Representations of screen heterosexuality in the musicals of Fred Astaire and Vincente Minnelli
This thesis examines the ways in which heterosexuality is rendered in the Hollywood genre where its existence is most privileged: musicals of the studio era (c. 1930 - c. 1960). In this popular film category, heterosexuality is expressed in a framework of "boy-meets-girl" amatory coupling that is remarkably amplified and insistent. In analysis that is at once sympathetic and critical of the subject matter, I show that heterosexuality in the Hollywood musical is constructed in a way that is far from monolithic. On the contrary, I find that there are in fact varieties of heterosexual identity that exist in the genre, and that they are most succinctly revealed through romantic engagement. Yet heterosexuality is depicted along divergent formulations owing to contrasting relational aims and assumptions. Building on Richard Dyer's 1993 essay, "'I Seem to Find the Happiness I Seek': Heterosexuality and Dance in the Musical," I will discuss how the basis of these separate models is traceable to different approaches related to power distributions between men and women. These processes, in turn, arise from different notions concerning masculinity and femininity. In this way, a mix of gender expressions inhabit the Hollywood musical leading to an assortment of heterosexual models. Textually these models become visible not only through an analysis of characterization and the position of the man and woman within the narrative, but in the camera work, all aspects of the mise-en-scene, and most cogently, in the arrangement of the central heterosexual couple in the song-and-dance sequences. For my examination of heterosexuality in the Hollywood musical, I will concentrate on the work of two of its greatest auteurs: Fred Astaire (star) and Vincente Minnelli (director). The impact each man made on this genre is hard to overestimate. In terms of methodology I divide my analysis between these two artists, and ascertain what model(s) of heterosexual identity are communicated by them. Then after establishing what design(s) of heterosexual life each one suggests (for Astaire I analyse Top Hat  as well as Carefree  and The Sky's the Limit , while for Minnelli I look at Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and The Pirate ), I conclude this thesis by examining their most acclaimed joint effort (The Band Wagon ) to discern what, if any, change one might have had on the other. A phenomenon tied to the US musical (whether stage or screen) is that although it is the most heterosexual of genres, it is also one traditionally both crafted and appreciated by gay men. Though it does not fall within the scope of this thesis, it is worth speculating for future work if Astaire's heterosexuality and Minnelli's homosexuality had any significant bearing on the way they represented the standard boy meets-girl plot device upon which the Hollywood musical relies.