Busby Berkeley

From our calendar article and a little too early for Busby’s birthday, but I came across this clip from Footlight Parade today and didn’t want to postpone this post. Just sit back for this wonderfully choreographed slice of classic entertainment:

Busby Berkeley (1895 –1976) was a highly influential Hollywood movie director and musical choreographer. Berkeley 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.

Berkeley’s popularity with an entertainment-hungry Great Depression audience was secured in 1933, when he choreographed three musicals back-to-back for Warner Brothers: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade and the aforementioned Gold Diggers of 1933. 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.

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