Got jazz hands? Judge Kristin Munson has a cream for that.
All that jazz?
Always leave them wanting more. It's your standard showbiz motto and something the writers and director of Hollywood Singing and Dancing should have taken to heart. Yes, it's hard to cut back on your favorite song and dance numbers, but when three quarters of your 108-minute feature is narration-less clips, it's time to start killing your darling.
Every documentary should have a purpose. The That's Entertainment series re-introduced the Golden Age of Hollywood to the then modern audience and Broadway: The American Musical took an exhaustive journey through stage musical history. Hollywood Singing and Dancing is just plain exhausting. Chugging along from production number to production number with no real context, it's a DVD jukebox of Hollywood's greatest musical hits; any narration is just set up for the next clip.
There's nothing wrong with stocking your feature with footage from over 40 musicals—How could I not enjoy seeing "Whatever Lola Wants" and "Life is a Cabaret"?—but what if what Lola wants is some of the history promised by the title? The few anecdotes featured here are familiar and most of the interview footage about Hollywood's current musical Renaissance is lifted from press junkets. Four writers are listed in the final credits, but the chattiest narrator Shirley Jones gets is in the bookends. The rest of the scripts consists of throwaway lines that get the movie from one era to the next and onto another set of too-long clips. There's no hows and whys of the Hollywood musical machine, and very little about the actors, producers, and production teams involved.
Because the documentary lacks a strong narrative backbone, I couldn't figure out why some movies merited three and four different numbers, some in near-entirety, and specific coverage while other don't even get a mention. Why ignore a truly original indie effort like Hedwig and the Angry Inch but then includes the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? If there's going to be any rendition of "Ol' Man River," shouldn't it be Paul Robeson's definitive performance and not Frank Sinatra's pale imitation? There might have been room for all of this, and more, if the people involved had been able to limit the number and length of clips from other movies.
On the flip side, musical buffs will be more excited by the special features on the second disc than the actual doc. Half an hour of additional interviews (which would have been better used in the main attraction) and a post-screening session with Shirley Jones and director Mark McLaughlin are the direct documentary extras but, with old newsreels, vintage shorts, and extended studio promos for Oliver!, Fiddler on the Roof, and Funny Girl, the disc promises to be a treasure trove of obscure Hollywood press. Since the second disc was not included with my screener copy, I can't really comment.
Technically, the disc is solid. As with all documentaries that combine older footage, the aspect ratio and video quality varies from clip to clip, as some musical numbers were pulled from aging promo material and not the restored feature. Sound is available in 2.0 or 5.1 stereo, with no major difference in quality between the two.
Hollywood Singing and Dancing is your classic case of killing a subject with kindness. It will definitely spur you to revisit an old favorite but, with the sheer number of movie clips, there's literally nothing here you haven't seen before.
Guilty of giving viewers the old razzle dazzle.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Q&A with Shirley Jones and Mark McLaughlin
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