In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Musicals

  • Introduction
  • Surveys and Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Foundational Works from the 1970s and 1980s
  • Newer Works from the 1990s and 2000s
  • Recent Specialized Studies
  • Video Sources

Cinema and Media Studies Musicals
Steven Cohan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0047


The film musical is usually identified almost exclusively with Hollywood, specifically those lavish star-filled films made during the heyday of the studio era. Furthermore, it has often been considered a genre that sings volumes about the American character and national sensibility, and for this reason, the film musical has also been taken to be an American “invention” tied to American show business traditions. Neither premise is entirely true, however. Other national film industries—most famously but not exclusively, the Hindi cinema nicknamed “Bollywood”—have their own histories of producing musicals that reflect their culture’s own popular entertainment tradition, tastes, styles, and ideological tensions. Nonetheless, it is the case that most scholarship on this genre has concentrated on the American musical, usually on its own terms but sometimes as it has influenced productions from Britain, France, or elsewhere in the West. While a few references to other national industries that heavily feature musical elements, such as Bollywood, are included in this bibliography, those films and their cinemas are most usually studied by scholars in other generic, national, or cultural contexts. Finally, while The Wizard of Oz (1939) or full-length animation films epitomize the musical genre for many of today’s young audiences, these more properly belong to the genre of children’s (or family) film, so they are not given much attention here.

Surveys and Reference Works

The titles in this section are of value either for their encyclopedic coverage of the genre or for their scope in surveying or archiving its history, or for doing both. Readers untutored in the film musical’s past or who know the genre primarily from Broadway megahits should start here. “Class Act: Those Golden Movie Musicals,” Parish and Pitts 1992, and Hirschhorn 1991 offer detailed listings of Hollywood’s output. Comparable information for musicals can also be obtained from individual entries at the Internet Movie Database, which is not listed here. Fehr and Vogel 1993 organizes a survey of the genre around its relation to music. Henderson and Bowers 1996 integrates visual archival material into its presentation of the genre’s history. Fordin 1996 and Knox 1973 offer valuable insights into the production of musicals at MGM, the studio most identified with the genre; Fordin 1996 distills production files of the Arthur Freed unit, which mostly made musicals, and Knox 1973 is an oral history of the making of Freed’s An American in Paris (1951), directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly. Frank 1994, finally, includes some illuminating interviews with tap dancers who appeared on screen as well as on stage.

  • Class Act: Those Golden Movie Musicals.

    Alphabetically arranged encyclopedia of classical-era US musicals; put together by a well-informed fan-scholar.

  • Fehr, Richard, and Frederick G. Vogel. Lullabies of Hollywood: Movie Music and the Movie Musical, 1915–1992. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1993.

    History of the genre through its relation to song writers and the development of popular music.

  • Fordin, Hugh. M-G-M’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. New York: Da Capo, 1996.

    Informative and revealing chronicle, based on production files, of the MGM films produced by Arthur Freed, most of which were musicals. Previously published by different publishers and under alternate titles: in 1975 as The World of Entertainment! Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals (New York: Doubleday) and again in 1984 as The Movies’ Greatest Musicals: Produced in Hollywood USA by the Freed Unit (New York: F. Ungar).

  • Frank, Rusty E. Tap! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories, 1900–1955. Rev. ed. New York: Da Capo, 1994.

    Interviews with dancers, many of whom appeared on screen, such as Ann Miller, Gene Nelson, Ruby Keeler, Shirley Temple, and Fayard Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers.

  • Henderson, Amy, and Dwight Blocker Bowers. Red, Hot & Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1996.

    Lavishly illustrated monograph presenting the genre’s history in an archival context, which was published in conjunction with a major exhibition on the musical held at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC.

  • Hirschhorn, Clive. The Hollywood Musical. 2d ed. New York: Portland House, 1991.

    Complete year-by-year chronology of musicals produced in the United States with listings of numbers and their performers, including voice doubles, for each film. Essential for its encyclopedic coverage, which vividly illustrates the expanding and shrinking quantity as well as quality of annual output during the many decades covered by the volume.

  • Knox, Donald. The Magic Factory: How MGM Made An American in Paris. New York: Praeger, 1973.

    Invaluable oral history of the making of An American in Paris (1951) with participants ranging from all aspects of the production; informative as case study of this film’s production and as an exemplary document of how MGM made musicals. Out of print but worth tracking down.

  • Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Hollywood Musical Films. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1992.

    Alphabetical listings of musicals produced in the United States with credits and plot synopses.

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