Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s Hardcover – 23 Jan 2014
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Everyone who loves the films of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly wonders what happened to movie musicals after the 1960s. Roadshow! is an extensively researched and engagingly written account of the demise of musical film during those decades of tumultuous cultural upheaval. (Philip Furia, co-author of The Songs of Hollywood)
About the Author
Matthew Kennedy is a writer, film historian, and anthropologist. His books include three biographies of classic Hollywood figures: Marie Dressler, Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory, and Joan Blondell. He lives in San Francisco.
Top customer reviews
Having grown up in this era I saw most of these movies either on their first release in Australia or at special revivals in cinemas in the pre-home video era. Some were bona fide hits and improvements on their Broadway originals (egs THE SOUND OF MUSIC, OLIVER!, FUNNY GIRL), others were undeserving flops which were either ahead of their time or seen as old-fashioned by the 'now' generation of their day (egs SWEET CHARITY, GOODBYE MR CHIPS) while others again were generally undervalued and have been more appreciated-in spite of their flaws- in later years (egs. STAR!, CAMELOT, FINIAN'S RAINBOW). There are also the 'guilty pleasures' of the last gasp of the traditional Hollywood musical (egs. LOST HORIZON, MAME), some of which were not Road Show attractions but are nevertheless given interesting critiques, Nonetheless even these notorious musicals have their moments (and cult followings) and were made with the kind of studio professionalism sorely lacking today. The rundowns of recent musicals (CHICAGO, LES MISERABLES) are astute- despite better box office returns and awards etc, any of the flops from the Road Show era are more watchable than these over-edited, poorly sung monuments to cinematic tedium. (as a 19 year old I recognized that GREASE had officially caused the Hollywood musical to become extinct- surely one of the most overrated, unendurable (Eve Arden's efforts notwithstanding) and anachronistic movies ever made).
Mr Kennedy writes with affection, honesty and wit and has created the definitive account of a fascinating era in motion picture history.
Some of the quotes provided by acidic critics are hilarious (eg. "The souvenir program for CAMELOT is a far more successful work of art than the film itself)', as are the awards given by publications such as the Harvard Lampoon ( DOCTOR DOLITTLE won the 'Best Argument for Vivisection Award'). The trivia content is pleasingly high- even those who can't stand musicals but were dragged along to them by determined parents should find this book a fun read. One of the best books in my somewhat numerous collection of volumes devoted to the cinema of yesteryear.
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Like many other writers about the Sixties, Kennedy’s focus is on the late-1960s (after the profitable “My Fair Lady” and “Mary Poppins” in 1964and the blockbuster success of the “The Sound of Music” in 1965) and into the early-1970s. One of the 21 roadshow musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof,” dates from 1971, and Bob Fosse, Liza Minnelli, and Joel Grey won Oscars for a (non-roadshow) musical in 1972. It is not that each big musical was a bigger money-loser than the one before, following the fatal path of finding a next “Sound of Music.”
Among the surprises are that “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Song of Norway” turned profits during their initial theatrical releases. That the studio system was collapsing was both a cause for bad decisions and cost overruns of Broadway musicals and an effect of expensive failures (including some roadshows that were not musicals). Studio executives had long been casting stars without singing or dancing talents onto directors of musicals (see When BroadwayWhen Broadway Went to Hollywood Went to Hollywood), and seemingly valuing set design more than musical performance. (This is not to say that movies with leads who could sing were critical or commercial successes, e.g., “Hello, Dolly!” and “Star!”) Failure of many of these big investments is less surprising — especially given information Kennedy relates — is less mysterious than success —especially the “fatal success” of “The Sound of Music,” not the greatest Rodgers and Hammerstein musical filmed by Hollywood studios—it was “fatal,” or at least expensive, in attempts to catch and resell whaever magic was in it.
Though Julie Andrews was for a time the biggest box-office actress in the world, two musical extravaganzas built around her were aborted, and the two that were carried to term sank like rocks. To me this shows that the fixation on stars was a misplaced priority of the money-men, as many projects’ budgets ballooned to levels where profit was an impossible dream (to borrow the title of a song from one of the failures, the dismal “Man of La Mancha”).
Though the book is more about the business of movie-making (and publicizing) than about the art of cinema, what Kennedy writes analyzing the movies that were made and released is mostly impeccable. I like “The Matchmaker” more than he, but his diss of it is quite in passing. He makes me consider watching “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” if it ever falls in my path.
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