Musical film

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The musical film is a film genre in which several songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative. The songs are used to advance the plot or develop the film's characters, but some musical films (e.g.Down Argentine Way) simply plop the songs in as unrelated "specialties" (also called "production numbers") - as with Carmen Miranda's numbers. A subgenre of the musical film is the musical comedy, which includes a strong element of humor as well as the usual music, dancing and storyline.

The musical film was a natural development of the stage musical. Typically, the biggest difference between film and stage musicals is the use of lavish background scenery which would be impractical in a theater. Musical films characteristically contain elements reminiscent of theater; 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.


Musical films in the Western world

Musical films of the classical sound era

The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are considered to be the golden age of the musical film, when the genre's popularity was at its highest in the Western world.

The first musicals

Musical short films were made by Lee De Forest in 1923-24. After this, thousands of Vitaphone shorts (1926–30) were made, many featuring bands, vocalists and dancers, in which a musical soundtrack played while the actors portrayed their characters just as they did in silent films: without dialogue.[1] The Jazz Singer, released in 1927 by Warner Brothers, was not only the first movie with synchronized dialogue, but the first feature film that was also a musical, featuring Al Jolson singing "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face;" "Toot, Toot, Tootsie", "Blue Skies" and "My Mammy". Historian Scott Eyman wrote, "As the film ended and applause grew with the houselights, Sam Goldwyn's wife Frances looked around at the celebrities in the crowd. She saw 'terror in all their faces', she said, as if they knew that 'the game they had been playing for years was finally over.[2] Still, only Jolson's sequences had sound; most of the film was silent.[1] In 1928, Warner Brothers followed this up with another Jolson part-talkie, The Singing Fool, which was a blockbuster hit.[1] Theatres scrambled to install the new sound equipment and to hire Broadway composers to write musicals for the screen.[3] The first all-talking feature, Lights of New York, included a musical sequence in a night club. The enthusiasm of audiences was so great that in less than a year all the major studios were making sound pictures exclusively. The Broadway Melody (1929) had a show-biz plot about two sisters competing for a charming song and dance man. Advertised by MGM as the first "All-Talking, All-Singing, All-Dancing" feature film, it was a hit and won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1929. There was a rush by the studios to hire talent from the stage to star in lavishly filmed versions of Broadway hits. The Love Parade (Paramount 1929) starred Maurice Chevalier and newcomer Jeanette MacDonald, written by Broadway veteran Guy Bolton.[3]

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