liked some of the songs. Sadly the dance numbers are overedited to such a degree that they end up as rock videos, shot with dozens of cameras and constantly chopping between them every couple of frames, much like Chicago where Gere, Zeta-Jones and Zellweger actually had to be credited with their own dancing because it wasn't obvious from the film itself. (Compare with the MGM Golden Age musicals or the Fred Astaires of the 1930s, where far more elaborate dance routines were shot in two or three takes and the cameras were pretty much nailed to the floor.)

It's alright. It passes a couple of cold December hours perfectly well and is enjoyable enough, and certainly more fun than I thought it was going to be. Presumably they didn't want to go down the Showgirls route and so erred on the safe side perhaps a little too much: the bum waving is pretty mild and a bit more trashy and dirty wouldn't have done the movie any harm.



No comments: