RENT Rant: Cut Numbers and Spoken Lyrics

Rent

RENT

On stage, RENT was a rock opera. It’s unquestionable that it is one: the story is told primarily through a series of episodic and eclectic musical numbers that are grounded in the idiom of popular music. On film, RENT looks like a shaky adaptation of a very mediocre musical play. Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that I am very frank about what flaws I feel RENT has, but it the potential to be better that that.

Because of the shift in form, several numbers have been cut and a few have been shifted. That is par for the course when it comes to movie musicals. Perhaps what is worse is the attempt to pass off certain sections of the score as dialogue. In these sections, the lyrics are simply spoken – and it sounds weird. This is not merely a case in which familiarity with the source material spoils an appreciation of the adaptation. Ever an ear unfamiliar with RENT can pick out spoken moments in the film that are jarring when they are heard.

Lyrics and spoken dialogue are two completely different things. Lyrics are more specifically constructed that spoken language in musicals. They are often more economical in terms of word usage than dialogue and, because they are poetic rather than prosaic, have a specific cadence when spoken aloud. That is why these lyrics sound so strange when they are spoken as dialogue without any alteration whatsoever. The flaw also makes itself apparent, I suppose, because people tend to forget that although lyrics are specifically crafted in musical theatre, the creation of spoken dialogue is also a skill in its own right. The combination of these two miscalculations is what makes this appropriated dialogue sound forced.

It’s such a pity that nobody working on this film trusted the material with which they were working. There’s a big difference between refining something, or streamlining it to function optimally within the conventions of a different medium, and butchering it completely.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Commentary, Movies, Musicals, Theatremaking, Theory and Practice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to RENT Rant: Cut Numbers and Spoken Lyrics

  1. Fontinau says:

    2 snotty observations about the RENT movie, which I finally saw:

    1. It was considerate of them to provide conclusive proof positive that: “Yes, if it was a bad lyric, it’s going to sound 500 times worse as dialogue.”

    2. “Christmas Bells”. Ah, “Christmas Bells”. The most cinematic song in the entire play. The kind of dramatic crescendo that RENT depends on to keep everybody in the audience awake. And they cut it?!?!?!?

  2. Patsy says:

    Every time there was “lyrical dialogue”, I wanted to vomit.

  3. Andy Simpson says:

    I find nothing wrong with the lyrics. Nothing. When the lyrics were spoken, it didn’t bother me.

    Fontinau wrote:
    “Christmas Bells”. Ah, “Christmas Bells”. The most cinematic song in the entire play. The kind of dramatic crescendo that RENT depends on to keep everybody in the audience awake. And they cut it?!?!?!?

    Yes, I would have loved “Christmas Bells” to be in the film. If The Phantom of the Opera can have “Prima Donna,” there’s no reason for “Christmas Bells” to be cut.

  4. Fender Outta Hock says:

    Has anyone considered that perhaps the reason the sung-to-spoken dialogue sounds funny having heard the theater score before is because one becomes used to hearing it sung and it’s just that it’s different to hear not sung? I’d be interested to hear from someone who never heard the score prior to seeing the movie as to what they’d say about the dialogue.

  5. B3TA07 says:

    Lyrics are written differently than regular dialogue. Some lyrics could be spoken and they would seem completely normal. But most of the lyrics in the film that are spoken, specifically the intro “Tune Up” lyrics, sound out of place and awkward – and having Angel speak “You okay, honey?” was just fucking stupid.

  6. Kad says:

    The lack of “Christmas Bells” and the presence of “songalogues” are two bad things about RENT.

  7. Eponine Giry says:

    I was sad about “Christmas Bells” too! But Columbus would only have screwed it up anyway. And a sung “December 24th, 9 PM Eastern Standard Time” is a million times better than a monotonous

    “December 24th. Nine PM.

    Eastern. Standard. Time.

    From here on in.

    I shoot. Without a script.”

  8. Chi says:

    I just went to see the RENT movie today. Although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I agree with most of the criticisms posted here. Really, what bothered me more than anything else was that “Halloween” was cut. I feel like out of every song in the show, that “Halloween” is the most important character development song for Mark, and without it a big chunk of his character was missing.

  9. Caitlin says:

    I really enjoyed the film. I bought the RENT cast album in 1996, so I’d listened to it a good deal for many years, but I had actually never seen the show on stage. Yes, the rhyming dialogue made me flinch and I wish they would’ve included some of the other songs. If anything I would’ve preferred, it was more dialogue. While musicals that are entirely sung through work very well on stage, I think it can sometimes be overwhelming on film when it’s right in your face. However, for someone who knew the story and the music well, yet had never seen it on stage, I found it extremely touching and the performances were quite moving. I think it’s definitely worth seeing.

  10. David Fick says:

    Andy Simpson wrote:
    I would have loved “Christmas Bells” to be in the film. If The Phantom of the Opera can have “Prima Donna,” there’s no reason for “Christmas Bells” to be cut.

    I’m not sure whether the inclusion/exclusion of either of these numbers has anything to do with the inclusion/exclusion of the other.

    Fender Outta Hock wrote:
    Has anyone considered that perhaps the reason the sung-to-spoken dialogue sounds funny having heard the theater score before is because one becomes used to hearing it sung and it’s just that it’s different to hear not sung?

    I have considered this and disagree, based on the points in my original post at the top of the page.

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s