The first genuine musical, fully integrating singing and dancing was The Broadway Melody, MGM Studio’s first full-length musical in 1929. Not only was it the first musical film, it was also the first film with sound and first of both to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Movie musicals hit their peak popularity in the 1940s, when a war-weary populace flocked to the theatres for a fun and glamorous diversion. By the ‘40s, a new generation of talent, both in front and behind the camera, crafted complex characters and stories that increasingly used song, dance and music as an integral part of the narrative, rather than a mere diversion.
During that era, Fred Astaire, a dancer choreographer, became identified as the master of dance in films. He and Ginger Rogers performed the best dance duets, which captured the public’s imagination. Their films were dance films with a plot: Top Hat and Swing Time are their most recognized.
The ballroom team as a genre fell out of favor in the late ‘40s when Gene Kelly emerged as a soloist, attached to no specific partner. Gene Kelly was an American film actor and director whose athletic style and classical ballet technique transformed the film musical. He boldly blended solo dancing, mass movement and offbeat camera angles to tell a story in purely visual terms. Kelly is remembered for his lead role in Singin’ in the Rain, regarded by some as the best dance film ever made.
As the years passed we have seen Flash Dance, Footloose, Strictly Ballroom and Dirty Dancing define dance movies. For 2016 it’s La La Land.
Definition according to Merriam-Webster:
La-la Land: Los Angeles or Hollywood in regard to lifestyle and attitudes of those living there, a fanciful state or dreamland.
LA LA LAND
Directed by Damien Chazelle | Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone | PG-13
The story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important: a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight.
We’ve had some musicals since the era of Rogers, Astaire and Kelly, but few that have tried to recapture that sense of fluid, magical thinking in which characters communicate with their bodies as much, maybe even more, than they do with their voices. One of many remarkable things about La La Land is how much energy and time it devotes to movement and music, not just lyrics. The modern movie musicals, so often based on Broadway shows, have focused heavily on songs that further the plot. In Chazelle’s vision, choreography matters and a simple piano refrain can have more power than a lyric. This is a beautiful film about love and dreams, and how the two impact each other. Los Angeles is filled with dreamers, and sometimes, it takes a partner to make your dreams come true.
References: www.nytimes.com | www.tamswitmark.com | www.dancefilms.org | www.filmsite.org