How cinema got its groove back

 

JAMESON DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL:THE MUSICAL never quite dies. From the beginnings of talkies to the 1960s – from 42nd Streetto The Sound of Music, say – the genre remained a staple of mainstream cinema. Then, like the western, the singing ’n’ dancing flick found itself cast into the wilderness. Since that time we have watched isolated hits – think of Grease, for example – appear to revive the genre, only for the studios to lose their shirts launching unsuccessful tune-heavy follow-ups.

Whisper it quietly. Over the past five years, the film (and TV) musical does seem to have made a more secure comeback. Chicagowon the Oscar. Hairspray was a smash. John Carney’s Onceredefined the form and became a cult hit. Mamma Mia!, for all its cheesiness, became one of the biggest films of all time. And let’s not start on High School Musical.

It, thus, seems like a good time for the Irish Film Board to launch a series of short musicals. Unveiled last weekend at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the programme proved that the form remains endlessly flexible and deliciously vital.

The season includes both variations on familiar tropes and brave forays into previously unchartered territory. David O’Sullivan’s invigorating Moore Street Masala, being a brief, Bollywood-style musical based in north inner-city Dublin, could be regarded as a combination of both those approaches. Recently showcased at the prestigious Clermont Ferrand International Film Festival, the picture – a cheeky romance – offers a colourful, positive counterblast to the rather sombre depictions of multi-racial Dublin that too often appear on screen. Somehow or other, as Miriam Cahill, the film’s producer, explained, the team managed to mount this lavish production on a budget of just €15,000.

“We had to pull in so many favours,” she says. “There were uncles and aunts. There were people from Facebook. We watched lots and lots of Bollywood musicals. We really wanted it to stand up. We didn’t want to take the mick.”

Elsewhere in the programme, we encounter David Freyne’s The Man in 301, in which, to the strains of carnivalesque rock, three prisoners ponder their misdeeds. Pete Moles’s Chairs has fun with an international musical chairs competition. Ian Power’s Dental Breakdownallows a party of dentists to imagine alternative paths they may have taken. Shane Martin’s Separation Agencydoes funny things with barbershop. Jason Ford’s A Clown’s Requiemfeatures a touching duet between dying circus performer and a sympathetic cleaning lady.

The funniest, most imaginative piece in the selection was, perhaps, the impressively weird Mr Foley. Directed collectively by the D.A.D.D.Y design and animation studio, the picture stars Mark Doherty as a man who wakes from an operation to find the nature of sound altered in a surreal and disturbing fashion. But hang on. In what sense is Mr Foleya musical? Who cares? If the genre is to prosper we, perhaps, need to be flexible in our definitions.