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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: February 2015

4 - Stage and screen


In his short but provocative discussion of the pros and cons of filming opera, Béla Balázs drew a clear distinction between the straightforward filmic preservation of theatrical opera productions (which he viewed as ‘very useful in improving the musical taste of the public’) and the exciting possibility of a film opera ‘intended and directed and composed for the film from the start, [being] a new musical form of art with new problems and new tasks’ (Balázs 1953, 275). Echoing the opinions of commentators in the 1930s, he dismissed the notion of filming pre-existing stage works in a realistic cinematic style as completely incompatible with the highly stylized idiom of operatic acting and singing. Balázs nevertheless advocated a degree of flexibility of direction and, above all,mobile camerawork in order ‘to loosen up the old-fashioned rigidity which is scarcely tolerable even on the stage to-day’, and praised René Clair for his ability to parody in effective cinematic terms the ‘grotesquely unnatural character of stage style’ by such fluidity of directorial technique (Balázs 1953, 276). Balázs's mention in this context of Clair, whose bold and imaginative ideal of the ‘musical film’ was examined in Chapter 2, suggests that certain fundamental aesthetic considerations inform an understanding of the pleasures and pitfalls of reworking both highbrow and middlebrow music-oriented dramatic forms on celluloid. Although Clair's ‘musical film’ quickly gave way to the more commercially minded ‘film musical’, these parallels persisted, especially when film musicals were based directly on stage works.

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