According to Rick Altman (2005) genre in film theory submits to the method by which a film is set up and is usually founded on the comparisons in narrative elements. Due to the rapid changes in the film industry and the major emphasis on the viewer’s interpretation, film genre occurs to be an impersonal sign of specific narration, mental image, and possible reaction on a film by the audience. Rick Altman postulates that Genres must no longer be considered solely as impersonal agents of narrative organization, but as discursive acts, an active part of the industry’s direct address to its audience, a rhetorical ploy destined to enforce a single pre-determined reading or at least to increase the probability that certain other interpretations will remain unexplored (Rick Altman, 2005).
The coming of sound led to a number of developments in the formation of genres in films. A number of developments in genre were motivated by impersonations that were wide spread at that point in time. Therefore, it is critical to note that the integration of sound marked a huge step in cinematic realism. This paper will discuss the concept of film genre and find out how a film genre affects the way it is interpreted by audiences and critics. In doing so, the paper will discuss the Musical genre as portrayed in Love’s never Lost by Kenneth Branagh.
Ever since Kenneth Branagh impressed the audience with his debut 1989 film, Henry V critics have noticed two qualities about his work: he borrows from other films and holds back very little. This paper will evaluate Love’s never Lost alongside a number of classified films that he has borrowed from, for instance, Top Hat by Mark Sandrich, and Flying down to Rio by Thornton Freeland to see how the changes made on the musical effect the way it is interpreted by audiences and critics. In Love’s never Lost, Kenneth Branagh omits three of the most significant 1930s musical comedies. For instance, he casts people who cannot dance or sing, constructs the lead stars screen personas, and integrates musical numbers into the narrative. The director also failed to consider the temporal magnitude of the films and the harsh censorship that synchronized their sexual content. Due to these decisions, the audience found the narrative clumsy and difficult to comprehend. This is because the totality of expressive content in the film Mise-en scene was blurred (Sikov, 2010).
Audiences find plots in classical Hollywood musicals boring; however, they are moved with the parallel construction of the lead characters. This is much profound in musicals such as Charles Walters 1950 Summer Stock. where two of its lead characters: the head of an acting troupe (Kelly Gene) and a New England Farmer (Garland Judy) considerably differ on their ideas of love and work ethics. Jane, Garland’s character wakes up early to milk cows, when by effortlessly maneuvering the family tractor; she betroths herself to the unexciting and responsible boy in the next door. This deems the world of acting as full of persons who are destructive, irresponsible, and thoughtless. On the other hand, Joe who is Kelly’s character needs to be woken up by the wild beast of a pistol. Upon failing on his task of collecting eggs, he vows himself to Jane’s more secular sister while regarding farming as ridiculous (Billington, 2005).
Rick Altman argues that the American film musicals also rely on this kind of dual focus structure. In a given scenario where the narrative is positioned around similar stars of the opposite sex and fundamentally deviating values, the two leading characters must at one point take on the roles of the other. Altman essentially postulates that everything becomes colored with the other actor’s values and actions. At the ending of Summer Stock, Jane is successful as an actor while Joe decides to do part-time farming. However, Branagh does not value this dual focused structure (Rick Altman, 2005).
Most audiences feel that the utmost source of enjoyment in Shakespeare’s Love’s Never Lost is when the female characters persistently ridicule and confound the male characters. This is supposed to be observed explicitly by the audience through Rosaline and Berowne. Their sharp repartee is widely comprehended to resemble that of Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado about nothing (Gardner, 2007).
If Branagh’s 1993 version with a similar name is considered a solid characterization of Beatrice (Emma Thompson), then Benedict (Branagh) is likely to be found. The onscreen blend is instantly recognizable, the sexual tension between them becomes obvious when Thompson grins thus raising her eyebrow in contempt and Branagh’s cracks his voice stiffening his shoulders in repulsion. They despise each other in the entire film to the point that the audiences are made to believe that they could end up together. Equally, in Branagh’s Love’s Labor’s lost, the only thing that makes the audience believe that the characters belong together is their color-coordinated tuxedos and dresses (Miller, 2008).
On the other hand, in Branagh’s musical comedy, almost 120 of Rosaline’s and Berowne’s joking lines are omitted. In their place, he substitutes them with songs such as Don’t ask me why I won’t dance. Consequently, the audience never really gets the sense of the characters’ spoken wit and withdrawn love. This, in the end, makes their last conversation in the movie somehow trivial when Rosaline gives Berowne a challenge to make use of his wit to put into effect the aggrieved helplessness to smile. First, the audiences are not sure that Berowne was very clever. Secondly, they are not sure of the reason behind their earnest promises to each other. This situation occurs because there are no tensions onscreen to indicate otherwise (Taylor, 2009).
The ten musical numbers thus make the character development even more confusing.
Ramona Wray argues that the musical numbers in the Love’s Labours Lost have three objectives: they assist the audiences to find the romantic couples, help in moving along the plot, and briefly delay the narrative with interludes and vignettes. She holds that the music just functions as it would have done in its earlier Hollywood manifestation. The couples are actually identified through the musical numbers. However, this is mostly through their matching garments in their compatible dance movements rather than their chemistry onscreen (Ramona, 2006).
Several musical numbers also further the plot effectively, for instance, the Holofernia song the way you look tonight that from act 4 substitute Don Armadas letter to Jaquaneatta. “Let’s face the music and dance” permits the four upper-class women to switch over partners and ploy their male partners. The numbers do not entirely drive the narrative; rather, they appear to be wedged between the spoken lines because they were either Branagh’s favorites or because the same words were established in Shakespeare’s texts (Taylor, 2009).
The early Astaire Rogers films music was tailored, commissioned, and developed for both Rogers and Astaire. Consequently, there was a great diminution of the distance between number and narrative. This means that their musical numbers were in the real sense narratives. In the end, the dancing and the words assisted in pushing the plot along. However, this kind of unity is not witnessed in Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost since the musical numbers involved were not written for the film. Apart from that, they do not align with Shakespeare’s early fashioned English. The audience thus found it raucous to see the characters transit from their complex play dialogue to the Berlin, Gershwin, and Porter memorable songs. The audience found the film more of an adaptation since the numbers failed in their attempt to flow with the text (Miller, 2008).
The Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost first musical occurs in the library when the Navarre King and his three young lords debate on whether it would be permissible to sign a contract allowing women in the court. While Berowne (Branagh) attempts to persuade the rest against it (Mathew Lillard, Alessandro Nivola, and Adrian Lester) all over a sudden, they break into the lyric I would rather Charleston. Unlike the first numbers in earlier Hollywood musicals, nothing comes out of this dance and song. The song starts when the young men were about to sign their contracts although Berowne persuaded them not to sign them. The four even join in the singing and dancing, yet still, sign the contract. The musical number, therefore, has no effect and there is no plot furtherance. This in effect bores the audience (Miller, 2008).
This can be compared to the opening scene in Top hat, a film that is amongst those that inspired Branagh and provides a much distinct scenario. The song No strings is danced to by Fred Astaire’s character. This awakens the character of Rogers Ginger in her sleep. The musical number has an immediate effect as it enables them to have a rendezvous, where they squabble for a few minutes on Astaire’s top dancing that is apparently too loud for them. They agree that Rogers will fall for Astaire’s character (Gardner, 2007).
The grand finale by Constand is another number that was inserted for fluff. An opportunity is provided to stage musicals such as 42nd Street and Broadway melodies in There is no business like show business musical number. This becomes the most entertaining part of the film because the singer does it for commercial purposes. It also significantly integrates with Shakespeare’s text thus changing parts of the secondary plot that involved a Spanish soldier, Armado Don. He is a comedic actor whose actions reflect those of the King and his three high-class lords. Armando, now responsible for the nine worthies Pageant, becomes a comic scapegoat to ensure the four young men laugh at their previous bravado. However, in the version of the film, it is Costard and not Armando who stars in the Pageant with his laid-back edition of There is no business like show business musical number (Crowl, 2008).
The tempo of the show is speeded up and he is joined by the remaining Navarre on stage. As much as the scene has top shots, high angle shots, and remains of Berkeley Busby kaleidoscope numbers, it appears to be forced just like I will rather Charleston scene in the beginning. Instead of furthering the plot, it changes it leaving the audiences more bemused on the role of Armado in the narrative (Gardner, 2007).
The seventh musical number let’s face the music and dance somehow furthers the narrative in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Just before this number is played the four ladies, (Emily Mortimer, McElhone, Carmen Ejogo and Alicia Silverstone) receive gifts and poems from their Lords. In the course of flaunting their gifts, they put on masks and dress alike so that the men would not be sure of the woman they are trying to woo. When the plot starts all the eight actors enter the scene singing and dancing when the men eventually woo the wrong women and the conniving occurs; in this scenario, the plot advances. However, the sexual nature of the scene is a problem (Billington, 2005).
The scene was out of place because it was filled with yearning eyes, tight black pants, and heaving cleavage. The structures of the production code in classic Hollywood films mandated that even though sex was to allude, it had to be done so much inconspicuously and cleverly. This is because they were not permitted to show scenes of passion such as compromising sexual positions, nudity, kissing with lust, or fondling. The act of dancing and the dancing costumes were to remain within decency boundaries to avoid arousing passion amongst the audiences. These are the restrictions that shaped the American musical; an actor’s sexuality was repositioned basically into backbiting battles between the major male and female characters into the dance and song numbers.
Rick Altman points out that when sex is expunged from a sex comedy, it must go somewhere. After the 1930s, sex appeared on a distinct platform: dislocated, disguised, and displaced but not discounted. However, Branagh does not take into deliberation the historical framework with his Love’s Labour’s Lost. He instead attempts to produce a censored musical without censorship. Since this ethical code does not exist then, he chose to include what he wanted in his film (Rick Altman, 2005).
This kind of withdrawn sexuality is typical of early musicals such as the (Mark Sandrich 1934) Gay Divorce where upon dancing to the number Night and day; Fred Astaire’s character gives cigarettes to the reclined Ginger Rogers character. Branagh, in his masked dance, picks up this concept since all the girls puff cigarettes. However, contrasting to these early films is the fact that in Branagh’s dance scene, the audience finds a red smoky room where men lick women’s legs, cameras go fast on ample cleavages and women scuffle for men’s crotches (Billington, 2005).
As much as it was initially intended to function like a rundown type number similar to the Rogers Astaire passionate dances such as Cheek to cheek and Night and day, Branagh’s Let’s face the music and dance does not fit in any of the general chasteness and cheerfulness of the film’s first hour. It also does not match up to the musical genre that he attempts to imitate. The audiences thus perceive it as a number that is out of place and forced into being. The cinematographer in Love’s Labour Lost in the end, serves the actors through gliding the camera in such a manner as to fool the audiences into believing that they are seeing lots of movements than they really are. As implied in this statement, this film’s musical numbers are essentially simple; steps are unsophisticated and premeditated, and largely the singers’ voices are strained (Crowl, 2008).
Directors like Branagh, who have decided to do the musical genre, may find it liberating and creative to play with its format by hiring inexperienced dancers and singers. Probably, this ensures that their pictures are of less threat to contemporary audiences or perhaps the characters gain more fun in it. However, in Branagh’s setting, the adaptation distances modern audiences not only from Shakespeare but also from the 1930s studio musicals. This is not only ironic but also unfortunate given Branagh’s original well-meaning objectives to make the play match the needs of modern audiences. This confirms the fact that due to the rapid changes in the film industry and the major emphasis on the viewer’s interpretation, film genre occurs to be an impersonal sign of specific narration, mental image, and possible reaction on a film by the audience.
Rick Altman. (2005). The American Film Musical Bloomington; Indiana UP,
Billington M. (23 May 2005) “Guardian Interview of Kenneth Branagh at the National Film Theatre.” interview with, The Daily Telegrapher
Crowl S. (2008). Shakespeare in the Cineplex: The Kenneth Branagh Era (Athens: Ohio UP
Gardner G. (2007) The Censorship Papers: Movie Censorship Letters/mm the Hays Office, (New York; Dodd
Miller M. (2008) “Of Tines and Toons: The Movie Musical in the 1990s,” in Film Genre 2000: New Critical Essays, ed. Wheeler Winston Dixon; New York, 46-55.
Ramona W. (2006) “Nostalgia for Navarre; The Melancholic Metacinema of Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Literature/Film Quarterly 30.3, 172.
Sikov Ed (2010) Film Studies: An Introduction. Columbia University Press.
Taylor C. (2009). “The Player,” review of Love’s Labour’s Lost (Miramax), Saton.com
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