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Busby Berkeley at the BFI

Posted on May 2, 2014

ginger-gold-diggers-of-1933From wicked wisecracks to kaleidoscopic celebrations of showgirls, Busby Berkeley’s early1930s musicals are among 1930s Hollywood’s most daring films. Two of his best-known films, 42nd Street and The Gold Diggers of 1933, will be screened as part of the BFI’s Hollywood Babylon season, which celebrates “Early Talkies before the Censor”.

 

Hollywood’s censorship code was created in 1930, but not enforced until 1934. The season at London’s BFI Southbank celebrates the movies made in between: “more unbridled, salacious, subversive and just plain bizarre than what came afterwards.” Alongside gritty gangster movies, sex comedies and grisly horror films, Berkeley’s two musicals feature fast-talking chorus girls and surreal musical numbers.

Both 42nd Street and The Gold Diggers of 1933 feature Ginger Rogers, just before she began her partnership with Fred Astaire, plus tap dancer Ruby Keeler. 42nd Street’s numbers include Keeler dancing on top of a taxi, plus hundreds of chorus girls and spectacular props. Rogers plays a chorus girl called Anytime Annie – “She only said ‘No’ once, and that was when she didn’t hear the question.”

In The Gold Diggers of 1933, Rogers sings “We’re in the Money” in a costume made of coins (pictured, top). The film also includes the Depression-era lament, “Remember My Forgotten Man” (pictured, below).

 

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For more information, see www.bfi.org.uk.

 

Pictures from The Gold Diggers of 1933. Photographs courtesy of the BFI.

 

 

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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