Collage of British cinema magazines

"Make 'em laugh! Make 'em laugh!" Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain

Information at a Glance

  • Evening Class
  • Mondays 18:30 - 20:30
  • 10 weeks: October to December (starts Monday 7 October)
  • 2 hours taught time per week
  • Tutor: Eleonora Sammartino
  • Fees from £105
  • Location: West Norwood Picturehouse and Library, 1 Norwood High St, West Norwood (London), SE27 9JX
  • Official Course Title: 'Understanding Film'
Booking Link

This class is not taught at Imperial College. The teaching sessions will take place at the West Norwood Picturehouse and Library, 1 Norwood High Street, West Norwood, London SE27 9JX. 

From its origins on the Broadway stage to its extraordinary success on film, the musical has defined American popular culture. Films such as those with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, or Judy Garland have made the musical one of the most popular and iconic genres in the classic Hollywood period. However, since the 1960s, film musicals have experienced mixed fortunes, alternating periods of decline with efforts to renew and transform the genre, leading to the success of the musical on film and TV in recent years.

In The American Film Musical, we will explore the history of the American musical from its origins on screen in the early sound period to the present day. We will look at the enduring relation to theatre traditions, and parallel connections with television, the music industry, and digital media. You will learn how to analyse clips from film musicals to explore the key forms of the genre and understand how these have changed over time, considering the critical debates that have surrounded musicals. You will also examine the role of the musical in American popular culture and its negotiation of the changing social contexts in which the films have been produced, distributed and viewed by different audiences.

This course is open to everyone - no previous qualification or knowledge of film history is required.

Course Information

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
20  10  £200    (Early Bird rate: £180*) £115    (Early Bird rate: £105*)
£155    (Early Bird rate: £140*) 
* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before 30 September for courses starting in October   |   All fee rates quoted are for the whole course.
Term dates 1

Fee Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email evening before completing the online enrolment form.

Associate Rate

  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • South London Botanical Institute Members
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Santander Bank staff (Imperial College Walkway branch only)
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started, subject entirely to agreement by the tutor delivering the course. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Evening Classes & Lunchtime Learning terms and conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Course Programme

  • Week 1: Introduction to the Musical: The Origins of the Genre and the Studio System
  • Week 2: Dancing through the Depression: The Warner Brothers and RKO Musicals
  • Week 3: Wartime Musicals: All-Black Cast Musicals and the Hollywood Canteen Varieties
  • Week 4: The MGM’s Freed Unit: Stardom and Self-Reflexivity
  • Week 5: The Last Picture Roadshow: The Decline of the Studio System
  • Week 6: Deconstructing the Genre: Fosse and All That Jazz
  • Week 7: MTV and the 1980s Teen Musicals
  • Week 8: Disney Renaissance and the Animated Musical
  • Week 9: The TV Musical and the Revival in the New Millennium
  • Week 10: Pop Stars and Jukebox Musicals

This programme may be subject to change.

Additional Reading and Credit Information

There is no requirement to undertake specific reading for this course, but if you would like to look in greater depth at the subject the following books are recommended:

  • Feuer, Jane. The Hollywood Musical. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993
  • Griffin, Sean. Free and Easy? A Defining History of the American Film Musical Genre. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2018.

Further topic-specific readings will be suggested each week.

No academic credits are available for this course. An attendance certificate is issued only to those who attend at least 80% of the taught sessions.

About Your Tutor

Photograph of Dr Eleonora Sammartino

Dr Eleonora Sammartino holds a PhD in Film Studies. She has taught at King’s College London and the University of Reading, and currently offers a number of film courses at Imperial College London. She is the organiser of an annual study day for students of Italian at the BFI Southbank and collaborates with film and cultural festivals around the world.


Further Study

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of the above course should be sent to the course tutor, Dr Eleonora Sammartino,