The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson

 

Nonfiction

The songs of Hollywood The Songs of HollywoodPhilip Furia; Oxford University Press 2010WorldCatThe average person tends to think of songs in movies when the talkies started with The Jazz Singer. Even before that, though, music and the film industry were working together. By 1910 Tin Pan Alley songs were sung in theaters before the move started. Then the music writers starting using the photos of movie stars on the cover of their sheet music to help sales. Almost from the beginning of the movie industry, songs and films have gone together.

Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson have studied the use of songs with movies. They have followed the chronology of movies with singing from its early roots with Tin Pan Alley up through Pixar’s WALL-E. The Songs of Hollywood is like a treatise of their work and research.

Furia and Patterson follow how song has been used by and affected movies. This book is loosely in chronological order. Since different theaters were using different methods of presenting songs in movies, the chapters tend to follow the themes as well as the time. While the 1930’s were a busy decade for movie musicals, most of them were “backstager” formula – a show within a show. A good example are the early Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies. They were putting on show for some reason or another and the songs were part of the show.

By the end of the 1930’s, films were starting to add songs as an integral part of the movie. This means the song itself furthered the movie and was presented in a “presentation” or stage type format. A good example here is Judy Garland (again) singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz. That song strengthens Dorothy’s longing to see more of the world. It isn’t added to the movie as a show, but as a piece that is integral to the story.

The Songs of Hollywood chronicles most of the movie musicals that Americans know as well as many that are basically unknown. The book isn’t only about good movies, but about good songs even in bad movies. Furia and Patterson gloss over many big musicals that were made from Broadway shows – i.e. My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Oklahoma, or Fiddler on the Roof. This book instead concentrates on original music written for movies.

The authors spend most of the book concentrating on songs in movies from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. By the 1960’s the use of songs in movies changed again. While still effective in promoting a film, the songs were rarely used as a part of the story to further the story line.

The Songs of Hollywood doesn’t read easily like a novel. Yet it is not difficult to read. Occasionally Furia and Patterson go into the type of beat or rhythm of a song that any serious student of music would understand. I glossed past those sentences onto how the songs were written, placed in a movie, affected the film, etc. At times the actors are the focus of the book. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were very important in the movement of movie songs as just being presentations into being necessary for the story line. Many other actors influenced the film song industry.

This book is a great piece of American film industry history. Furia and Patterson are clear in their writing so any reader can enjoy the book. There are also pictures from movies set within the text where the movie is being discussed. I wish those pictures were bigger – they are only about one inch square.

This in an interesting book and well worth reading, especially if you like movies.

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