Chapter 1 The Musical as Archive
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Chapter 1: The Musical as Archive
“This chapter examines three ways in which the musical archives itself. First, it reflects on how and where the quotations of other musicals and musical-film stars appear, beginning with examples from the early sound era to the present. Second, the chapter examines the genre’s quotation and reconciliation of older cultural forms with newer ones in order to demonstrate how pastiche and hybridity are central to how the musical perpetuates itself for contemporary audiences. And finally, the chapter explores how the musical uses its self-reflexive moments in order to address present-day problems and concerns.” (pp 22-23)
La La Land Geneaology
“Musicals scholars have identified the various forms that self-reflexivity has taken in the genre: the musical film as part of the entertainment industry; the musical film as a part of the musical genre; and the musical film as the inheritor of past entertainment forms. We see all three levels of reflexivity at work in a film like La La Land.
Except for limited examples, the musical genre is the only genre that indexes itself in such a way. It is its own archive, a function that has persisted through to the present day. It preserves and sustains past cultural forms and practices in the present, including the musical itself. Its vestigial qualities are what allow it to perpetually regenerate. The musical is transcendent across modes of production, international boundaries, and shifting audience tastes.
The image below is not a complete charting of what I call “La La Land’s genealogy”, but it gives an indication of how any single musical is in dialogue with many others.”
1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016), “La La Land Backlot”
Caption: In this scene, Chazelle references the history of musical film at multiple times and on multiple levels.
Citation: Page 16
2. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952), “SinginInTheRainBacklot”
Caption: Most directly, [the back lot scene in La La Land] is reminiscent of a similar one in Singin’ in the Rain, when Don (Gene Kelly) and Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) walk through the back lot of Monumental Pictures. Like Mia and Sebastian, Don and Kathy are just getting to know each other.
Citation: Page 16
3. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Damien Chazelle, 2009), “GuyMadelineOpening”
Caption: While the modes of production are at odds—Chazelle’s [Guy and Madeline] started out as a student production while he was enrolled at Harvard University, had a small budget, and aesthetically aligned itself more with independent and avant-garde aesthetics (nonprofessional actors, discontinuous editing, handheld camera, black-and-white film stock), whereas La La Land is a glossy studio production with major Hollywood stars—the similarities between the two films suggest a continuity in Chazelle’s work that he himself acknowledges by inserting Guy and Madeline directly into La La Land’s back-lot scene.
Citation: Page 18
4. The Barkleys of Broadway (Charles Walters, 1949), “BarkleysOfBroadwayOpening”
Caption: Made a decade after their last film together (The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, 1939), The Barkleys of Broadway communicated that the Astaire-and-Rogers-type entertainment was still entertaining and that, perhaps more importantly, the musical film is still alive and well.
Citation: Page 25
5. Ginger and Fred (Federico Fellini, 1986), “Ginger e Fred in scena”
Caption: Consistent with backstage musicals of an earlier era, the show goes on. The performers overcome the hurdles placed in front of them, and they muster through to give an entertaining performance. As they bow to their audience, Amelia and Pippo smile knowing that they have convinced the audience and themselves that they can still conjure the “Ginger and Fred” of yore.
Citation: Page 27
6. Everyone Says I Love You (Woody Allen, 1996), “Everyone Says I Love You I’m Through”
Caption: Like Ginger and Fred, Astaire and Rogers enter into Allen’s musical to add poignance to the end of a relationship.
Citation: Page 28
7. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016), “La La Land Stars”
Caption: In using silhouettes, Chazelle raises the number to the level of the symbolic. The dancers become faceless approximations of all other dancing couples in all other musical films, most obviously referencing Astaire and Rogers.
Citation: Page 30
8. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (H. C. Potter, 1939)
Caption: Lest we think that dancing in the stars is unique to La La Land, it bears remembering that Astaire and Rogers did it first, significantly, in their first film that iconized their stardom, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).
Citation: Pages 30-31
9. The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992), “Long_Day_Closes_03_Title”
Caption: Director Terence Davies uses the soundtrack from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) to narrate Bud’s (Leigh McCormack) observation of his sibling’s romantic relationships and his simultaneous exclusion from them.
Citation: Page 32
10. Every Sunday (Felix E. Feist, 1936), “Every Sunday Short Film 1936”
Caption: The film’s formal elements, including the privileging of Judy’s scatting in the frame, emphasize how much more dynamic swing music is than waltzing. In turn, the film shows how much more exciting musical film can be with syncopated forms of music and editing.
Citation: Page 38
11. White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), “White Christmas Choreography”
Caption: “Choreography” is a comical treatment of the clash between old forms and new. In this case, the “new” is modern dance, ostentatiously referred to, as the song implies, as “choreography” rather than the more colloquial “dance.”
Citation: Page 39
12. Xanadu (Robert Greenwald, 1980), “Xanadu-Dancin’”
Caption: Rather than being a rejection of old or new forms, most musical films make an idealistic argument for integration and hybridization… In the number “Dancin’,” two forms of music, swing and rock, and two historical periods, the 1940s and the 1980s, combine as one.
Citation: Page 40
13. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000), “DancerInTheDark”
Caption: Drawing stark comparisons between the more innocent times of musicals past and the horrific realities of the most victimized among us, Lars von Trier quotes The Sound of Music (1965) repeatedly in his original musical film Dancer in the Dark (2000).
Citation: Page 44
14. The Hole (Dong, Tsai Ming-liang, 1998), “Dong – The Hole – Achoo Cha Cha”
Caption: Although the [musical] numbers sit apart from the narrative in time, they nevertheless reconstitute the space of the apartment building, transforming it from a place of dreariness to playfulness.
Citation: Page 46
15. The Burden (Min börda, Niki Lindroth Von Bahr, 2017), “The Burden_Mice”
Caption: In the second segment [of the film], two mice in the fast-food restaurant perform their cleaning duties quietly with only the high-pitched tones of their shoes hitting the tile floor. One begins to turn these sounds into a tap routine, inspiring the other mouse to join him in a number that becomes raucous… Trays and mops become their props, a form of bricolage that Jane Feuer has identified as being a part of Fred Astaire’s and Gene Kelly’s ability to effect spontaneity by transforming worldly objects into the realm of fantasy.
Citation: Page 47
Chapter 2 The Musical as Society
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Chapter 1: The Musical as Archive
“This chapter examines the musical’s relationship to society and social issues. But it focuses on those back-stage musicals that are made by people of color, second generation immigrants, and women, around whom narratives of assimilation and cultural resistance, acceptance and rejection, and the possibilities for opportunity and happiness turn. What happens to the musical when a Chicano filmmaker creates a narrative about Mexican American life in Los Angeles? What happens to the musical when a black filmmaker takes on the objectification and spectacularization of the musical black body? And what happens to the musical when a woman director rejects the false dichotomy of love versus career and instead focuses on other aspects of women’s relationship to romance and musicality?” (pp 52-53)
1. La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987), “La Bamba House”
Caption: While the film is ultimately an American success story, cut short only by a freak accident of fate, it nevertheless harbors a trenchant critique of American society. We see the harsh living conditions of the Valenzuela family even after they move out of the labor camp. While the shack that Bob (Esai Morales) moves them into is better than what they had before it is dilapidated and in an impoverished section of town.
Citation: Page 56
2. La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987), “La Bamba Donna House”
Caption: Offering a stark contrast, Valdez takes care to provide a slow tracking shot of Donna’s neighborhood, with its new and pristine ranch homes and its lush green lawns.
Citation: Page 56
3. La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987), “La Bamba Cholo”
Caption: We also see multiple points of intolerance and discrimination manifested toward Latinos in the 1950s. Donna’s father repeatedly thwarts her attempts to spend time with Ritchie.
Citation: Pages 56-57
4. La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987), “La Bamba B Side”
Caption: This scene points to a specific generational moment in Mexican American history when the second generation, the sons and daughters of immigrants, came of age in the 1940s and 1950s.
Citation: Page 57
5. La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987), “La Bamba”
Caption: The multiple shots of the audience allow Valdez to demonstrate the cultural hybridity that makes up US society, as reflected by the audience’s interracial and multiethnic demographics and their reaction to a hybridized form of music, Mexican folk and American rock ‘n’ roll.
Citation: Pages 58-59
6. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone, 1943), “Stormy Weather DressingRm”
Caption: Hollywood’s black-cast musicals, like Stormy Weather (1943), existed in a hermetically sealed social world in which overt forms and residual effects of structural racism do not exist. In this scene, the denial of a single-family home is the result of Selina’s (Lena Horne) professional ambition and not the real-world racial housing covenants then in place.
Citation: Page 64
7. The Duke Is Tops (William L. Nolte, 1938), “DukeIsTopsEnding”
Caption: In “race movies,” films made by and for black audiences, like The Duke Is Tops (1938), producers could more fully explore depictions of black romance and social mobility, but these too existed in a parallel entertainment land-scape to the more dominant and more prevalent Hollywood cinema.
Citation: Page 64
8. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), “Bamboozled Opening”
Caption: Lee consistently pulls the film’s audience out of their complacent position as spectators and forces them to reckon with their relationship to the entertainment being given.
Citation: Page 65
9. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), “AudienceMovie”
Caption: In this compilation of all the shots of the television studio audience in the film, we see an evolution take place. As the minstrel shows progress, the diegetic audience celebrates and participates in the project of racial caricature thereby troubling the film audience’s relationship to Bamboozled’s brand of entertainment.
Citation: Page 66
10. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), “Bamboozled Burnt Cork”
Caption: The act of looking takes on a different dimension as Lee shifts modes in the film, embedding documentary film within the fictional narrative at multiple points.
Citation: Page 66
11. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), “Bamboozled Montage”
Caption: Lee provides a montage of footage, from silent cinema to classical Hollywood cinema to animated cartoons. It is a barrage of derogatory images that evoke the many ways that mainstream media has stereotyped black Americans.
Citation: Page 67
12. Illusions (Julie Dash, 1982)
Caption: Tellingly, the main character’s job in Illusions is to make musicals, which, as we witness in the film, features a white woman singing and dancing. But her voice is not her own; it belongs to a young black woman who will not be credited in the final product.
Citation: Page 69
13. The Tango Lesson (Sally Potter, 1997), “Tango Lesson Dinner”
Caption: In addition to demonstrating that [Pablo] Verón is an accomplished tap dancer as well as tango dancer, the scene is one of seduction. And Sally [Potter] is willing to let it be so.
Citation: Page 71
14. The Tango Lesson (Sally Potter, 1997), The Tango Lesson Sally Potter and Pablo”
Caption: Potter again moves away from the formula of other backstage musicals here. Not only does she deny us the signaling devices that we have come to depend on when a man and a woman take the stage, but she also does not allow for the creation of utopia in performance.
Citation: Page 74
Chapter 3 The Musical as Mediation
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Chapter 1: The Musical as Archive
“This chapter examines the musical’s various forms of mediation. First and foremost, the genre has self-consciously presented itself as a mediated cultural product by referencing the tools of its own production… But musicals have also directly reflected on specific forms of media and technology and how they contribute to the creation of community. Looking outside of Hollywood is beneficial here since it is in John Carney’s musical films that media and mediation are wedded in a most integral fashion.” (pp 84-85)
1. Begin Again (John Carney, 2013), “BeginAgainOpening”
Caption: It is the materiality of music, its tools, equipment, and devices, that provides the means by which humans encounter one another.
Citation: Page 82
2. Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, 1933), “FootlightParadeTickerTape”
Caption: There exists a self-conscious mode in musical films in which their problematic relationship to the coming of sound cinema must be declared, neutralized, and integrated into the genre’s project of creating community.
3. Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley, 1939), “Babes_In_ArmsVaudeville”
Caption: It is the nuclear family and the small-town community that are threatened by sound cinema in Babes in Arms (1939).
Citation: Page 87
4. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952), “SinginInTheRainGoodMornin”
Caption: “We’ll make a musical,” declares Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) when the coming of sound has produced chaos at the fictional Hollywood studio Monumental Pictures.
Citation: Pages 88-89
5. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952), “SinginInTheRainWired”
Caption: Unlike Footlight Parade and Babes in Arms, Singin’ in the Rain engages with the materiality of the coming of sound. In the scene in which the stars do their first onset recording, the microphones, wires, sound booth, and recording equipment intrude on the performance.
Citation: Page 89
6. White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), “WhiteChristmasTelevision”
Caption: In this moment, the musical registers its incorporation of television itself. The shot is a close-up of the television set, a wooden console table with the black-and-white screen at the center. Bob (Bing Crosby) stands in the middle singing directly to the audience on the other side of the monitor. Musical film and televisual entertainment become one, and Bing Crosby, an actor closely associated with the genre’s evolution, functions as its mediator.
Citation: Page 93
7. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), “Sing_StreetUP”
Caption: The act of listening is a central form of encounter and communication in Sing Street. For the second song, “Up,” Carney establishes how Conor and Raphina are coming closer together via the song on the cassette tape.
Citation: Page 96
8. Begin Again (John Carney, 2013), “BeginAgainSplitter”
Caption: The splitter makes their enjoyable evening possible, as does their ability to carry hundreds of Mp3 files on their smartphones wherever they go. But instead of bemoaning the lack of authenticity in digital music or the ways that smartphone devices can make us asocial beings, Carney embraces the potential of these new technologies.
Citation: Page 100
9. Once (John Carney, 2007), “ONCE_FallingSlowly”
Caption: In Carney’s films, creating music often leads to listening, and listening often leads to musical creation. Both are central to establishing human connection.
Citation: Page 101
10. Once (John Carney, 2007), “ONCE_Batteries”
Caption: As with the cassette tape in Sing Street, the Discman becomes the mediating device to connect the characters musically and emotionally. But because of its materiality, it has the potential to fail, thereby disrupting the musical moment.
Citation: Page 103
11. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), “Sing_StreetBand”
Caption: In each of Carney’s films, individuals become a band. The creation that occurs pertains not only to music but also to a collective.
Citation: Page 105
12. Begin Again (John Carney, 2013), “BeginAgainLostStars”
Caption: Unlike other musical films in which the guy and girl come together in the end in a stage-bound musical performance, Begin Again finds Gretta alone but with her commitment to the personal and communal approach to music intact.
Citation: Page 109
13. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), “Sing_StreetPOPS”
Caption: The television set and the music video constitute the two forms of mediation in this sequence, between old and new forms of culture and between generations.
Citation: Page 110
14. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), “Sing_StreetDriveIT”
Caption: While the sequence is light and buoyant, replicating the feelings of elation elicited by any number of musical films prior, it rebels against the form, acknowledging that such a world is only make-believe and, perhaps, only made possible by the fictional world of musical film.
Citation: Page 111
15. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), “Sing_StreetBrownShoes”
Caption: Like the music video itself, musical performance has the power to disrupt and challenge forms of authority. And music, rock ‘n’ roll in this case, is a form of mediation central to human expression and relationships.
Citation: Page 112
1. Why does escapism continue to be the primary critique levelled at the movie musical?
2.Can you point to some ways that the musical film does not escape from, but instead relates to our contemporary world?
3.What is it about the movie musical that continues to resonate with audiences today?
4.Choose a single musical film made in the last 20 years and create its musical film “genealogy” as a flow chart similar to the one here (provide link to the genealogy image?). What does your flow chart tell you about how the musical makes meaning and its relationship to the history of musical entertainment?
5.Discuss how and why people of color and women have used the musical film in order to tell their stories. In order to better understand their work, consider comparing the films below. Reflect specifically on how each film represents the relationship between people of color/women and song, dance, and musical entertainment.
a.The Tango Lesson (Sally Potter, 1997) vs A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018)
b.La Bamba (Luis Valdez, 1987) vs West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins,1961;Steven Speilberg, 2021)
c.Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000) vs Hairspray (Adam Shankman, 2007)