Modern movies tend toward one or another extreme: They are either severely realistic or dreamily fantastic—cynical hardboiled drama and ironic comedy on the one hand, or superhero or historical fantasy on the other. It is a symptom, I think, of modern culture that we have almost completely separated the real from the ideal. We are all of us victims of the Gradgrindian scientism that dominates our thinking and disenchants our world. There is the empirical world of concrete facts, and the fanciful world of our wayward imaginations, and never the twain shall meet.
It was this gap that the musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood used to fill. They were romantic, not cynical; earnest, not ironic. They cloaked reality in a kind of formality that allowed us to see how things really are behind everyday appearance. And they showed real people—soldiers, sailors, people from the sticks—trying to make it big, all attempting to live the dream …
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