|Busby Berkeley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Not only have I been impressed about the number of votes my current Battle of the Bands has received, but immensely gratified to see so many visitors taking the time to watch the ten minute clip of the Busby Berkeley production of "I Only Have Eyes for You". If you have not yet voted on that post I hope you might take the time to listen to the song versions that I've offered and vote on your favorite.
An Innovative Film Pioneer
One of my favorite parts of my DVD library is The Busby Berkeley Collection boxed set of five of his best musicals and a treasure trove of extras that includes period cartoons and shorts as well as several informative commentaries from film critics and historians. There are hours of viewing in this set and it's a must have for any fan of Berkeley, musicals, or the movies of the 1930's. It was a great era of movie making that gave the Depression Era generation an escape from their troubles. Busby Berkeley was among the biggest names of that decade.
Born into a show business family in 1895, Berkeley started his career at age 5 and worked in screen and stage productions until shortly before his death in 1976. During World War I Berkeley served in the U.S. Army directing precision marching drills and military parades. This military experience had a huge influence on his stylistic approach to staging dance numbers. Watching these numbers one can easily see a relation to what Berkeley did with the dancers in the film and how soldiers march in precision drill formations.
Berkeley's legacy in culture has been pervasive with an influence that can be seen in many movies, television shows, music videos, and even commercials. His iconic visual style has endeared him to audiences even to this day. In the 60's the Busby Berkeley films took on a cult status on college campuses and as stalwart midnight movie features.
Though I grew up with an awareness of what Berkeley had done, I was not familiar with who he was until I learned more about him after I entered college in the 70's. My ability to see his films was still infrequent until cable television and video made them more accessible. Now that I've got the box set I have watched those films repeatedly and have yet to tire of those great Busby Berkeley dance productions. The five films in this set represent only a small portion of his body of work.
Busby Berkeley's Influence on Nazi Germany
Making a connection between Busby Berkeley and the Nazis might sound a bit ludicrous--and indeed Berkeley did not likely have many political interests--but there is no doubt that his work had a prominent influence on the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of history. The female director of this film, Leni Riefenstahl, admitted that one of her influences was from the dance numbers of Busby Berkeley. Watching Riefenstahl's Triumph and her later Nazi propaganda film Olympia one can see much of the Berkeley style.
Berkeley likewise was undoubtedly influenced by the Expressionistic art movement and notably the film making of German director Fritz Lang who directed the 1927 epic science fiction silent film masterpiece Metropolis. Of course the art movements of that age had a pervasive influence over many of the films made during that time. The set designers and art directors all combined efforts with the film directors and the choreographers like Berkeley to turn out films with the distinctive look that they had.
You Want Creepy?
In her comment on my Battle of the Bands post, Robin from Your Daily Dose mentioned the creepy faces seen in the "I Only Have Eyes for You" clip from Dames. If you thought those faces were creepy check out the video I've offered below. Introduced in the film Gold Diggers of 1935, "Lullaby of Broadway" won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and has been recorded by many artists including a number 1 chart hit for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.
The song is a paean to the party crazed people of the night. This is a somewhat dark, yet joyous sequence. There is debauchery that borders on insanity yet touches us with images of loneliness and the isolation of urban life. Film noir fans should appreciate the stylistic approach of shadows and stark linear design. The group (or shall we say mob) dance numbers display the fascistic motif as embraced by the Nazi propagandists.
I am greatly amused by the description given by wacko film director John Waters in the commentary on the Berkeley Box Set disc for Gold Diggers of 1935. To somewhat paraphrase, Waters observes:
"The dance number of "Lullaby on Broadway" is scary. It's like a cult--like Jim Jones or the Manson Family. We see all of these angry tap dancers coming towards us. They're like a zombie army. It's Night of the Living Tappers. They want to kill you."
It's very probable that George Romero was influenced by some of Berkeley's imagery for the Living Dead films. Michael Jackson surely modeled many of his dance routines after the Berkeley style.
If you have a moment to indulge in greatness of film choreography, check out this clip below. Nothing wrong with the video at the beginning, it's just a matter of not viewing on a larger screen and even then the clip starts out in the darkness with a tiny white dot at the top of the screen. Watch the white dot as it continues to grow. As in all of Berkeley screen dance sequences, the film editing is expertly executed according to Busby Berkeley's precisely planned vision.
Hope you will take a moment and I hope you will enjoy this classic clip which Berkeley named as his favorite of all of the numbers he created.
Again, if you haven't voted on my Battle of the Bands contest for the song "I Only Have Eyes for You" I hope you will add your preference to the tally. There's still time as I won't be adding up the votes until this Thursday in order to announce the winner on Friday. On Wednesday I'll be relating a personal story about this great song and asking you about similar experiences you've had. Stay with me as I keep Tossing It Out.
Were you familiar with Berkeley's work prior to my posts? What do you think of the Busby Berkeley style and where have you seen the influences? Have you seen Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will or Olympia? If so, what is your assessment of those films?