"CHICAGO: THE RAZZLE-DAZZLE EDITION"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Catherine Zeta-Jones as VELMA KELLY
Renée Zellweger as ROXIE HART
Richard Gere as BILLY FLYNN
John C. Reilly as AMOS HART
Queen Latifah as MATRON MAMMA MORTON
Christine Baranski as MARY SUNSHINE
Directed by: Rob Marshall
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As much as cinephiles (and my father-in-law) hate to admit it, the age of the movie musical is over. It’s been over for years, actually. You’ll never see the classic MGM-style musicals come again, like “Brigadoon,” “Singing in the Rain” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
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That’s not to say that you can’t do a movie musical again. They’re just different now. Two films are responsible for redefining the musical genre, and those are “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago.”
“Chicago,” in particular, was the greatest thing to happen to musicals – and also the worst thing – in ages. After winning the Oscar, it gave hope to other musicals, but this film was impossible to follow. Hollywood tried with “The Phantom of the Opera” and more recently “Rent.” However, nothing quite took off like “Chicago” – and for good reason.
This is because of the film’s style and vision, which was brilliantly conceived by Rob Marshall. After Bob Fosse died decades ago, no one ever thought they could make this movie. However, Marshall managed to come in and put the film in a context that was accepted and adored by the public and critics alike.
Part of what makes “Chicago” different from older-style musicals is its darkness. It’s a wildly cynical and sardonic piece, yet hysterical in its own right – about as unlike “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” as you can get. This helped make it a hit on stage in the 70s, again in the 90s and now a successful motion picture. Telling the story of a murderess named Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) who uses her infamy to bring her success as a singer, this film has more in common with today’s CourtTV than with its original timeline of the 1920s.
What makes “Chicago” work in today’s cinema is that the story doesn’t take a break for the songs. In other musicals – particularly the aforementioned “Rent” – the plot is stopped whenever a song comes on. It’s as if the cast says to the audience, “Okay, bear with us and listen to our song. We’ll get back to the plot later.” That was actually one of the defeating blows to last year’s movie musical flop “The Producers.”
Instead, all the songs in “Chicago” further the plot. If they were to be lifted from the film, it would lose something more than music and dance. It would lose story. That was the key, and that was Marshall’s brilliance (along with making the numbers all take place in Roxie Hart’s fantasy world).
Miramax has released a new “Razzle-Dazzle” edition of the film on DVD. It’s a double-disc set that has been delayed a few times for release. I’m assuming it was released at Christmas to coincide with Rob Marshall’s follow-up, the lackluster “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
The new DVD has the exact same selection on the main disc – the theatrical feature with commentary from Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon and a deleted musical number with Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones. There’s a new special featurette – “From Stage to Screen: The History of ‘Chicago’” – on this disc as well.
The second disc contains a new slate of special features. There are profiles on the costume designer and production designer. They are pretty much puff pieces of these roles, and they run a bit long for my taste. Long-form featurettes include VH1’s “Behind the Movie: Chicago” and a spotlight on Rob Marshall. There are also extended musical numbers which show behind-the-scenes footage taking the song from rehearsal to final production.
An interesting piece details how Liza Minnelli became a replacement on Broadway for Roxie Hart when Gwen Verdon became ill. It’s a great little story, but it’s only problem is its recounted by the adoring producers who ramble on for fifteen minutes and gush over Liza like a New York drag queen.
The most interesting part of the new features are the chances to see the rehearsals in process. Catherine Zeta-Jones, in particular, is shown in her sweaty clothes with no make-up or hair styling. At the very least, this can be uplifting for the rest of society when they realize that she’s not all that glamorous without her own personal design team.
Overall, the extra features on “Chicago: The Razzle-Dazzle Edition” can get tedious, but if you’re a fan of the film, they’re great. And the film itself is priceless, yet to be topped.
Specifications: DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and Spanish language tracks. Spanish subtitles. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.