January 9, 2008

Great Movies for Theater Lovers

Great ideas don't come along every day. But I found one on the blog Gratuitous Violins. Its blogger writes smartly about the whole range of culture —books, movies, TV and, of course, theater (click here to visit her site)—and last week, she pointed her readers to the movie review podcast Filmspotting whose two hosts listed their Top 5 movies about the theater world. They selected "All About Eve" (which made both their lists) "All That Jazz," "Bullets Over Broadway," "Cradle Will Rock," "The Goodbye Girl," "Moon Over Broadway," "Waiting for Guffman" (another dual choice) and "Yankee Doodle Dandy". (Click here to read more about their choices)

I've seen them all. And loved each one. I actually bought copies of "All That Jazz," "Moon Over Broadway" and "All About Eve," which might be my favorite movie of all time. In fact, I've used it as a kind of litmus test. There have been two great loves of my life; both got "All About Eve" and both got me.

I also love lists and seeing the Filmspotting one got me thinking about what other stage movies I’d add. So here are 10 more, listed alphabetically, that I think should be must-sees for every respectable theater geek:

"BEING JULIA" This is not a great movie but Annette Bening’s portrayal of a London actress in the 1930s is and she gloriously, and hilariously, fulfills every stereotype of the fiercely great stage diva.

"THE DRESSER" Both Gratuitous Violins and I chose this wonderful screen version of Ronald Harwood’s play about the relationship between the actor-manager of a touring Shakespeare company (the sensational Albert Finney) and his dresser (the equally superb Tom Courtenay) whose story comes to resemble that of Lear and his Fool.

"FAME" How can you not love this exuberant musical that follows the lives of four talented kids from their first audition straight through their graduation from New York’s famed High School for the Performing Arts?

"FUNNY GIRL" Whatever you may think about Barbra Streisand’s later career or her politics, there can be no question about the fact that her star-making portrayal of the legendary Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny Brice is a tour de force.

"THE GREAT ZIEGFELD" This great Oscar-winning biopic stars William Powell as the master showman, Luise Rainer and Myrna Loy as his wives, Fanny Brice as herself, Busby Berkeley’s spectacular dance numbers and half the Great American Songbook.

"KISS ME KATE" There’s Cole Porter, there’s Shakespeare, there’s even Bob Fosse in a supporting role in this terrific show-within-a-show version of The Taming of the Shrew, plus there are great showbizzy songs and loads of backstage in-jokes.

"SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE" It’s highly unlikely that there’s any truth in this witty romantic comedy about how the Bard came to write Romeo and Juliet but the script, co-written by Tom Stoppard, and the performances, including Oscar-winning turns by Gwyneth Paltrow as a young noblewoman who yearns to be an actress and Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I, are all truly entertaining.

"STAGE BEAUTY" If you know this one, then you really are a theater geek. The setting is Restoration-era London and Billy Crudup stars as a fictional version of the real-life actor Ned Kynaston, celebrated for playing female roles when women weren’t allowed on stage; Claire Danes portrays the first woman who breaks the gender barrier; Richard Eyre, the former director of London’s Royal National Theatre, directs and together they create a first-class love letter to the art of acting.

"STAGE DOOR" Who knows how many impressionable young girls over the decades have seen Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in this still-delightful 1937 classic and then dreamt of coming to New York, moving into a boardinghouse with other stage-struck girls and waiting for their big break on Broadway?

"TOPSY-TURVY" Mike Leigh’s exquisite film about the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership transports you into the world of the theater at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of musical comedy as we know it. The centerpiece of the nearly three-hour film is the making of The Mikado and it alone is worth the DVD rental fee.

O.K. so now, what are your favorites?


Esther said...

Thank-you so much for the kind words. It's very generous of you. But I have to admit that there are times when I look back at what I've written and I don't feel very smart!

I definitely want to check out some of these titles. There are lots I haven't seen. I don't think I've ever seen Funny Girl. And I'm really curious about Moon Over Broadway. I love behind-the-scenes documentaries.

I saw Topsy-Turvy a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it. Jim Broadbent, who was so wonderful in Iris, plays Gilbert.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jan - How very ironic that you've posted this story. After talking with Esther, I was thinking of going down the same path, particularly because I watched "All About Eve" en route to Tokyo last month! You've beaten me to the punch, but what a great list.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Thanks for the comment, Steve. It was great fun making up this list and I'd love to know if there are any others you would add cause I'm always in the market for new ones.

Anonymous said...

I know this film isn't exactly a film about theater, but I still think it's one of the best musicals in production: Babs Streisand's "Yentl". I just heard it's coming back out on DVD in time for the 25th anniversary, and I'm totally stoked. Check it out [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001P5HI4A/ref=s9_subs_c2_s2_p74_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=16QZJXRAW1BZERQZMPJN&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=463383371&pf_rd_i=507846]here[/url] if you want a copy as bad as I do!

Anonymous said...

Great writing! Maybe you could do a follow up on this topic!?

jan@broadwayandme said...

Anonymous, thanks for the kind words and for searching out this post. If you're interested in more theater-related movies, you should check out the terrific list that Howard Sherman, the executive director of The American Theatre Wing, recently posted on his blog. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/atwmovielist