(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Mixed Musicals Now on Blu-ray

There are various theories as to why Martin Scorsese's first big-budget movie — 1977's New York, New York — was a box office flop. One is that its blend of 1940's musical melodrama with more modern language and acting styles was off-putting. Scorsese seems most accepting of this suspicion in his commentary on the film's just-released Blu-ray edition. Another is that New York, New York was doomed by such contemporary mega-hits as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever and Annie Hall, all released in 1977 as well.

Upon watching the gorgeously-designed movie on Blu-ray, however, another reason quickly becomes clear: its screenplay is awful. At 163 minutes, the story about an egotistical saxophone player (Robert De Niro) and a rising jazz singer (Liza Minnelli) who share a tortured romance is too slim and derivative of other, better movies such as the 1954 version of A Star is Born (which even starred Liza's mother, Judy Garland).

Jimmy and Francine meet cute, even though De Niro comes across as only a slightly less psychotic version of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, in a nightclub the night of V-J Day. She is understandably wary at first, and Minnelli is great in these early scenes as well as in her later musical numbers. The Blu-ray includes the lengthy, lavish production number "Happy Endings," which was quickly cut from the film after its release in a desperate effort to make a shorter, more audience-friendly version.

There is much to admire in New York, New York, especially Boris Leven's production design, Theodora Van Runkle's costumes and Laszlo Kovacs' stunning cinematography. But the script by Earl MacRauch and Mardik Martin takes a full half-hour for anything substantial to happen, and even then nothing too substantial happens. It's best to skip chapters, stopping each time Liza sings.

Along with New York, New York, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM have also released Milos Forman's energetic adaptation of the rock musical Hair (1979), choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and the more recent gay classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Blu-ray for the first time. Both look great in the high-def format, and boast memorable performances and musical numbers. They serve as great inspiration to anyone who hasn't yet invested in Blu-ray player to do so.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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