Lost Genre: Non-Musical

So, one of the things that really gets under my skin is the misclassification of Non-Musicals. There is so much music in the movie that it confuses people. These are movies which feature characters singing, but the singing isn’t for expository reasons and may serve the narrative (a guy sings a song to impress a girl), but isn’t the narrative (a guy sings a song to his friend about how much he likes a girl). The singing in Non-Musicals is generally set up as a formal performance in front of an audience, whereas in a Musical, the characters in the scene become the audience, or even the participants. Here’s what Amazon has under Musicals>Drama, for an example (or here’s Wikipedia’s list). There are a lot of movies that shouldn’t be listed there.

[imdb The Mambo Kings]In The Mambo Kings, Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante play Cuban brothers who have immigrated to the US after a dispute with gangsters. The brothers eventually become famous musicians. Cesar (Assante) revels in the fame, but Nestor (Banderas) just wants a small club where he can spend his days constantly rewriting “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” a song about the girl he left behind in Cuba. The brothers disagree on which path to follow and tragedy ensues.

Back in my younger and more vulnerable years, I worked for Incredible Universe, in the music and movies section. I came across The Mambo Kings in the Musical section and was sure it had been put there by some customer (or guest, as we had to refer to them) who didn’t know the difference between a Musical and a Non-Musical. But no, that was where we were supposed to put it. I was up in arms because IT IS NOT A MUSICAL. It’s a movie with music. No one cared and no one agreed. It still pisses me off.

[imdb That Thing You Do!]In 1996, Tom Hanks took a shot at writing and directing with That Thing You Do! The films chronicles the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder band from Pennsylvania in the 1960′s. The band has a meteoric rise to success on the heals of their popular single, but fall apart once they realize the record company has no intention of letting them pursue their own musical goals.

A pretty well received movie, with solid performances all around. It’s a straightforward movie about a band, but the amount of music performance on screen leads to the gross miscategorization as a Musical. The catchy single and successful soundtrack probably don’t help that distinction, but THIS IS NOT A MUSICAL.

[imdb Eddie and the Cruisers]Eddie and the Cruisers stars Michael ParĂ© as Eddie Wilson, leader of the eponymous band. The band releases a successful first album. For the second album, Eddie wants to do something that wil turn the music world on it’s ear, which creates tension within the band and leads to the record company refusing to release the album, as well as Eddie’s death in a car accident and the tapes disappearing from the company vault. 20 years later, the record company rereleases the debut album, which prompts a television show to do a documentary on the band. A reporter (Ellen Barkin) interviews the surviving members and uncovers some mystery- the tapes of the second album are still around and Eddie might not be as dead as everyone thinks.

This movie has become somewhat of a cult hit over the years, probably due in large part to the popularity of On the Dark Side, the popular single for Eddie and the Cruisers that was actually performed by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band. Like the story of the band, the song (in the real world) would rise to greater heights on it’s rerelease and still gets airplay today. I always think whimsically about this movie because of the presence of Michael ParĂ©. For some reason he stands tall when I think of the movies of my youth (Streets of Fire, anyone?). This isn’t a great movie, but it’s a lot better than most critics lead you to believe. And most importantly, IT’S NOT A MUSICAL.

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