Smoke. Shadows. Moody strains of jazz. Welcome to the world of
"noir musical" films, where tormented antiheroes and hard-boiled
musicians battle obsession and struggle with their music and
ill-fated love triangles. Sultry divas dance and sing the blues in
shrouded nightclubs. Romantic intrigue clashes with backstage
In her pioneering study, "Music in the Shadows," film noir
expert Sheri Chinen Biesen explores musical films that use film
noir style and bluesy strains of jazz to inhabit a disturbing
underworld and reveal the dark side of fame and the American Dream.
While noir musical films like "A Star Is Born" include musical
performances, their bleak tone and expressionistic aesthetic more
closely resemble the visual style of film noir. Their narratives
unfold behind a stark noir lens: distorted, erratic angles and
imbalanced hand-held shots allow the audience to experience a
tortured, disillusioned perspective.
While many musicals glamorize the quest for the spotlight in
Hollywood's star factory, brooding noir musical films such as
"Blues in the Night, Gilda, The Red Shoes, West Side Story, " and
"Round Midnight" stretch the boundaries of film noir and the
musical as film genres collide. Deep shadows, dim lighting, and
visual composition evoke moodiness, cynicism, pessimism, and
subjective psychological points of view.
As in her earlier study of film noir, "Blackout: World War II
and the Origins of Film Noir, " Biesen draws on extensive primary
research in studio archives to situate her examination within a
historical, industrial, and cultural context.
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