Thursday, May 21, 2015

Danger Rhythms by Richard Barrios

Richard Barrios. Dangerous Rhythms: Why Movie Musicals Matter. New York, N.Y. Oxford University Press, 2014.

The author observes movie musicals are “intended to seem effortless and diverting they are, beneath their gleaming surfaces complicated and contradictory.” Some are “so riddled with paradox that it becomes difficult to comprehend hem.” Still, the offer “a spectrum of fantasies” that are “balanced understanding between the sublime and the inane.”

Musicals allow an uplifting of spirit. “Chicago” won a Best Picture Oscar during the Iraq War. “Oliver!” won a Best Picture Oscar during the Vietnam War. “Oliver!” in 1969was the fourth musical in a seven year period to win as Best Picture along wtih “West Side Story”, “ My Fair Lady”, and “The Sound of Music”. After “Oliver!”, there were a few musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cabaret” that was successful yet musicals were mostly missing among movie offerings unitl “Grease” in 1979.

Musicals began with auteur directors which increased scrutiny of them. They held important roles in American society. “42nd Street” in 1933 increased the spirit of the New Deal. “Star Spangled Banner” rallied audiences during Wold War II.

The author observed each musical builds upon previous musicals Any part of a muscial had exise before. Audiences appreciate this “kinship” with the past.

“Don Juan” in 1926 excited audiences with its phonograph sound played over loud speakers. Al Jolson captivated audiences in “The Jazz Singer” in 1926 with sound portions combined with silent portions. Warner Brothers was unprepared for the success of “The Jazz Singer” as it had no further plans for musicals. MGM filled he void as its “The Broadway Melody” won the Oscar for Best Picture .

Ernest Lubissh ad King Vidor directed some musicals. Many were “trial and error” MGM tried shooting a night and in Technicolor.

In 1933, musicals delved into social issues, morale building, escapism, and propaganda.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” began a long line of musical cartoon movies.

Arthur Freed, a producer “perhaps unwittingly” changed movie musicals from “formulatic schlock” to stories with music.

The author explains “A good musical must forge an emphatic bond with its public: a poor or ignorant one is merely show and tell.”

A “disconnect” with musicals began by the late 1960s.

The first Broadway musical made into a movie with songs was “The Desert Sons” in 1929. It was made simplistically.

The moral Code required of movies removed musicals about divorce, sex, and drugs.

Musicals were profitable during World War II. The late 1940s saw an increase in original musicals made as movies.

The 1950s saw the return of many Broadway musicals adapted into movies. The 1960s found great successes with “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” as well as Elvis Presley movies.

“Sweet Charity”, which the author describes as “so hyperkinetic, with so many zoom lenses, tht many were annoyed” did poorly. Musicals typically did not fare well for several years afterwards.

A number of great performers were impressive in musicals. These include Janet Gaynor, Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, and Julie Andrews. Al Jolson presented confidence on the screen. Mickey Rooney had comedic versatility.

Cecil B. DeMille produced one musical, “Madam Satan” It did not do well with audiences..

“Tthe Wizard Of Oz” lost money and would take about 20 years before it made money MGM was less willing to invest in expensive musicals.

“The Singing Fool” cost MGM $388,000 to make and it earned $3.8 million domestic and $2.1 million foreign.

MGM made more costly musicals in 1944 and several years afterwards.

The author argues an excellent musical is “Singin’ in the Rain” because it “understands its roots, respects its ancestors, and by embracing its own history is enabled to soar.”

The author argues “Musicals don’t die, not even when neglected...their absence is always temporary, their heritage is everlasting.”