Saturday, February 24, 2007
Long ago, when I was trying to create a choreography for a particular competition somebody had told me to get hold of this movie as this has wonderful and inspiring choreography. I couldn't manage to watch the movie that time. But I certainly was on a lookout. Just couple of months ago while surfing through TV channels I suddenly noticed a channel playing the opening credits of the movie. And I got immobilized in front of the TV set. It was 'Oliver!' playing on it.
Being on the lookout for 'Oliver!', I had got hold of some of its songs. Beautiful music, I must agree. I had heard that it has a choreographed chariot in one of its songs. Listening to its soundtrack, I wondered which song it might be, and how did they choreograph it. So it was time for me to clarify all my questions through seeing-is-believing.
The story of 'Oliver Twist' is an old orphan classic by the great Charles Dickens. We have a boy orphaned at birth. At the orphanage he is named Oliver Twist. The orphanage is just a medium for earning money for the greedy and heartless caretakers. The children are fed only gruels. One day Oliver gathered up courage to ask for more food and in turn he is beaten and sold to an undertaker. There also he receives pain and on one opportune occasion he fled to London, on foot, alone. Reaching London he first meets the Artful Dodger, who is just about same age of Oliver. Naive Oliver was gladdened to befriend somebody who promises him of food and shelter. Dodger takes Oliver to Fagin's den. Fagin is a criminal who runs an army of young pickpocket boys; and Dodger is one of them. Another life was beginning for Oliver. Here he met Nancy, girlfriend of Bill Sykes, an evil burglar. Nancy and Oliver took an instant liking to each other and Nancy loved Oliver just like her younger brother. She is like a mirage in the gang of villains for Oliver. Oliver is sent on pickpocketing, burglary, etc. One day he got caught and story continues to unfold. I'll not elaborate more, but it turns out that Oliver is actually from a rich family and he is reunited to his family after a long winding road.
Now the movie. A true musical. It had a stage version with lyrics by Lionel Bart. The same screenplay was adopted by Carol Reed with some modifications for the celluloid version in 1968. The movie starring Oliver Reed (Sykes), Ron Moody (Fagin), Jack Wild (Dodger), Marc Lester (Oliver) was a big hit and won six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Direction. A wonderfully made movie. Beautiful music, choreographed acting, innocent faces of Oliver and Nancy, classic script with twists - it had everything. But the thing that truly pulls forward the movie is indeed the choreography. It is no wonder that Onna White won an separate honorary Oscar for her 'Spirited Choreography' in the movie, the honor given inly twice in the history of Academy Awards (Jerome Robbins for the second time).
I sure like musicals. I've seen few musicals like Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fiddler on the Roof; and liked them all. Inspiring music knitting the story perfectly supported by some dance sequences. Yes, after watching 'Oliver!', I'm tempted to use the word 'dance sequence' for other musicals, with due respect.
'Oliver!' starts off with a choreographed action of boys in orphanage leading to the opening song 'Food, Glorious Food' and the choreography works magically. It is the choreography that flows underneath the movie telling the story, and music supports it (not the other way round)! The moment Oliver reaches London and meets Dodger, a wonderful city opens up in front of your eyes, rhythmic, lively. The whole city, as if, dances joyously to reciprocate to Oliver's inner joy of freedom and friendship. The song playing in the background was, I think, 'Consider Yourself'. The same spirit of rhythm is carried forward throughout the movie. The dance never ends. Consider Fagin giving Oliver lesson on pickpocketing in the wonderful song 'You've got to Pick a Pocket or Two'. Then the most beautiful sequences of 'Who Will Buy' when Oliver looks over the entire London dancing in its daily rhythm from a window. How can you make a whole city moving in such a rhythm without dancing explicitly! This spirited rhythm is the main pillar for the movie's success. Then the song 'I'd Do Anything'. Dodger, jealous by Oliver and Nancy's closeness tries to impress her and sings this wonderful song. It is the song where the boys make a chariot and mocks the high society. Truly its so spirited!
I was comparing with contemporary musicals, Say 'Sound of Music' or 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' or 'Mary Poppins'. All the dances are purely dance sequences, I mean characters are made to dance to support the music. The dances are very good and impressive. But even then the sequences of the songs like 'Singin' in the Rain' from the same-titled movie or 'Miracle' from 'Fiddler on the Roof' surpasses other dances from these movies. These two choreographies have the quality what I'm trying to call spirited and what I found throughout the movie 'Oliver!'
And that is what makes 'Oliver!' stand out in the row of musicals.
Thats what I like about 'Oliver!'
I am grateful to my friend who first told me about choreography of 'Oliver!'