Musical Illustration by Michael Witte
Owen Gleiberman
October 10, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

How MTV killed — and revived — movie musicals

Every week, one of Entertainment Weekly’s movie critics answers questions from readers. Read this week’s answers here, and send your own questions.

Before ”Chicago,” what do you think led to the decline of the movie musical? — Sam
Ironically, one of the very things that ultimately revived it: the caffeinated, jump-cut, fantasy-is-reality aesthetic of MTV. During the ’70s, the big, splashy Hollywood musical wasn’t nearly as dead as rumored. It had mutated into rock opera (”Jesus Christ Superstar,” ”Tommy”), culminating, in 1978, in the pastel camp exuberance of ”Grease.” You’d think that film’s staggering success would have opened the door to more musicals, but that very same summer, ”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was such a cataclysmic embarrassment that it fatefully wounded the marriage of movies and rock. MTV was the final nail: Videos, in effect, were ”numbers” freed of filler, and so who wanted to go back to hanging songs on a story line? The answer, 20 years later, turned out to be…audiences! ”Chicago” and ”Moulin Rouge” (the film that really kick-started this revival) couldn’t be more different, but in their unique ways both have succeeded, artistically and at the box office, by building on MTV’s version of all that jazz.

Got a question you’d like the critics to consider in future weeks? Send it by e-mail. Or, if you want to talk about this week’s questions, post your thoughts below.

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