Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Triumph of the Will: as seen by Busby Berkeley

Come out, come out, come out and get your lovin'
Now don't you keep me in suspense
Come on, come on, we'll do our turtledovin'
Sittin' on a backyard fence

Come on, come on,
The little stars are peekin'
They're waiting for you to commence
Uh-huh, uh-huh, I kind of thought I'd weaken
Sittin' on a backyard fence

It may be just another little backyard alley
Off the avenue
But I can see a willow tree, a moonlit valley
In the dreams I share with you

Meow, meow, the kitty cat is cooin'
He shows a lot of common sense
He knows, he knows, there's always something doin'
Sittin' on a backyard fence!

This is only one of my favorite numbers from Footlight Parade, a classic Busby Berkeley musical from 1933. Pre-code, obviously, though this number is extremely mild compared to the hilariously charming Honeymoon Hotel, in which almost every line is full of double-entendres. But the tune is so lighthearted and the players so delightfully comedic that they get away with it. I can't find a whole version of HH, so can't post it here, and lyrics alone don't begin to get it. This little cat number, much simpler than the other three Berkeley blockbusters in this film, is a sort of warmup for the orgasmic bliss of the movie's last half-hour. And believe me, it IS orgasmic, even though I've had a few revelations about Berkeley lately that have opened my eyes.

I've seen his choreography, of course - anyone who likes old movies has, and my impression of it was always "classy kitsch". But then I couldn't help but notice the grace and precision of his dancers as they played phony violins or pianos in exact unison, or performed water ballet so perfectly synchronized it was a little bit frightening.

It IS a little bit frightening to see all this intentional, mass uniformity, and it fascinated me to find out a bit about Berkeley's background. He wasn't a dancer or a choreographer at all, wasn't even in show business. He was a drill sergeant in the army during World War I, an expert at forming precise military patterns with human bodies. This was some sort of mad genius drill sergeant, of course, and some of his visions are much darker than I realized.

I've just sent away to Amazon for a boxed set with some of his best-known stuff in it, but the one I'm looking forward to the most is Gold Diggers of 1935. His version of Lullaby of Broadway is so spooky that it's hard to see it as part of a musical at all. It's almost like a horror movie, with the singer's face starting as a tiny white dot in the middle of total blackness. Then like some toxic death-lily it gradually blooms and blooms until it dominates the screen in a way that is nothing short of macabre.

The dancing in this number is not like normal dancing, believe me. This isn't tap. I don't know what it is, but it includes aggressive arm-thrusting movements that at first look weird, then violent, then - like something out of the Third Reich. I am not exaggerating.

Hitler was well on his way by 1935, as was Leni Riefenstahl, chronichler of Hitler's rise in the infamous propoganda film, Triumph of the Will. But I was astonished to learn that, fascist as his choreography looked, it was not Berkeley who was influenced by Riefenstahl.

It was the other way around. Riefenstahl idolized American film, and American musicals in particular. She could not have failed to be dazzled by a choreographer who could get a couple hundred identical human beings to move around a stage in exact unison.

Berkeley didn't have a happy life. He married and divorced six times, killed three people in a drunken car accident, and at least once tried to commit suicide. For all that, he lived to be 80 years old. Such longevity is not always a great blessing in a person like that.

But he left these weird artifacts with their disturbing overtones. This little backyard fence number is nothing - except for a dwarf running around in a bizarre rat costume, and the inexplicably weird "thing" that Ruby Keeler rises out of and  dances around, a leering, winking, open-mouthed something that might be the moon, or something else.


I wanted to make an animation with that horrible little symbol on the "kill them!" notice that I keep getting. Though I've had it explained to me over and over, I still do not understand what "kill them" means. Do they mean "delete"? Why not SAY "delete"? If a page is unresponsive, WHY delete it in the first place? So I assumed "kill them" meant to nuke them absolutely, to wipe them off the face of the earth as if they had never existed. I could see a miniature mushroom cloud rising from my Facebook page and my blog (nurtured along for SEVEN years now!). I would be left with nothing but blankness, a terrible void. And I didn't even DO anything.

Well, what else COULD "kill them" mean? It had to mean wiping them out completely, or they would not call it that. And why, when the page's only crime was being "unresponsive"? I've gone on various sites that supposedly explained the "kill them" notice, and all they do is repeat, "if it's unresponsive, kill the page". There is software that keeps the notice from coming up that you can buy. But if you hit the wrong button - 

What happens??

As with almost everything else to do with computers, you're supposed to already know.They talk over your head in glib jargon that makes you feel like a pile of ignorant shit in seconds.

I am still convinced that if you hit the wrong button, you are screwed. You will no longer have any trace of existence on Facebook, your blog or anywhere else. You will have "killed" the page or pages. 

OK then, if it isn't that, explain it to me! In English! Don't just say, "well then, kill the file", expecting me to KNOW what it means, and whether or not I can bring it back from the dead!
But dead means dead. Doesn't it?

My animation is the usual jumping-up-and-down-on-each-other thing, but it's hard to do anything else with such a hideous malformation. When I first saw this notice, I literally gasped. It was EVIL and seemed to come out of nowhere. No one else I knew had ever even heard of it. The little symbol on it scared the living hell out of me. It was a whole new definition of ugly, and menacing.

Why would would I WANT to kill my pages? Why? And if I do, can they ever be resurrected?

I don't see what else this command could mean but total and permanent annihilation. You can't just kill something or someone for a little while. Killing is forever.

Bentley's abandonment issues

Bentley is the opposite, When we're going out, he dives into his carrier and looks out at us beseechingly, as if to say, "Take me with you!" All right, not beseechingly. He just looks out at us.