Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Film Studies

First Advisor

Erin Espelie

Second Advisor

Melinda Barlow

Third Advisor

Alexander Fobes

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Abstract

Through my short film Inseparable, I want to utilize the musical genre as a self-reflexive tool in order to examine and dissect the methods in which musicals use the escapist fantasy to promote a white, heterosexual agenda. I will take as many of the basic elements of the musical genre as I can and rebrand them to portray something that is not escapist, and forces the audience to take a closer look at society.

The accompanying paper will place the various musical tropes in context, highlighting the ones I used most prominently in my film. This will primarily focus on the fantasy climax number, obsession with fame, and the gentrification present in the musical genres. By focusing on genre theory, I will show how certain tropes are so ingrained in American consciousness that they have a larger effect on society as a whole.

Musicals have always been an escapist genre. They spiked in popularity during the Great Depression, as the public needed an reprieve from the drudgery of day to day life. The genre has all the ideal elements to construct the perfect distraction: worlds where music can burst in at any moment, a lack of real conflict, and characters who always fall in love by the end. As time progressed, musicals portrayed an increasingly idealistic version of the world. While this served an important purpose, not everyone’s vision of an ideal world is the same. Musicals are notably ignorant of queer folks, people of color, and pretty much everyone who does not fit the white heterosexual mold.

Another of the most common tropes in the musical genre is the idealization of fame. Going back as far as The Broadway Melody (Beaumont, 1929) all the way up to La La Land (2016, Chazelle), the pursuit of fame has been an integral element to the genre. In a world where we already idolize celebrities to an unnerving extent, the musical genre does nothing but help perpetuate the false fantasy of fame. Just as revisionist westerns such as Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) examine the consequences of violence used so freely in classics like The Searchers (Ford, 1956), I will use my film to contextualize the unaddressed consequences of fame. By focusing on one day in the life of a fictional celebrity named Julie, I will highlight the isolating reality that comes with being a pop icon.

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