Musicals / Dance Films are cinematic forms that emphasize and showcase full-scale song and dance routines in a significant way (usually with a musical or dance performance as part of the film narrative, or as an unrealistic "eruption" within the film). Or they are films that are centered on combinations of music, dance, song or choreography. In traditional musicals, cast members are ones who sing. Musicals highlight various musical artists or dancing stars, with lyrics that support the story line, often with an alternative, escapist vision of reality - a search for love, success, wealth, and popularity. This genre has been considered the most escapist of all major film genres. Tremendous film choreography and orchestration often enhances musical numbers. See this site's extensive compilation of the
With the coming of talking motion pictures, the musical film genre emerged from its roots: stage musicals and operettas, revues, cabaret, musical comedy, music halls and vaudeville. They were the last of the major film genres, because they were dependent on sound captured on film. (How could a movie be "all-singing, all-dancing" without sound?) Musicals are often described as Broadway on film, although many other forms of musicals have been made (e.g., rock 'n' roll movies and disco/dance films). Recently, animated films (with musical soundtracks, such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Tarzan (1999)) have emerged as one of the major musical forms, and many of them have won Best Original Song Oscars.
The Earliest Examples of Sound/Dance Films:
One of the earliest films with a famous dance sequence was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), noted for Latin lover Rudolph Valentino's sensuous tango performed in a smoky cantina while dressed in an Argentine gaucho costume. In 1926, Warner Bros. had produced Don Juan (1926), the first full-length silent film released with a complete musical score synchronized on a 78 rpm Vitaphone soundtrack (with sound effects and an original score). The groundbreaking film cleverly synchronized canned sound effects and dubbed music to the action.
Warner Brothers' Experiments with Sound:
Warner Bros. had launched sound and talking pictures, with Bell Telephone Laboratory researchers, by developing a revolutionary synchronized sound system called Vitaphone. It was a short-lived system sound-on-disk process developed in 1925 that became obsolete by 1931. This sound-on-disk process allowed sound to be recorded on a 16" phonograph record (a fragile disk made of wax) that was electronically linked and synchronized with the film projector. Each disc corresponded to one reel of film, or about ten minutes. The process was first used for short one- and two-reel films, mostly comedies and vaudeville acts.
The Jazz Singer (1927): A Landmark Film
With the coming of the talkies, the film musical genre naturally emerged with the first full-length, revolutionary 'talkie' (with speech and song) that premiered in New York City at the Warner Theatre on October 6, 1927. It was a "musical" of sorts - Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer (1927). Contrary to popular belief, it was not the first sound feature film, since it was mostly silent, and it was not the first Hollywood musical (The Broadway Melody (1929) holds that honor). It was also not the first instance of sound-on-film.
In reality, the landmark part-talkie singing film was an old-fashioned melodrama about Jewish-bred 'jazz singer' Jakie Rabinowitz/Jake Robin (charismatic Broadway mega-star Al Jolson). It featured seven songs (including "Blue Skies, " "Toot-Toot-Tootsie, " and "Mammy" - famous for the image of Jolson on one knee holding out his arms to embrace the audience), and a few lines of screen dialogue (including one long emotional homecoming speech to Jolson's mother, played by Eugenie Besserer). After Jolson had sung his first song, "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face", he delivered a portentous, spellbinding line that was ad-libbed and left in the film, before singing his next song. His naturally-spoken words were the first ever heard in a full-length movie:
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain't heard nothin'! Do you wanna hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!'? All right, hold on, hold on. (To the band leader) Lou, Listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!