This interview with film historian Lee Gambin sheds some light on the changes that occurred in the 1970s with the movie musical.
For many years, I’ve seen film critics claim that movie musicals started to go out of vogue in the 1960s, or even the late 1950s. But some of the most commercially successful musicals were released in the 1970s. Why do the critics seem to forget about the decade’s musicals?
Many critics tend to speak in absolutes and this kind of thinking can be completely damaging to the reputation of a genre and completely untrue. The idea that musicals “went out of fashion” come the sixties is completely bogus. I mean “West Side Story,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” are three obvious incredible examples of classic cinema. They were not only box office successes but the epitome of iconography. And the decade gave us bizarre innovative musicals such as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” as well, that played with the genre.
Of course, the duds, the ones that lost studios money, were the ones that stood out in the minds of folk like Pauline Kael and so forth, such as “Dr. Dolittle” and “Hello, Dolly!,” but there is always this weird ignorance that permeates – I mean, hello, “Oliver!” happened!
But yes, the ’70s delivered extremely successful musicals that were all extremely diverse! I mean if you look at the golden age of movie musicals (the thirties and forties) there are many similar styles and narrative elements (look at the brilliant but very set-in-their-way musicals of Arthur Freed) but in the ’70s you had insanely different musicals and many of them, as you say, major successes.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is incredibly different to “Cabaret” and yet both were major hits. The influence of rock ‘n’ roll also helped resurrect or generate a new interest in the movie musical, but many critics completely overlooked these films because they were possibly too interested in non-genre specified films that were starting to surface during an era of anti-glamour.
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