Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Movies That Work Better On YouTube

Well, no movie actually works better with the picture and sound quality of YouTube, so of course I don't mean that subject line literally. But I was re-watching Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles De Rochefort, and it occurred to me that this is one of those movies that works better in short clips than as a whole.

Every time I see an excerpt from this movie -- any excerpt -- it blows me away; I'm enthralled by the candy-store color, Michel Legrand's music (and Demy's excellent lyrics), the gorgeous locations and the gorgeous people and Demy's elaborate tributes to Vincente Minnelli and the M-G-M musical. But when I see it all the way through, I'm less impressed, because the plot has a ton of problems: apparently Demy, in his zeal to pay tribute to the Hollywood musical, didn't remember that the best musicals have simple, emotionally-involving plots (like his own The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Another flaw that becomes apparent in a full viewing is that the choreography isn't very good; this is a common problem when auteur directors do musicals, because they can't do what the director of a musical needs to do, which is step back and let the choreographer essentially plan an entire scene. (Ernst Lubitsch is another director whose musicals have either no dancing or bad dancing, because he usually couldn't bring himself to turn a scene over to the choreographer.) And finally, it becomes clear that Demy and Legrand just put too many songs in the picture: a musical needs a breather between numbers or they all start to feel like they're the same.

And so, as I said, Les Demoiselles De Rochefort is a movie made for the YouTube format: a short clip highlighting a particular scene or musical number. You get the best qualities of the movie, without the repetition and plot problems that make the whole thing wear out its welcome.

Are there other movies -- musicals or otherwise -- that you think work better in bits and pieces than as a whole?

Here are two clips from Les Demoiselles that I think sum up what's right with the film (or bits and pieces of it). The first song, "Chanson Des Jumelles" (Song of the Twins) for the very beautiful and very dubbed sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac. I like the way Demy has the girls make small talk and then suddenly burst into song. Instead of finding ways to set up or justify a song, he's just saying: this is a musical, people will sing at random, get used to it. I also like how he includes little clichés that hardcore MGM musical buffs will recognize, like having the characters laugh after the number is over.

And "De Delphine à Lancien", a scene which starts with an elaborate, very Minnelli-esque crane shot following Deneuve around a street full of dancing people. The ensuing scene shows off Demy's carefully-planned color schematics, compositions (Deneuve flanked by a black-and-white art piece on one side and a painting of her -- sort of -- on the other), and those lines of dialogue that would be clunky and pretentious in another film but are somehow charming in a Demy movie ("When you say 'my soul,' it's my body you're thinking of").

1 comment:

Stephen Rowley said...

The obvious example I can think of is Mary Poppins - a movie full of great sequences that is just so overdrawn (and with some sequences that don't work) that it becomes painful to actually sit down and watch.