This course introduces students to the history and evolution of the musical film. From the beginnings of sound cinema, the musical has entertained diverse audiences. While its popularity has at times waned, the musical continues to appear on 21st century movie screens. What accounts for the musical’s popularity in different moments in the past? What have been its central themes and cultural preoccupations? How have filmmakers developed a cinematic language in order to lend musicals expression? And what kinds of theoretical paradigms have scholars employed in order to better understand the genre’s evolution?
An internationally popular film genre, featuring music, song, and dance in varying combinations, often intertwined with a romance plot with a happy ending. Film versions of operas and stage musicals made in the silent era were usually screened with live musical accompaniment, often as part of theatrical entertainments featuring musical acts (see music). Some scholars contend that it was the popularity of these shows with audiences that prompted the development of synchronized sound after the mid 1920s.
In film studies, the Hollywood musical has long been the subject of analysis and investigation across a range of topics: these include the various ways in which plot and musical numbers are integrated in a film's narrative; issues of gender, sexuality, and spectacle; questions of studio style (MGM's lavish Technicolor musicals of the 1950s are a case in point); the contributions of key creative personnel (such as directors Ernst Lubitsch and Vincente Minnelli, choreographer Busby Berkeley, and performers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers); and investigations of the genre's industrial, social, and cultural contexts.