American Musicals - Narratives that undermine.


The musical is above all seen as a vehicle for escapism and general jollity.A constant theme was the show within a show, the stresses and creativity of life behind stage. In the 1950's the genre aspired to the status of a Fine Art with evocations of the balletic. This talk (with compilation tape) begins by trying to establish the basic conventions of the form with particular emphasis on design and narration. It then demonstrates ways in which the implicit conventions are undermined.
Constant Points of Reference


1. An American in Paris, 1951 113mins, directed by Minelli, Gene Kelly, music by the Gershwins (the cyclic experience of the young dancer)

2. Top Hat 1935 100 mins directed by Mark Sandrich, chor. Hermes Pan, music by Irving Berlin (the Astaire technique)

3. Gold Diggers of 1933 1933 96mins directed Mervyn Leroy, chor. Busby Berkeley music by Warren and Dubin. (synchronised dancing, In the Shadows Let Me come and Sing to You)

4. Royal Wedding, 1951 93 mins., directed by Stanley Donen, music by Lerner and Lane, ( special effects, the rotating set, compared with Kubrick's 2001 , 1968)

5. The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949 109 mins directed by Charles Walters, chor. by Astaire, music various, Shoes with Wings on sequence.


Scenes from the Underworld .


1. Meet Me in St Louis 1944, Minelli (the Horrific; the theatrical based framing of the the characters, Garland in the Window, the cake walk in the room; the character of Tootie, the night chaos of Halloween, Tootie's destruction of the Family, her feelings at the Fair).)
2. Its Always Fair Weather 1955 Kelly/Donen, ( the Hysteric, Dan Dailey's Situation-wise number , )
3. The Gang's All Here 1943, Busby Berkeley (defying censorship, Carmen Miranda's Lady with the Tooty Frooty Hat ) excerpt from unknown musical with fruit growing motif.
4. Gold Diggers of 1933 (the perverted infant)
5. The Band Wagon 1953, Minelli (defying Art and undermining the Star, Astaire in Top Hat compared, )
6. The Band Wagon II (satire, Astaire's Girl Hunt ballet, after Mickey Spillane, links with the opening of 2001)
7. Its Always Fair Weather (the satiric, Thanks a Lot but no Thanks, satire on the stage musical)


We finish with Dream Sequences from the Folk Musical ;

Oklahoma (Zinneman 1955 )
Carousel ( King 1956 ).




John Kobal A History of Movie Musicals Hamlyn London 1983 interviews with wide range of participants Clive Hirschhorn The Hollywood Musical Octopus London 1981 a complete listing, film by film.

Jane Feuer The Hollywood Musical BFI London 1981 the first attempt at systematic interpretation and collation of themes.

Rick Altman The American Film Musical Indiana Univ.Press 1987

Rick Altman(ed) Genre; the Musical RKP London 1981;

articles on Minelli by Elsaesser, Entertainment and Utopia by Richard Dyer, Patterns of Meaning in the Musical by Martin Sutton, Show-making by Dennis Giles, on the position of the Spectator by Jim Collins, and particularly Art and Ideology in Silk Stockings by Robin Wood. Richard Dyer The Musical BFI study Unit 16 1975


Gavin Lambert On Cukor Allen, London 1973 (A Star is Born 1954; Les Girls 1957; My Fair Lady 1964)

Vincente Minelli I remember it well Angus/Robertson L 1974 (Meet Me in St Louis 1944; Ziegfield Follies 1945; Yolande and the Thief 1946, The Pirate 1947; An American in Paris 1951; The Band Wagon 1952; Brigadoon 1953; Kismet 1955; Gigi 1957).

Arlene Croce The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book Vintage Books NY 1977 Sarah Giles Fred Astaire; His Friends Talk Bloomsbury London 1988


Ronald Haver A Star is Born, the Making of the Movie Deutsch London 1959, day by day assembling of the film.

Richard Dyer The Sound of Music Movie No 23 Winter 1976/7

Danny Peary Cult Movies Vermilion London 1981 on Top Hat.