Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy Birthday: Busby Berkeley!

Busby Berkeley (November 29, 1895 – March 14, 1976), was famous for his beautiful musical production numbers using showgirls and props as fantasy elements in kaleidoscopic on-screen performances.

Busby Berkeley was born to silent film and stage actress Gertrude Berkeley. During World War I, Berkeley served as a field artillery lieutenant. Watching soldiers drill may have inspired his choreography. During the 1920s, Berkeley was a dance director for many Broadway musicals. As a choreographer, Berkeley was less concerned with the terpsichorean skill of his chorus girls as he was with their ability to form into geometric patterns. His musical numbers were among the largest and best on Broadway.

His earliest movie jobs were on Samuel Goldwyn's Eddie Cantor musicals, where he began developing such techniques as a “parade of faces” and moving his dancers in as many kaleidoscopic patterns as possible. Berkeley's top shot technique appeared in Cantor films, and also the 1932 Universal programmer Night World . As choreographer, Berkeley was allowed independence in the numbers he choreographed which were mostly upbeat and focused on decoration with maybe one exception, “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers(1933), which dealt with the treatment of soldiers in a post-World War I Depression .

Berkeley choreographed four wonderful musicals back-to-back: 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Fashions of 1934, as well as In Caliente and Wonder Bar with Dolores del Rio. The numbers have been critiqued for their display of the female form as seen through the “male gaze”. Berkeley always argued that his main goal was to constantly top himself and to never repeat his past accomplishments.

As the musicals in which Berkeley specialized became less popular, he turned to straight directing. The result was, They Made Me a Criminal(1939), one of John Garfield's best films. In 1943, he was removed as director of, Girl Crazy, because of disagreements with Garland, although the musical number "I Got Rhythm", which he directed, remained in the picture. His next work was at 20th Century-Fox for 1943's The Gang's All Here, in which Berkeley choreographed Carmen Miranda's “Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” number. Berkeley returned to MGM in the late 1940s, where among many other accomplishments he conceived the beautiful finales for Esther Williams films. Berkeley's final film as choreographer was MGM's Billy Rose's Jumbo.

Busby Berklely films I have seen:

42nd Street(1933)
Gold Diggers of(1933)
Footlight Parade(1933)
Gold Diggers of(1935)
Gold Diggers of(1937)
Varsity Show(1937)
Gold Diggers in Paris(1938)
Broadway Serenade(1939)
Babes in Arms(1939)
Ziegfeld Girl(1941)
Babes on Broadway(1941)
For Me and My Gal(1942)
Girl Crazy(1943)
The Gang's All Here (1943 film)(1943)
Romance on the High Seas(1948)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game(1949)
Million Dollar Mermaid(1952)
Easy to Love(1953)
Billy Rose's Jumbo(1962)

Below are a couple of video examples of his amazing work:

The “By A Waterfall” production number from Footlight Parade (1933) made use of one of the largest soundstages ever built, constructed especially by Warner Bros. to film Berkeley's creations.

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