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70s Musical Extravaganza!

When you think of the movie musical, the 1970s are not the first decade that comes to mind. But I love how that funky vital wilderness between the fall of the studio system and the ascent of the modern blockbuster manifested itself in this genre. One of cinema's most classic forms was taken up by New Hollywood directors. It resulted in nostalgia as often as innovation, but more often than not the two mixed and filtered through a culture that was itself reeling from the 60s into the 80s. Things got weird. This is not a comprehensive list, it's one movie per year, and is highly personal, meaning better movies were ignored for ones that I have more of connection to, or just something to say about.

  • Donkey Skin

    Donkey Skin

    Catherine Deneuve stars in this whacked out fairy tale from Jacques Demy. It's colorful and crazy and occasionally feels like an amusement park ride that hasn't been renovated in thirty years, but it's also charming and fully committed to its insanity. It plays it straight, and before you know it you're not just charmed but enchanted, under its weird and very 70s spell.

  • The Boy Friend

    The Boy Friend

    Fresh off of "The Devils" Ken Russell dove straight into a squeaky clean song and dance throw-back. And look, right up front: it ain't all diamonds. The film itself can be clunky and belabored in the non-music segments. But it's also a bizarre forgotten gem. Seeing Russel's visual imagination let loose on Busby Berkeley style song and dance numbers is a joy, and the musical set pieces are electrifying. Its grounding in nostalgia is both its strength, in that it's fascinating to watch the tropes of old timey song and dance squeezed through the cheesecloth of Russell's inherently grotesque style, and its weakness, as the aping of another era is at the end of the day the anchor on its neck that keeps it logged down in pastiche. Further down the decade, Russell would untether his visual imagination from the past with vastly superior results in the musical "Tommy." But I'm putting this one on the list because it's still dazzling, and is less known, and we've ALL already seen "Tommy." Right?

  • Cabaret

    Cabaret

    There's a damn good reason this reigns supreme on any list of modern musicals. Rewatching it, it's hard to pull apart the ways it's simultaneously about the past, of its time, and very much timeless today. But look, I'm not going to try to talk up Cabaret. It's simply one of the best movie musicals ever made.

  • Jesus Christ Superstar

    Jesus Christ Superstar

    Having just handed Cabaret the official crown, I'm now going to sneak around behind the royal dais, light a cigarette and direct address the camera with "but if you wanna know what MY favorite movie on this list is..." And it's Jesus Christ Superstar. My stealth choice for my favorite modern movie musical. It's very, very of its time. It's funky as fuck. And it rocks. It's shot through (and shot) with energy and conviction and 100% commitment. The performances are heart-on-their-sleeves fantastic. And in the end, it is the embodiment of my golden ideal for all movie musicals: it looks the way the music sounds.

  • Phantom of the Paradise

    Phantom of the Paradise

    I have not seen this movie. And I will not see it anytime soon, because I have made a pledge to myself (and to Edgar Wright) that I will watch this movie for the first time ONLY in a cinema. So support your local cinemas any way you can during this time, and when they're back up and running let's all meet up together at one and watch Phantom of the Paradise, because my god it looks freakin great.

  • At Long Last Love

    At Long Last Love

    A quintessentially 70s cast (Burt Reynolds SINGS!) glide through an old school rich-people-getting-drunk-and-fucking musical with Cole Porter tunes, endless champagne and art deco apartments up the wazoo. On its release in 1975 this got absolutely pummeled, and for years was branded a turkey. But I'm here to tell you, they were all wrong. This movie is a delight. My wife and I love everything about it, we even have this poster up in our kitchen. Pop some dom, put on some white gloves and enjoy.

  • Bugsy Malone

    Bugsy Malone

    Somehow I didn't grow up watching this movie. In fact, I only watched it after getting comparisons to the kids-doing-gangster-stuff gambit of my first movie Brick. The great Alan Parker cast kids in a 30s gangster movie, threw in songs by Paul Williams, made the gatling guns shoot whipped cream, and created one of the strangest balls of wax on this list. Miraculously, it all works, and it's the kind of swing for the fences high concept genre mash-up that I can't resist. Bonus: They shot it at Pinewood studios, and behind the scene pictures lined the hallways between stages where we shot The Last Jedi. So my memories of filming are shot through with Bugsy Malone.

  • Pete's Dragon

    Pete's Dragon

    Yeah, I know this is taking a spot that could be New York, New York. But when I was a kid this was THE Disney movie, and I can still sing every song. The tunes are terrific, and now I can appreciate the effects work, not just the mixing of animation plates with live action but the truly impressive practical effects. The scene where Elliot is under the big tarp at the end TERRIFIED me as a kid. And a bonus memory: I was in charge of the projectors at our grade school when we showed a 16mm print to the whole class for movie day, and I took great pride in making those reel changes smooth. Anyway, I still love this movie. Sorry Martin Scorsese.

  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

    Yeah, this is the one where the Beegees play Beatles songs. And I'll understand if you tap out at any point. But it's so goddamn WEIRD, and so, so SO so 70s, you might find yourself, like I was, unable to look away. And not (entirely) in a train-wreck type way. There's real creativity in this movie, and a sense of fun and play. There's a joy to it. And if you're into period LA-spotting, it's got some primo Sunset Blvd stuff. At least stay for George Burns doing "I'm Fixing A Hole." If you're not charmed by that, I can't help you.

  • All That Jazz

    All That Jazz

    A perfect transition into the 80s, this paean to self-obsessed self destruction is a kick in the head. It's also complex in ways that are genuinely uncomfortable - the line between self analysis and self aggrandizing, between examining the consequences of bad behavior and romanticizing it, that's always a queasy line. But the movie's ultimately aware of that, and it gels in a closing number that (dare I say it) echoes the final sequence of Jesus Christ Superstar, and fully commits to its contradictions. A perfect cap to the decade.

  • Popeye

    Popeye

    Aaaaand I'm sneaking Popeye in there, because I love it. HELLO 80s!