The Jazz Singer's Hair

Identity, narrative, and entertainment: the first fifty years of American film musicals.

  • Module Tutor: Professor William Brooks
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)

Aims and content

The American film musical is both a genre in itself and a hybrid form that re-presents work first seen in theatres.  The interaction of media, the cultural and economic place of film musicals, the interaction of narrative and fantasy, and the representation of American stereotypes, politics, and culture will be explored with reference to a core repertory listed below, and supplemental films ranging from Shirley Temple to Rent.

NB. – This module is timetabled differently from other projects – you must ensure you are able to attend all teaching sessions before choosing it.

SPRING TERM 2014, Teaching sessions:

MONDAYS, 11:15 to 12:45 and 2 to 3:30: 13, 20, 27 Jan; 3, 17, 24 Feb; 3 Mar.

THURSDAYS, 9:15 to 12:45:  16, 23, 30 Jan; 6 Feb; 20 and 27 Feb will be devoted to tutorials.

Showings of Core repertoire (not compulsory):  SUNDAYS, 4:00 to 10:00 (approximately) in the Rymer Auditiorium. These will be preceded by a short lecture [20–30 minutes].  A general discussion—no more than a half-hour—will follow each film. There will be a break for dinner on evenings when there are double features.

  • 12 January: Gold Diggers of 1933 and Cabaret
  • 19 January: Snow White and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • 26 January: Top Hat and The Band Wagon
  • 2 February: The Jazz Singer and Singin’ in the Rain
  • 9 February: A Star is Born
  • 16 February: Oklahoma! (stage show, on video)and Oklahoma! (film)
  • 23 February: West Side Story
  • 2 March: Hair! Let the Sunshine In (documentary) and Hair! (film)

Knowledge of the core repertoire is required – if you do not attend the showing on Sunday afternoon you must ensure that you familiarise yourself with that material for the Monday teaching session which follows.


An essay of 5,000 words or, by agreement, an equivalent alternative (such as an illustrated lecture or audio-visual presentation of 45 minutes, or a website or creative project of similar scope).

Reading and listening

In addition to the core repertoire listed above, students should be familiar with Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Show Boat, Yankee Doodle Dandy and other classics.

The standard texts are Rick Altman: The American Film Musical and Jane Feuer: The Hollywood Musical. Students are advised to be familiar with these before the start of the module. Secondary texts will be drawn from works like Rick Altman, Genre: The Musical: A Reader; Bruce Babington and Peter William Evans, Blue Skies and Silver Linings: Aspects of the Hollywood Musical; Steven Cohan, Hollywood Musicals, the Film Reader; Bill Marshall and Robynn Stilwell, Musicals:  Hollywood and Beyond; and John Mundy, Popular Music on Screen: from the Hollywood Musical to Music Video.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the taught part of the module, all students should:

  • have developed an overview of the first fifty years of American film musicals;
  • have gained deeper insight into cultural and political aspects of American film musicals through examination of selected appropriate works;
  • have explored some current analytical and contextual methodologies appropriate to film musicals.

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A10

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B10

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C10