And we continue with this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?) For #38, we move away from comedy and touch on a musical moment that I really appreciated.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
Directed by: Michael Gracey
Phineas Barnum finds fame, fortune and purpose in establishing his circus, which brings together the outcasts of society and gives them a sense of community and legitimacy.
Desperate to improve his show’s reputation with mainstream society, Barnum approaches respected playwright Philip Carlisle and attempts to enlist him as a inventor and creative partner.
The scene of Barnum meeting with Carlisle takes place in a bar, and quickly descends into a rousing musical number called The Other Side, written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek. Barnum talks Carlisle into the idea that his life, though less dignified, is ultimately more rewarding. Carlisle resists at first, taking umbrage at Barnum’s remarks, but eventually he is convinced and two men strike a deal.
Now the thing is, I don’t really like The Greatest Showman all that much. It’s a weirdly distorted view of the historical Barnum that tells its story with a seeming determination to avoid giving the characters or emotions of the story any depth. But what it does do well are its musical numbers, and The Other Side is my favorite. It’s a lively piece which filmed in with snappy camerawork and some fast-paced editing. Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, as Barnum and Carlisle, are wholehearted and engaging, but the real hero of the scene is the bartender whose dancing and movements compliments the two leads. I think the bartender is played by someone named Daniel “Cloud” Campos–he’s listed as “Dancing Bartender #1”. There’s a “Dancing Bartender #2” but I’m not sure who that is.
He is largely either off-frame or at the at the edge of the frame, but the camera deliberately draws attention to him by moving to him jarring pans, so we can see him rhythmically setting up glasses or wiping the table or sweeping up peanut shells. It gives the scene a dynamic, fresh feeling.
Part of me wishes that this could have all been accomplished without so many cuts–movies like La La Land and Jackman’s own Les Miserables have sort of spoiled me for musicals which focus on the dramatic performance that comes through the singing, by having the songs we hear come from recordings done live on set while filming. This is clearly not the case here, which contributes to the lack of depth in the emotional storytelling. But the direction and overall earnestness of the performance makes up for it–this is a great scene which utterly embraces its own cornball quality, producing a result which is highly entertaining.
Also, there’s a great little touch where the three characters, standing in a way that forms a well balanced frame, each put on their scarves at the same time, although in the bartender’s case he’s just tossing a towel on his shoulder. It’s actually pretty subtle, but the kind of thing that makes the scene really nice.
The end of the song transitions to the two men now backstage at the circus. It’s clever but the number isn’t as fun after that.