The musicals had their beginning on stage. Sets, costumes, lighting and of course the music score are important components that the creative team, the director particularly plays around with. Musicals were born out of vaudevilles, the stress was not so much on the narrative as on an extravagant display…
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It became a very popular genre in American cinema. Production houses making musical films sprouted and soon it was a thriving industry.
Warner Bros' The Jazz Singer in 1927 was among the first musicals that deviated from mere entertainment to a strong statement. Along with the strong appeal of music in the film, the narrative struck a chord with the Americans. This was a story of a young Jewish musician who breaks with his father and runs away to pursue his dream and emerges a roaring jazz singer. This was the time when jazz singing was not entirely free of stigma as its origins (in late nineteenth century) were believed to have been the brothels of New Orleans that provided music dancing as well as sex (A Passion for Jazz Musical History and Education
The American movie-goers lapped it up. In a way it also helped jazz singing come out of the shadows it was under. This reflected an eagerness in the public mind to through off the shackles of genteel society and explore new frontiers of morality.
Warner Bros' success spurned it on as one of the leading production houses of America. There was good deal of money involved and it soon incorporated a rigid structure in its functioning churning out films that grossed more than anything before. It had on its rolls a regular list of directors who were dedicated to the studio and picked up directing positions by turns. In order to curtail budget of the dazzling lights and costumes that were the hallmarks of musicals, there was a special technique adopted at this studio, low flat lighting concealed the not so flashy costumes. Busby Berkeley was one of these directors. There were three films that were released in quick succession in 1933 by Warner Bros, all three choreographed by this man, 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade. These musicals are considered to be milestones both in American cinema as well as in the musical scenario per se. So what was behind their spectacular success This period is considered as one of the darkest in American History, the Great Depression. With large scale unemployment reigning across the country, the mood was indeed sombre. The American people had started questioning the virtues of hard-core capitalism on the political front as well as the prevailing codes of morality.
The public yearned for strong leadership, someone who show them the way out of the economic mess. The release of the three Berkeley films coincided with the coming of Roosevelt as the new American President. He brought in the New Deal encompassing a range of economic reforms. He was a champion of liberalism and also a hero to the diverse ethnic communities like the Afro-Americans, Jews etc. To the common man he sold the virtues of honesty, hard work, and justice. Although musicals were being written off as 'escapist' entertainment by critics, there were certain elements that were born out of the prevailing spirit of that time, virtues that fed the public disposition. "Mark Roth puts forward a similar theory; he notes
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