Monday, May 10, 2010


La ballo vuoto o Nein! Nein!

By Edward Copeland
Sometimes the announcement of film projects seem so obviously a bad idea (at least to me) that I can't understand why everyone doesn't see it, particularly the people putting up the money. Be it those who thought a modern remake (or any remake) of The Manchurian Candidate made sense or that casting Tom Hanks as Sherman McCoy in a screen version of The Bonfire of the Vanities was a good idea (before that was followed by bad idea after bad idea like an elaborate attempt by Brian De Palma to break the world record for domino toppling).

So, when a resurgence in film adaptations of musicals led to the announcement that the next Broadway tuner to hit the big screen would be Nine, I greeted the news with a big, "Why?" I've never seen Nine staged, but I know the score and, for the unfamiliar, what it is is a musicalized version of Fellini's masterpiece . Maury Yeston's score is hardly memorable and as much as I love Fellini's film, if they remastered prints and did a large scale re-release of the original film, would great numbers go? Of course, I'm not in the business of reviewing films as financial decisions (even though I was right and they made a bad one), but now that I've seen it, I can review it as a film and can say that it fails as a movie as well.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido, the director with artistic block and the actor seems to sleepwalk through the entire film as if he's wondering how in the hell he got into this mess. Day-Lewis tends to enjoy disappearing into a role, but Guido is so translucent to begin with that there's no body to inhabit and certainly no scenery to chew. His chance to sing a couple of lackluster songs doesn't offer much in the way of something new either as he basically talk-sings through those, presumably to keep that Italian accent going. I'd much rather have been watching a Gangs of New York musical. Hell, as much as I despised it, a crooning Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood the Musical would have offered more entertainment. Just imagine the Act II showstopper "I Drink Your Milkshake!"

Coming from The Weinstein Company, most of Harvey's usual girls are there (apparently Gwyneth Paltrow was unavailable) and the cast boasts more acting Oscar winners than a 1970s disaster movie. Shit, excuse me a second. Sorry, had to stop and clean the vomit off my keyboard when I once again realized those award winners include Marion Cotillard. One of the few non-Academy Award winners or nominees in the cast is Fergie and she sure does look different than she did when she was married to Prince Andrew. Oh, I'm sorry. Different Fergie. Not really sure who she is, but actually she does do one of the best numbers performing "Be Italian," made famous on stage by the late Anita Morris (I remember that from a Tony broadcast).

As I guessed when I saw Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces, she got the Oscar nomination for the wrong movie when she received it for Nine. Cruz does what she can in Nine, but characterization is not a strong suit for any of the film's characters.

When Nine premiered on Broadway, it inexplicably won Tonys for best musical and best score, defeating Dreamgirls, which turned out to be a mixed bag as a movie but at least made sense to be turned into a movie. (Though the show was a flop, Maury Yeston's dull score for Nine defeated Stephen Sondheim's brilliant score for Merrily We Roll Along as well.) The Tony love at the time could mostly be attributed to the involvement of Tommy Tune, whom was worshipped by the Tonys in that era winning in multiple categories, year after year.

Making a musical out of Fellini's just seemed an odd idea to begin with. R.E.M.'s video for "Everybody Hurts" and its sequence paying homage to the film probably comes closer to the mark than the entire film of Nine does.

Now, I don't want to merely bash Maury Yeston, because years later he won another Tony for score for another best musical, Titanic, which had no connection to James Cameron's behemoth but came out the same year and was much better than the movie with the same name, and had a score infinitely better and more memorable than Nine.

Rob Marshall, who successfully directed the screen adaptation of Chicago, helmed the film Nine and honestly, I have no idea what his strategy for the film was. Some numbers seem to spring as fantasies out of conversations Guido has with the many women in his life while others seem to appear on a theater stage (or is that a movie set? Hard to tell). The dialogue scenes hardly improve the situation. You can't decide which you dread more: Characters breaking out into boring song or into boring conversation.

Though the film had its problems, his nonmusical direction of Memoirs of a Geisha showed much more promise for him as a film director. However, next up for him is yet another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel which one can only hope they subtitle We Really Are Devoid of New Ideas. It's a shame, because had many great choreography credits on Broadway and a co-directing credit with Sam Mendes on the marvelous revival of Cabaret that starred the late Natasha Richardson. Mendes seems to have made the switch in mediums much easier than Marshall.

With the exception of some clearly defined roles (Sophia Loren is the dead mother; Cotillard is the wife; Fergie is the prostitute Guido knew as a child) many of the women sort of exist in a blur without clear delineation. Judi Dench obviously is his agent and I guess Nicole Kidman is his frequent movie star, but I'm still working on Cruz and Kate Hudson, though Cruz obviously is at least a mistress.

The screenplay is credited to Michael Tolkin, author of both the novel and screenplay for The Player, and Anthony Minghella who, despite the fact he died in March 2008, must still be under contract to Harvey Weinstein, even in the afterlife. (IMDb still lists two films in development for him. Take a rest Anthony, you're dead.) In the movie, Guido hasn't written a word for the film he's supposed to start filming and Nine itself is similarly plotless. It's telling that at the Tonys the year Nine premiered on Broadway the book category is one category it did lose to Dreamgirls.

The best I can find myself saying about Nine is that the technical credits are fine from Dion Beebe's cinematography and Colleen Atwood's costumes to John Myhre's production design, but in the end it's just putting lovely wrapping paper on an empty box.

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I saw the DVD last week and fell asleep during the last fifteen minutes. Dench is a costume designer, Cruz is Guido's mistress, Hudson is suppose to be a journalist from Vogue, and Kidman is the muse and star of Guido's last film and proposed next film.

If you want to see a good musical about a filmmaker, I recommend Peter Chan's Perhaps Love. A reminder also that the better screen musicals are usually those created specifically for the camera.
dench was his costume designer, hudson was a reporter sent to interview him, cruz was his mistress

the movie was crap but it wasn't that hard to follow

ps - i think your tony memoris are hazy - anita morris played the cruz part and sang 'a call from the vatican'; 'be italian' was sung by kathi moss
I rechecked IMDb and you were right. I could have sworn I remember Anita Morris and that chair when Fergie pulled it out. I don't think the film was really confusing me, it's just that all aspects of it were so dull that I got too bored to care much as to the specifics since the film didn't seem too concerned either.
The critics of 1982 weren't very keen on Nine - it got mostly lukewarm notices (including from Frank Rich of The New York Times) and Dreamgirls was by far the more well-reviewed show.

Shortly after Dreamgirls open, the Shubert Organization sold three venerated historic theaters (including the famed Morosco) to real estate developers - specifically,the Marriott Hotel franchise - so that a luxury high rise hotel could be built in the middle of the theater district. The Broadway community, historic building trusts and community organizations protested the decision. The developers, as a concession to The American Theatre Wing and The Producers League, agreed to build a new Broadway theatre into the body of the hotel, but the controversy didn't go away - an unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge (spearheaded by Christopher Reeve, among others) didn't stop the historic theaters from being demolished so The Marriott Marquis could be built.

By the time the Tony nominations were announced, The New York Times noted that many Tony voters were planning to vote against Dreamgirls - playing in a Shubert house - as a vote against The Shubert Organization. And that's how Nine won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

I have seen Nine on stage, and let me say this - it is not a good show. It isn't terrible, but it's really not very good. At all. It doesn't sound like Marshall made many good decisions, but in his defense, I don't think anyone could have a made a silk purse from this sow's ear. This made for a fun read, though.
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