Hypertextuality in the diegesis of the megamusical: the aesthetic and cognitive relationship between silent era film and contemporary musical theatre
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AbstractThis research regards the West End/Broadway musical as a hypertextual performance form through which early cinema aesthetics can be seen and felt by spectators. The ‘closed fictional worlds’ (Slugan, 2021: 142) presented by silent fiction films made between 1895 and 1930 echo those of stage megamusicals by virtue of their joint musicality and metatheatricality. From this understanding, the thesis offers a unique perspective on musical theatre by examining its conventions through the lens of silent era cinema. Accordingly, visual tropes, performance techniques and sound phenomena that are shared between European and North American silent films and contemporary musical theatre practices are uncovered throughout its chapters. Additionally, the study aims to confirm its interpretation of contemporary musicals as a ‘transmodalization’ (Genette, 1997: 395) of silent era cinema by grounding the mediums’ theatrical spaces in the corresponding bodily spaces of the hypothetical spectator. It achieves this with reference to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (Piaget, 1962; Piaget and Inhelder, 1969). Specific songs, scenes, and theatrical moments are extracted from an eclectic variety of musical theatre and silent film texts and are subjected to close readings across three theory chapters. Two case studies then illustrate the importance of musical theatre’s transtextuality in determining its unspoken link to cinema’s silent era. The first case study concerns a single narrative that is depicted in both The Sealed Room (Griffith, 1909) and the ‘Il Muto’ scene from Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (1989). Through comparison, it argues that the stage musical’s apparatus is analogous to that of silent film making. The other case study elucidates the metatextual process of revision that characterises Joe Brooks and Dusty Hughes’ score for the short-lived British stage musical Metropolis (1989). It approaches the musical’s sound stimuli as a critical conflation of two contrasting silent film accompaniments, as opposed to a straightforward adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction classic. The collective findings of the thesis conclude that vestiges of silent film’s audio-visual aesthetic can be experienced through performances of many popular West End and Broadway productions in varying degrees of visibility. They indicate that megamusicals and silent films both present a distinctive type of diegesis that is palimpsestic, topographic, reflexive and postdramatic. Musical theatre’s hypertextuality is the key to accessing the elusive relationship and understanding that silent film felt much like the megamusical for its early twentieth century audiences.
CitationMeers, B. (2023) Hypertextuality in the diegesis of the megamusical: the aesthetic and cognitive relationship between silent era film and contemporary musical theatre. University of Wolverhampton. http://hdl.handle.net/2436/625194
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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