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Unit information: The Film Musical in 2016/17

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Unit name The Film Musical
Unit code MUSI39011
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Heldt
Open unit status Not open
Pre-requisites

None

Co-requisites

None

School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description

The film musical is one of the core genres of film history: the breakthrough of sound film was brought about by a musical, The Jazz Singer in 1927, and in the 1930s musicals were at the forefront of the technological and aesthetic development of sound cinema in many countries. The musical was to remain a crucial genre of popular cinema until the mid-1960s, especially, but not only in Hollywood, and though its career has been more chequered since then, it is in better health than other genres associated with the Hollywood tradition (such as the Western). Since the late 1990s it has even experienced a mini-revival with films most of which do not try to re-create the original magic but look back upon it with varying degrees of nostalgia or irony (or both), a trend that has taken place not only in the cinema, but in television as well.

The unit will look at a range of historical and structural aspects of film musicals:

  • the way they build musical numbers into their storyworlds;
  • experimentation with the form of musicals in different film cultures in the 1930s;
  • the self-reflexivity of show and backstage musicals in the contexts of the Depression and the 1950s;
  • different waves of retro- or neo-musicals since the 1990s and their takes on the genre tradition;
  • the resurgence of musicals, musical serials and musicals series episodes on television since the 1980s.

The unit will be taught as a combination of lecture and seminar elements: five 2-hour lectures for the entire cohort of students, and five 2-hour seminar sessions in smaller groups. Lectures will introduce ideas and approaches, while seminars will provide the opportunity to ask questions, watch and discuss examples and pursue ideas in greater detail. The general aims of the unit are:

  • provide a framework against which students can explore and gain deeper understanding of film musicals from different disciplinary perspectives;
  • enable students to describe with confidence the filmic and musical techniques and procedures employed in the film genre discussed;
  • give students a clear and detailed understanding of the historical contexts in which this genre developed;
  • enable students to assess how political, economic and social situations have influenced various approaches to creating film musicals;
  • encourage students to write critically and perceptively about film musicals, using appropriate language and terminology.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful completion of this unit will

  • provide a framework against which students can explore and gain deeper understanding of film musicals from different disciplinary perspectives;
  • enable students to describe with confidence the filmic and musical techniques and procedures employed in the film genre discussed;
  • give students a clear and detailed understanding of the historical contexts in which this genre developed;
  • enable students to assess how political, economic and social situations have influenced various approaches to creating film musicals;
  • encourage students to write critically and perceptively about film musicals, using appropriate language and terminology;
  • defend and critique arguments orally and in writing.

And additionally (specific to Level H) to:

  • incorporate a consistently strong grasp of detail with respect to content;
  • argue effectively and at length (including an ability to cope with complexities and to describe and deploy these effectively);
  • display to a high level skills in selecting, applying, interpreting and organising information, including evidence of a high level of bibliographical control;
  • describe, evaluate and/or challenge current scholarly thinking;
  • discriminate between different kinds of information, processes, interpretations;
  • take a critical stance towards scholarly processes involved in arriving at historical knowledge and/or relevant secondary literature;
  • engage with relevant theoretical, philosophical or social constructs for understanding relevant films or traditions;
  • demonstrate an understanding of concepts and an ability to conceptualise;
  • situate material within relevant contexts (invoking interdisciplinary contexts where appropriate);
  • apply strategies laterally (perhaps leading to innovative results).

Teaching details

5 x 2-hour lectures; 5x 2-hour seminars (up to 25 students)

Assessment Details

Two 3,000-word essays (each 50%)

Reading and References

  • Rick Altman: The American Film Musical. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1987.
  • Richard Barrios: A Song in the Dark. The Birth of the Musical Film. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Steven Cohan (ed.): The Sound of Musicals. London: Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, 2010.
  • Jane Feuer: The Hollywood Musical. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2/1993.
  • Bill Marshall/Robynn Stilwell (eds.): Musicals. Hollywood and Beyond. Exeter: Intellect, 2000.
  • John Kennth Muir: Singing a New Tune. The Rebirth of the Modern Film Musical from 'Evita' to 'De-Lovely' and Beyond. New York: Applause, 2005.

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