Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

14 April 2008

Integration?

Okay, I just got back from a conference on musical theatre, so I am feeling kind of updated on the scholarship and there's something I don't understand: What is all the brouhaha about integration about?

As the story goes, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat is sort of integrated, but the true integration of songs and dialogue didn't happen for good until 1946 and Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, after which musicals all became integrated until the advent of the "concept" musical with Hair in the 1960s. Except, of course, that none of this is true. Oklahoma! did not mean the end of unintegrated musicals, nor was it the beginning of integrated musicals. With all of these scholars trying to pinpoint the precise origin of the integrated musical, it seems to me rather odd that none of the papers I heard at the conference concerned a form that I consider had been integrated much earlier than Oklahoma!: the movie musical.

Tonight I watched Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade from 1929, and I defy anyone to tell me that this is not an integrated musical. Each song comes out of the plot and furthers the plot. There are character songs, the obligatory love duet (this one is called "The Love Parade," but is actually rather unengaging) and even a couple of comedic numbers from the secondary characters. I don't get it. Rodgers and Hammerstein could not possibly have thought up this idea on their own. All they would have had to do was go to the cinema. Lubitsch was doing this stuff in late '20s!

Back to The Love Parade, though. This movie is occasionally cute and sometimes very funny, but it is mostly a sexist mess with a strange performance from Maurice Chevalier (who was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar). This flick is nowhere near as good as Harry Beaumont's The Broadway Melody from the same year. The Love Parade follows the romance of the queen of Sylvania (Jeanette MacDonald--I never really liked her) and Count Alfred of Sylvania (Chevalier). She is the queen and he is the prince consort, so he doesn't feel like much of a man. She orders him around and he is to love and obey her. It is a role-reversal film, where the woman rules the roost and commands him and he has to stay home and be bored all day. I thought at first that the whole thing was ironic and funny. How droll, I thought, that we're making fun of men's expectations for their wives by putting a man in that position and seeing how ludicrous it is to expect one partner to stay home all day and do nothing while the other partner goes about her day running the country. I soon figured out, however, that this movie was serious. There was no ironic comment. The Love Parade is about a woman learning her place. The film ends with the queen promising that Alfred shall be the king and run the affairs of state and boss her around as much as he wants. It's sort of bizarre, really. The songs aren't much either, I have to say, though The Love Parade is gorgeous to look at and the comic characters are very cute and have two very cool numbers.