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ThesisUniversity of Iceland>Hugvísindasvið>B.A. verkefni>

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/6275


A Cold Blooded Murderer Calls For a Revision. Rick Altman's Subgenre Division of the American Film Musical

September 2010

The following essay is mainly based on Rick Altman’s subgenre division of the
American film musical genre. Altman claims in his book, The American Film Musical
(1987), that all American film musicals can be fitted into three musical subgenres: the
fairy tale musical, the folk musical and the show musical. The purpose of this project is
to test the validity of Altman’s theory by applying it on five well known musicals which
are: My Fair Lady of 1964, Grease (1978), Pal Joey (1957), Sweeney Todd: The
Demonic Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and Mamma Mia (2008). The first part of this
essay explains important concepts in Altman’s theory, such as his definition of the film
musical and the emphasis on a dual focus narrative. It also points out the relations of
Altman’s theory to structuralism and semiotics, and how Altman in many ways uses the
methods of semiology in his analysis of the film musical. The most important and
defining features of each subgenre are also summarized, but some facts regarding history
and development of the subgenres are omitted. The analysis of the musicals makes up the
largest part of this essay. Each musical is analyzed and fitted in to Altman’s framework
of subgenres, starting with the fairy tale musical My Fair Lady. The outcome of the
testing calls for a discussion about genre mixing, the musicals genre’s evolutionary
progression, and the integration of different themes. The unique semantics of the musical
Sweeney Todd and the creativity of Burton and Sondheim are also deliberated. At the end
of this essay I discuss the validity of Altman’s theory and methodology according to the
result of this study.


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