The role of Hollywood films in holding up a mirror–albeit sometimes a distorted one–to the American public is indisputable. Less discussed is their role in bringing a wide range of music–popular, classical, jazz, avant-garde, ethnic–to an unsuspecting audience. Whether the music is in the foreground, as in biographical movies about composers, for example, or in the background supporting the narrative, watching a movie educates the viewers' ears. Indeed, the role of movies in widening the public's aural palate has parallels with the role of art museums in broadening the public's visual taste. To supply the music needed for movies, Hollywood studios have employed a large number of composers of the most varied backgrounds, taking on a significant function as patron of contemporary music. This essay briefly examines some of the varied interactions of movies, music, and the public.
The Broadway musical is an excellent prism for viewing the narrative of American life – as it is, has been, and perhaps should be. In the first part of the twentieth century, musicals viewed life through rose-colored glasses; musicals were equivalent to musical comedy. Starting in the 1940s, the mood of musicals darkened. One indication of the new, serious tone was that characters in musicals died in the course of the show. This essay examines several questions relating to death in the Broadway musical, such as who dies, when in the course of the drama the death occurs, and how the death is marked musically. It concludes with a look at musicals involving the deaths of historical characters and at AIDS-related musicals, works whose assumptions and ideals are very far from those of the musical comedies of the early twentieth century.