Saturday, September 06, 2008

Little Shop

So this month over at Film Experience the musical of the month is LIttle Shop of Horrors. I don't know what I have to add to what's already been said (I'm tardy here since I remembered only yesterday this was happening-oops), but a few observations on watching a wonderful musical that it was a please to revisit

I first saw this movie in High School (although below, it looks like college, actually), and loved it so much I actually dragged my collegiate self all the way over to Coors Blvd way on the other side of town (and trust me, in Albuquerque, this was a hike) to see this movie. And I remember loving every minute of it. I bought the cast album with the fold in the center and pictures, cherishing every production photo. And it was kinda big in the high school scene--perhaps with anticipation (see corrected timeline below), with one of the high schools actually doing a performance of the play immediately after the movie was released (more on that later). But safe to say I loved it, and was sad it was not as enormous a hit that my high school self was convinced it would be, if only everyone saw it. And here's what I noticed this time:

Frank Oz--what a perfect choice for a director. Not only did his puppet work prepare him, but his general muppet sensibility allowed him to straddle the line of seriousness and silliness that the piece requires. You're drawn in, wondering what will happen in a horror sense, all the while being entertained and surprised. My favorite touch are the muppet "pop-ins", odd people popping in from outside the frame to sing one line unexpectedly (most notable in "Downtown" and "Meek shall inherit"). "Downtown" itself I think is the only time an entire town sings the requisite "yearning" song about wanting a different life. Menken and Ashman perfected this with "Somewhere That's Green" and "Part of Your World" from Little Mermaid (which are the same song; hum the meoldy of those words. See?) His work is especially evident in his use of the urchins, who pop up in almost every number, giving a cohesion and through line while maintaining the light touch and the awareness that we're watching a story. I love the urchins, which brings me to

The Urchins--Truly, I love them. And I love that two of them have had major TV careers since the movie. But mostly I love that they don't get wet in the rain, they sparkle menacingly in "Suppertime" (which is brilliant in its build of suspense), they're great as dental assistants, Chinese flower girls, balcony singer, and West Side Story roof dancers. I love that Tisha Campbell throws in a little Diana Ross face in the opening. Basically, I would watch a movie about the Urchins. Maybe a high school musical. Hmmm....

Celebrity Cameos--Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell, there's Christopher Guest, Miriam Margolyes, John Candy, Vincent Gardenia (hardly a cameo, but wonderful to be reminded how much you loved a performer who's gone), Jim Belushi, and, of course, the brilliant Bill Murray in the role originated in the Roger Corman film by Jack Nicholson. He just cracked me up. And it's the only slightly homo moment in the film. Christopher Guest, too, was stiffly perfect and made me laugh. And he's not a cameo at all, but Levi Stubbs gives an astounding vocal performance in this. The puppet's great, but his voicing of it makes the movie work.

Ellen Greene--Nathaniel talks about what a brilliance it was to cast her, and I agree. Beyond that, she's put such a stamp on the role that I don't think she could be played much differently. For better or worse, sometimes film adaptations make different stage interpretations no longer possible (though it's negligible that this character has a very wide range of interpretations in the first place), but Greene's characterization is so strong you can't imagine caring about seeing anyone else in it. Ever. Kind of like an actress whose name rhymes with Schmarbra Schmeisand in a movie about a singing comedienne. You may remember that one. That HS production I mentioned earlier is a great example. Coming on the heels of the movie, each actor basically did what the on-screen version did. Not surprising really, but it does show what an impression films can make on further productions of the musical. Or even that there are future productions of the musical.

I had some other thoughts on race and the voicing of the plant, and possibly unintended implications that has, where it's set, and alternate readings of the whole story, but for the most part I just delighted in it. After all, it's supposed to be delightful, and it is. It was one of the first musicals that acknowledged it was a musical, (Jim Belushi's character asks Seymour and Audrey to stop singing and listen to him), and remains as smart as it was then in playing with genre while still telling a great story. What's not to love?


StinkyLulu said...

My recollection -- and the release date confirms -- that the film came out at the end of our first semester of college. Why do I remember this? Well, as best I can recall, you basically insisted that we see Little Shop the second I got off the plane. (By then it was also playing at Coronado,, cuz that's where I first saw it.)

Seeing_I said...

Hey there, great post! I have written a few things reading the movie through the lens of race and sex over on Mondo Musicals. I'd love to know what you think!

criticlasm said...

Well, staying in NM, HS blurs into college, so it feels like high school went on until 1989. Hee.

I do remember going all the way to Coors to see it from NE heights. It must've only opened there first.

So I guess my recollections of the Academy production are off, but I do remember seeing it after the movie. huh?