Rob Marshall and NINE

The buzz is heating up as the general release of Nine draws closer. Perhaps it’s time to draw some of my thoughts about the upcoming film together.

I’ve already expressed my concerns about Rob Marshall forcing Nine into a concept where the numbers are all diegetic. This could work for Nine, given that there is something meta-textual about the piece, but will the concept be a retread of what Marshall did in Chicago? My thoughts about this idea were given fuel some time ago in an interview with Marshall in Entertainment Weekly:

Marshall knows that many viewers loved Dreamgirls‘ staged musical numbers but had a problem with its more organically rendered tunes (like the one Jamie Foxx sang while strutting down an alley). ”The big question always is, why do people sing?” he says. ”One of the reasons I looked to Nine was that its songs are fantasy. So they can take place in an alternate reality.’

Personally, I’m getting very tired of that excuse and the technique of including musical numbers as a part of alternate realities is becoming old hat. People can be comfortable with characters singing on screen if it is set up and handled well, which is something that wasn’t successfully done in Dreamgirls. I also don’t believe that that was the sole reason that Dreamgirls didn’t grab a Best Picture nomination; the film had other fundamental flaws, which I’ve briefly discussed on Musical Cyberspace already.

Back to Nine – I guess what I’m wondering is how the transitions between reality and alternate reality will be handled. The contrivance of presenting the musical numbers as performance worked in Chicago because it had the concept of the performance being the ideas the Roxie turned into performances in her mind’s eye, which were then recorded in her journal. But what’s the justification for the concept here? Will the scenes be shot in a realistic location and the songs have the characters transfer into the big fantasy stage set, with all the flashy lights and glamorous costumes? Is this is meant to be how Guido, the director, sees the woman in his life? Are the numbers what Guido sees in his mind as ideas for his film? Is that too obvious a concept? Will it all end up being a film that has more style that it has depth? How Marshall handles these transitions could be the difference between a film that is entertaining and stylish and a film that is truly great.

Meanwhile, here’s another interesting quote by Rob Marshall in The Daily Mail:

In a way, it’s a new musical because we took the wonderful bones of what Nine was and re-shaped it as a film…. There will be no dubbing. Everyone can carry a tune and they’re all having singing lessons. They’re in pretty good shape, and we’ll have a 60-piece orchestra in the studio when we record the songs. It’s all going to be very sexy.

Marshall seems to love selling his musicals as “sexy”, doesn’t he? Focusing on the first point, however, I think this is a huge challenge. While I’m all for adapting stage musicals to suit the medium of film and think that, as an adaptation, Chicago was super, I hope Marshall manages to find that same mix as he did there and doesn’t make the same mistakes that, say, Dreamgirls, Hairspray and even Sweeney Todd did in their transition from stage to screen. I mention those three rather than examples like Phantom of the Opera or The Producers because I feel that they are all great film musicals that have a few fundamental flaws that simply prevent them from being completely brilliant, whereas the latter two are so bogged down by incompetence that they’re barely worth mentioning.

Another interview with Marshall:

Not much said there that’s controversial, but its nice to hear him talk about the cast and the cinematography.

So – to sum up – my doubts are primarily in regard to whether Marshall’s concept will end up justifying all of the choices he’s made in the making of Nine. If, in the final analysis, it works, then it works and the cuts (and interpolations) won’t matter. Whether it does (and whether they do) is what we’re waiting to see. Even with these huge concerns regarding the concept of the film and the way Marshall seems to be handling it from the statements he’s released, I’ll probably get swept away by it. I hope I do.

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