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P. 1
007 - Ch7 - The Musical

007 - Ch7 - The Musical

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Published by Joseph Eulo

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Published by: Joseph Eulo on Sep 01, 2009
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03/19/2013

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The Musical 
Setting the Stage
In
Singin' in t he Rain
(1952),whensilentilmstarDon Lockwood (GeneKelly) triestotellKathy Selden(DebbieReynolds) how hefeels about her,he isat a loss for words. Confessingthat he is sucha "ham"and needs "the proper setting," hetaesher from abright, sunlitexterior into a dark interior-a deserted motion picturestage. With the licoalight switch, he paints "a beautiul sunset." Turning onafogmachine,he adds "mist from the distant mountains."Withabank of red lights,heconjuresup"colored lights in the garden." PositioninghisJuliet onastep ladder,hetellsKathy sheis "standing onherbalcony." Using asinglefloorlamp, he floodsher with moonlight,then
~~ ~]~~ ~ ~H~~~~~~~
I
"[~~i)~,
~n
m d
mac~~"a
softsummerbreeze"-and hehastheproper settingtospeak (orrather sing)to her.Thenumber is"YouWereMeantforMe."
 
What Lockwood does here iswhat most musicals attempt inorder tomakea smooth transition from narrative action to musical number:they transform thesetting or space from one that grounds the action from the more or less realistic world of the story (itsfictional reality) into a different register.In thisnew world, new laws take hold; the characters are momentarily freed from thefictionalreality ofthenarrative and surrender themselves tothefantasyosong and dance.In other words, theconventions ofclassicrealist narration, inwhich characters do not normally break into song and dance, suddenly yield to theconventions ofthe musical number, inwhich they do. Theheart ofthe musical (what makes it amusical and not another ind of film) lies in its music and the characters who sing and dance to it.Characters in nonmusicals often sing, but their singing tends to be narratively motivated(and not very good). Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are connected as a couple in
 Mr .Blandings Build sHis Dr eam House
(1948)when theyboth sing"Home on theRange" inthe shower.It's not unusual tosingintheshower: everyone does it.It isperfectly natural foraliberal politician such asJayBulworth (Warren Beatty)to try his hand at rapping in
Bulworth
(1998);it shows that he wants tobe hip.And itis okay for
Legal Eagles
(1986)attorney Tom Logan (Robert Redford)to tap dance in an attempt to cure his insomnia.These are all believableidio- syncratic practices; that is,they function asan extension ofcharacter.
Narrative Reality
Theterm" classicrealistnarration" should notbeunderstood asmeaning simplerealism. Itrefers toanarrative world that isconsistent and coherent; that worldobeys a stated or unstated set ofrules that give it credibility.That world may contain unrealistic elements,such as aliens
(M en in Black,
1997)or portalsintothe brain of John Malkovich
(Being John Malkovich ,
1999),but as long as thecharacters in these filmsobeythelaws ofthoseworlds, audiences will summonthenecessary willing suspension ofdisbelief togrant those characters and theirworld acertain verisimilitude; ineffect,these filmsproduce their own reality-areality that is whatever those filmswant that reality tobe-and, by adheringtothat reality's laws, make it credible.
Musical Reality
Musicals,however, differ from classic realist narrations in that they have (at least)two setsofbooks. Theyoperate according totwodifferent laws-and they alternate back and forth between them. AsMartin Rubin has written, musicalsrupture the fabric of traditional narrative verisimilitude by suddenly shiftingfrom narrative to musical spectacle-to song and dance-that the narrative fiction is unable to naturalize. This is precisely what makes a musical such as
Singin' in the Rain, Moulin Rouge
(2001),
Chicago
(2002),or
Dreamgirls (2006)
different fromafilmwith music, such as
 In the Line of Fir e
(1993,Clint Eastwood playing the piano) or 8
Mile
(2002,Eminem playing an aspiring rapper). In
 
In
Singinin the Rain
DonLockwood (Gene Kelly)needs theproper setting-a studio soundstage-before he can tell KathySeldon (Debbie Reynolds) that"You Were Meant forMe."
amusical,there's a shift f romone level of realityto another that involves a ruptureor break ;in a filmwith music,the music is part of the narrative,a windowthat opens iI).tothepsychologyofthe character. In themusical,this shift iswhat produces the lift or experience of ecstatic pleasure thatwe associatewith most musical numbers;this lift involvesa movement out of andawayfrom the laws thatgovern the mundane world of thefiction.Musicalsequencesinterrupt the linear flow of necessity-the narrative-and release the actorsfrom their dutiesand responsibilitiesas
[~.~n [~~ ~~[~
[HI t~~~~
I
!~
n
II ~
II
to
displaytheir exceptional talentsas singers and dancers.Wesuddenlyshift to aworld ofpure spectacle:inthisfantasyworld, Fred Astaire,Gene Kelly,and

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