With their lavish costumes and sets, ebullient song and dance numbers, and iconic movie stars, the musicals that mgm produced in the 1940s seem today to epitomize camp. Yet they were originally made to appeal to broad, mainstream audiences. In this lively, nuanced, and provocative reassessment of the mgm musical, Steven Cohan argues that this seeming incongruity-between the camp value and popular appreciation of these musicals-is not as contradictory as it seems. He demonstrates that the films' extravagance and queerness were deliberate elements and keys to their popular success. In addition to examining the spectatorship of the mgm musical, Cohan investigates the genre's production and marketing, paying particular attention to the studio's employment of a largely gay workforce of artists and craftspeople. He reflects on the role of the female stars-including Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds, Esther Williams, and Lena Horne-and he explores the complex relationship between Gene Kelley's dancing and his masculine persona. Cohan looks at how, in the decades since the 1950s, the marketing and reception of the mgm musical have negotiated the more publicly recognized camp value attached to the films. He considers the status of Singin' in the Rain as perhaps the first film to be widely embraced as camp; the repackaging of the musicals as nostalgia and camp in the That's Entertainment! series as well as on home video and cable; and the debates about Garland's legendary gay appeal among her fans on the Internet. By establishing camp as central to the genre, Incongruous Entertainment provides a new way of looking at the musical.
Steven Cohan is Professor of English at Syracuse University. He is the author of Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties; the editor of Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader; and a coeditor of The Road Movie Book and Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema.
Acknowledgments vii Introduction 1 1. Improbable Stuff: Camp and the MGM House Style 41 2. The Lady is a Camp: Glamour, Star Turns, and the Boys in the Chorus 88 3. Dancing with Balls: Sissies, Sailors, and the Camp Masculinity of Gene Kelly 149 4. What a Glorious Classic: Singin' in the Rain and Mass-Camp Recycling 200 5. Hollywood's Most Precious Jewels: The MGM Musical's Return As a Camp Commodity 246 6. Judy on the Net: Garland, Camp, and Contemporary Fandom 287 Conclusion 337 Notes 343 Works Cited 353 Index 361