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Musical Films In The 20th Century

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1678 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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In this paper I address the development and cultural influence of musical films in the 20th century. My primary motive is to understand how musical films gained such popularity and how they were used for social and economic purposes and resolve problems of religion, race and etc of this period. My concern are the ways in which how musical films became the most characteristic creation of the Hollywood film industry. I will take into consideration of the THE SOUND OF MUSIC which was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, an influential and innovative American theatre writing team and directed by Robert Wise, the Academy Award winning Director. My central discussion will be around this film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, but before this I would like to briefly put some light on how music is essential for a film in general.

Music has been a part of film almost since the beginning of motion pictures. Music originally had a practical use to keep the audience from talking and dull the sound of the noisy projector

(Buchanan, 1974).

At the crudest level, one might say that the music is there simply to keep the audience from becoming distracted (Williams, 1974)

When silent film were first introduced the film projector used to make noise, so music was put in order to take over the noise of the projector

In musical films the narrative is driven by the characters singing songs to enhance the story. The term ‘Musical’ is not only the presence of music but a shared configuration of character types and plot patterns.

Growth Of Musical Films

The period between 1930 and 1960 was the golden age of musical films. Every country in the world started making musical films. In Europe during the 1930’s musical films gained much fame. By this time, European directors got quite influenced and began making musicals by the 1940’s whereas the British had already made a lot of musicals by then. The British used music hall stars and well known actors in their films.

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The movie, The Sound Of Music was a big influence for other countries to make ‘Musicals’. Robert Wise released his movie in 1965 showing that time of the 1930’s which was marked by Nazism and movements opposing it. This movie is about a nun named ‘Maria’ (Julie Andrews) who was sent away to an Austrian Naval captain, Captain Van Troop’s mansion, to be the governess for his seven children. Since Van troop had lost his wife and he needed a governess to handle his children. He maintained strict discipline in the house, and provided little fatherly love to his children. As the new governess, Maria tries to bring happiness into the family by reviving music amongst them by teaching the children how to sing “Do re me” and then later on making the children sing for the Baroness as well as by putting together a little show at the ball party hosted at the mansion. Seeing the lovely display, the Van Troop family is selected to sing at the Salzburg Folk Festival.

Being an Austrian patriot, the Captain is strongly opposed to the Nazi takeover and Hitler.

The music in the movie which is sung by the principle characters helps to advance the plot.

The Hollywood film industry is on the top when it comes to creating musical films. But many countries like France, Egypt, Jamaica and Sweden have adapted the genre of Musical Films. In India most directors have been creating Musical films. India has always been very influenced by musical films. The Indian director Gulzar was highly influenced by The Sound Of Music in 1965 and thus, made Parichay in 1972 which had the same plot as the sound of music.

Development of Musical Films

Music has been used ever since the beginning of cinema. Before 1920 in America and Europe live musicians used to sing on the sets while the characters performed on the screen . During 1920’s and 1930’s America had made many music films such as The Jazz Singer(1927) by using new sound technology and creating locations on diegetic music. These directors used every type of music in films such as opera, classical music etc.

America made over a 100 musical films in the year 1930. Many Hollywood directors used the same musical melodrama that consisted of a widow, a person unlucky in love or a family problem.

By the early 1950’s and the late 1960’s Musical films were based on the political and economical movement which had taken place earlier. For example, in The sound of music, Captain Van troop was against the rule of Nazi’s over Austria, and in the second half of the film, the Captain gets a letter from the Nazi naval base, forcing him to come and command their ships. Van troop was escorted by the Nazi forces to the Salzburg Folk Festival, after which he had to be taken to naval base, but instead, after addressing his people here and singing for them for the last time, he escaped with his newly wedded wife, Maria and his children.

The Classic Hollywood Musical

1933 was the year of change. Warner brothers began to produce musicals of a new kind. Now an economically viable combination of music a narrative was being attempted. Previously musical films had simply added music to familiar stories, Now it was mostly love making and mostly choreographed by Busby Berkley. Plots with dying children, selfish sisters and enemies were replaced by celebration of young couples love through the energy of song a dance.

Warner back stage films, RKO films, Astaire rogers films and MGM films were all musicals examples Gold Diggers of 1935 and Broadway melody of 1936 etc.

All of the movies bridged a gap between fancy costumes and distant upper class sets of operetta and the down to earth plots and music of folk traditions.

During the mid 1930’s the main feature of a musical were a formal narrative with the music and numbers linked through a story line, a romantic couple and the society or a community surrounding them, straight realism and pure rhythm merging, and a mixture of diegetic music and dialogues and dance.

There were many post war attempts to build musicals such as Singing in the Rain (1951), The Sound of music (1965) and many more. In the late 1970’s there was a strong revival of musicals. The movie displayed renewed ability to integrate contemporary music and more into the traditional structure of a musical genre.

Cultural Influences of Musical Films

United States of America was mainly represented abroad by the musical films for almost half a century. Their musicals was used for economical, artistic and social purposes.

The history of musicals is often linked to the development of sound film technology and the relationship between Hollywood and the United States Music Distribution System.

In 1929, In order to reduce the cost of obtaining music for sound films Warner Bros began to acquire music publishing companies. Other studies soon followed suit. In 1950’s Columbia financed My Fair Lady which was also a musical melodrama directed by George Cukor.

In the beginning public performances of songs helped a lot to the directors to publicise their musical films. Warner Bros used music for their own musicals.

When 45 rpm records came, top forty lists and long playing albums also came . For 30 years Hollywood musicals were an integrated part of the lines of the music lovers. Sheet music was a part of families singing sitting together around the piano. Every new musical style was turned instantly to a dance craze and widely practiced in the ball rooms.

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Courtship and the community were the solutions offered by the musicals for every type of conservative social practices. All problem of religion, race and age were resolved for the central couple through the optimistic approach in the musicals which effected every household. America was recognised by this Americannes abroad, which influenced other media, musical styles and dress patterns around the world.

In the late 1960’s and 1970’s the musicals even influenced the sermons and worship services of the American Protestant Church. At high school graduates as church anthems songs like “Climb every mountain” from The Sound of Music (1965) were heard. Bible based musicals were also produced such as Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973. Even in the movie Sound of Music the whole story was driven and narrated by music.

The youth of these times loved films of Elvis Presley and Beatles. Rock concert films became predominant.

The musical films gradually became a part of history, but have evolved in a different way. The 1980s video revolution , The music videos are one such culmination of this filmed recording of a musical spectacle.


In my discussion I tried to show that how musical films started and what all were the effects of musical films on other parts and other film industries of the world. As I discussed the starting of the musical films I saw how films changed with time, I also saw that there was a huge change in the plot and the story line of the films which were commonly used, Earlier each story consisted of a widow or a person unlucky in love or a family problem and every director used to have a live orchestra and musicians on the set while the actors were on screen and lip singing and then in the late 1960’s the plot changed to a story of a romantic couple and the society and they used to take famous musicians like Beatles etc. Musical films helped the people to be aware of the political movements going on and also the economical and cultural purposes. America was the first country to make a Musical Film.

Musical films also helped to resolve the problems of human beings such as race, age, religion and etc.Musical Films became one of the most popular genre and was adapted by many directors in the 20th century.


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