Building the Perfect Performance
Back when musicals were a staple of Hollywood, many stars took a turn appearing in them, even though some of those stars could not sing. Occasionally someone like Rex Harrison could get away with talking their way through their songs, but otherwise it was up to “ghosts” to fill in. One of the greatest of these pinch-hitting vocalists was Marni Nixon:
She provided the singing voices for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and An Affair to Remember, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, among others. She received no screen credit for any of these performances. The only time she was actually seen in a movie musical was the small part of Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music, but among her many memorable vocal contributions is this clip. “Show Me” from My Fair Lady captures Nixon’s passionate delivery, full of urgency. And Hepburn holds up her end well, smoothly handling the tongue-twisting passages that would be a challenge for nearly anyone to lip-sync to:
With the right help, actors can seem to play instruments, shoot pool, do card tricks, sink baskets, fight, and risk their lives in any number of ways. And, of course, dance. For example, Jennifer Beals in Flashdance relied on Marine Jahan to do her dancing through most of the movie. The climactic audition number also brought in acrobat Sharon Shapiro to handle the leaping, and breakdancer Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon (yes, a guy) for the backspin. Thanks to clever lighting and editing, four bodies merge into one dazzling dancer. Sadly, none of those three body doubles received screen credit for that work, although Crazy Legs was credited for his other appearance, as himself with the Rock Steady Crew, earlier in the film.
Most of the characters in Labyrinth are puppets who have several members of Jim Henson‘s team controlling the different parts of their bodies simultaneously. But the puppets aren’t the only ones who operate this way. Here we see David Bowie’s Goblin King perform some mystical moves with a crystal sphere:
As it turns out, those hands actually belong to juggler Michael Moschen, who does these manipulations without benefit of wires or optical tricks. Here’s what he looks like when he has a chance to stretch out and bring in other sorts of moves:
That’s a real glass sphere, and it’s heavy, and nothing is keeping it from falling except his own skill. Plus, he had to work while crouching behind Bowie and reaching around, so he couldn’t even see what he was doing and had to depend completely on touch and memory. Combined with Bowie’s natural charm and presence, and his ability to maintain those qualities when someone else’s hands are up in his face, these two performers create a timeless moment that neither one could have achieved alone.