The Musical The classical period of the musical coincided with the heyday of the Hollywood studios from the early thirties to the early fifties. The conventions of the integrated musical were formed in the Astaire–Rogers musicals made at RKO in the thirties and the form peaked at MGM in the forties and early fifties, most notably in films produced by Arthur Freed. Thomas Schatz has provided a useful definition of the integrated musical. `Rather than create a realistic –or at least plausible –world whose inhabitants find reasonable motives for breaking into song (rehearsals, shows, etc.) the music itself seems to determine the attitudes, values and demeanour of the principal characters. As the musical genre evolved it sacrificed plausibility for internal narrative logic, steadily expanding its range of narrative, visual and musical expression’. The nature of integration in the film musical lies not simply in the idea that the music and the dances, in particular, should advance the plot but also suggests integration with the entire cinematic process.
Integration involves not only choreographing the dances for the camera but also involves the general movement of the film from camerawork to editing. In other words the film is a total piece in which the numbers not only evolve from the narrative but also, in turn, influence the narrative. This integration was first fully realised in the Freed–Kelly–Donen musicals e.g. On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain. At the centre of the integrated musical is modern dance where the body is used without restrictions of style and method, almost spontaneously. This becomes the means of psychological expression through movement.
The musical’s special power as a genre has been to embody an American popular mythology. By doubling romantic relationships with the energy and beauty of song and dance, the musical endows courting with magical qualities. Music and spectacle were generated by the energy of successful courtship. The loss of status of singing and courtship, as uniquely valuable activities to be celebrated, coincided with the decline of the studio system. The thirties and forties were the great decades for the musical with an average of between forty and fifty per year being produced. By the seventies this had declined to single figures.
Seven video packages designed for use in the study of the musical have recently been added to the Film and Video Lending Collection designed for use in the study of the musical. Each package is made up of either two or three VHS videocassettes and notes which contextualise the packages within the genre and place them in relation to other musicals in the Film Study Collection on film. The notes also provide specific suggestions for the use of extracts from the films on videocassette. Films on both VHS and 16mm are organised below into three sub-genres (fairytale, show and folk) proposed by Rick Altman. Not all musicals fall neatly within boundaries of one of these sub-genres.
It’s Always Fair Weather, for example, as a whole operates as an urban folk musical but the satire of television in the last third of the film draws it towards the show musical. Although Altman locates Ziegfield Follies in the fairytale sub-genre it seems marginally placed between the fairytale and show musical. Ostensibly a tribute to the Follies it lacks any unifying narrative. Although the introductory numbers –`Bring on the Beautiful Girls’ and `Bring on the Wonderful Men’ –display sexual desire as a motive force, this is not consistently maintained through the series of musical numbers and comedy sketches that follow. The Fairytale Musical This sub-genreborrowed massively from a long (pre-cinema) tradition of European and American operettas. Methods are a combination of those used by the fairytale and the romantic comedy.
In the early sound years (1929–1934) the sexual energy driving the plot is clearly acknowledged (sex as sex) e.g. in The Love Parade, Love Me Tonight and One Hour With You. In the climate created by the tightening of censorship the Astaire–Rogers classics made at RKO disguise the sexual energy that drives the plot behind a mask of courtship battles (sex as battle). Sexual energy is sublimated onto the process of courtship through the energy, repartee and adversary relationships associated with battle. The progression of the Astaire–Rogers musicals depends on the simultaneous growth of their quarrelling and of their love.
This ambiguous growth of the relationship is expressed through dance. The pattern of the initial contact–challenge dance, in the eight Astaire–Rogers RKO musicals, is epitomised by Top Hat (the fourth) and then modified with greater emphasis on adversary numbers with their quarrelsome, ironic tone in the last four films including Swing Time (the sixth). This quarrelsome tone has a counterpart in thirties screwball comedy e.g. It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby. Astaire’s tendency to channel all virulent emotions into rhythm and art compares with Cary Grant’s displacement from the physical to the verbal and from overt sexuality to symbolic spats with Katharine Hepburn.
The Love Parade (1929), (VHS package) – A10699961 The Gay Divorcee (1934) – A12036137 Top Hat (1935) – A10672508; (VHS package) A12036161 Swing Time (1936) – A10001204; (VHS package) A12038172 Ziegfield Follies (1946), (VHS package) – A1203620X The Pirate (1947) – A1203651X Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1948) – A12004162 The Show Musical Along with operetta and musical comedy, the revue provided a theatrical source for the development of the Hollywood musical. Ziegfield Follies (1946), a throwback to the revue films of the late twenties and thirties, demonstrates the limitations of the revue format. While some individual segments (e.g. `Limehouse Blues’) are stylistic high points in the genre, they seem to be adrift, denied the balance between story and music that marks the classically integrated musical. In the early thirties the backstage musical provided a fertile ground for the genre’s development. It provided a basic narrative structure for song and dance: the show’s numbers become the film’s numbers as the camera invades theatrical territory, most notably in Busby Berkley directed sequences of thirties Warner Brothers musicals.
The backstage musical developed into the show musical constructed not only around a theatrical production but also, for example, the creation of a fashion magazine, a high school revue, a Hollywood film and the musical biography. In the theme of putting on a show is the potential for reflexivity not present in other classical genres. The romantic couple remain centrally related, both causally and symbolically, to the success of the show. The parallel triumphs of the couple and the show become a central motif. In late studio musicals exemplified by The Band Wagon (1953), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and A Star is Born(1954), this duality of romantic love and the hit show is challenged during the course of the film only to be reasserted at the end.
It is post-studio musicals, such as Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972) and All That Jazz (1981), together with the special case of Nashville(1975), which critically deconstruct this duality. In Cabaret and Nashville on-stage numbers are the means of throwing the realism of the enclosing narrative into relief. In All That Jazz the ironic use of `That’s Entertainment!’ (used affirmatively in The Band Wagon) turns the classical formula upside down: entertainment can only be accomplished at the expense of personal happiness. These musicals indict the audience visible on the screen and, by implication, the film’s audience. The decadence of Weimar (in Cabaret) gives way to the warped presence of Nazism.
The optimism of performances on the stage in Nashville contrasts with the tawdry reality off-stage in what amounts to an indictment of American society which is totally at odds with the historical thrust of the musical as a genre. Footlight Parade (1933) – A12036021 Babes in Arms (1939), (VHS package) – A1203844X Dance Girl Dance (1940) – A10658009 Singin’ in the Rain (1952), (VHS package) – A12036137 The Band Wagon (1953), (VHS package) – A12036196 A Star is Born (1954)+ – A1202824X, A1200748X Funny Face (1957) – A10678441 Cabaret (1972), (VHS package) – A12038245 That’s Entertainment Part 1 (1974), (VHS package) – A12036137 That’s Entertainment Part 2 (1976), (VHS package) – A12038245 New York, New York (1977), (VHS package) – A12036196 Starstruck (1982, Aust.) – A12034924; (VHS package) – A1203844X That’s Dancing (1985), (VHS package) – A12036196 The Folk Musical The folk musical projects the audience into a mythical version of the past while at the same time grappling more seriously than the other musical sub-genres with a lived reality. While show and fairytale musicals create an atmosphere of make believe which combines the real with the unreal, the folk musical, through the transforming power of memory, glorifies the past but also can recall hardship and defeat. It is thus suspended somewhere between observation and dream vision, grounded in both the American heritage and the American myth. This space is designated by such terms as tradition, folklore and Americana.
The characteristic that most clearly differentiates the folk musical from the show and fairytale traditions is the emphasis on family groupings and home. The presence of the extended family also implies a vision of small-town America. Instead of resorting to staged production, the folk musical typically relies on ritual or spontaneous entertainment in which everyone participates. Hallelujah I’m a Bum (1933) – A10659609 Meet Me in St Louis (1934), (VHS package) – A12038172 On the Town (1949), (VHS package) – A12036161 It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) – A12040819 Nashville (1975) – A12007099 Pennies from Heaven (1981), (VHS package) – A1203620X Starstruck (1982, Aust.) – A12034924; (VHS package) A1203844X Notes + A Star is Born is available in two packages each of the 154 min. version on film accompanied by the restored 180 min.
version on VHS videocassette. On A1202824X is an original technicolor print in a `letterbox’ format which retains most of the original Scope image although no anamorphic lens is required. The other, on A1200748X, is a newer `flat’ print, i.e. the Scope format is not retained. All titles are on 16mm film unless otherwise indicated.
The videocassette packages are all catalogued under the main title heading `The Hollywood Musical’ with subtitles indicating the following sub-genres: The Classic Show Musical and Show–Folk Musical Babes in Arms; Star Struck – A1203844X The Classic Show Musical and the Post-studio Show Musical The Band Wagon; New York, New York; That’s Dancing – A12036196 The Fairytale Musical and the Folk Musical Swing Time; Meet Me in St. Louis – A12038172 Top Hat; On the Town – A12036161 The Fairytale Musical and the Show Musical The Gay Divorcee; Singin’ in the Rain; That’s Entertainment Part 1 – A12036137 The Post-studio Show Musical Cabaret; All That Jazz; That’s Entertainment Part 2 – A12038245 The Revue–Fairytale Musical Ziegfield Follies; Pennies from Heaven – A1203620X SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Altman, Rick. The American Musical, British Film Institute, London, 1989. —-(ed.) Genre: The Musical, Routledge & Kegan Paul in association with the British Film Institute, London, 1981. Delamater, Jerome.
Dance in the Hollywood Musical, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1978. Dyer, Richard. `Entertainment and Utopia’, Movie no. 24, Spring 1977, pp. 2–13. Feuer, Jane.
The Hollywood Musical, British Film Institute Cinema Series, Macmillan, London, 1982. Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres, Random House, New York, 1981, Chapter 7, `The Musical’. Films and Cinema.