7. The Band Wagon (Minnelli 1953)
While countless movie musicals have a plot that can be condensed into the simple ‘let’s put on a show’, The Band Wagon is one of the best and exclusively discusses theatre instead of film (Singin’ in the Rain) or putting on a show in a barn (Babes in Arms). Of course, being a musical comedy, the show will turn out to be a massive hit but there are some troubles along the way. All the off-stage drama comes second only to Vincent Minnelli’s beautiful dance sequences, especially those with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
6. The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger 1948)
A young woman is torn between the man she loves and a ballet master who can realise her burning ambition to be a prima ballerina, as symbolised by the red shoes she wears. Dancers in real life find the film relatable and it is even referenced in A Chorus Line as inspirational for many of the auditionees growing up. Of course I have to mention that the splendid ballet sequences are choreographed by Australian national treasure: Robert Helpmann.
5. 42nd Street (Bacon 1933)
The greatest elements of the backstage musical take the lead from this Busby Berkley film. The sweet rising star, the creative director who believes in her, the bitchy lead actress who feels threatened by the new-comer and the hard-up producer attempting once last hit show: these characters became classic tropes after this musical. And of course it created the iconic line “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!”
4. The Producers (Brooks 1967) and (Stroman 2005)
Whether you’re a fan of the original Mel Brooks film or the musical remake, it’s the zany escapades of these characters putting together a Broadway show that produces such a fit of giggles. After discovering a way to make more money with a flop than with a hit, Broadway producer Max Bialystock romances little old ladies for investment money to help make the worst play ever written. Though Max’s business technique provides many laughs, other theatrical characters including playwrights, actors and directors are also hilariously mocked.
3. Black Swan (Aronofsky 2010)
Black Swan takes elements from 42nd Street, The Red Shoes and All About Eve, but the effect is completely different. The film is a psychological thriller, following the usually timid Nina (Natalie Portman) who finds her dark side after taking on the role of Odile (the black swan). Again the ballet scenes are beautiful and correspond with perfectly with Nina’s mindset. Though it tends to be a film you either love or hate, if you’re part of the theatre world you can understand the toil of performing as portrayed in this film.
2. Amadeus (Forman 1984)
This fictionalised story of rivalry between composers Salieri and Mozart makes for truly great cinema. Though it deals with opera in 18th Century Austria, the desire to create unforgettable art resonates with all forms of theatre and surely all composers have felt that mix of awe and jealous anger at seeing a rival’s masterpiece. The film also gives insight into Mozart’s influences, namely the relationship with his father. Both lead actors ( F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce) received Oscar nods for their performances but sound and costume design also won awards, largely due to the amazing opera scenes.
1. All About Eve (Mankiewiczs 1950)
Established theatre actress Margo channing (Bette Davis in her most renown role) begins to feel threatened by her young ingénue Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Though the film’s moral about the dangerous ambitions could apply to any career, it’s the characters of the theatre world that bring all the wit and humour to this film. George Sanders makes a wonderful theatre critic full of spiteful remarks but Margo has the best dialogue, including the film’s most iconic line: ‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!’ demonstrating her theatrical off-stage life.
- The Red Shoes (1948) (journeysinclassicfilm.com)