Monday, May 13, 2013

Bugsy, oh Bugsy

To be honest, I can't claim to understand why Bugsy Malone is enacted entirely by children. To be even more honest, I also don't understand the appeal of having a child-acted movie sung by adults. It's definitely creepy, whether intentionally or not.

The class struggles, while addressed, aren't necessarily a main theme in the film. The plight of the janitor, who wants to be a dancer, is dramatized in a brief song and dance number. However, it never comes back, and he never gets to realize his dream-- he simply remains complacent with the status quo and fades into the background as the gangsters descend into chaos.

The Depression Era economic hardships are only mentioned once, and they're coated with the same candy glaze as everything else. When Bugsy and Sam are looking for new talent, they're able to find willing and able men (boys) at the soup kitchen. After the hungry sing and tap dance about the condition on the table (knocking off their soup and bread), they proceed to be eagerly recruited by gangsters. Now, this could be seen as poor plot development, or as some sort of social commentary on how crime is bred by necessity. The second one is more interesting and gives more credit to the writer, so let's go with that one.

Meanwhile, the individual that capitalizes on human desires and the weakness of others is, in the end, "splurged" like everybody else. However, he or she is, according to the optimistic refrain at the end, just as valuable a human being and completely redeemable. His or her (mostly his) actions in this world were driven by the same need as everyone else's were, and his wrongdoings were simply a result of being born to the wrong circumstances never having access to support, love, or understanding. In this, the fact that all the characters are children becomes important. They're all children, and this entire movie was a play. They didn't die, but adults who act like them do. They, like the future of humankind, have hope if they learn how to treat each other well and how to satisfy their own needs without hurting others.

Of course, there's still the issue of the singing voices being dubbed by adults. I thought that this was incredibly jarring, because most of the dubbing jobs seemed only partly synchronized with the images on the screen. Whether this was because of a bold philosophical choice, or because they weren't able to find child actors who could sing, I don't know. While I give credit to the writers for the social commentary, I can't say that the singing dub-job had any thematic effects. Even the director and composer later doubted this choice, which was more of a production-related decision than an artistic one. However, if one wants to be incredibly generous to the creators of Bugsy Malone, one can argue that the use of adult voices was a method for tying the action in the film, acted out by children, to the adult world.

Bugsy Malone is a unique film. But whether by choice or by accident, the effect of the movie's casting choices and musical numbers is one that leaves you thinking: "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?"


  1. Clarify- None.
    Value- Very well written. Can tell what your opinion is.
    Concern/Suggestions- I think that the dubbing of the voices does have some thematic effects. The adult voices reminds us that everything these children are going through are adult things. The childish side of these children is the fact that they choose to be gangsters. Whether I like the dubbing or not... well, that is another story. ;) But I do think they have a thematic intention to it... I personally don't think it was too effective.

  2. Clarify: Not really a clarify but do you think that the theme mentioned in the fourth paragraph, that children have the opportunity to build a more positive future if they learn to treat each other better, applies to just children or is there a way that this could be applied to adults as well? Should it be transferred to adults?

    Values: I liked how your commentary on the film broke up your writing and established a more human, more exciting tone than had this been nothing more than a straight regurgitation of facts.

    The fact that the composer and the director later doubted the choice of singing voices is really interesting and I think that was a great thing to include in this blog post.

    Your point about the janitor was great as well. I had forgotten about his connection to the class struggle theme prior to reading this.

    Concerns/Suggestions: Nothing much.

    I think you might want to expand a little on how the soup kitchen song could be seen as a social commentary. In a lot of the classic gangster films, the concept of crime due to necessity, or desperation leading to crime leading to greed, is an important factor. Because of this, I kind of wanted to know a little bit more about how this scene is built up and what its overall affect is on the film.