The second book on my 2014 Summer Classic Film Book Reading List is DANGEROUS RHYTHM: WHY MOVIE MUSICALS MATTER by Richard Barrios.
Barrios previously wrote another valued book on my shelves, A SONG IN THE DARK, a history of early film musicals. Since musicals were how I first came to fall in love with classic films, I particularly looked forward to and enjoyed reading his new book on the topic, DANGEROUS RHYTHM.
DANGEROUS RHYTHM is a survey of the musical genre and its long history, which also considers questions such as why musicals have fallen out of favor for long periods and why the genre seems to attract less attention and respect with some film fans. (Part of his theory regarding the latter question is that musicals tend to be a very collaborative effort and aren't seen as the vision of a particular filmmaker, though he acknowledges exceptions such as director Vincente Minnelli.) I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a chapter on animated musicals, as they mean so much to me and they are sometimes overlooked in the musical genre.
As usually happens in a book of this type, I concurred with many of his points, such as his appreciation for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) and Doris Day; on the other hand, I tend to find the opinion of anyone who doesn't appreciate my beloved WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) both suspect and too easily predictable -- he at least acknowledges "the affection that many hold for WHITE CHRISTMAS." I also looked askance at what is clearly a grudging admiration for THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). That said, it's perhaps more interesting to read a book where the author's opinions don't always mirror my own!
While Barrios's opinionated style makes for entertaining reading, I did wish at times that things were a little less emphatically black and white. I felt that he tended to see musicals as great or bad, without much room for the gray area in between; there's a vast number of musicals out there which might not be classics but which have brought me great pleasure over the years.
He does periodically mention some bright spots in movies for which he otherwise doesn't have much use, such as admiring the dances by Ann Miller and Bobby Van in SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953), and he accurately acknowledges THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952) as "flimsy but engaging," but I wished I felt a little more admiration for those "in between" films I love. I also would have liked to see some appreciation of Deanna Durbin, who sadly only merits passing reference in this musical history; indeed, sopranos in general (i.e., Grayson and Powell) receive short shrift from Barrios.
As a side note, simply because I see it happening so frequently: I do wish film historians would have the self-restraint to refrain from political snark, which immediately alienates half of a readership which otherwise would be united by interest in the topic at hand.
While my own comments here have tended to focus on our areas of disagreement -- I'm clearly just as opinionated as Mr. Barrios! -- DANGEROUS RHYTHM is a well-written, informed, and at times thought-provoking book which I recommend.
DANGEROUS RHYTHM is 276 pages, including footnotes and index. It is illustrated with black and white photographs sporadically printed on the text pages.
Sincere thanks to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of this book.