Skip to main content
Contribution to Book
Film Musicals as Cinema of Attractions
From Stage to Screen: Musical Films in Europe and the United States, 1927–1961 (2012)
  • Jonathan De Souza, Western University
Movie musicals have often played up their theatrical roots. In The Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), to take an early example, rich men fall in love with chorus girls. Yet the relation between stage and screen goes beyond backstage plots: many film musicals are adaptations of Broadway shows or operettas, and many of the genre's stars, writers, and directors got their start in theatre. With such obvious connections, it's easy to forget that film musicals also have a cinematic heritage. Audiences watching The Gold Diggers of Broadway in 1929 might remember The Gold Diggers, a silent treatment of the same story from six years earlier. What would these versions have in common, other than plot and characters? What did the first film musicals share with silent movies? More generally, how did the cinematic tradition or filmic medium shape screen musicals?

I develop one answer here by tracing connections between film musicals and the spectacular tendencies of early cinema. The chapter's sections alternate between more theoretical and more analytical perspectives. The first part reviews the 'cinema of attractions', while the second considers its persistence in Love Me Tonight (1932). Turning to issues of musicals and modernity, the third section relates 'attractions' to a Benjaminian history of the senses—which then guides a reading of The Wizard of Oz (1939). A fifth and final part looks past the 1930s, sketching a taxonomy of attractions in the Hollywood musical as a genre.
  • film musicals,
  • cinema of attractions,
  • vernacular modernism
Publication Date
Massimiliano Sala
Citation Information
Jonathan De Souza. "Film Musicals as Cinema of Attractions" Turnhout, BelgiumFrom Stage to Screen: Musical Films in Europe and the United States, 1927–1961 (2012) p. 71 - 91
Available at: