A musical film is not just a film with music accompanying the story, is a film where dialogues and story are intertwined with music and in many occasions dancing.
There is a very theatrical feel about these movies, sometimes resembling operas and old plays but there was a big boom in Hollywood which started around the 1930s and 1950s which saw the birth of many classics and the genre as we know it.
The Jazz Singer
It’s interesting that this genre was responsible of making the leap from silent movies to the audiovisual greatness that it is today. “The Jazz Singer” a musical from the 1920s was the first to feature synchronized recorded music score and lip-synchronous singing and speech in isolated sequences.
While there were some films with sound before The Jazz Singer, it was this film that really mastered the art of sound for the first time, and it was a purely musical film.
The Sound of Music
After the golden age of musical films, there was somewhat of a silver age, where films started to have a certain level of complexity, but musicals were still a success. Most musicals in the 60s such as the Sound of Music were adaptations from original stage musicals.
In this case, The Sound of Music was a drama that occurred during the events of world war two and managed to be one of the best written American written musicals, being based on a true story and providing an incredible soundtrack to really make it shine.
The 70s was not the age of musicals anymore, cinema in general was starting to take a more realistic turn, films were taking an approach that most of the times didn’t welcome singing dancing people. However there were some amazing exceptions like Grease.
Footlose from the 80s was mainly about dancing, and the soundtrack really makes that happen. The movie is based on the story of Hennepin, a small town in Oklahoma where dancing was prohibited for a while.
It’s interesting to know that some scenes of the movie that were originally going to be fight scenes, ended up being dance scenes, which made the movie more musical and had a lighter tone.
Musicals were hits and in a way they were coming back to their old glory days.
In the 90s Disney animated movies had already gained a lot of popularity and had experience with animated musicals and Aladdin was proof that after decades, Disney always found a way to make things better. Of course the main man, “The Genie” played by Robin Williams, had a lot to do with that success with amazing scenes.
As times changed, musicals changed, this opened the possibility to make different approaches to the way musicals tell their stories and break the usual content, which is the case with Eminem’s 8 Mile. This is a movie that some may not even consider to be a musical, but it is in many ways a musical drama.
The strange thing about 8 Mile is obviously that Hip Hop is the main genre of this musical, and that is a big departure from the usual jazz, ballads or light hearted dancing songs.
La La Land
In 2016 La La Land came out, and it was a huge success due to its incredible repertoire of music and outstanding performances, however there are some interesting aspects of this movie that really stand out. First of all the movie is set in a fictional Los Angeles which sometimes seems like it’s set in the 50s and other times in modern day, as if it were timeless. This serves an interesting purpose which is to bring back what made musicals so great in Hollywood with Jazz and ballads and a story that revolves around a young actress and a musician both pursuing their dreams and falling in love.
Today musical films are not as big as they once were, but there is no doubt that there is still room for more than just admiring the past.