This week I have watched three musicals – two of which are a bit different. On Wednesday I watched (for the second time) A Mightly Wind. Then last night Tara and I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Once More with Feeling.” Finally this morning, the whole family watched Tangled. The last is the one that wasn’t “a bit different.”
Actually on Tuesday, I watched many of the special features of A Mighty Wind, both normally and with the commentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, which started to confirm some things I’d kind-of suspected about the production. Then when I watched the full movie (and the full commentary), I pretty much confirmed this. Unlike most musical movies – and I have no clue if its sort-of predecessor This is Spinal Tap did this or not – the only music that wasn’t recorded live onto the film was the music recorded for some of the “historical” segments. Three of these segments are included in the special features – parts of two of which make it into the film. As would have been the normal approach for a music TV show in the 1960′s and early 1970′s when these clips were, supposedly, from, the music was pre-recorded and the performers lip-synced when shooting.
But the concert, and the practice sessions included in the movie, were recorded live. In fact during the movie commentary one of the creators, probably Guest since he also directed, mentioned that cutting together the concert scenes was a bit of a problem since not only had the groups sung each take “live,” they did so sometimes at different tempos since they were not using a click-track or anything else that would ensure a consistant tempo.
I am also impressed at the number of members of the cast who contributed to writing the songs. As I recall, every one of the main five cast members wrote or co-wrote at least one song. And if I heard correctly, the person who did the vocal arrangements for The (New) Main Street Singers was one of the actors playing a lead role in that group.
One thing that I still wonder about is the audio mix that shows up during the concert scene (and on the TV version of the concert, and album) of the title song. If I counted correctly on stage we had 14 vocalists, three upright basses, nine acoustic guitars and one banjo – for a total of 16 people performing on stage since two of the vocalists weren’t playing any instruments and there was a bass and a guitar player who weren’t singing. But when I listen to the mix, the banjo is the most prominent instrument (other than the vocals). This could be a result of whoever mixed for the recording having pulled down the guitars to keep them from overwhelming the rest of the mix, and then boosting the banjo to make sure it was heard. I’m also not sure that all nine guitars had pick-ups. At least for that song, none were miced. I think in 2003 that wireless direct boxes were sufficiently common that they could have been using them. But if only the banjo was being picked up off of anything but ambient mics, or the vocal mics, that could also explain the mix.
After re-watching the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I also listened to the commentary, which was by Joss Whedon alone, as well as the making-of featurette. Between these I confirmed some things I’d suspected. Whedon did write to the strengths, weaknesses and preferences of his standing cast. So the only major signing role that wasn’t known before hand was Sweet, and Whedon sounded very happy to have gotten Hinton Battle for that role. A lot of credit was also given to the choreography team – and a lot of their work was seen in the making-of featurette. It also became quickly clear that,for the most part, there were just three chorus members – all men. They played both Sweet’s henchmen (who looked scarily like marionettes) and some nameless vampires and a demon in the opening number – and were seen in some segments.
During the commentary, Whedon kept downplaying his talents as a composer and lyricist. But after his work on this episode, “The Balad of Serenity,” and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, I think he has proven to be more than just proficient as a composer and lyricist. He probably should plan on trying to do the music and lyrics for a major broadway show (unless it is to expand Doctor Horrible to a long enough piece to make it worth staging on today’s broadway), but he shouldn’t feel any shame if he chooses to write more music to accompany his other creations.
Finally, a quick note about Tangled. When we were watching it, I noticed that it was following the pattern of the Disney musical animated films of the early- and mid-1990′s (The Little Mermaid through at least The Lion King – not counting the non-musical Rescuers Down Under). But then when the credits rolled, I noticed that they had also gone back to the composer behind many of those films, even if his main writing partner couldn’t fill the lyricist roll. This pretty much confirms, to me, that John Lassiter has a very good grasp on what a Disney Animated film should be – and that they are different than a Disney Pixar film. We never managed to see The Princesses and The Frog, but just knowing that he insisted that it go back to being a traditional 2-dimensional, at least partially hand animated, film adds to my impression.
Tara and I also enjoyed one of the special features: A countdown of the 50 Disney animated feature films. Between the two of us, we managed to name most of them either the first time through, or the second time – and I know I’ve not seen all of them.