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Singin’ in the Rain – considering self-reflective aspects of the musical

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Singin’ in The Rain is a classic film musical played in 1927 starring Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont as the darlings of the silent silver screen. This musical involves how a silent film production company and its casts make a transition to talking pictures. The musical also revolves around a love story between Don and Kathy Selden, a chorus girl that eventually replaced Lina Lamont’s role as Don’s career partner. In regards to Singin’ in the rain, self-reflective aspects of the musical with specific reference to the genre, affect and a slight touch on themes will be discussed.

What is ‘self-reflexivity’ ?

While the various aspects of the film will be explored, the notion of ‘self-reflexivity’ has to first be understood. Theoretically, a self-reflexive film, according to Noth and Bishara (2007), is a film, which focuses or reflects on itself, that is on the specific film being watched. To make the theory sound less complicated, it literally means ‘watching a film within a film’, but in this case; it is watching ‘musical within a musical’.

Self-reflexivity can also be put in such a way that it is a mix of escapism with realism in particular within backstage musical (Charters, 2007). To further explain, Feuer (1980) said that musicals are not solely entertainment, but they are also frequently about the production of entertainment as well. The audiences are shown the mechanics of backstage musical as well as the actors’ private life. For instance, how Don was being frantically chased by his fans and eventually ‘bumped’ into Kathy. It is not to the exclusion of how the actors’ perform, on screen or on stage.

Since it is understood that self-reflexivity basically means a film within a film, what does the term ‘genre’ and ‘affect’ then mean? How is it incorporated into the film Singin’ in the rain with relation to self-reflexivity?


According to researches, genre mean “type” or “classification” (Roberts and Wallis,2001). It is an interpretation of a title, produced and possibly shared by a given community much in the same way as we ascribed and interpret meanings to to words in our languages (Aucouturier & Pachet, 2003). Kolker (2006), on the other hand explained, “We invoke genre whenever we classify a film. Titles such as ‘action’, ‘comedy’, ‘drama’ helps prepare viewers for what they will see in the film”.

Having said that, Singin’ in the rain has been classified as a ‘Musical’ film mostly because of the incorporation of dances and songs throughout the movie. Feuer (1995) also mentioned that it is an aspect of genre whereby, within the musical film, the most persistent subgenre has involved people “getting together and putting on a show”. The audiences of the film are actually watching the Don and friends producing and acting for the film. Evidently, the film is actually a musical within a musical which is can be drawn back to the aspect of self-reflexivity.

According to Neale (2002), he describes ‘Musical’ as the ‘different mode of reality through which this genre typically operates; it is one which ‘inner reality of feelings, emotions and instincts are given metaphoric and symbolic expression through the means of music and dance”. Spontaneity can be considered as an essential part of musicals. For instance, when Don Lockwood was having his elocution lesson, Cosmo suddenly appears and they both burst out into a spontaneous, anarchic dance routine, “Moses Supposes”.

Such acts in musicals are self-reflexive as it invites the audiences to dance and sing along. It is like Cosmo and Don know that the audiences are closely watching their action and hence, they burst out singing and dancing. In addition, the impression of spontaneity in these musicals involves the performers to make use of props at hand such as curtains, movie paraphernalia, umbrellas and furniture to create the imaginary world of the musical performance (Feuer, 1995). For instance, in the scene when Cosmo spontaneously performed “Make Em’ Laugh” to cheer the broken-hearted Don, he was dancing and singing around with the working crews, furniture and even pretended that he was having an ‘affair’ with a head-less dummy.

The myth of spontaneity operates through what we are shown of the work of production of the respective shows as well as how we are shown it (Feuer, 1995). For example, we are shown the ‘technical crisis’ such as the faulty microphone, involved with filming and projecting “The Dueling Cavalier”. Audiences of the film were revealed to Lina’s struggle with the microphone and technical problem that arose during the preview of the show; the voices were not in-sync with the lip movements. In contrast, “The Dancing Cavalier” that makes Kathy the voice-over talent of Lina Lamont was a success. Hence, it shows a distinct awareness of the opposition between the foregrounding of technology in “The Dueling Cavalier” and the invisibility of technology in “The Dancing Cavalier” (Feuer, 1995).

The element of self-reflexivity can be explained by the way the ‘technological crisis’ was first introduced to the audience but then quickly resolved, by producing “The Dancing Cavalier”. It seemed like the problems that arose in “The Dueling Cavalier”, were done in purpose to show a distinct in the invisibility of technology to the audiences of the film. In addition, Feuer (1995) also stated that these spontaneous performances that mask their technology have been calculated, not for audiences within the films but for audiences of the film. This shows that self-reflexivity is incorporated in the film by showing the audiences of the film the process of transition from silent to talking pictures, but the audiences in the film were only shown the final product of it.

Another self-reflexivity element that can be seen in the musical is the “invisible camera” (Noth & Bishara, 2007). In classical Hollywood style, it is against the tradition to expose the ‘invisible camera’. Invisible camera method is largely used in conventional films whereby actors are acting without knowing the existence of the cameras. However, some scenes in Singin’ in the rain drew attention to the circumstance that ‘it is due to the camera that we are able to see this scene, or the entire movie’. A very distinct example that can be drawn from the film is during the couple (Don and Kathy) were singing “You Were Meant for Me ”.

We can see that Kathy’s scarf had blown to the breeze of an invisible wind machine. Even after the audiences are shown the tools of illusions at the beginning of the scene, the camera arcs around and comes in for a tighter shot of the performing couple, hence re-masking the exposed technology and making the duet just do another example of the type of number whose illusion it exposes (Feuer, 1995). Once again, the aspect of self-reflexivity is obvious whereby the films projected in the film such as “The Dueling Cavalier” and “The Dancing Cavalier” to the audiences within the film is done by the ‘invisible camera’ method. In contrast, the film is shown to the audiences of the film is clearly not using the ‘invisible camera’ method as they are shown the entire process and orientation of the films.


Within the genre, sub-themes emerge. Like how within an action-thriller genre, themes such love, horror and super-hero care evident (Kolker, 2006). When compared to Singin’ in the rain, the film itself is a ‘Musical’ genre. However, within the musical itself; audiences can aspect ‘love’ story between Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden and some ‘comedy‘ when Cosmo performed “Make Em’ Laugh” and when Don and Cosmo, both spontaneously performed “Moses Supposes” which clearly, consist of funny elements. Such themes, according to Kolker (2006), help viewer negotiate with the film, promising to provide certain narrative structures and character types that the viewer find satisfying. While the spectators in the film are only exposed to a limited aspect of musical (only what’s shown on the silver screen), the viewers of the film are exposed to musical backstage, love stories, comedies and shows besides the ‘musical’. This shows how the themes within the genre are being absorbed differently by the spectators within the film, and the audiences of Singin’ in the rain as a whole.


According to Jones (2003), an engaging and relatively suspenseful musical can affect its audiences with varied and well-drawn characters who speak and sing witty, literate and often outrageously funny dialogues and lyrics. Without the audiences, musical means nothing. Besides the actors and the production crews, the audiences within and of, the film are very essential to explain why musicals are so enjoyable. In terms of reflexivity, the scenes in Singin’ in the rain affects both, the audiences within and of the film.

Ergo, it is evident that the “world of audience” makes musicals come ‘alive’ (Noth & Bishara, 2007). This means, the spectators within the film, the people talking about the movie they just watched and the people who work in the movie theatres are taken into consideration. Examples that can be drawn from the film is; when the premier of “The Dueling Cavalier” ended, audiences that were walking out of the theatre were criticizing how horrendous the show was. The way the show was put up such as the technological hitch that arose during the premier caused the audiences both, within the film and of the film to react.

In this case, the reactions of the audiences within the film were recorded and they were shown to burst out in laughter. Since the audiences of the film were shown the ‘truth’ such that Lina Lamont was a terrible actress with an annoying ‘Bronx’ voice and the production was encountering problems with the microphones, the film affects the audiences differently. Drawing back to the aspect of self-reflexivity, the audiences of Singin’ in the rain wouldn’t have reacted the way the audiences of “The Dueling Cavalier” reacted.

It is true that successful performances will be those in which the performer is sensitive to the needs of the audience and which give the audience a sense of participation in the performance (Feuer, 1995). The actors are not just acting for the sake of acting, but they are acting towards the audiences therefore affecting their emotions and feelings. Therefore, it can be seen that musical exerts continuous control over the responses of their audience (Feuer,1995). In particular, when the actors, especially Cosmo tend to “wink at the camera” to a humorous end or sometimes even during his ‘performance’. While it is an aspect of ‘self-reflexivity’, it can also be linked to the theory of ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’ in filmography.

In the opinion of Darlington (1922, p. 12), the fourth wall is that “invisible barrier which separates the inhabitants of a room on the stage from us, ordinary mortals whose fortune it is too look but never enter in”. It means the ‘gap’ or the ‘invisible wall’ between the audiences of the film and the characters in the film. Henceforth in musicals especially; this fourth wall is often ‘broken’ due to the continuous connections between the characters from the film with the audiences of the film. A good example is during Cosmo’s solo; “Make Em’ Laugh” when showed a few distinctive actions and facial expressions towards the audiences although he was supposed to cheer Don up. This self-reflexive mode works well for comedies because it promotes the intimate relationship with an audience that is integral to effective humor. They invite the audience to play along.

In terms of music, the songs played in “The Dancing Cavalier”, for instance “Would You?” seemed to the audience within the film that its sung by Lina Lamont but presented to the audiences of Singin’ in the rain, as sung by Kathy Selden (Clover, 1995). Hence, the audiences within the film would assume that Lina Lamont can sing very well, but in actual fact she can’t. The audiences of the film, on the other hand knows the truth and will not react the same way. This shows how, in terms of self-reflexivity, the songs and music in Singin’ in the rain affects the audiences; within and of the film differently.

Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the self-reflexivity mode makes no pretense that the world is represented on screen, is anything other than a filmic construction. Self-reflexive films tell the viewers that the reality on screen is a movie reality. This has proved to be strongly evident in the musical Singin’ in the rain. As stated by Elsaesser (1969), “The world of the musical becomes a kind of ideal image of the film medium itself”. The discourses of genre, themes and affect constantly incorporate the aspect of self-reflexivity, especially in musicals. Conclusively, it is because of the notion of ‘self-reflexivity’ that the film has affected its audiences and hence, making musicals one of the most enjoyable film genre in Hollywood’s history.

Read also:

Fertile Contradiction within the womb of Modernity
The ‘audio-visual contract’ in film
Mildred Pierce and the changing nature of gender roles in 1940s America

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