Film Reviews

Busby Berkeley and the Gold Diggers of 1935

Man, Busby Berkeley really is on another level, isn’t he?  He certainly had an eye for film, which I think really distinguishes him from other choreographers, both of his era and of any time. His most famous set pieces simply can’t be replicated in any other medium–not only are the dancers choreographed, but the cameras as well… and you can’t get one of those great Berkeley overhead geometries seated in a theater.

I mean, look at this INSANE opening shot to the “Lullaby on Broadway” number in Gold Diggers of 1935. It’s like Berkeley’s making an experimental, high art film, but it’s actually a 1935 Warner Bros. musical. And then watch the rest of it, obviously, because it’s all great within. This won the Oscar for Best Original Song, presumably in part because the Academy has never established a “Most Jaw-Droppingly Excellent Musical Number in a Film.” (Yet.)

Outside of the musical numbers, Gold Diggers of 1935 is a very cute comedy, and they pretty aptly differentiated it from ’33, while still keeping the same sassy spirit. ’35 takes place in a high-end resort, and the play between the lower class workers and the upper class guests is a great set up. I almost missed the camaraderie of the girls you get in ’33, but I also loved Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart together, so I’ll accept it. I haven’t seen ’37 or Paris yet, but eagerly adding them to my queue after the great success here.

In addition to wrangling chorus girls, Berkeley was also a master of piano choreography.

I also discovered the greatest flaw in my That’s Entertainment plan–I’m only getting exposed to MGM! I wish there were a comparable retrospective for other studios (is there?), but That’s Entertainment and TCM are providing a pretty decent starting position, I think. AFI also has a “greatest” list, but it’s only 25 films–and I think I’d already seen most of them even before my official education began! But I’ve been expanding based on my developing favorite directors, actors and choreographers, learning which ones to avoid, and just DVRing anything that looks the least bit interesting (or rare).

Based on my insane fannish ramblings on Letterboxd, someone asked for advice on Kelly/Sinatra musicals, which certainly felt like a step in the right direction! And I could immediately point them to four or five I’ve watched just in the past few months. Progress!

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