cover image The Movie Musical!

The Movie Musical!

Jeanine Basinger. Knopf, $40 (656p) ISBN 978-1-101-87406-6

Film historian Basinger (I Do and I Don’t) returns with this exhaustive and exhilarating survey of the American musical. Basinger starts by discussing the filmed vaudeville shorts that played in theaters even before Hollywood switched over to exclusively producing sound features in 1929, and goes all the way up to 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody. All the while, she examines each major development in musical film, such as how, in the early 1930s, the innovative use of sound and camera movement by directors Ernst Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian made “what formerly had been a stage-bound tradition” into a viable Hollywood genre. Basinger is informative and insightful on everything from celebrated classics such as Meet Me in St. Louis and Singin’ in the Rain, to forgotten—yet once surprisingly popular—“singing cowboy” films such as Melody Ranch and Boots and Saddles. Because of the rigorous scholarship, readers will feel they are in good hands when Basinger digresses from strict facts into opinion—for instance, her scorching dislike for the 2016 Oscar-winner La La Land, which, unlike classic-era musicals, is “not energetic, optimistic, or determined to pin down joy for its characters”—in short, “it’s not American.” The depth of her dislike feels telling: this is a passion project for her. That passion should be infectious for all readers of Basinger’s monumental but fleet-footed epic. (Nov.)