We're all familiar with these celluloid images: Gene Kelly dancing and splashing around in the rain because he's so happy that he's in love; Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers gliding across a ballroom floor; Judy Garland singing through a jaunty trolley ride; Tevye the Russian Jewish milkman stomping around his barn wishing that he were a wealthy man.
All of these images conjure for us the joy of movie musicals--a genre whose evolution I'll explore in my upcoming film lecture series Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! every Wednesday at 1 pm in the Barrington Public Library's auditorium, from September 26 through October 31.
Movie musicals, though obviously preceded by and derived from stage musicals, are very different from their theatrical forebears. On the stage, song and dance are an accepted means of expression. What about song and dance in the movies? Film is a more natural, more realistic medium--worlds removed from the artifice and high degree of stylization that we automatically accept when we experience live performance.
But once the technology of talking pictures came about, moviemakers attempted to wed the artifice of the one medium with the naturalism of the other. It was a growth process marked by fumbling, baby steps. Early movie musicals were little more than revue-style productions that featured singers and dancers performing "face out," as if they were on a proscenium stage, in a Broadway theater. Many early movie musicals, in fact, revolved around a "let's put on a show" storyline, as if the only way that film audiences would readily accept the idea of people breaking into song and dance was if these "numbers" took place on a stage within the movie.
Movie musicals really started coming into their own when song and dance were used in a cinematic way, with a camera that incorporated their rhythm and movement to advance the story, or to reveal characters' feelings.
In the film that opens my series, Love Me Tonight (1932), the Rodgers & Hart song, "Isn't It Romantic," is introduced by a tailor (Maurice Chevalier) in the city of Paris, and is then taken up by other characters, as the tune is carried through various means of transporation, to the countryside, where we find it being sung by a lovely princess (Jeannette MacDonald). Here, we see music used as a means of linking two disparate characters--the lowly city tailor and the high-born princess in her country chateau.
I invite you to join me on Wednesday, September 26 at 1 pm to learn more about the genre of movie musicals and the ways that Love Me Tonight contributed to that evolution. And, of course, to enjoy the movie together.
Nothing can top what happens when a group of people gather in the dark to watch a story unfold up on the screen. It's pure magic.