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Monday, April 26, 2021

Movie Music Monday: Curtains raise on musical films on the Oscars® telecast

Film Flam Flummox

The Academy Awards® have a long history of not allowing movie previews and promos to air during its annual telecast, but after what has been arguably the most difficult year for the film and--most of all--the film exhibition industry in modern history, an exception was made in this past Sunday's 93rd ceremony. But, perhaps in a tacit ploy to promote the theatrical experience, or perhaps just owing to Oscars showmanship, or both, the three featured film previews--all for music-driven projects, as it (not so coincentally?) happens--simply did not just air during a regular commercial break, they were more like embedded features of the telecast, being introduced by talent involved with each film.

Clearly the most anticipated look was that of the one film of the three that has remained shrouded in virtual mystery since its production, Steven Spielberg's new take on Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's evergreen tale of forbidden love amid warring New York street gangs in the 1950s, West Side Story. To be perfectly frank, while undoubtedly visually striking, and the melancholy rendition of "Somewhere" from the one returning star from the classic and timeless 1961 Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins film adaptation, Rita Moreno, is affecting, there isn't enough for me here just yet to convince me that this take is necessary when the 1961 film has rightly been a cornerstone of the pop culture consciousness in the six decades since its release. Spielberg's film is due out on Friday, December 10, from 20th Century Studios.

After a wildly warm reception at this January's Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards, the Oscars®' resident DJ this year, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's filmmaking debut, Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) had its official launch to the masses with its teaser trailer. A documentary on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a concert series event that, despite live performances by music legends such as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, has largely evaporated from the memory. The teaser, which offers a tantalizing glimpse of the never before seen, downright electrifying performance footage featured in the film, indicates that this monumental event will finally have its rightful place cemented in American history when the film is released in cinemas and on Hulu by Searchlight Pictures on Friday, July 2.

Rounding out the trio is Jon M. Chu's screen adaptation of the Tony-winning stage musical that first put superstar composer Lin-Manuel Miranda on the map, In the Heights, finally due out in theatres after a nearly year-long delay on Friday, June 11. Having seen the film more than once already (more thoughts, needless to say, to come, closer to release date), and must commend Warner Bros. for showing unwavering support in pushing this potential blockbuster-in-waiting as an experience that must be shared with a full cinema audience despite the simultaneous, day-and-date drop on HBO Max. The latest in what has been a terrific series of trailers further distills just why this rousing, heartfelt entertainer must be experienced in the largest, loudest, livest way possible.

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