New Film Noir Musical Book
Music in the Shadows

Noir Musical Films

Sheri Chinen Biesen - buy BN Amazon
Johns Hopkins University Press - Kindle

Film noir expert Sheri Chinen Biesen explores how noir musical films use film noir style and bluesy strains of jazz to reveal the dark side of fame and the American Dream.

Smoke. Shadows. Moody strains of jazz. Welcome to the world of “noir musical” films, where tormented antiheroes and hard-boiled musicians battle obsession, struggle with their music and ill-fated love triangles. Sultry divas dance and sing the blues in shrouded nightclubs. Romantic intrigue clashes with backstage careers.
“With Music in the Shadows, Biesen continues her trailblazing scholarship in film noir. Having delineated noirs World War II origins in Blackout, Biesen focuses on noirs impact on a specific genre, the noir musical.  Biesen offers an arresting and innovative exploration of studio documents, publicity, and the films themselves, spanning wartime through the 1950s, demonstrating the cycles continuing resonances. A book for every noir and musical enthusiast who wants to expand their understanding of these forms—and for all who want to know more of the American musical tradition and its cultural evolution.” Brian Taves, Library of Congress Motion Picture Archivist, author of Thomas Ince

“Continuing the groundbreaking work on film noir in her first book, Blackout, which uncovered the origins of noir in World War II, Sheri Chinen Biesen’s Music in the Shadows traces another unlikely, understudied connection – between film noir and the Hollywood musical. Blending archival research, textual analysis, industrial and cultural history, Biesen builds a fascinating and quite convincing case for a genre hybrid, the noir musical, that took root in the 1940s but has continued to evolve ever since – from post-classical masterworks like The Red Shoes and West Side Story to New Hollywood gems like All That Jazz and Moulin Rouge. In the process, she challenges and fundamentally changes our understanding of both film noir and the film musical. – Thomas Schatz, The University of Texas at Austin

The phrase ‘film noir evokes specific images: moody cinematography, smoky tendrils, femmes fatales, cynical men. Yet theres another element that is vital to this genre the music. Whether its the blues or jazz, crooners or torch singers, the music of these films reminds the viewer of a time and place that is rarely visited today.In Music in the Shadows, Biesen (Blackout) studies film noirs dark sister, the musical noir. At a time when many studios were releasing generic escapist fare, studios including Warner Bros. and Columbia released films such as Gilda and To Have and Have Not, which paved the way for Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, the ‘dark alternative to the idealized world of upbeat musicals. VERDICT: In exploring musical noir, the author moves from its beginnings in the 1930s to such modern examples as Moulin Rouge! and Chicago from the early 2000s. Her writing is silky and engaging and will enthrall fans of musicals and film noir and those interested in the cultural significance of the genre and its far-reaching impact on modern cinema.Library Journal

Music in the Shadows ultimately succeeds on two levels, both in providing an entertaining and enlightening read, as well as an impetus to watch previously unseen films and re-watch familiar classics with a new perspective... The book nicely balances in-depth historical research and previous film noir scholarship with fresh ideas and a writing style that is both evocative and concise. The author doesn’t force the films into the model of her theory; instead the films guide the theory, a quality often lacking in film writing.” — Noir City

Highly recommended. Breaking new ground in film noir studies, Biesen explores the symbiotic relationship between film noir, jazz, and the blues and offers extensive, well­-documented research to prove the musical roots of film noir. Through myriad examples, she illustrates the overarching importance of jazz and the blues, revealing that music as a stylistic element is as necessary to film noir as low-­key lighting, femmes fatales, and darkened city streets. She convincingly links film noir to musicals—albeit dark, relentless, decidedly hopeless musicals—that reflect the reality of the times: the Depression, WW II, and, later, the Vietnam War. Drawing attention to the use of jazz and blues music as a representation of the seedier side of life, Biesen pulls examples from classical and contemporary films noir—ranging from A Star Is Born and Casablanca to All that Jazz and Bird—demonstrating the importance of music to the genre and music's continued impact on neo-­noir films such as Chicago and Black Swan. Biesen’s relevant study provides new insight and proves a welcome addition to film noir studies.” — Choice
In her pioneering study Music in the Shadows, film noir expert Sheri Chinen Biesen explores noir musical films that use film noir style and bluesy strains of jazz to inhabit a disturbing underworld and reveal the dark side of fame and the American Dream. While noir musical films like A Star is Born include musical performances, their bleak tone and expressionistic aesthetic more closely resemble the visual style of film noirTheir narratives unfold behind a stark noir lens: distorted, erratic angles and imbalanced hand-held shots allow the audience to experience a tortured disillusioned perspective. Crisscrossing beams of light splinter a black Los Angeles sky as a self-destructive screen idol wreaks havoc backstage, shattering glass and assaulting performers. Terrified dancers scream in the wings. Chaos ensues. Although this episode might suggest film noir, it is a scene from the 1954 noir musical film A Star is Born.

While many musicals glamorize the quest for the spotlight in Hollywood's star factory, brooding noir musical films such as Blues in the Night, Gilda, The Red Shoes, A Star is Born, West Side Story, New York, New York, and Round Midnight stretch the boundaries of film noir and the musical as film genres collide. Deep shadows, dim lighting and visual composition evoke moodiness, cynicism, pessimism, and subjective psychological points of view.

As in her earlier study of film noir, Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir, Biesen draws on extensive primary research in studio archives to situate her examination within a historical, industrial, and cultural context.

Sheri Chinen Biesen is an associate professor of radio, television, and film studies at Rowan University and author of Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Praise for Biesen’s Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir
“The author is to be congratulated on producing an exemplary study in empirical film history.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, reviewing a previous edition or volume

“A film noir aficionado, Biesen provides the most detailed and thoroughly researched interpretation of this era’s American film noir.” American Historical Review, reviewing a previous edition or volume

Praise for Biesen’s Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films
“The book’s examination of 1941’s Blues in the Night illuminates how the then-nascent noir genre and established backstage musical genre came together to form the noir musical, which subsequently influenced film noir, ‘A’ musicals and musical dramas in the following decades as outlined in later chapters. Biesen’s examinations of A Star is Born, The Red Shoes, New York, New York and ‘Round Midnight are particularly potent, successfully presenting these familiar films in a new light and placing them on a continuum previously unexplored.”  — Anne M. Hockens

Film noir has been an important part of American film history. But there is a part of noir that has been overlooked: the noir musical. Author Sheri Chinen Biesen examines this little known area of film in Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Biesen takes a look at several musicals that have a noir style and influence, starting with Blues in the Night from 1941. Released prior to the U.S. entering World War II, the film contains great jazz and blues numbers mixed with a dark plot that strayed from the cheerful escapist musicals audiences were used to seeing. She then moves on to The Red Shoes, a British film from 1948, known for its 17 minute ballet within a film. The Technicolor film about a ballerina torn between her lover and her career includes moody silhouettes and showcases post-war realism reflecting women’s roles in society. Then she looks at what she considers a “musicalized film noir,” A Star is Born from 1954. Considered Judy Garland’s comeback role, it has a noir style in the relationship between the rising star and the washed up has-been. Biesen talks about the best known number “The Man That Got Away” by beautifully describing the scene’s color scheme. 
West Side Story from 1961...was a product of its time, according to Biesen, as it came out around the time of the civil rights movement, and after the Red Scare when many in Hollywood were blacklisted for supporting Communism. Biesen also analyzes other films noir that have musical pieces in them, from the 1940’s to the present. Her love of film noir and musicals shows, it’s well researched, and it is a delight to read from start to finish.” — Stacy Sobotka, Detroit Film Examiner

“Exemplary research,” “depth in both archival and printed sources...She’s identified a genuinely interesting—and overlooked—subject, the ‘film noir musical’... As she observes, many would consider a film noir musical to be an oxymoron. But she demonstrates the validity and vitality of such a concept. Fusing noir and the musical…she establishes a concept that will have legs and ongoing use.” “Biesen makes a strong case for the...importance of Blues in the Night, A Star is Born” and how the “controlling gaze of television” and postwar conditions affected noir, recognizing the emergent “color noir” aesthetic: “Biesen’s use of red is quite intriguing.” “Her book makes a genuine contribution to understanding noir (her passion) and the musical... She extends the idea of noir beyond its classical boundaries and shows its ongoing vitality.”

Sheri Chinen Biesen, Ph.D. is a film historian and professor of radio, television, and film studies at Rowan University, and author of Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir and Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films at Johns Hopkins University Press. Educated at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television (B.A. 1987, M.A. 1995) and University of Texas at Austin (Ph.D. 1998), Professor Biesen is the recipient of numerous research awards and teaching honors and has taught cinema history at the University of Texas at Austin, University of California, University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, and University of Leicester in England. She has worked as a writer and script analyst for The American Film Institute Alumni Writers Workshop and contributed to the BBC documentary The Rules of Film Noir, Film Noir: The Directors, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Film Noir Reader 4, Film and History, Gangster Film Reader, Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, Literature/Film Quarterly, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, The Historian, Television and Television History, Popular Culture Review, Turner Classic Movies Public Enemies in the Warner Bros. Gangster Collection, and edited The Velvet Light Trap. Blackout interview