What is a Revue Film?


Introduction

A revue (from French ‘magazine’ or ‘overview’) is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance, and sketches.

The revue has its roots in 19th century popular entertainment and melodrama but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from 1916 to 1932.

Though most famous for their visual spectacle, revues frequently satirised contemporary figures, news or literature.

Similar to the related subforms of operetta and musical theatre, the revue art form brings together music, dance and sketches to create a compelling show. In contrast to these, however, revue does not have an overarching storyline. Rather, a general theme serves as the motto for a loosely-related series of acts that alternate between solo performances and dance ensembles.

Due to high ticket prices, ribald publicity campaigns and the occasional use of prurient material, the revue was typically patronised by audience members who earned more and felt even less restricted by middle-class social mores than their contemporaries in vaudeville.

Like much of that era’s popular entertainments, revues often featured material based on sophisticated, irreverent dissections of topical matter, public personae and fads, though the primary attraction was found in the frank display of the female body.

Film Revues

With the introduction of talking pictures, in 1927, studios immediately began filming acts from the stage.

Such film shorts gradually replaced the live entertainment that had often accompanied cinema exhibition.

By 1928, studios began planning to film feature-length versions of popular musicals and revues from the stage. The lavish films, noted by many for a sustained opulence unrivaled in Hollywood until the 1950’s epics, reached a breadth of audience never found by the stage revue, all while significantly underpricing the now-faltering theatrical shows.

A number of revues were released by the studios, many of which were filmed entirely (or partly) in colour. The most notable examples of these are:

  • The Show of Shows (Warner Brothers, 1929);
  • The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929);
  • Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 (Fox Film Corporation, 1929);
  • Paramount on Parade (Paramount, 1930);
  • New Movietone Follies of 1930 (Fox, 1930); and
  • King of Jazz (Universal, 1930).

Even the UK jumped on the bandwagon and produced expensive revues such as:

  • Harmony Heaven (British International Pictures, 1929);
  • Elstree Calling (BIP, 1930); and
  • The Musical Revue Of 1959 (BIP,1960).

Anthology Film vs Revue Film

Anthology films differ from revue films’ such as Paramount on Parade (1930) – which were common in Hollywood in the early sound film era to show off their stars and related vaudeville-style acts – composite films, and compilation films.

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