The problem I have with musicals since, say, CABARET and ALL THAT JAZZ

Dick

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I have truly liked many musicals since CABARET and ALL THAT JAZZ, but I have a problem with most of them. A really big problem that reduces my appreciation of them to a regrettable degree: The Editing. And notice I said since CABARET and ALL THAT JAZZ. CABARET started something back in 1972. Up until then, we watched song and dance numbers in musicals with few cuts, allowing us to become very engaged with the choreography. Suddenly, editor David Bretherton introduced us to the quick-cut musical numbers, which mostly cut on a beat (but not too many times to become annoying), thus delivering a visual equivilent of the musical rhythm. It was exhilarating. It seemed to enchance the performances. That is because Bretherton was a brilliant editor. Seven years later Alan Heim worked similar magic with the dance numbers in ALL THAT JAZZ. The opening was just about as breathtaking as it gets. But, oh my, how things have changed. I do not dispute that the rhythms of films such as CHICAGO and DREAMGIRLS are stimulating, but, like the arbitrary staccato editing of a film made long before them (I refer to A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO ME ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM of 1966), the emphasis is no longer on the performance but on the editing itself. One cannot get a sense of what the hell the dancers are even doing, because the cuts are so quick and show-offey and do not rest on long or medium shots often enough. I get the feeling modern musical dance numbers are cut with an editor's "I want to win the Oscar by using more cuts than ever before" mentality, and not at all so much upon revealing the beauty of the dance itself. As with any of the recent action thrillers, I lose track of perspective and geography. I don't even know what the hell is happening half the time! I want to see the dancers' feet in motion, not close-ups of their elbows, lips, hair, and the smalls of their backs in separate cuts all within a few seconds. Most of today's editors are simply not up to the task. They can take a 3-minute number and break it into two hundred cuts, but they haven't the sense of rhythm or purpose that either Bretherton or Heim had. Surely I am not alone in this. Editors for all types of films these days are way too ostentatious, and their cutting is disorienting and distracting, but I have found that otherwise excellent musicals have suffered the most.
 

Ejanss

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Cabaret and ATJ were both film-directed by Bob Fosse, so if they look a bit similar, there is a reason for that. (And we can assume Scheider's portrayal of faux-Fosse in ATJ doesn't fall too far from the real-life tree.) As for Chicago--and to some extent Nine, since the Weinsteins pretty much wanted Rob Marshall to refilm Chicago frame-by-frame--Marshall is pretty heavily borrowing on the Fosse homages (it wouldn't be a Marshall musical without the fantasy scenes of Sweet Charity hey-big-spender burlesque lines), seeing as that was a Fosse stage musical to begin with. So far, all the examples named seem to be in one main apple-barrel, anything else? Dreamgirls may be "staccato", but it doesn't fit the category criteria so far.
 

Robin9

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Dick said:
Surely I am not alone in this. Editors for all types of films these days are way too ostentatious, and their cutting is disorienting and distracting, but I have found that otherwise excellent musicals have suffered the most.
You are not alone and you are absolutely right that many editors today are far too ostentatious. This is especially true in non-musicals of action sequences and fight scenes. I always assumed until now that it was mainly because the directors could not stage scenes properly and they needed frenzied editing to cover up their inadequacies.
 

Scott Merryfield

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Robin9 said:
You are not alone and you are absolutely right that many editors today are far too ostentatious. This is especially true in non-musicals of action sequences and fight scenes. I always assumed until now that it was mainly because the directors could not stage scenes properly and they needed frenzied editing to cover up their inadequacies.
Yes, this is not just a trend with musicals, but other films -- such as action flicks, as you mentioned. Quantum of Solace is a perfect example of an over edited mess. Traditional Bond films showed stunt sequences with with few cuts, allowing the viewer to absorb the action. In QoS, the cuts are so quick and the shots so tight that the viewer cannot follow anything. I noticed this with the Bourne sequels as well. By the third film, I would get a headache just watching the movie due to all the quick cuts and shaky camera technique. It's really become an overused technique.
 

Rick Thompson

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Another problem is that the actors in musicals now for the most part can't, well, dance. In Chicago, only Catherine Zeta-Jones had musical theater chops. Richard Gere was better than I thought he'd be, but Renee Zellweger's dance (as opposed to her other) shortcomings were covered up by the editing. She obviously wasn't good for more than a few seconds at a time.
 

Everett S.

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Rick Thompson said:
Another problem is that the actors in musicals now for the most part can't, well, dance. In Chicago, only Catherine Zeta-Jones had musical theater chops. Richard Gere was better than I thought he'd be, but Renee Zellweger's dance (as opposed to her other) shortcomings were covered up by the editing. She obviously wasn't good for more than a few seconds at a time.
Mr. Gere was in the London cast of "Grease"!
 

Eric Vedowski

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I caught part of "Dreamgirls" on tv (not sure which song) and the editing was so annoying (a cut on every beat) that I turned it off. Astaire had to fight idiotic cutting when he started in musicals and forty something years later John Travolta had to fight the same fight during "Saturday Night Fever." They both won the battle but the folks today don't seem to have any idea how song & dance should be presented. If you have to use twitchy editing to create excitement in a musical number...
 

Mikey1969

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Indeed, I also prefer the older styles of allowing the dances to play out in longer takes as master shots. This was back in the days when the dancers had the talent and strength to do this and studios were willing to invest in rehearsal time. Cabaret still works for me though; the frenetic cuts and disorienting cutaway shots match the decay and de-glamorized setting well.
 

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