Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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1.  As many have said in previous posts that the movie definitely portrays life as brighter and happier than what was going on outside of the movie theater.  Ziegfeld giving away his 5 pound note and joking about it...money is not a concern of his.  The expensive orchids in the elephant vase.  Very large.  The mention of the cost of said orchids. The choice of Anna Held's (played by Luis Rainer) song as light and playful.  And Depression Era musicals always sparkle and shine.  Her brooch is diamonds, so are her rings.  The satin bow on the elephant's trunk. The theater in which she performs is opulent, showing gold on the columns and the backdrop is of a garden conservatory that depicts marble columns. Anna Held's innocence and naivete...even her voice shines.  All taking us back to a simpler time and away from the harsh realities of not only the Depression, but today.

2. I have watched many Depression Era musicals.  And they mostly involve the musical within the musical.  Because this is a biopic, we are not always on stage but are still dealing with the musical stage as our main theme.  And the musicals don't seem to concentrate as much on the music as they do the performance to music.  Dancing and singing mainly take place on stage or in rehearsal.  And everything on the stage is beautiful, gay (in the older sense of the word), shiny, smiling and light-hearted.  You don't get the sad musical songs really until much later.

3.  If this had been filmed pre-code there would have been quite the different wardrobe.  Although it does show Luis Rainer's cleavage, there would have been much more of it.  In fact, I am quite surprised at the length of her mirror that she shines on people's faces.  When left down, it hits her right in her lady parts.  Which I feel is not by accident and it is very noticeable.  It is large and very shiny and draws attention to, well, you know.  Her dresser in the scene would have probably taken her dress off...probably behind the dressing  screen or we would have seen her in her corset.  And Ziegfeld could have possibly come back to her dressing room and there could have been sexual innuendo in their conversation

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The song Anna Held sings is suggestive but because she is dressed so chastely (only face and hands exposed) and is essentially skipping like a little girl with that lilting voice, it takes on a playful aspect.  (Picture if Madeline Kahn had sung the same song in Blazing Saddles!).

This era depicted by this movie was pre-Depression so overlooking the economic issues may be forgiven; it may be playing on nostalgia for times past "when life was much better" (people tend to have selective memory about "the good ol' days"). 

 

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pre-code Helds'  tone, dress & manner would  have been very different  more open and out spoken, the depression changed the views, and the image that the studio's ,and the people  themselves wanted  reflected to escape what was happening  outside in the real world.

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Daily dose response:

 1.  I believe the film does show a brighter perspective in that their is no negative themes being shown. Even the rivalry between the two characters vying for Anna’s attentions is played very  comical. 

2. The themes that the film illustrates from the Great Depression convey this sense of showing something light hearted and bright, shown by the bright colors and soft songs utilized in the movie. This helps the audience forget their woes  in the great depression which is what movies during that time were trying to do.

3. If this movie were to be made in the pre-code area, it would probably have the female character show more skin particularly when she is singing the playful song “play with me.” I can definitely envision that being a more risqué number than what was  shown in the movie. 

 

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As others have said, the snappy dialogue, fast paced and upbeat conversations, and the way decisions are made in a very quick fashion are characteristic of lighthearted musicals. The enthusiasm of the characters is definitely larger than life. The backstage story, emphasis on the stage and the musical performance, are themes that are familiar in Depression era musicals. The lavish sets and costumes reflect style of Ziegfeld himself. I can understand why the film was such a hit with audiences, coming in the middle of the Great Depression. Ziegfeld's extravagance must have been a welcome change from reality.

Not sure about the pre code question. I am so used to musicals being squeaky clean that I find it hard to imagine this film being scripted in a less innocent way!

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Like so many Depression era films, this movie shows people in the most beautiful clothing and environments. The movies were an escape from reality, so keeping things light meant not having to think about real life and the struggle to find a job or make ends meet. The most fashionable clothing and jewels and lifestyle were very much a part of Depression era musicals. No matter the plot, Ginger Rogers always wore the latest fashion and looked flawless. This portrayal of life was aspirational seems to be very much a part of musicals of the time. Had the film been made before code, there would have been more suggestive language--perhaps when the police officer described Anna Held, and likely she would have been undressing as she talked to her maid and admired the orchids.

 

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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 that the clip does show a brighter perspective than what we come to recognize as Depression-era art. From the style of dress to the discussion of money, nowhere do we see anyone struggling nor acknowledging that in this specific time period there was much struggle with it came to money and one's way of living. In fact, if one were to view the clip without any historical context, it is more likely than not that person would have no clue of the historical situation.

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

One major theme presented in the clip is a feeling fantasy, of one living outside their current plight. William Powell's character is so insistent on seeing this singer than he tips the bellboy five pounds, sends the singer very expensive flowers, and pays to sit in a box seat during her performance, all while in a tux. Considering this is a Depression-era musical, this obvious neglect to the attention of the financial situation of the country gives the audience a sense of fantasy, almost an escape of their everyday life. They might put themselves in the shoes of one of these characters and pretend that they have the means to woo or are being wooed and possibly taken away from their troubles.

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.

If the film was made post-code, I believe that Louise Ranier's character would have been costumed with not such tight-fitting clothes, and the lyrics of her number would not have been so provocative. As well as the scene in her dressing room. With the code being enforced, we would not have had her basically undressing in front of the camera. She would have either undressed off-screen or it would have been alluded to in the dialog.

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"Daily Dose of Delight" is right - what a fun clip! (I've already put this movie on hold at my local library, since I've unfortunately never seen it!) 

In general, musicals are a solid form of escapism, and I can see why movie musicals were popular during the Great Depression. Who doesn't want to go spend some time watching people in beautiful costumes singing, dancing, and having frivolous fun? It's the same reason that I expect the "Mama Mia!" sequel to do well this summer; people are stressed, and singing and dancing to ABBA songs set to a thin plot sounds kind of delightful. Add to that the characters are well dressed; Ziegfeld clearly has money to throw around; and the sets are richly decorated, and you have yourself a pretty good escapist fantasy for a tough time. Clearly, life wasn't like this; this is a nostalgic view of the "good old days." 

I think you see the "good old days" in the rather silly, slightly vapid way that Anna Held acts in this clip. This was only a little over a decade after women's suffrage, and I can't help but wonder if Anna's naivete is a throwback to a time when women were a little more compliant and worried more about flowers and less about making money (or, rather, that people wanted to think that women weren't thinking about making money, since many of them were). That's not unique to this musical; we still see remnants of this in films today. 

I'd hazard a guess that many musicals made during the Depression era probably hearkened back to the olden days in some way, when things were thought to have been better - economically and/or culturally. Culture constantly swings between innovation and nostalgia, but when the going gets tough, we tend to turn toward nostalgia to comfort us. Even if films take place with characters who are living a difficult existence (like Dorothy's family in "The Wizard of Oz"), it's filmed in such a way that even those tough times are seen with a nostalgic tinge. (After all, even though Dorothy had wanted to escape Kansas, she realized there was "no place like home.") 

As far as the film being made after the code was enforced - I expect everything would have been a bit more risque if this were a pre-code musical. After all, the Ziegfeld Follies were a bit racier than we see in the film clip. Here's a photo from Wikipedia of one of the Ziegfeld girls, Doris Eaton Travis. 

Doris_Eaton_Travis_as_Ziegfeld_Girl.jpg.470869650217288c6e749ee68d61b3d2.jpg

However fabulously risque the Ziegfeld girls were, though, it's kind of fun to enjoy the subtext of the clip, like her little song asking the audience to "come and play with me." Sometimes subtext is more fun than saying something explicitly, and while in general I don't like the way that the Production Code stifled creativity and expression, it did make filmmakers think about ways to get their point across a little more creatively. I expect that she would have taken off more than her hat backstage if this were a pre-code film, though! 

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Much has already been said that I agree with, but this is very fascinating for me nonetheless. I've never studied anything like this, so the am already learning a great deal! I never knew there was a "code." Maybe this explains some of the more risqué Tarzan movies that came out early! Very interesting.

1. Of course the clip shows a brighter side of life! It was the depression, other than The Grapes of Wrath, who hold want to focus on the realities of the day? A nice escape it wonderful. It really isn't so different from today. Those of us in middle-America fantasize about Broadway and Hollywood and dream of being able to go to shows at will and wear fine clothes for no apparent reason. It just isn't that way for most of us in our day to day lives. So I see how showing the "brighter side" became so popular, and really, kind of necessary.

2. Themes/Approaches - I imagine that other films of this era will also be a little cheeky, a little playful, a little "overdone." This help moves things along and keep it light-hearted and less like real life. Love is always a theme, and a battle for the fair maiden is going to continue - far past the depression era! 

3. I imagine that the dressing room scene would have been far different before the code! If you consider what was shown and discussed in Broadway Melody, then you can imagine that we would have seen more of Held as she was changing clothes - at least would have seen her shoulders, maybe even her back and/or legs. Very little was actually shown, it was more implied. Also I imagine the men would have made it to the dressing room, not just their flowers, etc. Even her dance number would have probably been more open and may have even included men, or closer interaction with the audience. 

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Ah, that was fun!

I remember when I saw The Great Ziegfeld and was definitely surprised at how light it made the entire issue of Ziegfeld's relationship with his rival and his romantic interest. Indeed, everything in the clip seems to hint at an overall absence of real conflict. The characters seem to face superficial obstacles that are very easy to overcome, whether it's Ziegfeld trying to get information about Anna, or winning her over Billings -despite the fact that, if I recall correctly, he wasn't in the best economic situation when he made it there-, or Anna trying to decide if she should or shouldn't meet with her benefactor. 

Everything is resolved easily, and with a twinkle in their eyes!

After the war, movies definitely took a more 'materialistic' approach that can be seen in the clip as well. There's something voluptuous about how everything is presented. Every element is pristine, elegant and attractive. It's not hard to imagine that Depression-era musicals followed this trend, appealing to the senses in an effort to soothe the collective unrest.

Thus, I imagine the idea of 'succeeding in spite of any obstacle' is a recurring theme in the films of the time. It explains the lack of any element that represents a real menace. Neither the lack of money nor failed romantic relationships can stop Ziegfeld. Therefore, they can't stop the movie-going audience either!

Regarding a pre-code version, it would be interesting to see how extravagant and sensual the musical numbers would have been, and how many innuendoes would have made it into that little scene with Anna and her maid! However, depending on the time, the camerawork would have probably been a little less interesting and static.

Thematically, perhaps we would have gotten a deeper look at Anna's state of mind -perhaps not as deeply as nowadays, but she would probably have a little more meat as a character, instead of the almost-bland figure she can sometimes be in the film. 

Looking forward to the next lesson!    

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1. Yes, I do agree that the way that life at the time is portrayed is not realistic. However, this was purposefully done to help people escape from their lives into this fantastical world that they wish America was like at the time.

2. I anticipate more themes of money, extravagant gifts, and secret love interests. 

3. Pre-code, the singer would have been more scantily dressed, and probably dancing more sexually. In addition, the theme of her song would probably have been of more of a sexual nature.  

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  1. 1. Do you agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic? Why or why not? 
    • Yes. Ziegfeld gave away five pounds like it was nothing. There was no suggestion that money was scarce but that it was dispensable. People were lavishly dressed, at the theater, and throwing money to doormen. Like in the lecture, Depression era films were about escapism. People wanted to forget the hardships of the current economy. 
  2. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals?
    • More escapism - lavish taste, excessive spending, adventure and romance. If the film does touch on reality at all I expect the characters to hit a strand of good luck or their hard work pays off and they are successful by the end of the film. I expect this because in keeping with the theme of escapism, if there is any reality at all there has to hope by the end of the film to convince audiences that everything is going to be okay. 
    • I also expect movies taking place NOT in America. Ziegfeld is English and the actress and theater he is pursuing is in Paris, France. These places are not touched by the American Depression and audience literally escape to another country. 
  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.
    • In the clips from Broadway Melody (1929) the scenes in the dressing room where with half dressed women in the open and the music was jazz and showing off women’s bodies and dancing that accentuated the legs and hips. Now in this scene from post code, the dressing room scene in Ziegfeld ends before she is undressed and even as her dress is unzipped she is hidden by a vase of flowers. Also on stage her act is more victorian in dress, movement/ dancing on stage, and the lyrics are more innuendoed like the Victorian speech and humor. Everything is communicated through a mask of innocence and innuendo. 

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I agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective of life that’s might be realistic.  Money was hard to come by for the average person.  This clip shows that money is no object by people going to a show, the star of the show getting a rather large bouquet of orchids ($$$).  Definitely brighter than reality at the time.

I anticipate similar themes of higher society to allow the viewers chance to live in another reality for a little while.

I would say that it would have been scripted showing the difficult economic times.  Joking about “losing weight” by giving a 5-pound note.  

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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 do think that the clip gives a brighter perspective. It was the Great Depression, a time where you never thought of people as happy. The film took you to another side of the era, one to where people were happy and still showed it even during the toughest of times. It's a breath of fresh air, I suppose you could say. I can only imagine the tiny bit of relief or escape that the musicals, or even films in general, gave to people during this time in history. 
  2. What themes or approaches might you anticipate from this clip in other Depression era musicals? There was a sense of jealousy between Billings and Ziegfield. Neither knew who Anna would choose to work with, or to even love. It felt like a playful jealousy at first, but as her performance went on, you could very well tell that the two men were so very interested and wanted to become the apple of her eye.  
  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. There may have been more scantily clad costumes or brasher words could have been said between characters. I think it's always fascinating to wonder the what-ifs of a film, especially ones from the beginning of Hollywood. What were they thinking? Why did they do it that way? What could have gone different?  

 

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In regard to question #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 musical number is coy and mildly flirtatious but with definite sexual undertones. Pre-code, I think that would have been played up much more than what we see. 

On another note, I found it interesting that the maid, while she had a french accent, was confident with the English language and was asked to read the card aloud. It's not often that a character in a subservient position is shown to be more fluent/better educated than the lead.

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1.    Not necessarily. Yes, perhaps in relation to the average experience of the depression era. However, it does seem to reflect how well-to-do would continue to live their lives. That said, it is brighter in a way that most Hollywood comedies are, aiming at joy and a sunny nostalgia vs. the harder path we like to forget. These comedies are filled with decisions that are swayed by bouquets, misunderstandings that could be cleared up with a moment of conversation continue for days, suitors scurry from balconies comically, and more. 

2.    Continued exploration of how "the other half lives." More tuxes, more pretty dresses, dancing and champagne. 

3.    The love triangle is explored perhaps more frivolously  and definitely more chastely, than would have been pre-code. There's not even a hint of sex here. And thus, the stakes seem low--feelings aren't likely to be hurt. There's fun, but there's not the raw emotion of real heartache and resentment that could have driven a more realistic plot. 

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Allow me to respond to the third discussion starter that Dr. Ament provides. The lyrics of the song that are repeated multiple times--"I wish you'd come and play with me"--are not exactly subtle, so even though this musical was made after the motion picture code was enforced, and even though Miss Held is clothed from head to toe, the number is nevertheless highly flirtatious. So it seems to me that the musical adheres to the code in letter but not in spirit.

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I think there are some undertones in this clip that hint to the real Ziegfeld life here, specifically how the actress played the two competitors off of each other during her number. Ziegfeld with his flower play showed that he would do loud splashy things to pursue the object of his attention at the time. I anticipate the themes will be designed to distract moviegoers from their trouble and tough experience. If filmed pre-code, then we would get more hints of Ziegfeld's complicated behavior and Held would be a more complex character.

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Yes definitely has a light-hearted feel.  Themes include rich, powerful, and beautiful. I think if this was made before pre-code her dress would be more revealing, there might be more of a love triangle or fight for the girl, and more of a risqué performance. 

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17 minutes ago, AKT said:

In regard to question #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 musical number is coy and mildly flirtatious but with definite sexual undertones. Pre-code, I think that would have been played up much more than what we see. 

On another note, I found it interesting that the maid, while she had a french accent, was confident with the English language and was asked to read the card aloud. It's not often that a character in a subservient position is shown to be more fluent/better educated than the lead. 

Excellent point about the maid portrayed as being able to read English while the lead admits to being unable to do so.

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Yes, I believe a theatre dressing room back during the day of Anna Held might not have been so fancy, so plush, so opulent. It's as if everyone and everything were more economically sound than in reality. I notice this in almost every film of the decade. The women all had furs , feathers and jewels in or on their clothes. People dressed for dinner. Very unrealistic, for an escape for the average person.

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46 minutes ago, CraigDt4 said:

Also I imagine the men would have made it to the dressing room, not just their flowers, etc.

What a great point!

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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? 

Most definitely it does, as is to be expected of a Depression era musical. People attended the cinema back then as a form of escapism, so lighthearted plots were the norm. Any darker aspects of the real story were glossed over in an effort to make it more entertaining.

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

Continued lighthearted plots, bright and glamorous sets. The Depression was a time of escapist entertainment, above everything.

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 main example I can think of is the overall production would be just a bit seedier. Miss Held would be more scantily clad. The plot would be far more daring. Perhaps it would delve into Ziegfeld's philandering, an added aspect of drama. A female rival to Miss Held, perhaps.

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One thing I noticed right off the bat was the dress, she was head to toe covered. Was she supposed to be Little Bo Peep?

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I have watched this musical numerous times and never with the these suggested insights.i love William Powell in this role,but the women are full range actresses,and now after this one clip,i will be watching it again

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