The musical's importance is underlined by the success of The Jazz Singer (1927), the first sound picture. As mentioned earlier, however, the early sound films that favored dialogue-intensive plots tended to be little more than filmed plays.
By the early 1930s, however, many directors experimented with camera movement to allow for a more dynamic approach, and post-synchronization (adding sound after production is completed) freed the musical from the constraints of the stage. As early as 1929, King Vidor post-synchronized an entire musical, Hallelujah (1929). However, it was the creative choreography of Busby Berkeley in Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) that pointed the direction toward the dynamic editing of the musical. Berkeley later became one of the great directors of the musical film.
The musical posed certain challenges for the editor. The first was the integration of a dramatic story with performance numbers. This was most easily solved by using dramatic stories about would-be performers, thus making the on-stage performance appear to be more natural. The second challenge was the vaudeville factor: the need for a variety of routines in the film, comedy routines as well as musical routines. This was the greater challenge because vaudeville routines could not be integrated as easily into the dramatic story as could a few musical numbers. Another dimension from vaudeville was the persona of the character. Such actors as Fred Astaire and Edward Everett Horton had to play particular characters. The role of the editor was to match the assembly of images to the star's persona rather than to the drama itself. Despite these limitations, the musical of the 1930s and beyond became one of the most dynamic and visual of the genres.
A brief examination of Swing Time (1936) illustrates the dynamism of the musical. The director, George Stevens, tells the dramatic story of performer-
gambler Lucky Garnett (Fred Astaire) and his relationship to performer Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers). The dramatic story reflects the various stages and challenges of the relationship. This dimension of the film is realistic and affecting, and the editing is reminiscent of Broken Blossoms or The Big Parade.
The editing of the musical numbers, on the other hand, follows the rhythm of Jerome Kern's music and highlights the personae of Astaire and Rogers. The scale of these numbers is closer to the Ziegfeld Follies than to vaudeville, and consequently, the editing of these numbers could have differed markedly from the editing of the balance of the film. However, because Stevens tended to be a more "realistic" director than Berkeley, these numbers are edited in a manner similar to that of the dramatic portion of the film. There is thus little dissonance between the performance and dramatic sections of the film.
All of the musical numbers—the dancing lesson, the winter interlude, the nightclub sequence, "Bojangles"—have a gentle quality very much in key with Kern's music. Other directors, notably Vincente Minnelli, George Sydney, Stanley Donen, and Gene Kelly, were more physical and assertive in their editing, but this style complemented the persona of frequent star Gene Kelly. Later, directors Robert Wise in West Side Story (1961) and Bob Fosse in Cabaret (1972) were even freer in their editing, but their editing decisions never challenged the rhythm of the music in their films. The scores were simply more varied, and where the music was intense, the director could choose a more intensified editing style, thus using editing to help underscore the emotions in the music.
The musical was a much freer form to edit than films such as Modern Times. The narrative, the persona of the performer-star, and the character of the music influenced the editing style. Together with the strengths of the director of the film, the editing could be "stage-bound" or free.
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