Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out the first Awards at a dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929 to honor movies released from August 1, 1927 – August 1, 1928. The first Academy president, Douglas Fairbanks, hosted and presented in the ceremony held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The brainchild of MGM studio mogul, Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was formed in 1927 as a non-profit dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Some might argue about some of those achievements, but there is one thing that is sure to impress classic movie and Hollywood fans – when the music plays to open this year’s Oscars on March 4, 2018 it will be the 90th time the film industry honors achievements in movies.

Here are the 1929 Winners and Nominees

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If you take the time to look through all of the moments in 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversy any number of which may spur debate from film aficionados. That’s where we come in. For the sixth consecutive year, I am joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club aka @Paula_Guthat to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. Given Oscar’s special anniversary and all of the memories, we hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest outing yet.

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As you know, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 23rd installment on February 1. This year the network is presenting the movies based on the categories in which they were awarded or nominated. February 1st will honor Best Original Song Winner and Nominees and the festival kicks off with Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959) will end the 31-Day presentation on March 3, the day dedicated to Best Picture Winners.

Since both TCM and the Oscars bring to mind our beloved host and favorite historian, Robert Osborne, we thought we would kick off our Blogathon with his words about the 31 Days of Oscar marathon…

“One thing seems to stir the souls of our Turner Classic Movie loyalists like no other: the 31 Days of Oscar salute.” 

Blogathon Details

Rather than hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon for the entire month of February, as we’ve done in the past, we will host all entries the weekend before the Oscars this year. That is from Friday, February 23 through Sunday, February 25, which leaves Oscar weekend free for last minute movie watching. We’re also combining all topics this year and simply presenting them over the three days. Any Oscar-related topic is fair game. We are not limiting this event to classic film fare as we’d like to see entries covering the entire 90-year history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated here are the categories we have used in the past…

  • The Actors
  • The Directors
  • The Motion Pictures
  • Oscar Snubs
  • The Crafts (music, costumes, etc.)
  • New Idea – Oscar Controversies

Most of you know the drill, but as a reminder, adhering to the following is necessary:

  • Let us know what your desired topic is by leaving a comment on any of the host blogs
  • Include the title and link to your blog in the comments area
  • Advise if you have a date preference – Friday 2/23, Saturday 2/24 or Sunday 2/25
  • Include the event banner on your blog and in the entry post to help us promote the event

Restrictions – just two:

  • Please do not submit previously published posts
  • No duplicates will be accepted to ensure we cover as much of Oscar history as possible

We look forward to hearing from you and to reading your entries. As many entries as you want, actually, so get to it!

Until then here’s to Oscar, to TCM and to YOU! Happy Blogging!

Participating Blogs and Topics

Caftan Woman – 1936 Best Dance Direction Nominee, Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from Merian C. Cooper’s SHE (1935)

Blog of the Darned – 7 Films that Should Have Been Nominated for Best Picture

One Gal’s Musings – The 1954 Best Actress Competition

Silver Screenings – How the Oscars Began

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Embarrassing Oscar Moments

Old Hollywood Films – Janet Gaynor’s Three Oscar Wins

Hometowns to Hollywood – Wings (1927)

Critica Retro – The Trouble with Thrillers

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Oscar-winning Actresses in Superhero Movies

Moon in Gemini – Forgotten Winners and Nominees

Cracked Rear Viewer – Claire Trevor in Key Largo

Once Upon a Screen – Why Barbara Stanwyck Should Have Taken Oscar Home in 1942

Danny Reviews – Chariots Of Fire (1981) and The King’s Speech (2010), Best Picture films about perseverance

 

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Busby Berkeley Choreography: Geometric Gems

 

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He’s been called many things: an artist, a visionary, a perfectionist, a genius, a legend, even a fascist. But what Busby Berkeley did for musical numbers of the silver screen was simply unforgettable. While Berkeley had a long and successful career that included being a choreographer and a director, today I only want to address the choreography of his musical numbers that highlights his mastery of geometric patterns in dancing harmony.

From conducting military parades and staging camp shows for soldiers in WW1, William Berkeley Enos aka “Buzz” returned home and quickly became one of Broadway’s top dance directors. By 1930, Ziegfeld gave him his big chance to transition to film so he moved to Hollywood. Beginning with choreographing musical comedies like, WHOOPIE! (1930) with Eddie Cantor, he started to get noticed. Producers Samuel Goldwyn and Darryl F. Zanuck each gave him opportunities to have greater creative control. It was Zanuck that offered him the big break at Warner Brothers with the film 42nd STREET (1933) that forever changed his destiny.

In Lloyd Bacon’s 42nd STREET (1933), Berkeley directed the key musical numbers that made the film a huge hit, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, “Young and Healthy” and the “Naughty! Bawdy! Gaudy!“, depression-era story-telling finale, “42nd Street”. In these numbers, we see the enormous ensemble of dancers and grand scale perspective begin to emerge.

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In “Young and Healthy,” the circles and rows of dancers, including unique camera techniques like snaking underneath a bridge of continuous legs, creates magical human kaleidoscopes for which he soon became famous. In this number, we are also witness to BB’s frequent use of glowing shades of white in repetition contrasting against a black backdrop, another sign of his artistic-meets-tech mastery to achieve the greatest effect.

What followed was an astounding surge of creative output of some of the most iconic musical numbers ever put to film. Although he went on to direct and choreograph dozens of films and musical numbers until the 1960s, it was the massive production in the Pre-Code years that reflected his crowning achievements in geometric patterned brilliance.

In Mervyn LeRoy’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), Buzz reaches new heights. Working again with catchy, Oscar nominated songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, BB created four spectacular musical numbers: “We’re In The Money,” “Pettin’ In The Park,” “The Shadow Waltz,” and “My Forgotten Man” made the final cut. (“I’ve Got To Sing A Torch Song” number by Ginger Rogers was cut; instead given to Dick Powell, but not as a full production number.)

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In “The Shadow Waltz,” Berkeley showcases some of his signature moves such as the use of a reflective flooring that was used as a mirror to further create the kaleidoscope effect. In color, this would be too busy visually to simply use a mirrored floor. But in black in white, he knew that a shiny, black flooring with glowing shades of white elements- including neon violins- would create this effect with maximum results.

Another BB signature element is to have the rows of dancers move in a way that makes it appear alive. In “The Shadow Waltz” we see spinning, flowing movements that appear like a flower opening and closing its petals. One way he is able to create this effect is to have the camera often go from deep closeups shots to extreme ariel shots. In this case, each dancer twirls and the dresses are like spinning, inverted plates but from a distance, whether in a row or in circles, it takes on a new, and different form. To ponder how many hours of detailed planning was required to achieve this makes my head spin!

In Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, Berkeley leaves the gritty, marching rows of ‘forgotten men’ from his last film and takes a dip in the waters. From numbers that range honeymooners to back alley cats, in the “Shanghai Lil” musical number, he takes on prostitution and opium dens (and asian stereotypes) but ultimately returns to rows of marching military. Musical numbers:

  • “Honeymoon Hotel” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • “Shanghai Lil” – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • By a Waterfall” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “My Shadow” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Ah, the Moon Is Here” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • “Sitting on a Backyard Fence” – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)

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Buzz was known for coming up with his best ideas for his elaborate choreography from daily soaks in his bath tub. In “By The Waterfall,” synchronized swimming takes geometric patterns to new heights, and greater depths, than Buzz had ever gone before… or since.

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In Ray Enright’s DAMES (1934), “Beautiful Girls” is arguably the finest example of kaleidoscope inspired use of geometric patterns in a Busby Berkeley musical number. Additionally, in “I Only Have Eyes For You,” surreal, large Ruby Keeler heads dance around, but otherwise all the signature BB markers are present, from rows and circles of white twirling dresses against a black backdrop, with zooming extreme closeups and ariel shots.

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In GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, Berkeley sits in the directing chair beyond just the musical numbers. The “The Words Are in My Heart” number takes the phrase “go big or go home” to heart with dancing pianos. A plethora of baby grand pianos are constantly moving and spinning on elaborate staircases and flowing in waving rows. To complete the kaleidoscope patterns, rows of women wave their flowing white skirts. In his masterpiece “Lullaby On Broadway,” he ambitiously tells a dark tale with armies of dancers in a mini film-in-a-film that lasts nearly 15 minutes.

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Busby Berkeley continued with directing and choreographing films and musical numbers so the examples above are only highlights. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the deal with that ‘fascist’ comment? According to a Busby Berkeley documentary, a few people called him that more in jest simply because of his obsessive work demands from dancers and the set crew, combined with his infusion of military-influenced marching formations.

Apparently, his demands were so intensely high that he was known to push people to extremes with zero sympathy, in order to achieve his dazzling results. He was also known to be anti-social to the point he preferred discussing tech over chatting with dancers. If you consider how he utilized his dancers- often dressed the same, and in formations like parts in a big machine, I guess it’s not that surprising. So I’m also not surprised to hear he was married six times, with each marriage lasting less than a couple of years. His last marriage being the only exception.

He lived a long life with a successful career but I wonder how his scandal of being tried for manslaughter for the deaths of two people affected him personally, and his relationships with others. It is said that alcohol was a contributing factor to him plowing into two vehicles one night in 1937 while driving home after a party that resulted in two deaths and five injured. He also attempted suicide and was placed temporarily in a psychiatric hospital following his mother’s death in 1946.

He was acquitted for the car crash deaths, but did that haunt him? Was work his salvation? Perhaps being a perfectionist helped him in some way. The brilliance of his geometric patterned wonders may not give us the answers, but they can provide us joy for decades and decades to come.

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This was my contribution to the Busby Berkeley Blogathon, hosted by Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood, January 25th- 28th. Be sure to read all the entries!

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