Hollywood Musicals

ENGLISH 5060/7053

Film Styles & Genres: The Hollywood Musical

Winter 2018
Monday & Wednesday, 2:30 - 5:00 pm
State 326

Web address for this page:

Steven Shaviro (shaviro@shaviro.com or shaviro@wayne.edu)

5057 Woodward, Room 9309
Office hours: Monday and Wednesday 1 pm - 2 pm, and by appointment

This class will trace the history of the Hollywood musical. As soon as the movies were able to use synchronized sound, filmmakers became interested in presenting music-making, singing, and dancing on film. Movie musicals originated in the late 1920s, and they have remained popular ever since. Musicals are unusual among popular movie genres, for their high degree of self-reflexivity, and their privileging of spectacle, or “the cinema of attractions,” over plot. In a certain sense, musicals represent an idea of “pure cinema”: they focus on sensory elements of space, time, camera movement, and physical gestures, at the expense of narrative and thematic concerns, At the same time, they are aggressively populist and proudly middle-brow or low-brow, in sharp contrast to high-brow art films that are equally self-reflexive and equally concerned with cinematic materiality. We will look at these issues as we trace the history of Hollywood musicals from their beginnings in the early sound era, where they took the form of either filmed operettas or large-cast extravaganzas, through the rise of the solo and partnered dances (Astaire & Rogers), to the MGM spectaculars of the 1940s and 1950s, and beyond, to the decreasing frequency but wild diversity of musical experiments in the post-classical era, and onwards to today. The class will be largely restricted to one national tradition, that of the United States and Hollywood; though we will also look at a few foreign films that present themselves as being explicitly in dialogue with Hollywood forms.

One book has been ordered for this class: Steven Cohan, ed., Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader (HM). Other texts will be made available in the form of PDFs.

Class requirements include regular attendance, participation in class discussion, and completion of writing assignments:


By the end of the course, successful students will have learned about the history, aesthetics, politics, and influence of Hollywood movie musicals.

In addition, by the end of the course successful students should be able to:

In addition, by the end of the course successful graduate students should be able to:

January 8:

January 10:

January 17:

January 22:

January 24:

January 29:

January 31:

February 5:

February 7:

February 12:

February 14:

February 19:

February 21:

February 26:

February 28:

March 5:

March 7:

March 12-14: SPRING BREAK

Long films: to be watched on your own over the break:

March 19:

March 21:

March 26:

March 28:

April 2:

April 4:

April 9:

April 11:

April 16:

April 18

April 23:

There are an additional number of important musicals that I would have liked to show in this class, but that are too long to be shown in a single class period. I recommend trying to watch them on your own: