My Fair Lady

The other night I watched My Fair Lady, the classic musical/romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn. I'm not a fan of musicals at all, but it's a classic and Rachel is fond of it from childhood.

I'd never realized why I disliked musicals so much. My Fair Lady helped me understand. It's not the acting or the story, the songs themselves or even the spontaneous song outbreak phenomenon that musicals are most often lambasted for. I ended up being frustrated by the heavyhanded delivery and stuttering pacing of the plot.

Musicals were developed for the stage, and film musicals were adapted from these stage productions. Early musicals played to the limitations of the stage, especially the lack of amplification. Subtelty was not an option, which dictated the plot points and their delivery. Everyone in the audience needed to understand what was going on, which meant every line had to be shouted, and the really important plot points and characterization needed to be repeated a dozen times in a catchy song, so people would remember what was going on. As the life of film went on, directors learned to exploit the elements unique to film; Brando's mumbling naturalism could be captured with well-tuned booms; the camera itself and the editing of the film could be used to convey two characters' feelings towards one another with the shift of an eyebrow and turn of the head, as opposed to a 5-minute song. My Fair Lady is fixed solidly in the 19th century mode of the stageplay, and all that entails.

What this translates to is a very long and hammy production, which plays to none of the strengths of the medium. This is where I started to think about video games.

For one thing, the bipolar nature of My Fair Lady reminded me very much of the schizm today between gameplay and story in video games; that they are two completely separate types of entertainment that are expressed in opposing ways (passive versus interactive, watching versus directing, etc.) yet attempt to coexist in the same production, though most often 'take turns' as opposed to really sharing the same space at the same time. Just the same with this classic musical; a coreographed song and dance number is something completely apart from a human drama expressed through dialogue and character interaction; one interrupts the other; the entire mode of the production changes gears briefly, then reverts. You don't need to sing a song to tell a story. You don't need to play a video game to tell one either. Music is to film a valid but wholly separate form of entertainment, as film is to video games.

The logical analogue here then is that as a film musical is to the modern video game, the music is to gameplay as the story in one is to the story in the other. But that's not the gut feeling I got from the experience of watching My Fair Lady. While watching the movie, whenever a song came up, I wanted the film to get back to what it was good at-- characterization, dialogue, human interaction, not this broad song and dance. The songs got more tedious as the film went along and I just wished I could skip to the next segment where the film got to be a film instead of a stage production. And in a game, you want to skip the cutscenes, not the gameplay.

In other words, I don't think the analogy here is about the type of enjoyment derived from each element of the production (I'd say the "pure" enjoyment derived from the mechanics of well-designed gameplay riffs off a lot of the same input that makes a song with an enjoyable melody and catchy lyrics pleasurable.) I think the analogy between film musicals and narrative video games lies in both forms trying to be something they're not. My Fair Lady is emulating the stage, in a medium totally unfit for it; when video games try to be movies, they suffer for the same reasons. Gamers want to play, not watch; games aren't as good at being movies as movies are. These are games' growing pains; they will find a way to be more expressive through the gameplay itself than any static cutscene could be. I'd never realized so clearly that film went through much the same stage in the age of the gilded musical.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, uh, this really isn't an argument worth spending on someone is is not an appreciater of REAL music; however, I feel like making a point:

While I will agree that lengthy cutscenes in games can be frustrating the analogies your making to justify why these items (movies in games/music in movies) don't "work" is not the root of why people get turned off. The real reason is people HAVE NO PATIENCE. The idea of music in a musical (now this may be a shocker so brace yourself) is to enjoy the music. All anyone considers "enjoyable" music nowadays is angry, noisey "I hate myself b/c my mom didn't breastfeed me" music. Its either that or extremely juvenile teenage whiny-ness. So when a fun little diddy with a clever moral starts up out of the blue people say,"OH PLEASE that woud never happen in real life." Well last time I checked, little green pointy eared men with weapons made of light which magically stay the proper lenth don't exist in real life either. The point is to ENJOY the fanticiful plot.

Nowadays we are moreso visually stimulated which is why games like Metal gear Solid and Final Fantasy put such an emphasis on cutscenes. Those who enjoy the cinematic experience this gives applaud it. But those (typically fans of the first person shooters such as Halo) who prefer the high paced "realistic" feeling of being immersed in battle just want to get back to killing things. It doesn't require a lot of thinking but pumps a lot of adrenaline.

While the more naturalistic approache to acting is appealing it realy doesn't takes that much effort. For Example, Keanu Reeves made millions off the Matrix series and half the time you can't tell he has a pulse. It requires a whole lot more effort to sing, dance, AND act (and yes it did matter if you were convincing). As Christopher Walken said when commenting on Gene Kelley,"In those days you had to be a triple threat. You had to be able to sing, dance, and act. Otherwise you couldn't survive" No singing and dancing doesn't always suit a plot, but the whle reason music was written and dances were choreographed was...to...be...now say it with me class "eeeeenjoooooooyed."