Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Failure of Nerve

I, after being prodded by many friends familiar with my musical theater affinity, finally watched the film Camp last week. Camp is a small indie film about a musical theater summer camp, a camp where the kids who are to some degree outcasts in their high schools can be themselves.

It's a sweet film, if a bit underbaked and kind of embarrassingly badly directed and acted and edited. But nonetheless with its heart in the right place. But what I most want to talk about isn't any of that; it's the music.

This is a film that takes as its central thematic conceit the notion that these kids (and adults) who are passionate about musical theater have nothing to be ashamed about. That musical theater is worthy of passion and worth embracing.

And yet while the music in the film does include a few showtunes, with one exception they are all more "pop" showtunes. The opening number, from "The Gospel at Colonus" is a big, belty gospel number, not a traditional musical theater song. The original songs are by the folks who did Fame, and sound much more R&B-influenced than Broadway influenced. The one big number we get to see from a production is "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises by Burt Bacharach, a composer from the pop world. And the non-diegetic music is by and large soft acoustic lite rock stuff, the same kind of music used in sensitive teen drams all the time.

Where is the real Broadway stuff? Why, in a film that celebrates musical theater fandom, is there so much hedging when it comes to the real thing? I really would have loved for the film to embrace its own ethos more, and used showtunes for scene transitions, underscoring, etc. To have used showtunes for the big emotional numbers, not showtunes-by-proxy. In the end, it really took the wind out of the film's sails for me.

Until Whenever


Jaquandor said...

Since you indicate this is an "indie" film (one which I've not heard of, btw), I wonder if the typically small indie budget was a factor. Maybe they simply couldn't afford the rights to actual Broadway songs.

Tosy And Cosh said...

But they did use a fair amount of actual Broadway songs, just (mostly) ones with a more pop or R&B bent. It just felt like they were embarassed to be too "Broadway," which felt very ironic.