- From Stage to Screen: Musical Films in Europe and United States (1927–1961) by Massimiliano Sala
From Stage to Screen: Musical Films in Europe and United States (1927–1961)
Turnhout (Belgium): Brepols, 2012: 338pp.
Massimiliano Sala begins his preface to From Stage to Screen: Musical Film in Europe and United States (1927–1961) with the acknowledgment that ‘Terminologically, “the musical” is somewhat ambiguous’ (p.ix). He is not the first scholar – nor will he be the last – to note that this particular genre seems to resist a tidy, critical definition. Those who study the musical in both its theatrical and cinematic forms are often at odds over where to draw the boundaries between a ‘film musical’ or a ‘film with songs’, between a ‘musical play’ or a ‘play with songs’. Moreover, when we attempt to take into account various sub-genres – operettas, revues, backstagers, etc.– the waters become muddier still. Recognising this discursive dilemma, Sala’s anthology opts to ‘track a heterogenous path through the world of the musical’ (p.x). Using a range of analytical approaches, the collection offers histories of individual films and plays, examinations of the musical’s various influences, and interrogations of the genre’s very parameters. From Stage to Screen is thus a deliberately eclectic volume, assembling a wide-reaching assortment of scholarship on the film musical in order to broaden our understanding of how the genre has been shaped by its journeys between media and across national boundaries.
From Stage to Screen brings together twenty papers originally presented at a conference held in Monte San Savino, Arezzo, Italy, in September 2010. The conference was organised by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini under the auspices of the Culture Department of the Municipality of Monte San Savino. Thus this anthology – as also evidenced by its title – has a decidedly international slant, and it should be noted that full engagement with all of the essays requires a multilingual reader. From Stage to Screen contains full articles in Italian and Spanish, and others with untranslated passages of French and German. (This review was written using partial translations of the Italian and Spanish articles.) The volume’s international focus, though, proves to be one of its key strengths, as it facilitates discussions of musicals from a variety of national cinemas – Austria, France, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Yugoslavia – many of which are under-represented in the extant literature on the genre. Following in the steps of other anthologies that have attempted to [End Page 97] expand our knowledge of the musical beyond Hollywood and Broadway, such as Musicals: Hollywood and Beyond (ed. Marshall & Stilwell, 2000) or The Sound of Musicals (ed. Cohan, 2010), From Stage to Screen demonstrates that there is still much to learn about the genre outside of its dominant American context.
As Sala explains in his preface, the anthology’s contributions ‘coalesce around two central objectives’, the first of which is to ‘[chronicle] the life of the American musical in its progression from its theatrical format to cinema’ (p.x). Some articles present this progression rather straightforwardly, tracing a single musical’s movement between the two media. For example, Lauren Acton’s ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Musical: Show Boat in Films and Revivals’ charts the differences between the many theatrical and cinematic versions of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical, particularly with regard to depictions of race. Similarly, Leanne Wood’s ‘Technology, Authenticity, and the Pastoral Ideal: Viewing Oklahoma! Through the Lens of Todd-AO’ analyses the perceived conflict between realism and pastoralism that arose when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway musical was brought to the big screen in 1955. Other articles, however, choose to compare multiple musicals in order to identify larger trends or influences. Matilde Olarte’s ‘El protagonismo femenino-masculino en los musicales de Fred Astaire y Gene Kelly: vigencia y actualidad’ (‘The Male-Female Role in the Musicals of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly: Validity and Timeliness’), for instance, quantifies and analyses the participation of female characters in five Broadway adaptations starring either Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly: The Gay Divorcee (1934), Du...