A film that includes musical numbers (songs, ensembles, dances) that are usually integrated (though not always closely) with the plot. A film musical is commonly a film version of a Musical originally written for the theatre, or a work of the same type written for the screen, often by songwriters who established their reputations in the theatre. Although the film musical reflects the history of the stage musical, it has evolved its own distinctive settings and subjects, such as the rock-and-roll extravaganza and the backstage view of theatre life. ‘Musical film’ is also used of any film with occasional songs or other musical numbers. The distinction between such a film and a film musical is sometimes difficult to draw: many films of the interwar period had two or three songs as a matter of course and others that were not advertised as musicals might contain as much music as films that were. Westerns, mysteries and cartoons, for example, often include musical numbers but are not film musicals, and the full-length animated films made from the 1940s onwards by Walt Disney, though cast in the same format as the film musical, are not usually referred to as such. The same confusion does not arise with Film music which is normally understood to be music written to accompany or ‘underscore’ film images.
The film musical is principally associated with Hollywood, which established itself as a world centre for film from the outset of the industry, and has further benefited from the global dissemination of American culture through the 20th century. Many writers (Fehr and Vogel, 1993, and Barrios, 1995, for example) have stressed the identification of America with the origins of the form. Although related European developments also form part of the narrative, the USA remains the principal focus for this article. For aspects of the film musical in other parts of the world see articles on individual countries, particularly India, §VIII, 1.
1. To 1932.
RICHARD TRAUBNER/THOMAS L. GAYDA, JOHN SNELSON
1. To 1932.
Short ‘musical’ films were first made around the turn of the century, though since the synchronization of film images with sound had not yet been perfected they were silent films that had to be projected with phonograph recordings to supply the music. Silent versions of stage musical comedies and operettas were also made and were accompanied in the cinema by an orchestra playing a score often adapted from the original. Among the most notable of these were versions of Franz Lehár's Die lustige Witwe, directed by Erich von Stroheim as The Merry Widow (1925), and Sigmund Romberg's The Student Prince, directed by Ernst Lubitsch as The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927); both were made in America by MGM. In 1927 Warner Bros. released The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length film with talking and singing sequences, in which Al Jolson played the leading role. Besides its importance as a landmark in film technology, it demonstrated the appeal of the brash Broadway style of such performers and cemented the already existing relationship between Broadway and Hollywood.
During 1929 the Hollywood studios produced crude prototypes of every kind of musical that was to appear in the next decade. MGM, which became arguably the greatest maker of film musicals, devised the genre of the backstage revue for The Broadway Melody; this was also the first sound film with an original score – the songs were by Arthur Freed (a lyricist who became the most creative producer of musicals) and Nacio Herb Brown – and it won the first Academy Award for the best picture of the year given to a ‘talkie’. Operettas proved as popular as revues: Universal's first effort was a partial conversion of a silent film of Kern's Show Boat; Warner Bros. filmed Romberg's The Desert Song; RKO transferred Tierney's Rio Rita to the screen with Technicolor sequences; and 20th Century-Fox made the first sound film of a Viennese operetta, Married in Hollywood, with a score by Oscar Straus. Paramount eclipsed all its rivals by engaging Lubitsch to direct an original film operetta, Victor Schertzinger's The Love Parade (starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald), and also produced the Marx Brothers’ first film, a version of their Broadway hit The Cocoanuts (with songs by Berlin).
Noted Broadway songwriters were commissioned to write in California: Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II (Viennese Nights, 1930), Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson (the ‘science fiction’ musical Just Imagine, 1930), George and Ira Gershwin (Delicious, 1931) and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, 1933). Studios experimented with melodramatic musicals such as Applause (1929), the black musical pageant Hallelujah (1929) and King of Jazz (1930), which was stylishly staged in colour by the Broadway revue director John Murray Anderson and featured the big-band jazz of Paul Whiteman. Bing Crosby, one of the most popular of all cinema singers, appeared in King of Jazz and The Big Broadcast (1932), which was one of the first important films to deal with the world of radio. There were also collegiate and juvenile-romantic musicals, such as Henderson's Sunny Side Up (1929) and Good News (1930).
With Berlin emerging as Europe's capital of the entertainment and film industry in the 1920s (with an output of some 150 films between 1930 and 1933), it also became the melting-pot for a vast and unique array of distinguished composers of operetta and light entertainment music, who all seized the lucrative opportunity to work in the flourishing film business: Robert Stolz (Two Hearts in 3/4 Time, 1930), Franz Lehár (Where is this Lady?, 1932), Hans May (My Song Goes Round the World, 1933), Oscar Straus (Voices of Spring, 1933), Emmerich Kálmán (Ronny, 1931), Mischa Spoliansky (Zwei Krawatten, 1930), Paul Abraham (Sunshine Susie, 1931), Walter Jurmann (A Song for You, 1933) and Franz Wachsmann [Waxman] with Friedrich [Frederick] Holländer (Ich und die Kaiserin, 1933). What became German cinema's most successful contribution to the development of early sound pictures was the Tonfilmoperette (sound film operetta) that had both operettas exclusively written for the new medium as well as filmed re-creations of stage works (e.g. Paul Abraham's Ball im Savoy). This new stylistic height was abruptly curtailed by the advent of Nazism in 1933 and the resulting artistic exodus from Central Europe. Especially, Wilhelm Thiele's engaging Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1930) and Erik Charell's Der Kongress tanzt (1931) were revolutionary in the use of camera and sound. Both films had music by Werner Richard Heymann and consolidated the partnership of Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch, Europe's most popular musical stars. Such was the popularity of these and other, similar films that the film industry in Berlin often made versions in German, French and English simultaneously. Other noteworthy examples are Walzerkrieg (1933, music by Alois Melichar and Franz Grothe), Viktor und Viktoria (1933, Franz Doelle) and Mein Herz ruft nach Dir (1933–4, Robert Stolz), which contain almost through-composed scores. Musical pot-pourris constructed around the talents of opera singers such as Jan Kiepura and Marta Eggerth, Richard Tauber and Joseph Schmidt were also popular, and this type of film was adopted in Hollywood to show off stars such as Grace Moore, Lawrence Tibbett and the young Deanna Durbin. Josef von Sternberg directed Marlene Dietrich in Der blaue Engel (1930), a serious drama about romantic infatuation that included potently decadent musical numbers by Friedrich Holländer; the film enjoyed international success and all three artists later worked in Hollywood. Similar advances were made in France, where René Clair used sound and song with enviable charm in Sous les toits de Paris (1930) and Le million (1931). The European influence was most clearly seen in two outstanding American film operettas of 1932, Mamoulian's Love me Tonight with a score by Rodgers and Hart, and Lubitsch's One Hour with You, which had music by Oscar Straus and Richard Whiting.
The film musical enjoyed an international vogue from the mid-1930s to the early 40s. Its development coincided with the American Depression, a time when film makers believed that opulent escapism was wanted by audiences. In fact the early musical films, no matter how spectacular, were stilted and hampered by cumbersome recording techniques and were very soon ignored by audiences; only the intimate, sophisticated, European ‘boudoir’ operettas of the early 1930s had a lasting quality and style. 42nd Street (Warner Bros., 1933) was a landmark in the history of film musicals: an assured, coherent, swift-moving comic drama, with lavish revue numbers. 42nd Street (music by Harry Warren), which dealt with the backstage life of the modern Broadway theatre, established the genre of the musical within a musical. More than any earlier film musical it took full advantage of the technical possibilities of the medium and, in sumptuous production numbers, exploited the type of mass choreography devised by Busby Berkeley. Warner Bros. went on to issue a succession of highly elaborate musicals with the same pivotal creative team of Berkeley as choreographer and director, Al Dubin and Warren as songwriters, Leo Forbstein (the head of Warner's music department) and Ray Heindorf as orchestrators. Some were less effective as films than as pure spectacle (fig.1), such as Gold Diggers of 1933 (and subsequent years), Footlight Parade (1933), Dames (1934) and Fashions of 1934. These provided stereotyped roles for James Cagney, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Guy Kibbee, among others. Other studios were quick to imitate Berkeley's mannerisms, and in 1933 RKO inadvertently cast Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together in Flying Down to Rio, an otherwise pallid musical with an uneven score by Vincent Youmans. Their dancing was the highlight of a series of frivolous, enchanting films that attracted some of the greatest Broadway songwriters: Irving Berlin (Top Hat, 1935), Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields (Swing Time, 1936) and George and Ira Gershwin (Shall We Dance, 1937). It is likely that Astaire, with a distinctive voice and phrasing, introduced more film-musical standards than any other performer.
During the 1930s and 40s film makers rarely treated the original scores of Broadway musicals with much fidelity. For example, The Gay Divorcee (1934), an adaptation of Porter's stage musical Gay Divorce, retained only one song from the original score – ‘Night and Day’, sung by Astaire. The decision to omit parts of the original show in this way was fundamentally the producer's, though the film's stars, writers and music staff (whose motives were not always disinterested) often influenced the producer's opinions.
The romantic operetta, following a decline on Broadway in the early 1930s, was revived in Hollywood in 1935 with MGM's version of Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The pair became an enormously popular institution and MGM adapted the scores of several operettas (generally by excising large portions and replacing them with operatic arias, light classical favourites, and reworked popular songs) in order to display the vocal prowess of the two stars. MacDonald, who had perfected a saucy, comic style under Lubitsch in film operettas, was obliged to abandon it for more direct sentiment in the films she made with Eddy, which included Friml's Rose-Marie (1936), Romberg's Maytime (1937), Herbert's Sweethearts (1938), Romberg's The New Moon (1940) and Noël Coward's Bitter Sweet (1941), all based to some degree on stage originals. Few other film operettas were as popular as these, though Universal tried to rival MGM by producing two films with attractive American themes starring Irene Dunne: a remake of Kern's Show Boat (1936), directed by James Whale, and an original screen musical by Kern, High, Wide and Handsome (1937), directed by Mamoulian.
Studios in Nazi Germany also tried to emulate MGM by manufacturing lighthearted and glossy operettas, but the creators of many of their earlier musical films were no longer permitted to work there, and many found employment in Hollywood. Such musicians included Walter Jurmann, Bronislau Kaper, Robert Stolz, Friedrich Holländer, Franz Wachsmann, Werner Richard Heymann, Hans Salter, Arthur Guttmann and Nicholas Brodszky. Stylistically the Nazi film musical lacked the somewhat sophisticated and seemingly improvised touch of its American counterpart. This was largely due to the huge loss of artistic – and mostly Jewish – personnel and to the arbitrary interference of the Reichsfilmkammer, which had German cinema under control, both artistically as well as in every aspect of administration.
In Britain the Cinematographic Films Act of 1927 had to a limited degree stimulated the production of native films and restricted the booking of American ones, so raising somewhat the profile of national stars who were primarily drawn from the popular musical stage – both music hall (notably Gracie Fields and George Formby) and musical comedy and revue (Jessie Matthews and Jack Buchanan). One early example of a home-grown film musical was the operetta Good-Night, Vienna by George Posford and Eric Maschwitz, first written for BBC radio (broadcast 7 January 1932) and filmed later in the same year with Anna Neagle and Jack Buchanan (director Herbert Wilcox). In 1934 Chu Chin Chow was filmed by Gainsborough (director Walter Forde), following the record-breaking run of the original production on stage (1916–21). By the mid-1930s, British film musicals were consciously catering both for a home market, particularly through the films of Gracie Fields, which played strongly on her regional (Lancashire) characteristics as in Sally in our Alley (1931) and Sing as we Go (1934), and less successfully for an American market, with such films as Evergreen (1934), featuring Jessie Matthews.
British film has never forged such strong links with the West End as those between Broadway and Hollywood, and it is notable how few successful British stage musicals have been filmed. In the 1930s and 40s, film musicals tended towards variety formats to feature known personalities from the stage and broadcasting, rather than adapting existing stage material. While a few of Ivor Novello's musical romances were filmed (Glamorous Night, 1937, The Dancing Years, 1950, King's Rhapsody, 1955), only Bitter Sweet was filmed of Noël Coward's stage shows (1933 and 1941). By the mid-1940s the film musical was not considered a viable product for the British film industry, and omissions from film's repertory of the theatrical adaptations repertory included such major West End successes as Vivian Ellis's Bless the Bride (stage 1947). The film musical did not reappear in Britain with any conviction until the rise of the pop star in the late 1950s and the films of such performers as Tommy Steele (The Tommy Steele Story, 1957) and Cliff Richard (Expresso Bongo, 1959).
Hollywood enjoyed great advantages over other centres of film making: it had a constant supply of writing and performing talent from Broadway (and an intense desire to rival or better Broadway productions in popularity and creative flair), and the investment capital required to make film musicals that were more extravagant and lavish than anything that could be mounted in the theatre. Particularly after World War II, only American studios continued consistently to make outstanding musicals, reaching a creative, if at times pretentious, zenith in the decade from 1945.
The 1940s and 50s saw several important developments in the film musical in America, the first examples of which had been released late in the 1930s. Walt Disney's first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), was a major achievement in animation with an enchanting score by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey. It was followed by Pinocchio (1940, with music by Leigh Harline), Bambi (1942, Churchill), Alice in Wonderland (1951, Sammy Fain) and Peter Pan (1953, Fain). All were composed to contain at least one exceptionally catchy song, intended to become a hit: ‘Heigh-Ho’ from Snow White and ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ (which won an Academy Award) from Pinocchio continue to be remembered independently of the films. The fantasy musical The Wizard of Oz, an extravagant expansion of the story by L. Frank Baum, filmed in Technicolor, was released by MGM in 1939. Its cast included Judy Garland, Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr (fig.2), and Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's fine song score introduced the standard ‘Over the Rainbow’. However, the most far-reaching effect of the film was in bringing the production talents of Arthur Freed to sufficient prominence that he become a producer for MGM in his own right. Indeed, throughout the 1940s and 50s, the important developments in the film musical made at MGM came from the production unit headed by Freed. In varying combinations, its core musical personnel included Roger Edens, Conrad Salinger and Saul Chaplin as orchestrators and arrangers, Lennie Hayton as conductor and Kay Thompson as a vocal arranger and coach. The unit was responsible for such classic film musicals as Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon. The Freed unit also employed the young André Previn, who became known through his work on Gigi.
The late 1930s and 40s saw the release of several biographical musicals, loosely based on the lives of famous composers and with scores fabricated from their works. These included The Great Victor Herbert (1939), Words and Music (Rodgers and Hart, 1948), Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin, 1945), Night and Day (Cole Porter, 1946), and at least five films with songs by Berlin, beginning with Alexander's Ragtime Band (1937). Similar ‘biographies’, with no greater claim to authenticity, were made about classical composers, from A Song to Remember (Chopin, 1945) to Song of Norway (Grieg, 1970).
The 1940s also saw three of the principal companies initiate popular and lucrative series. In 1939 MGM released Babes.in Arms (songs by Rodgers and Hart), the first of several films in which the juvenile team of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland played a pair of kids who put on improbably professional amateur shows and the first of Freed's films as producer. Paramount's comedy musical The Road to Singapore (1940, music by James Monaco and Victor Schertzinger), with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, led to a phenomenally successful series set in places all over the world. Down Argentine Way (1940, music by Warren) inspired several more lighthearted Latin American stories in which 20th Century-Fox took advantage of the success of the ‘Brazilian bombshell’ Carmen Miranda.
The entry of the USA into World War II sent Hollywood back into the American past in search of story lines that had a patriotic slant, such as the jingoistic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), which was remarkable for a superb performance by James Cagney in admirable re-creations of scenes from George M. Cohan's stage musicals. The folksy, reassuring Americana of the Broadway musical Oklahoma! (1943) by Rodgers and Hammerstein was reflected in Vincente Minnelli's meticulous evocation of middle America in the early 1900s, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane), and in George Sidney's western saga The Harvey Girls (1946, songs by Warren and Johnny Mercer). The musicals Minnelli made for MGM after the war were some of the best to come out of Hollywood: The Pirate (1948, Porter), An American in Paris (1951, Gershwin), The Band Wagon (1953, Arthur Schwartz), and Gigi (1958, Frederick Loewe). His training as a theatre designer and the technical improvement of colour photography gave his films a pictorial magnificence attained by few other directors, and his fluid handling of musical movement and dance was difficult to rival. In particular, The Band Wagon gave new life to the backstage revue and, Gigi was impeccably composed (the songs were by Lerner and Loewe) and costumed (by Cecil Beaton).
After a period in which big bands and their singers dominated film musicals – Second Chorus (1940, Artie Shaw), The Fleet's In (1942, Jimmy Dorsey), No Leave, No Love (1946, Xavier Cugat and Guy Lombardo), Beat the Band (1947, Gene Krupa) – dance came to the fore once again. Several dancers became choreographers and directors, among them Gene Kelly, who collaborated on a number of films with Stanley Donen. Their major achievement, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a clever comedy about the beginning of sound films with pastiche songs by Freed (who also produced the film) and Nacio Herb Brown, captured the period flavour of the late 1920s but was choreographed by Kelly and Donen in modern style. Their On the Town (1949, Leonard Bernstein), is regarded as having set the trend for filming dances on location through its use of the streets and scenes of New York for exuberant, balletic dance numbers. Donen, who specialized in developing the dance element of Broadway musicals in the setting of film, was most at ease with the muscular vigour of the period comedy Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, Gene de Paul) and the vibrant working-class spirit of The Pajama Game (1957, Richard Adler), the best of Doris Day's films. He was also enormously successful in conveying the glossy world of New York fashion in Funny Face (1957), by means of artfully rearranged songs of the 1920s by the Gershwins and the ageless grace of Fred Astaire.
In the 1950s the nostalgia prevalent during the war still provided material for some studios, including 20th Century-Fox, while others depended on popular crooners such as Frank Sinatra to make minor films successful. The musical biography was extensively used in the 1950s for songwriters, such as Stephen Foster for I Dream of Jeannie (1950), and performers such as Grace Moore for So This Is Love (1953). Jazz musicians especially received such treatment, with films including Young Man with a Horn (on Bix Beiderbecke, 1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Benny Goodman Story (1956), St Louis Blues (on W.C. Handy, 1958) and The Five Pennies (on Red Nichols) and The Gene Krupa Story (both 1959).
Whereas it had earlier been the case that Broadway musicals were often substantially rewritten in film versions as with, for example, On the Town, the 1950s saw a more faithful treatment of stage originals. In some instances not only the scores but even the casts were adopted almost unchanged by film directors. The most notable of the film musicals of the 1950s were those of works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, beginning with Oklahoma! (1955), and Mamoulian's Silk Stockings (1957), based on both the stage musical by Cole Porter and its source, Lubitsch's film Ninotchka (1939).
By the 1960s film versions of Broadway musicals seemed tremendously profitable for the Hollywood studios; the films of Bernstein's West Side Story (1961), Loewe's My Fair Lady (1964) and Rodger's The Sound of Music (1965) all won Academy awards for best picture. Other notably successful film musicals were those directed by Bob Fosse, whose slick, expansive Broadway dances lent vigour to his film adaptation of Sweet Charity (1969, Cy Coleman) and were appropriately modified to depict the seedy Berlin nightlife of the early 1930s in Cabaret (1972, John Kander).
The ascendancy of rock and roll resulted in a few innovative feature films, beginning with Columbia's Rock Around the Clock (1956), with Bill Haley and the Comets. Most notable was the sequence of some 30 film musicals featuring Elvis Presley, beginning in the late 1950s with such examples as Jail House Rock (1957) and Loving You (1959), through to less innovative films in the 60s, such as Blue Hawaii (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964). Unsuccessful attempts were made through film for British pop singers Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele to break into the American market. Cliff Richard's The Young Ones (1962) was marketed in the USA as Wonderful to be Young, with a plot reminiscent of the Mickey Rooney–Judy Garland films of the 1940s, while adopting something of the pop-star focus of Elvis Presley's films. The following Summer Holiday (1963) also remained primarily a national success. Steele did, however, gain American prominence in several film musicals, but only by moving away from his rock-and-roll persona as seen in The Tommy Steele Story (1957) towards that of a song-and-dance entertainer in Half a Sixpence (1967), The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and Finian's Rainbow (1968). However, the Beatles’ A Hard Day's Night (1964), a combination of American business acumen and British performing and directing talent, was innovative in its approach to both plot and use of a pop soundtrack and provides precedents for many features associated with later music video style (see Mundy, 1999, pp.162–74). The Beatles’ later film musical, Yellow Submarine (1968), was distinctive through being almost completely animated and provides an antecedent to the many television cartoon series of the 1970s and 80s based on actual pop groups.
The extraordinary success of The Sound of Music in 1965 was an exception that disguised the trend of audiences away from film musicals. Later examples have seldom achieved success commensurate with their costs. The few that have gained a widespread and lasting appeal, such as Oliver! (1968, music by Lionel Bart) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971, Jerry Bock) occurred in isolation rather than as part of a continuous body of work from ongoing production units such as that of Freed at MGM in the previous decades. Of original works for the screen, Lost Horizon (1973, Burt Bacharach), based on James Hilton's oriental romance, was one of several such works that failed to justify an extravagant budget; others included Doctor Dolittle (1967) and the biography of Gertrude Lawrence as Star! (with Julie Andrews, 1968). The performances of Barbra Streisand were the highlight of the last era of film musicals based on Broadway shows (Jule Styne's Funny Girl, 1968; Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!, 1969;fig.3), which came to an end with some expensive failures, including On a Clear Day you can See Forever (1970, music by Burton Lane) and Man of La Mancha (1972, Mitch Leigh). The film version of the rock musical Hair (1979, Galt MacDermot) was an isolated example of a pop musical that achieved a measure of popularity, while The Rocky Horror Picture Show has achieved cult status in film (1975) to equal that of its stage show.
A symptom of the death of the film musical was seen in 1974 when MGM, the studio that had made some of the most memorable examples of the genre, released That's Entertainment, a compilation of scenes from its past triumphs. The causes of this decline have been linked to several factors, including fundamental changes in pop music and the issues it addresses, which in turn represent wider sociological shifts (Fehr and Vogel, 241–55).
Examples of film musicals in the 1980s and 90s have been few. Victor/Victoria (1982), featuring Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, was conventionally structured and later adapted for the stage (1995). Yentl (1982) was designed around, directed by and featured Barbra Streisand, using the songs as an expression of her character's inner thoughts rather than as a participatory or expressive device for and with others. Both of these works used performers long identified with the film musical, which had become too sparsely represented to allow for the establishment of new performers in the genre. Unusual in its scale was Alan Parker's film version (1996) of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera Evita (1976), with Madonna in the title role, but it remained essentially old-fashioned, notably in the use of location filming in a panoramic style much akin to that of The Sound of Music some 30 years earlier. It is distinctive in being almost completely sung, a characteristic it shares with only a handful of film works, including Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1963, music by Michel Legrand) which was later staged (1979).
Once dance was again given a dominant position the public was enthusiastic for films such as Saturday Night Fever (1977), Fame (1980) and Flashdance (1983). This link with pop repertory has persisted in the compilation soundtracks of films such as that for Muriel's Wedding (1994), which used songs by the Swedish pop group Abba. There are shared aspects of such films with the film musical, as in the use of song for commentary and the dramatic underscoring of scenes; however, the use of existing pop repertory has served both to decrease the cost of production and brought into play a series of pre-existing cultural references that provide additional elements of commentary, particularly irony. This provided the motivation behind Woody Allen's use of Hollywood musical style in Everyone Says I Love You (1996).
There had earlier been several documentaries of rock events, such as Monterey Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970), but pop and rock groups were presented in film within dramatic contexts, as in Stop Making Sense (1984) about Talking Heads, and The Great Rock-and-Roll Swindle (1980) about the punk group the Sex Pistols. More overtly commercial in intent have been the few films promoting a particular group image, as with the Village People's unsuccessful Can't Stop the Music (1980) or Spiceworld – the Movie (1997), featuring the British group the Spice Girls. However, a new creativity in linking song and film emerged in the 1980s with the short music video (particularly associated with the rise of the dedicated channel MTV), which was usually made to promote a recording. Lacking a plot, this often combines surreal images with the drive and verve of a television commercial, as in the landmark video for Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982).
A growth in academic interest in the film musical stems from the early 1980s, with Jane Feuer (1982) and Rick Altman (1987) establishing new ways of approaching the form. Although the range of commentaries now extends beyond that of chronological listings and historical narrative, detailed analysis has tended to concentrate on sociological and psychological aspects of the film musical as an extension of the methodology of film studies. With few exceptions, the nature of the music itself has yet to be examined in depth.
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