It’s no secret in this town—the film business can be a risky one. In most cases, hundreds of collaborators must work together to craft stories which will resonate on an emotional level (and hopefully commercial one as well). Add to that the challenge of resonating musically and the result is one of the most daring varieties of filmmaking.
In 2002, some brave and talented artists brought Chicago to the big screen, and the effort was a resounding success. Audiences were dazzled by the acting, singing, and dancing of stars such as Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. The film is among the highest grossing of the Miramax library and earned us one of our Academy Awards for Best Picture.
But for all the commercial success and accolades, the film is also special for the adventure that it is: the translation of musical theater to film. Tim Robey, lauding the film in his Telegraph review, acknowledged the particular challenge and uncertainty in tackling this sort of project:
“It’s taken a three-step tango for us to welcome back the movie musical as a form. Alan Parker’s grandiose but failed Evita nudged the door ajar; Baz Luhrmann’s wildly uneven Moulin Rouge flung it wide open; and now the satisfyingly straightforward, professionally polished Chicago steps triumphantly through.”
Hugh Jackman, in a recent 60 Minutes interview about the upcoming film Les Misérables, spoke to the unique risk borne by those daring enough to attempt to bring musical theater to film: “Any movie musical is like Mount Everest. I think it’s the most difficult form ever to pull off in film; when it works it’s spectacular, when it doesn’t it stinks high heaven.”
Since Chicago, moviegoers have been treated to other solid films such as the film versions of RENT, Dreamgirls and Hairspray. These projects and others also likely set the stage for television to branch out into musically-inspired series such as Glee and Nashville.
Chicago, like so many of Miramax’s iconic films, celebrates creative risk taking of all kinds. But the most courageous course is not always the most futuristic, nor is it necessarily born from the most expensive and cutting-edge technology. The path less traveled is sometimes a path previously traveled, a return to fundamentals. Storytelling through music dates back thousands of years, and storytelling of the silent variety, which inspired last year’s Oscar-winner for Best Picture, The Artist, is even more ancient.
In great cinema, as in tap dancing, a step forward often starts with a step back. So let’s roll out the floor and dance.
Re-live the magic of Chicago with this clip of Roxie and Velma singing ‘Nowadays’ and dancing the ‘Hot Honey Rag’.