Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Busby Berkeley | Backstage Musicals

A typical Busby Berkeley geometrical arrangement of dancers, from Dames (1934)
Busby Berkeley was a highly influential Hollywood movie director and musical choreographer. He was famous for his elaborate musical production numbers that often involved complex geometric patterns. Berkeley's quintessential works used legions of showgirls and props as fantastic elements in kaleidoscopic on-screen performances. He started as a theatrical director, just as many other movie directors. Unlike many at the time, he felt that a camera should be allowed mobility, and he framed shots carefully from unusual angles to allow movie audiences to see things from perspectives that the theatrical stage never could provide. This is why he played an enormous role in establishing the movie musical as a category in its own right.
The numbers he choreographed were mostly upbeat and focused on decoration as opposed to substance; one exception to this is the number “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933, which dealt with the treatment of soldiers in a post-World War I Depression.

Joan Blondell's stirring rendition of "Remember My Forgotten Man" in the Busby Berkeley production of Gold Diggers of 1933

Berkeley's popularity with an entertainment-hungry Great Depression audience was secured when he choreographed four musicals back-to-back for Warner Bros.: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, the aforementioned Gold Diggers of 1933 and Fashions of 1934, as well as In Caliente and I Live for Love with Dolores del Rio. Berkeley's innovative and often sexually-charged dance numbers have been analyzed at length by cinema scholars. In particular, the numbers have been critiqued for their display (and some say exploitation) of the female form as seen through the “male gaze”, and for their depiction of collectivism (as opposed to traditionally American rugged individualism) in the spirit of Roosevelt's New Deal. Berkeley always denied any deep significance to his work, arguing that his main professional goals were to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.
As the outsized musicals in which Berkeley specialized became passé, he turned to straight directing, begging Warner Brothers to give him a chance at drama. The result was 1939's They Made Me a Criminal, one of John Garfield's best films.

Busby Berkeley's 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1935 posters. "Lullaby of Broadway"production number from Gold Diggers of 1935

Flower Drum Song | I Enjoy Being A Girl is YouTube Hit

Flower Drum Song is a 1961 Academy Award nominated film adaptation of the 1958 Broadway musical play Flower Drum Song, written by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The film and stage play were based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Chinese American author C.Y. Lee. The movie was unusual in featuring nearly all Asian American cast members (one of the few speaking Caucasian parts being a mugger), including dancers, though two of the singing voices were not by Asian talent. Starring were Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Benson Fong, James Hong, Reiko Sato and original Broadway cast members Jack Soo, Miyoshi Umeki and Juanita Hall.

Although Flower Drum Song is not one of the most successful of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, its song "I Enjoy Being A Girl" has been widely used in other movies. The song has become familiar to many Americans, perhaps most recently with Sarah Jessica Parker in a nationally broadcast Gap commercial. It was covered by lesbian folksinger Phranc. As of October 2006, there were 13 versions of the song on YouTube, including performances by Pat Suzuki and parodies based on Harry Potter and Battlestar Galactica.

I Enjoy Being A Girl Flower Drum Song Movie
This is the original most famous version of this song, which has dozens of versions on YouTube. Few know it's based on ...

Gene Kelly dances with Jerry Mouse | Paula Abdul's Inspiration

Anchors Aweigh is a 1945 musical comedy film, directed by George Sidney in which two sailors go on a four-day shore leave in Hollywood, accompanied by music and song, meet an aspiring young singer and try to help her get an audition at MGM. It stars Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, José Iturbi and Dean Stockwell. It won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. Anchors Aweigh was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gene Kelly), Best Cinematography, Color (Robert Planck, Charles P. Boyle), Best Music, Song (for Jule Styne (music) and Sammy Cahn (lyrics) for "I Fall in Love Too Easily") and Best Picture.

The movie is famous for a musical number where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry Mouse (voiced by Sara Berner). Kelly is live action while Jerry is animated. Tom Cat appears briefly in the sequence as a butler. Originally, the producers wanted to use Mickey Mouse for this segment. Walt Disney agreed, but Roy Disney rejected the deal. According to Bob Thomas' book on Roy Disney, the studio was in debt after World War II and they were focusing on trying to get their own films out on time. According to Roy, they had no business making cartoons for other people.

From "Anchors Aweigh" (1945). Animated by Ken Muse, Ray Patterson, and Ed Barge.

Paula Abdul was inspired by the scene of Kelly dancing with Jerry to create the video for her song "Opposites Attract", where she dances with an animated cat.

In the Family Guy episode "Road to Rupert", the character Stewie Griffin dances with Kelly in an attempt to rent a helicopter. To do so, the animators took the original footage, removed Jerry Mouse, and replaced him with Stewie. The dialogue was performed by Stewie's normal voice actor and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. However, the editing job was not perfect, as Jerry's reflection is clearly seen below Stewie.

Thanks for the Tweet!

Drew SteeleAlmostStainless If you don't know what Anchors Aweigh is, it's this: http://tinyurl.com/aah5gz

Royal Wedding | Astaire best known solos

Royal Wedding (MGM) is a 1951 Hollywood musical comedy film set in London in 1947 at the time of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, and stars Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill and Keenan Wynn. Although none of the songs are considered standards, dance-wise, it is notable for the inclusion of not one but two Astaire solos, both of which are amongst his best known works.

"Sunday Jumps": Astaire credits the idea for this famous solo to his long-time choreographic collaborator Hermes Pan. In it, Astaire parodies himself by dancing with a hatstand and appears to parody his rival and friend Gene Kelly by inserting a mock bodybuilding episode during which he kicks aside some Indian clubs in a reference to Kelly's routine with The Nicholas Brothers in The Pirate. The fame of the dance rests on Astaire's ability to animate the inanimate. The solo takes place in a ship's gym, where Astaire is waiting to rehearse with his partner Powell, who doesn't turn up, echoing Adele Astaire's attitude towards her brother's obsessive rehearsal habits to which the lyrics (unused and unpublished) also made reference. Controversially, in 1997, it was digitally manipulated to show Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner in Dirt Devil commercials. In a missive, later published in Time Magazine and Variety, Astaire's daughter Ava severely criticized the corporation's president, writing: "Your paltry, unconscionable commercials are the antithesis of everything my lovely, gentle father represented." This number has been referenced by Mel Gibson in What Women Want and by David Byrne in the live film of his band, Talking Heads, as well as parodied by Kermit the Frog in The Great Muppet Caper.

Fred both dances with a hat rack and parodies a scene from "The Pirate" (1948).

"You're All The World To Me": In one of his best-known solos, Astaire dances on the walls and ceilings of his room because he has fallen in love with a beautiful woman who also loves to dance. The idea occurred to Astaire years before, and was first mentioned by him in the MGM publicity publication Lion's Roar in 1945. The number was filmed by mounting the camera and operator in a cage which rotated with the room. The same technique would later be used to simulate a zero gravity environment in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to allow Clark Kent to walk up walls to change a light bulb in the pilot episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and in the music videos for "Fly" by Sugar Ray and "Slash Dot Dash" by Fatboy Slim. Burton Lane's music originally featured in the 1934 Eddie Cantor film Kid Millions, in the number "My Minstrel Man", sung by a ten year-old Harold Nicholas to lyrics by Harold Adamson.

"You're All The World To Me" Fred Astaire dances on the floor, the walls and the ceiling.

Royal Wedding is one of several MGM musicals (another being Till the Clouds Roll By) that have lapsed into public domain. As such it is widely available on Video and DVD, but the quality of these versions varies. In February 2007, Warner Home Video announced plans to issue a restored version of Royal Wedding on DVD.[www.hometheaterforum.com/chat]

Carefree's Big Kiss & more Astaire-Roger pecks

Carefree is the shortest of the Astaire-Rogers films, featuring only four musical numbers. Carefree is often remembered as the film in which Astaire and Rogers shared a long on-screen kiss at the conclusion of their dance to "I Used to Be Color Blind," all previous kisses having been either quick pecks or simply implied.

Astaire didn't like "mushy love scenes," and preferred that lovemaking between him and Rogers be confined to their dances. Because rumors sprang up that Astaire's wife wouldn't let him kiss onscreen, or that Rogers and Astaire didn't like each other, Astaire agreed to the long kiss at the end of "I Used to Be Color Blind", "to make up for all the kisses I had not given Ginger for all those years."

I thought I'd found the "Big Kiss" c/o obscureclassics but the link has been disabled due to copyright issues. Unable to find videoclip of the extended kiss; but here are a couple of Astaire-Roger pecks...

Swing Time (1936) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Directed by George Stevens

This scene from The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle includes the song "Only When You're In My Arms", Vernon's proposal of marriage and a very rare kiss involving Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

They Can't Take That Away from Me

Shall We Dance is the seventh of the ten Astaire-Rogers musical comedy films. Astaire was not enthused by the proposal to blend ballet with popular dance, and it shows. Neither, it appears, was George Gershwin—who had become famous for blending jazz with classical forms—as he makes no reference to this concept in any of the songs. The extremely convoluted plot and the curious absence of a romantic partnered duet for Astaire and Rogers—a hallmark of their musicals since The Gay Divorcee (1934)—contributed to their least profitable picture to date—a clear indication that audiences might be tiring of the Astaire-Rogers' magic. Ginger, in particular, looks tired in the picture and had already requested a break from musicals.

Astaire often appears either dismissive or uncomfortable with the central ballet/popular dance idea. While he made further attempts—notably in Ziegfeld Follies (1944/46), Yolanda and the Thief (1945) and Daddy Long Legs (1955) it was his rival and friend Gene Kelly who would eventually succeed in creating a modern original dance style based on this concept. Some critics have attributed Astaire's discomfort with ballet (he briefly studied ballet in the 1920s) to his oft-expressed disdain for "inventing up to the arty". Nevertheless this film managed to produce another timeless musical number "They Can't Take That Away from Me."

"They Can't Take That Away from Me": The Gershwins' famous foxtrot, a serene, nostalgic declaration of love—one of their most enduring creations and one of George's personal favourites—is introduced by Astaire in one of the film's few genuinely touching and romantic moments. Rogers' reactions are a testimony to her considerable dramatic abilities. As with "The Way You Look Tonight" in Swing Time (1936), it was decided to reprise the melody as part of the film's dance finale. George Gershwin was unhappy about this, writing "They literally throw one or two songs away without any kind of plug". Astaire subsequently acknowledged the error, and finally put matters right in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), his final reunion with Rogers, creating one of their most admired essays in romantic partnered dance, and it remains the only occasion on film when Astaire permitted himself to repeat a song he had performed in a previous film. George Gershwin died two months after the film's release, and he was posthumously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for this song at the 1937 Oscars.
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