Timeline: The Life and Death and (Maybe?) Rebirth of the Hollywood Musical

1933: Busby Berkeley and Astaire/Rogers

But it wasn’t. Part of the problem with early musicals was the nailed-down clunkiness required by the bulky early sound cameras, but choreographer Busby Berkeley realized that if song and dance numbers could be performed to pre-recorded sound that was played back on set, microphones — and thus the stationary cameras — would be unnecessary. The numbers he put together for Lloyd Bacon’s 1933 hit 42nd Street had a sense of vitality and life that was refreshing; the camera moved with grace, and the angles were stunningly inventive. He choreographed three more hits in ’33 (Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Roman Scandals, and Fashions of 1934) before Warner Brothers promoted him to director, where he made several more enjoyable musical features. His fluid camera work and sophisticated style led to a rejuvenation of the form’s popularity — as did RKO’s decision to pair supporting players Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers up for the 1933 musical Flying Down to Rio, which was the first of their ten beloved onscreen collaborations.