Academic journal article Film & History

American Film: Musical Themes and Forms

Academic journal article Film & History

American Film: Musical Themes and Forms

Article excerpt

Michael Dunne. American Film: Musical Themes and Forms. McFarland, 2004. 223 pages; $45.00.

Unique Interpretation

In a different treatment of Hollywood films Michael Dunne presents an examination of themes that form the basis of musical narratives. Dunne's essay is not an historical grouping; instead he weaves different eras together in each chapter to illustrate his points. The book shows over time that Hollywood producers employed a variety of themes and forms as the focus of their productions. Dunne thoroughly positions his work into the body of research that has been done about musical films. For scholars of motion pictures this work provides a unique interpretation of how musicals function and how musical films can be interpreted by viewers.

Each chapter represents a different theme that illustrates aspects of how the genre functions. Dunne examines realism and escapism, representations of character and place, and how the technical aspects of the narrative are informed by both song and dance. Besides the photodramas that Dunne chooses to illustrate, he discusses each film's place within the hierarchy of similar titles.

In the first chapter, Dunne has a thorough discussion about how musicals subsume reality into the narrative and work as escapist entertainment. Throughout the book Dunne points out that aspects of reality inform the narrative in a peripheral way but the actions of song and dance are what propel the story to a satisfying conclusion.

A discussion of characterization is the basis for two chapters. Dunne examines the tradition of blackface minstrelsy and the contributions of actors such as Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds to the art form. The discussion traces the roots of the art form and the traditions that inform it. A discussion of American youth shows how characters created for musicals showcase the optimistic side of life; nothing is wrong that a little song and dance cannot fix. Even negative aspects of youth culture are negated within the narrative by the sunny characters. Dunne extends this idea of positive characterizations in the different chapters. He shows how as a narrative convention characters should live happily ever after to have a satisfactory resolution to the story.

Dance is another form that musical narrative takes and Dunne discusses how dance works through plot action, character, and thought. …

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