Streaming: the BFI’s blockbuster musicals season

the Guardian | 12/7/2019 | Guy Lodge

December has always felt like a month for movie musicals. The TV schedules start filling up with them as the year winds down, while in cinemas, lavish new musicals almost always wait until the final month of the year to spring themselves on tipsy, receptive audiences. This year, Cats fills the noble Christmas-time slot previously taken by the likes of Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman.

The British Film Institute’s blockbuster musicals season (titled simply, but with apt jazz-hands punctuation, “Musicals!”), has been well timed, beginning in October but crescendoing just as everyone kicks back for Christmas. For those who can’t get to participating cinemas, however, the BFI Player offers a generous slice of the programme to stream at home – a cosier option that, for one thing, allows you to sing along as lustily as you like.

Star - Attraction - Favourites - Singin - Rain

The real star attraction here – assuming you don’t need to be pointed once more to deathless favourites like Singin’ in the Rain – is Gold Diggers of 1933, the ne plus ultra in Busby Berkeley-choreographed spectacle, with its vast, meringue-like arrangements of whirling, wide-skirted dancers, marching soldiers and shimmering, gold-plated showgirls. The production numbers for the Shadow Waltz or We’re in the Money are more eye-poppingly elaborate than almost any from its era, to say nothing of now: it makes Chicago look positively Loachian by comparison. The joy of it, though, goes past the sizzle and dazzle. Made in Hollywood’s more permissive pre-Code age, its story of women on the hunt for rich husbands – amid the usual “let’s put on a show” shenanigans – is bracing in its tart, cynical sexual and economic politics, and wickedly funny too.

Watch a trailer for The Boy Friend.

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It would make an amusing double bill with The Boy Friend, Ken Russell’s typically full-tilt-bananas go at capturing the...
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