Musicals are the forms of cinematic films that highlight and display full-scale dance and song routines in a certain way. In these films, dancing or musical performance is usually a part of the narrative or acts as an unrealistic eruption to stir interest. In other cases, the term ‘musical’ refers to the films whose nature is centered around the combination of dance, music or performance. These films highlight the dancing or song stars, together with lyrics that sustain the line of the film story. They also offer alternatives for escaping visions of reality (search for popularity, love or success). Because of this, people consider the musical film genre to be a most escapist film. This genre emerged with the introduction of talking motion pictures. Its roots are cabaret, stage musicals and operettas, musical comedies, vaudeville, revues and music halls. This essay looks into the background, production and convention of three musical films: Mamma Mia, Guys and Dolls, and Moulin Rouge. It also provides a brief synopsis of the films, the time of production and their casts. Lastly, the paper looks at the history and conventions of musical films as at the general concept. This section provides the history of musical films, their theorists and criticism. It also considers the thematic plots and elements of musical films.
This film is based on the songs of the ABBA, a 1972-1982 pop/dance group from Sweden. Mamma Mia opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End in 1999, before being shifted to the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2004. The film was written by Catherine Johnson, a British play writer, and composed by two former members of the ABBA; Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson. The song’s title originated from the ABBA’s song Mamma Mia but its plot is fictional. Therefore, the film has its roots in the song Mamma Mia. The song’s title, Mamma Mia, is an Italian interjection for My Mother. It tells about a woman who constantly gets disappointed by her unfaithful partner, but she lets him back into her life. Though the film is fictional, the story is based on this theme. The film includes several hit songs such as “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trouper”, “Money, Money, Money”, and “Voulez Vous”. Phyllida Llyod directed the film, while Anthony Van Laast choreographed it. Its original cast included Lisa Stoke, Siobhan McCarthy and Hilton McRae. The film was opened at the RoyalAlexandraTheatre in Toronto in May of 2000. The film made its debut in the California’s Orpheus Theatre, from November 2000 to February 2001. The film has been performed in different languages including Japanese, English, Norwegian, German, Flemish, Korean, Dutch, Italian, French, and Danish. Additionally, the film has permanent productions in several countries such as Tokyo, London, New York, Rome, Las Vegas, Moscow, Mexico, Berlin, and Barcelona.
The film is a romantic comedy based on the story of a young woman, twenty year old Sophie and her mother Donna. Sophie, who needs to have her real father walk her down the isle at her weeding, takes on the task of searching for him. She goes through her mother’s diary and discovers entries referring to intimate dates with three different men. Believing that one of the men must be her father, she sends invitations to the wedding to each of them. The story surrounds Sophie’s life, and her three friends, who were originally a girl dance group called Donna and the Dynamos. The colorful Greek island emphasizes the ABBA’s background over the group’s rich wealth of songs.
Sophie, a twenty year old bride-to-be finds her mother’s diary while looking for her real father. She suspects that one of these three men her mother mentions in the diary is her father, so she invites all three of them disguising herself as Donna, without informing her mother. Her mother Donna was once a lead singer in a song and dance group, Donna and the Dynamos. When Donna sees all the three men at her daughter’s wedding, she becomes depressed. Donna owns and runs a hotel, the Villa Donna, where the wedding was to take place. Three men that Sophie invites to the wedding are Bill Anderson, Sam Carmichael and Harry Bright, and they all think Donna invited them. With the help of her friends Ali and Lisa, Sophie tries to figure out who among the three men is her father. On the other hand, Donna with her friends Tanya Wilkinson and Rosie Mulligan also tries to figure what these three men are doing at the wedding, and how to get rid of them. Meanwhile, these men neither know each other and nor they know the reason for the invitation. Each of them quickly assumes that he must be Sophie’s father. Complications follow from misunderstanding, which almost ruins Sophie’s relationship and wedding to Sky. It is also surprising that Donna has no idea who Sophie’s real father is.
Baz Luhrmann produced and co-wrote this romantic musical film, which is based on the La Boheme, Orphean myth and La Traviata. The film gives the story of a youthful boy, Christian, a poet from Britain who falls in love with a cabaret actress and Mouline Rouge star, Satine. The film makes use of Paris Montmartre Quarter settings. The producer of Mouline Rouge says that his inspiration for this film came from his trip to India to work on Midsummer Night’s Dream. In India, the producer had an opportunity to watch a Bollywood movie with high tragedy and comedy. In addition to this, film had a play within it based on an olden Sanskrit play. The producer also says that he drew Moulin Rouge’s story from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the Greek tragedy. The filmmakers chose to replicate Orpheus, a musical genius, by using late 20th century songs, many years after its 1899 setting. Moulin Rouge’s production began in 1999, through to 2000, consuming a $ 52.2 million budget, and involved some of the best actors and actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor and Caroline O’Connor. In the film’s DVD special edition, the producer comments that the entire stylistic premise was to decode the original 1899 Moulin Rouge, yet express similar thrill and excitement that current film goers can relate to. To do this, it was necessary to include popular music, especially from the MTV generation, and integrate them into a tale set of Paris cabaret. The film’s editing also features critics that are comparable to a music video that involves moving camera motion, dancing, frenetic cutting, and loud music. The songs used in this film include “Lady Marmalade”, “Your Song”, “Like a Virgin” and “Nature Boy”. During the FrenchMusic Hall heyday, before the intervention of film, television and radio subverted live shows; Moline Rouge was the most famous windmill landmark. The film first opened in 1889 and immediately became famous due to its orchestrating dancers, singers, flamboyant costumes, and elaborate sets. The film was also identified with the Can-Can, a provocative dance that was indelibly embedded in the common film’s consciousness. Baz Luhrmann re-imagines circa 1899, a famous Parisian nightspot, as a larger than life decadence house, where rich and powerful men came to play with young beautiful ladies. Just Luhrmann’s preceding effort with Romeo and Juliet; Moulin Rouge’s setting is in an optional universe with historical trappings. The story coexists peacefully with archaic insertions of the present popular culture. The producer set this film into a playful tone, memorable music, gaudy visuals, and a firm chemistry between the leading romantic characters.
The story circles two stars who become lovers (Satine and Christian), Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor respectively. Ewan goes to Paris to write about beauty, freedom, and love. He meets bohemian artists who are attempting to write a musical, “Spectacular Spectacular”. The group’s leader, Toulouse-Lautrec, organizes a meeting between Satine and Christian, after seeing the potential in Christian. Meanwhile, Moulin Rouge’s owner and Satine are attempting to woo Worcester’s Duke into investing in Moulin Rouge. The agreement is that the deal would be sealed once Satin becomes intimate with the Duke, as he would change Moulin Rouge into a real theatre and reinstate Satine a real actress. There are numerous comedic instances when Satin confuses Christian for the Duke and gets swayed by Christian’s eloquent words. Satine becomes confused when circumstances forcing her to choose between the poor writer whom she loves and the rich duke who would finance and make her a star, as well as assure Mouli Rouge’s future. Christian writes a musical about a love triangle, with Satine as the star. The life between Christian, the Duke and Satine unfolds with the lavishing of Christian’s scripts. Satine and Christian later realize that there is always a heavy price to pay in the pursuit of love.
The film has a strong emotional undercurrent that gradually reveals the central romance in it. This emotional undercurrent is devastating yet touching. The chemistry between these people is unsurpassed as Christian portrays innocent yet earnest romance while Satine sizzles positively as a showgirl.
Guys and Dolls
This film has its roots in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, with Frank Loesser’s lyrics. The film is based on two short stories; “Blood Pressure” and The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown. In addition to this, it highlights plot elements and characters from other stories, especially “Pick the winner”. In 1950, the original Guys and Dolls production won a best musical award after running one thousand two hundred performances. Abe Burrows replaced Jo Swerling and wrote most of the film, including the songs like Marry theMman Today, My Time of Day, I’ve Never Been in Love before and ABbushel and a Peck.
In the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls, Isabel Bigley played Sarah Brown and later wrote an article expressing the accomplishments and frustrations that were present throughout the film’s creation. One of her claims was that Frank Loesser, the film’s composer and lyricist, physically assaulted her. Isabel argued that the lyricist did this because she failed to sing his songs the way Frank believed she should sing them. To affirm this claim, Susan Loesser’s daughter narrated in her biography that during a tantrum in the Broadway, her father slapped Isabel for not singing the songs his way. This attack disappeared in a flash. In the second act, Loesser threatened to reprise the songs in the film, at which George S. Kaufman warned that if Loesser reprised the songs, they would reprise the jokes. In a retrospective during the 50th anniversary of inventive Broadway production, Vivian Blaine recalls the creation of “Miss Adelaide” to replace her after Loesser argued that she was not fit for acting Sarah.
Directed by Kauffman S. George, the film premiered on Broadway on November 1950 at the 46th Street Theatre. The film included musical numbers and dances by Michael Kidd, orchestration by Ted Royal and Bassman George, while Alvin Colt provided costumes. The lead stars included Vivian Blaine, Robert Alda, Isabel Bigley, and Sam Levene. It won five Toney Awards in 1951. In addition to this, the original casts were each offered a recording by Decca Records. In May 1953 at the London Coliseum, there was an opening of the West End premier, which ran for five hundred and fifty five performances. In the premier, the casts included Lizbeth Webb, Vivian Blaine, Jerry Wayne and Sam Levene. Loesser chose Lizbeth Webb, an only British principal, to play Sarah Brown.
The film’s characters include the Save a Soul Mission sergeant, while Sarah Brown tries to bring a difference to the sinning world by spreading the Word, when Adelaide, a showgirl desperately tries to abandon the glamorous lifestyle. Nathan struggles to find a new location for his dice game while Sky Masterson, a gambler, can bet on anything he considers profitable.
Nathan Detroit needs $1000 dollars to host a game at Biltomre Garage, so he bets with Sky Masterson on wooing Sarah to go with him to Havana. Though Sky realizes that Nathan has conned him, he goes ahead with the bet, convincing Sarah that he is a changed sinner, and that he would help her deliver more sinners into her Mission if she had a dinner with him. Reluctantly, Sarah accepts the invitation though unaware that they would be going to Cuba for the dinner. Adelaide still has hopes on her engagement with Nathan, hoping that he would give up his current lifestyle and make their fourteen year engagement official. Surprisingly, Nathan has no thoughts of changing his lifestyle so he organizes the dice game at the Save a Soul, and deceives policemen that the gathering at the Save a Soul was to witness his engagement to Adelaide. In Cuba, Sky starts admiring Sarah but refrains from showing his emotions. On their return from Havana, Sarah flees from Sky, after the Save a Soul is raided because of Nathan’s gambling game, which Sarah interpreted as an attempt to remove her from the Mission.
In the second Act, Nathan realizes that he cannot organize anymore dice games so he lets Adelaide run one more game from him, with a promise that he would stop gambling. Arvine, Sarah’s uncle also realizes that Sarah is in love with Sky but fails to accept him. He remains adamant that Sky meets his promise on delivering sinners to the Save a Soul. During the game, Nathan suggests that he would pay back Sky on their bet but Sky denies taking Sarah to Havana. Sky makes the players promise to attend prayers at the Mission if he wins crapshooters souls. Adelaide makes Nathan promise that they would elope if she forgives him for not ending his crap game. In retrospect, Nathan has a big surprise for Adelaide. He argues that he cannot make that promise because he had a prayer meeting. During the evening prayer at the Mission, each gambler confesses their sins, saving the Mission from closure.
Just like the other two films, Guys and Dolls is a romantic comedy that uses songs and dances to stir up interest in audiences.
The musical film genre has gone through tremendous evolution since its inception in the late 1890s. Oversights into the previous genre theory tended to focus on the genre’s history in a compartmentalized manner. Traditional genre theorists looked at how each musical genre was separated from each other. Because of this, contemporary theorists assumed that traditional genres were like no other. This single minded approach to understanding the background of a musical film pays no attention to the reflection on cross-pollination that happens across musical genres. There are certain signs, plots and themes that people use to define this genre of movies. The signs include towns, guns, landscapes and horses while plots and themes include people’s notions of stories. The former group of definitions that includes signs is referred to as thematic elements, while plots and themes refer to syntactic. In order to understand the generic evolution, a theory must provide a clear distinction between syntactic and thematic elements. There are hybrid musical genres such Guys and Dolls that need recognition. To suggest that hybridization of genre convention and forms is insignificant is unknowledgeable. A look at the directors of the films Guys and dolls, Mamma Mia, and Moulin Rouge, one realizes that each of them has worked in multiple genres, and they all borrowed their motivations from other genres. Therefore, it is incorrect to argue that a plot and thematic plots do not go across the genres. Even highly gifted directors would usually succumb to generic forms, allowing hybridization in their films. Genres begin with semantic element sets before achieving true generic status; hence there are always semantic similarities in genres. In three films that this paper discusses, it is clear that there are similarities in the semantic elements. All three films are based on ancient stories that provide their plots and themes, and all utilize modern cultures to highlight these ancient stories. In addition to these, the genre conventions have not changed between the three films. This may be attributed to the similar themes in all three films or similar semantic elements. However, the different settings also have an impact on the light differences between the films. Moulin Rouge reflects a story made in 1899 and replayed in the 2002, while Mamma Mia has no ancient history. Despite this, the conventions remain the same in both films.
Musical films have a dancing or musical performance as part of the narrative or acts. Musicals may also refer to films whose nature is centered on a combination of dance, music or choreography performance. These films highlight the dancing or song stars, together with lyrics that sustain the line of the film story. These three films are all comedy films with romantic elements. It is important to note that the directors in all three films have borrowed their ideas form past productions and across genres. They all incorporated orchestral songs and dances. In the attempt to correct the previous oversight in the musical film theories, the paper has briefly discussed the intra- and intergeneric processes as portrayed in the book The American Film Musical by Rick Altman. Specifically, this section looks into the history and evolution of this genre. The argument is that traditional theories of the genre have stripped the musical films of their definitions and contemporary content. There are certain signs, plots and themes that people use to define this genre of movies. The signs include towns, guns, landscapes and horses while plots and themes include people’s notions of stories. The former group of definitions that includes signs is referred to as thematic elements while plots and themes refer to syntactic. In order to understand the generic evolution, a theory should provide a clear distinction between the syntactic and thematic elements. These three films follow similar syntactic elements though their thematic elements may differ. A look at these three films notifies critique of the similarities.