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Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films Paperback – 25 Feb 2014

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With Music in the Shadows, Biesen continues her trailblazing scholarship in film noir. Having delineated noir's World War II origins in Blackout, Biesen focuses on noir's impact on a specific genre, the musical. Biesen offers an arresting and innovative exploration of studio documents, publicity, and the films themselves, spanning wartime through the 1950s, demonstrating the cycle's continuing resonances. A book for every noir and musical enthusiast who wants to expand their understanding of these forms―and for all who want to know more of the American musical tradition and its cultural evolution.

(Brian Taves, author of Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer)

Continuing the groundbreaking work on film noir in her first book, Blackout, which uncovered the origins of noir in World War II, Sheri Chinen Biesen’s Music in the Shadows traces another unlikely, understudied connection―between film noir and the Hollywood musical. Blending archival research, textual analysis, industrial and cultural history, Biesen builds a fascinating and quite convincing case for a genre hybrid, the noir musical, that took root in the 1940s but has continued to evolve ever since―from post-classical masterworks like The Red Shoes and West Side Story to New Hollywood gems like All That Jazz and Moulin Rouge. In the process, she challenges and fundamentally changes our understanding of both film noir and the film musical.

(Thomas Schatz, The University of Texas at Austin)

[Biesen's] writing is silky and engaging and will enthrall fans of musicals and film noir...

(Library Journal)

Music in the Shadows is an interesting and provocative approach to post-genre film criticism that underscores the interconnectedness of diverse media, and provides both a challenging perspective on the musical genre and a testimonial to the ongoing legacy of noir sensibility.

(Louis J. Kern Key Reporter)

The book nicely balances in-depth historical research and previous film noir scholarship with fresh ideas and a writing style that is both evocative and concise. The author doesn't force the films into the model of her theory; instead the films guide the theory, a quality often lacking in film writing. Music in the Shadows ultimately succeeds on two levels, both in providing an entertaining and enlightening read, as well as an impetus to watch previously unseen films and rewatch familiar classics with a new perspective.

(Anne M. Hockens Noir City)

Biesen's relevant study provides new insight and proves a welcome addition to film noir studies.


About the Author

Sheri Chinen Biesen is an associate professor of radio, television, and film studies at Rowan University and author of Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir, also published by Johns Hopkins.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Couldn't Wait to Read This! 2 Jun. 2014
By OpenBookSociety dot com - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Brought to you by OBS reviewer JoAnne

Since I am a huge classic film – especially noir – lover; I couldn’t wait to read this book. Ms. Biesen has written an outstanding book on the use of music in film noir, and the impact it makes. Drawing upon such films as Gilda, Young Man with a Horn, Blues in the Night, Double Indemnity, and even The Major and the Minor - a film which uses the song “A Woman’s a Two Face” sung by a cadet to Ginger Rogers (masquerading as a teenager, believe it or not) – she has written a comprehensive and extensive work that is well-written and fascinating to read.

Anyone who is interested in film noir would find this indispensable as a reference – after all, who can forget Dooley Wilson in Casablanca crooning ‘As Time Goes By?’ She covers both well-known and not so well-known films - Christmas Holiday being one of my favorites – Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in a dark noir film, both playing against character (I suggest you try to find a copy; it will definitely be worth your while) – and offers a description of the Musician’s Strike of 1942, which has long since passed into history, yet spawned some of the greater singers of the century (Frank Sinatra among them).

A highly recommended book for both film fans and music lovers alike; after all, who can go wrong with a book that has the sultry Rita Hayworth as Gilda on the cover?

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
excellent ground-breaking noir musical study 17 May 2014
By Walter Neff - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Another outstanding book by Biesen, the first work on noir musical films, a fascinating under-studied hybrid of film noir and dark jazz musicals. An extraordinary follow-up to Biesen's first book, Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. Really interesting read, original scholarship with extensive primary archival research. Major films include Blues in the Night, To Have and Have Not, Phantom Lady, Gilda, The Red Shoes, Road House, The Man I Love, Black Angel, A Star Is Born, Young Man With a Horn, Young at Heart, Love Me or Leave Me, West Side Story, New York, New York, Cabaret, All That Jazz, Round Midnight, and many more. Well written film history, accessible to students, scholars, and movie buffs.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Promising Concept Betrayed 11 Oct. 2014
By Michael Samerdyke - Published on
Format: Paperback
Opera is sometimes defined as an art form where someone is stabbed and then sings an aria. Noir musical, perhaps, might be where someone is shot and then sings.

This was a frustrating book. It could have been very good, because Biesen points out how flexible noir is as a category, and how closely it connects with the musical. (Many noirs take place in nightclubs and have characters who are musicians, for instance.) Music is an important part of film noir.

However, the book struck me as very badly organized. Parts of it read like a pure history of film noir in general or even how Hollywood itself changed over the decades. Some films were very thoroughly discussed, such as "Blues in the Night," which seems to have been the inspiration for this book. Other films received perfunctory treatment. Surely a book on music in film noir needs a detailed discussion of the "jazz nightmare" scene in "Phantom Lady." Biesen breezes over that film and instead discusses "The Red Shoes" as a film noir. While there is definitely a tragic element to "The Red Shoes," that movie has never struck me as film noir.

In her last chapter, Biesen talks about dark musicals that came out after "West Side Story" (which she also seems to consider noir) but she never mentions the neo-noirs of this era, whereas earlier she had always linked dark musicals to film noir. I just found this chapter very unbalanced.

This book needed a strong editor. (One little thing that bugged me. Biesen said Winston Churchill died in 1955. He did not; he left office that year. Why would Churchill even be mentioned in a book on film noir in the first place?) Ultimately, the book felt like Biesen was mashing a lot of her research together between one set of covers. This could have been so much better.
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