Dancin’ with Busby

Something special is happening at Hometowns to Hollywood as Annette is hosting a blogathon for the very first time! The classic film enthusiast has chosen to honour the world of musicals with an event dedicated to the golden age of Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley. For those like me who like the musical genre, Berkeley is an essential. His choreographies had something that was proper to him and didn’t only allowed the dancers to prove their skills, but for some, became real pieces of art. The kaleidoscopic spectacle was to be his trademark and made him a real magician.

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For my participation in the Busby Berkeley Blogathon, I’ve decided to discuss my favourite musical numbers directed by him. Five films would be explored: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Dames and Lady Be Good. Of course, Berkeley worked on many more films, including the well-known family classic The Wizard of Oz.

42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)

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42nd Street is the first film choreographed by Busby Berkeley that I saw. I was not much older than 15 or 16 years old and, to be honest, didn’t really love it. I just found it ok. Then, I watched it a second-time years later (actually, I think it was last year) and simply adored it. It’s amazing how our tastes can change. Despite not being so impressed by it on my first viewing, the final musical number always had a place among my very favourite movie scenes. I remember watching it often on YouTube and trying to learn the song by heart. But it’s only when I was in Cegep that I really heard of Busby Berkeley or, more precisely, that I learned that this musical number that I loved so much was choreographed by him. In one of my film history classes, my teacher discussed musical films and introduced the class by teaching us about backstage musicals, those films telling the story of a Broadway show. Busby Berkeley was an essential figure in backstage musicals.

But let’s now explore two musical numbers of this film in greater details:

Shuffle Off to Buffalo

Shuffle Off to Buffalo starts in a quiet way with Ruby Keeler and Clarence Nordstrom playing a newly wed couple. They are on the boat, on their way to Buffalo. The boat suddenly becomes a train and the visual effect impresses us as well as the applauding public in the movie. The other train passengers participate in the number with their chorus voices while Rudy and Clarence execute some jolly tap dancing. The melody of the voices and the rhythm of the steps are in perfect harmony for this sympathetic musical number. My favourite part of the scene really is the singing duo between Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers who don’t seem to believe much in marriage. According to them “Matrimony is baloney”!

 

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The final choreographic number starts with Ruby Keeler singing about the famous street and its people. She then proves us her potential as a good tap dancer. The camera moves and reveals us that she is in fact, dancing on the roof of a car! The car goes away with Ruby and reveals us a complex stage that has been transformed in New-York City with its cars, numerous people, scandals, and lights. We realize that, although it is supposed to happen on a stage, cinema and cameras allow a better potential for such an impressive scene. Some parts of this scene don’t contain any visible cut and make us wonder how it is possible. It really gives us the illusion that it was filmed in a gigantic studio. Dick Powell eventually introduces himself to the song while my favourite extra is mixing a drink in the background. The other dancers, dressed like Ruby arrived to close the numbers and their lively silhouettes become enlightened buildings in the New-Yorkian night. I love the singing voices at the end of this musical number!

 

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933)

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The first time I heard about this film was when I saw Bonnie & Clyde. Remember, there’s this scene where the two dangerous lovers and their comrade C.W. Moss go hide into a theatre after Clyde has killed a man? The movie playing precisely is Gold Diggers of 1933 and we’re at the beginning of it with its introducing number, “We’re in the Money”. At the time, I had no idea this film would eventually become a favourite.

We’re in the Money

Ok, if I become rich one day, I want to re-enact this scene, covered with coins just like Fay Fortune (Ginger Rogers). This musical scene is an interesting way to begin the movie as it makes a contrast with the real-life situation of 1933: the economic crisis. Yes, Americans were far from being “in the money” and this musical number, therefore, becomes an ideology, the expression of their desire to come out of this difficult situation. The practice is indeed abruptly interrupted by the creditors and producers of telling people to stop the show as they haven’t got enough money to finance it. There’s a lot of joy in this dance and the whole thing is embellished with big coins forming interesting fans. I once gave myself the challenge of learning this song by heart, which I succeed, except for the pig latin part!

 

Pettin’ in the Park

You like pre-code? Well, here is some pre-code for you. “Pettin’ in the Park”, even if it seems innocent at first, is one of the most daring musical numbers of Berkeley’s filmography. It starts with a naughty Dick Powell and a shy Ruby Keeler singing about “pettin in a park” and “pettin in the dark”. They are soon joined by other dancers and the stage becomes a real snowy scene with skating and amusing snowball fights. Busby Berkeley films the dancer with their false giant snowballs with his usual high angle shots which shows us kaleidoscopic forms. Then it’s Spring and the ladies and their beaux are sitting together. A little boy (played by dwarf Billy Party) sneaks into their intimacy and when the girls go hide behind a curtain to change their wet clothes, he starts to pull this curtain! ;). This is a complex scene so there’ll be much more to say. I’ll let you watch see for yourself. Unfortunately, I could only find it in three separated parts.

 

Remember My Forgotten Man

Joan Blondell is the star of this closing number. In opposition to the optimistic opening number, Forgotten Man takes us back to the reality of the economic crisis and men leaving their houses to fight for their country during the first World War. For this impressive scene, Busby Berkeley used a German Expressionist aesthetic playing with shadows and contrast. The end of the scene indeed offers us some impressive views on the silhouettes of the marching soldiers.

 

Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)

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Footlight Parade is a good movie allowing us to witness James Cagney’s talent as a dancer. However, I must admit that this film doesn’t contain most of my favourite musical numbers, but I think one is worthy of mention:

By a Waterfall

This complex choreography is a bit long but remains a great entertainment for our eyes. The particularity of “By a Waterfall” is that it was filmed on the water with graceful swimmers. No, Esther Williams didn’t do it first! Berkeley offers us a poetic vision of the aquatic life with swimmers drawing beautiful abstract patterns on the water and even a giant human waterfall!

 

Dames (Ray Enright, 1934)

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Apart from being a deliciously funny movie, Dames might contain some of my most favourite musical numbers created by Busby Berkeley. The film was first introduced to us when my Film Aesthetic  teacher showed us some clips. I was amazed by the way it was filmed and so were the other students we couldn’t help applaud at the end of them (this is not something you witness often in university classes). Of course, it immediately made me want to see the film.

I Only Have Eyes for You

Here, you’ll see plenty of Ruby Keeler. She is literally everywhere in this scene as if she was an idolized goddess. The scene contains some magical effects made on a black background and takes us from one shot to another with an incredible fluidity and ways that no one could possibly imagine.

 

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The impressive part of this scene starts with these ladies’ morning routine. They are revealed to us behind large clocks and start their day, smiling and fresh. Honestly, I never had a smile like that on my face while waking-up in the morning. Kudos to them. They then go to work and enter by the stage doors. Then starts the Berkeley touch with a pretty choreography on a white background making a contrast with their black leggings. Of course, high angles and kaleidoscopic effects aren’t missing.  The final moments are amazingly impressive and were probably the reasons why my classmates applauded after the viewing of this clip. But honestly, it’s too wonderful for words. I’ll let you watch it.

I couldn’t find the entire clip, but here is the best part anyway!

 

Lady Be Good (Norman Z. McLeod, 1941)

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Lady Be Good isn’t Berkeley’s most well-known work but it’s one that deserves to be explored. The film starring Ann Sothern, Robert Young, Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton gives a new approach to the filmography of Berkeley. Here, the musical numbers find a certain simplicity that is in opposition to the ones from the pre-code era but don’t lack dynamism. Far from it!

You’ll Never Know dance by the Berry Brother

Here, the notorious trio formed by the Berry Brothers sing a song composed by Ann Sothern’s character while executing a breathtaking choreography in their chic clothes. They aren’t only dancers, they are amazing acrobats as well! This classy musical number is the proof that Berkeley was able to show us different things than kaleidoscopic effects to take our breath away.

 

Lady Be Good dance by Eleanor Powell

If there was a queen of tap dance, Eleanor Powell maybe was the one. Anyway, we agree that she surpasses Ruby Keeler’s level. In this scene, her character “only” do a dance practice. But what a practice! Here she wears what seems to be the most comfortable pants ever and start with lively and fast steps. She simply dances like a fish swims, with incredible gracefulness. The amusing part of the scene occurs when she is joined by her dog Button who turns out to be quite an appreciated dance partner! Ellie’s smile seems to be an invitation to dance with her!

 

Fascinatin’ Rhythm

Lady Be Good‘s last musical scene is the most complex one and, somehow, takes us back to the age of Gold Diggers and 42nd Street. Just like with “Forgotten Man”, Busby Berkeley plays with the shadows, this time the ones of the band musicians and the Berry Brothers. Connie Russell starts singing the song and is soon joined by the three dancing brothers and their usual dynamism. Eleanor Powell eventually makes her entrance dancing among pianos and accompanied by a ground of gentlemen who only make her shine.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the beginning of the scene with Connie Russell singing. But you can still watch the Berry Brothers and Eleanor Powell’s dancing!

 

 

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Of course, much more of Busby Berkeley’s work deserves to be explored, but I hope this post gave you a good preview of his work and my own personal tastes!

Many thanks again to Annette for hosting this fun blogathon!

Don’t miss the other entries:

The Busby Berkeley Blogathon

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Dreaming in Hitchcock Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming


I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.

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Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!

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Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.

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In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.

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So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.

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I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.

 

Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.

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Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.

 

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.

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This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.

 

Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.

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These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?

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Source:

– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.

 

 

Top of the World: 15 Burt Lancaster Films

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Today marks the Burt Lancaster’s birthday! You may know it or not, but he has always been one of my very favourite actors since in discovered him in The Unforgiven (John Huston, 1960). The one we also call “Mr. Muscles & Teeth” or “Big Teeth” if you are my mother starred in some movies that marked cinema’s history and always delivered top-notch performances. In order to honour him on this very special day, I thought it would be fun to do a top list presenting my 15 most favourite films of his.

Before we continue…

I insist you respect my choices. This is a list of MY own favourite Lancaster’s films. I’m not claiming that these ones are the best, but only the ones I personally like the most. It’s not objective at all. It’s very subjective.

Also, if a movie is not on the list, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I have seen a total of 22 of his films. So, obviously, some won’t be on the list (not to mention the ones I haven’t seen yet).

Notice: If you should fail to respect this simple request, your comment will be deleted.

Of course, you are invited to share your personal favourites in the comments section!

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So, that’s enough blabla! Here we go!

15. Vera Cruz (Robert Aldrich, 1954)

I think I mostly like this film due to its cast. I mean, Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper in the same film, what a dream!

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14. Trapeze (Carol Reed, 1956)

I remember my grandfather talking to me about this film. It was the second film to reunite Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis (well, don’t you remember, Tony was playing an extra in Criss Cross. Haha!). Pretty enjoyable, but not a masterpiece like Sweet Smell of Success either!

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13. The Unforgiven (John Huston, 1960)

I discovered Burt with this film!

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12. A Child Is Waiting (John Cassavetes, 1963)

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11. Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964)

 I’m normally not too much into political films but I had to include it on the list as it’s unique in its own way and has an impressive modern touch.

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10. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Norman Foster, 1948)

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9. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick)

” Match me, Sidney!” (Couldn’t resist). Brilliant film, but Burt sort of scares me in it!

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8. The Rainmaker (Joseph Anthony, 1956)

This is one of Burt’s most underrated films. I personally love it and his performance in it is one of my most favourites. That monologue at the beginning totally captivates me! When Earl Holliman sent me these autographed pictures, he wrote that this was indeed the favourite film he made (his performance in it was brilliant as well) and that he loved working with Burt and Kate. 🙂

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7. Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)

Not a film everyone “gets”, but I personally love it. Burt won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance!

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6. Airport (George Seaton, 1970)

Is it a guilty pleasure? It’s not a bad movie, of course.  It’s pretty good in fact, but disaster movies always seem to be a synonym of “guilty pleasure”! Anyway, I know many will have a different opinion on that.

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5. Separate Table (Delbert Mann, 1958)

That cast! Oh, my! I didn’t like the film so much the first time I saw it but loved it the second time. I’m weird like that.

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4. Come Back Little Sheba (Daniel Mann, 1952)

Some say that Burt was miscast for the part as he was too young. Maybe but personally, I’ve never really mind it. Love the film itself anyway!

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3. Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

Such a special film!

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2. Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947)

Hard to believe this was only Burt’s second film! Always enjoy watching my Criterion DVD. 😉

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  1. From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)!

I know, this might not be a surprising choice, but I that film absolutely conquered me!

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I haven’t include it in my list but I have to say, Burt is SO sexy in The Crimson Pirate! ❤

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Well, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed it! I’ll be curious to know which ones are your favourites!

Happy heavenly birthday Burt! 🙂

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