I love musicals.
This holidays I have watched the filmed versions of West Side Story, Carousel, An American in Paris, Viva Las Vegas, Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific. I consider knowledge of musicals to be part of our cultural heritage. Then I saw the new musical Nine.
Nine is an MTV homage to 60s Italian cinema. It is a musical version of Fellini's 8 1/2, directed by the guy who directed the musical Chicago. While I understand it is exciting to cross genres to make a new form, I have a few 'issues'.
Yes, I understand Fellini's films were about awakening sexuality, and about male fantasy and recollections. But surely, haven't we moved beyond filming musical versions of male fantasy yet??
Now I should add the context in which I watched this film. I have three daughters. As I have said previously, I've had trouble finding a dance school for them that treats girls with respect, that doesn't present primary school girls as sexually knowing and available. I've found a school I like, but the class they want to join this year is the class that had girls aged 8 dancing to Britney Spear's Circus (I'm like a fire-cracker, I like it hot!) and the xmas song was Santa Baby, surely one of the worst xmas songs ever. All the teachers of other classes showed more imagination, more knowledge of various musical forms and possibilities than the teacher who taught this class. Her class danced also to some other songs in the top 40 that would be on music video shows, which we don't watch in our home. So, I'm steering my girls into other classes.
Now, my problem with Nine is, why would these actresses, in order to showcase their singing and dancing on film, want to play such sexualised roles? Penelope Cruz does a dance like a poledancer. Marion Cotillard does a dance as a stripper in a men's club (and while I understand it was a metaphor for her feeling used, can't we find another metaphor?). Fergie does a dance about sex, straddling a chair. Kate Hudson and her piece were not integral to the story at all - it was an American for the sake of it. Nicole - well, she's just her, and if you don't like her, then she detracts from the film, even if her character tells Guido she won't be his muse and he doesn't really see her. For a film that is meant to be about loving women, the women seem to have no respect for themselves. They want Guido. Guido is a creative genius, stuck for ideas, and is irresponsible in his relationships. Daniel Day Lewis added some gravitas to an otherwise light film (it is a musical), and his voice as an Italian man is beautiful - I'm a fan - but the film doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is the audience for Fellini also the audience for musicals? Probably not (except perhaps me.) And the film does my pet hate in literature (and film) - it is about itself.
So, these top actresses are dancing in the exact style that I want my daughters to avoid. And the film was made by an openly gay director. In my view Ann-Margret doing a striptease style song and dance in Viva Las Vegas is stupid. Sure, dance. Sure, have fun. But no, don't dance to sell yourself to men. Having 8 year olds dancing to Circus or Santa Baby like they know what is about is stupid, and, possibly, a form of exploitation. When the top actresses of our day do they same thing, what hope do we have?