I love film musicals. As a child I used to get up early on Sundays to watch the Shirley Temple double-feature on a local TV station in Cleveland, and had a four-record album set of her greatest tunes. I also have most of The Wizard Of Oz dialogue memorized, not to mention the song lyrics (though it wasn't until college that I figured out the Lion was talking about chipmunks genuflecting to him). I enjoyed Moulin Rouge because it seemed a throwback to the old MGM classics, and O Brother Where Art Thou because I absolutely love bluegrass and skilled banjo pickin'. The thing all these flicks had in common? Stellar music that transcends time.
And that's why I went out of my way to go to the one, slightly shabby little theater in the entire San Francisco Bay area that was showing Idlewild, Outkast's movie musical. My initial thought: What, no white people means no mainstream release? So much for racial harmony, has-been hippies! But after seeing the movie, I was willing to concede that, well, maybe it was because Idlewild is a bit disappointing.
I won't dwell on the film itself; this review does that well enough. But I did want to point out the melding of jazz and hip-hop that I came to the movie fully expecting. When it worked, it was fabulous.
That familiar hi-hat riff often used for exposition--musicially and cinematically--helped transform the scene in which Andre 3000's songwriter banged out a Prohibition era-type piano number that failed to impress the speakeasy crowd into Big Boi's ganster's grand entrance onstage, culminating into a full-blown modern rap performance complete with dancers still clad in period costume. Brilliant!
Macy Gray's singing, too, captured the smoky quality of 1930s illegal jazz-and-hooch scene so well, I'm not sure if her number was actually written to the period. She was to the music what a great actor is to mediocre dialogue (Alec Guiness in the first and third Star Wars, anyone?).
But for the cleverest use of old jazz in this flick, look to the background. If one played close attention during the scene in which Terrence Howard terrorizes a stuttering henchman, for example, a cleverly cut and looped snippet maintained the the tension while evoking a musical homage to the past. Kinda reminded me of Kid Koala, the Canadian DJ who often plays his own piano and trumpet samples.
Otherwise, Outkast's music--though quality--seemed to exist outside the realm of the movie, too modern they were that even well-executed shots couldn't fool the listener. The songs didn't really push the storytelling forward, and with few exceptions didn't offer the brilliant melding of genres we've come to expect from the duo. Andre's ending number had that big-stage feeling worthy of Chicago, but by then it was too little, too late.
I do plan to get the CD, if only to recall some of the better tunes. Then again, if one needs a refresher, maybe the music wasn't memorable to begin with. I'll keep you posted.