Rock 'N' Film (Hardcover)
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Cinema's Dance With Popular Music
By David E. James
In the mid-1950s, rock ’n’ roll amalgamated earlier black and white working-class musical traditions to displace the Great American Songbook’s hegemony over Anglophone popular music. At the same time, the classic musical was both displaced and re-created in a new form of film: the rock ’n’ roll musical. For the next two decades, the genre’s evolution in the United States and the United Kingdom accompanied and sustained the emergence, flowering, and decay of a counterculture. Cinema was second only to records in the production of the new cultural gestalt that the music generated. An ongoing series of films created a mythic history of rock ’n’ roll, becoming the most important means by which both its utopian folk aspirations and its contradictory relation to the alienating agencies of capitalist culture were disseminated and debated. Films about rock ’n’ roll involved innovations in the two key representational elements of the classic musical. To represent the “numbers,” the spectacles of musical performance, cinema created new visual techniques parallel to specific musical innovations, that is, forms of rock ’n’ roll filmic visuality. The narratives, cinema’s stories about rock ’n’ roll musicians and audiences, entailed proposals about its aesthetic and social meanings. By the end of the 1960s, the biracial social projects of the civil rights and other social movements fell into disarray, and the rock ’n’ roll musical splintered into films about separate black and white music: soul and country. This split was accompanied by cinematic narratives of rock ’n’ roll’s demise.