Monday, April 03, 2006

Busby Berkeley, Dracula, and Me

When a Broadway baby says "Good night,"
It's early in the morning.
Manhattan babies don't sleep tight,
until the dawn:
Good night, baby,
Good night, milkman's on his way.
Sleep tight, baby,
Sleep tight, let's call it a day

-Lullaby of Broadway, music by Harry Warren, lyric by Al Dubin

It was Busby Berkeley Month on the Turner Classic Movie channel last month. Busby Berkeley was a movie choreographer who's greatest musicals were made at Warner Brothers from 1933 to 1937. Last week I finally got around to watching the three movies of his that I had TiVoed; Footlight Parade (1933), Dames (1934), and Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). If you have never seen a Busby Berkeley movie you have missed out on some of the most mind blowing musical numbers that have ever been put on film.

Berkeley's musicals always have little stories wrapped around each extravagant production number. All his work is a little disturbing with a weird blend of eroticism and subliminal (and not so subliminal) sexual imagery. This was a man who's mother always lived with him, who drank heavily, who had three failed marriages and who, when he learned his mother had died, tried to commit suicide.

There was always an undercurrent of something dark in his work that reached its climax with the Lullaby Of Broadway number in Gold Diggers of 1935. I remember seeing that movie and Footlight Parade at an revival house in the late 70's and having the audience applaud after each number except for Lullaby of Broadway. At the end of that there was complete silence. I had my husband watch the Lullaby of Broadway number with me and at the part where you either gasp or sit dumbfounded, he gasped.

When I wasn't watching movies I was working my way through Elizabeth Kostova's 656 page novel, The Historian, and enjoying every page of it. The Historian is about a man who, in his search for the grave of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), begins to suspect that old Vlad really is the Dracula of legend and that he may still be alive. The book is far richer in content that my one sentence summary may lead you to believe. I highly recommend it.

All in all, I had a very good week.

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