American Film Musical Themes and Forms

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About the Book

The musical has been called “the most popular form of entertainment in the world.” This work examines the subjects, themes, and contemporary relevance of Hollywood musicals through their long popularity, placing each show in historical and political context and analyzing it in detail.
A chapter is devoted to how Golddiggers of 1933 (1933) and Stand Up and Cheer (1934) deal with the economic crises of the Depressions. Another addresses race issues by examining the prevalence of blackface minstrelsy in the 1930s and 1940s, looking at productions like Swing Time (1936) and Dixie (1943). Rock and roll culture, which started in the 1950s and threatened America with teenage sex and rebellion, is addressed through such hits as Girl Crazy (1943), Bye Bye Birdie (1963), and Grease (1978).
The work also explores dance as a signifier of character, the geography of musicals (such as New York or “the South”), fantasy settings, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and the musical biopic (mentioning biographies of such figures as Ziegfeld, Cohan, Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter, and Jerome Kern). A later chapter discusses intertextuality in such shows as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which refers to many earlier musicals; Kiss Me Kate (1953) which refers to Taming of the Shrew; and All That Jazz (1970) which refers to the life and work of Bob Fosse. The work concludes with an examination of the continuing popularity of the musical with such hits as Moulin Rouge (2001) and Chicago (2002).
Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

The late Michael Dunne was a professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University. He lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Dunne
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2004
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1877-0
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8337-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      v

Introduction      1

1. Hollywood Musicals and the Depression      13

2. Blackface Minstrelsy in Musicals      34

3. Confronting Rock Culture      52

4. Dance as a Narrative Agent      67

5. American Places and Spaces      87

6. Fred and Gene in Never Never Land      107

7. Musical Biopics      126

8. Intertextual Musicals      147

9. Conclusion: “How About a Nice Musical?”      173

Chapter Notes      187

Works Cited      201

Index      209

Book Reviews

“unique…thorough and well researched…comprehensive”—Film & History.