Moviegeek5: Haven’t I heard that song before?
Most musicals feature music written for the occasion, but once in a while a musical comes along written around pre-existing songs. This is list is a dedication to some of the musicals that give new and surprising life to familiar songs or draw more obscure songs into the limelight and make new fans for old artists. Whether it is a tribute to a certain band, a tribute to a specific music period or music culture, or simply popular songs thrust into unfamiliar territory, these films all have great soundtracks that have the distinction of being all new and wonderfully familiar at the same time.
Share your thoughts in the comment below. What is your favourite musical film with unoriginal music?
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The first entry on our list is a true musical classic. This 1952 gem was envisioned by film producer and song writer Arthur Freed as a vehicle for songs he wrote and released between 1929 and 1939 with Narcio Herb Brown. Two songs, “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes” were written for the film. Combined with star Gene Kelly’s sizzling choreography the songs and images have been seared so strongly together in our movie memory that it is hard to believe its song catalogue is most reused. The film paints a loving picture of 1920s Hollywood and centers around three actors caught up in the transition from silent films to talkies and is romantic as well as laugh-out-loud funny. It stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Jean Hagen.
The next entry is John Waters’s cult classic Cry-Baby. The film centers around a group of juvenile delinquents headed by Johnny Depp, a rivalling group of squares, and the girl caught in between. Set in 1950s Baltimore, the film lovingly lampoons the rockabilly culture of that era and makes use of a varied collection of songs from that period without relying on the tried and tested hits. It’s bonkers at times, over-the-top, and disarmingly charming and a film you will either dismiss off-hand or love for the rest of your life.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
This extravagant musical by Australian director Baz Luhrman is a good example of a fitting match between director and genre. Visually, the film is dazzling and spectacular from beginning to end. The film is the tragic love story of the penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman) the star of the burlesque night club Moulin Rouge who is set to become the courtesan of a duke. The film features a number of hit songs from artist such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Madonna that clash and yet fit the fin-de-siècle bohemian setting perfectly. A wild ride, a gripping love story, and a kick-ass soundtrack, Moulin Rouge! is one of a kind.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
This musical based on the songs of Swedish super pop group ABBA is too sugar sweet for some but has become a favourite for many others, particularly those who remember ABBA with fondness. Set on a small Greek Island the story centers around Meryl Streep’s Donna, whose daughter is getting married. The daughter wants to know who her father is and invites three potential father based on a close study of her mother’s diary. One of them is Pierce Brosnan’s Sam, an old flame whose presence sets Donna life on fire. Brosnan’s singing does not quite cut it, but the film is a real Summer flick, full of colour, life, and joy. And of course a lot of great ABBA songs!
Rock of Ages (2012)
This jukebox musical is based on the Broadway musical of the same name and directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, 2007) is a love letter to 1980s glam metal. The story of a young midwestern girl arriving full of hope in L.A. finds herself falling in love and working at the infamous rock club The Bourbon Room, which is about welcome rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to a concert that will make or break them. The soundtrack is brimming with best of 1980s glam metal: Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N Roses, Twisted Sister, to name a few. The young stars are charming and can sing their heart out, but especially Tom Cruise impresses in truly memorable performances of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Who knew he could sing. Not for everyone – but if you love Shankman’s Hairspray and glam metal, you’ll adore the combination.