Roughly speaking, a genre is the type of story told — the people and the setting — while a medium is the form it’s told in.
David Benedict asks, “what makes Singin’ in the Rain the masterpiece of so despised a genre?”
What thrillers did for fear musicals did for happiness. But 20th-century culture was all about lionising isolation, fracture and breakdown, so happy endings and happiness itself were all but banished from serious consideration. What place, then, for Kelly’s rain-soaked jubilation or Garland’s pleasure?
I love musicals, and I couldn’t count how many times I’ve watched Singin’ in the Rain. But Benedict’s article annoyed me, the same way as someone saying they’re going to defend comic books (medium) who goes on to just defend superheros (genre).
Musicals aren’t a genre; they’re a medium. Benedict isn’t defending musicals, he’s just defending a particular genre of musical. That’s great, that’s swell, but there’s other stuff as well.
Musicals didn’t disappear when the culture was allegedly all about “isolation, fracture and breakdown”; there are great musicals with those themes, most famously Stephen Sondheim’s works (Sweeny Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, Assassins, etc). Those musicals aren’t shots of pure joy to the prefrontal cortex, true,1 but they have other pleasures.
It’s as if someone sets out to defend movies, and then talks about the wild chaotic vitality of Duck Soup. Well, it’s true, Duck Soup is a great movie, and the Marx Brothers were gods. But that’s not all movies can be. And fantastic as it is, Singin’ in the Rain isn’t all musicals can be.
- Except for “Have a Little Priest,” which really is. [↩]