Musicals formed a large part of my childhood introduction into film; from Disney musicals to more classic musicals such as The Sound of Music, the genre was one of my first and favourites. In more recent years, however, there has been seen a decrease in the output and popularity of the musical film in Hollywood, with notable exceptions for Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, the success of which can be partially associated with the popularity the two shows had already achieved in the theatre. The success of La La Land, however, suggests that the movie musical is back with a vengeance, and not just as a follow on from theatre success. But why does the genre, and our love for it, refuse to die?
The musical offers us a world both familiar to ours but also tantalisingly different; whilst in real life people can be awkward or non-communicative, musicals allow us to imagine a world where not only do we say what we feel, but we do so beautifully, and to melody. There is something about song which captures emotion in a way that words can sometimes fail to; romantic scenes can be advanced simply by the intimacy of a duet, and the very-relatable stresses of everyday life can be expressed through song and dance. It is difficult to communicate the internal feelings of characters in films without resorting to unrealistic dialogue or the somewhat gimmicky convention of voice over. Song offers an alternate option, and one that can be both genuine and heart-warming; as shown in Les Miserables’s ‘On My Own’, which as well as being a powerful song in its own right, also updates the viewer on Eponine’s emotional landscape. Breaking into song is something of a fantasy; in real life, when people are constrained by social convention and expectation, watching people simultaneously express their feelings loudly and do so beautifully allows us to live vicariously through the actions of fictional characters.
Furthermore, musicals work as the ultimate escapism because they indulge all the senses. Whilst the script of La La Land is good in itself, the music adds another layer by making melody and lyrics a key element of the film. Furthermore, the musical is an aesthetically pleasing genre due to the joy of dancing sequences. These can be very clever, by allowing the viewer a way to comprehend characters not just through conventional body language and speech, but through the advanced performance elements of a coordinated dance scene. This follows on from the tradition of Classical Hollywood Musical films, in which musical performances, dance and beautiful shots create an experience which is easy to get lost in. In the same way that music videos can be a great source of entertainment, musicals grasp the joy and escapism that one can find in musical performance and integrate it into the already enjoyable experience of film. Whilst musical movies can handle serious topics, they also do not take themselves too seriously and for the most part, prioritise the ability of the viewer to fully integrate themselves into all aspects of the experience, making something unforgettable.
Musicals are a wonderful escapist and nostalgic genre, allowing us to get lost into an alternate but similar version of reality in which everything is slightly more beautiful. I, for one, am hugely excited to think that La La Land could just be the beginning of a resurgence of musical films and am excited by the ways that the genre will adapt and change.