Anthology Film Archives


July 29 – August 9

This July continues our summer tribute to American musicals after 1970. Most of the selections in last month’s calendar [Bogdanovich’s AT LONG LAST LOVE (1975), Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977), Ross’s PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981)] showed New Hollywood deconstructing Old Hollywood. These projects, along with Lumet’s THE WIZ (1978), Altman’s POPEYE (1980), and Coppola’s ONE FROM THE HEART (1982), flopped commercially. Meanwhile, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and GREASE (1978), an immensely profitable pair, set off a deluge of dance movies and light musical comedies. As the point of reference shifted from RKO, MGM, and Warner classics to the contemporary recording industry, star directors disappeared from musical projects, and pop stars – Prince, David Byrne, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson are all represented here – became the effective ‘auteurs’.

With corporate conglomeration of the studios and multiplexes on the rise, the film industry pounced on the teen demographic, turning out blockbusters, franchises, and sequels, while the proliferation of the cable and home video industries (owned by the same parent companies as the film studios) increased the power of the small screen. Hence, THE BLUES BROTHERS was the first SNL sketch to cross over to the big screen. Music videos turned the economics of movie merchandising upside-down, as PURPLE RAIN and TRUE STORIES proved that musicians could release movies to promote their studio albums, rather than vice-versa.

All this consolidation and cross-pollination paved the way for today’s multi-platform delivery systems, not to mention the content: BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998), the remake of HAIRSPRAY (2007), the Broadway adaptation of CRY-BABY (2008), STREETS OF FIRE’s “unofficial sequel” ROAD TO HELL (2008), Fox’s GLEE (2009-?), a reboot of NBC’s FAME, and now rumors are swirling about new versions of BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE and PURPLE RAIN. What’s with all these imitations and revivals? The answer’s in a line from SONGWRITER: “Payola ain’t dead around here. It ain’t even sick.”

Curated by Leah Churner; special thanks to Richard Elfman, Jake Perlin, Kathryn Brennan (Paramount), Paul Ginsburg (Universal), Matt Jones & David Spencer (University of North Carolina School of the Arts), Christopher Lane (Sony), James Mockoski (American Zoetrope), Jack Murphy (F Z Distribution), Marilee Womack (WB), and Kent Youngblood (MGM).

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