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The Sound of Movie Musicals with Neil Brand: Episode 2 of 3 (BBC Four Saturday 2 December 2023)

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The Sound of Movie Musicals with Neil Brand

The Sound of Movie Musicals with Neil Brand: Episode 2 of 3 airs Saturday 2 December 2023 on BBC Four.

What is this episode about

In the second installment, Neil Brand examines the post-war era as a second golden age for the film musical.

His analysis begins with Die Grosse Liebe (1942), a groundbreaking film from that year. This Hollywood-style musical had a clearly German propaganda slant and was produced during the height of the conflict. Featuring Hitler’s favourite chanteuse Zarah Leander, the film became the highest-grossing film of the Third Reich era while sending a patriotic and pro-war message through its songs.

After the war ended, American musicals were back on the rise, this time with even more flamboyance and colour than before. Brand maintains that Gene Kelly’s meteoric rise to stardom during this golden age of Hollywood was crucial to the film’s success. In an interview with Patricia Ward Kelly, Kelly’s widow, he discusses how her husband popularised musical films in the United States, notably Singin’ in the Rain, widely regarded as a masterpiece of all time.

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Musicals may have shone a light on the American Dream, but they played an important role in the formation of national identities in other nations as well. After India gained its independence, musicals became a popular form of expression and a means of preserving cultural identity. Brand examines Guru Dutt’s Pyassa and Mother India, two of the seminal films of this era that are widely considered to be the pinnacle of post-war Hindi cinema.

The musical had reenergized the potential of cinema, but it wasn’t only in India. Two outstanding films, The Love Eterne and Hong Kong Nocturne—the latter an amazing’swinging 60s’ romp—brought China’s cinema to a whole new, Hollywood-inspired level; the Shaw Brothers studios jumped on the idea of music being a box office draw.

The film industry in Hollywood had to change as well. Beginning with straightforward B films like Rock around the Clock and progressing to Elvis Presley’s more complex MGM films, such as Jailhouse Rock, the musical genre was viewed as the logical next step. The rock musical also sparked a revival in British cinema, with performers like Cliff Richard and The Shadows appearing in hits like Summer Holiday and The Young Ones. In order to learn the inside scoop about how these British films became massive hits, Neil meets with Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch.

The movie musical had its heyday and its bust in the roaring ’60s. A masterful example of French New Wave reimagining of musical form as a sort of working-class operetta, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was composed by Jacques Demy. At the same time, The Sound of Music, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews, became an industry classic, a financial success, and the most successful film of all time in Hollywood.

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But a string of disappointing box office returns indicated that musicals were no longer relevant in Hollywood. Clint Eastwood’s tuneless warbling through Paint Your Waggon is an unforgettable performance. Assuming it had one, what would the Hollywood musical’s future hold?

Bob Fosse, a former dancer and now a film director, was the answer—a genius on par with Gene Kelly in the realm of Hollywood musicals. Neil Brand demonstrates how Fosse completely revitalised the musical film industry with her works Sweet Charity and Cabaret, while visiting a New York dance class where Fosse’s distinctive style is still taught today.

Episode 2

When can we see the episode

The Sound of Movie Musicals with Neil Brand: Episode 2 of 3 airs Saturday 2 December 2023 at 11:45pm on BBC Four

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Featured Image Credit: BBC Four


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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