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the decline of the musical

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On another forum the subject of the decline of the musical came up. Someone suggested that one of the main reasons musicals more or less died out was the modern obsession with realism in films. Modern audiences just can't accept the non-realism of most musicals. Do you think this is true? If it isn't, then what caused the decline of the musical?

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Sometimes I think it's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. That is to say, because they know there is virtually no place for them in Hollywood (except on the occasional television award show gig), singing/dancing talent sticks to Broadway and local theatre, and the only people usually appearing in musicals are not primarily musical talents, though they may do a very serviceable job (enjoyed Chicago very much).


Many people feel that rock 'n' roll was the biggest reason for the decline; that it does not fit with the format of musicals as smoothly as popular music. I don't know if I buy that--if A Hard Day's Night and music videos will work, maybe it is just a matter of getting people used to seeing rock or other contemporary music acts interwoven with storylines again.


A few filmmakers have tried to put together musicals in the traditional style (e.g., Everyone Says I Love You), but few have worked well. Hard to tell if such a thing is just inherently old-fashioned to people or if there was just something else missing...

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It was probably a combination of many factors. The original musicals were inspired by entertainment that was already popular at the time, on-stage and on the radio. It helped a lot that there was no television.


Look at all the things that happened since:


1. Generational changes in popular entertainment -- i.e., rock n' roll. The music that became popular wasn't the music that studio executives were used to. After The Sound of Music, it became more difficult to find musical properties with a wide appeal, with perhaps the exception of the late 70's films Grease and Saturday Night Live.


2. Newer generations might find the old-fashioned musical corny, or maybe they just felt anything their parents liked couldn't be "cool". Thus we see the popularity of the "soundtrack" movie, i.e., American Graffitti. But even then, it's a hard formula to crank out regularly, perhaps due to studio executives being out of touch with younger people's musical preferrences.


3. Younger people turning more to TV and radio for their entertainment, and, perhaps due to all the "serious" filmmaking of the 70's, only turning out to the movies for spectacular blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars.


4. MTV and music videos.

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I saw one of those "most romantic movies" lists the other day and it got me thinking about the realism issue, since not even one of the classic musicals was mentioned, while recent romantic comedies were represented with a number of titles (pretty woman, when harry met sally, groundhog day etc.) Don't get me wrong I love these movies, but come on! Which contemporary movie can beat Fred singing "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to Ginger or Judy Garland turning the lights off with Tom Drake in Meet Me In St. Louis or Gene Kelly dancing and singing in the rain after Debbie Reynolds' kiss... (I will stop here but the list goes on and on)

New movies are considered to be better because they have more elaborate and more realistic scripts. Ironically, romantism is supposed to be unrealistic.

So, in conclusion, yes I believe the obsession with realism hurt musicals.


But people were happy with carbon copy scripts until 50s. What changed after that? (almost all fred-ginger movies were box office hits and they all go around the same thing. also parts from one musical would reappear in the next musical (e.g. turning off lights scene from meet me in st louis has a sister in "In The Good Old Summertime"))


I think it is TV. Until then movies used to provide the "escape". With depressions and wars and everything people just wanted to watch things that are simply fun and entertaining. When TV came along, it started to provide the escape and cinema became a higher art form (like theater). People started to expect more from it and simple scripts didn't cut it anymore.

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Since MGM was the major maker of musicals, I think when they closed down their musical sound stages as the first step in ending the contract player/golden age syndrome, other studios also closed down on musicals, leaving us with a gap until the intermittant few like Flower Drum Song, West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Sound of Music came along. The last two, as well as Hello Dolly and Funny Face screamed to be made because of the stars, they really screwed up with Camelot by not going with Julie and Goulet. But when a musical DOES come along, it is invariably a big hit, so people are not really ready to forget them, they just aren't made.


Take WSS, Grease, Chicago, and Moulin Rouge - all enormous hits, three of which are still making appearances on stage on broadway and stock companies. Revivals of Oklahoma, and Annie Get Your Gun, play to full houses. New Yorkers are lucky to have so many theaters to go to. Even Chicago only has three or four places to go for live entertainment, I really miss the little dinner/playhouses that were popular about 35 years ago, they were marvelous.


People always want escapism, and comedy doesn't always work like a musical can. Leaving the motion picture theater humming the last song keeps you light for hours afterward, just like the glow you feel when total strangers wish you a Merry Christmas.


Hollywood should wake up and realize with Iraq, Mush, (oooopps), global warming and everything else that is screwed up, musicals might help them to make some more almighty money.



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