Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Owen Gleiberman was recently named chief film critic at Variety.  I knew Owen (a little) back in the days when he wrote for the Michigan Daily.  He's written a lot about movies since then, much of it quite good (though his work at Variety has too often been editorials masquerading as film reviews).

But I think his review of Hamilton's America, which just premiered at the New York Film Festival and will soon air on PBS, is a bit much.  It's a documentary about the making of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway blockbuster Hamilton, but Gleiberman gushes so much it's embarrassing.  You can almost quote randomly to see what a fan letter this "review" is:

...you feel as thrillingly enveloped in the soul of [Miranda's vision] as you do when standing in front of a Jackson Pollock painting or reading a novel by Jane Austen.

...[Hamilton] has done nothing less than rewrite the way Americans think and feel about the Founding Fathers....

Miranda [...] is a creator of genius ferocity who nevertheless has a disarmingly sweet spirit.  With his long hair and goatee and big glistening dark eyes, he looks like a softer, puppy-dog version of Al Pacino [....] He's got a gregarious smile and a bright, warm, open-for-business charisma [....] Miranda [...] gives off a glow. There's a light of insatiable eagerness inside him.

[Miranda] tosses off a rap of such savage density and insouciance, and makes it look so easy, that we're awed by his gift.  [He is] one of the five or six most virtuoso MCs in the history of hip-hop.

"Hamilton's America," in capturing that journey, turns out to be a thrillingly nimble and moving testament [....] it manages to avoid every cliché pitfall of the standard behind-the-scenes making-of documentary.

I haven't seen Hamilton (much less the documentary about it), but I've heard some numbers that sound pretty good, and I like the idea of making the Founders relevant to today's audience. But is it really that groundbreaking? (You could say the same for 1776.)  History is pretty exciting, but often comes across as boring to younger people--and older people--who can't relate, and every now and then someone has a popular hit that brings history to life.

Gleiberman compares Hamilton to A Chorus Line and Angels In America, though I think he misses the most obvious parallel--HairHair was a 1960s blockbuster, housing a political statement, and done in a radically new style (for Broadway, anyway) that brought a different kind of music to Broadway.  Hair is rock, Hamilton is hip hop, but they both changed how the musical theatre sounded.

So a little perspective, Owen.  Try to contain yourself.

Near the end of his review, he writes:

Is "Hamilton," as a work of art, worthy of comparison to Shakespeare?  Discuss.

Okay.  No.

PS It's spelled "Richard Rodgers"--with a "d." If you don't know that, should you really be writing about Broadway musicals?


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Do you think it will rival the popularity and longevity of a historical drama like Les Mis? I've heard most of the tracks from Hamilton, ad I like the history lesson, but I don't come away humming anything. There is probably more emotional impact seeing it performed live, but this also strikes me as the type of show that particularly entertains New Yorkers (since a lot of it is about New York). I think Rent is another example of such a show (though I do replay some Rent songs in my head to this day).

6:44 AM, October 04, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Hamilton is a massive hit and shows every sign of running for many years to come. I don't think its appeal is tied to New York--it's a national, perhaps international, phenomenon. (For that matter, Rent is hardly a New York thing--it's had major productions all around the world and "Seasons Of Love" has become a standard.)

That said, every few years there's a gigantic new musical to hit Broadway. Will this one have considerably more impact than previous Broadway blockbusters? Time will tell, but I doubt it.

By the way, I'm not sure if I'd call Les Miz an historical drama--set in a distinct historical period, yes, but I'd save that term for shows based on actual history.

9:25 AM, October 04, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I should have said Period Piece.

10:09 AM, October 06, 2016  

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