Life Is a Musical: A Tribute to the Hollywood Musical

While silent movies had their own live accompaniments, the advent of synchronized sound created an explosion of lyrics, […] Read more

While silent movies had their own live accompaniments, the advent of synchronized sound created an explosion of lyrics, dances and stories in a new film form – the musical. Drawing on popular theatrics, this synergy of music and story has showcased myriad performers, composers and plots, but often comes back to the most basic themes of film (and entertainment): women, men, love and of course, misunderstanding.

The Golden Age of Hollywood musicals began with actors doing little more than delivering music. Later, the emergence of stars who could actually sing, dance AND act (Fred Astaire, James Cagney, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly), the involvement of major composers (Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II) and the integration of songs and stories drew crowds in. Over time, filmmakers showed that songs could convey depth and pain as well as joy, intensifying and complicating experiences while probing loneliness and displacement, paid love, and even the emergence of Nazi Germany. This series also offers the pleasures of actors in different relationships and stages. On her way to the Emerald City, Judy Garland conveys a heartbreaking vulnerability transformed into adult pain 15 years later in A Star is Born . Gene Kelly revealed his magic as a choreographer in Cover Girl ; later, Vincente Minnelli turns him into a “kept man” in An American in Paris . And lovely Leslie Caron, an ingénue with Kelly, proves a wise nearcourtesan in Gigi . Unlikely relationships and complex ensembles teach us lessons about having a heart and singing through pain as well as love.

Yet while Hollywood made the musical global, underneath the song and dance is the stuff of more everyday American dreams. That somehow being good will have its own rewards. That everyone
can find someone to love and be loved by. That family and home are somehow better that glitz and glamour. And ultimately, there is no situation so bad – or perhaps so good – that a song cannot make it
better. So come and sing along.

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