Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament

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

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49 minutes ago, kobidor said:

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

I agree!

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I don't think the softened scenes like this were confined to just the Depression era.  Scenes of a similar vein run through most of the musicals of WW II and well into the early 1950's...nothing too heavy, nothing too serious.   It has to do with escapism, which isn't a bad thing and carries an unfortunate negative connotation.   This scene reminded me (sort of, figuratively) of the Popeye cartoons when Bluto and Popeye fought for Olive Oyl, and her arms stretched from pulled side to pulled side, longer for Popeye and then longer for Bluto, then longer for Popeye again, and longer for Bluto...who to choose?  :)

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19 hours ago, Movie Wrangler said:

1. Yes, the clip definitely exhibits a brighter perspective of life than was realistic during the Depression Era.  Obvious disregard for money and no expense spared was not the norm for practically anybody -- even many of the wealthy lost almost everything in those dark financial days.  But the escapism of this brighter perspective is what kept people saving up their dimes and coming to the movies in those days.

2. Themes anticipated from this clip in other Depression era musicals - more of much the same - not a care in the world, lighthearted treatment of conflict, lavish sets and costumes, no real world problems or worries.

3. Pre-code would probably have shown much more risque costuming for Held.  Probably the characters of both Ziegfeld and Billings would not been written so playfully -- they would have been more serious characters and adversaries.  They may have come to her dressing room to try to persuade her, rather than send flowers and ask her to meet somewhere.

Yes, I agree. The men rather than flowers would have been in her dressing room!

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An aside: one of the best stage musicals I've ever seen is Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," which, of course, refers to the Zeigfeld Follies. So this Hollywood musical essentially spawned a Broadway musical many, many decades later.

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1. Yes I believe that the film is displaying a much happier time than the era would suggest. Everything from the theatre audience being dressed lavishly to the orchid bouquet, which even to this day would be costly, show that this film did not adhere to the economic woes of the depression.

2. Perhaps a theme that other musicals would have during this era is the use of money to win affection or power in a relationship. Currency is a common way to sway a persons morals, male or female. Choosing between stability or morality could easily become an issue for anyone trying to survive the depression.

3. The performer herself  may have had a more revealing costume. There could have been more dancers on stage with a Moulin Rouge feel, especially with the performer being French herself.

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I certainly can't add to what has already been said in previous posts.

 

1.  The display of opulence was a motif in depression media to hold out the hope that wealth or even just income might be possible in the future.  The visual closeup of the flowers and ribbon, the clothing, the set design and the opulence of Anna Held's dressing room are symbolic of this hope. You will see the same motif in the interiors for Ginger Rogers hotel rooms, her wardrobe, furs, cars, etc. 

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I think the films and, especially, the movie musicals of the time were to help people escape from the reality of the Depression. The movies were a time, an hour or so, where people could forget their woes and lose themselves in a world where nothing mattered except the "frivolous" things...what man to choose, how pretty flowers are, and so on. I do wonder, though, why it was decided that the character of Anna Held was to be French. Is it because the French were more exotic? Less serious? Less stodgy or looser morals? Was there any hidden meaning to it at all? Am I just over-analyzing? As to whether the movies of the time were more or less realistic, I think they probably went in the direction of less realistic because our reality of the time was pretty grim. Even the gangster movies were kind of over-the-top and allowed people to escape for a while.

I do agree with the course's other participants in that pre-code, Miss Held definitely would have been less dressed and more risque. It was almost as if it was a way to reconnect with the Victorian time period of modesty and wholesomeness...the pendulum swinging the other way. Perhaps it was a way to minimize the objectification of women by not putting them in skimpy costumes, but I don't even know if they were really all that concerned with the objectification of women in Hollywood at that time. Off screen, it was still the hotseat of debauchery and impropriety (think Fatty Arbuckle scandal). Maybe Hollywood wanted to try and change it's off-screen image by altering it's on-screen one. Of course, the "simple mindedness" of the Miss Held character did it's own objectification of women by placing so much emphasis on her gawking over the orchids, the mention of how much they must have cost, her not knowing the meaning of the "Jr", and so on. The character was certainly not developed in such a way as to emphasis her intelligence...even the lyrics of her song were repetitive and trite only highlighting how she just wanted to "play".

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1.  I agree with most of the responders here that the light-heartedness of the clip shows an escapism that becomes the norm for a lot of films.  We don't see the desperation of the public as their lives change drastically.  We are treated to fluff and light entertainment.

2.  Thematically, the lightheartedness carries through no matter what is happening in the outside world.  And, as someone else already stated, the reason people went to the movies was to escape what was happening and have a few hours (or sometimes a whole day) of something different than losing money or trying to support your family.

3.  The suggestive looks, wordplay of the song, and back-and-forth decision making of the singer may have been handled differently pre-code, but I wonder if it would have made a better scene.  

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I see the bright-siding in the mise-en-scene:

  1. Anna's costume is bright white, giving a subconscious feeling of a carefree, well-manicured life where nothing is dirty.
  2. The theater is so opulent that Ziegfeld and his competitor sit on opposite sides, alone in their boxes. There's a feeling of there being "more room" than there might have been in the tight quarters of the Depression Era, where families had to move in together and tenements were less than pristine or people were flat-out homeless.
  3. Unfortunately, I also see the beginning of "beautiful people are successful, 'average' people are in positions of service" that runs rampant through classic films. I recognize there's more going on, with social constructs and not just in musicals, but it seems like it was a shortcut way to tell story: Short and overweight? Must be a housekeeper and not relevant to the plot. Tall and dashing? Must be the leading man. Just lazy storytelling that became mandate. Or, signaling to a perceived uneducated audience (which is ridiculous) how to feel/what to think? A subconscious belittling of people? If you've read the Code, you know it states outright that it wishes to deliver messages through what is shown in films. I think the slow but steady goal of "the average woman" feeling "not grand enough" to strike out of the house and hope and dare for more emerges in these early dichotomous depictions of "pretty folk" and "average folk". The bonus to the studio (staying on topic of the question): The audience thinks, "If I were bright and beautiful, I wouldn't have all of these Depression Era problems."

Meanwhile, if the Code hadn't been in effect, one of those men (likely Ziegfeld) may have been in her dressing room. The way it's staged, she's courting them, and vice-versa, from afar. She's on stage. They're not. She's in her dressing room, they're not. Inherently chaste.

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Most definitely a lighthearted view of life. A woman in a beautiful costume waited upon by another cultured woman. Men with money. If this were pre-code, she would have been showing legs, at least. Corny jokes would be expected in this era. Make them laugh, even if it's just soft a bit  

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23 hours ago, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

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.

 

1. I do agree that this clip presents a brighter side and perspective of life. My first thought was the musical number,the song I assume is called "I Want You to Play With Me". Its pleasant melodically, charming lyrically. The sense of play and having fun. It made me recall childhood and playing; its curious listening to an adult sing about playing but this was most interesting to me about the song. I swayed to the music and was taken out of the real world for even these few minuets.  Play, happiness of the music, the charm and beauty of Luise Rainier. I paid attention to my own mood listening to the song. My own mood changed and lifted. I imagine the audiences in 1936 felt the same way. Perhaps they wanted to "play" but couldn't because of adult problems, life and situations. 

There is also the fact that this was an MGM movie and their movie universes lent themselves to escapism and glamour. The films themselves look bright and glossy and the "world" that the places and stories the movie is set in are also bright and glossy. This certainly presents a bright perspective of life. How life should be according to MGM.

2. I haven't seen this movie in a long time but from what I remember and based on the brief synopsis provided, Ziegfeld takes and interest (romantic, professional or otherwise) and want to mold her, possess her. I don't remember if the Anna Held character was poor beforehand but the fact that Ziegfeld is a man of privilege and wealth is important. He can "make" her, or as we would say nowadays upgrade her. He can give her a platform for her talent. He can provide opportunities and she, by working with him, can have a very successful career. He wants to court her and suggests a romantic interest in her by sending her the flowers, making his intentions known (although she is a tad skeptical at first).Wealth, fame/fortune, success, love, a bright future ahead and potential opportunities are ideas and themes I do see in other musicals from the Depression era. These specific themes are things I imagine an audience living in a time of economic insecurity would respond to positively to and find great appeal.  

3. The film is set in the turn of the century but if this were a pre-code film, the creator would probably take the historically anachronistic approach and change Luise's costume. She wouldn't be wearing the frilly bonnet and long dress. I could see a costume much more revealing and we would see her legs. She would probably still wear a dress that would be shorter but the costume designers would still probably make it look period. The song, were it made during the pre-code era, suggests innuendo on the word "play". The song is pretty innocent as it is but I can't help think that the should have been some suggestiveness with the content-an attractive woman singing about wanting someone to"play" with her. She would sing it less sweet and more flirty, with a wink. There might be a sense of perverseness added to it because again and adult is singing about playing. Her costumes might look childlike but with an adult sexuality in her singing/movements and delivery of the lyrics.

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I agree that the clip exhibits a brighter perspective. Through the use of lavish costumes and sets, the public is transported to a place where there aren't hardships.

Movies were made to entertain; a distraction from the hard times people were going through. They were light hearted and without a heavy plot.

If the movie had been made pre-code the actress' costume may have been more risque and she may have been changing clothes in the dressing room rather than just smelling flowers.

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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 believe it does to certain extent. After all, the point to a lot of the entertainment made in the Depression era was to provide a sense of escapism for the audience so they wouldn't have to ponder the state of the country's economic situation at that time. Of course now, it may seem like lighter fare in comparison to most films made by today's standards, but it still manages to encourage that positive, sunny-side up perspective and put a smile your on face at the same time.

 

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

Obliviously, I would expect to see a lot of more of the sunny-side up perspective especially where musicals are concerned, since that would've been the standard for entertainment during the Depression, but I also expect to see a lot of that sense of escapism and dazzling wonderment that makes all Depression Era films so unique and fun to watch.

 

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 this film had been made during the pre-code era, I believe the over all themes of the story would have been set in a much more darker and thematic tone. The rivalry between Zeigfeld and Billings, both professionally and personally, would have been especially played up so as to highlight their competition for Anna Held's hand as well as their compulsion to out do each other. I also believe that the sense of subtle humor and innuendo would have conveyed in a slightly more shocking and ironic tone in order to increase curb appeal to the masses.

 

 

 

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I loved the use of the mirror in the theater, lighting faces for all to see.  I found the lighting of the 2 gentlemen vying for her attention interesting...followed by the flashing of the main audience as she sings....'come play with me'...then in the dressing room removing only the hat...awaiting her suitors....almost like a really, really slow strip.

I loved it, can't wait to see the movie...

Yes, the 5 pound tip was a great joke, most  americans didn't know how much 5 pounds was worth during the depression....so the 'weight' joke went over well.  Who couldn't loose 5 pounds....even then?

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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? 

Of course! Movies aren't supposed to be realistic what is the fun in that! We go to the movies to dream about what we wish our lives could be. These leading ladies lived glamorous lives in these movies and we always wished that we were them, well I guess I do. I'm pretty sure I have a 1920 flapper soul in me anyway! 

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

Since in the great depression, the whole point of the musicals was to add some joy to their lives. I can imagine that these films would be quite extravagant. Like some of my fellow movie lovers said, two men, fighting over one leading lady and showing her how much money they have. It all comes down to money!

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 this movie was shot before the code, then I'm sure Anna would be wearing a lot less. Also, she would probably not be as polite. She would most likely not undress behind something. Instead, she would just change right then and there like in Broadway melody. Like Gary said, on film, they would be "I'm going to undress right now" or "I'm going to take a bath" and they do it. 

 

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1. Yes, absolutely!  In the depression era the average person couldn't afford to go to the theater and even a show girl like this couldn't even begin to flirt around with the idea of not meeting Ziegfeld for his business proposal! I imagine watching this during the depression era would have been a fabulous escape from reality but also depressing at the same time.  

 

2. I anticipate similar themes.  Jokes, no real world worries or hardships, fancy costumes & sets. 

 

3. I believe that several things would have been different had this been filmed before code was enforced.  A.  I think she would have worn something more risque during her performance.  B.  I believe that while undressing after the show there would have been a LOT more skin shown.  Or even a scene where she undresses behind a changing partition giving the illusion that she is fully nude.  

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1.  MGM was already the Tiffany's of movie studios ("More stars than there are in the heavens"), so they KNEW how to produce a first-class musical by 1936!  The luscious costumes, the period sets, the clean photography, and those glamorous stars all looked their best.

2.  While one might think Depression-era audiences might have appreciated seeing themselves represented realistically in films, it seems they preferred the escape of seeing a heightened reality (as in "Top Hat" or "The Gay Divorcee") or the glory of a past era (as in "The Great Ziegfeld" or "Naughty Marietta").

3.  Certainly with a scene taking place in a beautiful actress' dressing room more might have been taken off than a hat in the pre-code era!  Some have compared the clothing in this scene to that which Depression-era audiences might have worn, but most of "The Great Ziegfeld" takes place decades earlier (Held apparently met Ziegfeld in 1896).

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After watching pre-code, I can only imagine that Ms. Held might be dressed a little more costume. There certainly is an overall softening of the times, both in language, costume, lighting,  music and dialogue. 

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

Absolutely! During the Depression, people had real issues and fears weighing on their minds. The characters in the movie make light of the situations they find themselves in. Money is being thrown around nonchalantly, in every scene, from the doorman's tip to the costumes, and the flowers.

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

During this era, movies were a way to escape everyday struggles. I believe we will continue to see these lighthearted, backstage themed movies even beyond the Great Depression.

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 would have definitely been some face to face flirting in the dressing room as she changed. I picture it being like a Mae West movie filled with innuendo. I believe the feuding between the two rivals would be more intense and they would have included more of the less favorable stories from Ziedfeld's life, like his common law marriage. 

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Yes I do think perhaps the film is unrealistic but that's the point.  We all want to forget reality if only for a little while.  I enjoy the opulence of the theater and the other patrons.  

I would expect the opulence in a depression era film for the same reasons.  

Had this been made pre-code, I think Miss Hand's costume would have been alot skimpier and the animosity between Ziegfield and Billings would have been much more pronounced. 

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1. I do think that this clip shows a brighter perspective of life – more than what we’re used to in today’s world, and certainly more for audiences in the middle of the Depression. But by no means is that a bad thing. Scenes like this may be considered unrealistic by some, but they also seem to say that wasn’t impossible for people to put their lives back together. The happiness and hope in these musicals helped inspire people to keep trying!

2. Most of the Depression-era musicals I’ve seen have had a happy ending. There was some sort of success in the lives of the characters, whether romantically or in their careers – or, for a few lucky souls, in both. Also, often, the characters who wound up being successful were the underdog type. Again, moviegoers at this time needed hope. So it seems that many musicals from that time were aimed towards success and happy endings; they were “unrealistically” happy for a reason! :)

3. That was one massive bouquet of flowers. Before the Code, characters in movies were mostly... ahem... free to express their interest in another character however they wanted. But, with the restrictions that the Code put in place, they had to find ways to show romantic interest between characters without being overly blatant or suggestive. Case in point, the flowers. It’s a very sweet gesture, and the time and money that would have gone into it lets our lady know that she’s got a serious admirer on her hands. If the movie had been made before the Code, perhaps the writers wouldn’t have felt the need to leave that detail in – or if they had, they would have put a different spin on it, or put less of an emphasis.

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While “The Great Ziegfeld” was produced in the midst of the Great Depression, it was a biographical/historical film and attempted to portray the different periods of Ziegfeld’s life. The specific clip in the Daily Dose showing Anna Held and her first encounter with Ziegfeld would have occurred in 1896, so the opulent costumes and extravagent expenditures (the 5£ tip and the elephant vase filled with orchids) were appropriately reflective of the Gay ‘90s and the late Gilded Age.  Similarly, Held’s risqué song would fit with the era being portrayed but scanty costumes of the sort seen in “The Broadway Melody” would not be. I doubt if the Production Code restrictions played as much of a role in this portrayal as did MGM’s need to please Ziegfeld’s widow, Billie Burke, whose permission was needed to do the film.  Certainly there were many Hollywood musicals from the Dream Factory during this period that ignored the harsh realities of the Depression and Production Code musicals that sanitized the seamy/steamy stories that were told before 1934, when enforcement of the code began more strictly, but “The Great Ziegfeld” isn’t the best example of these issues. Rather I think it is one of the earliest examples of Hollywood making glorified bio pics of show biz heroes, such as George M. Cohan (“Yankee Doodle Dandy”), Cole Porter (“Night and Day”) and lesser lights.

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If this film had been made pre-code, the lead actress would have been more scantily costumed. Also, when she returned to her dressing room after her performance, she probably would have been shown taking her costume off. Her song would have been more risque - maybe the lyrics would have been more explicit than “I want you to play with me”. 

One theme I might expect from other musicals made during the depression would be that everyone in show business is rich! The musical numbers within these types of films are lavishly produced and the audience is dressed to the nines. 

These types of movies were made for escapism and no one wants to escape their depression era life to see a depressing film, so yes this clip does show a brighter perspective of life than might be realistic. The movie wouldn’t make any money unless they put something on screen that people wouldn’t normally see or experience in their every day life. 

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