Friday, February 05, 2010

Shows What You Can Do If Your Horse Can Act

I've never figured out why Busby Berkeley's Hollywood Hotel has never been released on DVD, either in the retail sets or in the Warner Archive. Maybe there's some sort of rights thing. But wait, according to comments, it was released in a second Busby Berkeley set of weaker late '30s Berkeley movies. So the first sentence of my post officially makes no sense, due to my poor use of Google. At least I can (for now) stand by the rest of the post:

It's one of Berkeley's weaker films, and disappoints a lot of people because he didn't do his trademark gigantic production numbers (for budgetary reasons or because he wanted to try something different, I don't know). But with all the big musical names in the film, and "Hooray For Hollywood" as one of the songs, I'd have thought it would have turned up somewhere it still has some fun moments. Anyway, as a clip in lieu of a longer post, here is the "Hooray For Hollywood" number as performed in the movie.

Numbers like these bring home the importance of the moving camera to Berkeley and other great directors of musicals. At Warner Brothers, he didn't use the fluid, gliding camera moves that MGM did; WB was a more editing-happy studio, and did musical numbers with more cuts. And yet the camera is constantly on the move in this number, and one of Berkeley's favorite tricks is to suddenly pan to the side, changing from one composition to another in a split second without a cut. It's a completely different aesthetic from the modern one, which is that the foundational technique of a musical number should be editing: the idea is to create the rhythm of the number through cutting. The ideal of the "classical" musical is to let the song and the staging (the movements of the characters) set the rhyhm, and to try and create the illusion that it's all happening continuously, right in front of us.


John McElwee said...

"Hollywood Hotel" did come out in 2008 as part of the Busby Berkeley Collection --- Volume Two, along with "Golddiggers Of 1937", "Golddiggers In Paris", and "Varsity Show".

Jaime J. Weinman said...

So it is; thanks. I don't know why I missed it; I was Googling to find whether it was on DVD, and either forgot about or missed that other set. Thanks for the correction and sorry for the error.

Kevin Deany said...

"Hollywood Hotel" does contain one of my favorite 1930s numbers, the insanely catchy "Let That Be A Lesson to You."

The number starts with Johnny "Scat" Davis singing it during a radio broadcast from a nightclub. The number is then taken up by waiter Dick Powell at a drive-up restaruant, who hears it on a car radio. Pretty soon all the customers are joining in. We even get a chorus from Ted Healey, and a giant eightball pushed in front of Edgar Kennedy. Sheer bliss.

Anonymous said...

Looking at his unique writhing vocal performances, Johnny "Scat" Davis really should have done a PSA about the perils of rectal itch.