Magic Of the Mu­si­cal

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - What's On - - CINEMA - With Mike Shaw

In the 21st cen­tury, movies don’t tend to hit cin­e­mas and then grow stronger. Usu­ally, a film is re­leased as hype and mar­ket­ing reaches its peak and is shown on as many screens as a cinema chain sees fit. And then it tails off.

Some­times that view­ing frenzy will last for a cou­ple of weeks (think Star Wars) be­fore dis­si­pat­ing, and other times it will stop dead af­ter a dis­as­trous first week and poor word-of­mouth (last year’s The Mummy is a good ex­am­ple).

But nowa­days it’s rel­a­tively un­com­mon for a movie to start qui­etly and build and build. Which makes The Great­est Show­man some­thing quite spe­cial.

The mu­si­cal movie about P.T. Bar­num, star­ring Hugh Jack­man, was re­leased at the end of De­cem­ber, and didn’t set the world alight. How­ever, at this point the film is the fifth “leg­gi­est” in 25 years. That means, its week-on-week growth is only matched by films such as For­rest Gump, Ti­tanic and Chicago. If it con­tin­ues like this, it’ll over­take La La Land, with­out any­thing like the kind of press at­ten­tion and unc­tu­ous fawn­ing that film re­ceived. The Great­est Show­man’s box of­fice per­for­mance runs con­trary to all ac­cepted wis­dom: it’s an orig­i­nal story, it can’t be fran­chised, there’s no built-in au­di­ence to speak of, it doesn’t fea­ture any su­per­heroes, and – to top it all off – it’s a mu­si­cal. What’s go­ing on?

Two things: word-of-mouth and re­peat view­ings.

I’ll use my­self as a case study. I fi­nally got round to watch­ing The Great­est Show­man last week, af­ter put­ting it off for a month.

It’s a great ex­am­ple of a cinema movie: it’s big, bright, loud and overblown; ex­actly the kind of thing that shines on the big screen. It’s a spec­ta­cle, with an old-fash­ioned grandeur miss­ing from most mod­ern mu­si­cals. I’ve made no se­cret of the fact one of my favourite movies is Moulin Rouge, so I went into The Great­est Show­man pre­dis­posed to like it.

That said, the trail­ers sucked and the sto­ries of the first­time direc­tor Michael Gracey hav­ing to be bailed out by James Man­gold meant I had mis­giv­ings and wasn’t ex­pect­ing to be blown away.

But I was. And since then, I’ve spent a lot of time telling other peo­ple about it and en­cour­ag­ing them to see it (word-of-mouth) and it’s the first film in a very, very long time that I hope to watch on the bigscreen again (re­peated view­ings). So what is it about the film that drives the or­ganic mar­ket­ing and self-per­pet­u­at­ing au­di­ences? Fit­tingly for a film about the cir­cus, I think the key is bal­ance. De­spite the­mat­i­cally be­ing about ac­cep­tance and fit­ting in, the film isn’t preachy. P.T. Bar­num has been rein­vented as some great, car­ing, shar­ing cham­pion of mis­fits and mi­nori­ties (he most cer­tainly wasn’t), and in the cur­rent cli­mate there would be a se­ri­ous temp­ta­tion for the writ­ers and direc­tor to use it to push a po­lit­i­cal view­point, but thank­fully they re­sisted. How­ever, for those who want to find a deeper mes­sage to hang their iden­tity on, it serves that need. For the rest of us, it doesn’t. The film is al­most sur­gi­cal in the way it doesn’t rub any­one up the wrong way. Then there’s the sound­track. It was largely writ­ten by the same duo who wrote the songs for La La Land, and it of­fers a strange hy­brid of show­tunes and glossy pop. Some songs sound like Har­vey Sch­midt, oth­ers sound like Katy Perry. It’s a weird combo for sure, but it means it makes an im­pact across the gen­er­a­tions.

It’s the first film in a long time that gen­uinely aims at a fam­ily au­di­ence (no sex, no bad lan­guage) but of­fers an hon­est dose of spec­ta­cle to achieve its aims, rather than ex­plo­sions and celebrity cameos.

Even in this age where most projects live or die based on mar­ket­ing bud­gets and how gen­er­ous jour­nal­ists de­cide to be, it’s heart­en­ing to see a film like The Great­est Show­man not only sur­viv­ing, but thriv­ing on its own terms.

hugh Jack­man as P.t. Bar­num in the great­est show­man

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