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American Music Film

In: Film and Music

Submitted By JohnVDR4
Words 1335
Pages 6
Mid-term Paper

October 19 2012

Backstage Musical Evolution

The backstage musical has been around for quite some time. From Busby Berkeley and Fred Astaire to more modern like Arthur Freed and Judy Garland, the backstage musical genre will always have a place in Hollywood history. What makes the backstage musical different from the typical musical is that the plot usually revolved around the theater and therefore can lead to natural breaks into song and dance. For example in Easter Parade Fred Astaire says that he can get anyone to become a great dancing partner, therefore Fred and his dancing partner, Judy Garland can break out in dance and the logic would not be questioned. This specific type of musical is very important in the history of American musicals.

Like everything else in life, things change and mature and this form of musical is no exception to this. A lot of the movies in this genre started like a straight forward love story with singing and dancing but as time went on the plots for more complicated and mature. They also experimented with different idea and themes as time went on. As time went on the backstage musical changed.

While there was a lot of change, one interesting thing that doesn't really change are the people behind these movies. Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Judy Garland, Arthur Freed, and many more seem to have been the go to people for these type of movies. Understandably, they are all unbelievably talented and great at what they do. Also it seemed like MGM was the production company of most of these types of films from that time. These are some of the things that I found haven't changed during the time in which these films prospered.

This week we watched two films, A Star is Born and The Bandwagon. Both of these films are backstage musicals from the 1950's. These are great examples to show how this type of movie has evolved and matured over time. All from plot, music, and character, we can see how these films changed.

Some ways A Star is Born has matured since the creation of the backstage musical are apparent in looking at the plot, characters, and music. One example of this is in the plot. The plot talks about a man, James Mason who plays the character of Norman Maine, whose fame is fleeting meets this woman, Judy Garland who plays the character Vicki Lester/ Esther Blodgett who is just starting to get famous. They fall in love over time and it becomes very apparent that Norman develops an addiction to alcohol. He is shown drunk many times and it is ruining his life. This is the first time we see alcohol has been a plot device to move the story forward. Compared to a film like Footlight Parade or Easter Parade or even Top Hat alcohol never had such an influence on the plot of a film.

The second example of how A Star is Born has matured the backstage musical is in the characters. One thing that is unique about this is that Judy Garland is the lead in this movie. These films are usually male driven. Another example of character is the suicide of Norman. Suicide is a dark and mature subject matter to put in a film about love. It is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, if it were a musical and more modern. When you compare these characters to the characters in Oklahoma, they talk and sing about death, like the song "Poor Jud is Dead" but that song has more of a playful tone to it. The characters in this film made choices that no other backstage musical film before it would make.

The third and last example of how this movie has matured this genre of musical talks about how the music has changed. To match the dark material like alcoholism and suicide covered in this film the music matched. The music is not as upbeat as previous films like Easter Parade or even Footlight Parade. The song "The Man That Got Away", is a slowed down song that Judy Garland sings in an almost black scene. Compared to the more upbeat songs like "Stepping out with my Baby" from Easter Parade or "By The Waterfall" in Footlight Parade. The music in A Star is Born also showed how this genre has matured with time.

Some of the ways that the movie The Bandwagon has matured are also in character, plot, and music. One example is the plot of this film. The film talks about yet another man trying to get back to the fame he once had, Tony. Tony signs on to do a new play that he thinks will get him the fame he has been searching for. Then the play turns from a comedy to a much more sinister play. He now plays the Faust. This talks about the devil and once again talks about darker subject matter that hasn't really been seen in such musical films like Meet Me in St. Louis or An American in Paris. Both of those films are about love and don't really talk about religion even. The plot is much darker in this movie than in other musical films.

The second example is about the characters in The Bandwagon. We see a love triangle going on with the female in the movie, Gaby. Gaby feels weird around Tony as does Tony feels weird around Gaby. Gaby is in a committed relationship with Paul Byrd who is working as the shows choreographer. We see that the woman is put in the love triangle and not the man in this film. Usually we see that the man has to make the decision like in the movie 42nd Street. These characters help make The Bandwagon feel more mature and older than previous films.

Lastly the third example is the music in this film. The overall sense of this music in this film upbeat and swingy. While the music is that much different from the previous films, the dancing that matched the music to be interesting. A lot of foot movements in this film. The scene in the Dem Bones Cafe really stands out in this film as Cyd Charisse wears a red sparkly dress that shows quite some leg while she dances around the cafe with Fred Astaire. It sort of reminds me of the many Busby Berkeley numbers with the big sex appeal it has like in Footlight Parade.

Arthur Freed was a big influence on the backstage musical in the 1940's through the 1950's. Here are some of the things that led to "The Freed version of making a musical". First is Arthur Freed always went for the best. He wanted to best actors and actresses. This is apparent in all of his films, having the big name musical actors and actresses in each of his films. Another way he achieved greatness is that he used old music and made it new again. Like the song "Singing in the Rain". Finally he uses theater comedy about theater like in The Bandwagon. Those are some of the steps that helped Arthur Freed become the legend that he is.

Finally Freed musicals and different from the other musicals for several reasons. One reason is he wasn't afraid to try new things or let the actors try out their ideas. Arthur let Fred dance around the moving room. Another thing Arthur did was had unique stories to present. One example of this is the love triangle in the movie The Bandwagon. Now only was it a love triangle but the woman had to make the decision. Finally the biggest key to what makes the Freed musicals so much more special is that he always used the best. From Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to do it with. This is what makes a Freed musical, a Freed musical.…...

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