restricted access 7 The Legacy of the Noir Musical
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Although West Side Story enjoyed phenomenal popularity, musical comedies were generally more successful. After West Side Story, Wise produced and directed The Sound of Music (shot in Technicolor on location in Austria), which made over $72 million dollars in North American rentals in 1965, more than any film up to that time.1 Nicknamed “The Sound of Money,” its tremendous success spurred studios desperate for profits to produce epic upbeat musicals. Musicals of all types had to compete with television and foreign art cinema. At the same time, the postclassical film industry increasingly relied on international markets where musicals were not always popular. At first, film historian Mark Harris notes, “color was reserved for musicals, Westerns, scenic spectacles, and fantasy, while black and white, which was considered more realistic, was used for anything serious, adult, or controversial.” He explains that this division was often “forced on filmmakers by the fact that the inconsistencies of color-processing labs were still yielding sloppy, overbright, unrealistic hues [and] was followed by directors until 1966, when the conversion of network television to color (and the refinement of processing techniques) led studios to abandon black and white entirely within a matter of months.”2 Dark musicals, when they were produced, fused the black-and-white tradition of serious themes with the color tradition of spectacular presentation. A new generation of filmmakers (nicknamed the “Young Turks”) began an American cinema renaissance by emulating the growing popularity with baby boomers and art cinema audiences of innovative French New Wave (François Truffaut ’s 400 Blows, Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless) and Italian art cinema (Federico chapter seven The Legacy of the Noir Musical 146 m us ic i n t h e s h a d ow s Fellini’s 8½, La Dolce Vita, Antonioni’s La Notte). In the “sex, drugs, and rock-nroll ” era, classical musicals and jazz were associated with an older generation (parents) and old Hollywood. The new generation gravitated toward socially taboo content. Mike Nichols’ sexual convention-challenging black comedy The Graduate and Arthur Penn’s hip outlaws Bonnie and Clyde demonstrate that the Code was all but dead by 1967. The PCA and Production Code were discarded in 1968 and replaced by a rating system. The Code was undeniably gone by 1969 as is evident in Easy Rider, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Wild Bunch that were released that year. Corporate mergers transformed Hollywood’s film industry and production climate. The full impact of these mergers was not felt until the 1970s. Sentimental big-budget musicals declined along with the major studios as provocative art cinema targeted a growing counterculture by the late 1960s and early 1970s. POSTCLASSICAL DARK NEO-NOIR MUSICALS Hollywood’s classical studio system, film noir, and noir musicals had declined by 1959 in a changing cultural/industrial climate. But they had a big impact on the darker postclassical musicals that appeared after 1960. Film noir and (noir) musicals had benefited from the studio system’s in-house resources and wealth of contract talent. Postclassical films were distinct from the original films noir. The new darker musicals that emerged reimagined noir musicals such as Blues in the Night, The Red Shoes, and A Star Is Born, responding to the trend toward European art cinema in an experimental New Hollywood, paying homage in an ever global arena. Postclassical dark musicals include Paris Blues (1961), All Night Long (1962), I Could Go On Singing (1963, Garland’s last film), Ballad in Blue (1964), A Man Called Adam (1966), Cabaret (1972), The Harder They Come (1972), That’s the Way of the World (1975), New York, New York (1977), All That Jazz (1979), Pennies from Heaven (1978/1981), The Cotton Club (1984), The Singing Detective (1986), Round Midnight (1986), Bird (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), The Mambo Kings (1992), Kansas City (1996), The Big Lebowski (1997), Dark City (1998), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), Chico and Rita (2010), and Black Swan (2010). By 1966, New York Times critics recognized the 1940s and ’50s musical crime film as a unique phenomenon. They held up Blues in the Night as an exemplar of the form, linking it to Casablanca and Young Man with a Horn, as well as later experimental films with troubled musician antiheroes and a downbeat jazz atmosphere.3 Issues of civil rights, ethnicity, gender equality, and sexual identity that are hinted at in film noir musicals are more fully revealed...


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Subject Headings

  • Musical films -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Film noir -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Jazz in motion pictures.
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