Tag Archives: Narrative and Spectacle in the Hollywood Musical Interlude: Contrasting the Choreography of Busby Berkeley and Gene Kelly

Musical Interlude

I take bathroom breaks during song and dance numbers… or refill my drink… or check my email. It might as well say “interlude” on the screen because that’s what these musical performances are—breaks in the narrative. I cannot stomach this sort of discontinuity unless, of course, it proves itself worthy of disrupting the investment I put into the plot. Worthiness is measured by the quality of the tune, or the actors’ absolute beauty, or the acrobatic moves of the dancers, which have to be something exceptional because no one pays money to see an average dancer. I know, I have pretty high standards.

This is not to say I hate all musical numbers in films because I have seen many that were genius. The other day I watched a video of a hit Hindi song from the Bollywood film Dostana (2008). The number contains fun dance moves, three gorgeous stars, bright lights and what looks like a hundred back up dancers. It is spectacle to the max, and yet I could almost see myself walking away from the screen. The only trace of narrative in this musical piece is when the two men dance together to uphold the lie they created about their sexuality; the dance is not even funny. There are also instances where the men compete for the female lead, which also teeters on being more cheesy than funny.

However, a third man sings the last chorus, a third suitor who the female lead does not think is a gay and therefore he is a prime candidate for her affection. Also, he is her boss and as a result automatically at a better standing than the other men. Here, we are brought back into the narrative within this number. The two “homosexual” candidates panic while the actress and her boss flirt and exchange laughs. All the while, the backup dancers are still going on, the music is still heard. This is a complete Gene Kelly moment in which the narrative and spectacle are integrated naturally and seamlessly (Pattullo: 73). The characters’ facial expressions reveal their dismay while the continuing of the number in the background illustrates just how easily their mutual love interest has moved on to the next one or has never even noticed them. The song and dance has now taken on a greater meaning within the film text (79). Since this song adds significance to the film, how dare I check my facebook during it?