Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Scenes Made of Awesome - Gold Diggers of 1933

If you recognize the name Busby Berkeley, you probably get an instant image in your head of elaborate, kaleidoscopic musical numbers. There always seemed to be an element of the ridiculous in his choreographic efforts, as impressive and awe-inspiring as they were. Especially when you think about where most of them are supposed to be taking place - a tiny stage in a Broadway theater.

"Remember My Forgotten Man," from Gold Diggers of 1933 has many trademark elements of a Berkeley number, but it's something quite different indeed from what you might expect to come from him. The film itself, though fully a part of Depression-era spectacle cinema, is steeped in its own cultural context. Theaters are closed and performers are out of work, so it's a very big deal when someone can actually put on a show and give them a job. The film, for the most part, follows in much the same tone as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade - lots of smart, elegant comedy, with occasional glances at the troubled times in which the films are taking place. Until the end, where Berkeley turns his creative eye to those same troubled times and the crushing poverty of the Great Depression. Inspired by the 1932 Bonus March (along with some German expressionism), Berkeley conceived this rather astounding and emotional musical number, featuring the voices of Joan Blondell and Etta Moten. If this doesn't move you to tears, you're dead inside, man.

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