Songs from Musicals: #12, “My Husband Makes Movies,” from Nine

Honorable mentions: “Unusual Way,” “Guido’s Song”

I’ve listened to “My Husband Makes Movies” about a zillion times since Nine was released as a movie back in 2009. Nine as a film is not very much like Nine the musical, and neither are very much like 8 1/2, which both are based on (and not really to their benefit: better even to base a musical off of Amarcord or La strada than 8 1/2); I can really only speak about the movies convincingly, but then again, it’s the song that counts here, a song that I have adored from the first hearing and still can only guess at what it’s about.

It’s certainly about Luisa. The title is something of a red herring, for while the moviemaking husband is a key player in the song, it is very much Luisa’s story, about her marriage, about the career she could have had if she hadn’t tied herself so tightly to Guido’s career. And it’s about how their marriage has failed, or is at least failing; this is a love story about a man who is no longer in love with his wife, and a woman who doesn’t recognize the track that her love for her husband is following. The fact that she seems to prefer this husband – the imaginative one, the one with a flair for romance and drama, the one who is increasingly absent – to the men who “punch clocks” and “shine their shoes,” the ones who bake bread and trade stocks, tells us much. The song is an excuse for her husband. He has shortcomings, significant ones, but he is also capable of soaring actions. He “makes movies.”

It’s interesting that Luisa chooses to describe her husband through his profession first. His job, and the jobs of other men, are what catch her attention, what define them in short clauses. Only when she speaks of the two of them at the same time does he stop being the man who makes movies. Her nouns are admittedly supporting roles – “lover,” “fan” – but they are not paid positions. They are expressions of devotion, perhaps the only two that could really matter to a film director. And when their marriage was as successful as his career, “many years ago,” she was part of his imagination and his romance; they had “worlds to discover” and would sing “to each other all night on the phone.” These people, we are told, are not the same ones who sing songs and grouse and frown in this show. They were different people then.

“My Husband Makes Movies” is written in a strange mood, an unusual tense. Luisa isn’t disappointed yet, but she is one synapse, one neuron away from reaching such a state with her marriage. There is the potential for the old life to return, and she seems to still want it, not desperately but devoutly. Yet one doesn’t sing a song like “My Husband Makes Movies” except as a earnest and conscious call for help. I still don’t know who she thinks will come.



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