#10 – Pattulo – “Narrative & spectacle in the Hollywood musical”

Normally, I wouldn’t think I’d be too engrossed in the discussion of the style of two classical Hollywood musical choreographers, but I actually found this article fascinating.  In addition to our concerns with narrative & spectacle, she manages to address a wide variety of issues, including realism vs. illusion in art, the way art accesses our emotions, Mulveyan concerns about sexuality and cinema, and the societal contexts of musicals in different eras which affect their content.  I felt like there were so many ideas packed into this (relatively short) article, I’m not sure where to begin.  I suppose I’ll try to stick with the themes that are most germane to our class and the screening for the week.

42nd Street is quite obviously a product of Berkeley’s choreographic style discussed in this article, though that fact that Pattullo never mentioned this film got me wondering.  I suppose it’s because all the classic Berkeleyan spectacular numbers are contained at the end of the film and thus are not quite as obvious a break from the “realist”, narrative content of the rest of the film.  It seems somewhat more natural that we would view these scenes, “unrelated” to the narrative though they are, at this point in the film, because the whole movie has been building up to the opening of this play.  Furthermore, these elaborate numbers are not completely independent of narrative, because we are watching Peggy to see how she is faring in her last-minute starring role; this association with the film would not exist if not for the narrative context leading up to the spectacle.

Still, the last fifteen minutes are detached from narrative and realism in many ways.  We almost never see anything from the story world beyond the isolation of the stage; even when we do, it is usually a rare glimpse of the orchestra in the pit and almost never the audience.  The sets are clearly too large, elaborate, and rapidly changing to be part of a feasible stage production.  And the most jarring thing is the sudden jumps in camera angle to an extreme close-up, or even more so, a bird eye view in which the dancers form abstract geometrical patterns that would not even reveal themselves to a real audience.