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Musical’s throughout their existence have not only served as a form of entertainment, but their capabilities of showing a narrative through song and dance allows the audience to feel strong emotion and connection to the performers. Along with the help of costumes, editing, and sound departments we are able to quickly escape reality and enter new worlds that are rich with symbolism. In this essay we’ll be looking into the happenings in the world during the times of these films, gender roles, and the general progression of musicals; taking a closer look at the films The Wizard of Oz and Grease.
In the nearly forty years of history between the two cinema giants, numerous advancements in the creative process of developing a movie had been made. This includes the response society would have to a movie. When The Wizard of Oz initially came out many people could resonate with this all-American girl from a sleepy small town who didn’t live any sort of lavish lifestyle.
Here we are on this dreary farm with the lifelessness of the black and white color that eventually transitions into the beautiful colorful scenery that had the audience in awe. The mise-en-scène when Dorothy initially enters this wonderland continues to be instilled in the minds of viewers today. As for the narrative and gender roles of The Wizard of Oz, society was in a constant gender battle when it came to ideals and expectations men had for women. Sexism was still at a high in American society and many men thought home was where women belonged, cooking and cleaning.
This ideology clearly seeped into the development of this film. We have this young girl who feels she can’t accomplish anything and being so far away from home is scary. All she wants to do is go back home where she feels most comfortable and can live her life. Another major theme is the fact Dorothy is in a dream-land. Anything she accomplishes simply isn’t possible in real life because she’s just dreaming, it isn’t real. Having three men lead this girl didn’t set a great impression either. Today we have a new perspective of the film as society has evolved into a far more accepting place. We can see that even though Dorothy is in this wonderland, she sets her mind on saving this foreign land from the clutches of the wicked witch and succeeds, she can apply this to real life, and do great things in Kansas too. By the time the 1970’s came around, America had a far more lenient ideology on women and what their roles in society were and should be.
Through all the media outlets it was evident women were far more empowered and encouraged to do what they wanted by this time. Grease is a prime example of the growth women had from 1939 to 1978. The major, clear transition here is the setting of the film. We’ve gone from viewing the innocent narrative of young Dorothy’s travels on the yellow brick road to a high school filled with angst, rebellion, and sex. With communities throughout the country having adjusted to the sex appeal of women being far more publicized, Grease was a giant success. With the peak of a sexual revolution occurring, the media put a spotlight on teenagers; teens wanted to find their own identity in the world and began experimenting in many facets of life. Grease dives into these realistic themes that a younger audience could find relatable; teenage pregnancy, failure, and relationships. Ultimately a parent’s nightmare when thinking of their child.
From a feministic point of view Grease’s plot points has both genders targeted with assumptive sexism. Danny has to appear as this bad boy who cares only about sex and must hide away his more sensitive side in order to appeal to his T-Bird buddies. Sandy is conveyed as a girl who needs to have a man or she will feel inadequate, she goes through an entire process of changing her style and personality to get a man. Putzie is the ditzy girl who failed beauty school and had to return to high school, and Rizzo is the pregnant bad-girl. While Grease didn’t put the most desireable light on teenagers, it gave us many female and male leads that didn’t necessarily exist in the movie to solely compliment one another, aside from Danny and Sandy. In terms of progression musical’s in general have come a long way, women have gained far more independence in the films and no longer have to piggyback on the coattails of a male actor. I think it’s important to not only compare Grease with The Wizard of Oz , but also take a look at newer films because so much more freedom and soul has been granted in most recent years. Dreamgirls for example; not only do we have three female actresses taking the lead, their all African-American women and they are portrayed in a great light that shouts liberation. Cinema in general has come a far way from the early days of predominantly white casts.
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