Re-imagining the MGM musical:
: authorship and adaptation in film and stage musicals

  • Nathan James

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Choreographers have often been one of the silent voices during the golden age of film musicals due to a lack of union recognition and the denial of an Academy Award since 1937. This thesis seeks to examine the role of the choreographer in MGM musicals between 1929 and 1957 when the studio system collapsed. Underpinning the research is an investigation of authorship
    within the work of choreographers and film stars who danced and contributed to their own dance performances on screen. Utilising the auteur theory, the first part of this research examines to what extent the choreographer and dancer can be considered an author of their own work. During the latter part of the 20th century, the auteur lens has been relocated to other roles, such as directors and producers, rather than the traditional screenwriters. Despite an immense contribution to the film musicals produced in the golden age, dancers and choreographers have not been fully included in these later examinations. The collaborative nature of working in film musicals is complex and this research seeks to assert authorial credit to choreographers and dancers, who provided a rich legacy of work on screen, through the use of detailed dance analysis and archival research.

    The second part of this thesis advances the investigation to screen-to-stage adaptations, a growing genre of musical theatre in the late 20th and early 21st
    centuries. Several film musicals have been adapted to stage and the analysis in this thesis considers the adaptation process, whilst continuing to navigate through the complex web of determining authorship when switching between film and theatre mediums. The two case studies, 42nd Street (1980) and Singin’ in the Rain (1985), provide clear examples of the problematic issue of adapting between performance modes and how choreographers and directors circumvent between recapturing the past and making original contributions. This thesis seeks to establish the choreographer’s authorial voice and widen the contribution to dance studies examining the development of dance in film musicals.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorStacey Prickett (Supervisor) & Helena Hammond (Supervisor)

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