16 January 2010
Heaping Piles of Dung, The Musical!
Never mind the circumstances, recently I found myself trapped in front of a TV with a DVD of High School Musical (2006) playing. I only had to endure 50 minutes or so, though that amount of time nearly caused me to go into convulsions.
It's rare that I watch any part of a film that can be charitably described as excrement. To suffer nearly an hour of utter nonsense was a shocking experience.
How do begin? Perhaps with the the very modern day Disney version of a high school. My children used to sometimes sit vacantly in front of some Disney Channel programming so I caught glimpses of the teen world according to Disney. Disney high schools are always predominately white with always a few token African Americans. These are Black people who, as Senator Harry Reid would say, are "light-skinned and don't speak in a Negro dialect." (Say just why did he get in trouble for saying those characteristics of Barack Obama allowed him to get elected? He was merely speaking the truth. Maybe he deserved a "tsk tsk" for the use of "negro" but that's about it.)
Disney sanitizes African Americans for general consumption. As they do with the few Hispanic characters that they allow in their programming. There were two prominent Black characters in High School Musical. Their physical exteriors were black, culturally they were all Brady Bunch.
Vanessa Hudgens co-starred with Zac Effron and she was the Hispanic character. Hispanic by name and heritage, she wasn't about to go all Cesar Chavez on your ass. Efforn, who recently distinguished himself as the "me" in Me and Orson Welles (check out my review). Was the not only going to star in the high school's musical opposite Hudgens, but he was the captain of the basketball team. I read on IMDb that he practiced basketball for three months in preparation for the role (method actors!). It didn't take. I also saw on IMDb that the team played in the championship game. It's a guarantee in teen movies and TV shows that high school teams always make it to the title game. They always play against an arch rival or heavy favorite. It's also always a dramatic last second game that comes down to the show or film's hero.
One of the most offensive aspects of High School Musical was its depiction of teachers. I absolutely guarantee that my long and storied background as a teacher has nothing to do with my comments here. I'm perfectly delighted to see teachers lampooned in films or on the telly. The problem in tripe like HSM is that they aren't effectively lampooned at all. To satirize someone you've got to have one toe in reality. You take what a person is like and exaggerate it for effect. In HSM the drama teacher is just silly, stupid and totally blinkered. Like far too much teen fare the adult characters seem created and acted from the imagination of pre teens. Then again HSM isn't very kind to teenagers either. The two stars are adorable and virtually everyone else is a totally one-dimensional caricature. The dumb popularity obsessed blonde, the uber punctilious class president and the basketball 24-7 jock are as interesting as Wonder Bread.
Okay before I go any further I can well imagine someone reading this and saying: But it's for kids! And that's an excuse to dumb things down? If, as I have, you expose young uns to movies starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers, they'll lap it up. You can even find modern films that don't insult their intelligence. (I'll dedicate a post to this topic within the week.) The modern idea seems to be that you make entertainment for children on the cheap. I don't mean production costs are low, I'm talking about the expenditure of creativity. Or the lack thereof.
I can also well imagine a reader or two exclaiming: But it's a musical! Yes and the tunes I saw were okay. Look Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made a dozen or so films together that were more or less just excuses to dance. But they had the courtesy to surround those performances with an entertaining story and charming characters.
I'm not in the habit of writing hatchet pieces on films in large part because I have a talent for avoiding movies I probably won't like. I just caught a bad break the other day and what I saw was silly, contrived and unnecessary that I had to expound on it. And yet I've saved the worst for last. I've come to find out that HSM was popular enough that it was followed by two sequels with a third to be released this year. "Oh the humanity!"