Exhibition sequence

Exhibition sequence

What exactly is a film musical? A movie in which characters spontaneously begin to sing, dance or play music in the heart of the action.. The genre was born in the USA in 1927, along with the "talkies", before inspiring other countries. It has often flourished in times of crisis because, rather than deny reality, it views it with a free eye: let's sing, let's dance, let's face the music! Ultimately, the musical offers a way to recapture the freshness of our gaze on cinema's joie de vivre, what a glorious feeling!

Singin’ in the rain

Gene Kelly et Stanley Donen's Singin’ in the Rain, 1952. © Poster design by Alexis Oussenko. Collection La Cinémathèque française.

This exhibition had to open with Singin' in the Rain, made in 1952. Because this film evokes the birth of the musical as a cinematic genre in 1927 and the beginnings of the talkies. Because it shows us how movies were made in Hollywood in a bygone age. Because it has given rise to dozens of references, quotations and allusions in more recent works. Because it is considered the best musical ever made. Because it was inspired by a hit song from 1929, which encouraged people to retain their joie de vivre, despite of financial crises and bad weather. Because it shines in our collective memory, now more than ever...


Making a musical

In India, by tradition, almost all films are musical: be it a comedy, an action movie or a drama, the audience expects the characters to launch spontaneously into song or dance! In Western cinema, on the other hand, the opposite holds true: the sudden arrival of song and dance in the narrative must be made acceptable to the audience. A whole team of talented writers, performers and technicians work towards this goal: this is what is at stake in the making of a musical.

Fred Astaire danse au plafond - Un procédé technique ambitieux

According to Gene Kelly, dancing on the big screen means filming movements conceived in three dimensions in just two (those of the screen). To achieve this illusion, choreographer and filmmaker work in close collaboration... when they are not one and the same person, like Kelly himself, but also Busby Berkeley, Bob Fosse, Stanley Donen, Charles Walters, Jerome Robbins (West Side Story) or Rob Marshall (Chicago). As for Fred Astaire, he wanted the cameramen and key grips to learn the choreography of his numbers so that the camera would follow him as smoothly as possible and take second place to the body in motion.

Film musicals around the world

Mandhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, 2002 © Eros International/All rights reserved.

At one time or another in their history, nearly all of the world's different film industries have had a tradition of movie musicals.

Most of these films were inspired by the American model and its technical or narrative specificities. Even authoritarian regimes followed suit: the USSR adapted the codes of the American musical to serve Bolshevik ideology, while Nazi Germany was quick to imitate the recipes of Hollywood entertainment (occasionally with talent). But only Indian cinema has so far succeeded in profitably perpetuating the production of musicals, which "contaminate" all kinds of stories.