Performing Gender in the Studio and Postmodern Musical
Abstract: This essay explores two distinct historical periods in the Hollywood musical through a Butlerian reading of gender as a performance. The two example films from the studio era, Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and the restored version of George Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954), are contextualised not only within the studio system but through the constructed star personae of their leads—Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Rob Marshall’s Chicago (2002), the two example films from the twenty first century, are contextualised within a Jamesonian post-modern aesthetic and as examples of the non-studio, non-star filmic text as act of nostalgia. In contrasting these historical periods, the essay posits that the studio musical was, in fact, always already “post-modern” in its fragmentation of narrative in favour of the star performance, which constructs the gendered persona of the star. In addition, it is suggested that the sub-textual subversion of traditional female roles within the studio star performance is in many ways more effectively critical of gender conventions than the intentionally parodic aesthetics of Luhrmann and Marshall.