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Mule On Luge
By Danny McBride - 02/23/2002 - 01:01 AM EST

By Danny McBride © 2002

In Salt Lake City a mule has won the freeform downhill toboggan-style event after being entered by a farmer from France. The mule was not only strapped to the little sled against his will, but also strapped against the uncomfortable rails along the sides. The mule, who declined to be interviewed for this story, won a CD of "Who Let The Dogs Out" and a free ticket to see Shrek once again because he liked the Eddie Murphy character so much, andÖandÖwait a minute!! Iím a little confused here. All this snow and ice. All this triple-Lutz triple-Loop double-double, double-double with cheese- -wait! Thatís that burger chain- -fault no fault perfect form downhill uphill. Iím sorry.

Letís start again. There was no mule in the luge. Moulin Rouge. Thatís what I was going to talk about, not Mule On Luge. That musical movie with Nicole Kidman that is getting all kinds of raves and notices as one of the great pictures of the year. Dare I say it? I hated it. It was such a poor excuse for a movie musical that it couldnít even come up with an original score (yes, I know- -and what was the score? Moulin 5, Rouge 2). How great is that? A movie musical without a score?

But it did score with a lot of movie goers. Why? Because we are so STARVED for a musical movie- -especially those of us who love musicals but only have the classics because, duh, they donít make new ones anymore. Okay. Lion King. Beauty And The Beast. Disney musicals. (Yes, I know, Elton John and a few good songs and all that, but is that all there is? Okay, ABBA, but thatís on Broadway. What else? Hint: Not much.)

Letís look at some of the best musicals. Iím off to Blockbuster. You go watch something too.

Okay, back? I watched My Fair Lady, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. How about you? For the purposes of the point I want to make it probably doesnít much matter what you saw. The key point in any movie or play or book or whatever is THE STORY. As long as the story keeps moving along, and a good song is thrown in, weíll love it. Even a mediocre song can get by once in a while if the story keeps moving. [The actors donít even have to sing well- -note: Paint Your Wagon - -actually skip this one, unless you must hear Lee Marvin sing.]

And whatís the common element in those three favorite musicals? None of the stories are original. They are all musical versions of material from another source: George Bernard Shaw, William Shakespeare and the Von Trapp familyís true-life story of escape from Austria to Vermont at the outset of World War Two. The musical theater, and then film, is almost uniquely filled with story material from another source. A good story is found, AND THEN THE SONGS ARE WRITTEN.

Moulin Rouge suffers because a few old pop songs were strung together, and a loose story constructed as a frame to hang them on, or so it would seem. And when I say loose story, Iím being generous. Girl meets boy meets girl under the thumb of the impresario with an attempt at farcical cloak and dagger murder-she-wished-she-wrote mayhem, and voilŠ! A story? Not quite.

That everyone is raving about the costumes lets you know how good the music was. Donít get me wrong- -One of the great things about musicals can be the costumes- -they can always go a little over-the-top- -but whatever you hear- -Nicole Kidmanís performance, the eye-candy effect of the whole film- -you never hear ANYONE say "What great songs".

Now sing "The Hills Are Alive..." Or "The Rain In SpainÖ" Or "Maria, Iíll Never Stop SayingÖ" See what I mean? SONGS. And songs that are written for story points already established in the source material.

Of course, if you are really clever, you can write the story too, like The Music Man. But adapting another source, especially if itís a classic (and in the public domain) is the best way to go. And please, a real story. Not just a bunch of old poems strung together on a feline thin plotline. Real stories.

Then write the songs that fit the story points, donít just try to slap a few old war-horses together and hope they will drag you to the end.

I know that musicals cost a lot to stage or film- -much more than horror films or teen comedies. But the one thing that Moulin Rouge should say to movie studios is that there is an audience dying for a musical, even a weak one. Just maybe someone will take the chance and pitch a REAL musical with NEW songs.

Why donít you get started on it. So will I.

And if itís even halfway successful, the movie studios will get something thatís not just run of the moulin, and their bottom line will not be rouge.

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