Tuesday, 25 May 2010



Hollywood Genres - Thomas Schatz 1981
Guilty Pleasures - Pamela Robertson 1996
The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry - Paul Macdonald 2008

Films referenced

Chicago (2002)
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Show Boat (1951)
Oklahoma! (1955)
West Side Story (1961)
Cats (1998)
Dream Girls (2006)
Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Sweet Charity (1969)
In To The Woods (1991)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Hairspray (2007)


Musicals have been an uplifting form of entertainment whether it is through song, dance or drama. The strong conventions of them are the dichotomies that run through each of the musicals and create the conflict within the storyline, storylines which also have serious underlying issues beneath the bright and breezy world that is mostly always portrayed within the Musical Film / Theatre world. The lyrics and style of the dances reflect the characters feelings and help the audience break away from the drama and think about the character and the message they are bringing across in the performance. By using issues that are something of a moral panic when the musical is created gives people a release from day to day life and allows them to transfer in to the world of musicals, where anything is possible.

“The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return” - Moulin Rouge
“When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from you’re first cigarette to you’re last dying day” - West Side Story

“The lavish screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera (2005) only deepened the damage. What had been impressive on stage seemed pretentious on screen. With non-stars in the leads and an unimaginative production, the film suffered dismal domestic box office results. The Producers (2005) and Rent (2005) made their way to the big screen with most of their original Broadway cast members on hand, but the results were lifeless and both films were box office failures.”


The movement of musicals from the stage to film has been a hard transfer for fans of the genre to deal with. Although Musical films give way for bigger and better sets and more crisp sound quality, there is nothing like sitting in a theatre and listening to an actress singing live, and being suspended in disbelief as she sings her love for a man. Although, musical films may have damaged some musicals, there is one in particular that it may have done justice. “Sweeney Todd”, the narrative follows the typical musical structure, a man haunted by his past who seeks to right wrongs, there is a bitter sweet love interest and also some rather disturbing underlying storylines, such as paedophilia and gruesome murder. Sweeney Todd, the anti-hero of the musical seeks revenge on Judge Turpin who had him arrested and deported to Australia, on his return he finds that his wife has committed suicide and his daughter is locked away in the Judges house, while the Judge plots to marry the 14 year old girl. It is here that Sweeney Todd plans his revenge to slit the Judges throat with his trusted barber shaving blades. In the stage production the special effects of the throats being slit are either done off stage or from behind a screen, although this may have been effective for when more sensitive audiences were viewing the musical, audiences of today need more gore and grit to get them through a film. In this sense, the fact that “Sweeney Todd” has been renovated into a Musical Film does it some form of justice.


“Animated musicals were one of the most lucrative screen genres of the 1990s, and several of those feature length cartoons have mutated into Broadway stage versions. While the results may be artistically questionable, they certainly keep millions of people listening to show tunes. The success of the live action films Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2007) show that innovative directors can still make film musicals profitable, fresh and exciting. At the same time, the costly failures It's Delovely (2004), Phantom of the Opera (2005), The Producers (2005) and Rent (2005) prove that Hollywood is still too willing to rely on empty production values rather than on quality material and intelligent presentation.”


The same goes for “Phantom of the Opera” although the stage production is some what enchanting, the scene where there is a flash back of how the man who turned in to the Phantom dies, where the chandler falls and kills him. In the film we see this vividly however, in the stage production we only see the remains of the chandler scattered across the stage and the impact of this does not have the same effect as the film, where the audience feels sympathy for the character of the unknown man.

Although some musicals that have been turned in to film versions have been great successes there still remains the fact that some of them have been massive flops and not broken even and have ruined the reputation of the Broadway / West End versions.

Monday, 10 May 2010

“Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down” - Mary Poppins

So, what was the point in creating this genre called Musicals? Working and middle class people created Vaudeville which was a show put together using different acts that were not linked. Eventually the audience craved more story and meaning to what they were watching, and so musicals were created. As I have said in previous blogs, all musicals hold and underlying serious meaning (except for most of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musicals, he has managed to disprove most of my theories!), musicals were used to brighten moods and give everything some what of a sugar coated glaze for what was going on at that particular point in time. For example, “Oklahoma!” was first staged in the 1943 during the second world war. The narrative structure was the same as any musical, there was a love story, lively songs, dancing and death at the end. However, this particular musical was about ‘the home land’ and protecting it at all costs. Curly, the lone cow boy comes back to his home land after travelling through the dessert and falls in love with Laurey, she can be described as, ‘the girl the men were fighting for’. Within the musical, there are songs about how amazing the home land is.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning!

“Oklahoma!” was shown to soldiers in the second world war to remind them about what they were fighting for. That the home land needed to be protected, or girls like Laurey, would be taken by the Germans.

“Musicals became a favoured form for audiences, especially during the Depression. These films celebrate spontaneity, both in terms of trying to replicate the experience of a live performance and having characters frequently pick up a prop and jump into a folksy number. In this way, classical musical films often gave the impression of an amateur's inspired and immediate performance--a type of sudden liberation and celebration that many claim makes for the most escapist-yet-intoxicating of the classical Hollywood genres.”


Another musical that uses this technique is “West Side Story”, first performed in 1957, this musical looked at the gangs and teenagers. Of course the musical wasn’t as violent as anything that you see today, but teenage gangs in America at that time ran on racism of different ethic minorities, just like The Jets and The Sharks. The Jets, were the home grown America boys with denim and leather. The Sharks were the Puerto Rican’s with silk and bright colours. The narrative again follows the generic musical line. There are hearty songs, forbidden love, dancing and death at the end. However, “West Side Story” just like every other American musical made

(Skip to 2.23) I Like to be in America!

“West Side Story” only raised more awareness of gang crime rather than actually do anything about it. It also raised the idea of racism being wrong, in a Romeo and Juliet round about way.

Most Musicals, depending on when they were written, will include some form of storyline about what is going on in that particular time. By doing this, even if it is a dyer situation, such as the second world war, people will feel better about the subject, because lets face it, music is the one thing that can pick us up when we are truly feeling down.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

"Don't ask where I'm going, just listen when I'm gone, and far away you'll hear me singing softly to the dawn." -Pippin

Within more than 90 percent of musicals there is a romance that is some how forbidden and must conquer over all. 50 percent of the time this ends in one of the couple dying in the others arms, ‘Moulin Rouge’ is a prime example of this.

“The music man most often is distracted by some Hollywood siren - an alluring, morally questionable type who appeals to his more primitive qualities. She (the heroine) may be a hustling chorus girl, or a wealthy patron in search of a gigolo, but whatever the situation she is in, by contrast she amplifies the hero’s virtues.” (Hollywood Genres, Thomas Schatz pg 197. ) This quotation talks about how within musicals opposites attract and a love story stems from this opposition. Quite often the opposition is the fact of class or rank, which makes the love forbidden and so the romance becomes stronger and attempts to defeat all objects, however not always succeeding.

Musicals do not such produce romantic issues of contradiction, there are many other forms of it within a cultural and formal situation - Object/image, reality/illusion, story/ performance, work/play, stasis/movement, repression/expression, community/ individual, and particularly man/women.
Many examples can be given for each of these, and several musicals use more than two of each of these contradictions. For story/performance the best example is ‘Into The Woods’ which is a musical based on several fairytales such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Red Riding hood and several more all meeting. The musical shows the story/performance contradiction by entering the narrator into the storyline and feeding him to the giant in an attempt to save their own lives, This is also an example of reality viruses illusion. Repression/expression is present in most musicals as one of the main narrative plotlines. An ideal example of work/play can be seen within ‘Sweet Charity’, Charity (the heroine) is a stripper and mixes in with a higher class than her own, resulting in some strange occurrences. The work viruses play contradiction is presented by her enjoying her job when she first started but then her realising the sacrifice that the other dances have had resulting in their inability to leave the strip club.

For object/image, there can be several examples, however, as ’Cats’ holds none any of the above contradiction except for community/individual, it is probably best to use it as an example. Grisabella, was once the ‘glamour cat’ of the angelical cat troupe but after her owners die she goes from glamour to sleaze. The community of cats scorn Grisabella, bullying her as the individual. She constantly interrupts the angelic cats celebration and begs for that second chance and in the end is granted to be ‘the angelic choice’, meaning that the community chooses her, the individual, to be re-born. Object/image also relates to Grisabella, as she was once an image of perfection, however is now an object suffering.
Within all musicals, they hold at least three of the above contradictions, sometimes more than that. These contradictions support the narrative structure and give the musical depth and create the conflict that is needed to make most musicals poignant and satisfying.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

“Where there is music, there’s love” - Written on a wall sampler in a diner, in ‘For Me and My Gal’

“Typically, the biggest difference between film and stage musicals is the use of lavish background scenery which would be impractical in a theatre. Musical films characteristically contain elements reminiscent of theatre; performers often treat their song and dance numbers as if there is a live audience watching. In a sense, the viewer becomes the deictic audience, as the performer looks directly into the camera and performs to it. The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s…”


Musicals as a genre have developed in vast amount since they were first created in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. Broadway was unable to compete with Hollywood’s large budget and salaries and so became standard fare for all theatres, even the expensively built ones.
There are three different kinds of musicals, Musical Play, Musical Revue, and Pseudo comedies. A musical play is where the storyline is supported by songs, not the other way round, and there are more pieces of drama and dialogue than songs. An example of this is
‘ The Rocky Horror Picture Show’

A musical revue is where the musical is communicated purely through the art of song. No words are spoken within this musical, only singing, an example of this is ‘Cats‘ as there is no form of speech within it. Even Rum Tum Tugger’s meow’s are in tune.

.Pseudo comedies are where random pieces of entertainment are inserted into the middle of the musical for some comedy relief. For example, in ‘Sweet Charity’ when the posh party animals suddenly break out in to a series of strange dances.
The Aloof, The Heavyweight, The Big Finish.

One of the most well known film musicals is ‘Moulin Rouge’, which set the bar for all new film musicals of this generation.
“That same year, the even stranger Moulin Rouge (2001) captured the imagination of millions of filmgoers by presenting a pedestrian love story through a wild mixture of musical sequences and eye-catching images. Director Baz Luhrmann threw together a dizzy hodgepodge of old and new pop songs, and kept the screen whirling with MTV-style quick cut editing. Nicole Kidman and Ewan Macgregor looked and sounded sexy in musical sequences that flew by at such speed that their lack of musical talents hardly mattered. Most critics and film goers overlooked the often confusing pace and turned Moulin Rouge into the first real musical screen hit of the new century.”


In 1927, ‘Showboat’ what can be described as the first musical play, was brought to the stage by Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical brought about ideas of racism and culture as this large showboat travelled down the Mississippi river bringing entertainment to all. However, when one of the female performers is found to have had a black mother, she is cast off the boat. And of course, with all musicals, there is a forbidden love story that triumphs over all in the end.
All of this taking place on the boat, you can imagine how ambitious this was for the worlds first musical. ’Show Boat’ set the standards from here onwards, and created the convention of having a serious underlying storyline. ’Showboat’ commented on how, even though Magnolia was white, she was still treated differently due to her black origins. Although racism was an obvious problem in the 1920’s, it was never really addressed by anyone, but for the first musical to come along and comment about the injustice of it was a very risky thing to do. Considering it was also the first musical, by making racism a large part of the storyline, Oscar Hammerstein II could have doomed musicals as a genre forever, however, by placing such a taboo narrative within, has made it a convention for the musical genre.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Musicals are one of the oldest forms of genre in the books. Originally stemming from Vaudeville, which consisted of a few acts, such as singing, dancing, acting and juggling as a form of entertainment for the working class. Eventually people got bored with this very saming show and wanted more depth and storylines. So, musicals were written. They always have a serious storyline behind the uplifting songs and bitter sweet romances. I plan to look at all forms of musical films from the dark and gruesome 'Sweeney Todd' to the light and breezey 'State Fair', looking closely at the musical film genre and what conventions run throughout.