Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

DAILY DOSE OF DELIGHT #1 (From The Great Ziegfeld)

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1. This film is more lighthearted than reality, such as the friendly banter between the two men of very different economic classes at a time when economic tension was high and the high tip. This gives the audience a much-needed avenue of escapism. 

2. I would perhaps expect wholesomeness, cheery narratives that stray from being too dark, and a degree of extravagance to relieve the pressures of day-to-day life during the Depression. 

3. If this were filmed pre-code, I'd imagine her performance might have been more risque or she may have been shown in various states of undress in her dressing room. The conversation between the two men about the female performer may have more innuendos, as well. 

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1. All I know about Florenz Ziegfeld is what I read in Irving Berlin's biography, and that was quite enough. This clip presents Ziegfeld as a gentleman who sends women flowers when in reality he used his position to coerce sexual favours out of desperate showgirls. A more realistic portrayal would have made for some uncomfortable reflection on the admittedly profound impact he had on the entertainment world, and that kind of nuance was not really 1930s MGM's forte, code or no code.

2. I actually think this clip stands in pretty stark contrast to the Depression era musicals that had been coming out of Warner Brothers leading up to this (most of which, to be fair, were pre-code). She seems helpless and delicate, in need of male guidance for success. She's a far cry from the tough and clever "gold diggers" who had a very clear idea about how things worked in the theatre and made constant cracks about it. Even though most of these movies are about "making it on Broadway", I think the differences in sensibilities between them made them very different films and set the studios apart from one another.

3. Aside from the obvious differences to the costume and likely the delivery of the lyrics which I'm sure would have been more provocative, I would presume Ziegfeld would have been presented as less of a gentlemen were this film made pre-code. If I think of MGM's Dancing Lady (1933), which as I remember has a similar opening premise of a theatre tycoon being taken by a female performer (in this case in an actual strip-club), there was a much stronger emphasis on his gaze so that we could not mistake his intentions for honourable ones. The pre-code premise had us recognize that Joan Crawford had to navigate this position carefully to get what she wanted while maintaining her dignity, while The Great Ziegfeld presents it more as a fairy tale where her dreams are coming true. In some ways I think the pre-code musicals have aged better because they feel more honest while a sanitized Florenz Ziegfeld just comes off a little spooky.

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Certainly it was a more cheerful look.  The bright lights, the fancy upscale theater dress.  Certainly a nice distraction from the times. The "battle" for our heroine is also romantic.  I'm guessing that the real battle was a little more cut throat!

As far as themes, certainly for me, the idea of theater, and escape.  After all, there wasn't much access to theater unless you were in New York, so seeing these wonderful costumes and songs, allowed those who were lucky enough to see the picture, to be transported away!

As far as code, like many of the others posting, this is my first introduction into precode motion pictures.  I would agree that it would have been possibly a little edgier and more revealing.

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I love this decade of musicals, but it is a far cry from reality.  The extravagance of purchasing all of the orchids available in a huge arrangement suggests money is no object, and given no thought; all that is importance is fulfilling the desired outcome.  That was not the reality, certainly not experience of the working poor and merchant classes, and not the reality of the much of the fairly well off.  The movie erased the idea of an economic depression happening outside of the theater, and in the daily lives of the movie goers. 

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1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not?  

I know that I do not always want to see real life represented in a movie - I want glamour, adventure and romance! I think musicals should be fun and maybe a little unrealistic.

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals? I think that showing wealth (the large tip to the doorman, "all the orchids in the world") in a movie during the depression allowed people to forget for a few moments the money problems everyone was facing in their daily lives. They could sit in the dark and dream about better times.

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples. 

Perhaps Anna Held would have been dressed more provocatively. I also think that instead of implying that her maid was undressing her, she would have removed some clothing. Her song might have had more suggestive lyrics.

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I think this clip and movies form the time frame show the light side not just for an escape but also appealing to the people who were less affected by the depression. Those who had money to spend want to see a good life that they have and those who find the money want a dream of what could be. Most of the films of the era would follow the same path as once something works it's easier to copy and paste the same type of films which has always been the calling card of studio films. If the code was not enforced Held would not have been dressed in an on-stage outfit that looks like she was performing in a frozen environment compared to the pre-code movie. If this was pre-code backstage we would have seen even more of her than in the "skimpy"  she would have had on-stage with one of the male characters waiting for her to come off stage.

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1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not?

I agree with the others that this presents a brighter perspective than would have been realistic.  In that era only the wealthy could afford to see those types of shows, and this allows us all to glimpse that lifestyle; but I also think that the playful nature of the Held character was pretty accurate as the stereotype of the French were supposed to be tantalizing and coy in appearance, but entirely something else behind closed doors and Held exhibits this.

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

I have always thought that the historical pictures were made by a generation that is aging and reflecting on the past, as we all do, and reflecting that those were "better times".  If you notice, in the 1930/40s there were lots of themes from the 1890/1900s.  In the 1960/70s, the themes were 1920/30 etc.   Those movies are MOST accurate because of the people that lived them could relate to facts and NOT what we interpreted them to be.  Just as I remember the 1960/70s and find some of the movies about that time period are NOT accurate because is an interpretation of what someone has seen in pictures/books.    I would expect to see more themes of the time period of this movie of the happy good old days needed to lift the spirits of the depression era.

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

The Anna Held character irritated me as she was so icky sweet and not very interesting (although beautiful!).  I think in reality, without the codes, she would have been represented as more free and not so tolerant.  I don't think Ziegfeld would have been as likable and probably portrayed more as the womanizer/controlling man that he was.  However, movies then were made to entertain and NOT bring in the daily troubles that everyone lives themselves, so I still think it would have been pretty "tame" by todays standards (or lack of!). 

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It most definitely exhibits a brighter perspective - from the 5 pound note Ziegfeld gives the doorman to the expensive flowers he's had sent ahead. Those alone show that money is not an issue. The theatre that Held performed at was full of well dressed people, again a sign of affluence and no money worries. 

What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

I think the first thing that i thought of in terms of this and other Depression era musicals was the song that Anna Held sang. It certainly had a double meaning/double entendre in the lyrics - it toed the line so to speak. It's similar to what was said in the information about Anything Goes - the lyrics were changed for the film in order to get past the censors. Anna Held was dressed in fancy costume and performed on a big stage - another thing often seen, especially in big group numbers. 

I feel pretty sure that had the film been done pre-code the song may have been done in either a slinkier outfit or even as a bit of a striptease. 

Additionally, the scene that followed in the dressing room almost certainly would have shown her actually getting undressed from her costume. 

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The clip showcases a brightly lit theater and everyone is dressed very richly and in fancy clothes.  It’s definitely not a realistic portrayal of life during the great depression for the vast majority of people.  There is the extravagant display of flowers that would have been costly and the tip he gives to the doorman. Money is something that people just take flippantly and for granted.  

 

I anticipate that there will be a lot of light-hearted singing and dancing.  The focus will be on escapism and helping people forget daily struggles rather than any realism.  A lot of musicals focus on the glamorous side of show business without showcasing the real struggles of what it was like.  

 

I imagine that pre-code this clip would likely have the two rivals being more physical or violent with one another.  The costumes of the females would likely be more risque. Rather than having orchids delivered Ziegfeld maybe would have delivered them himself to the singer when she was scantily clad.

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The way money is so easily spent definitely reflect the fantasy of what type of life people would have liked to have had. The doorman remarks on the amount of the tip, yet Ziegfeld makes a light joke about it, showing that for him, money is no object. Likewise with the orchids. The maid remarks on how much they must have cost, and yet for the sender, money was obviously not a concern.

I think this is a theme that carried over into other depression-era films. A lot of easy money and extravagance. 

The style of dress that Anna Held wore was psuedo-Edwardian--floor length, long sleeves, and parasol. Although her neckline wasn't high, she was also not showing much cleavage. This is in direct opposition to the somewhat double entendre of the lyrics she is singing. I could see scene reshot in a way that would reference Mae West--a tighter fit to the gown, more accentuated cleavage, swiveling hips as Held crosses the stage, more suggestive glances, and definitely a less saccharine tune. 

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1. Of course the scene is more lighthearted than one would have expected given the prevailing culture.  It had to be.  In order for a movie to succeed, the picture had to sell hope, the idea that with just a little luck, you could go from selling apples on a street corner to receiving a magnificent bouquet of orchids or giving a dorrman a five pound note as a tip.

2.  This notion that luck can propel you from poverty to wealth is the underlying theme in most of the Depression-era musicals.  After all, why else would you pay to see a movie in those times?

3.  Most of us here agree that had The Great Ziegfeld been a pre-Code film, the bawdiness quotient would have gone from about 2 to about 8.  But for me, I wonder if that would have put it out of contention for winning Best Picture?

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 1-Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

  • I believe it does show a brighter perspective. Just from the first minute, when Ziegfeld gives a “tip” like no big deal, and don’t forget about the doorman saying “5 pounds”? (which there is no need for). Things like these set the tone of the clip. The theatre, the audience, the orchids, everything screams money, and for the time the movie was release, Money was in everybody’s mind and wish list. Great way to immerse in a fantasy, forgetting reality for a little while. 

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

  • Money, luxury, a carefree life, where there is no worry about the future as long as you play with her.

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

  • Lot of skin! Girls running backstage semi naked for sure, quick change for Held would be a must. Instead of a tip at the end of the conversation, I would expect the doorman gesturing with his hands asking for a little something.

 

 

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There is definitely a lightness to all of this.  I would say the emphasis is on comedy.  Reactions of the two rival producers are broad, nearly mugging.  But the approach does not take away from the truth -- the competition is cutthroat.  Each man is characterized by how he attempts to persuade Miss Held.  One by craftiness and planning.  He has struck first and with repeated cables and meetings.  The other intends to charm and seduce Miss Held.  The fact that she is so easily distracted from the practical approach shows her as not as shrewd a business woman as she is an egoist who is flatterable.

It seems to me that the movie is an attempt by the movie makers to do as Ziegfeld does -- to distract the audience from reality with beautiful orchids.  Don't think about practical matters and contracts and money think about beautiful extravagance.

If this were pre-code besides the fact that we might have seen more backstage flesh, we might have seen a more directly seductive SEXUALLY Ziegfeld using his power and physical presence to seduce Miss Held.  Not just flowers as a symbol of sexuality -- they are orchids after all -- but physical contact between the two to "seal the deal."

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1.   Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

Yes, I can plainly see that. This woman is so overly happy and carefree that she might be accused of being high on drugs if she was part of the reality of today. She is very Pollyanna-like. I suppose such characters were needed back then to lift up a nation suffering from depression to actually give them hope. 

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

People in love being happy and carefree

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

I am not sure

 

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I do agree that this clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life, than what was happening at the time. The type of song that she is singing is all happy and bright. In her dressing room she is excited and happy to find out who sent her the flowers

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Yes, I agree that clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic because the film’s purpose is to entertain the audience, to transport them to a place where they can forget their worries for a brief time. Themes and approaches that could possibly appear in other Depression-era musicals include: lavishly staged musical numbers with imaginative sets and costumes; competition between two suitors for the leading lady; an overall carefree attitude toward life; and economic security for the characters. If this musical had been shot pre-code, it definitely would have been a totally different movie! For example, Anna Held’s number in the clip (Come Play With Me, or something similar) would’ve been more openly sexual, vs the double entrendre approach used in the film. Her costume would’ve been skimpier and perhaps there would’ve been some male dancers to accompany her. Another example is her relationships with Billins and Ziegfeld. Billings and Ziegfeld would’ve been more aggressive in their pursuit of Anna, not only with Anna but with each other.

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Yes I would agree. Most people during that time period if going to the theater wanted to see something that would lighten their mood. Had it been filmed pre-code I think she would have been more scantily clothed. As it is you see her dressed head to toe with hardly any skin showing. 

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14 minutes ago, dwking31 said:

 

3.  Most of us here agree that had The Great Ziegfeld been a pre-Code film, the bawdiness quotient would have gone from about 2 to about 8.  But for me, I wonder if that would have put it out of contention for winning Best Picture?

Very good point about how a pre-Code version of this film may have impacted its contention for Best Picture.

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I do agree that the clip shows a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic. The character of Anna Held seems quite naive and child-like, and her performance seemed innocent. In a search to learn more about Anna Held online, I found out that she was known at the time for her "risqué songs, flirtatious nature and willingness to show her legs on stage". I would guess that if this was a pre-code movie, more might have been done to attempt to show what her actual performances were like, either in her wardrobe or song lyrics. Also, if it was pre-code she may have had a wardrobe change in the dressing room after the show. I also think her character might have changed from her sweet stage performance, to a more world-wearied woman behind the scenes in her dressing room.

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  1. The clip definitely has a brighter perspective on life, but that's what movie were all about. It was the Great Depression. People were scared, hungry, and sad. They needed something to take their minds off of things. That's where these movies came in. I also think that the same thing hold true today. I still like to escape to a magical world, where people can dance their way out of problems.
  2. I think the big theme is the "battle" between the two big shots. They both want this girl, whether it be in a professional or personal matter. But you see the light humor in it. The two of them looking at each other, making faces, and protecting/getting the girl. 
  3. The only thing I can think of is the dressing room scene. I'm pretty sure it would have been shot with the actress getting undressed on the screen if there was no code.

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1. I definitely agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than is realistic. This really struck me in the relative calmness between Ziegfeld and Billings when the latter realizes that Ziegfeld is also at Anna's show. In the paragraphs before the video clip, it is explained that competition is "light-hearted and handled with a gentle touch." This is definitely true; instead of the two men engaging in a fight or heated argument, Billings looks taken aback, Ziegfeld gives him a smug look, and that is that- it feels very civil. This is also interesting to me given the parallel popularity of gangster films with musicals, as talked about in the video with Dr. Ament and Mr. Rydstrom. While gangster films frequently see tensions between characters or competitors blowing up, often fatally, I find it interesting to see this light-hearted and more fun competition in musicals of the time.

2. I might anticipate approaches to story telling of the same light-hearted nature that we see in this clip from The Great Ziegfeld. Although Anna is making a large career decision, she comes off as very casual and frankly uninterested in seriously weighing her options. In that way, it is certainly more light-hearted and differentiates it as a musical from, say, a melodrama. Going back to the video with Dr. Ament and Mr. Rydstrom, I also certainly saw the theme of "the woman's problem," the choice between career and love, that they discussed as being prevalent in not only musicals, but film as a whole. Anna seems to be choosing between career, represented by Billings, and love, represented by Ziegfeld, in this scene.

3. I think the biggest change that would have been made in this clip after the motion picture code was enforced would be that we probably would not see Anna beginning to be undressed. Also, if this were written with the motion picture code in mind, a less suggestive song for Anna to perform might be picked.

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1. The clip does present a brighter, more care-free way of life than most people were experiencing during the Depression.  Ziegeld tips the doorman (and the fact that there is a doorman) as if he doesn't have any money worries at all.  Everyone in the audience is well-dressed and has the money to spend on a (frivolous) performance like this.  Held has a personal lady's maid to assist her in her dressing room, and Ziegeld must have spend "thousand of francs" on the flowers.  Who sends that many orchids in such a large elephant vase??

2.  In other Depression-era musicals, I expect to see the competition between two men for the affection of one lady, probably disguised at first as a business competition. Even as in movies today, I expect the business relationship between the leading lady and the businessman to develop into a romantic interest.  (I haven't seen this movie yet and am anxious to see how it turns out tomorrow night)  I also expect to see a similar lack of concern for money in the musicals.  If I had been around during the Depression and had the money to spend to see a movie, I really wouldn't want to spend it on a movie that reminded me of the hard times I was experiencing.  I would want to go to the movies to escape those hard times for a little while.

3. If this movie had been made pre-code, I would expect her stage costume to have been much more revealing.  I think Ziegeld would have already been in her dressing room when she arrived, and she would have changed out of her costume while he was there.

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     First off, I think that Louise Rainer is an amazing actress. I have never seen this movie, so to watch this clip, and then compare her in this to the movie The Good Earth shows what range she had as an actress. 

     This clip shows the actress as a little naive', but I think that at that time any actress would have known who Flo Ziegfeld was and would have killed to get an audition with him, and she was a little to excited over those flowers! I also thought that a song like "Come and Play With Me" could (and probably would) have been sung much more suggestively, especially in a "review" type show. The mirror trick was cute, and that would have also played into the theme of choosing her playmate from the men in the audience. 

     I think the Hollywood code pulled back the bawdiness of these types of shows and made them more classy for audiences of the time who only wanted to escape their everyday lives. The musical has always been a form of escapism (who else would break out in a song and dance at the drop of a hat?), that is what makes them so wonderful. These musicals that were made in the depression era seem to play to this naïveté' and the audiences yearning for a better life. 

     

     

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Forgive me if I get any of my historical “facts” wrong… just thinking through it…:

Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 
The subject matter is very light and “play”ful. Anna Held’s costume is white/light and frilly, the stage set she’s performing in front of is frilly, the song she’s singing is ridiculous, the way she’s singing it is innocuous and coquettish. She doesn’t have a care in the world. Nor do the audience members, as she’s blinding them with her mirror’s reflection of the stage lights – putting them in the act, as it were; the stagelight.

The scene also opens with a typical friendly doorman being funny with a gentleman – sharing some inside information. Everyone in the scene – even the doorman – looks rich, well-fed, and happy. When the doorman questions the gentleman about why he gave him 5 pounds – a presumably hefty tip at the time – the gentleman jokes about needing to lose weight. Life must be so carefree for him – or else he was really desperate for the info the doorman gave him. Side note: pound notes are used in England… so this setting isn’t even in America where the Depression hit home so hard.

Anna also receives an over-abundance of orchids. Her dressing room maid notes that they must’ve cost thousands of francs. Anna acts ditsy about not being able to read English, even though she sings in it. She also doesn’t seem to care about the price of the flowers; she doesn’t know who they’re from and casts them away as if they are a joke. She changes her mind at the end of the clip since they are so lovely.

The attitude of everyone – even the two gentlemen in competition with each other – is light and frivolous. That’s nothing at all like the actual mood of people facing the Great Depression. Granted, it’s a great escape, giving people a sense of hope for the future in a dream world where they can forget their real-life troubles.

What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

 

In other Depression-era musicals, I would anticipate the same type of frivolity and sense of upbeat emotions and storylines; devil-may-care emotions; “que sera sera” attitudes, etc. I imagine Hollywood considers itself to be in a position to lift spirits and entertain the masses at their time of need.

One thing to note: in backstage movies… obviously, the characters dress in costumes. They perform. They are knowingly not living in reality when they are on stage, or wearing their ritzy, frivolous costumes. So, there is still a sense of the characters being part of the reality of the times… being covered up by something imaginary.

Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

 

I think the men would have made risqué comments to each other – there must be something quirky about “when she blinks, she makes you blink”. And Anna would have been dressed in something a bit more “ooh-la-la” for her routine. I do think her “play with me all day long” song is still rather risqué, daring and provocative.

 

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22 hours ago, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

Hi Everyone!

As we start the course, I will be posting a forum for you to post your responses to the Daily Dose of Delight, which will be available every Monday through Thursday. Here is the first one for Monday.

Recall that you watched a clip from The Great Ziegfeld. As you watched it, we were discussing the early beginnings of the movie musical in the historical context. With that in mind, look at the three questions below, as I listed them below the clip on Canvas, and post your thoughts. 

I look forward to reading your responses/

 

Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

1.    Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 

2.    What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?

3.    Since this is a musical that was made after the motion picture code was enforced, how might you imagine it might have been filmed or scripted differently if it had been pre-code? Give specific examples.

 

Vanessa Theme Ament, Ph.D.
Endowed Chair, Telecommunications

Ball State University

 

1. Yes, since it was during the Depression, men wouldn't be so frivolous with their money.  The song suggests something more lighthearted, and carefree. The clip reveals that the two men have intentions of pursuing her, and were of a higher class.  

2. The stage is lavish and so are the costumes.  Intentionally, looking to the better things in life with a sense of comedy.  I think these themes would be prevalent during future Depression era musicals for the audience to escape for a moment in film from the hardships.

3. More lavish and revealing women's costuming, and dramatic musical scores.

 

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