The American Film Musical

The American Film Musical

Charles (Rick) F. Altman
Distribution: World
Publication date: 02/22/1988
Format: Paperback 91 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-20514-8
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1992 French Film Critics Award for Best Film Book, A Selection of the Movie and Entertainment Book Club

... a model of genre criticism and probably the best overall analysis of the film musical to date."
Journal of Popular Films and Television

The American Film Musical is a truly admirable book which is well worth making a song and dance about. It will immediately assume biblical authority for all who are seriously interested in the dream-factory's most lavish fantasies, and it may even come to stand as a landmark in our understanding of Hollywood as a whole.... Altman's book is thorough, well informed and warmly good-humored. It has brought the study of musical films out of the dark ages." Times Literary Supplement

... an important addition to both literature and film collections.... a landmark study."
Library Journal

Altman's important study of the American film musical combines genre theory with film criticism and history.... Recommended... " Choice

The American Film Musical is at once the most advanced statement on genre theory and the most complete treatment of the American musical. Altman’s unique interweaving of theory, history, and criticism represents an original and challenging contribution to film studies. Illustrated with over 200 frame enlargements and production stills.

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Table of Contents


I. An Introduction to the Theory of Genre Analysis
General Discourse on Meaning
The Role of Generic Formations in Meaning Production
The Role of the Critic
Toward Objective Evaluation of Subjective Criticism
Establishing a Corpus

II. The American Film Musical as Dual-Focus Narrative

III. The Structure of the American Film Musical
The film process through a series of paired segments matching the male and female leads
Each separate part of the film recapitulates the film’s overall duality
The basic sexual duality overlays a secondary dichotomy
The marriage which resolves the primary (sexual) dichotomy also mediates between the two terms of the secondary (thematic) opposition

IV. The Style of the American Film Musical
Audio Dissolve
Video Dissolve
Personality Dissolve

V. The Problem of Genre History
Problems with Current Terminology
Towards a New Terminology
Defining the Corpus
Reformulating Genre History
The History of the American Film Musical: A New Approach

VI. The Fairy Tale Musical
Sex as Sex
Sex as Battle
Sex as Adventure

VII. The Show Musical
The Sources of Show Musical Semantics
Backstage: The Syntax of Illusion
Taking it Out of the Theater
Saving the Dying Myth: Reflexivity as Reinforcement

VIII. The Folk Musical
Elements of the Folk Musical
Building a Folk Syntax
A Folk Art in the Age of Mass Media

IX. Genre and Culture
The Fundamental Characteristics of Genre Film
Symbolic Spectatorship
Work and Entertainment
The Musical’s Operational Role
The Practice of Music in the Age of Electronic Reproduction